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.

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TwinsCentric: The Twins have a problem

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: September 24, 2014 - 12:05 AM

For the past several years, my parents have been part of a season ticket group, buying 10 games from a full 81-game package along with several other parties.

The couple running the group has been season ticket holders for a long, long time, and they had worked their way into some pretty prime seats on the lower deck, directly behind home plate and just beneath the overhang.

I enjoyed this arrangement because invariably I would be invited to use one or both tickets several times per year. But a couple weeks ago my dad called me with a message that didn't come as a total surprise: "They're not renewing the tickets."

When I heard that news, I immediately thought to myself, "This team is in trouble."

This season ticket group was a bunch of hardcore Twins fans, especially the actual seat-holders. But even they could no longer justify the cost, especially at a time where all games after July consistently carry no level of drama or intrigue. It's a drain.

The new ballpark honeymoon period has passed, and now there's going to be a newer stadium over in St. Paul. The All-Star Game has come and gone. The Twins now have to rely more than ever on the quality of their product on the field and, for yet another season, that product has been flat-out lousy.

It's not just that this team is bad. They're worse than bad. This is going to be their fourth straight finish with a bottom-five W/L record in the majors.

While you can point at several individual positive developments, and numerous unfortunate setbacks that weren't really controllable, the bottom line is that there have been no tangible signs of progress. The Twins will finish with fewer losses than last year, but barely.

We've already seen the attendance decline take effect. They're currently at about 2.2 million through the gate this year, so they're going to fall short of their last year at the Metrodome (2.4 million in 2009). If my parents' season ticket group, along with several others I've been hearing about, are any indication, that decline is only going to steepen.

The Twins need to do something to jolt the fan base and stir some kind of buzz. But a big roster shakeup doesn't seem to be in the plans; there just aren't many areas where it's realistic to expect major additions.

A change in leadership would at least signal a dissatisfaction with the stagnant results and a sense of urgency to get things going, but that also does not seem to be in the plans. Terry Ryan, based on everything I've heard, is entrenched in his position as long as he wants it. Ryan hinted that Ron Gardenhire will also be back next year, and while the team later backed off that statement a bit, it's probably accurate.

All the assistant coaches are on one-year deals, and thus facing renewal or removal, so I would guess we'll see some turnover there. It should probably start with Rick Anderson.

But the last staff shakeup was little more than a rearrangement. And is the shuffling of assistant coaches really going to strike any skeptical season ticket renewer as a sufficient overhaul?

I, personally, can see the light for the Twins. I follow closely enough to know that they were set back by a number of unfortunate events in the minors this year, and that a sizable wave of premium talent is heading this way (or already developing on the field). I do think this young core can succeed with the existing leadership in place, because I mostly trust Ryan and I don't think Gardy matters much one way or the other.

But the majority of fans don't follow as closely as I, or most readers of this blog. Most casual fans I talk to can barely identify with the team anymore, and have only faintly heard the names Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.

And right or wrong, this organization's constant commitment to loyalty, promoting from within, and sticking with the guys they like in the face of historically awful results comes off to many as arrogant and insular. There's a reason that a recent rose-colored marketing survey has been nationally criticized as tone-deaf and absurd. The Twins say they get it, but do they?

"They're always one year away," my co-worker grumbled over lunch the other day while I was trying to emphasize the quality of the young players who are -- hopefully -- on the verge of arriving and changing this pitiful culture.

It's hard to disagree. And in fact "one year away" might seem generous with the complete lack of progress that we've seen in three straight. Until that magical turnaround season finally comes, how many more fans can the team afford to lose to disinterest while steadfastly staying the course? At what point do major changes become a business necessity rather than a strategic decision?

I don't know the answer, but what I can say is this: The dwindling crowds at the ballpark, the stagnating traffic and activity on sites like ours, and the increasingly ambivalent attitudes of local baseball fans that I encounter all clearly signify that the Twins are fading from the public sports consciousness to an alarming degree.

TwinsCentric: The real Brian Dozier?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: September 16, 2014 - 10:04 PM

It's a statistic that you've probably heard recently: Prior to the All-Star break, Twins second baseman Brian Dozier piled up 18 home runs, leading to an appearance in the Derby at Target Field. Since then, he has hit a total of two.

