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: Who will start at catcher?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: February 25, 2014 - 9:59 PM

When the Twins signed Kurt Suzuki back in December, it looked like they were adding a veteran backup catcher to the roster. After all, Suzuki has hit like a backup over the past four years (.650 OPS), served as a backup with two different clubs last season, and is getting paid like a backup at $2.75 million.

However, folks around camp are talking about the new addition as essentially a lock to open the season as Minnesota's starter behind the plate. That's not entirely surprising, considering that his only real competition for the assignment is a rookie with raw receiving skills and only 40 games of experience above Double-A, but it does mean that if Pinto doesn't emerge as a capable replacement relatively early in the season, the catcher position could be a major offensive liability this year.

I'd like to believe that Suzuki has some upside at the plate. He was a very good hitter in college, in the minors and early on his major-league career. But since 2010 he has been consistently anemic with the bat, and at this point his flashes of solid production feel like distant memories.

Suzuki is considered an asset defensively, so he ought to hold his own on that end, but if he's the regular backstop for a prolonged period, the Twins are going to be looking at a massive offensive drop-off from the position's previous tenant.

Since improving the lineup is a high priority this year, receiving minimal output from catcher (in addition to shortstop and perhaps a couple others) would be difficult to stomach. So undoubtedly the Twins are hoping that Pinto can show enough early in the season to take over the reigns and provide some meaningful potential with the stick.

Early this month, Parker took a detailed look at Pinto's game, lauding the 24-year-old's ability to handle offspeed pitches and drive the ball to all fields. Pinto obviously won't replicate what Joe Mauer was able to do at the dish, but his strong marks in the minors over the past two years and his outstanding MLB debut last September are grounds for belief that he can be a quality contributor at catcher, where the average AL player hit just .246/.312/.396 in 2013.

It's not out of the question that Pinto could take the starting job right out of the gates if he tears it up over the next month, but I think it is far more likely the Twins will wait until they're fully confident he's ready for the task, offensively and especially defensively. Based on the signals they're sending, it sounds like they're not there yet -- maybe not close.

Pinto has been labeled by some as the "favorite" to back up Suzuki but I'm skeptical the club would take away regular at-bats from a developing player, especially one with so little experience in Triple-A. Chances are that Suzuki will be backed up by Chris Hermann (who offers some platoon appeal as a lefty) or Eric Fryer, who is considered to be one of the strongest defensive backstops in the organization. It's doubtful we'll see a third catcher since Gardy no longer must juggle part-time designated hitters at the position.

If the Twins are truly counting Suzuki as their Opening Day starter, Pinto has about five weeks to change their minds. And if he can't accomplish it in Ft. Myers, we'll all be crossing our fingers that he can do so in Rochester, because otherwise there's little reason to have confidence in the catcher position this year.

Gleeman and the Geek, Episode 134: Cribs, Matt Garza & Bathroom Etiquette

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: February 23, 2014 - 9:07 PM

Aaron and John go on a tour of Aaron's new place in Uptown and talk about Matt Garza reportedly turning down the Twins' sizable offer, Pedro Florimon's grasp on the shortstop job, when not to use someone's bathroom, Liam Hendriks' waiver wire tour, investing in a marriage, working from coffee shops, Josh Willingham's future, our survey, mailbag questions from listeners, hanging out at Bar Abilene with Meatsauce, speed dating, and the joys of parking. You can listen by clicking below, or download us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.

And while games don't start until next weekend, things are rolling at high gear at Twins Daily. We continue to review the spring training battles, John examines the impact and predictability of pitch framing and Jeremy takes a VERY early look at who the Twins might select in the draft this June.

Here's the GATG breakdown:

0:30 – Aaron’s new Uptown Bachelor Pad tour.
6:00 – Getting stuck in the snow
11:30 – Aaron Gleeman = Scott Seekins
13:30 – Coffee shop etiquette
16:05 – Bar Abilene
19:00 – Pedro Florimon
21:30 – Shortstop options
25:30 – Becoming Yankee fans
27:40 – Matt Garza
38:00 – Josh Willingham Wants To Stay
41:20 – Matt Guerrier delay
43:30 – Matt Capps is hurt
45:30 – CC Sabathia
48:00 – Playing basketball
51:15 - Liam Hendriks
53:30 – CenturyLink and bathroom etiquette
1:02:00 – Working from a coffee house
1:05:00 – Modern Marriage
1:17:00 – Uptown Notes
1:18:40 – Speed Dating Event
1:21:20 – Our Survey
1:23:00 – Mailbag

TwinsCentric: Position Battle: Center field

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: February 20, 2014 - 7:33 AM

Over the next two weeks, Twins Daily will be writing about some of the biggest topics of the Minnesota Twins' spring training. Some of those are position battles. One such ‘battle’ fans will be playing close attention to in 2014 is one that was pretty big in 2013. Who will go into the 2014 season as the Twins starting centerfielder?

