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At 27, Schafer was back with his original organization to begin the 2014 season and was pressed to find a consistent role. He would start in just 14 of the 63 games he would play in for the Braves. Offensively, his career hit a jagged rock bottom when he could not hit anything. Perhaps it was pressing to do too much in order to gain more playing time but Schafer’s swing rate increased exponentially as he offered at every other pitch regardless of where it may be located.
Is this stretch a breakout or a blip?
With the sample size as miniscule as it is, it is easy to consider this streak one of those sample sample size flukes. There certainly is an element of that, no question, however with the regular playing time, Schafer has seemingly shorn up his wild swing (reducing his chase rate from 33% to 25%) and increased his connectivity (dropping his swing-and-miss rate from 31% to 22%). What’s more is that the contact is far better has his line drive rate has jumped (from 16% to 28%) as has his hard-hit average (from .084 to .162). These are solid progress marks.
When the Braves had re-obtained the outfielder in 2013, Schafer confessed to falling into bad habits at the plate that dragged down his numbers. He was trying to pull the ball far too often and lost the ability to drive the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. Turning over when being pitched away resulted in groundouts instead of base hits where he could showcase his blazing speed. He reached out to Braves’ hitting coach Greg Walker to help fix this.
While he showed a better ability to go the other way in 2013 but a foul ball off his ankle led to a stress fracture that sidelined him for 31 days that year, Schafer never came back the same and it seemed his sound approach at the plate he displayed before the injury had disappeared. Opposing teams in the National League exploited Schafer’s overzealous approach and targeted the outer half of the zone:
According to ESPN/TruMedia, when being pitched on the outer-half (middle and away), Schafer pounded a vast majority of those into the ground, yanking almost 50% of those balls in play and predictably performed poorly (6-for-52, .115).
Maybe it was because of regularly scheduled at-bats or a sweet nothing that Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky whispered in his ear, but after the Twins got their hooks into him, Schafer turned things around, particularly in this area. On pitches on the outer-half, Schafer has driven those to the middle of the field (60%) which has yielded plenty of hits (14-for-39, .359).
As an example, here is a clip of Schafer versus Joba Chamberlain in which Schafer -- rather than turning over on the pitch -- stays behind the ball to intentionally drive the pitch to the spacious 5.5 hole where the third baseman is drawn in and the shortstop is playing at double-play depth.
What does the future hold for Schafer and the Twins?
After his performance against the Royals, manager Ron Gardenhire said that the organization is going to continue to feed him playing time for the rest of the year and see how he responds.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out here. We’re letting him play and giving him plenty of at bats and he’s responding and he’s doing well,” Gardenhire told reporters after the game, “You see him running the bases, he can fly -- he scored on that ball late in the game there. He was absolutely flying, I thought he had no chance to score. He has a lot of talent and we’re going to see how he does here the rest of the way for us. And we’ll to kind of figure out how he fits in this organization. We like the young man, he’s come over here and he’s shown some of his skills.”
So we will see more of Schafer in September and the Twins will make an evaluation on what to do with him heading into 2015. He might not be a starter but he could be a very good contributor both defensively and offensively.
Here's the lineup that Ron Gardenhire has written out for each of the last three games:
Danny Santana, CF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Kennys Vargas, DH
Oswaldo Arcia, RF
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Kurt Suzuki, C
Eduardo Escobar, SS
Jordan Schafer, LF
Each of those players remains under team control for 2015 and, with the exception of Schafer, each has a strong case to deservingly remain a starter going forward.
There are a few positions that carry some uncertainty, most notably third base and center field (I continue to believe Santana should go to short with Escobar sliding into a utility role), but Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton figure to come along and entrench themselves at some point during the season.
The only position where the Twins clearly need some help is left field. One possibility is that Aaron Hicks will end up there, but it's a bit hard to count on him at this point. Eddie Rosario is another candidate but he's probably still a ways off.
So the Twins would be smart to pursue an impact outfielder during the offseason, but the rest of the starting lineup appears to be pretty much locked in. And, similarly, there isn't much room for additions on the pitching staff.
Sure, preventing runs has once again been an issue for the Twins this year. But are they really going to spend big money on bringing in another starting pitcher when they've already got Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone, Trevor May, Alex Meyer and Mike Pelfrey all set to return to the mix (and Jose Berrios potentially emerging as an option midseason)? At most, I could see the team taking a couple low-cost gambles, but it doesn't make much sense to keep adding guaranteed contracts to that group.
