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.
Byron Buxton, says ESPN.com’s Keith Law, is a prospect with more tools than Home Depot.
OK, now that the requisite pun is out of the way, let’s delve into the nitty-gritty. After MLB.com anointed Buxton the number one prospect in all the land, Law’s Top 100 list concurred. As a 19-year-old, the center fielder smacked pitching around in the Midwest and Florida State Leagues to the tune of .334/.424/.520 with 12 home runs and 109 runs scored.
An on-base menace, Buxton scampered around the bases with blinding speed and, defensively, he covered more real estate than is in the Alaskan wilderness. But it is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the game -- hitting -- that separates the elite prospects from the flamed-out Brandon Woods of the world.
The game is organic and climbing the ladder involves making changes in approach and mechanics to ensure the stud high school/college player not only reaches but succeeds at the highest level of professional baseball. When it comes to Buxton, those changes are in process.
As Law writes about Buxton:
The bold section of his analysis is what jumped out at me.
At midseason, I reviewed Buxton’s mechanics from the available video at the time, compared the changes made from his high school showcase days and concluded that he and the Twins had made some significant changes to his swing. To summarize, Buxton had eliminated his open stance and leg kick in favor of an in-line approach with a toe-touch stride. In theory this provides improved timing and greater contact ability with less body movement -- the “balanced through contact” part that Law referenced.
What was prominent but not mentioned was the fact that his back leg left the ground at contact. At that time, I did not see this as a flaw, per se. After all, there are some hitters who do quite well for themselves with this in their swing. Albert Pujols’ swing pulls his back foot off the ground and forward after contact. More pronounced, however, is the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper who displays this very trait in his swing perhaps more than anybody.
As you see at the point of contact, Harper’s back foot has left the ground by an inch or two. Though somewhat unorthodox, in an article published by Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post last year, biomechanics expect Glenn Fleisig explained why this move is beneficial for Harper:
So, biomechanically speaking, the move in and of itself does not reduce power.
The main difference between Harper and Buxton’s leg lifts was the weight transfer. In Harper’s case, you see that his front side has absorbed essentially all his weight. Buxton, on the other hand, lacks the max effort transfer and has a more balanced weight distribution making the leg lift something that could diminish his power. What’s more is that from the front view, it is noticeable that Buxton’s back leg slides out a bit, too.
Over the course of last season, video of Buxton in Cedar Rapids and then Fort Myers showed the game’s top prospect demonstrating this back-leg lift in his swing, but there was evidence of it beginning to tone down in the Florida State League. It was not until clips of his performance in the Arizona Fall League that Buxton’s swing seemed different than that of his Midwest League.
From the Twins’ perspective, you can see why they would want to try to streamline Buxton’s mechanics. Any reduction of unnecessary movement will streamline the swing and provide Buxton -- who is graced with countless tools -- the opportunity to succeed at the major league level for a long time.
Most Twins fans will recall that Torii Hunter was a vital part of Minnesota's turnaround and success in the 2000s, from his breakout season in '01 through his departure in '07.
It's a little tougher to remember the beginning of Hunter's major-league career, which was far less glamorous. After drawing a handful of appearances with the Twins in 1997 and '98, Hunter made the full-time leap as a 22-year-old in 1999. During his first two seasons, he hit .267/.313/.393 with 14 homers in 234 games. He was demoted back to Triple-A in his second year. He looked overwhelmed.
Hunter rebounded after returning from his demotion in 2000, raising his OPS from .543 in late July to .726 at season's end. Since then, he has never finished with a mark below .762. He's been above .800 nine times (so far) and appeared in five All-Star games (so far).
In other words, Aaron Hicks shouldn't get too dispirited over his rocky big-league debut in 2013.
To be fair, Hicks' numbers (.192/.259/.338) are much uglier than Hunter's during his initial rough patch. However, Hunter was playing in a stronger offensive environment, so in context the difference is not as vast as it might appear (Hunter's OPS+ was 76; Hicks finished last year at 65).
Both Hunter and Hicks entered the majors as athletic young center fielders with great promise. Both exhibited the type of tentative plate approach and proneness to mistakes that are typical of inexperienced rookies. So Hunter's ability to endure and put together a hell of a career should serve as an inspiration for Hicks and a placation for disenchanted fans.
Then again, while the situations are similar in a general sense, there are certainly more red flags in the case of Hicks.
Whereas Hunter was a visibly raw specimen who had struggled at times with controlling the strike zone in the minors, Hicks was touted as a polished product. But during his initial stint in the majors, his plate discipline -- a calling card throughout the minors -- was nowhere to be found. The rookie struck out at a much higher rate last year than Hunter has at any point in his career.
In addition, Hicks did not respond as well (or at least as immediately) to his demotion. When Hunter was sent down in 2000 following a poor start to his sophomore campaign, he absolutely raked in Triple-A, putting up a 1.130 OPS in 55 games to earn a recall. He hit far better in the second half with the Twins and the rest is history.