Though you will likely read about this being a three man race for the job, it is likely really just between two players. That said, the player who may get the most attention at the position is a fourth option.


LOOKING BACK

Before we start thinking about 2014, let’s take a look back to one year ago. The Twins had traded Denard Span and Ben Revere. By the time of Twins Fest, the Twins' front office was touting Aaron Hicks as ready to take over. Sure, they also often said that Joe Benson, coming off micro-fracture surgery,
and Darin Mastroianni would also be competing for the job. However, there was little to no question who would open the season as the Twins starting centerfielder.

It was called a competition through spring training. Since it was called a competition there had to be a winner, and there was no question who won that challenge. Aaron Hicks hit like crazy in the very small sample size of spring training. In 73 at-bats, he hit .370/.407/.644 (1.051) with six doubles, a triple and four RBI. He also was three for three in stolen base attempts. Darin Mastroianni played pretty well too, but he entered the regular season with an ankle injury that cost him the majority of the year. Benson struggled, as was expected after missing much of the 2012 season. He hit just .151/.286/.283 (.569) with two doubles, a triple and a home run. After continued struggles, Benson was DFA'd and claimed by the Texas Rangers. He signed a minor league contract with the Miami Marlins this offseason.

Of course, what fans remember much better than the spring training stats of Hicks are the numbers he put up in the regular season. He hit just .192/.259/.338 (.597) with 11 doubles, three triples and eight home runs. He certainly flashed some talent. How about the game against the White Sox when he stole a home run with his glove and hit a home run from both sides of the plate? Or, how about the throw in Yankees Stadium to nail a runner at third base? However, for the most part, it was a disappointing season for Hicks.

In August, the Twins received Alex Presley from the Pirates in the Justin Morneau trade. He made 28 starts for the Twins to end the season and hit .283/.336/.363 (.699) with four doubles, a triple and a home run.

Presley has struggled in parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Overall, he has played in 232 games and hit .264/.304/.411 (.715). In 733 minor league games, he has hit .292/.352/.437 (.789).

LOOKING TO SPRING

Let’s start with the obvious. Wilkin Ramirez is likely not in competition for the starting centerfield job. He may be competing for the 25th man on the roster, but it’s fair to say he won’t be the Twins starter. Also, Darin Mastroianni may be involved in the competition this spring, but ultimately, he’s fighting for a fourth (or fifth) outfield job after being designated for assignment during the offseason.

The big question for Twins fans (and frankly, the front office) has to be; what does Aaron Hicks have to do this spring to win the centerfield job? Think about it. If he puts up the remarkable spring statistics he did a year ago, will he win the job? What are the intangibles that manager Ron Gardenhire will need to see for him to get the job. Hicks certainly has the potential and the tools to be a very good, all-round outfielder. He may never hit for average, but he has shown an ability to get on base. He does have extra base power. He plays tremendous defense and has a very strong arm. The Twins certainly have not given up on him.

He gained ten pounds this offseason in an attempt to get stronger. He did not play winter ball which allowed him to clear his head and rest his body. He should come to camp strong. We know he will be either the Twins starting centerfielder or the Rochester Red Wings starting centerfielder. He will not be a backup at this stage of his career. The Twins brass need to determine what is best for him, long-term.

However, the incumbent right now is Presley. Though he hasn’t shown a lot in the big leagues, his minor league career implies he could become a decent player. Specifically, he has shown an ability to get on base, and he has shown some extra- base pop. He is a solid defender, though certainly not in the class of Aaron Hicks. He probably profiles more as a fourth outfielder than a starter. That’s probably what he is with the Twins as well. He is likely the favorite for opening day starter, but at the end of the day, he is most likely a stop-gap. He is a place-holder maybe for Aaron Hicks who should come up sometime in 2014 and get another shot. He is also, in the big picture, a stop-gap till Byron Buxton arrives.

