TwinsCentric was formed by Twins super-bloggers Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes. Together they publish at TwinsDaily.com and have authored books, e-books and magazines that provide independent and in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Twins from a fan's perspective. You can contact them at TwinsCentric@gmail.com.

Read more about them.

TwinsCentric: Who should get fifth rotation spot?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: January 20, 2015 - 11:58 PM

With the addition of Ervin Santana via free agency, the Twins have essentially sealed up four of five spots in the 2015 rotation. Barring an injury or a dramatic turn of events in spring training, Santana, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Kyle Gibson are all going to be there on Opening Day.

That leaves one final opening, with several names in the mix to fill it. Who should be the leading candidate?

 
Personally, I'm not a fan of the whole "spring training position battle" concept. Deciding who will fill any roster spot -- particularly a rotation spot -- is weighty, and should not be dictated by performance in a couple dozen (or fewer) exhibition games, where the competition ranges from established starters getting their work in to minor-league journeymen.

Going into camp, the Twins need to have a good idea of who they want rounding out the rotation. If they currently have a preference among a list that includes Mike Pelfrey, Tommy Milone, Alex Meyer, Tim Stauffer and others, they haven't been too forward about it.

But for me, there's one clear choice, and that is Trevor May.

May has nothing left to prove in the minors. Last year, he was one of the best starters in the Class-AAA International League, posting a 2.84 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 94-to-39 K/BB ratio while allowing just four home runs in 98 innings.

It seems silly to send him back there at age 25 after that kind of performance, especially when you consider how many innings May has already logged in the high minors. Between Double-A and Triple-A, the right-hander has made 73 starts; for comparison, Meyer -- who many believe has spent plenty of time in the minors already -- has made 40 starts between those two levels.

One could point to May's unimpressive results during a late-season audition for the Twins, but he pitched better than most people believe.

For instance, you might think May's control was a complete and total mess during his time with the Twins. That was sort of true... in his first start. But after that brutal, jittery debut in which he issued seven walks, the righty handed out 15 free passes in 43 2/3 innings (3.1 BB/9) while throwing strikes at a 65 percent rate, which is league-average.

During that same span, he also notched 44 strikeouts, burning big-league batters with a 92 MPH fastball and quality secondary stuff. He certainy demonstrated that his stuff plays in the majors.

None of that really takes away from the fact that he gave up a ton of hits and a ton of runs, but that's hardly uncharacteristic for a rookie getting his first taste of The Show and learning that some of the pitches he could get away with in the minors aren't going to play. We saw the same thing occur with Gibson, who was crushed in his 2013 call-up before putting together a solid first full season in '14. In many ways, May's debut was more impressive than Gibson's.

When you consider the positive signs May showed last year, and his age, and his lengthy minor-league service, and his potential importance to the future of this rotation, it seems clear to me that he should be first in line to get a crack at that fifth rotation spot. Obviously that changes if he gets hurt or is a total mess in spring training, but the Twins simply have much more to gain from giving May a chance to take hold of that job than they do with someone like Pelfrey or Milone -- both short-term and long-term.

The only question is whether the club is willing to set aside factors like experience and salary in making that decision.

Details on this Saturday's Winter Meltdown event

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: January 18, 2015 - 9:28 PM

Are you heading to TwinsFest on Saturday and looking for something to do afterward? Maybe you're not, but still looking for a way to shake off the winter frost and get your baseball engine revved up? Either way, we've got you covered.

This Saturday, January 24th, Twins Daily will be holding its second annual Winter Meltdown event. Once again, the bash will take place at Mason's Barre, just two blocks east of Target Field. Things will get underway at 5:00 PM, right around the end of the day's TwinsFest activities.

Tickets have been going fast but we still have a limited number remaining for sale at $30. That gets you entry to the event, two free pints of beer from 612 Brew, inclusion in a raffle for Opening Day tickets, and a Winter Meltdown pint glass. You'll also get to watch John Bonnes and Aaron Gleeman interview three featured speakers:

  • Dave St. Peter, President of the Minnesota Twins
  • Tim Laudner, member of the 1987 World Series Champion Twins
  • Jacque Jones, member of three AL Central Champion teams

We had a sellout crowd at last year's inaugural event and we expect the same this year, but for now there's still time to claim your ticket and join the best baseball party of the winter. 

We hope to see you there!