For some, this is a worrisome development, indicative that perhaps Dozier is not the long-term cog that many of us hoped he could be. For me, however, the 27-year-old's post-break production is actually rather encouraging. Allow me to explain.

First, let's get this out there: It was never terribly realistic to believe that Dozier was going to keep hitting the ball out of the park at the frantic rate he established during the first three-plus months. In 2013, he launched 18 homers, surpassing his career total in the minors, and this year he matched that number in just over half a season.

Clearly he has made some strides and developed considerably as a power hitter, but based on his history and his swing, the odds that he was going to be an annual source for 30-40 home runs were slim to nil. Some regression in the HR category was inevitable.

Granted, the regression has been more drastic than we would have expected or hoped. But for the most part, the rest of Dozier's strong offensive game has remained intact. Here's a more broad view of his splits:

Before All-Star break: 424 PA, .242/.340/.436, 16 2B, 0 3B, 18 HR, 79/52 K/BB

Since All-Star break: 234 PA, .227/.348/.340, 16 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 39/33 K/BB

Although Dozier has clearly been scuffling from a pure power standpoint, he is still getting on base, still showing excellent plate discipline and still hitting a bunch of doubles. Let's face it, as nice as the long balls were, these are the most important aspects of his game when you consider his role as a top-of-the-lineup table setter. 

If a "slumping" Dozier can continue to exhibit those positive traits, it bodes awfully well for what we can expect going forward, especially once the home run proclivity returns in some form. He might not get back to ripping four homers per month on a consistent basis, but he did place 34 balls in the seats from April of 2013 through July of 2014. It's pretty tough to view that as a total fluke. 

Dozier, at the worst we've seen him in a long time, still ain't bad by any means, especially when you account for his exceptional defensive skills. Consider that his relatively unimpressive .688 OPS since the All-Star break is just five points lower than what the average AL second baseman has produced this year. 