Oh, Byron Buxton… He will also be at big league spring training this year. The consensus #1 prospect in all baseball is the talk of minor league baseball. The question with him is not IF, but WHEN. When will Buxton come up to the Twins, and just how great can be become. Of course, we also need to remember he has just a half-season of High-A ball under his belt. He is likely to start the season in New Britain, but a midseason promotion to the Twins is not out of the realm of possibility. In spring training, he will be looking to make an impression on the coaching staff.

SUMMARY

This will be an interesting competition to watch. As noted, I really believe it is a two-man race between last year’s opening day centerfielder (Aaron Hicks) and the incumbent for the job (Alex Presley). Ask yourself the question I did above: What do you think Aaron Hicks needs to do, or needs to show, to be the starting centerfielder? Presley is out of options, and he’s a solid outfielder, so he appears to be a shoo-in for the opening day roster, but should he be the starter? And, ultimately, how long will Twins fans have to wait for Byron Buxton. Buxton could force Hicks to a corner outfield spot and Presley to the role of backup outfielder again.

How do you see this position battle playing out throughout the spring?

Next, head over to Twins Daily for much more Twins-related content. 

Gleeman and the Geek, Episode 133: Pitchers and Catchers Report

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: February 16, 2014 - 8:03 PM

Aaron and John visit Rye Deli on the same day the offseason ends and discuss what we want to see from the 2014 Twins, what to expect from the pitching staff and how to start their own bar with zero experience. You can listen by clicking below, or download us from iTunes,Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.

Here's this week's breakdown:
2:00 - Aaron’s moving update
3:30 – Brunch
4:20 – Players in the best shape of their life
8:00 – John & Aaron’s public speaking schedule
14:00 – John meeting Aaron’s Mom
17:30 – Twins claiming LHP Brooks Raley 
24:30 – Underrating and overrating Derek Jeter37:20 – Rye Deli owner David Weinstein tutors John & Aaron on how to start a restaurant/bar with no experience
44:30 – What’s important for the Twins 2014 season?
59:40 – What can we expect from the starting rotation in 2014?
1:05:00 – Valentine’s Day
1:12:00 – Mailbag
1:29:00 – The first kiss
1:31:30 – Parker’s Second Chance Video 

Celebrate the end of a lot offseason at Twins Daily!  There's always good discussion on the team in our Minnesota Twins forum.  

TwinsCentric: TD Top Prospects #2 Miguel Sano

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: February 13, 2014 - 7:28 AM

Miguel Sano would be the #1 prospect, arguably, in about 27 of the 30 Major League Organizations, at least according to Baseball America. In the Minnesota Twins organization, he ranks a solid #2. I bet you can guess who will be named the Twins Daily #1 Twins Prospect tomorrow. It’s been a long time since the Twins have had a prospect with the kind of power that Miguel Sano has. He has a jovial personality, and that combination means that he has a chance to be a superstar.

What’s to Like?

A lot! First and foremost is the immense power of Miguel Sano. In 2012, in Beloit, Sano hit 30 home runs. Last year, he moved up Ft. Myers where he hit 16 home runs in just 56 games before adding another 19 homers in AA New Britain… as a 20 year old! Remember that the Midwest League and especially the Florida State League are considered fairly extreme pitcher-friendly leagues.


What is his power potential? Sano is 6-4 now and weighed in at 250 pounds at his Twins Fest physical, and he may still be growing. As you recall from the interview with him at Twins Fest, when I asked his if his home run goal for 2014 was going to be 40 (after 30 and 35, respectively, in the past two seasons), he said, “Maybe 45, maybe 50. More games… Maybe 55. I’m working hard, getting good pitches. That’s it.”

That is another thing to like about Miguel Sano. Yes, he will strike out, but his strike zone judgment has greatly improved. After walking just 6.2% of the time in the GCL and 7.8% at Elizabethton, Sano walked 14.5% of the time in Beloit. Last year, he walked about 12% of the time in Ft. Myers and then 13% in New Britain. The key has been his ability to lay off of those tough sliders down and away. With more experience, his ability to get his pitch should continue to improve.

Another area of great improvement for Sano came on the defensive side of the game. 2012 was his first season where he was a full-time third baseman. He committed 42 errors and posted an 88.4% fielding percentage. Of course, I always like to point out that nearly 30 of those errors came in the first half of the season. In 2012, he committed a combined 23 errors at the hot corner and his fielding percentage jumped to 93.2% There is still work to be done, but reports say that he greatly improved his range. He is able to play a little deeper because he has such a strong arm.