Hicks didn't experience the same kind of success following his demotion last year. He went to Rochester, hit .222/.317/.333 in 22 games, was not recalled in September and then skipped winter ball. It was about as bad a season as one could possibly imagine, and it left a sour aftertaste.
But the bottom line with Hunter, and countless other players, is that early struggles at the highest level are hardly a death knell. That's especially true when you're talking about a 23-year-old who skipped Triple-A on his way to the bigs, as Hicks did.
Patience is key. Yet the Twins can't and won't exercise endless patience. By this time next year, Byron Buxton may already be entrenched as the long-term center fielder, and there are plenty of emerging contenders to fill the corner spots. If Hicks is unable to bounce back quickly and reestablish himself as an organizational fixture, he could easily be passed up by other outfielders in a crowded system.
That will make him one of the most intriguing players to keep an eye on in the early part of the 2014 season.
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Andrew Albers' baseball journey has taken him to some interesting places.
Before joining the Minnesota Twins as a minor-league free agent in 2011 after driving clear across the country for a tryout, the left-hander had played ball all around the continent; from prep ball in his native Canada, to the University of Kentucky, to the San Diego Padres organization as a 10th-round draft pick and then back to Canada for a year of independent ball.
During his two years in the Twins' organization, he has played at five different levels, including the majors in late 2013. Now, it appears that he is poised to continue chasing his dream on the other side of the globe, in South Korea.
Reports arose on Tuesday that Albers has reached a tentative agreement with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization. It sounds like the only remaining hurdle for completion of the deal is a buyout between the Eagles and Twins.
Albers is no doubt interested in continuing to pursue an MLB career, but likely saw the writing on the wall here in Minnesota. With four spots in the big-league rotation already committed to veterans, and a logjam of starters competing for that fifth spot (several of whom are out of options), the 28-year-old stood little chance of claiming a roster spot on the Twins this spring.
In fact, he may have had a tough time cracking the rotation in Rochester. Consider this: new arrivals Kris Johnson (the minor-leaguer ultimately received in the Justin Morneau trade) and Sean Gilmartin (acquired from Atlanta in exchange for Ryan Doumit) both pitched in Triple-A last year, and the Twins are surely eager to see what they have in the two. Kyle Gibson is probably pegged for assignment with the Red Wings; same goes for Trevor May after two full seasons in Double-A. Alex Meyer, who was dominant when healthy at New Britain last year and looked good in the Arizona Fall League, is also a candidate.
That's five already. Then you've got the losers of the three-way battle between Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond and Vance Worley for Minnesota's fifth rotation spot. Given the situation with options, the losers of that competition may end up in the bullpen or claimed by another team, but if not they would be destined for Rochester.
So it's not hard to see how Albers could have been squeezed by the suddenly deep group of arms gunning for jobs in Triple-A and the majors this year. Although he performed very well in Rochester last year and his brilliant first two big-league starts made for an awesome story, the soft-tossing southpaw ranks behind most of the aforementioned names in terms of true prospect luster.
In Korea, he'll earn more money, and he'll have a chance to perhaps catch the attention of another MLB organization if he excels. It's a smart move for him and a convenient enough one for the Twins, who can clear up a space on the 40-man roster and turn their attention toward younger pitchers with more upside.
Nevertheless, Albers' debut and follow-up were easily among the most fun moments of the 2013 season, and I will miss watching his memorable story unfold from up close. I wish him the best as he continues his unique baseball journey, assuming the deal goes through.
In the last two weeks, we’ve reviewed the catchers, the first basemen and third basemen so far, and today we will be looking at the middle infielders in the Minnesota Twins organization. As much as I would like to separate the shortstops and the second basemen, so many of them can (or will or have) played both positions that I will consider them as one group of players.
As it sits today, it appears that the Twins may start the same middle infield combination for the first time in a decade, when Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas were roaming the center of the diamond together.
The Big Leaguers
Unless something happens over the next month or so, Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier will be the Twins keystone combo to start the season. Both spent time as the Twins starting shortstop during the 2012 season and didn’t perform very well. In 2013, Dozier made the transition to second base, and at least defensively, the Twins were strong up the middle.
Offensively, you all know that Dozier got off to a slow start, but at the end of May, he made an adjustment and started producing with the bat. Dozier provided the Twins with 33 doubles and 18 home runs while committing just six errors. Can he keep up his second-half success, maybe even hit for more power?
As expected, Florimon struggled with the bat. He hit just .221/.281/.330 (.611), though he had 17 doubles and nine home runs. Florimon makes his money with his glove. Defensively, his reputation of having great range and a strong arm both proved true. Can the defense overcome the offensive struggles? Can he make some adjustments with the bat?
Eduardo Escobar is out of options, so he is all but assured of being on the Twins roster to start the season. As in 2012, he will most likely be the Twins utility infielder as he can play all three spots pretty well.
