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At the beginning of this month, I projected the Twins Opening Day roster. When spring training begins, I’ll update that list. There are few questions marks in the roster. The fifth starter job will be up for grabs as well as a couple of bullpen spots. However, the centerfield job will certainly be one to watch.
We know that Torii Hunter will be starting in right field. Oswaldo Arcia will make the move over to left field, but centerfield remains a question.
The Twins did not address the position in the offseason, at least not in a big, obvious way. This leads me to what I believe to be Plan A.
Plan A: Third Time’s The Charm
I am of the belief that the Twins brass wants for Aaron Hicks to have a strong spring training and take the reins on the starting job. That’s what he did in 2013. In 2014, he beat out Alex Presley for the starting centerfield job. In fact, the Twins DFAd Presley near the end of spring training, meaning that there really wasn’t a backup plan for 2014. In fact, when Hicks was sent back to the minor leagues, the Twins tried Eduardo Escobar in centerfield for a game before the job was given to Danny Santana, who ran with it.
Hicks will be just 25 years old throughout the 2014 season. That isn’t necessarily young, but I wonder if some think he might be older after being given the opportunity the last two seasons. He has never been a great hitter in the minor leaguers, but in a good year, he can fill a stat sheet. He has all the tools to be good. Even in a poor 2014 season, he posted a .341 on-base percentage.
It’s possible, so the team does have to have a Plan B too.
Plan B: Fourth Outfielder Platoon
Jordan Schafer is going to be on the roster. If Aaron Hicks is the starter, Schafer is the fourth outfielder. If Aaron Hicks is sent to the minor leagues, Schafer gets a lot more playing time.
The 28 year old was DFAd last year after hitting just .163 in 80 at bats over 63 games for Atlanta. The Twins swooped in and claimed him. He was given regular playing time and showed what he could do. He hit .285/.345/.362 (.707) with seven extra base hits. The speedster combined to steal 30 bases over the course of the season.
Schafer would be the primary starter. As a left-handed hitter, there would likely be a right-hand hitting option to play centerfield against southpaws.
Who could that right-handed centerfield option be? And, what could possibly be Plans C and D? Click here to continue reading this article at Twins Daily.
In his first full season as manager of the Minnesota Twins, Tom Kelly guided to the team to the first World Series title in franchise history.
After Kelly retired in 2001, Ron Gardenhire took the helm, and in his first season he led the Twins to the American League Championship Series.
Your move, Paul Molitor.
The Twins have been in a losing funk for such a long time that it can be difficult for fans to remember just how quickly fortunes sometimes turn. But it can happen, and it has. The dramatic shifts that have coincided with the last two managerial changes provide evidence enough of that.
Kelly originally stepped in midway through the 1986 season, with the Twins on their way to 91 losses. At the time, they had not finished above .500 in eight years, but the club experienced a renaissance under Kelly, capturing two championships in his first five seasons.
After this successful stretch, they fell back into a rut, and by the end of the 90s they were caught in an extended losing spell similar to the one they are presently trying to escape. The Twins lost 90 or more games every year from 1997 through 2000, and while it appeared they were headed for a division title in 2001, they collapsed in the second half and fell short.
Gardenhire took over the following year, and we all know the rest of that story.
In light of this history, Molitor shouldn't feel too intimidated as he takes the reigns and seeks to steer the Twins out of the darkness.
Despite the timing, it likely wasn't the changes in leadership that primarily drove these last two turnarounds, but rather influxes of prospect talent and emergences of young star players, as well as savvy veteran additions.
The team is in a comparable position now as Molitor embarks on his journey, so it's not hard to draw a parallel and envision a similar outcome. It stands to reason that the new skipper himself -- uninterested in sitting through multiple years of stagnation -- is doing so.
Will the resurgence be as abrupt as it was in those aforementioned instances? Of course, the answer is 'probably not.' The Twins need to get back to the .500 range before a deep postseason run becomes a consideration. Talk of a worst-to-first swing in the Central is mostly just rosy optimism that always tends to manifest at this time of year.
It's hardly unthinkable that the Twins could find themselves in contention for the division late in the season. Obviously they need to stay healthy and get a lot of good individual performances. But, in a broader sense, two things need to happen:
1) Fast start. The team needs to put itself in a competitive mindset with a surprisingly strong start, and a record at or above .500 heading into July. This would set them up as "buyers" at the deadline, allowing them to upgrade in areas of need midway through the season. It would also make more urgent the calling up of prospects who could make a positive impact (e.g., Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano).
2) Weak division. This part, unfortunately, isn't really in the Twins' control. During his Q&A at the Winter Meltdown event, team president Dave St. Peter opined that the AL Central might be the strongest division in baseball. Well... that needs to be not the case. Not so much because the Twins need to be able to come out on top -- the addition of an extra wild-card spot somewhat negates that aspect -- but because they need a team or two they can beat up on and pile up wins against.
In 2010, when the Twins won the division, they went a combined 26-10 against Chicago and Kansas City. In 2009 they went 24-12 against those same two clubs. Between '02 and '03 they won 29 of 38 games against the Tigers.
With baseball's unbalanced schedule, taking care of business against the division's bottom-feeders is critical to contending for October. For the last few years, the Twins have been that bottom-feeder; they need to swap out of that role.
It's a little difficult to envision such a scenario this year -- the Royals and Tigers ain't what they used to be, and the White Sox and Indians both look pretty good on paper -- but you never know.
What do you think? What will it take for the Twins to be competitive in the division and in the American League this year?
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?
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:
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!
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.”
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.
And be sure to buy your Winter Meltdown tickets here.
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.
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:
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