TwinsCentric: Trevor Plouffe's improved defense

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: January 16, 2015 - 2:22 PM

Trevor Plouffe’s 2014 was quietly impressive.

With super prospect Miguel Sano out for the season with UCL surgery, there was little pressure to Plouffe’s job security. Some believed he would not be able to respond without the push but not only did the 28-year-old infielder make strides at the plate, supplying value in the lineup as a run producer, he turned a corner in the field as well.

The Twins have been lacking severely as of late in the department of defense but Plouffe defensive capabilities were markedly improved in 2014 and the data backs that up. Mark Simon at ESPN Stats & Info passed along the critical defensive data that highlights what areas the third baseman has improved:

Simply put, Plouffe has increased the amount of runs saved by reducing the number of errors and misplays (plays that don’t result in outs but are not necessarily errors), converting on more of the plays that are in a standard third baseman’s zone, and increasing the number of out-of-zone plays.

According to BillJamesOnline.com, Plouffe finished ranked 12th among third basemen in runs saved. Ultimate Zone Rating says he was sixth. Inside Edge’s Fielding rated him 23rd in terms of making the plays right at him this season. While the last one might be a bitter pill, all of those stats show progress in his defense. He has come a long way since his inaugural season at third.

What has led to this improvement?

This first factor is simply better throws.

Early in his career, a lot of his misplays and errors were a product of his throws. He was coming off a season in which he made 11 throwing errors at short and continued that in 2012.

In his first season at third, Plouffe demonstrated a side-arm slinging motion when throwing the ball across the diamond. That year, while playing 801 innings at third, he made eight throwing errors. That was the sixth most among third basemen with a minimum of 500 innings yet the ones ahead of Plouffe found themselves with nearly twice as many chances. Additionally, after reviewing clips of his plays, opportunity for more errors were there had veteran first baseman Justin Morneau not saved some of his offline throws.

Watch this play in which Plouffe makes a nice pick up only to throw wide and pull Morneau off the bag. Look at Plouffe's throw. He tilts his shoulders and delivers an almost submarine side-arm sling:

Here is another example of this in 2012. The Orioles have the bases loaded so the Twins bring the infield in. Plouffe makes a good play on a grounder to him but rushes the throw home, once again tilting and delivering a submarine side-armed throw that sails above Mauer's head.Now here is an example from 2014 of almost the exact same play. Notice how Plouffe sets himself and keeps his shoulders square on his throw to Suzuki at home:

When asked heading into the 2013 season about his throwing woes, then manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters that Plouffe is “doing fine. He'll be fine. We all know about the throwing part and all those things. I know Plouffie worked his butt off out there trying to get better. That's half the battle. You've got a guy willing to go out and do extra work, tried a lot of different things.”

*** CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE ANALYSIS AT TWINS DAILY ***


For more, check out other articles and discussions at TwinsDaily.com:

How will Ricky Nolasco perform in 2015?

FSN's Marney Gellner joins the No Juice Podcast to talk Twins.

Will Phil Hughes regress next year?

And be sure to buy your Winter Meltdown tickets here.

TwinsCentric: Look Back at Twins 2012 Draft

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: January 14, 2015 - 11:02 PM

After losing Michael Cuddyer to Colorado via free agency, the Twins acquired two additional draft picks, the Rockies' second round pick and a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. Jason Kubel also left as a free agent to the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Twins also got a supplemental pick for him.

The MLB draft is incredibly difficult to judge or even analyze for more than a decade for various reasons. Top prospects don’t always make it big and there are hidden gems found in late rounds. However, when you have the opportunity to draft second overall in the draft, it is important to get it right.

As Aaron Gleeman pointed out on this past week’s Gleeman and the Geek podcast, it’s important to get the early picks right, but even mid-to-late first round picks, much less picks in rounds two through forty, are mostly a crapshoot.

HIGH-UPSIDE PREPSTERS

The Twins have had a lot of success with athletic, toolsy high school hitters in the past. Torii Hunter (1993), Michael Cuddyer (1998), Joe Mauer (2001), Denard Span (2002) and Ben Revere (2007) are some examples of this. Byron Buxton certainly fits that model. His tools and athleticism are truly elite. When healthy (2013), he was the best player in minor league baseball and put himself on track to be in the big leagues as a 19-year-old. Unfortunately a smorgasbord of injuries cost him a lot of development time and delayed his big league debut.

