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: All about that base

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: February 26, 2015 - 12:16 PM

If one were to highlight the utter banality of baseball’s month of February, a simple action in a spring training complex back field -- featuring grown men who mime a throw to the plate, speed-jog fifty feet from the middle of the diamond to step on first base and receive an underhand toss -- might suffice. The act is then repeated without end until the pitchers are dreaming of breaking towards first in their sleep.

That’s the goal, anyway.

While it appears boring to both the participant and onlooker alike, drilling in spring training is likely favored to some of the original methods for ensuring pitchers take responsibility for covering first base.

In the late 1880s, the first baseman began to position themselves away from the base and closer to where they are today. This new positioning caused issues due to the fact that first basemen were now playing back to cover more ground and were beat when racing to the bag. This then became the pitchers’ responsibility to get to the base. Instinctually, pitchers shied away from the added cardio work and often stayed at the mound. According to the book A Game Of Inches, at that time the Cardinals’ owner and first baseman Charles Comiskey admitted he would field the ball from his position and if his pitcher failed to man the base, Comiskey would throw the ball to the unattended base regardless. “[T]he crowd saw who was to blame, and pretty soon pitchers got into the habit of running over rapidly rather than be roasted,” Comiskey said.  

Even after several years it still had not sunk in with pitchers to beeline it to first base if the ball was hit to their left. In 1905, following a Washington Post article that described the acts of the the team’s pitchers not covering the base the previous season as an act of “stupidity or indifference”, the Washington Senators became one of the earliest recorded team to implement fielding practice for pitchers in spring training so they would be confident the first baseman could “play a deep field and feel certain that the pitcher will go over and take his throws.”

In many ways, the residuals of the old Senators practices carried over when the franchise moved to Minnesota. When Jack Morris arrived at the newly minted Lee County Sports Complex in the spring of 1991, the veteran pitcher encountered Twins manager Tom Kelly’s brand of tirelessly drilling on the fundamentals. According to Season of Dreams, after camp ended Morris told reporters that he covered first base more times in his first spring with the Twins in Florida than he had in 14 years with the Detroit Tigers.

A hundred years later the tradition continues in Fort Myers with the new generation of pitchers pantomiming their delivery to the plate and trotting off towards first. You would think that over the course of a century modern pitchers would realize that first basemen are no longer tethered to the base. In fact, some believe that the time spent on drilling this is a waste. As Angels pitcher CJ Wilson told MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, “I'd rather spend the time going over strategies and pitching techniques than do PFP,” Wilson said in 2011. “It's just boring."(1)

Still, the Twins value pounding the fundamentals into their players -- even if it is based on a practice that stems from 100 years ago. It can pay dividends; take Twins’ pitcher Kyle Gibson for instance. In 2015, Gibson led all major league pitchers with 30 putouts.

In many ways the pitcher putouts at first are much like RBI totals -- they are all about opportunity. A right-handed ground ball pitcher is likely going to induce more opportunities than a fly ball pitcher or a left-handed pitcher. Likewise, a pitcher needs a first baseman who will not finish the job himself. Two reasons Gibson’s totals led baseball was: 1) he had one of the highest total of grounders in a first baseman’s zone and 2) his first baseman was unfamiliar with the position.

*** CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE STORY AT TWINS DAILY ***

 


For more spring training talk, head over to TwinsDaily.com:

Nick Nelson asks can the hard-throwing Rule 5 draft JR Graham stick with the team?

Seth Stohs provided a two-part series on former Twins reliever Tom "The Klaw" Klawitter that you should read. 

ESPN released their team rankings of where MLB front office fall in regards to use of analytics. Where do you think the Twins ranked

What is it like trying to survive in the bus leagues on $5 a day? The No Juice Podcast sit down with former Twins farmhand AJ Pettersen on that lifestyle.