Is the guy we've seen since mid-July the "real Brian Dozier"? Probably not. More likely he has just cooled off a bit, and been adjusted to, after a really long and really impressive power-hitting hot streak. The true version probably lies somewhere in the middle, and still figures to be a hell of a player and building block.

~~~

Yesterday I published my first post at Vikings Journal, discussing what I think the Vikings and NFL need to do regarding Adrian Peterson. If you're so inclined, please give it a read.

Gleeman and the Geek, Ep 162: Beers with a Reporter, Starring Phil Miller

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: September 14, 2014 - 9:40 PM

Aaron and John are joined by special guest Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune to talk about Ron Gardenhire handling all the losing, Trevor May's turnaround, Danny Santana's rookie season, whether the timetable for contention has been pushed back, Tommy Milone being damaged goods, the value of stealing bases beyond the numbers, Doug Mientkiewicz as a managerial candidate, comparing Delmon Young to Carlos Boozer, the value of a pitching coach and why it's a baseball fan should not be a beat reporter.You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.

There is more at Twins Daily, including:

TwinsCentric: Trevor May and struggling from the stretch

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: September 12, 2014 - 9:06 AM

Off the field, pitcher Trevor May likes to create music and spin tracks. However, while on the mound with the Twins this season, this DJ has been unable to find the right rhythm.

After an impressive season in Triple-A -- where he had his lowest walk rate since 2010 -- May was called up to the Twins in August. May’s minor league success did not transfer to the major league level. So far, starting in six of his seven appearances, May has pitched 29.2 innings while turning in a 24/19 K/BB ratio to go along with 41 hits to which has cumulated in a rotund 8.38 ERA.

His biggest foe, besides people who do not enjoy his sick beats, has been pitching with runners on base.

To this point in his major league career, ESPN/Trumedia says he has thrown 279 pitches in both the windup and the stretch. With bases empty, he has kept opponents to a passable .269 average with a 17/9 K/BB ratio but when he puts a runner on, opponents have lambasted him to the tune of .479 with a disheartening 7/13 K/BB ratio. To be fair, a sizeable amount of those walks occurred during his debut in Oakland (6 walks from the stretch), but his performance has been shakiest when the bases are clogged.

An American League scout who had observed May told the Star Tribune’s LaVelle Neal that May’s “got the ammo. He needs to locate it. And his fastball is pretty flat.” May has a four-pitch mix but has yet to show he can locate his fastball consistently enough to make the other pitches effective.

For most of May’s tenure in professional baseball, his ability to repeat his mechanics have been questioned as his release point will occasionally vary and his arm slot will drop. This keeps his pitches up in the zone where they can flatten out and seems to happen to him more often from the stretch.

Overall, May’s fastball has been turned into hits at a high rate from both the windup and stretch. The biggest difference is the type of contact hitters are making. Consider this: when runners are on, opponents have posted a 46% line drive rate with a .276 hard-hit average compared to a 20% line drive rate and a .135 hard-hit average. This makes sense when you consider the locations of his fastballs when in the windup (top) versus the stretch (bottom):



Getting strike one while working in the stretch has been an on-going struggle for May as he has hit the zone less than half of his first-pitch pitches (46%) a far cry from when there are no baserunners (63%). What’s more is that hitters have become more conservative once May is pitching from the stretch, chasing far fewer pitchers out of the zone (16%) than when he is in the windup (35%). That puts the 24-year-old at quite the disadvantage.

Broadcasters and media-types often talk about things “snowballing” for pitchers. May’s outings so far have been more of an avalanche once runners step on the bases. Every pitcher has some discrepancy between the windup and the stretch, but May’s splits are more pronounced than most thus far in his small sample size. Obviously, the stats will normalize over time as his .404 batting average on balls in play is sure to come down and he is able to corral that grotesque walk rate.

 


Look for improvements out of May in his next start on Sunday in Chicago.

TwinsCentric: Garver is top Twins minor league hitter

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: September 10, 2014 - 10:38 PM

Earlier in the week at Twins Daily, we announced the Minor league Relief Pitcher of the Year and the Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year for the Twins. Today, it’s time to point out the hitters that performed very well in the Twins minor league system.

There were a lot of solid performances and performers that don’t even make the top six for various reasons, be it injury, big league time or simply playing in a short-season league. Here are some honorable mentions that I think will illustrate just how good the top 6 are!

