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.
Oswaldo Arcia’s rookie season was filled with the expected peaks and valleys that most normal human rookies encounter during their first year of facing the world’s best competition.
Offensively, he displayed flashes of unbridled power by depositing home runs to all fields but alternated those moments with stretches of being lost. Over three games in early July, Arcia woofed 11 times in 18 at-bats. In that small sampling, he swung the bat 26 times but managed to put the ball in play just three times (two infield flies and a medium fly to left) while missing 16 times and fouling off seven more.
Sent back to Rochester shortly thereafter – perhaps just for his own sanity’s sake as he seemed ready to snap – Arcia returned to Minnesota in August for the duration of the season and continue to hit the ball hard (when he made contact).
Like many overzealous noobies, Arcia struggled to maintain respectable plate discipline figures that he worked hard to cultivate while in the minors in 2012. In the bigs, he reverted back to his previous ways and swung harder and more frequently than your parents at the neighbor’s key party in the late 1980’s.
There were pros and cons to this approach.
First, Arcia thrived in hitter’s counts when he could anticipate the heater. Perhaps because he was an unproven player, the Twins outfielder saw a higher than average amount of fastballs when he had the drop on pitchers (70% vs. 62% league average) and he was able to capitalize. Of his 14 home runs, seven came on fastballs when he was ahead in the count. Beyond that, just based on batting average, he was baseball’s best when ahead in the count – his .509 batting average led the game (minimum 50 plate appearances).
Skeptics can (rightly) point out that this is a small universe to make any sweeping proclamations however the takeaway is that in situations Arcia needed to take advantage and he did. The reason that Arcia’s plate discipline numbers were so skewed towards the pitcher’s favor is because, far too often, the pitcher was in the catbird seat. Under those circumstances, he struggled mightily and hit just .160 as pitcher’s put away the fastball (just 44% of the time) and opened up their repertoire to twirl different offerings past his bat.
Visually, we can see how much better Arcia’s swing zone is when he is ahead in the count compared to the vast swath of real estate he tries to cover once he falls behind. It turns into an “Oh my god, here’s strike three coming: Kill it! Kill it!” mentality.
There is no question that Arcia’s swing is fundamentally strong. With strong engagement with his lower half (controlled stride, solid hip involvement), his ability to keep his hands in to his body allows him to drive the ball well to all fields.
As Arcia develops his pitch recognition and comprehension skills, the presumption is that he will be behind in the count less often as pitchers become more reluctant to throw him anything cherry. If he is able to ignore those out-of-zone pitches, this should allow for him to jump on more of the suitable pitches and deploy his powerful swing.
No one would deny that this has been a relatively aggressive offseason for Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins. Already we've seen them sign two starting pitchers to larger contracts than they've ever given a free agent in the past, and they followed up by adding Mike Pelfrey on a two-year deal. On top of that, there are some whispers that the Twins might still be pursuing another arm to round out the rotation.
Of course, the club's efforts to improve the offense have been far less ambitious. The additions for this unit have amounted to a DH who posted a .610 OPS last year and a catcher who checked in at .627. Both those figures make Minnesota's .692 team OPS in 2013 (which ranked 12th in the AL) look stellar.
While the starting rotation was undoubtedly the team's most glaring weakness, run-scoring has clearly been an issue for the Twins and nothing they've done so far this winter is obviously going to help alleviate that problem. But if you look closely, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the lineup can be significantly more potent in 2014. Let's list a few:
A stronger Joe Mauer.
There's a lot of concern that Mauer's overall value could be dinged significantly by his move from behind the plate. That's a legit gripe, but we also might surmise that the transition to a less physically demanding position could lead to improvement in Mauer's offensive game. He's dealt with a ton of lower-body injuries related to catching over the years, and it's hard to believe those haven't had a cumulative effect on his ability to drive the ball at times. With stronger legs underneath him, the elite batsman may be able to produce more power than we've seen outside of that miraculous MVP campaign in 2009.
