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: Oswaldo Arcia is crushing in August

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: August 22, 2014 - 11:24 AM
Since the beginning of August, Minnesota Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia has been one of the crushiest crushers who ever crushed.

Within the small sample universe, Arcia has been murdering baseballs all over the field. Baseballs. Murdered. Dead. In that time, Arcia has jacked six home runs -- the second most in the American League, only behind Houston’s Chris Carter, who has suddenly become Casey from Mudville (pre-poem) since the beginning of July. But it is not just wind-aided fly balls that have drifted beyond the outfield wall that has propelled Arcia’s August, according to ESPN/trumedia his Hard-Hit Average is .241, the ninth-best in the league over the last 21 days. He is crushing it to the core.
 
Oh and one of those home runs? Yeah, that hit Target Field’s flag pole just like former Twins bruiser Jim Thome.

It has been his ability to drive the ball with total disregard for human life that has made his plate appearances “must see” events, as far as “must see” events go this season anyway. At the same time, it has been his inability to make contact with the ball for the bulk of the season that has come at a heavy price to his overall numbers. While he has deposited a ball in the seats in every 20 at-bats, he’s whiffed in just under every three.

Arcia’s strength has been prevalent throughout his professional career. In the minors he displayed a more balanced approached at the plate with less of a leg-lift stride that allowed him to use all fields. Of course, Arcia has eschewed this style for his prefered all-or-nothing pull approach at the major league level that has paid off well as of late.

Take a look at his follow through earlier this season:
 

Attached Image: Arcia_Opens Up.png


His front side opens far too much -- particularly on a pitch that was middle-in in the example above. This pitch was an off-speed that Arcia did not stay back on and flew open in a failed attempt to yank it on to Nicollet Mall. If he continued to do this, he would see a reduced coverage on the outer-half of the plate (which he did) and this is something that can been seen throughout his at bats early in the season.

As I pointed out in June, because Arcia drops his hands, he has already shown a weakness to fastballs up in the zone and the Twins were trying to fix that issue as well. By the end of July, he was hitting a paltry .219/.299/.383. Needless to say, here was a lot to work on for the talented young slugger and, if his August numbers have anything to say about it, he appears to have had turned a corner.

While Arcia’s focus may be on pulling the ball with ferocity, manager Ron Gardenhire has said that he would like the outfielder to temper his swing instead of trying to hit the ball “8,000 miles”. Though some may interpret that as an attempt to convert Arcia from a power hitter into a punch-and-judy slapper, the reality is the Twins were looking for him to stay in on the pitch in order to drive the ball. Since August 1, this message apparently has resonated with Arcia and he has remained closed instead of flying open:
 

Attached Image: Arcia_Closed.png


This practice should be enable him to handle left-handed pitchers, who up to this point have been the bane of his existence.

The 23-year-old Arcia is making progress at the plate and it could spell more offense for the Twins in 2015.

TwinsCentric: Suddenly, shortstops!

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: August 20, 2014 - 9:34 AM

Finding a non-temporary answer at the shortstop position has been a long-standing issue for the Minnesota Twins, dating back about a decade.

In late April, we looked ahead to the upcoming crop of free agent shortstops, suggesting that this might be the best (only) method for finding a palatable starter at the position in the remotely near future. However, since then, two players have emerged in a big way, to the point where we may now actually have a legitimate competition that doesn't amount to "which option is least terrible?"

Eduardo Escobar has been drawing the lion's share of time at short, and he has performed fairly well. His .273/.319/.393 hitting line is above-average for the position, and his 32 doubles tie him for the team lead. I have always been a believer that Escobar's upside healthily outweighed his past production, and wrote back in March about his momentum toward overtaking the inadequate SS incumbent Pedro Florimon.

Of course, the fact that Escobar has proven to be a superior option to Florimon isn't saying much, and while the 25-year-old has been solid both offensively and defensively this season, I think it's a stretch to argue that he should be counted on as the starter going forward. Escobar is a nice piece to have around, but I think he's best suited as a utility man and backup option at short.

It's Danny Santana that has made the strongest case to claim shortstop duties in 2015 and beyond, even if he hasn't been playing there a whole lot. Santana's initial success upon being called up in May was surprising, in light of his .692 OPS in Triple-A prior to that promotion and his .708 career OPS in the minors, but what's more surprising is that he never really cooled off. His OPS has been at or above .773 in every month, and so far in August he's hitting .319/.364/.458.

