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.
For all the buzz he built up during spring training, it didn’t take long for Aaron Hicks to sour the widespread enthusiasm surrounding him. We’re barely over a week into the season and already we’re seeing calls for the rookie center fielder to be shipped to the minors, or at least the bottom of the lineup.
In fairness, Hicks has done his part. Through eight games, he has been flat-out overmatched, with two hits, two walks and 13 strikeouts in 32 plate appearances. He torched opposing pitchers during exhibition play, but ever since the games started mattering and hurlers stepped it up, Hicks has looked utterly confounded by big-league stuff.
With his reputation for seeing lots of pitches and taking good at-bats in the minors (a trait that was certainly on display in spring training) the Twins had hoped that Hicks would set a strong example with his approach in the lead-off spot. Instead, he has frequently appeared to have no plan whatsoever at the plate, slumping back to the dugout dejectedly after being blown away by vicious heaters and benders the likes of which he’s never seen before.
He’s clearly overwhelmed, which may seem like a good enough reason to get him to Triple-A so he can regain some confidence and straighten himself out. If things haven’t changed by the time we get into May, it will be a perfectly justifiable decision, carrying the added benefit of delaying his service clock and buying an extra year of team control.
But we simply haven’t reached that point yet. We’re less than 10 games into the season and as bad as Hicks has been over these 32 plate appearances, we’re still talking about 32 plate appearances. If the Twins were going to give him the opportunity to jump from Double-A straight to the majors, they need to at least give him a chance to work through some initial struggles and adjust. At this juncture, the team’s outcomes take a backseat to the player’s development, and while I’m not saying that a trip to Rochester wouldn’t necessarily be the best thing for Hicks, there’s no way to know that yet. He needs time.
The same goes for other youngsters who have stumbled out of the gates, such as Brian Dozier and Liam Hendriks. The way players get better is through reps and experience, not through being jerked around and demoted based on short stretches of poor performance. The last thing the Twins need to is to repeat their 2012 handling of Chris Parmelee, who shuttled back and forth between the minors and majors, dominating one level and looking flummoxed (in sporadic playing time) at the other. Looking back, did we really learn anything about Parmelee last year?
The month of April is for evaluation. When May and June roll around, then the talk can begin about taking actions based on a more meaningful set of data. For now, the best approach is the one Ron Gardenhire took on Tuesday night with scuffling Hicks and Dozier: give them a day off to clear their heads, then get them back out there the next night (as I suspect they will be).
Can you imagine the difficult decision that highly-drafted high school kids have to make? Do they sign a signing bonus for seven (or at least upper six) figures, or do they go to a college whose coaches have recruited them and clearly want him to play for their school? For a couple of Twins prospects, that decision was all too real.
The Twins had two supplemental first round draft picks in 2011 thanks to losing free agents Michael Cuddyer and Matt Capps. As a result of having one of the best records in the game in 2010, the Twins had the 30th overall pick. They drafted infielder Levi Michael and signed him for $1.175 million. With their two supplemental first round picks, the Twins went the high school route, selecting third baseman Travis Harrison and right-handed pitcher Hudson Boyd.
Harrison has started all five games at third base this year for Cedar Rapids while Boyd was the starting pitcher in their second game. This weekend in Cedar Rapids, I asked these two top talents just how hard the decision was for them to sign with the Twins and forego their college scholarships.
Harrison said that the decision for him was very hard. “It was because I fell in love with USC. I did. That place is awesome. It’s close enough to my house where there are a lot of people who would support it. But then I got picked by the Twins which is exciting. They didn’t even give me a first offering until two days before the deadline. So, it wasn’t like we were trying to wait. That happened like that, and I think it was a good decision overall.”
When the Twins did make an offer and it was negotiated, the finally agreed upon a signing bonus of $1.05 million.
“My family was supportive of what I wanted to do. In the end, realizing that I really wanted to go pro, I really wanted to do it. With that said, I was ready to go to USC. You really have to balance what you want. I feel like baseball is my thing, so I wanted to go that way. Fortunately the Twins provided that offer so I could.”
He made his debut in 2012 with Elizabethton. He hit .301/.383/.461 with 12 doubles, four triples and five home runs. Manager Jake Mauer believes that his power will come.
“He’s strong. He’s strong in his hands for a young man. (When) he starts recognizing pitches and tendencies, and not only that but what he can really lock in to, you’ll see him start knocking the ball out of the park. It’s learning yourself. Learning what pitches you can take a chance on, per se. Understanding points of the game and counts, when to do it.”
