Thursday, November 29, 2012

Terry Ryan is Headed in Right Direction

Some of Terry Ryan's public statements about the Twins direction raised some of my fears that we were going to see the Terry Ryan of the mid-90's. That Terry Ryan kept looking for quick fixes by grabbing mediocre vets and fading stars. The Terry Ryan we all remember only emerged after the Pohlad's pulled the plug on that strategy by cutting off the money.

The decision to trade Denard Span for a top pitching prospect has qwelled  those fears.  The fear was that the Twins would trade span for some proven major league pitching that would plug a couple gaps in the rotation, but provide no future improvement. Instead Ryan bit the bullet and traded Span for a top flight pitching prospect. It may turn out he chose the wrong guy, but it is the right approach.

Which is what Ryan has been trying to say all fall with the "its not about money" mantra. The problem last year was not the budget. The problem was bad choices. Signing Jason Marquis was the right strategy, it was a poor choice.  And you can make bad choices even with a larger budget as many teams have proved.

The Twins still need to fill out next year's rotation. That probably means signing a couple guys like Francisco Liriano and Brett Meyers. It probably does not mean trading for a proven major league starter. I am thankful for that and thankful that wasn't what they got in return for Span. Ryan is making deals with one eye on the future. That is the way you build a championship team.

If they decide to move Justin Morneau or Josh Willingham at the trading deadline next summer, I hope they follow the same path as they did with Span. Getting prospects that can become the core of a future world series club, not filling projected gaps in the major league roster.

Span Trade and Twins Pitching

The Twins have traded Denard Span to the Nationals for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. This sounds like a Terry Ryan kind of deal. He is looking to the future and Meyer looks like a potential ace. Still, he hasn't pitched above AA so it may not provide any immediate value. Meyer was not on the National's 40 player roster. The Twins also lost Tommy Field on waivers yesterday. So they now have two open spots on the roster going into the winter meetings and the rule 5 draft. Assuming they don't make any more moves before then.

While I am sure the Twins hope Meyer will win a job in spring training, I don't think they are counting on it. So they still have only one starter, Scott Diamond,  and need find four more by the end of spring training. While Terry Ryan insists he intends to fill out the rotation, it is not realistic to think that the Twins are going to add four quality major league starters. So lets look at the options that are open.

To start with the Twins have a handful of young players who will be given the chance to win a spot. In addition to Meyer, Kyle Gibson and Liam Hendricks fit into that category.  Gibson may or may not be ready after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He is probably healthy enough, but I suspect the Twins will want to start him at AAA unless he really is dominating in spring training.  Meyer probably fits into that same category. Those two look to be cornerstones of a future Twins rotation, but I don't think the Twins will rush them. Hendricks needs to show he can get major league hitters out. He hasn't so far.

In addition to those three, there are a couple pitchers who had starting jobs last year and will get another shot at the rotation this spring. Cole De Vries is on the roster. He pitches all right last summer and would be a candidate for the fifth spot next year. Sam Deduno signed after he cleared waivers and will be in spring training. If he suddenly shows he can control his fastball, he could be a mid-rotation starter. More likely  both those guys end up as AAA pitching depth. Same with PJ Walters who, like Deduno, was taken off the roster and signed a minor league contract with a spring training invitation.

Pedro Hernandez and BJ Hermsen are two other young prospects on the 40 player roster who are further away. They both have outside shots, but would have to surprise people in spring training.

The other possible starters that the Twins have already in the system are Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak.  Both have got chances as starters in the past and haven't taken them. They are more likely to end up in the bullpen, but may be given a chance depending on who else the Twins bring in.

So there are nine pitchers already in the organization, almost all longshots, who might be able to fill a spot in the rotation out of spring training. My guess is at most two of them will be in the rotation. That leaves at least two more pitchers who will need to come from outside the current roster.

I would expect the Twins to pick up at least one potential starter in the rule 5 draft. They might even grab a couple guys. These will be longshots. Scott Diamond came out of the rule 5 process, but only after spending a year in the minor leagues. Likewise Johan Santana was  a rule 5 claim and he also spent some time in the minor leagues before becoming a permanent fixture in the rotation. This is another longshot for immediate rotation help.

That leaves the Twins needing to sign at least two free agents. Its possible one of those will be a quality major league starter. But the rumors about Twins interest in Francisco Liriano and Brett Myers sound like guys in the target range. They might be able to get Myers on a one year deal with option. But Liriano is probably going to demand a multi-year contract. The Twins are unlikely to take on more than one of those.

In short, the Twins are going to have to gamble next year on the future being now with Gibson a Meyer. Those two, along with Scott Diamond, could provide a pretty solid rotation by the end of the summer if the Twins can just catch lightning with one or two other guys.


I missed a couple guys here. Nick Blackburn and Esmerling Vasquez. Blackburn is only around because the Twins have to pay him regardless. But he has been successful in the past and could come to spring training and claim a job. Vasquez is AAA depth, same as this year. But again, the 5th starter is likely to be the "AAA depth" that shows the best in spring.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BBA Top Ten Prospects for 2003 - Ten Years Later

Every year Baseball America publishes there list of top ten prospects.  Here is their top ten for 2003 and an alternative version based on player's performance.

Baseball America's Top Ten for 2003
1. Joe Mauer
2. Justin Morneau
3. Michael Cuddyer
4. Michael Restovich
5. Denard Span
6. Scott Tyler
7. J.D. Durbin
8. Jason Kubel
9. Lew Ford
10. Adam Johnson

An alternative version based on actual performance:

1. Mauer
2. Morneau
3. Cuddyer
4. Span
5. Kubel
6. Jesse Crain
7. Jason Bartlett
8. Garret Jones
9. Nick Blackburn
10. Grant Balfour

Misses: Tyler, Ford, Johnson, Durbin, Restovich
Missed: Crain, Bartlett, Jones, Blackburn, Balfour

Summarizing that, Baseball America had five guys who didn't belong on the list in  retrospect. The only one of those players that provided any value at the major league level was Lew Ford. The five players they missed have all provided considerably more value and you could argue Bowen, Rodriguez, Neshek and Morales from the list below would make the list ahead of Ford as well.

