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: Twins Minor League Hitters of the Month - May

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: June 3, 2014 - 3:41 AM

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.
 

  • Deibinson Romero (29-102) .284/.378/.490 (.868) with 10 doubles, a triple, three homers and 15 RBI.
  • Adam Walker (27-103) .262/.296/.524 (.821) with six doubles, seven homers and 20 RBI.


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:

Gleeman and the Geek, Episode 148: Beating the Yankees and Solving Center Field

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: June 1, 2014 - 8:34 PM

Aaron and John talk about Phil Hughes' impressive first two months, beating the new-look Yankees, why Jason Kubel is stealing at-bats from Josmil Pinto, Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham returning, Aaron Hicks giving up switch-hitting, Jon Jay trade rumors, technical difficulties, Joe Mauer's struggles, and Ben Revere's shocking home run. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.    

Meanwhile, over at TwinsDaily.com,

TwinsCentric: What is going on with Joe Mauer? Here's the data

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: May 30, 2014 - 1:31 AM
This Joe Mauer vitriol has gotten out of hand.

Fans and media members alike are taking shots at him over his lack of production at the conclusion of just the season's second month of play. Sure, his power outage, run production and shortage of key hits has been the source of much consternation -- particularly in the last stretch when the team has dropped six of their last seven games.

Did you hear that the Twin Cities will have a new Joe Mauer-themed Uber cabs running in celebration of the All Star Game? For $23 million they will take you wherever you want but they can’t drive you home. 

See? I mean, how sick is that? Even I am not immuned from the growing mob madness. 

As a statistically-based individual, I realize that the run batted in is contingent on runners being on base in front of a hitter. I also know that batting second in a lineup often means you will be in fewer situations to drive runners in (even more so when your leadoff hitter insists on hitting a bunch of solo dingers). As a scouting-based individual, I appreciate his sweet swing and timeless patience at the plate. Still, Mauer’s production with runners in scoring position this season has been completely out-of-whack by his standards -- his lowly .189 batting average with runners in scoring position pales in comparison to his .327 average in those same situations from 2009 to 2013. 

If his offensive woes were isolated to just his situational hitting, it would be easier to dismiss as a product of small sampling but other issues have been plaguing him -- like his two-strike hitting (.208 average), performance against left-handed pitching (.224) or lack of power (.352 slugging percentage) -- and have increased the concern that there are other factors at play: like lingering concussion effects, lower back pain or something else. 

The Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, think that there is something less of a physical ailment but rather the masterful placement of the opposition’s defense. 

As Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer told KFAN’s Paul Allen on Wednesday morning, the belief in the organization is that team’s have figured out a way to combat Mauer’s opposite field tendencies which is wreaking havoc on his offensive numbers. 

“I think he more than any other Twins hitter has been victimized by the shifts,” Bremer told Allen. “When we talk about the shifts in the booth, we automatically show the infield and they are doing a lot of creative things in the infield but Joe’s really been victimized by the outfield shifts. And I think what we’ve seen -- and Ron Gardenhire confirmed it the other day -- Joe is trying now, and succeeding to some degree, pulling the ball more. Because he’s hit a lot of line drives to left field and he’s probably had eight doubles taken away from him with the left fielder basically playing in the left field corner.”

Prior to Thursday’s game, Gardenhire shared his thoughts on Mauer’s struggles with the media that echoed Bremer’s take.

“He’s hitting a lot of balls hard,” the Twins manager told MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. “The way they’re playing him and pitching him If he were in Boston, he’d be hitting .400. I mean, how many rockets he’s hit out to left field, deep. He’d be pounding that wall. But he’s not in Boston, and they’re playing him 'oppo.' He’s ripping balls that way, and you just go through it. I don’t know if you start counting all the balls that this guy hits on the button. I can promise you it’s as many as anybody in the league. He hits it on the barrel of the bat.”

Yes -- alert the media -- a higher percentage of Mauer’s power comes from drilling the ball into left field. Last year, 21 of his 35 doubles were deposited to left. This year his doubles are way down and plenty of that has to do with the outfield shift. 