The Twins have typically preferred having a second utility infielder. Doug Bernier surfaced last year after last playing in the big leagues in 2008. The Twins also brought back Jason Bartlett, who has not played since May 14, 2012. At 34, he is attempting a comeback. For defensive purposed, James Beresford may be the best option. He just turned 25 and between AA and AAA in 2013 he hit .306/.363/.346 while primarily playing 2B. If I had to pick a favorite of that group to start the season, I would lean toward Beresford, though Bartlett at 100% could make things interesting.
2013 Draft Picks
The Twins drafted four middle infielders in the 2013 draft. Three of those players came from the college ranks. Their first middle infielder they took was in the 11th round, and he came from the prep ranks.
Nelson Molina was the Twins 11th round pick, coming from high school in Puerto Rico. He played for the GCL Twins and it would be fair to say he struggled to start the season. In his first 19 games, he had just one hit in 52 at bats (.019 BA). He hit .193 over the final 17 games. At 6-3 and 175 pounds, there is some confidence his offense will come around. There is more confidence about his glove, and they believe he will be able to stay at shortstop.
In the 18th round, the Twins took Ryan Walker out of UT-Arlington. He hit .267 in 42 games with Elizabethton; he also played in six games with Cedar Rapids. He is a speed player who plays very solid defense, with good range and a strong arm.
In the 30th round, the Twins went with a player they know well. They drafted second baseman Tanner Vavra. The son of Twins 3B coach, Joe, Tanner went to Valparaiso where he hit very well. No surprise with a coach’s kid, but he is a grinder. He hit just .246 in E-Town, but got on base about 36% of the time.
Two rounds later, the Twins went to Cal State-Dominguez Hills shortstop Carlos Avila. He hit just .206 in Elizabethton, and is known more for his glove than his bat.
The Twins top middle infield prospect certainly affects the opening day roster. Eddie Rosario (My Twins Prospect #5) will begin the season with a 50-game suspension. That said, Rosario remains a top prospect because he can hit. After hitting .329/.377/.527 (.903) in 57 games with the Miracle, he hit .284/.330/.412 (.742) in 70 games in New Britain. Brian Dozier’s level of success with the Twins in 2014 may determine whether the Twins keep Rosario at second base or move him back to the outfield.
Jorge Polanco (#6) struggled his first two years of pro ball, but in 2013 in Cedar Rapids, he showed that his 2012 stats an Elizabethton weren’t a fluke. In fact, in a loaded Kernels lineup, he hit third most of the season. Overall, he hit .308/.362/.452 (.813) with 32 doubles, ten triples and five home runs. Polanco split his time between shortstop and second base, though he really only played shortstop when Niko Goodrum was hurt.
Goodrum (#20) had a solid first full season with the Kernels. He plays a very solid shortstop with good range, soft hands and a strong, accurate arm. Offensively, he hit .260/.364/.369 with 30 extra base hits. He has never hit for average, but his career IsoD is .096. He is long and lanky and still growing. He has a nice swing from both sides of the plate and could add some power.
Danny Santana (#15) has shown the ability to hit for average (.297) and steal a lot of bases (30). He is allergic to walking, but he’s got the pop to hit a lot of doubles and triples. Defensively, he has the tools (great range, rocket arm) to be a great shortstop but to this point he has been very inconsistent on the routine plays.
Levi Michael was not in my Top 30 prospects and barely makes the Top 50 after the former first-round pick has struggled two straight years in Fort Myers. In two seasons with the Miracle, he has hit .239/.336/.323. The Rosario suspension could mean he gets pushed to New Britain to start the season. He will be 23 throughout the season.
Aderlin Mejia is another guy who isn’t a Top 30 prospect, but he came out of nowhere to be a likely Top 50 guy. He was supposed to go to Elizabethton, but while at Extended Spring Training, the Miracle had a need. It was supposed to be short-term, but he hit so well (.308 in 75 games), they couldn’t take his bat out of the lineup until a late-season injury.
In each installment, I’ll make my roster projections. Obviously additional signings or injuries will affect all this, and that’s why it is important to have more than just two or even three at each level. There are also always players put on the disabled lists. So again, most likely there won’t be four catchers at Cedar Rapids, but this gives an idea of who could be at each affiliate at the start of the season.
Feel free to discuss the players and the roster.
Then head on over to Twins Daily where there is a tremendous amount of Twins content.
Aaron and John discuss the Minnesota Twins spring invitees, the rest of the available free agents, Aaron's reason for going to New Zealand, Hammerheart's smokey experiments, John's brilliant baseball tournament, what happened to a bunch of ex-Twins, Aaron's bucket list and one million reasons to love you crazy listeners. You can listen by clicking below, or download us from:
Looking for even more? Wondering about Twina fanstasy camp? We got you covered with a first-hand account. Meanwhile, Nick Nelson worries about Miguel Sano's elbow and Seth examines the organizational depth at first base, now that Joe Mauer has moved there.
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