He also has some of the intangibles for greatness. Sano has great confidence, and he wants to be great, not just very good. He wants to lead the league in Home Runs and RBI. It can come across as brash at times. He has always had a lot of personality. Earlier in his career, some say he lacked a maturity. Now, most say that he is becoming more of a leader. He has a lot of fun playing the game and in the clubhouse. His English has also come a long way over the last couple of years.

What’s not to like?

As mentioned above, he still has work to do at third base. He will make some great plays and then stumble on some more routine plays. Often that is more of a concentration thing. So, he needs to become more consistent.

When Miguel Sano puts the ball in play, generally good things happen because he so powerful. However, putting the ball in play is still a concern. Sano struck out 26.7% of his GCL plate appearances, and then 26.3% at Elizabethton. In Beloit in 2012, he struck out 26.0%. In his 56 games with Ft. Myers a year ago, he struck out 25.1% of the time. However, when he moved up to New Britain, he struck out 29.3% of the time. Just for a glimpse of what that means, in 2006, Brandon Wood struck out 28.5% of his plate appearances at AA. So, although Sano has put up incredible power numbers, to dismiss his strikeout rate might be a little naïve.

Remember that I put Sano’s confidence in the positive category? I believe players need to be confident, bordering on arrogant, to become a truly great player. However, there is a certain line that shouldn’t be crossed, and that is typically showing up your opponent. Sano famously took his time rounding the bases last year in New Britain after a monster home run off of former teammate Bobby Lanigan. Clearly Sano was in the wrong in that case, and Jeff Smith and the organization were right in benching him for a few games. Hopefully that is a lesson learned for the still-just-20 year old Sano.

The only other concern came early this offseason when, after playing in just two games in the Dominican Winter League, he was shut down due to a UCL strain. Immediately many were concerned about the possibility that Sano could miss most, if not all, of the 2014 season if he needed Tommy John surgery. He not only saw Twins doctors, but he went and saw Dr. James Andrews, who prescribed the plan of resting it and then starting to rehab in January. Sano is now on a throwing program and experiencing no pain in his elbow. It’s obviously something to be aware of, thought there does not appear to be much concern.

Looking Back

Some of the readers at Twins Daily may be able to think back further than I, but in the last 25 years, power prospects have been few and far between in the Twins organization. I remember when Justin Morneau made his Major League debut and received a standing ovation from Metrodome fans. I was watching at my home… standing up, and clapping. In 2002, he had 16 homers, 12 in the Midwest League (63 games) and four in 53 games in Ft. Myers. In 2003, he hit 22 minor league homers and four big league blasts. In 2004, he hit 22 homers in 72 games in Rochester and 19 home runs in 74 games with the Twins.

Michael Cuddyer had 30 home runs in a full season at New Britain in 2001. In 2002, he played at AAA Edmonton and hit 20 home runs. That was good for 5th place on the team’s roster as Michael Ryan led with 31 and Michael Restovich had 29.

I think it’s fair to say that when Miguel Sano arrives in the big leagues, he will arrive with more fan-fare than any Twins player in their history, with the possible exception of Joe Mauer. Sano signed with the Twins in October of 2009 under a cloud of controversy and intrigue. It’s been impressive that he has met, and exceeded, many of the expectations placed upon him

So… When will we see him?

I expect Miguel Sano to return to New Britain to start the 2014 season. I also have my doubts that he will spend any time in AAA Rochester.

Assuming health, I would put the odds of Sano making his big league debut in 2014 at about 99.9% But when? There will be a couple of factors that play into this. First, the strikeout rate and the defense will need to continue to improve. However, if Trevor Plouffe were to be placed on the Disabled List for an extended period of time, I have little question that the Twins would not hesitate to call up Sano, whether that be in May or June. Otherwise, the Twins could wait until June and gain a year of pre-arbitration time. They could have him play in the Futures Game at Target Field in July and then just stay with the big league club. Since he would have to be added to the 40 man roster after the 2014 season anyway, I believe he would be called up in September unless things went terribly wrong.

Like TD Prospect #3 Alex Meyer, and like TD's #1 prospect that you'll learn more about tomorrow, and like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and Johan Santana, Miguel Sano is a cornerstone player. He is a guy who will, or at least can, lead the Twins organization back to prominence.

http://www.twinsdaily.comFor much more Twins inofrmation and content and discussion forums, please head over to TwinsDaily.com. 

Twins Daily Top Prospects: #3 Alex Meyer

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: February 11, 2014 - 11:00 PM

The rarest and most coveted type of prospect in the Minnesota Twins' system has been the hard-throwing, dominant starting pitcher. Shortcomings in this area have been reflected in the big-league rotation, where a lack of front-end talent has been a primary downfall during the club's recent stretch of misery.