Gleeman & the Geek, Episode 182: Topless Prospects and Talkless Haircuts

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: February 23, 2015 - 11:40 PM

Aaron and John talk about the Twins' top 10 prospects, Ron Gardenhire's plans for 2015, the big Miguel Sano comeback, eating and drinking at New Bohemia, Nick Punto's retirement, billion-dollar TV deals, how to get a proper anti-social haircut, Jose Berrios going topless, moving day, and mailbag questions. You can listen by downloading us from iTunesStitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click the Play button below.

http://traffic.libsyn.com/gleemangeek/Episode_182_Topless_Aaron_and_Talkless_Haircuts.mp3

TwinsCentric: Burning questions for spring training

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: February 17, 2015 - 10:50 PM

After another long and frigid winter, spring training is almost here. We are only four days from the reporting date for pitchers and catchers in Ft. Myers, and from that point it will be a six-week countdown to the start of regular-season baseball.

Like last year, Twins Daily will be on location covering the action in Twins camp, but before all of that gets underway, let's preview some of the storylines that figure to be most compelling to follow as Paul Molitor and his newly appointed staff work to solidify a roster and forge an identity.

1. What's up with the catching depth?

Kurt Suzuki is locked in as the starting backstop, but it's less clear how things will play out behind him. It appears that the plan is for Josmil Pinto will back him up and start once or twice a week, but the Twins are hardly enamored with his defense and have usually preferred to have a catch-and-throw specialist on the roster. If Suzuki or Pinto gets hurt, who is next in line? Chris Herrmann is on the 40-man roster but isn't a strong option offensively or defensively. Could someone like Stuart Turner emerge?

2. Who gets the fifth starter spot?

This will be one of the most prominent storylines, and it's one we've already been covering extensively at Twins Daily. Make sure to check out Seth's writeups on various candidates for the job, including Trevor MayTommy MiloneTim StaufferAlex Meyer and Mike Pelfrey.

3. How will the bullpen shake out?

We know Glen Perkins will be there. We basically know Casey Fien, Brian Duensing, Caleb Thielbar and Tim Stauffer will be there. That leaves one or two remaining spots, with a lengthy list of contenders set to make their cases. Hurlers like Michael Tonkin, Stephen Pryor, Ryan Pressly, A.J. Achter and Lester Oliveros will all be in the mix, not to mention the guys that lose out on the fifth starter competition mentioned above. 

4. Who plays DH if not Kennys Vargas?

Vargas had an exceptional rookie season, but the Twins have been insistent that nothing will be handed to him this spring. That makes sense, since he had played fewer than 100 games above Single-A prior to his promotion and took a downturn late in the season as big-league pitchers made adjustments. If Vargas doesn't appear up to the task in camp, who will the Twins turn to? Could Pinto be bumped into regular duty? Will Molitor rotate different players through the position? There's no obvious answer.