The Twins have had less success with drafting and developing high school pitchers. The most recent pitcher that the Twins drafted out of high school who made starts was Anthony Swarzak. Aside from Twins Hall of Famer Brad Radke, who the Twins took with their 8th round pick in 1991, others are few and far between. However, JO Berrios certainly displayed the potential and the work ethic to break that mold. He has a chance to be in the big leagues before he turns 22.

DRAFTING COLLEGE RELIEVERS

After that, however, we saw the Twins make another interesting shift in thinking. Five of their next six picks were college relievers. The Twins clearly focused on obtaining velocity through the draft. Although those five pitchers were relievers in college, the Twins made it clear that several of them would be given an opportunity to start. That makes sense. Starters have the opportunity to work 170 to 200 innings in a season whereas even the top relievers will likely top out at 70 innings in a season.

Even if the pitcher does go back to the bullpen, the opportunity to start has other benefits. He can work on secondary pitches. However, as a starter, he will have to work out of many situations that he will see coming out of the bullpen. It’s just that he is able to go through those experiences in the 3rd or 4th inning rather than late in the game.

That theory is sound, but there were certainly concerns with that strategy. One of them was an increased injury risk, whether real or perceived. Of course, that is going to be a concern with any pitcher.

The thought was that a couple of these guys would get up to the big leagues and pitch out of the bullpen. The thinking was also be that if even one of them reached the big leagues as a starter, the strategy would be a success. So, two-and-a-half seasons into their professional career, how has this strategy worked out for the Twins? Here is a quick look at those five college pitchers:

LUKE BARD – RHP – Georgia Tech

With the 42nd overall pick (supplemental pick for losing Kubel), the Twins took the right-hander. The thought was that he would be given the opportunity to start. However, in 2012 and 2013, he worked a combined 19.1 innings in the minors and then missed the entire 2014 season. At the end of the 2013 season in Ft. Myers, observers pointed out that he stuff was absolutely filthy. However, while rehabbing from offseason surgery last spring, doctors found that he had a muscle completely detached in his shoulder area and there was debris in his shoulder joint. He had surgery in mid-May and will likely be out for 12 months. Bard is as classy as it gets and when healthy, has really good stuff.

MASON MELOTAKIS – LHP – Northwestern State – Louisiana

With the 63rd overall pick, the Twins took a hard-throwing left-hander. Mason Melotakis had been clocked in the upper-90s out of the bullpen in college. In 2012 and 2013, he spent most of his time as a starter. Very early in the 2014 season, he moved to the bullpen and it wasn’t long before he was promoted to AA. As a starter, he worked in the low-90s and worked on two additional pitches. Out of the bullpen, he was again throwing in the upper-90s and getting significantly more strikeouts. Unfortunately late in the season, he developed elbow pain and in August he had Tommy John surgery. He will likely miss most of the 2015 season.

JT CHARGOIS – RHP – Rice University 

JT Chargois was a two-way player for Rice who was one of two closers on their roster. He was the pick the Twins acquired from the Rockies for Cuddyer. After signing with the Twins, he pitched 16 innings in 12 games at Elizabethton. He tried to rehab some elbow discomfort through much of the 2013 season before having late-season Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2014 season. However, he returned to the mound in the Instructional League and impressed everyone with a fastball that hit 99 mph.

ZACK JONES – RHP – San Jose State

The Twins used their third round pick on a hitter, but returned to the collegiate bullpen arms in the fourth round when they picked San Jose State reliever Zack Jones. His upper 90s fastball has been impressive. His first full season in the pros was spent in Ft. Myers in 2013. He pitched well while trying to work on his control and his slider. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League, but while there was shut down with a strange, cold sensation in his right hand fingers. A couple of months later, it was found that he had an aneurysm in his right shoulder. He required surgery and rest. While recovering, they found blood clots in his leg. He returned to Ft. Myers in May and started a rehab program. He returned to the mound and ended the regular season as the Miracle closer, leading a dominant bullpen that helped the team to their first Florida State League title. He returned to the Arizona Fall League where he struggled with control but didn’t allow a run. He is back at 100 percent and was throwing between 95 and 98 mph.