Honorable Mention

  • Josmil Pinto – Rochester Red Wings – 77-208 - .279/.376/.457 (.833) – 17-2B, 1-3B, 6-HR, 35-RBI
  • Levi Michael – Ft. Myers Miracle – 76-243 - .313/.389/.387 (.776) – 11-2B, 2-3B, 1-HR, 24-RBI
  • Travis Harrison – Ft. Myers Miracle – 123-458 - .269/.361/.365 (.726) – 33-2B, 1-3B, 3-HR, 59-RBI
  • Bryan Haar – Cedar Rapids/Ft. Myers – 114-432 - .264/.318/.438 (.755) – 23-2B, 5-3B, 14-HR, 68-RBI
  • Deibinson Romero – Rochester Red Wings – 111-419 - .265/.364/.406 (.770) – 31-2B, 2-3B, 8-HR, 45-RBI
  • Dalton Hicks – Ft. Myers Miracle – 111-423 - .262/.344/.407 (.751) – 24-2B, 2-3B, 11-HR, 76-RBI
  • Mike Gonzales – Ft. Myers/New Britain – 105-387 - .271/.348/.439 (.878) – 29-2B, 0-3B, 12-HR, 71-RBI
  • Jorge Polanco – Ft. Myers/New Britain – 124-505 - .288/.353/.395 (.748) – 23-2B, 6-3B, 7-HR, 61-RBI

Hitter of the Year

#6 – Adam Walker – Ft. Myers Miracle (124-505 - .246/.307/.436 (.743), with 19 doubles, 1 triple, 24 HR, 94 RBI)

At 6-4 and 225 pounds, Walker is an intimidating presence in the batter’s box. Fortunately for the Twins, he’s fit the part of powerful, athletic run producer ever since he joined the Twins organization after being selected the team’s 3rd round draft pick in 2012. In short-season Elizabethton, Walker hit 14 homers and drove in 45 runs in 58 games. Last year in Cedar Rapids, he his 31 doubles, seven triples and 27 home runs while driving in 109 runs (second only to Dalton Hicks in all of minor league baseball). He moved up to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League in 2014 and struggled early. He rarely was able to get his batting average over .250, but he walked eight-percent of the time, an improvement. He still has strike zone judgment and contact issues, but there is still so much potential in this 22-year-old.

#5 – Max Murphy – Elizabethton Twins/Cedar Rapids Kernels (75-243 - .309/.403/.556 (.958), with 14 doubles, 2 triples, 14 HR, 41 RBI)

Again, these are full-season awards, but Max Murphy put up incredible numbers in his debut in the Appalachian League that he was named the league’s hitter of the year. That’s despite getting promoted to Cedar Rapids with three weeks left in the Appy League season. In 35 games at E-Town, he hit .378/.483/.723 (1.206 with seven doubles, two triples and ten home runs. He struggled some when he got to Cedar Rapids, but he still hit seven doubles and four homers in 32 games with the Kernels. A Robbinsdale (MN) native, Murphy was the 9th round pick of the Twins in June out of Bradley University.

#4 – Jason Kanzler – Cedar Rapids Kernels / Ft. Myers Miracle (113-401 - .282/.344/.444 (.788), with 11 doubles, 9 triple, 12 HR, 59 RBI)

After four years at the University of Buffalo, the Rochester (NY) native, the Twins made Kanzler their 20th round pick in 2013. Almost inexplicably he began the 2014 season at Extended Spring Training, but about two days later he was summoned to Cedar Rapids. There, he hit .286/.334/.448 with eight doubles, eight triples and nine home runs. He finished the season with 27 games in Ft. Myers where his plate discipline greatly improved. Always known for his defense, he won two Gold Gloves in college and provided great leadership in the outfield. He came through big time for the Miracle in the playoffs. In one game, he had a double, a home run and drove in six runs. In the final game, his two-run, 11th inning homer gave the Miracle their first championship. #FearTheStache

#3 – Reynaldo Rodriguez – New Britain Rock Cats (.278/.337/.495 (.832), with 37 doubles, 2 triples, 22 HR, 70 RBI)

Rodriguez was a powerful force in the middle of the Rock Cats lineup throughout most of the 2014 season. He provided leadership for young Latin players such as Kennys Vargas and Eddie Rosario. However, he was an extra base machine. He hit 36 doubles and 21 home runs for the Rock Cats. He got to play ten games with Rochester as well and added one homer and one double. At 27-years old, he is a veteran who has been in professional baseball since signing with the Yankees in 2006. In 2014, he moved out to the outfield after primarily playing first base in previous seasons.

#2 – Kennys Vargas – New Britain Rock Cats (100-356 - .281/.360/.472 (788), with 17 doubles, 0 triples, 17 HR, 63 RBI)

I think it’s safe to say that Kennys Vargas has made a pretty strong first impression with Twins fans who just got to know him in the second half of this season. For those who have followed him since he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009 out of Puerto Rico, his production throughout 2014 has been a pleasant surprise. Vargas is a large man and carries a big bat. His numbers through the first two months of the minor league season were incredible. He put up the above numbers despite the fact that in his final 29 games in AA this season, he hit just .173/.271/.298 (.569) with seven extra base hits. The overall numbers still look pretty good because in his first 68 games with the Rock Cats, he hit .325/.397/.544 (.941) with 27 extra base hits. It is going to be interesting to see how Vargas progresses and adjusts in the big leagues going forward, but he has made a great impression this year!

Hitter of the Year – Mitch Garver – Cedar Rapids Kernels (128-430 - .298/.399/.481 (.880), with 29 doubles, 1 triple, 16 HR, 79 RBI)

