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.
Aaron and John talk about Sam Deduno being on thin ice, pitching prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May being almost ready, the Twins sending mixed messages about now vs. later, Josmil Pinto's demotion, weird phobias, Trevor Plouffe and Aaron Hicks getting hurt, the end of the line with Jason Kubel, Vance Worley rising from the ashes in Pittsburgh, and how to become a cat person in one week. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.
Lots of stuff at TwinsDaily this weekend and late last week including both good news and bad news, like:
Sure, not everyone thought he was washed up. Over the winter his agent -- Matt Sosnick of Sosnick Cobbe Sports-- reassured me that Willingham was strong like bull after his knee surgery in 2013. The procedure cleaned everything up and he was healthy. The message? Get ready because 2014 would be a rebirth of Willingham --avert your eyes because you cannot handle the raw power!
But that’s agent talk, right? An agent is supposed to be the best wingman alive, pumping a player’s tires even if the engine won’t start.
Then, like those cartoon dynamite sticks with a 100 yards of fuse that fails to ignite while an animated coyote waits with his ears plugged behind a rock, the Twins waited for the big boom from Willingham that never came this spring. Yes, spring training statistics are wholly meaningless but scouts look for signs of life and Willingham’s performance had a very weak pulse. He accumulated just three hits in 50 spring plate appearances and one of those happened to be a wall-scraping home run at Boston’s JetBlue Park in the final practice game of the year.
Based on that, the assumption was that Willingham was continuing where he left off in 2013. Last season, bogged down with a knee injury, he finished with his worst season at the major league level. While playing in 111 games, he turned in a .208/.342/.369 line with 128 strikeouts. With his highest whiff rate and lowest power output, there were rumblings that the 34-year-old was simply stranded.
Willingham made it just six games into the 2014 season before Cleveland’s Justin Masterson sent him to the infirmary again with a fastball that ran in on Willingham’s wrist. After a rehab stint in Rochester that seemed as disappointing as his spring production, Willingham looked to be poised to flounder again.
Only he has not.
Since returning to the team on May 26 he has flipped a switch and posted a .316/.467/.632 batting line with five home runs and a 14/14 K/BB ratio in 75 plate appearances. Only Lonnie Chisenhall, Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Alex Gordon and Edwin Encarnacion in the American League have put up better slugging percentages in that time while his extra nerdy .464 weighted on-base average is only bested by Chisenhall and Gordon.
While some may want to consider this as his dead-cat bounce, there are some positive signs in this small sample size that may indicate that this is truly a health rebound and not a fluke, the most notable sign being how improved his plate coverage is in comparison to last year.
Part of Willingham’s game is being able to extend those meaty arms in order to pull pitches to left field. Without a stable base to support those Popeye forearms, there would be little ability to drive the balls that are thrown on the opposite side of the plate. This was evident last year. If you divided the plate into thirds, according to ESPN/tTruMedia, last year Willingham slugged .538 (7 HR) on the inside, .438 (7 HR) in the middle and .224 (0 HR) on the outer portion. That is in stark contrast to his output in his impressive 2012 season where he slugged .526 (8 HR) inside, .642 (16 HR) middle and .422 (11 HR) outside.
Visually, you can see how different his season with a knee-injury (2013) is versus a healthy season (2012) and how that injury affected his ability to drive the ball on the outer half for power. It is amazing how abrupt his power ended at the middle portion of the strike zone:
Fast forward to this season and Willingham’s tendencies are mirroring his 2012 season in which he has been able to drive the ball on the outer-half with authority. Statistically in 2014, he is slugging .649 because he has tagged three of his five home runs from the outside portion of the zone. Here is how that looks visually with his slugging percentage this year:
Willingham is not only able to connect with those pitches that are thrown away but he’s able to drive them a long way from home. This is important because this is the region that opponents have attacked him most frequently rather than risk throwing inside:
Beyond just the heat maps that may confuse the color-blind, here are two visual examples with a fastball on the outer-half where one turned into a left-center field home run and the other a foul out to first base:
This may be the smallest of small sample sizes when drawing a two-swing comparison but overall this shows the discrepancy accurately: this year he is able to drive the outside pitch whereas in 2013 he was not.
At his age and his health history, it is difficult to say how long this production will last. Still, at the very least, Willingham is now doing the things that he was doing in his successful 2012 that he was not in 2013. Depending on how you look at it, this is an inflation for his trade deadline value or an offensive weapon to help the Twins combat the rest of the AL Central.
Coming into spring training, I don't think that Ron Gardenhire and the Twins were planning on bringing Josmil Pinto north with the big-league club. The young backstop had been awfully impressive with the bat during a September audition in 2013, sure, but Twins officials commented repeatedly throughout the offseason that he was still somewhat raw and his defensive game needed work.
That was a fair position to hold. Pinto was a bit of a slow developer in the minors, and had played only 19 games in Triple-A. As Chris Parmelee had demonstrated two years earlier, you can only put so much stock into a great September debut in the majors.
