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.
In 2013, the Minnesota Twins rotation was essentially in shambles from the get-go. Liam Hendriks started the team's fourth game of the season. Pedro Hernandez started the sixth.
Those two combined with Andrew Albers, P.J. Walters and Cole DeVries to make a total of 40 starts for the Twins last year. Now, they're all out of the organization, buried in Triple-A for other clubs (or in Korea) and unlikely to spend much if any time in the majors.
Meanwhile, the Twins have vastly improved their pitching depth, and that's reflected by the group that lies in waiting at the Triple-A level should the starting five experience anything resembling last year's plight.
As we know, the problems for the 2013 rotation started at the top. Opening Day starter Vance Worley was a mess, and the guy who would have held that assignment if he was healthy -- Scott Diamond -- also endured a horrible year.
But equally troubling was the lack of reasonable contingency plans behind the initially slated group, and that weakness was exposed repeatedly throughout the summer. Hendriks, Hernandez, Albers, Walters and DeVries were pretty clearly not major-league caliber talents, yet they combined to start about a quarter of the team's games while posting a 6.21 ERA.
This time around, the Twins are much more solidified at the top (their starting five have actually remained intact through two whole turns of the rotation) but ultimately it is inevitable that the team will need to tap into its depth when someone gets hurt or falls into a prolonged slump.
When that time comes, the options will be far more appealing than they were a year ago. The Rochester Red Wings rotation now includes two of the organization's Top 10 prospects in Alex Meyer and Trevor May, both of whom have looked sharp in early action. Kris Johnson, the eventual prize from Pittsburgh in the Justin Morneau deal, has put up a 2.70 ERA over his first two starts. Logan Darnell, who had a very strong season between Double-A and Triple-A last year, hurled four scoreless frames in his first start.
Incidentally, the only starter on the Rochester staff who hasn't performed well thus far is Scott Diamond, who was among the very last cuts for the Twins in camp.
Of particular interest among the group in Triple-A are May and Meyer, who have a real chance to make an immediate impact and become long-term fixtures. You obviously can't make too much out of the first couple starts of the season, but considering that command is likely the top question mark for both, it's encouraging to see that the two have issued a total of three walks in 19 2/3 innings (with a combined 23 strikeouts to boot).
In addition to those reinforcements waiting in the minors, the Twins have Samuel Deduno -- last year's most successful starter -- sitting in an ill-suited bullpen role waiting for a chance. He should actually be first in line, in my opinion, but he adds to an intriguing fallback mix that sets the club up for much more pitching success over the course of the year, even if things go amiss for some of the presently installed rotation members.
When you're done here, swing by Twins Daily today for:
* Cody Christie's rundown of Tuesday's Twins minor league action.
* Hang out and talk Twins with Seth and Jeremy.
* John's look at the best games to attend in the current Blue Jays series at Target Field.
Aaron and John's take a break from KFAN at Mason's and walk through the Twins various DL moves, review the trade for Eduardo Nunez, convince David Brauer to listen to the Talk To Contact podcast, wonder at the world going crazy about Joe Mauer, notice Brian Dozier's power surge, call random strangers "Babygirl," consider surgery on Aaron's torn ACL, and find out how to sell Joe Mauer a car. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.
Here's the breakdown:
2 Twins Game
4 Torn ACL
14 Rib Tips
18 DL Moves
26 Masons Food
27 Twins Trade
38 Bartlett’s Future
44 Trevor’s Defense
46 Aaron’s Stories
48 More Babygirl
56 Talk To Contact Podcast
64 Our Bar
68 Twitter’s Brand
74 Brian Dozier
76 Aaron Hicks
79 Return of Tanya
81 Buxton’s Wrist
83 Where’s Eddie?
84 Lou’s Return
86 Mauer’s Week
91 Mauer Buying A Car
98 Rioting Roommates
101 Hiring Randballstu
103 Why Taxis Stink
Let’s just say Jason Kubel’s return to Minnesota was not exactly met with wild enthusiasm from the Twins fandom.
Based on the previous season’s production -- a stomach-turning batting line of .216/.293/.317 (avg/obp/slg) with just five home runs in 290 plate appearances -- you could not fault anyone on the outside looking in. Nevertheless Kubel and those close to him maintained that, at 31-years-old, the left-handed outfielder-slash-designated hitter was not over the hill. After all, I’m 33 and I can still dress myself, cook my own meals and wipe my own bottom, surely Jason Kubel, a finely tuned athlete, could still hit a sphere thrown at him.
When he departed the Twins, he may not have thrown kerosene on the club but in his exit interview he criticized the home ballpark, suggesting it was frustrating to hit in the left-handed power suppressing stadium. To make matters worse, Kubel groaned to the Phoenix media of his displeasure to be a designated hitter -- suggesting it was “boring”.
