Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
DETROIT -- Miguel Sano is one of the best power hitting prospects the Twins have had, but he’s really struggling defensively at third base this year in the Class A Midwest League.
Sano, who is batting .244 with 18 homers and 57 RBI, made three errors Monday night for Beloit, giving him 31 for the season. That’s 31 errors in 78 games at third base.
“We’re always concerned about defense,” Twins minor league director Jim Rantz said. “Obviously, the kid is just 19 years old. They’re not just throwing or fielding errors, they’re both. He’s just got to continue to work hard and take ground balls. He’s at the stage of his career where he’s figuring it out that there’s more to the game than hitting; there’s fielding, too.
“I know he’s concerned, too. The thing is, he’ll make the errors, and then he’ll turn around and make the good plays, too. So I’m sure he’ll stay with it and keep working on it.”
History is filled with examples of players who had huge error totals in the low minors but improved enough to thrive in the majors. Michael Cuddyer had 61 errors at shortstop for Class A Fort Wayne in 1998, although given his eventual move to right field, I'm not sure that's the best example. As Seth Stohs, from Twins Daily notes, Derek Jeter made 56 errors in the Class A South Atlantic League in 1993. Jeter's had an OK career.
General Manager Terry Ryan has said there is no reason Sano shouldn’t stick at third base. The Dominican phenom has the defensive tools to do so, with a good arm and decent hands.
After making those three errors and hitting his 17th double, Sano left Monday’s game with leg stiffness. Rantz doesn’t believe the injury is too serious. Sano has a .351 on-base percentage and .509 slugging percentage after 338 plate appearances.
* The Twins have signed Lewis Thorpe, a 16-year-old lefthanded pitcher from Australia, for $500,000. Added to the $1.4 million they spent Monday on Dominican shortstop Amaurys Minier, that would bringing their international signing total to $1.9 million, leaving $1 million under this year’s cap.
The Twins are close to signing Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in last week's draft, with the outfielder scheduled to arrive in Minnesota on Monday, his agent Al Goetz confirmed today.
Goetz said Buxton probably won't take his physical until Tuesday, but the sides are expected to continue talking on Monday, and Goetz said those talks are "just formalities."
Baseball's recommended slot bonus for the No. 2 pick is $6.2 million, but the No. 1 overall pick -- shortstop Carlos Correa -- agreed to a below-slot, $4.8 million bonus with the Astros. Goetz declined to say how Buxton's deal will compare to the slot number but talked about how excited Buxton is to begin his professional career.
"He's a special kid; I can tell you that," Goetz said. "You guys are going to love him."
FORT MYERS, FLA. -- The Twins optioned infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka to Class AAA Rochester this morning. Nishioka, who is on the second year of a three-year contract, was believed to be fighting for a utility infield spot on the Opening Day roster.
Nishioka, 27, batted .240 (6-for-25) in nine Grapefruit League games this spring. He had several defensive miscues early in camp.
"It's definitely tough to swallow, but it's not like I'm getting baseball taken away from me," Nishioka said, through translator Ryo Shinkawa. "I came from Japan to challenge in this country and I’m just going to not give up and look for an opportunity to be back up."
Nishioka was a Gold Glove winner and batting champion for the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japanese Pacific League in 2010. The Twins invested $14.6 million to acquire him, including a $5.3 million posting fee.
Last year, Nishioka broke his leg in the Twins' sixth game of the season. He returned from the disabled list in mid-June, but struggled, batting .226 with a .278 on-base percentage.
Nishioka will make $3 million this year, even if he stays at Rochester.
Asked what General Manager Terry Ryan and Manager Ron Gardenhire told Nishioka to work on in Rochester, the infielder said, "To slow the game down and to be able to be back to my old self, how I was playing in Japan."
Besides Nishioka, the Twins also optioned reliever Carlos Gutierrez and outfielder Rene Tosoni to Rochester. The team re-assigned nine others to minor-league camp: pitchers Jason Bulger, Luis Perdomo, Daryl Thompson, Esmerling Vasquez and P.J. Walters; catchers Chris Herrmann and Dan Rohlfing; infielder Aaron Bates and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez.
The Twins now have 45 players on their spring training roster.
Here’s a few Twins nuggets to chew on as you wrap up your holiday weekend:
* DRAFT DOODLES: Twins insiders believe baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement will make it easier for them to sign the No. 2 pick in next June’s draft. It should at least streamline the process. Baseball already has set the slot bonus for that pick at $6.2 million.
*** The slot for the No. 1 pick is $7.2 million, and the slot for the No. 3 pick is $5.2 million. Teams don’t have to spend that much, but that’s the amount that will factor into their all-important signing bonus pool for the first 10 rounds. Any team that outspends their signing bonus pool by more than 5 percent, not only get taxed 75 percent on the overage but also loses a first-round draft pick.
Few teams would want to risk losing a future first rounder while they’re negotiating with another one, especially the Twins. So they can pick the player they want, offer $6.2 million and basically say, “Take it or leave it.”
That holds whether they pick a college junior, such as Arizona State shortstop Devin Marrero, or a high school senior such as Lucas Giolito (a 6-6 RHP from Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles) or Walker Weickel (a 6-6 RHP from Olympia High School in Orlando).
