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I very much agree with the general sentiment expressed here. The Twins desperately need to show more down the stretch this season than they have over the last three years. Another lifeless August and September would be unacceptable.
However, if that improvement is driven by players like Kurt Suzuki, Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia, who are not part of the long-term solution, what good does it do? At that point, all you're doing is costing yourself valuable draft slots, with no tangible positive takeaways to bring forward.
Maybe Terry Ryan will move those veterans before Thursday's deadline and maybe he won't. But regardless, these are the players we should be focused on here in the final two months, and what we should be looking for:
Oswaldo Arcia: His season has been one of the great disappointments of 2014, as he has taken a significant step backward following his promising rookie campaign. Any time he appears to be getting something going, he falls into another spell where he looks totally lost at the plate. An at-bat on Sunday that ended with him snapping a bat over his knee sums up his season pretty well, but a strong finish with a bunch of home runs would go a long way toward building optimism toward 2015.
Kyle Gibson: He has given us a lot to like this year, most notably an elite ground ball rate (fifth-best in baseball) and control that has improved substantially over the course of the season. But it's hard to get overly excited when he's giving up five-plus runs every other start. If he can eliminate most of the clunkers while staying healthy and working toward 200 innings, we'll be able to feel a lot more comfortable in his ability to help anchor next year's rotation.
Joe Mauer: We need positive signs. He was hitting .362 on a 12-game hitting streak before going down with an oblique injury, and now that he appears close to returning, he needs to pick up where he left off. It's tough to imagine the Twins returning to contention in the next couple years without Mauer being a major contributor. I'll be particularly interested to see if he can start evening out his K/BB ratio, which was still oddly unimpressive even while he was heating up.
Ricky Nolasco: Will the first season of his big new contract be an unmitigated disaster, or can he salvage something here at the tail end? Nolasco pitched hurt for months before landing on the shelf with elbow soreness. If he can't come back and perform for a stretch before the season ends, he's going to be a big question mark during the offseason that will make it difficult for the team to plan out its 2015 starting corps.
Byron Buxton: The top prospect may have positioned himself as the 2015 Opening Day center fielder if he'd remained healthy this season. Maybe he still can. He's finally got it going in Ft. Myers and should be moved up to New Britain very shortly. A good month there could possibly earn him a September call-up. With all their issues in center, the Twins have plenty of reason to want a look at him.
The Trade Deadline is fast approaching. Teams have until Thursday to make moves without needing to worry about waivers. On these pages, we have looked at the trade candidacies of Kurt Suzuki, Kevin Correia and Josh Willingham. One of our writers was ready to post one on Kendrys Morales, but he was traded to Seattle moments before the article was set to be posted here.
One name that has not been mentioned much is Brian Duensing. The left-hander is in his second consecutive season as a full-time reliever. Previous to that, he had been given a couple of opportunities to start, to mixed results.
Duensing is putting up some terrific numbers this year, maybe even surprisingly so. In 40 games, he has a 2.27 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He has been charged with a run in just five of those outings. He’s been even better of late. He has gone nine consecutive outings without allowing a run. He has given up just one run over his past 16 games (15.1 innings).
One of the reasons he struggled as a starter was because he really struggled against right-handed hitters. This year, right-handers are hitting .244/.330/.397 (.727) off of him. Left-handers are hitting just .231/.268/.292 (.560) against him. You notice more of a split when looking at his strikeout and walk rates. He has struck out 13.6% of right-handed batters and walked 11.3%. Against lefties, he has struck out 19.4% while walking just 4.2%
Relief pitchers tend to be dealt in July to teams looking for one more piece. Though Duensing’s name hasn’t been mentioned in rumors like some others (like Tony Sipp), his production this year could make him an option for some teams.
WHY TRADE HIM
Relief pitchers do get traded at the deadline, and often fetch more at that time than other times in the season. If Terry Ryan is fielding phone calls about Duensing and gets offered a couple of mid-level prospects, he would have to consider it.
The Twins do have other left-handers in the bullpen and more in the minor leagues. Glen Perkins isn’t going anywhere, and Caleb Thielbar has put up very solid numbers in his first two seasons in the big leagues. In Rochester, Edgar Ibarra is pitching well and is on the 40 man roster. Aaron Thompson is a former first-round pick who has pitched a little bit in the big leagues. He’s pitched well the last two seasons in Rochester. And don’t forget that many relief pitchers in the big leagues, including Duensing, were starters in the minor leagues. Logan Darnell and Kris Johnson could fit this role in time as well.
WHY KEEP HIM
He’s only making $2 million. As a left-handed reliever who doesn’t strike out a ton, he likely won’t ever make more than $3 million a season, maybe as early as next year in his final year of arbitration. He’s been good for a while now. That said, there are a lot of left-handed relievers that last a long time. The Twins could also sign him to a contract extension.
He is also one of the guys who has been with the organization a long time. Although he’s not the big name, he is a core guy in the bullpen and in the organization and in the Twins community.
WHO NEEDS HIM
The Braves are looking for a left-handed reliever, but there are always teams looking for lefties, and any bullpen improvement, for the pennant race.
Brian Duensing has been very good in his role for the Minnesota Twins this season. He has a year of arbitration left before he becomes a free agent. Relievers often bring back good value at the trade deadline, so it is a move that must be considered.
What should the Twins do with Brian Duensing ? Trade him? Sign him to a two-year extension to buy out a year of free agency? Let him play out his contract and see what happens? What do you think?
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On Wednesday of this past week, Twins pitching prospect Alex Meyer dismantled the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls, striking out eight over six innings of work while not allowing either a walk or a run.
With Phil Hughes apparently sidelined for some time after absorbing an Adam Dunn projectile missile in combination with the inconsistent performance from the starting five that now consists of non-prospect arms, it is hard not to ask “When is it Meyer’s time?”