As spring camp unfolded, Pinto hit, and -- for the most part -- no one else did. With the offense looking rather shabby, the Twins decided that they needed Pinto's bat, and that turned out to be very wise indeed as the catcher's stellar April helped fuel a surprisingly strong start for the lineup.
Since the end of April, though, Pinto has quietly faded. Dating back to May 1st, he's hitting just .200/.227/.329, and after posting an even 17-to-17 K/BB ratio in the first month, his plate approach has deteriorated substantially, with 19 strikeouts against three walks in 75 plate appearances.
Pinto's decline may be attributable, in part, to his sporadic playing time -- he has started only 18 of the team's 39 games since the start of May -- but some holes in his swing have also become evident, and it's clear that his defense needs work.
He'll require regular reps in order to improve these areas, and he was having a tough enough time finding those with the Twins before Kendrys Morales came aboard. Since the Twins are paying him a lot of money, you can bet that Morales is going to get the vast majority of starts at DH, and Kurt Suzuki has earned the opportunity to start most of the time at catcher -- he's simply been a much better player than Pinto, all-around.
So the writing is on the wall. Pinto is going to head back to Triple-A, and he'll be replaced by a player like Eric Fryer who can more justifiably spend most of his time on the bench.
The only question at this point is this: What are the Twins waiting for? Pinto is a very important long-term piece for this club, and letting him languish on the bench as he has for much of the past several weeks isn't going to aid his development.
I suspect that the Twins are simply waiting to make sure that Morales is up to speed after his long layoff before taking away the best alternative option at DH. A few good games from the newly acquired slugger should be all they need to make that determination.
What do you think? Are you OK with Pinto heading back to Triple-A to play regularly, or do you believe the Twins should keep him around and find ways to get him into their lineup?
Once you're done here, head over to Twins Daily where today you'll find:
* Cody Christie's recap of Tuesday's minor-league action, which almost included a no-hitter.
* SD Buhr's writeup on the Midwest League debuts of Fernando Romero and Lewis Thorpe.
* Cody's updated, post-draft version of the Twins Top 10 Prospects.
* Christopher Fee's interview with Rochester Red Wings manager Gene Glynn.
The last time I can remember the Twins making a "win now" move was prior to the 2011 season, when they re-signed Carl Pavano and Jim Thome in an effort to recapture the magic that led to 94 wins and a playoff berth in the first season at Target Field.
You can argue that these weren't especially wise moves, but they were clearly aimed at a goal of short-term winning. Pavano, 35, was signed for two years and cost the Twins a potential draft pick. Thome, 40, was signed for one year.
Things obviously fell apart during that season, and in the years since, while the Twins have made a lot of moves -- some of them very good moves -- I don't think any could be described as aggressive "win-now" maneuvers.
Not until now.
Over the weekend, the Twins announced that they have signed Kendrys Morales for the remainder of the 2014 campaign, at a hefty prorated $12 million salary. That's a significant spend for a player whose sole purpose is to make this team better right now.
What prompted this uncharacteristic shift in approach? In part, it might be frustration. The Twins have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for their top prospects to progress through the minors and help propel the big-league club forward, only to be met with a seemingly endless string of setbacks.
Miguel Sano's elbow, Byron Buxton's wrist, Eddie Rosario's suspension… they have all pushed the arrivals of potential difference-makers backward, leaving the team in perpetual limbo.
And then there are the outside factors in play. You've got a manager and GM who are -- at least to some extent -- on the hot seat after three straight 90-loss seasons. You've got a ballpark with dwindling attendance numbers. And you've got a club with tons of extra money on hand after falling well short of its spending limit during the offseason.
On top of all that, the Twins are in last place but only five games out of first, and closer than that to wild-card position. So as Terry Ryan aptly put it when discussing the Morales signing, "Why not us?"
To be clear, Morales is not a slam-dunk signing nor a perfect fit. He hasn't played since September of 2013, and in the two seasons since his devastating leg injury with the Angels he has been a good but not spectacular hitter. He also has limited defensive versatility, so working him into the lineup around young guys who need to be playing, like Josmil Pinto and Oswaldo Arcia, will be a challenge.
But the bottom line is that Morales is a massive upgrade over the guy he's replacing on the roster (Jason Kubel), and he's a bat that you can immediately slot into the middle of the lineup. This isn't a move that suddenly turns the Twins into a World Series contender, but it does significantly boost their chances of hanging around .500 and remaining relevant late into the season.
Even more importantly, though, it indicates that the Twins are finally back in a mindset where they're focused on winning baseball games now, not next year or the year after. For fans who have endured some brutal results in recent years, that is a tremendously encouraging development.
Aaron and John talk about the Kendrys Morales signing, Josmil Pinto's future being in flux, John's amazing dance moves at the KFAN party, Jason Kubel being let go, Nick Gordon and the Twins' draft picks, when to cut bait on Kevin Correia, trolling the Joe Mauer waters, wedding dock collapses, mailbag questions from listeners, and when not to get married for money. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.