Santana's production with the Twins this year has been strong enough to be an asset at any position, and jibes with the idea that his relatively unimpressive numbers in the minors were shaded by rawness and youth. Still, even if his abilities to spray line drives and run like crazy should keep his offensive game afloat, I'm not ready to tab him as an .800-plus OPS guy. His bat is much more likely to play at shortstop in the big picture, and I'm confident he'll ultimately bring more to the table there than Escobar.

Of course, Santana is considered to be somewhat rough at shortstop, so it would help if he could play there and refine his defensive game. The Twins might view it the same way, as they gave him consecutive starts at short over the weekend -- his first infield exposure since June. Hopefully in September (or sooner), Aaron Hicks or someone else will take over center field and Santana can spend the final weeks solidifying his case to lock up the shortstop position, while Escobar moves around the diamond.

Assuming both players stay on track and Santana can flash some fielding chops in a more extended audition, the Twins will finish the season with a multiple legitimate internal options that have proven they have what it takes to play shortstop in the majors on a regular basis.

That's something we haven't been able to say for a long time, and it means that the club can finally go into this offseason without a clear need at that position.

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TwinsCentric: Twins making right moves

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: August 13, 2014 - 9:57 AM
As the Minnesota Twins have skidded to poor finishes in each of the past three seasons, many fans have been just as frustrated -- if not more so -- with the lack of organizational direction as the losses that have piled up in August and September.

Too often there has been ambiguity about whether to buy or sell. Too often there has been reluctance to part with veteran players who weren't part of the long-term plan. Too often there has been inaction.

None of that can be said about the front office's decision-making as we head toward another disappointing finish here in 2014.

The Twins made only one deal before the non-waiver deadline on July 31st, sending Sam Fuld to the A's for Tommy Milone in what might go down as one of Terry Ryan's niftier pickups, but they've been characteristically active on the trade market here in August. Over the weekend, they dealt Kevin Correia to the Dodgers, making room for Milone in the rotation. And on Monday, needing to free up a roster spot for the return of Joe Mauer, Ryan was able to send Josh Willingham to the Royals.

A couple fairly intriguing minor-league pitchers have come back in these swaps (as well as the Kendrys Morales deal), but the chief imperative there was always to open up playing time for younger guys. The deals also work out pretty well for the departing players, who head from the cellar-dwelling Twins to first-place contenders.

Neither Correia nor Willingham has ever made a postseason appearance despite a combined 23 years of experience in the majors. Both will have a good shot now.

The Twins might not be done. There are still a few relievers on the roster who could draw interest from competing teams and are likely in their final years here -- most notably Jared Burton and Brian Duensing. There are several bullpen arms in Rochester that deserve a look.

Additionally, as Mike Berardino pointed out on Tuesday, Ryan might try and find a suitor for Yohan Pino; his 1-5 record and 5.37 ERA won't wow anybody, but his solid peripherals -- in addition to his spectacular Triple-A numbers -- could stir up a bit of interest from a club needing a fifth starter or added rotation depth. The Twins have motivation to move Pino with Ricky Nolasco expected to return from his rehab stint soon.

The ongoing rebuild that has been taking place here in Minnesota has been a difficult one to endure, filled with fits and starts, injury setbacks and indecisiveness. But finally, you can really begin to feel some momentum building. The Twins might be headed toward another 90-loss finish, but pieces are beginning to fall into place.

May and Milone have arrived. Kennys Vargas is getting his feet wet while Danny Santana continues to build his case for a prominent 2015 role. Prospects are starting to be moved up more aggressively, with Byron Buxton's promotion to Double-A despite underwhelming numbers in Ft. Myers serving as the latest example.

It's hard to heap praise on a franchise that has shown little in the way of on-field progress, but the Twins have done a good job of clearing house, and will enter this offseason with relatively few holes to fill. They'll have plenty of money to address those that can't be filled by incoming youth.

"Wait until next year" might not be the most satisfying mantra to fall back on, but after a lot of treading water, it feels like we can at least feel confident in saying it now.

Gleeman and the Geek, Ep 157: Oodbye Evin Orreia

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: August 10, 2014 - 8:31 PM

Aaron and John talk about Kevin Correia's long-awaited departure, Trevor May's shaky arrival, upside vs. known quantities, Joe Mauer's impending return, Francisco Liriano and Vance Worley thriving together, playing Danny Santana at shortstop, the good and bad of Twitter, penthouse plans, and car-buying 101. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click on the "play" button below.