Mauer’s ability to lift and/or drive the ball in the air the other way has been effectively eliminated by the opposition’s defensive schemes. It is no secret that after numerous years that the face of the Twins has a penchant for going the other way at a high percentage. From 2010 to 2013, if Mauer hit the ball in the sky, 54% of the time it was to left field. It was that direction in which he accumulated the lion’s share of his extra base hits. On the other hand, Mauer would pull the ball in the air just 13% of the time, making the right fielder’s job essentially one that fields the ground ball that slipped through the infield.

So it would stand to reason that teams who even have a basic understanding of spray charts would shade their outfielders to the left field line, having the left fielder stand on the chalk, the center field move over to a spot between the second base bag and the shortstop position, and have the right fielder camped out in the right-center gap. This would leave real estate the size of the airport unguarded on the right side -- just like the alignment the Tampa Bay Rays deployed on April 23 that the Star Tribune’s LaVelle Neal captured:



All it would take would be a little flare or doink over the first baseman’s head to net Mauer an inside-the-park home run. Of course, since 2010 Mauer has elevated just 55 pitches (7.2% of his liners/flies) that has gone into the far right quadrant of the field, meaning that land is safer than Canada.

While the Rays are some of the more forward-thinking teams when it comes to defensive positioning, other teams because to follow suit more often when facing Mauer. In addition to the shifting, teams have tailored their approach to pitching him away more frequently, almost taunting him to play right into their hands. 

What is telling is how many line drive hits this has taken away from Mauer this year. According to ESPN Stats & Info, between 2009 and 2013 Mauer had an .803 average on line drives to the outfield (.744 when going to left field). This year that rate has tumbled to .579 (.450 when going the other way). 

Visually you can see the stark difference in the outs made on his spray chart:



Notice how the outs on the left (2014) are closer to the left field line? Those hard hit balls would be difficult to catch if a left fielder was playing in a straight-up formation. 

In this last series, the Texas Rangers tried the same positioning. Rather than Yu Darvish on the mound however, the Rangers trotted former Twins pitcher Scott Baker to start. Baker’s stuff is not nearly as good as Darvish’s so when the former teammates squared off, Mauer was able to turn around an 88-mile per hour fastball on the inner-half into that right field corner where no one was home. 


That marked just the 10th hit for Mauer to right field and just the 15th ball he has hit out that direction this season. To Bremer and Gardenhire’s point that Mauer is trying to pull the ball more frequently, there has been a slight uptick in that department but nothing of huge significance. Prior to the beginning of last week’s West Coast road trip, Mauer had pulled 21.7% of the balls he put into play. Since then, he has increased that rate to 34.5%. 

The issue of pulling the ball more will not likely lead to more hits unless the opposition supplies him with pitches on the inner-half. When Mauer has pulled the ball, 78% of the time it has been on the ground dating back to 2009. In this case, opponents are peppering him with pitches down-and-away in efforts to get him to play into their outfield shift. When he has tried to pull something on the outer-half of the plate, he is almost assured a grounder to second (which, coincidently, he is 1-for-23 when pulling a ground ball this year).

So who knows where the season goes for Joe Mauer from here. He’s as mechanically smooth as they come and, if he is not hiding any cracked vertebrae or whatever, he should be healthy as an ox and able to make the necessary adjustments at the plate -- make sure to turn on pitches on the inner-half, drive the ball up-the-middle more frequently and capitalize on mistakes in general. Several week of doing that should open up left field for him again.

Stay tuned. 

(Data from ESPN Stats & Info)
 

TwinsCentric: Twins are playing over their heads. So what?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: May 28, 2014 - 12:40 AM

On Tuesday night, the Twins stole another one away.

You'd have a hard time arguing they outplayed the Rangers, who outhit them 9-6 and had a one-run lead entering the ninth before Joakim Soria uncharacteristically blew a save (his first of the year, in fact) and took the loss when he misplayed a nubber back to the mound with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

Hey, a win's a win.

That's been a good mantra for the Twins, who find themselves within a game of .500 as the end of May approaches, despite the fact that they haven't really played all that well.