Harrison had three doubles in his first four games with the Kernels this season and last night, he hit his first home run of the season.
The biggest question with Harrison seems to be his glove. Can he stay at third base? At E-Town last year he committed 24 errors in 59 games. He said he worked hard on the defense in the offseason. He was at the ballpark and on the first four hours before game time getting extra groundballs from Mauer. Tommy Watkins said he works hard and has already shown great improvement this spring.
“I played outfield in high school. I played 3B for my high school team, but that’s only 15-20 games a year. I’m still fairly new to the position. Last year I was mostly learning it. This year, I put a lot of work in the offseason, so it feels like night and day different. I make it a priority to get out there with Jake every day, and just keep getting better.”
For Boyd, the decision was just as difficult. The Ft. Myers native could sign with the Twins, or go to the University of Florida. He was the 55th overall pick in the draft, and he had a certain number in mind. When the Twins made that offer, he agreed to sign. It was not an easy decision, but it was one that he is very happy with.
“It was a tough decision, mostly because I really wanted to go to Florida just because I was a big Gator fan growing up. My brother went there. He graduated from there. Me and Coach O’Sullivan had a pretty good relationship.”
Like Harrison, Boyd signed just minutes before the deadline that August. The Twins had to go slightly over slot to sign him for $1 million.
“I think I made the right decision. I mean, you don’t really get to the big leagues by going to college.”
At Elizabethton a year ago, he went 2-5 with a 2.95 ERA. In 58 innings, he walked 23 and struckout 36. He was a large man, but he made the effort in the offseason to lose some weight and get in better shape. He is still not the skinniest guy on the team, but he now looks like a pitcher. His velocity in his first outing was good. He sat 89-91 but he hit 93 mph a few times. He also showed a very good changeup and a tremendous curveball. He has a ways to go, but he will work and will improve.
The Twins got a couple of extra picks in the 2011 draft, and they used the strategy of taking a couple of big, strong, powerful high school kids with high ceilings. So far, so good for both as they enter their first full seasons in 2013. Harrison will turn 21 on October 17. Boyd will turn 21 on October 18. Both will develop slowly, but each has the potential to be an impact player for the Twins for years to come.
Seth had the opportunity to make the trek from the Twin Cities to Cedar Rapids last weekend. Be sure to check out Twins Daily for a lot of minor league coverage and more stories coming from the Kernels. Of course, Twins Daily is full of everything you need to know about the Twins and the entire organization.
Aaron and John talk about the Minnesota Twins' winning opening week, bouncing back from last week's podcast, what to make of Aaron Hicks' slow start, Glen Perkins' excellence and managing the bullpen, appreciating Roger Ebert, the upcoming "Tix For Tots" event, close games and late-inning heroics, Tyler Robertson's goodbye, and "The Running Man" coming true. Here are:
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Meanwhile, over at Twins Daily, we have a weekend at Cedar Rapids (the Twins new Low A affilate) that includes a no-hitter, a chance to meet Paul Molitor, a great interview with Glen Perkins about how he studies pitcher statistics and a discussion about your first place Minnesota Twins. Hope you enjoy them as much as we're enjoying this first week of baseball!
Congratulations, Mr. Hicks. You are going where few Minnesota Twins minor leaguers have gone before: Straight to the Opening Day starting lineup.
Since the opening of the Metrodome in 1982, there have been just seven players in the Minnesota starting lineup to jump to from the minors to the Opening Day lineup: Jim Eisenreich, Chuck Knoblauch, Marty Cordova, Chad Allen, Cristian Guzman, Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
While all of those aforementioned players produced strong numbers in the minor leagues, they faced increasingly challenging competition in the first season as the dossier on their strengths and weaknesses grew. Some -- like Knoblauch, Cordova and Mauer -- adjusted well. Others did not.
This is a story from a free ebook that TwinsDaily is publishing on Opening Day that previews the Minnesota Twins 2013 season. To get your free copy, just make sure you follow @TwinsDaily on Twitter or Like our Facebook page.
Why is it that players can seem so destined for greatness based on their minor league track records, struggle once promoted to the ultimate level?
For starters, there is a lack of knowledge in the minor leagues which favors the hitters. Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway explained to the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson exactly how difficult it is to create a strategy for minor league hitters.
“Going into a game in the minors, you don’t know the hitters,” said the Red Sox catcher. “You’re kind of blind. In the big leagues, you have a game plan of how you want to go about it.”
In the minors there are no Pitchf/x graphs or extensive collection of video to determine how to approach a particular hitter. There are no advanced scouts marking down every observation on how to best exploit a hitter’s weaknesses for the upcoming series.