TYLER DUFFEY – RHP – Rice University 

With their fifth round pick, the Twins took the other half of Rice’s closer share. Tyler Duffey was a hard-throwing reliever who, after signing, dominated at Elizabethton, walking two and striking out 27 in 19 innings. His first full season was split between Cedar Rapids (where he pitched the first seven innings of a no-hitter early in the season) and Ft. Myers. He made 18 starts before finishing the season in the bullpen. In 2014, he began with four starts in Ft. Myers before spending the majority of his season at New Britain. He finished the season with three starts in Rochester. He worked 149.2 innings. Recently, he was named as a non-roster Invitee to Twins big league spring training. A mid-90s fastball and two additional pitches and he is now considered a legit future big league starting pitcher.

These five will have to be added to the Twins 40-man roster following the 2015 season or be made available in the Rule 5 draft in December. Duffey has been very good as a starter and has a chance to be a big league starter (or a successful reliever). The four other arms have all missed significant time due to injury and surgeries. These guys are all 24 years old and still have a good chance to get to the big leagues as relievers. They have big velocity and if things go well, they could still be late-inning, impact arms in the bullpen. Has the strategy proven wise? That’s to be determined. Time will tell.

OTHER 2012 DRAFT PICKS

There are several other Twins prospects who were drafted in the 2012 draft. One of them has been one of the most prolific power hitters in minor league baseball in recent years. A second pitcher was also added to the non-roster invite list. For much more, head over to Twins Daily for much more, and once you're there, check out these things too:

TwinsCentric: How secure is Suzuki's starting job?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: January 13, 2015 - 11:51 PM

When you look up and down the Twins' projected starting lineup for 2015, there are a number of potential weak spots.

Neither Danny Santana nor Kennys Vargas is a lock to maintain their stellar rookie performances. Joe Mauer is a giant question mark at this point. We still don't really know who's going to play center field.

But one area that few people are talking about is catcher, where the Twins are counting on Kurt Suzuki to back up one of the best seasons of his career. What happens if he can't?

At the trade deadline in 2014, with Suzuki's name floating around in rumors, Terry Ryan decided instead to lock up the veteran backstop with a two-year extension. At the time, Suzuki was batting over .300 with an above-average OPS, and his strong first half had even earned him an All-Star appearance.

Yet, in the context of Suzuki's career, the quality offensive output looked somewhat unsustainable -- his .760 OPS at the end of July was 70 points higher than his career mark, and he hadn't even finished above .700 since 2009. 

Had he really recaptured the ability that made him a major asset for the Athletics in the earlier portion of his career, or had he simply enjoyed a few good months? When your production is based so heavily on putting the ball in play and collecting singles, things can turn around in quite a hurry.

Unfortunately, that's just what happened to Suzuki. After signing his extension, he hit .248/.290/.366 the rest of the way. Those numbers line up far more closely with his career slash line: .257/.314/.376.

That kind of production wouldn't exactly be disastrous -- American League catchers hit just .241/.301/.374 overall in 2014, meaning Suzuki was essentially average even in his diminished second-half capacity -- but what if the 31-year-old continues to slide toward the sub par level he was at in 2012 and 2013? 

This brings us to a question that is likely be discussed frequently this spring and summer: What do the Twins really think of Josmil Pinto?

The 25-year-old's future became murky after Minnesota extended Suzuki's contract for two years; would the team have committed $12 million to the veteran if they truly envisioned Pinto taking over the reins any time soon? 

The answer is... maybe. Suzuki's $6 million salary wouldn't be all that ridiculous even if he's only playing part-time, especially when you consider the depth he adds at a position that -- outside of Pinto -- is almost barren at the highest levels. (Beyond these two, there are no catchers currently on the 40-man roster.)

Suzuki's presence allows the Twins to be very patient with the development of Pinto's defensive skills, and that likely played a big part in the decision to keep him around. But what if Pinto's proficiency behind the plate does not improve, or Suzuki's regression hits harder and faster than expected? 

With a lack of appealing alternatives on the extended roster -- or, really, anywhere in the organization -- it's hard to say at this point. Unless they are willing to make some concessions defensively and let Pinto's bat carry him, the Twins might be tied to Suzuki -- for better or worse.

Gleeman and the Geek, Ep 172: Jacque Jones and Meeting the Parents

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: January 13, 2015 - 4:14 PM

Aaron and John meet at Mason's and ramble about Jacque Jones career and his upcoming appearance at the Twins Daily Winter Meltdown, Joe Mauer's contract, crying babies, a mailbag and meeting the in-laws. You can listen by downloading us from iTunesStitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click the Play button below.

http://traffic.libsyn.com/gleemangeek/Ep_177_Jacque_Jones_and_Meeting_The_In-Laws.mp3

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