Offensively, they rank ninth out of 15 American Leagues teams in runs per game, and 11th in OPS. Their team ERA is the worst in baseball.

Despite all that, this team is keeping it interesting. After Tuesday's thriller, they are now 6-2 in one-run games in the month of May. They have heftily outplayed their Pythagorean W/L, which registers at 21-28.

Not exactly a sustainable recipe for success, but it doesn't need to be. The Twins have been succeeding in spite of a lot of correctable problems, so there's plenty of reason to expect improvement over the next four months.

Let's flesh out a few of those reasons:

1) Jason Kubel will be replaced.

Harsh, I know. But are you aware just how bad Kubel has been since the first two weeks of the season?

Since April 13, when his red-hot start basically came to an end, the veteran's slash line is .187/.293/.206. Yes that's a .206 slugging percentage over a period of seven weeks from a player who was brought in almost solely for his ability to hit.

The Twins seem to have a blind spot for Kubel, as they've evidently never doubted his enduring offensive aptitude despite the poor numbers in 2013, but even they can't run away from these blatant struggles. He's been given 163 plate appearances up to this point but has sat out two of the last three games and is amidst an 0-for-14 slump.

It would have been great to see this one work out, but the Twins are going to cut bait on Kubel. Maybe as soon as Wednesday, when he is due a 60-day roster bonus of $150,000. He'll be replaced on the roster by a more capable bat (maybe Triple-A performer Deibinson Romero) while his at-bats will go toward guys like Oswaldo Arcia, who appears to be back on track after last night.

2) Center field also has to get better.

Now that he's given up switch-hitting, Aaron Hicks is either going to improve substantially or get replaced. The Twins are pretty clearly running out of patience with him and it's not hard to see why; Hicks' .585 OPS is worse than all but nine qualified big-leaguers, and is almost identical to last year's paltry mark.

The Twins have gotten worse production in center than any MLB team outside of Boston. They lack viable replacements for Hicks, which is part of the problem, but eventually they're bound to find an upgrade somewhere if he can't get it going.

That said, I'm hopeful the big change leads to a resurgence. Hicks is not this bad.

3) Pitching help is on the way.

As mentioned above, Minnesota's pitching staff has the highest ERA in the majors, in large part because as a team they are averaging only 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings. That's the lowest rate in baseball, and if it holds this will be the fourth straight year of the Twins being the most contact-heavy staff in the game.

But maybe it won't hold.

Down in Triple-A, both Alex Meyer and Trevor May are turning heads with their bat-missing stuff. The Rochester teammates rank first and fifth in the International League in K/9 rate, respectively. Swapping one of those guys in at some point for, say, Kevin Correia -- whose ERA hasn't been below 6 since mid-April -- could change the look of this rotation considerably.

4) Joe Mauer, guys.

This has been a frustrating year for Mauer. He's trying to learn a new position, he's been getting squeezed by umpires like never before, and now he's battling a back issue that is apparently more serious than we were led to believe.

But at the end of the day, this guy is still one of the best hitters in the sport, and if he can get healthy he's going to find a way to be a positive offensive contributor. He has done that this year to some extent -- a .364 OBP isn't exactly a liability in the two-hole -- but we can't pretend that his power output has been acceptable for a first baseman.

Mauer's OPS is currently lower than any mark he's finished with in his entire career, even in that miserable 2011 campaign. Maybe something's really wrong with him, but I'd rather presume that it's just a slow start and he'll make up for it with the big second half we know he's capable of.

Gleeman and the Geek, Ep 147: Previewing the Draft and Saving the Offense

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: May 25, 2014 - 8:43 PM

Aaron and John talk about Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham being ready to return, what the Twins will do with the No. 5 overall pick in the draft, how much time Aaron Hicks has left to show something, Alex Meyer and Trevor May doing well at Triple-A, biting someone's ear off, Glen Perkins' underrated excellence, Pat Neshek bouncing back in St. Louis, back-to-back Tinder dates, not having good stories any longer, and scouting college and high school players with special guest Jeremy Nygaard. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.