[Writer’s Note: Oh, really? You know what I find boring, Jason? Working at an office for nine hours a day.]
Upon his return to his original organization, he insisted that he was just stymied by a quad injury that lingered throughout the 2012 season, and not aging or anything affiliated with that. His quad was now healed. Oh, and that whole Target Field configuration thing? He was fine now too.
Except all spring training, it didn’t seem fine. He went nine-for-fifty-two. A .196 average with two extra base hits and 17 strikeouts. Certainly some of those plate appearances against real, honest-to-goodness, major league starters and others against OH-MY-GAWD-THAT’S-JASON-KUBEL-type pitchers with a tight end’s number on their jersey. The while the spring training numbers are meaningless, the performance just reduced the overall confidence in the decision.
Still, the Twins brass continued to insist they saw a noticeable improvement out of Kubel despite what the numbers said. He was squaring up balls better in the latter portion of the spring and taking better at-bats. That, and the lack of outfield-slash-bench options, made him a prime candidate to head north despite not being on the 40-man roster.
Perhaps he needed to be above the Mason-Dixon line in order to hit because, once there, he put on a show. As the current American League batting average leader, Kubel has begun the season 13-for-29 (.448) with five extra base hits including one long blast at Target Field, a stadium which now can’t hold him.
Kubel’s biggest improvement at the plate has been his connectivity. Last year his swing was holier than the Pope. In his contact rate heat map from ESPN/trumedia, you see that his swings were often empty -- he swung-and-missed on nearly 33% of his swings, well above the league average rate of 22%. This season, while still above average, he has reigned the errant swings in to a more manageable rate (25%).
What’s more is that when Kubel did make contact last year, it was not only weak it was often late. His pull rate dropped considerably.
Where this really stands out is against fastball, a pitch that Kubel used to flourish when facing. As I wrote at the time of the Kubel acquisition:
“One of Kubel's biggest issues in 2013 was his inability to handle fastballs. According to ESPN Stats & Info, in 2012 Kubel hit .298/.368/.616 with 20 home runs and a whopping .309 well-hit average. That dropped considerably in 2013 when he finished the year hitting .261/.315/.400 with just 3 home runs and a well-hit average of .171 off of fastballs.”
Yes, the production was bad against the cheese but it was not until an examination of his spray charts when facing fastballs that it is clear that Kubel may be fully healed as he and the coaching staff insisted. Last season, he was unable to get around on the heat often hitting lazy fly balls. This year he is once again yanking that pitch into and over the right field wall.
All standard small sample size warnings apply however Kubel’s early season production in addition to these indicators are reassuring that he is in good health. If he can remain in the lineup, the Twins could wind up with a solid bargain out of a minor league signing.
There still is, of course, a lot of baseball left but, so far, the signs are good for Jason Kubel.
More at TwinsDaily.com:
One of the regular features of Twins Daily that gets great feedback each day is the Minor League Reports. Every day from the Minor League Opening Day - which was last Thursday - until Labor Day, you can find out how each of the Twins affiliates did, and which prospects performed. Here is the report for Wednesday's games in which the four, full-season affiliates combined to go 5-0.
Wins and losses are far from the most important thing in the minor leagues. Player development matters above all else. That said, winning is always fun. And, to be fair, part of a player’s development is learning how to win, and learning how to play team baseball. When a team is able to develop players while also finding ways to win, it is a perfect collision. On Wednesday, the Twins four affiliates played five games, and the result was five wins. Call it a good day. Of course, winning at the big league level does matter, and the Twins lost their second straight game to the Oakland A’s.
In other news, the Minnesota Twins placed Oswaldo Arcia on the disabled list and added Darin Mastroianni to both the 40 and 25 man rosters. Be sure to look at the Twins Rosters & Payrolls page for current rosters, salary information and much more.
RED WINGS REPORT
Rochester 7, Scranton/Wilkes Barre 6
For Scott Diamond, it was an improvement from Opening Day. However, it was still a rough one. The lefty gave up four runs on eight hits and a walk in just three innings. He was replaced by Yohan Pino who worked 2.1 scoreless innings. He gave up one hit, walked two and struck out two. Aaron Thompson was charged with two unearned runs in 2.1 innings. He gave up three hits, walked one and struck out three. Deolis Guerra came on and gave up a hit, but recorded two outs. Brooks Raley struck out the final two batters of the game to record the save.
The Red Wings bats got plenty of offense. Only Brad Nelson, who will be traveling home in the morning to be with his pregnant, overdue wife, went hitless. Chris Parmelee went 3-5 with a double. Danny Santana, James Beresford, Wilkin Ramirez and Chris Rahl all had two hits including a double. Also with two hits was Eric Farris.