Also, over at TwinsDaily.com, you'll find more on the Kevin Correia trade and a great story by AJ Petterson about Minnesota Town Ball

TwinsCentric: Kennys Vargas Is One Reason To Keep Watching

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: August 8, 2014 - 11:11 AM
What makes this time of year somewhat tolerable for watching Minnesota Twins baseball is getting the opportunity to see players like 24-year-old Kennys Vargas develop at the major league level.

Vargas's imposing stature grabs your attention right away. A hulking human, the Puerto Rican had tipped the scales at 280 at one point during the seasons, making him almost better suited for a defensive lineman position. Because of that, analysts have thrown around comparisons to other large hitters in history like David Ortiz and Mo Vaughn.
 
Ortiz is the most frequently recited comp based upon the pair's relationship that blossomed in Fort Myers and Vargas's admission that he based his left-handed swing Ortiz's. From this example -- his Futures Game double last month at Target Field -- you see the big leg-kick and hands-drop, a la Big Papi, from the left-side:


Posted Image

In New Britain, Vargas displayed power from both sides of the plate but hit 11 of his 17 home runs from the left side with this swing:

Posted Image

When he joined the team in Chicago, his swing was changed slightly. Though the big hand-drop before the swing was still prevalent -- as was the large leg-kick -- he had closed his stance. Most noteworthy is that the White Sox pitching staff did not let him see very many fastballs. According to ESPN/trumedia, Vargas saw 47 pitches and just 14 of those were fastballs. The vast majority were changeups and an assortment of breaking pitches:

Posted Image

While the results were not bad for Vargas, his swings often produced bloops to the opposite field as the plethora of off-speed pitches disrupted his timing.

As the team returned from Chicago for a series at home against the Padres, Twins Daily reader Willihammer astutely pointed out that Vargas had altered his swing. Instead of the leg-kick and hand movement, he was keeping himself still and his weight back:

Posted Image

In at least the example above, Vargas kept his weight back effectively on the hanging breaking ball and was able to send that ball effortlessly into the stadium’s overhang. The Padres, for their part, sent more fastballs Vargas’s direction than the White Sox did.

For those older fans who remembers the Twins teams at the turn of the century, this all should sound familiar. In 2001, David Ortiz was struggling to stay healthy and the Twins had him go through a series of adjustments at the plate to improve his overall approach. This from The Sporting News of that year:

“This season, the club would like to see Ortiz take advantage of the power potential in his 6-4, 230-pound frame. He has made several adjustments, including lowering his hand position in his stance and shortening his leg kick.”

After Ortiz was released, he joined the Red Sox and continued to implement his big leg-kick swing and generated plenty of power and the ability to drive the ball to all fields, like the Twins had wanted him to do.

This is not an attempt to open up old wounds from the past or berate the organization for a decision that probably still haunts them to this day, but the comparison is uncanny.

To be sure, Vargas, a player who came straight from Double-A, is coming from a league whose pitching landscape is often filled with talented power arms but are still learning to locate their secondary pitches. Many analysts will tell you that if you succeed in Double-A, you should be able to succeed at the highest level. While that may be true in some cases, developing hitters miss out on the experience gained at Triple-A where pitchers do not have the same sexy velocity as their Double-A counterparts but are able to locate breaking balls and changeups. Players like Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks both have seen what can happen when pitchers can deploy secondary pitches with precision. What Vargas learned in his weekend in Chicago is that pitchers at this level can spot a change down and away with regularity.

Hitting is an evolution and Vargas’s tweak may just be a temporary adjustment until he feels more comfortable with the mix of pitches he is now facing rather than a long-term change to his swing. Either way, Vargas represents a reason to watch the Twins even as the team wallows at the bottom of the division yet again.


Over at TwinsDaily.com...

TwinsCentric: Will Alex Meyer pitch for Twins this year?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: August 6, 2014 - 9:13 AM
With the Twins once again buried in last place and their starting pitching staff once again ranking among the worst in the league, fans have been asking the same question for much of the summer.

When will Trevor May and Alex Meyer get the call?

By all appearances, both of the highly rated pitching prospects have been MLB-ready for some time. May and Meyer rank fifth and sixth, respectively, on the International League ERA leaderboard, and they're both in the top three for strikeout rate.