It was an enormous weekend at TwinsDaily.com:
In the last two days, we’ve discussed the top pitchers, starters and relievers, in the Minnesota Twins farm system. Today, we’ll write up some of the top hitters. While there were tons of great pitching performances in the month of May, it was a bit more difficult to find top hitting performances. That said, we have five below, and a couple of honorable mentions, that are deserving of recognition.
A quick reminder. Twins Daily is covering all angles of the Major League draft, which starts on Thursday night with the first two picks. On Thursday at 6:00, join Jeremy Nygaard and Seth Stohs, with guest John Bonnes, for a special Twins Hangout. The Twins should pick around 6:30, so we’ll be discussing what the previous picks could mean for the Twins. Be sure to check out TwinsDaily.com for more details on Thursday night. Also, on Thursday at 9:00, the show will continue on KFAN where we will discuss the draft’s first round, as well as the Twins second pick which should be made during that hour.
So without further ado, here are my selections for the Top 5 Twins Minor League hitters in May:
Number 5 – Rochester – Oswaldo Arcia - (21-70) .300/.342/.614 (.956) with seven doubles, five home runs and 18 RBI.
Should Arcia be on this list? Maybe not. Part of these stats were compiled as part of his Major League rehabilitation stint. About half of them were after he was taken off of the DL and optioned to Rochester. While he was rehabbing, he was unable to stay on the field for more than two days in a row. Seemingly the day he was optioned, he started crushing the baseball. That isn’t a surprise. Arcia is a big leaguer who was just getting rid of some rust with the Red Wings.
Number 4 – New Britain – Reynaldo Rodriguez – (36-107) .336/.368/.579 (.947) with eight doubles, six home runs and 16 RBI.
After hitting 21 home runs last year for New Britain, Rodriguez resigned with the Twins in the offseason. The 28 year old Columbian returns to the Rock Cats this year, but this year he moved into the outfield. He hit just .231 last year, but to this point this year, he is hitting .306/.353/.527 (.880). He has 15 doubles and eight homers, but as you can see, most of those extra base hits came in May. Originally signed in 2003 by the Yankees, Rodriguez spent a couple of years in the independent leagues before the Red Sox signed.
Number 3 – Cedar Rapids – Jason Kanzler - (29-81) .358/.411/.6205 (1.016) with three doubles, one triple, five home runs and 19 RBI.
Kanzler began the 2014 season at Extended Spring Training. A week later, he was promoted to the Kernels to play centerfield. He was the Twins 20th round pick last year out of the University of Buffalo where he won a couple of NCAA Gold Glove Awards. He hit just .220 last year in the GCL with 15 extra base hits. He was also 13 for 14 in stolen base attempts. He has been very good this year with the Kernels. Overall, he is hitting .309/.358/.481 with five doubles, four triples and five home runs. He also has ten steals in 12 attempts.
Number 2 – New Britain – Kennys Vargas - (38-106) .358/.430/.566 (.996) with seven doubles, five home runs and 24 RBI.
Little Papi (who is actually bigger than Big Papi) had a very impressive month. As important, he was pretty consistent throughout the month with a couple of six game hot streaks. Early in the month, he had a six-game streak where he went 12-28. Later in the month, he had a six game stretch in which he went 12-21. He continues to show that he can hit for average and hit for power from both sides of the plate.
The 24-year-old from Puerto Rico has put himself squarely into future Twins plans. He has greatly improved his plate discipline and approach.
The May Minnesota Twins Minor League Hitter of the Month is...
New Britain Rock Cats OF Danny Ortiz (40-103) .388/.402/.660 (1.062) with 12 doubles, two triples, four home runs and 23 RBI.
Ortiz was the Twins fourth-round pick in 2008 out of high school in Puerto Rico. The 24-year-old had a tough first month, likely disappointed to be back in the Eastern League. He hit .227 and managed just four extra base hits. He took off in May. He has certainly been a streaky hitter, having some really terrific months over the years. Although his MLB future would appear to be a fourth or fifth outfielder, he is the kind of guy who is still young and could play for a long time. He can play all three positions well. He is a fundamentally sound defender. His biggest flaw is that he completely lacks the will to do much walking.
In May, he had 14 multi-hit games, including four three-hit games for the Rock Cats. Although he was consistent throughout the month, he finished very strong. In his final five games, he went 10-19 with three doubles and a triple. In a mid-month, three-game series against Richmond, he had eight hits including three doubles and a home run. Listed at just 5-11 and 175 pounds (which seems pretty accurate), Ortiz can pack a big punch.
Overall, he is hitting .324/.340/.500 (.840) with 16 doubles, two triples and four home runs. He and Vargas, along with Eddie Rosario, teamed together this spring to help their Puerto Rican team into the Caribbean Series. All three could contribute to the Twins in time as well.
There were several solid performances in May that weren’t included in the Top 5. Here are some Honorable Mentions just missed out on the Top 5.
Feel free to comment and discuss.
And when you're done with all of the great Star Tribune Twins content, head over to TwinsDaily.com for more. Things have been very busy as we look forward to the Twins 2014 draft which starts on Thursday. On Sunday and into Monday, a dozen new articles were posted, so be sure to check that out and then engage in the Forums. Here's some of that information:
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