Ditto for the bullpen. This unit will be bringing back some core members -- Glen Perkins, Casey Fien, Caleb Thielbar, Anthony Swarzak, possibly Brian Duensing -- and they've got a handful of options currently in Triple-A that are at least as appealing as the majority of arms that will be available in free agency.
With an $85 million payroll this year, the Twins are well below their spending limit, even by their own admission. That means they will have money available to spend this offseason, but as long as there aren't any major changes in the final month, and as long as no one is traded, there will be few places to spend it.
The takeaways from this overview?
1) Don't freak out if the Twins don't throw money around this offseason. For the first time in several years, a quiet winter would actually be quite justifiable, because...
2) The rebuild is finally coming together. Capable young players are starting to fill every position, and that's why -- despite the lack of on-field success -- the final months of this season are proving much more satisfying than years past.
Aaron and John talk about Terry Ryan all but saying Ron Gardenhire will be back in 2015, broadcast live from the Touch Em All Pub Crawl with a variety of guests, and discuss what they want to see in September including Joe Mauer, Danny Santana, Aaron Hicks, Phil Hughes, Brian Dozier, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Josmil Pinto.You can listen by downloading us from iTunes,Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click the Play button below.
Over at Twins Daily, you can hear about the Twins Daily Pub Crawl, catch up on the minor leagues or help our members figure out what the Twins will do in left field next year.
And at Vikings Journal, Arif Hasan has the most complete recap of Saturday's Vikings game that you'll read anywhere and Bo talks about the the Viking that is en route to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It has been his ability to drive the ball with total disregard for human life that has made his plate appearances “must see” events, as far as “must see” events go this season anyway. At the same time, it has been his inability to make contact with the ball for the bulk of the season that has come at a heavy price to his overall numbers. While he has deposited a ball in the seats in every 20 at-bats, he’s whiffed in just under every three.
Arcia’s strength has been prevalent throughout his professional career. In the minors he displayed a more balanced approached at the plate with less of a leg-lift stride that allowed him to use all fields. Of course, Arcia has eschewed this style for his prefered all-or-nothing pull approach at the major league level that has paid off well as of late.
Take a look at his follow through earlier this season:
His front side opens far too much -- particularly on a pitch that was middle-in in the example above. This pitch was an off-speed that Arcia did not stay back on and flew open in a failed attempt to yank it on to Nicollet Mall. If he continued to do this, he would see a reduced coverage on the outer-half of the plate (which he did) and this is something that can been seen throughout his at bats early in the season.
As I pointed out in June, because Arcia drops his hands, he has already shown a weakness to fastballs up in the zone and the Twins were trying to fix that issue as well. By the end of July, he was hitting a paltry .219/.299/.383. Needless to say, here was a lot to work on for the talented young slugger and, if his August numbers have anything to say about it, he appears to have had turned a corner.
While Arcia’s focus may be on pulling the ball with ferocity, manager Ron Gardenhire has said that he would like the outfielder to temper his swing instead of trying to hit the ball “8,000 miles”. Though some may interpret that as an attempt to convert Arcia from a power hitter into a punch-and-judy slapper, the reality is the Twins were looking for him to stay in on the pitch in order to drive the ball. Since August 1, this message apparently has resonated with Arcia and he has remained closed instead of flying open:
This practice should be enable him to handle left-handed pitchers, who up to this point have been the bane of his existence.
The 23-year-old Arcia is making progress at the plate and it could spell more offense for the Twins in 2015.
Finding a non-temporary answer at the shortstop position has been a long-standing issue for the Minnesota Twins, dating back about a decade.
In late April, we looked ahead to the upcoming crop of free agent shortstops, suggesting that this might be the best (only) method for finding a palatable starter at the position in the remotely near future. However, since then, two players have emerged in a big way, to the point where we may now actually have a legitimate competition that doesn't amount to "which option is least terrible?"
Eduardo Escobar has been drawing the lion's share of time at short, and he has performed fairly well. His .273/.319/.393 hitting line is above-average for the position, and his 32 doubles tie him for the team lead. I have always been a believer that Escobar's upside healthily outweighed his past production, and wrote back in March about his momentum toward overtaking the inadequate SS incumbent Pedro Florimon.