5. Will Danny Santana get a chance to stick at shortstop?

We know that the Twins would like to give Santana an extended shot at holding down this job, but we also know that they liked what he did last year in center field, a position that remains in limbo. If Aaron Hicks fails to impress, will the club search for another answer so they can stick to their plan of bringing Santana along at short, or will they slide the 24-year-old to the outfield and fall back on Eduardo Escobar, hoping to replicate last year's results? I'm guessing the latter, though I hope that isn't the case; we need to see what Santana can do at shortstop. Where he plays in exhibition games should give us a good idea of the team's mindset.



~~~

We cover five more questions over at Twins Daily, so click here to read the rest of the article and share your thoughts. 
 

You can also check out the latest in our Top 10 prospect countdown with Cody Christie's profile of J.O. Berrios, our No. 3 ranked player in the system.

TwinsCentric: TD Top Prospects #5 Alex Meyer

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: February 16, 2015 - 2:07 PM

When the Twins acquired Alex Meyer in exchange for Denard Span back in November of 2012, the move was widely hailed as a big win for Terry Ryan because young pitchers with legitimate ace potential are among the most valuable commodities in baseball -- all the more true for a Minnesota team that sorely lacked high-end arms in its system.

As a first-round draft pick with an upper-90s fastball and quality secondary stuff to boot, Meyer had that upside. He still does, which keeps him in our Top 5, but for various reasons he now seems less likely to reach his ceiling as a No. 1 starter than he did two years ago.

That's not to say he doesn't project as an excellent pitcher and a highly valuable asset.

Age: 25 (DOB: 1/3/90)
2014 Stats (AAA): 130.1 IP, 7-7, 3.52 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 153/64 K/BB
ETA: 2015
2014 Ranking: 3

What's To Like

Meyer has always excelled at throwing the ball past opposing hitters. During his junior year at the University of Kentucky, he led the Southeastern Conference with 110 strikeouts. The Washington Nationals took notice and selected him with the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft.

In his first pro season, Meyer struck out 139 hitters in 129 innings between Low-A and High-A. The following year -- his first in the Twins organization -- he tallied 84 strikeouts in 70 innings (10.8 K/9) at Double-A, but was limited to 13 starts by shoulder problems.

Last year, he led the International League with a 10.6 K/9 rate, piling up 153 whiffs in 130 innings. Meyer's stuff was as good as ever; he overwhelmed the opposition at the highest minor-league level with his power fastball and a nasty slider, along with a decent but inconsistent changeup.

The big strikeout rates have helped enable Meyer to keep hits in check at every level. He has given up only 300 knocks (22 homers) in 363 professional innings, and last year held Triple-A batters to a .241 average and .690 OPS.

What's Left To Work On

Starting pitchers who average more than 95 MPH on their fastball are few and far between, and it's not hard to see why: There aren't many arms durable enough to withstand that kind of exertion over 200 innings every season.

Unfortunately, Meyer's career up to this point has given little indication that he'll fall into that exclusive category.

The big righty has been unable to throw more than 130 innings in any of his three pro seasons. This owes to a few different factors.

First, he has struggled at times with his command. This is hardly unusual for a guy who stands nearly 6'9", and it's not something that he can't improve over time --Randy Johnson didn't figure out how to throw strikes until his 30s--but Meyer is coming off his worst season yet in that department, having averaged a walk every other inning at Rochester.

Beyond the bases on balls -- which lead to more batters and higher pitch counts -- there are the long at-bats and the innings that can drag on. This, in combination with the Twins' cautious approach, led to Meyer averaging fewer than five innings per start in 2014. He never completed seven innings in an outing, and in fact has done so only once in his professional career, back in 2012.

Despite the stringent restrictions on his usage -- Meyer threw 100 or more pitches only three times in 27 starts last year, and exceeded 90 pitches only seven times -- he still didn't hold up through the end of the season. Shoulder soreness had cost him a sizable chunk of his 2013 campaign, and while he was evidently healthy for most of 2014, that same shoulder began barking again in late August, forcing him out of his final start after one inning.

No structural damage was found in the shoulder, but still, you can't help but be concerned about the long-term outlook for Meyer's wing, especially in light of the questions that have always surrounded his pitching mechanics. As Jeff Mans recently wrote for the Sporting News:

"Meyer has issues repeating his delivery and while this makes his stuff nearly unhittable at times, it also means he cannot locate to save his life ... I strongly believe that the shoulder issues and mechanics are directly related and that once Meyer can solve his motion issues, the shoulder problems will fade away as well."

Perhaps this is an area where new pitching coach Neil Allen can help straighten Meyer out, in which case it behooves the Twins to get him up as quickly as possible, even if that means pitching out of the bullpen.

What's Next

Meyer has some incredible things going for him -- namely an eye-popping arsenal that will make him exciting for fans to watch and dreadful for opposing hitters to face -- but he also has enough red flags that one can understand why the Twins have moved him along rather slowly, despite his relatively advanced age and gaudy strikeout numbers at all levels.

I maintain that he's among the most important individuals in the entire organization, because if he comes close to fulfilling his potential Meyer can make as large an impact as any player in the system, but he has much to prove in that regard.

The Twins will surely give him a long look in spring training, especially now that he's been added to the 40-man roster, but if he makes the big-league club it seems more likely he'd do so as a reliever. That might be his future role, based on what we've seen, but I'd definitely like to see him get a chance to start in the majors and I suspect we will at some point before 2015 is over.

~~~

Check out the rest of our Top Prospect Countdown:

#10: Nick Burdi, RHP

#9: Trevor May, RHP

#8: Eddie Rosario, OF/2B

#7: Jorge Polanco, SS/2B

#6: Nick Gordon, SS

TwinsCentric: TD Top Twins Prospects #6 Nick Gordon

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: February 12, 2015 - 11:54 PM

Over the past 10 years, the Minnesota Twins have had some of the lowest production from the shortstop position among all MLB teams but the future may offer stability in the form of Nick Gordon.