Players who have quality approach at the plate often see a fleeting rush of success at the major league level prior to reports circulating among the clubs. Teams will attack the strike zone with strikes. They will fire fastballs in fastball counts. Only once it becomes clear that a young player proves he is very capable of handling that assortment do pitchers start to pick around the plate and breaking off more benders when a fastball is expected.
Then it is up to the hitter to make the adjustment.
In many ways, what will be awaiting Hicks is the same process that both Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier faced in 2012.
When Parmelee came up in September 2011, he was punishing the ball all over the field. He saw few off-speed offerings in fastball counts. Teams rarely challenged him up-and-away. This performance continued into spring training but opponents began to cultivate a different game plan during the regular season and he scuffled more, only to be sent back to Rochester for additional tooling.
Similarly, Dozier had some immediate success by driving plenty of fastballs to left field. That is, until teams picked up on his pull-happy tendency and moved their target to the outer-half of the zone. The same hitter who had once drew walks in 10% of his minor league plate appearances, was only able to finesse a free pass in 5% of his MLB plate appearances. Unable to adjust, Dozier’s numbers continued southward and in August, Dozier was headed eastward to Rochester.
Hicks’ gaudy minor league walk rate does not necessarily mean that he is a strike zone savant or stingy with swinging at breaking balls in the dirt. Hitters that move up levels likely won’t see a significant amount of breaking balls – a product of a lack of advanced scouting. Sure, there is always the two-strike hook, but those should be anticipated at any level. As Hicks gets challenged more as the 2013 season progresses, we will see how disciplined he actually is. He is already prone to strike out (20% of his minor league plate appearances), so it is possible that he is going to K more frequently.
Like all players before him, Hicks will need to be able to adapt to his opposition – which is easier said than done.
You'll get to kick of Opening Day with your free @TwinsDaily Minnesota Twins 2013 Season Preview. Just add us to your Twitter feed by following us, or tell us you like us (we're pathetic like that). We'll publish a link to the free ebook on Opening Day on both sites.
"Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he is never disappointed."
Have you ever gone to see a movie that was hugely hyped, only to walk out of the theater underwhelmed after deeming it just OK? Conversely, another film that was “just OK” might have impressed you if your friends had all told you it was completely awful.
Expectations can have an enormous impact on the way we perceive things. Which brings us to this year’s Minnesota Twins. Reality has finally set in for a fan base that was subjected to almost 200 losses over the past two years. Terry Ryan created no illusions of short-term promise with an offseason plan that was clearly not geared toward rapid improvement. What droplets of optimism existed last year around this time – that perhaps 2011 was a fluke, and that with better health the Twins would rebound toward the top of the division – have mostly evaporated.
Obviously the lack of hope for this season has led to a dearth of excitement surrounding the product. The lacking buzz was noticeable on Opening Day at Target Field, where patches of empty seats spoke to more than just the chilly weather.
I’d describe the current mood of the fan base at large as ambivalent, which is at least a step up from angry. Most who are paying attention can see a clear direction and long-term plan – more than could have been said the last couple years – but acknowledge that the odds of even staying remotely competitive this year are long. If the Twins dig another early hole, the reaction is more likely to be shoulder shrugs than outrage. Simply put: there’s not much room for disappointment with this team. How much worse can it really get?
But there’s plenty of room for unexpected outcomes on the other side, and this is where the lowered standards play to the organization’s benefit. Any sort of modest early winning streak will be met with intrigue. If the team comes together after a slow start and begins stringing together some victories in June and July, it will be easy to form (possibly accurate) narratives about a young group beginning to jell.
The fact that local ball fans aren’t necessarily too amped up about the current product doesn’t mean they’re not itching for a reason to change that outlook. And therein lies an opportunity for Ron Gardenhire and Co. It won't take a stellar team to reverse the trend of falling attendance. It will simply take a watchable team.
If the Twins up being “just OK” this year, most of us are going to be quite pleased. The team should embrace that dynamic, because this will (hopefully) be the last time in a long while that expectations are so low. Perhaps the lessened pressure will prove to be just what this relatively inexperienced group needs.
John and Aaron talk about loving Opening Day at the ballpark and on the couch, the Minnesota Twins' lowest expectations ever, moving Joe Mauer up and Brian Dozier down in the batting order, what to do with Justin Morneau, appreciating the greatness of Johan Santana, bullpen and bench usage issues, finding what you need on Ticket King, exactly how bad the rotation can get, and why baseball is so damn comforting. Here are:
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