Of course, the fact that Escobar has proven to be a superior option to Florimon isn't saying much, and while the 25-year-old has been solid both offensively and defensively this season, I think it's a stretch to argue that he should be counted on as the starter going forward. Escobar is a nice piece to have around, but I think he's best suited as a utility man and backup option at short.
It's Danny Santana that has made the strongest case to claim shortstop duties in 2015 and beyond, even if he hasn't been playing there a whole lot. Santana's initial success upon being called up in May was surprising, in light of his .692 OPS in Triple-A prior to that promotion and his .708 career OPS in the minors, but what's more surprising is that he never really cooled off. His OPS has been at or above .773 in every month, and so far in August he's hitting .319/.364/.458.
Santana's production with the Twins this year has been strong enough to be an asset at any position, and jibes with the idea that his relatively unimpressive numbers in the minors were shaded by rawness and youth. Still, even if his abilities to spray line drives and run like crazy should keep his offensive game afloat, I'm not ready to tab him as an .800-plus OPS guy. His bat is much more likely to play at shortstop in the big picture, and I'm confident he'll ultimately bring more to the table there than Escobar.
Of course, Santana is considered to be somewhat rough at shortstop, so it would help if he could play there and refine his defensive game. The Twins might view it the same way, as they gave him consecutive starts at short over the weekend -- his first infield exposure since June. Hopefully in September (or sooner), Aaron Hicks or someone else will take over center field and Santana can spend the final weeks solidifying his case to lock up the shortstop position, while Escobar moves around the diamond.
Assuming both players stay on track and Santana can flash some fielding chops in a more extended audition, the Twins will finish the season with a multiple legitimate internal options that have proven they have what it takes to play shortstop in the majors on a regular basis.
That's something we haven't been able to say for a long time, and it means that the club can finally go into this offseason without a clear need at that position.
Once you're done here, check out Twins Daily to get caught up on all the latest Twins news and minor-league developments. After that, make sure to visit Vikings Journal, TD's new partner covering the Minnesota Vikings from an independent and in-depth perspective. We know you'll love it.
The Twins made only one deal before the non-waiver deadline on July 31st, sending Sam Fuld to the A's for Tommy Milone in what might go down as one of Terry Ryan's niftier pickups, but they've been characteristically active on the trade market here in August. Over the weekend, they dealt Kevin Correia to the Dodgers, making room for Milone in the rotation. And on Monday, needing to free up a roster spot for the return of Joe Mauer, Ryan was able to send Josh Willingham to the Royals.
A couple fairly intriguing minor-league pitchers have come back in these swaps (as well as the Kendrys Morales deal), but the chief imperative there was always to open up playing time for younger guys. The deals also work out pretty well for the departing players, who head from the cellar-dwelling Twins to first-place contenders.
Neither Correia nor Willingham has ever made a postseason appearance despite a combined 23 years of experience in the majors. Both will have a good shot now.
The Twins might not be done. There are still a few relievers on the roster who could draw interest from competing teams and are likely in their final years here -- most notably Jared Burton and Brian Duensing. There are several bullpen arms in Rochester that deserve a look.
Additionally, as Mike Berardino pointed out on Tuesday, Ryan might try and find a suitor for Yohan Pino; his 1-5 record and 5.37 ERA won't wow anybody, but his solid peripherals -- in addition to his spectacular Triple-A numbers -- could stir up a bit of interest from a club needing a fifth starter or added rotation depth. The Twins have motivation to move Pino with Ricky Nolasco expected to return from his rehab stint soon.
The ongoing rebuild that has been taking place here in Minnesota has been a difficult one to endure, filled with fits and starts, injury setbacks and indecisiveness. But finally, you can really begin to feel some momentum building. The Twins might be headed toward another 90-loss finish, but pieces are beginning to fall into place.
May and Milone have arrived. Kennys Vargas is getting his feet wet while Danny Santana continues to build his case for a prominent 2015 role. Prospects are starting to be moved up more aggressively, with Byron Buxton's promotion to Double-A despite underwhelming numbers in Ft. Myers serving as the latest example.
It's hard to heap praise on a franchise that has shown little in the way of on-field progress, but the Twins have done a good job of clearing house, and will enter this offseason with relatively few holes to fill. They'll have plenty of money to address those that can't be filled by incoming youth.
"Wait until next year" might not be the most satisfying mantra to fall back on, but after a lot of treading water, it feels like we can at least feel confident in saying it now.
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