Prospects on the scene.
Josmil Pinto might be on the roster out of spring training. Same goes for Miguel Sano, though he's a less likely candidate. And of course Byron Buxton, the consensus top prospect in baseball, could be in the mix for a midseason promotion if he jumps out to a hot start in Double-A. The Twins have been ushering in a pretty ordinary group of young hitters over the past few years, but these kids -- particularly Sano and Buxton -- are top-flight talents that are really capable of making a difference.
Center field has to get better.
Led by the overmatched Aaron Hicks and the under-equipped Clete Thomas, Twins center fielders hit .230/.295/.349 in 2013. That damage was magnified because the paltry production often came at the top of the order. In the coming season, the position is bound to contribute more to the offense, whether it's Hicks bouncing back, Alex Presley holding his own, or Buxton entering the fold at some point.
Full year of Oswaldo Arcia.
Arcia had his ups and downs last year, with some notable stretches of extreme contact issues. At the end of the day, though, his performance was quite impressive for a 22-year-old getting his first taste of major-league competition. In 378 plate appearances, the Venezuelan slugger hit .251/.304/.430 with 14 homers. If you factor in some improvement as he adapts and puts in a full year's work, he could be a real asset in the middle of the lineup.
Josh Willingham will rebound.
Willingham endured by far the worst season of his career in 2013. Hampered by a nagging knee injury, he managed just 14 homers while batting .208 with a .709 OPS in 111 games. Hammer has dealt with injuries in the past, but they've never affected his performance like this. Since becoming a full-time player in 2006, he had registered an OPS of .810 or above every single year. He might be in a state of decline at age 35, but considering his consistent track record, there's no reason to expect anything resembling last year's ugly numbers unless the injury bug bites hard again.
Jason Kubel could deliver, if used properly.
Throughout his career, Kubel has been a liability against left-handed pitching -- a point of frustration when he's played for managers who refused to platoon him. Prior to 2013, he's generally crushed righties, and clearly the Twins are banking on a rebound to previous form. What's nice is that, while Doumit grumbled at times last year about a lack of playing time, Kubel's incentive-laden minor-league contract might increase Ron Gardenhire's willingness to use him in a part-time role or to cut bait if he's not producing.
More moves to come?
We're still almost six weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Ft. Myers. Numerous players remain available on the market and the Twins still have plenty of money to spend if they so choose. There's no reason to assume that they're done adding hitters, including guys who could possibly provide a real jolt.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the depth by position throughout the Minnesota Twins organization. The majority of moves have been made. There could be some minor league signings coming and there remains rumors of the Twins still bringing in another starting pitcher.
Today I will start with the catcher position. It has been a busy, rather interesting offseason for the Twins catching position. The first news came in early November when the Twins and Joe Mauer announced that the All Star would be moving to first base permanently. In mid-December, the Twins traded Ryan Doumit to the Atlanta Braves, and a few days later they signed veteran Kurt Suzuki to a one-year deal. Here is a look at the catchers in the Twins system.
The Big Leaguers
Most would likely agree with the decision of Joe Mauer to move to first base, but it would be naïve to believe that anyone will really be able to step into his shoes. Mauer has been the guy behind the plate for a full decade. He’s won multiple Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers and batting titles.
Josmil Pinto put up some impressive numbers for the Twins in September after hitting well in AA and a handful of games in AAA. Most believe that he can be a solid hitter at the big leagues because of an advanced hitting approach. The questions about Pinto are clearly around his defense, and those concerns are legit.
Chris Herrmann got some time behind the plate in 2013. His value comes from taking quality at bats and versatility. Besides catcher, he can also play the outfield positions.
Eric Fryer is a 28 year old backstop. As poor as Pinto is behind the plate, Fryer is that good defensively.