Yet, both have been left to dominate in Triple-A while the Twins give starts to lesser talents like Kris Johnson, Logan Darnell and Yohan Pino. We're now almost a week into August, and still there's no clear indication that either May or Meyer is even on the verge of a promotion.

It's not hard to see why people are frustrated, but at the same time, there are circumstances at play with both pitchers that need to be recognized.

May is very, very close. When he was seemingly nearing a call-up in June, he suffered an ill-timed calf injury that cost him a month, and he's been working his way back. Just now has he finally returned to a normal workload; he threw 99 pitches in his last start, the first time since mid-June that he's gone over 80.

He's already on the 40-man roster. Bringing him up is a simple move at this point. I have to imagine that May will be on the Twins within the next turn or two through the rotation.

The wait for Meyer will probably last longer. He might not even debut in 2014. And while that's unfortunate to hear, it's not something to get riled up at the organization over.

Last year, Meyer missed two months -- more than a third of his season -- with a sore throwing shoulder. It was very scary, especially when you consider that his size and delivery always elicited injury concerns from scouts.

Fortunately, the shoulder has been fine this year. He hasn't missed a start and has been making mincemeat of minor-league hitters. But when you look at this pitch count from start to start, it's obvious that the Twins are being very cautious with him.

Here are Meyer's inning totals and pitch counts for each outing with Rochester this season:

4/6: 5.0 IP, 79 pitches
4/12: 5.1 IP, 83 pitches
4/18: 3.2 IP, 77 pitches
4/23: 6.2 IP, 100 pitches
4/28: 6.0 IP, 100 pitches
5/4: 4.2 IP, 92 pitches
5/10: 4.0 IP, 92 pitches
5/15: 5.0 IP, 69 pitches
5/22: 5.1 IP, 79 pitches
5/28: 6.0 IP, 88 pitches
6/2: 5.0 IP, 78 pitches
6/7: 6.0 IP, 81 pitches
6/13: 2.0 IP, 51 pitches
6/18: 3.0 IP, 78 pitches
6/23: 3.2 IP, 73 pitches
6/28: 6.0 IP, 77 pitches
7/3: 6.0 IP, 86 pitches
7/8: 6.0 IP, 96 pitches
7/18: 6.0 IP, 88 pitches
7/23: 6.0 IP, 86 pitches
7/29: 5.0 IP, 96 pitches
8/3: 5.2 IP, 91 pitches

Looking at the game log, a few things stand out. First, he's only been allowed to pitch into the seventh inning once all season, despite the fact that he's routinely blowing away opposing lineups. Second, only seven times in 22 starts has he been pushed over 90 pitches.

Twins Daily member jokin was in attendance during Meyer's latest start in Louisville, and described the performance in a post here on our forums. His writeup noted that Meyer was pulled rather abruptly with two outs in the fifth despite "looking completely in command of the game," as the righty had surpassed the 90-pitch threshold.

This observation coincides with what we're seeing in Meyer's pitch count trends. There's a clear effort being made to monitor him very closely and pull him out of games where he's laboring or approaching that triple-digit pitch mark.

It's a lot easier to do that in Triple-A, where the games don't really matter, than in the majors. Big-league starters are expected to throw more than 90 pitches. And Meyer, whose command remains spotty despite all his notable strengths, could have some games where he hits that 90-pitch mark pretty quickly as he transitions to the highest level. That taxes a bullpen.

As a fan, I am dying to see Meyer pitch in a Twins uniform. But at the same time, I'm not going to fault the organization for taking every precaution with such a highly valuable arm, especially in a lost season. If they just want to get him through a full, healthy campaign, with the idea of having him try and win a spot next spring, I can live with that.

At this point, it might not make much of a difference. He has already thrown 112 innings this year, which is eight more than he threw total last year, between the regular season and Arizona Fall League. As careful as they've been with him, it's hard to imagine the Twins letting Meyer top 150 innings this season.

That means he might only have five or six starts left. While it would be nice for the fans if a few of those come in the majors, that also requires adding him to the 40-man and starting his service clock. Those aren't huge hurdles, necessarily, but they're factors.

Ultimately, it wouldn't shock me if the Twins let Meyer finish out in Triple-A, and it wouldn't really upset me.

International League hitters might feel differently.

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