Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Arcia, Vargas, Santana, Rosario, Kepler and Polanco

Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco are the most recent examples of premature hype of young players based  on some success in a limited number of at bats at the major league level. Last season started with Vargas and Santana inked into the lineup, this season it was Sano and Rosario. Before that it was Oswaldo Arcia. In all of these cases, stories seemed to anticipate improvement the second year while the players couldn't even carry over into the following year their initial success.

The reality is that players are often called up because they are hot at AAA and that sometimes carries over to the big leagues. Then the scouts do their work, major league pitchers are able to use the holes in their game and they crash back to earth.  That is why Tom Kelly used to suggest you didn't really know what you had until 1000 at bats. Kepler looks like he is a winner and Polanco has been solid in a series of appearances. But, just as patience is often required for young players to establish themselves, even more patience is required before forming a firm opinion about players who have initial success.

There is a larger problem that the new focus on statistics has created. That is that during the season players, and teams,  numbers are heavily weighted to early performance. Last year the Twins were a sub-500 team for the last four months of the season, but their hot May masked that reality. The same thing happens with individual players. They start out cold and it looks like they are having a terrible year. Or, especially with young players, they have a hot start and it masks their poor to mediocre performance for a long time.

Right now Kepler, Rosario and Polanco are hot. Rosario's resurgence after returning from Rochester is particularly encouraging. But we need to have some patience before we start talking about roster positions for the future. Just as we need to be patient with talented players who struggle initially. For the last month the Twins have looked like they will be contenders next year. But the reality of that depends on those young players continuing to show they are ready for the big leagues. Chances are some will and some won't.

Monday, August 08, 2016

There is nothing wrong with Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton was sent down to AAA this week to make room for Trevor Plouffe. Buxton has repeatedly demonstrated his bat it not ready for the big leagues. In fact, he never really established that his bat was ready for AAA pitching. The Twins rushed Buxton to the big leagues because his defense played there and they had traded away Aaron Hicks who was the only other real center fielder they had.

The idea was his bat would develop in short order. It hasn't. That isn't much of a surprise for a guy who is just 22 years old. To put that in perspective, Torii Hunter played a handful of games in the big leagues at 22 getting less than 20 plate appearances. The next year he was part of the Twins youth movement and spent the entire season in the big leagues as the Twins center fielder. The next year he struggled mightily to start the season and was sent back to AAA. He tore up the league at AAA and was recalled for the rest of the season. The next year his offensive roll continued and he went on to become a Twin legend.

The reality of the Twins is that they have a lot of very young players who will likely need more seasoning at AAA. That includes guys like Sano, Kepler, Palanco and Berrios in addition to Buxton. That does not mean they aren't any good. It simply means that it takes time to adjust to the big leagues for even the most talented players. We remember the guys who have instant success and never look back. But the more typical path is that instant success is followed by failure and the need to adjust. Some guys do that while still producing just enough to hold a roster spot at the big league level, most don't.

What we should look for is the extent to which Buxton takes advantage of the next couple weeks to work on his bunting and base stealing. He should be focusing on those things that he can use at the big league level to take advantage of his outstanding tools. If he doesn't do that, then the real message is that he really isn't mature enough yet to make the jump. That doesn't mean he won't get there eventually or that he won't be a superstar when he does.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Too Late to Send Sano to Rochester

As I posted earlier, I think Miguel Sano should have been at Rochester this year learning to play third base and cutting down on his strikeouts. But it is unlikely he can learn that in the three weeks remaining in this year's minor league season. Wasting a full option year for those three weeks this season may well come back to bite the Twins by limiting their options if Sano continues to struggle in the future. They are better off letting Sano sit on the bench and get occasional use at the major league season. Then let him know that he is slated to start next season at Rochester unless he forces himself onto the roster in spring training. He's still a future star, but he isn't really ready to play at the big league level.

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