The Twins have been understandably protective of their top pitching prospect based on his injury at the end of last season and the fact that he was limited in innings. Typically, organizations have a progression for how they would like to build a pitcher’s arm strength and he threw less than 100 innings in 2013 between Double-A and the Arizona Fall League. But based on Boston’s Will Middlebrooks’ early season scouting report after facing Meyer in Pawtucket, Meyer has more than enough weaponry to be hurling in the big leagues.
Admittedly, several comments from the front office made in reference to Meyer’s command and pitch counts (the former is the reason the latter gets so high so quick), that he would have troubles pitching deep in to games. While a fair assessment given his walk rate, Meyer still could be learning at this level.
And here’s another reason why I want to see him dabble here sooner rather than later: His ability to make adjustments.
On June 2 in Rochester, Meyer surrendered this majestic blast to Gwinnett’s Mark Hamilton, a 29-year-old first baseman who had fewer than a season’s worth of plate appearances at the major league level with the St. Louis Cardinals. The ball, one can presume, was eventually stopped in its flight when it was shot down by the Canadian border guard.
Note the location of of the 0-0 pitch: A fastball thigh-high and inside. Even with Meyer’s impressive velocity, this is a location that plenty of left-handed hitters love to do damage on.
To be fair, Meyer was falling apart at this juncture of the game. After allowing a double that was considered aided by one of his outfielders, Meyer plunked the batter in front of Hamilton, setting up first-and-third in the fifth inning. Perhaps based on the recent hit batter, the plan was to hopefully reestablish the strike zone or maybe it was that with a fastball that averages mid-to-upper 90s, they figured the could fire it past the aging minor leaguer. Regardless of why, the results were disappointing.
In his next time through the rotation, five days later Meyer would once again draw the Gwinnett Braves, this time in Georgia. With a three-run lead and two runners on base in the bottom of the sixth, Meyer would face Hamilton.
It is this match-up, deep in the ballgame, that shows why Meyer is more of a pitcher and less of a thrower. One who, if it were not for the organization’s inning limitations, may already be throwing bullets with the Minnesota Twins.
Unlike his first pitch in his previous start, Meyer kept his fastball on the other side of the plate, but a little too far for ball one:
With his second offering, he is able to command the outer-half of the plate with his fastball. There is little Hamilton can do but watch it blaze by. This, my friends, is a pitcher’s pitch:
The count now even at 1-1, Meyer unleashes his knee-buckling knucklecurve which stays up in the zone just enough for Hamilton to yank foul as he is unable to stay back after seeing two very good fastballs. To this point in the count, Meyer has not gone back inside with anything of significant velocity:
Now with two-strikes, Meyer attempts to put the lefty away with a backdoor breaking ball. Like the last one, it too stays up just enough for Hamilton to fight off and stay alive:
Finally, and here is where it becomes serious business, following two offspeed pitches Meyer rears back and gases a fastball up-and-away that Hamilton is reduced to rubble simply trying to stay alive:
The sequence demonstrates why Meyer could be an extremely good pitcher for the Twins. At this point, most prospect-philes project him as a potential number two starter in a strong rotation (not like a Kevin Correia number two starter, mind you). He has some flaws that the Twins are hoping he will work past, including his consistency in his mechanics and location as well as refining a changeup that would give him yet another weapon.
He clearly has the stuff to make an impact but the Twins do not want to pile too much workload on him -- which is one of the reasons he has not made the jump. Still, seeing his ability to adjust against an opponent is reassuring that he has both the physical and mental makeup for the next big step.
Many were frustrated when the Twins signed Kevin Correia to a multi-year contract in December of 2012.
It wasn't the price -- $10 million over two years is a fair rate for a No. 5 starter. It was the fact that, after a 99-loss season in which the rotation was terrible, their biggest offseason signing was a No. 5 starter.
To his credit, unlike so many free agents, Correia came as advertised, and maybe a little better. He's been completely healthy in his two seasons with the Twins and has posted a 4.40 ERA. While below average, that's not a terrible mark for the guy at the tail end of your rotation.
Of course, Correia hasn't really functioned as the fifth starter. He's been the one stable yet mediocre piece in a starting corps that has been baseball's worst over the past two seasons. He has given the Twins innings, but that's about where his value ends.
Or is it?
WHY TRADE HIM
Because, why not?
There's some talk that the Twins need to make room for prospects like Trevor May and Alex Meyer, but I doubt finding space will be a problem whether or not Correia's here. Nevertheless, the Twins are basically out of contention and while Correia might be marginally better than the alternative who would fill his spot, such as Yohan Pino or Kris Johnson or Logan Darnell, the Twins gain more from looking at anyone with a potential future in Minnesota at this point.
WHY KEEP HIM
Because it's possible that nobody else wants him. Correia has a 4.76 ERA this year at a time where the league average is around 4.00.
Teams at the top of their divisions will aim higher in searching for impact arms at the deadline. The type of club Correia might appeal to is one that is more on the fringe of the playoff picture and looking to simply add stability to the back end of its rotation without spending much.
WHO NEEDS HIM
It's tough to find competitive teams for whom Correia would provide a clear, meaningful upgrade.
The Yankees could use some pitching help but Correia is not a fit in that park. You could maybe look at the Indians, who have been juggling young arms with varying success. There are a couple teams in the National League that could have some interest.
But the bottom line is that the market will be thin, and it will be very much a "take what you can get" situation.
If the Twins can receive anything of even modest value for the 33-year-old vet, they'd have to be pleased. I would expect nothing more than a low-upside mid-level prospect, but Terry Ryan has had a knack for fishing hidden gems out of other organizations in the past.
It will be interesting to see if he can find a buyer within the next week.
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