If you want more draft coverage, TwinsDaily.com has you covered with a story by John Swol on the history of the draft and the structure of it this year and an update to the national mock drafts, including a change in who the Twins will take. But we also have the upcoming homestand covered, inlcuding possibly the best pitching matchup you'll see at Target Field this year. Finally, this week's Big Switch award winner is probably someone whose contribution last week was overlooked by you.  

TwinsCentric: Twins Draft Preview. LSU pitcher Aaron Nola

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: May 23, 2014 - 9:19 AM

At TwinsDaily.com, we are profiling the list of potential Twins draft picks for the fifth overall selection in June. 

The six-foot-two Aaron Nola might not fire the fastest bullets among this year’s draft class but the right-handed junior out of LSU might be the most major league ready arm. But is a pitcher the organization's highest priority? 


Who is this guy?

Nola, a graduate of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, LA (that’s French for “Red Stick”), was an intriguing enough a prospect after his senior year of high school that the Toronto Blue Jays selected him with their 22nd round pick in 2011. At that time, the six-foot-two fungo bat was wheeling 92 mile an hour fastballs in Perfect Game events. Several rounds later, the Blue Jays took Aaron’s older brother Austin, a shortstop from LSU, in hopes of getting the family discount. 

Both Nolas delayed their professional careers at that time to play together in the storied baseball program in Louisiana. The younger Nola had a terrific freshman year among the elite competition with the likes of Mike Zunino, terrorizing pitchers with aluminum bats. For his part, Aaron Nola finished the year 7-4 in 19 games and 89 strikeouts in 89.2 innings pitched. Leading the Tigers staff that season was Kevin Gausman, who would be drafted fourth overall by the Baltimore Orioles (one slot behind the ball-killing Zunino).

In his sophomore season, Nola combined with a future Twins prospect Ryan Eades to be the one-two punch for the Tigers that made it to the College World Series and finished with a 12-1 record, 1.57 ERA, and a 122-to-18 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 17 starts. After the CWS run, LSU’s coach, Paul Mainieri, noted that 22 professional scouts were on-hand to watch one of Nola’s intrasquad fall practice starts heading into 2014. So far this season he has not wasted anyone’s scouting budget -- maybe except if your organization is drafting outside the Top 10 however. Nola has racked up a 9-1 record with a 1.42 ERA and the best strikeout rate of his career (10.62 K/9). 

Why the Twins will pick him

Nola possesses the kind of command that makes the Twins front office swoon. 

Yes, I know. Twins fans read that a pitcher has above-average command and immediately assume he pitches to contact. That’s not the case with Nola. 

Unlike the more recent pitching draft picks, Nola doesn’t have the power arm that Eades or Jose Berrios have but there is little question that his fastball is a significant weapon. With a slinging three-quarter arm slot, Nola is able to put on a lot of sink and generate plenty of missed bats while hovering at 90-92 miles an hour. The radar gun readings do not do his fastball justice however, as the sound is what makes hitters take notice. 

“It sounds like a loud whistle,” Sean McMullen, LSU’s designated hitter and outfielder, told the local media. “It’s as loud as anybody I’ve ever faced.”

In short, the fastball is legit. Just watch this:

Beyond the fastball, Nola has an above-average changeup that is considered his best secondary pitch but he also has a developing breaking ball. His stuff isn’t overpowering but his deceptive delivery (there’s some good extension at release) and pitch movement show a polished pitcher who could be MLB ready real soon, as one anonymous cross-checker told MLB.com

Why the Twins won’t pick him

There does not seem to be a real reason to not draft Nola at five if they want to target a pitcher unless one of the higher-upside arms like Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon or Tyler Kolak somehow falls to them. And the Twins went pitcher/catcher in 2013 so there may be some gravitation towards position players like Nick Gordon or Alex Jackson (a catcher who may not remain a catcher). 

Nola has the stuff to rise quickly through the system but that might not be the Twins biggest need in 2014.

***

Other draft profiles:

Trea Turner, Shortstop


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