Selected with the fourth overall pick in 2014, Gordon entered the Twins’ system with lofty expectations. Certainly the Twins have used first round picks on shortstops in the past -- such as Levi Michael (2011), Trevor Plouffe (2004) and Michael Cuddyer (1997) -- but eventually all were relocated to another spot in the field. Will Gordon suffer the same fate or can he develop into the two-way shortstop the organization has needed for years?

Age: 19 (DOB: 10/24/1995)
2014 Stats (Elizabethton): .294/.333/.366 (.699) with 6-2B, 4-3B, 1-HR
ETA: 2018
2014 Ranking: N/A

What’s To Like

Baseball America anointed Gordon the Appalachian League’s number two prospect, citing his natural instincts, first-step quickness, soft hands in the field and lightning quick hands at the plate leading to contact-oriented approach.

At short, he has displayed the tendencies of an elite defender with a rocket arm (he hit 94 mph with his fastball during a Perfect Game showcase in high school) which increases his range potential. The trick has been instilling that Gordon can take his time to avoiding rushing his throws across the diamond -- which reportedly happened on several occasions this season -- but truly a lesson all shortstops must learn as they adapt to the faster game.

Considering it was his first year of professional baseball where he was two years the junior of the league’s average, his .294/.333/.366 slash line in 255 plate appearances was solid. In all, he was fourth in hits (69), second in runs scored (46), tied for third in triples (4), and tenth in stolen bases (11). Gordon’s season ended with the E-Twins in the playoffs and his left hand in a cast after suffering a broken finger against the Johnson City Cardinals in the postseason. Despite ending the year sidelined, the Twins are excited about his future.

“With the maturity and skill level we saw from him in high school, we thought he’d be able to compete at that level and handle any adversity,” Twins Minor League Director Brad Steil told Twins Daily’s Seth Stohs on the decision to place Gordon in the advanced rookie league, “He was probably more prepared for pro ball than most high school players, having been around it most of his life because of his dad and brother.”

With major league bloodlines -- an All-Star brother, Dee, who currently plays second for the Miami Marlins and father, Tom, who pitched for 21 years in the majors as a three-time All-Star -- the Twins know that he has the genetics to compliment his personal drive to reach and excel at the major league level.

“You value the gene,” said Mike Radcliff, the Twins’ Vice President of Player Personnel, last July. “When you come from a major league gene, that’s what it is all about. There’s a great value at the beginning of their careers and a feeling that they won’t be overmatched.”

What’s Left To Work On

Like any raw but talented prospect, Gordon has areas of his game that need improvement.

Despite having all of the natural talent to play shortstop, Radcliff pointed out that the Twins wanted to see Gordon smooth out his footwork and pivot at second base, a key component for middle infield success as he ascends in the system. Offensively, while he demonstrated an excellent ability to garner hits, Gordon’s plate discipline was lacking. He struck out in 18% of his plate appearances -- a decent rate compared to the league’s average -- but walked in just 4%, making him one of the league’s least frequent walkers. Improvement in that area would help buoy his on-base percentage and put him on the bases more in order to take advantage of his speed.

While his pre-draft profile suggested he would provide power, ultimately the left-handed hitting Gordon’s swing stays inside the ball more which has made his spray chart look strikingly similar to that of Joe Mauer: ground balls to second and balls in the air to left. This distribution is not an optimal way to generate power. Admittedly Gordon is not exactly built like a brick blankhouse but adding weight has been a goal for him this offseason. The Twins stressed that they want to see him add his “man muscles” which, in theory, should help him generate more power. For his part, Gordon has spent the offseason attempting to hasten that process. “I’ve just been working out, trying to put on some weight, and stay fast,” Gordon told Stohs in January. “Stay to my game. I’m loving the process.”

What's Next

Nick Gordon is gifted in ways that should make normal players envious but he still needs seasoning.

It is hard not to get enamored by his work in the field. Dinged for eight errors -- a faulty stat on many levels -- but his E-6 totals pale in comparison to seasons of past Elizabethton shortstops like Brian Dozier (14), James Beresford (23) or Trevor Plouffe (16).