Here are players that were considered:

Grant Balfour

New Britain
Luis Rodriguez

Fort Myers
Jason Bartlett
Rob Bowen
Luis Maza
Terry Tiffee
Brian Wolfe

Quad Cities
Garrett Jones
Jesse Crain

Nick Blackburn
Pat Neshek

Gulf Coast Twins
Jose Morales
Alex Romero

Here is the 2002 Top Ten Evaluation for comparison.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Evaluating Next Year's Twins - Part II

Yesterday did an analysis of Twins starting pitching last year and its prospects for improvement next season if nothing is done over the off-season. While starting pitching was the Twins' biggest weakness last year, their position players' performance was also not really championship quality either. The first step to correcting that is to look at the players they have and whether there is room for internal improvement.


Joe Mauer started 72 games at catcher, Ryan Doumit 56 and Drew Butera 32. Mauer was clearly the best hitter in that group and his defense is more than adequate. Doumit is a below average defensive catcher who made up for that with his offense. Butera continued to be an offensively challenged player, who has to make up for it with his defense.  If Mauer can sustain his offensive production and stay healthy while catching over 100 games next year,  it would be a clear improvement on 2012.  Butera is eligible for arbitration and the Twins will need to decide how much they are willing to pay him as a third catcher.

First Base

Justin Morneau started 99 games at first, Chris Parmelee 31 and Joe Mauer 30.  Morneau started out slow as he worked past lingering effects from his concussion. He was playing regularly in the last half of the season and his production was getting back to what we had come to expect. If he starts more games and his production goes back to the MVP levels he showed before his concussion it would be a huge boost to the Twins offense. A better performance from Morneau is probably the Twins biggest opportunity for improvement next year.

Second Base

Alexi Casilla started 83 game at second, Jamey Carroll 64. Carroll's offense fell off a notch last year. He is 38 and there is probably not much reason to think he will improve. Casilla is harder to judge. It seems like he has been around forever, but he was still only 27 last year and had a down year offensively. Casilla is very good defensively. Like Butera, Casilla is eligible for arbitration and may or may not be back.  If he is back, Casilla could improve offensively and hold down the job as an everyday second baseman. That would make the Twins better offensively and defensively. 


Brian Dozier started 81 games at shortstop, Pedro Florimon started 42 and Jamey Carroll 36. Carroll did not really have the range to play shortstop. Dozier struggled both offensively and defensively. Pedro Florimon was by far the best defender, but his bat is suspect. While its hard to see the Twins being much worse at shortstop next year. If Florimon gets most of the starts, it will be an improvement on Dozier's defense and his offense won't likely be much worse than Dozier's was. Dozier could also hold the job by improving on both offense and defense. 

The Twins also picked up Eduardo Escobar as part of the Liriano trade. Its not clear where he fits into the middle infield picture or what he brings to the table. Its possible he could step up the Twins game at either second or shortstop if other players don't improve.

Third base

Trevor Plouffe started 93 games at third, Danny Valencia started 33 and Jamey Carroll started 30. Carroll is solid defensivelly, but his bat really doesn't product enough for third base. Valencia was terrible offensively and defensively. Plouffe needs to show he can be at least adequate defensively. Its not clear the Twins thought he had reached that level by the end of last season.  If he can win the job and comes close to the offensive production he showed as a regular last year the Twins will be much better at third base.  

Left Field

Josh Willingham started 118 games in left, Ryan Doumit 16 and Darin Mastoianni 10. Neither Willingham nor Doumit will win any gold gloves. But Willingham was the Twins MVP last year based on his offense. Its hard to see real opportunities for improvement here except defensively. And that would depend on Willingham and Doumit getting their at bats elsewhere.  Its doubtful Willingham will be as productive next year, so this is the one position where some decline might be expected from 2012.

Center Field

Denard Span started 122 games in center field and Ben Revere 34. Span's offense dropped off a bit last year and he played fewer games than usual. Revere was a solid replacement, but Span playing everyday at his previous levels would be at least a slight improvement.

Right Field

Ben Revere started 79 games, Darin Mastroianni 27 and Chris Parmelee 16. There are several possible places for improvement here. Revere is a young player who should show some improvement as he gets more experience. Even at last year's levels, if he plays more games in right field there will be some improvement over Mastroianni and Parmelee.  Parmelee could also break through at the major league level. He is defensively challenged in right field, but his bat has the potential to be special. If he does get starts in right, he should be more productive than last year. This is a position where the Twins have every right to expect improvement.

Designated Hitter

Doumit, Mauer, Morneau and Willingham had most of the at bats at DH last year. They will likely share the at bats next year with only the percentages changing. Chris Parmelee could take some at bats. But that is likely to happen only when one of those other four is out of the lineup. There aren't really many opportunities for improvement here.

From those descriptions, you can see why the Twins are looking to add some options in the middle infield. Terry Ryan has said he is also looking for competition for Trevor Plouffe at third base. And the Twins will need to make some decisions on Casilla and Butera. Even if they refuse them arbitration, they need to decide whether to try to re-sign them as free agents.

This analysis shows potential for improvement at most positions and very few where you would anticipate them being worse next year. The Twins "auditioned" a lot of players at different positions last year. By the end of the season they seemed to have found some answers. Applying those answers for a full season can be expected to bring some significant improvement regardless of what moves they make in the off-season.

MLB Twins Updates