ROCK CATS REVIEW
New Britain 5, Harrisburg 4
It’s been a tough go in the early season for Kennys Vargas. Coming into this game, he was batting just .100 (2-20). However, in this game, he went 2-3 with a walk (and is now hitting .174). In his first at bat, in the first inning, he launched his first home run of the year, a three-run shot. Nate Hanson continues his strong start. He was 3-4 in the game and is hitting .318. Aderlin Mejia was 3-3 in the game and is hitting .364. Of course, that’s the beauty of the early season statistics; he was hitting just .125 (1-8) coming into the game.
Pat Dean improves to 2-0 and just missed a quality start. The lefty gave up four runs on seven hits and a walk in six innings. He struck out five. BJ Hermsen and Jim Fuller each worked a scoreless inning. AJ Achter gets the save. He struck out two in a scoreless inning. That means he has pitched 6.2 innings and given up three hits, walked one and struck out 11 with the Rock Cats.
Game 1 - Ft. Myers 4, Charlotte 2
After getting rained out on Tuesday night, the Miracle and Stone Crabs played two on Wednesday. In Game 1, Mason Melotakis got the start. The lefty gave up one run on three hits in three innings. He walked two and struck out two. Alex Wimmers came on for his first appearance of the year. He threw three shutout innings. In the 7th inning, he got two outs but gave up three hits and a run. He left with two on and a two-run lead. Brian Gilbert came on and struck out the one batter he faced for the save.
Dalton Hicks went 2-3 and drove in three of the Miracle’s runs. Niko Goodrum drove in the other run with a bases loaded walk. Jorge Polanco added a double.
Game 2 - Ft. Myers 10, Charlotte 6
The offense showed up in Game 2 taking an 8-0 lead after just three innings, but the Stone Crabs made a game of it. Jorge Polanco led the offense. He went 2-3 with a walk, a double and a triple. Niko Goodrum continues his hot start. He went 2-4 with a triple. Adam Walker hit his second homer of the season, a long, opposite field blast.
Jason Wheeler had given up just one run through the first four innings, but he was unable to get the final out of the fifth inning. In total, he gave up six runs (just one earned due to Polanco’s fourth error of the year) on five hits and a walk. He struck out three. Tim Shibuya came in and got the final out of the fifth and worked scoreless sixth and seventh innings as well for the win.
Cedar Rapids 5, Great Lakes 3
Without question, the story in this game was about Aaron Slegers, and no, it’s not a tall tale. The 6-10 right-hander made his second start for Cedar Rapids and went six innings. He gave up just one run on four hits. He walked none and struck out four. Lefty Brandon Bixler, a 5-11 lefty, gave the Loons a completely different look. He went two shutout innings, allowing no hits, two walks and striking out two. Hudson Boyd came in for the ninth. He gave up two runs on two hits and a walk but kept the lead.
Mitch Garver got the scoring going in the second inning with a two-run homer, his second of the season. In the fourth inning, he hit his second double of the year and scored on a single by Tanner Vavra. Vavra went 2-3 with a walk and is now 3-5 in his limited playing time. Logan Wade was 2-5 with a triple.
TWINS DAILY PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day – Aaron Slegers, Cedar Rapids Kernels
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day – Kennys Vargas, New Britain Rock Cats
THURSDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS
Rochester @ Lehigh Valley (6:05 CST) – Logan Darnell
New Britain @ Portland (5:00 CST) – DJ Baxendale
Charlotte @ Ft. Myers (6:05 CST) – Tyler Duffey
Cedar Rapids @ Great Lakes (11:05 a.m. CST) – Ryan Eades
It happened again on Tuesday. A local mainstream writer put out a column that was, to some extent, critical of Joe Mauer, and the reactions from fans were highly visceral on both sides.
The piece in question came from Patrick Reusse, suggesting that the impetus is on Mauer (who still hasn't driven in a run this year) to step up and carry the team back to respectability.
Some saw it as a reinforcement of the reservations they have long held about Mauer. Others saw it as another in a long string of unfair media attacks on the team's best player, a guy who has been used a central scapegoat and punching bag during the franchise's ongoing lull.
What is it about Mauer that makes him such a divisive and controversial figure among fans and writers? It's a question I've long pondered.
There's no question that Mauer gets far too much grief for a player of his ability and accomplishment. Traditional media types grumble because he doesn't fit the classic superstar mold, and fans follow course. He shies away from reporters, he isn't a vocal clubhouse fixture, he has missed time often due to injuries and he doesn't rack up big HR and RBI totals.