In the past, Marrero could have threatened to return to ASU for his senior year. But what’s the advantage of doing that this time? The best he could do is return for one more year and come back as the No. 1 overall pick, and earn about $1 million more. But he also could lose millions by rolling the dice and getting drafted a few slots lower next time.
If Giolito or Weickel would rather go to college, that’s fine. But in three years, even with the bonuses set to increase for inflation, how much more money are they likely to command?
* ANCIENT HISTORY: This year, the Mariners took University of Virginia lefthander Danny Hultzen with the No. 2 pick and wound up paying $8.5 million. He got a major league deal with a $6.35 million signing bonus.
Teams no longer can offer draft picks major league deals. The Twins never did that anyway, even when they picked Joe Mauer with the first overall pick in 2001.
* CATCHING DEPTH: Twins infield prospect Brian Dozier, 24, had a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, batting .296/.358/.454 in 26 games, and center field prospect Aaron Hicks, 22, wasn’t too shabby either, batting .294/.400/.559 in 30 games. But none did more to raise their stock than Chris Herrmann, 24. Besides batting .380/.456/.620 in 15 games, Herrmann threw out six of 18 opposing base stealers. Herrmann converted to catcher from the outfield just two seasons ago and already he is the best catching prospect in the Twins’ system.
No Twins were named to Baseball America’s Top 10 prospect list from the Arizona Fall League (which was headed by Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Danny Hultzen), but Herrmann received mention, including this blurb:
This lefthanded-hitting catcher did as much as any prospect to help his standing in the industry with his AFL performance. Herrmann’s name came up in every single discussion with scouts covering the league. ... Herrmann also played infield in high school and at the University of Miami, so he could eventually become a valuable utility player at the big league level if he’s not an everyday catcher. He’s a steady player with a good approach at the plate and decent gap-to-gap power.
* MANAGER CHOICES: Before hiring Gene Glynn as their Class AAA Rochester manager, the Twins spoke to recently dismissed Cubs manager Mike Quade, who was a top minor-league manager before getting his first big league chance. Quade wasn’t interested, as he’ll still be drawing a paycheck from the Cubs for 2012. The Twins also considered former Padres coach Randy Ready, former Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson and former White Sox coach Jeff Cox, but ultimately they decided Glynn was the best fit.
* FORTUNATE BREAK?: After breaking his left ankle on a home-plate collision with Carlos Pena last May, Ryan Doumit returned from the DL and batted .328 (41-for-125) through season’s end. He finished the season healthy for the Pirates, but when they declined his $7.25 million option for next year, the Twins signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal.
“I’m not sure we’d have this opportunity [had Doumit not been injured last year],” Twins GM Terry Ryan said. “He didn’t get as many starts or at-bats as he would like, but with the ones he did get, he hit pretty well."
* WRITER AWARD: Congratulations to my esteemed colleague, La Velle E. Neal III, for winning the Sam Lacy Award (Baseball Writer of the Year) from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. La Velle will be honored at the museum’s annual banquet in Kansas City on Jan. 28. We’ll be sure to toast him and roast him two nights earlier at the annual Diamond Awards banquet in Minneapolis.
MILWAUKEE -- I'm at the Pfister Hotel for baseball's annual GM meetings. I'll check in here from time-to-time with updates.
It's quiet here so far, as Terry Ryan and most GMs aren't expected to arrive until this afternoon. Scott Boras and his assistants passed through the lobby this morning, and I did pick up one tidbit. Boras is advising Arizona State shortstop Devin Marrero, the multi-talented junior who has been projected to go in the Top 5 of next June's draft.
The Twins hold the No. 2 pick, of course, so you had to figure they'd run into a few potential Boras clients. He represents Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who commanded mega deals after the Nationals made them the No. 1 picks, respectively, in the 2009 and 2010 drafts.
Boras represents Prince Fielder, Ryan Madson, Edwin Jackson and Carlos Pena from this year's free agent class. I don't see the Twins matching up with them, but here's a name to keep in mind: Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez. He turns 40 in November and batted just .218/.281/.323 in 44 games for Washington this year, but the Twins probably could get him as a low-cost backup for Joe Mauer.
If you haven't yet, be sure to order your copy of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook. It's 136 pages filled with information that guides you through all the big decisions Ryan is facing as he looks to retool a team coming off a 99-loss season. The e-book costs $9.99, but if you enter the promo code "JOEC," the price drops to $5.99. (Promise, I'm not getting a cut. I just think the great work Seth Stohs, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman and Nick Nelson do should go rewarded.)
According to Baseball America, Pimental is a 6-foot-2, 160-pound righthanded hitter, who "is a skinny shortstop with a projectable body who has shown good hands and arm in the field. He's a solid-average runner. He isn't a huge threat at the plate right now, but he could grow into more power as he fills out his lanky body."
The Twins' international efforts continue to grow. They have exclusive negotiating rights with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka through Dec. 26, and you can add Pimental to a list of young Dominican infield prospects that include Miguel Angel Sano and Jorge Polanco.
Update: Mike Radcliff, the Twins' VP of Player Personnel, said Pimental is now about 6-3, 185. "We like his bat," Radcliff said. Polanco is more of a true shortstop. Pimental is a hitting prospect likely to move to third base or the outfield as he matures.
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