The one given to be on the Twins 25-man roster on Opening Day (assuming health) is recently-signed Kurt Suzuki who is a solid, athletic defensive catcher. His decline came pretty early due to catching over 145 games two straight years early in his career.
The reality is that one of two scenarios will unfold. If Josmil Pinto has a strong spring training, he likely enters the season as the #1 catcher with Suzuki as his backup. (My assumption is that the Twins would love for this scenario to play out) However, if Pinto has a rough camp, or his defense shows no improvement, I believe that Suzuki will be the starter with Fryer as his backup.
Besides Herrmann, the Twins have a few other catchers in the organization who have the ability to move around the diamond, which increases their value.
Dan Rohlfing has been invited to big league camp each of the past three seasons. He has played the corner outfield positions as well as first base. In high school, he primarily played third base. Tyler Grimes made the move to catcher in 2013 after being a shortstop the first two years of his career. He was solid in his first year behind the plate, but he still got a few games at second base. Finally, Jorge Fernandez was drafted out of Puerto Rico in 2012 as a catcher. There is discussion that he could be moved to the outfield in 2014 as he is a very good athlete.
2013 Draft Picks
Maybe the Twins had an inkling that even if Mauer would not have moved to first base in 2014, it was coming in the near future. That may have been a reason that they chose to target some catching in the 2013 draft. They drafted three catchers in the first nine round.
Stuart Turner was the Twins 3rd round pick as a junior out of Ole Miss while Mitch Garver was their 9th round pick as a senior from New Mexico. They were two of the three finalists for the 2013 Johnny Bench Award, giving to the top catcher in college baseball. Turner was the winner. Turner is known for his defense, but he hit nearly .400 during his collegiate season. Alex Swim was a late round pick out of college. He was also a nominee for the Johnny Bench Award. The Twins used a 6th round pick to take prep catcher Brian Navarreto. He is a big athlete who has a chance to be the best of the bunch.
As far as who the top catching prospects are in the system, it is clear that Josmil Pinto is head and shoulders above the rest of the group. Beyond that, Navaretto and Turner are guys that I rank in the 30s, and for very different reasons. Turner is a college catcher whose ceiling is solid starter. His floor is solid, long-term backup catcher. Navaretto has the world of potential, but he has a long ways to go.
In each installment, I’ll make my roster projections. Obviously additional signings or injuries will affect all of 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.
· Minnesota: Kurt Suzuki, Eric Fryer
· Rochester: Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann, Dan Rohlfing
· New Britain: Kyle Knudson, Matt Koch
· Fort Myers: Tyler Grimes, Jairo Rodriguez, Stuart Turner
· Cedar Rapids: Mitch Garver, Michael Quesada, Bo Altobelli, BK Santy
· Extended Spring Training: Jorge Fernandez, Brian Navaretto, Joel Polanco, Alex Swim
Feel free to discuss the players and the roster. Check Twins Daily later in the week again for a look at the depth for the Twins at another position.
Aaron and John take the podcast to Town Hall Lanes and talk about Eddie Rosario's "drug of abuse" suspension, Oswaldo Arcia's Winter League drama, turning 31 years old and putting yourself out there, persistent Matt Garza rumors,Twitter rankings, a crowded pitching roster, paying money to podcast, buying low, our bowling skills, Chris Kluwe and picking fights, Philadelphia for Christmas, and being out of options. You can listen by clicking below, download us from:
Aaron and John meet for happy hour at Summit and midst tasting beers review the wisdom behind giving Mike Pelfrey a two-year deal, the impact of trading Ryan Doumit to the Braves and whether Kurt Suzuki will cost Josmil Pinto a roster spot. In between, they taste a Nate Dog, try a firkin, wonder about Danny Valencia's legacy, battle over double-dipping, forecast a move to Uptown and wish Byron Buxton a happy birthday. You can listen by clicking below, download us fromiTunes or Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.
You can also stop by TwinsDaily where there was plenty of discussion about the signing of Kurt Suzuki, an interview with the scout responsible for signing Byron Buxton and a review of the suddenly crowded Twins rotation.