These overblown critiques have led to a swelling of backlash amongst those who, despite not even necessarily being huge Mauer fans, feel the need to position themselves as defenders.
After all, Mauer is the team's best player and one of the best players in franchise history. Maybe we should spend a little more time appreciating his strengths rather than bemoaning his shortcomings?
To be clear, Mauer does have shortcomings. He's not infallible, and that sometimes gets lost in the rush to defend him against outrageous detractions. He hasn't been able to stay on the field, which isn't really his fault -- a punishing position and bad luck have been chief culprits -- but remains a mark against him. He also doesn't hit for a ton of power and doesn't run all that well.
That means that although Mauer's abilities to spray line drives to left field and get on base at an elite rate are extremely valuable skills, they don't stand out as much in a bad offense. When other players in the lineup are hitting, Mauer will drive them in or get driven in. When the lineup is struggling, he ends up getting stuck at first and second base pretty often.
He doesn't create offense single-handedly in the way that someone like Justin Morneau did. And that's why, in a season like last year where the lineup was filled with underperformers, Mauer finished with only 47 RBI and 62 runs scored in 113 games despite a .324 batting average and .880 OPS.
When the offense is fully functioning, as it was in 2006 or 2010, Mauer is a transformative cog and an MVP-caliber contributor. When the rest of the players are scuffling, Mauer isn't really the type of player who will "carry" an offense, as Reusse beckons him to do in his latest column.
At least that hasn't been the case in the past. Maybe it changes here in 2014 with Mauer transitioning to first base full-time. Maybe he moves a little closer to the form he showed in 2009, when he truly could power an offense rather than facilitating it.
The signs haven't been real positive to that end, but it's still very early, and the 30-year-old is adapting to a new position while also shaking off rust after missing the last chunk of 2013 and dealing with lingering concussion symptoms during the offseason.
I know many people want to see Mauer take more of a lead in driving the offense's production. He's very highly paid (which seems kind of irrelevant at this point), he's the first baseman and -- above all -- he's the most talented hitter on the team.
I don't think those people are necessarily misguided, at least until they start calling him an overpaid slap hitter.
I myself would like to see Mauer take on a role where he's putting the ball over the fence more frequently, and is more aggressive early in the count with runners on base. If that doesn't happen, and he continues to be the Joe Mauer we've come to know, I'll still enjoy watching him. He's one of the very best.
But unless other players around him in the batting order are the ones stepping up, he may not have the means to make a profound impact on this club's run production.
Of all starting pitchers who threw more than 100 innings last year, Phil Hughes led the group with a first-pitch strike rate of 71% -- only one of two pitchers who cracked the 70% mark (Arizona’s Patrick Corbin being the other). Naturally, Hughes continued that first-pitch strike tendency in his first start with the Minnesota Twins, turning the count over to 0-1 on 19 of the 24 batters he faced.
Sticking mainly with his heat in the situations (20 of 24), Hughes has been known to flip a get-me-over curveball on the first-pitch (21% of the time last year) however he twisted just one curve in yesterday’s game.
When Hughes had his opponents on the ropes, he turned to his fastball -- a tendency he displayed regularly while with the Yankees. In two-strike situations against the White Sox, Hughes targeted the upper portion of the zone and above, getting five of his seven strikeouts on the high heat (as shown below).
No one will ever claim that Trevor Plouffe’s bread-and-butter was taking a pitch the other way. After all, when Plouffe went on his home run binge a few years back, all of those pitches were yanked into the left field seats. Yet, so far this year, Plouffe has six hits and four of which have been to RIGHT field.
Here’s the interesting part: When Plouffe did go the other way last year, it was mostly on flies and pops. Those pitches were ones he was fooled on and fought off -- mostly sliders and fastballs down and away:
This season, Plouffe has DRIVEN pitches that have been up in the zone, shooting line drives to right field:
Starting the year 5-for-10 with three doubles (ok, one may have been a gift) and six RBIs is a strong way to jump out of the gate for Chris Colabello.
This spring Colabello spoke about how he was approaching his at bats and said that he moved back off the plate in the minor leagues when teams began to attack him on the inner-half. Last year he didn’t see too many pitches on the inside portion of the plate so he inched up closer to stay in the same zip code as where pitchers were targeting him.
Here is his pitch frequency chart from 2013:
Away, away and more away. This year the modus operandi has been the same:
What’s more is that the big right-hander has seen almost exclusively fastballs. It will be interesting to see how teams change their approach against Colabello as his success continues.
All charts and data provided by ESPN Stats & Info
More at TwinsDaily.com:
John Bonnes writes about MLB’s Territorial Rights issue.
Seth Stohs looks back on the results of the minor league opening day.
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