Will his patience at the plate increase? If you listen to Oakland’s GM Billy Beane, probably not wholesale. “It can be taught, but we’d have to take guys in diapers to do it,” the A’s general manager remarked in Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball. And Gordon acknowledges his aggressive approach which has led to a near .300 batting average. And what about his power numbers? Radcliff believes the extra bases will come as he matures and continues to fill out his frame.

The Twins will likely move him to Class-A Cedar Rapids where he can hone his defensive skills and make adjustments at the plate. If he is able to damage that league both with his glove and bat, a stop in Fort Myers is likely not out of the question.

TD Top Prospect #10: Nick Burdi
TD Top Prospect #9: Trevor May
TD Top Prospect #8: Eddie Rosario
TD Top Prospect #7: Jorge Polanco
TD Top Prospect #6: Nick Gordon

TD Top Prospect #5:
TD Top Prospect #4:
TD Top Prospect #3:
TD Top Prospect #2:
TD Top Prospect #1:


For more at TwinsDaily:

TwinsCentric: TD Top Twins Prospect #7: Jorge Polanco

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: February 12, 2015 - 7:41 AM

In 2009, the Miguel Sano signing got most of the headlines, but earlier that summer the Twins signed shortstop Jorge Polanco from the Dominican Republic for $750,000. At the time, he was 5-10 and maybe 150 pounds. Maybe. He was known primarily for his terrific middle infield defense. The last couple of seasons, he has figured things out with the bat. He became the youngest player promoted to the Twins since Joe Mauer in 2004 when he was called up in June, directly from Ft. Myers.

Age: 21 (DOB: 7/5/93)
2014 Stats (Ft. Myers/New Britain): .288/.353/.395 (.748) with 23-2B, 6-3B, 7-HR
ETA: early 2016
2014 Ranking: #8


What’s To Like

Patience was a necessity as he grew and developed. It took him two years of struggles in the Gulf Coast League before advancing to the Appalachian League. He hit .318/.388/.514 (.903) with 22 extra base hits in 51 games at Elizabethton. In the talent-laden 2013 lineup, Polanco batted third and hit .308/.362/.452 with 47 extra base hits in 115 games. Who would have guessed that Polanco would be the first player from that Cedar Rapids roster to get to the big leagues?


The reason that the Twins called him up for two short stints in 2014 was primarily because of 40-man roster issues. However, the Twins brass would not put a guy in a situation that they don’t believe he could handle. People frequently talk about his intelligence, maturity and poise.

What’s Left To Work On

Though he was originally signed as defensive-minded shortstop, he had spent most of his career starts at second base. However, in 2014, he made the move to over to shortstop. He struggled early in the year and ended with 35 errors in 119 games at the position. He’ll need to clean that up some, but he has the tools to be a quality shortstop, though many feel his best position may be second base.

After hitting .291/.364/.415 (.780) with 29 extra base hits in 94 games with the Miracle, Polanco hit .281/.323/.342 (.665) with seven extra base hits in 37 games with the Rock Cats. He will have to show some more plate discipline in Chattanooga in 2015. He has never been one to walk a lot, but to be successful, I believe he will need his IsoD (Isolated Discipline = On Base Percentage minus Batting Average) to be at least 0.060, particularly if he is going to hit near the top of the order.

What’s Next 

Polanco has the tools. He can play defense and has a good arm. He can hit, takes quality at-bats and runs well. He will never be a 20+ home run hitter, but he can hit a lot of doubles. He has the tools, though none of them are in the elite category. He has a pretty high floor meaning that he should be an everyday player somewhere in the middle infield. He has the chance to be a long-time major league starter.

He should spend the majority of the 2015 season at Chattanooga where he will most likely again play primarily at shortstop. He should continue to get time at second base. And, should the Twins need a middle infielder, he will again be just a phone call away.


TD Top Prospect #10: Nick Burdi
TD Top Prospect #9: Trevor May
TD Top Prospect #8: Eddie Rosario
TD Top Prospect #7: Jorge Polanco

Spring Training starts in less than two weeks. The Vikings offseason is getting busy with the NFL Combine, free agency and more. The Wild have been on fire of late. Be sure to check out Twins DailyVikings Journal and Wild Xtra today. 

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