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After adding Mike Pelfrey over the weekend, the Twins have now signed three free agent starters to join Kevin Correia in the rotation, adding around $25 million to the 2014 payroll in the process. At this point, one would figure that Terry Ryan is done investing in the rotation and ready to turn his attention to the offense.
And yet, the pitching rumors continue to persist. Here's a quick glance at all the latest offseason rumblings involving the local club:
* I felt that the chances of the Twins signing Bronson Arroyo went from slim to nill after Pelfrey was locked in, but Mike Berardino cites a source with direct knowledge as saying that the team still has "strong interest" in the veteran right-hander.
With four starting spots essentially claimed, and with Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond and Vance Worley all remaining to compete for that final job, I am extremely skeptical that Ryan is serious about spending big on another multi-year contract, which could hamper the flexibility of a rotation that should be setting up to usher in some young homegrown talent over the next few years.
I could see the Twins signing a guy like Arroyo if he was available at a price they viewed as a bargain. But Arroyo -- along with the rest of the remaining free agent crop -- isn't waiting around this long to sign for a discount, especially with a non-contender.
Steam Rating: 2/5
* Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 reports that the Twins are maintaining a dialogue with Johan Santana, and that the former Cy Young winner is "very open to a return."
Santana seems like a more sensible target than Arroyo. He won't require an expensive long-term deal (more like a minor-league pact with incentives) and I see no way that he'd be a consideration to open the season in the rotation. Coming off his second major shoulder surgery since leaving Minnesota, Santana did not pitch at all in 2013 and -- last I heard -- still hasn't even thrown off a mound yet.
If he were to come aboard, it would likely be in the same capacity as Rich Harden last year. He'd spend the early part of the season rehabbing and building strength, and would hopefully be able to join up and make an impact at some point down the line.
Even with the Twins' rotation becoming somewhat crowded, Santana would still stand a good chance of earning an opportunity here, and it's a place that he's comfortable. I could see it.
Steam Rating: 3/5
* Prior to the Pelfrey signing, ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick mentioned that the Twins were monitoring free agent lefty Paul Maholm.
Whether or not that interest remains is unclear, but Maholm is a logical target for the back end of the rotation. He'll be relatively inexpensive, and has posted a solid 3.89 ERA while averaging 168 innings over the past three years. Most notably, Maholm is a left-hander, and the Twins currently have no southpaws slotted into the starting corps.
Steam Rating: 2/5
* Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle named the Twins as one team with interest in catcher Kurt Suzuki.
Suzuki is intriguing. He emerged as a fairly solid player early on in Oakland, but has really fallen off over the past few years, with a .237/.294/.357 hitting line since 2010.
He's still only 30, he'll be cheap and he's got a good defensive reputation. Seems like a logical fit as a backup. I still think John Buck or another more well-traveled veteran is more likely, though.
Steam Rating: 3/5
* On Tuesday, Jon Heyman tweeted that the Twins are among the teams looking at slugger Mark Reynolds.
It's tough to make much sense of this one, because Reynolds is coming off an ugly season and really doesn't profile as a third baseman anymore, even though that used to be his primary position. He's more of a 1B/DH type and the Twins already have an abundance of those between Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Jason Kubel and Chris Parmelee.
More than anything, Reynolds seems redundant with Trevor Plouffe, who shares a decidedly similar skill set. Both are substandard corner infield defenders who strike out a lot, hit for low averages and mostly just offer pop from the right side. I'm still a believer in Plouffe, at least as a part-time asset, but if the Twins are actually making a push for Reynolds it's probably not a good sign for the third base incumbent.
In combination with the Kubel signing, the Reynolds whispers indicatee that the Twins are looking for cheap power bats that they can buy low on. For all his flaws, Reynolds has cranked 202 homers in seven MLB seasons.
Steam Rating: 2/5
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