Mitch Garver was drafted by the Twins in the 9th round of the 2013 draft, as a fourth-year senior out of the University of New Mexico. Many teams like to draft four-year seniors in the second half of the first ten rounds because they can sign them for well below slot and go over slot on others. Whatever the reason for drafting Garver in the 9th round, the Twins got a very good baseball player who showed his potential in 2014 in Cedar Rapids.

Garver started the season out strong by hitting .321 (1.041) with 13 extra base hits in April and was our hitter of the month. He slowed down in May, but he posted an OPS over .870 in each of the final three months.

Garver put up the offensive numbers that he did while playing the most grueling position on the field, catcher. On June 24, he took a foul tip off of his face mask that cut his chin and put him on the 7-day concussion DL. He returned and continued to hit.

However, he also did a nice job behind the plate. He He blocks the ball in the dirt pretty well. He has a strong arm that is usually quite accurate. He threw out 32% of would-be base stealers.

At 6-1 and 220 pounds, Garver has a strong, powerful swing that fits well in the middle of a lineup. He is a line drive hitter who puts together quality at bats with his very good plate discipline. He will advance to Ft. Myers to start 2015, but he could be a guy who moves up to New Britain at some point next season as well.


So there you have it. There were some really terrific offensively performances by Twins minor leaguers in 2014. Please feel free to discuss,

TwinsCentric: Could Mientkiewicz succeed Gardenhire?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: September 9, 2014 - 11:24 PM

On Monday night, the Ft. Myers Miracle won the Florida State League Championship for the first time in team history, with manager Doug Mientkiewicz leading at the helm. In his two seasons since taking over the High-A affiliate, Mientkiewicz has guided a club that had finished below .500 in three straight seasons to a 161-113 record.

The impressive results, in combination with a few other factors, lead to an interesting question -- one that fellow Twins Daily writer Seth Stohs has been drumming up for a while now: Is Mientkiewicz the right man to succeed Ron Gardenhire and usher in the next wave of young talent for the Twins?

 

Earlier this week at Twins Daily, we discussed potential changes on the Twins coaching staff. To me, moving on from pitching coach Rick Anderson is essentially a no-brainer, as his contract is up and the unit he's directly in charge of has been unacceptably bad for too long now.

Gardenhire is a different case. His contract extends to 2015, so a dismissal would require firing him as opposed to simply passing on a new deal. Still, as many people pointed out in the comments section on Monday, there's a decent chance that Gardy will be gone after this season. 

The Twins could decide to clean house, giving Gardy the axe while also letting Anderson go. That seems unlikely, especially in light of Terry Ryan's recent vote of confidence. But Gardy could also opt to resign on his own if the team parts ways with Anderson, a longtime friend. Or the manager might just step down after four straight tumultuous seasons.

So, if Gardy goes, who replaces him? Paul Molitor is a popular choice among fans, for some reason. But unlike Molitor, Mientkiewicz has earned the opportunity by performing well in a managerial role. Sure, the Twins have good players in the minors, but his immediate success with this Miracle team has been nothing short of astounding.

Mientkiewicz wouldn't necessarily be a conventional choice. At 40, he'd be the youngest manager in baseball and his experience essentially amounts to two years at Single-A. However, his path would closely mirror that of former Twin Mike Redmond, who jumped straight from A-ball to the majors last year at the age of 41. Redmond's Marlins endured 100 losses in his first season, but have taken a huge step forward this year and are currently just three games below .500.


Let's take a look at some reasons why Mientkiewicz might make sense as the next Twins manager:

* He's familiar, yet fresh. Since the Twins have a long history of promoting from within, it stands to reason that the next manager will be someone who's currently in the organization, so this fits. Yet, Mientkiewicz is disparate enough from the current regime, and young enough, that he'd bring a distinctly different flavor to what is unaffectionately referred to as the "Old Boys' Club."

* He has worked extensively with the top prospects expected to be the lifeblood of a turnaround. Mientkiewicz managed Miguel Sano in Ft. Myers for the first half of the 2013 season, and Byron Buxton for the second half. Mientkiewicz has also coached Kennys Vargas, J.O. Berrios, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Adam Walker and others. 

* He's got attitude. It's something that many believe has been amiss in the Twins clubhouse. Gardenhire isn't without fire -- as illustrated by his numerous ejections -- but his teams have often been accused of lacking in that department. Mientkiewicz would bring swagger. Last year he actually got in a brawl with an opposing manager on the field. Kind of awesome.

What do you think? Does Mientkiewicz appeal to you as a candidate to be Gardenhire's successor?

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