There is no greater need in this organization than a pitcher with the ability to develop into a legitimate No. 1 who can miss bats and regularly shut down opposing lineups. For that reason, I consider Alex Meyer the single most important prospect the Twins have, even if he's not necessarily the best (or second-best).

Fast

Heat is Meyer's calling card. That was evident when he was named Mr. Baseball in the state of Indiana as a senior in high school, finishing 8-0 with 108 strikeouts and a 0.95 ERA in 51 innings for Greensburg High School. Meyer achieved the outstanding results by relying on a hard fastball and a sharp spike curve that set him apart from his prep peers.

Following Meyer's senior year, the Red Sox tried to fish him away from a commitment to the University of Kentucky by offering him a massive $2 million signing bonus as a 20th-round pick, but the righty elected instead to join the Wildcats.

He improved his stock with three strong seasons at UK and was selected in the first round, with the 23rd overall pick, by the Nationals in the 2011 draft.

Faster

It's common for high draft picks out of college to move quickly when they reach pro ball, and Meyer was no exception. In his first season as a member of the Nationals system, he cruised through two levels of Single-A, finishing with a 2.86 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 139/45 K/BB ratio in 25 starts. Over 129 innings, he allowed only 97 hits, holding the overmatched opposition to a .603 OPS.

After putting together a great first season in the pros, Meyer soon found himself on the move, traded to Minnesota in exchange for Denard Span. His rapid ascent continued in the new organization as he headed straight to Double-A and continued to excel while piling up strikeouts at a phenomenal rate.

Fastest

Though his breaking ball has drawn rave reviews as a devastating secondary pitch, and his changeup is coming along, Meyer's fastball is the star of the show. Bearing down from his sky-scraping 6'9" frame, the heater routinely hurdles toward the plate in the upper-90s with natural life, and as he's aged into his mid-20s Meyer has only added velocity.

While watching him pitch in the Arizona Fall League a few months ago, ESPN.com's prospect wonk Keith Law reported that Meyer was routinely working at 98 mph with the fastball and touching 99 often. Many observers, including Law, noted that the lanky right-hander touched triple digits on multiple occasions.

That's a level of gas that the Twins haven't gotten from a starter since... ever?

Meyer was a dominant force in New Britain last year, striking out 28 percent of the batters he faced. His arsenal is almost certainly good enough to play at the highest level right now, and at 24 he has reached an age where many top prospects break into the majors if they haven't already. Let's get him up, right?

Not So Fast...

There are a few factors that will likely delay Meyer's arrival, at least a bit. The first is the logjam in the major-league rotation, created by the addition of multiple veteran free agents and the presence of three returning hurlers who are out of options.

Meyer has better stuff than anyone currently slated to be in the starting five, even by the admission of one of those five, but there's no rush to throw him in there. He hasn't pitched above Double-A and still hasn't been added to the 40-man roster, whereas there are more urgent decisions to be made on other starters in front of him.

And Meyer isn't without his own warts. He's had some command issues, though nothing too alarming.

It's fairly typical for pitchers his size to have to refine their location over time. Just look at Randy Johnson, who -- at a lanky 6'10" and 225 lbs. -- had a similar build. He had a major problem with walks early in his career before ultimately finding his release and becoming a Hall of Famer.

Meyer's control problems haven't been nearly as pronounced as those of a young Johnson, but still you get the sense that the Twins would like to see him hit his spots a little more consistently before they give him a shot.

The larger concern is health. Meyer was limited to 13 starts with the Rock Cats last year due to a shoulder injury that cost him about two months of the season. He came back and pitched well at the end of the year, carrying that over into the AFL, but shoulder soreness can be a lingering malady for many pitchers.

Meyer's durability will be a question mark until he enjoys a prolonged period of clean health, and even if he does he'll still probably be held to a strict innings limit this year after throwing only 78 frames in 2013 (about 100 if you include the AFL).

All of this means that, while Meyer is likely to make his major-league debut sometime this year, we probably won't see the full impact of his ability before 2015 at least.

Until then, the term "ace in the hole" seems more than fitting.

Previous 2014 Twins Daily Top Twins Prospects:

#10 – Trevor May
#9 – Lewis Thorpe
#8 – Jorge Polanco
#7 – Josmil Pinto
#6 – Jose Berrios
#5 – Eddie Rosario
#4 – Kohl Stewart

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