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.
Despite being perpetually trapped in the shadows of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano within the Twins' system, Eddie Rosario had firmly established himself as a true upper-tier prospect by the end of the 2013 season.
At the age of 21, he had cruised through Single-A and Double-A, batting .302/.350/.460 between the two levels all while working on the defensive transition from outfield to infield. His bat was so good, and his athleticism so outstanding, that it appeared he may have a chance to make an early impact for the Twins here in 2014.
My, how things change.
As we all know, Rosario was tagged with a 50-game drug suspension during the offseason, costing him a crucial chunk of development time just as he was preparing to graduate to the highest level of the minors.
He was a no-show at spring camp while dealing with "personal issues." And as the season got underway, with Rosario completely out of the picture, Brian Dozier turned his hold on second base into a tight grip, emerging as one of the better players in the majors at the position.
So when Rosario finally returned from his ban late in May, he returned to a dramatically different set of circumstances from the ones that prompted the Twins to experimentally try to switch him from center field to second base a couple seasons ago in an effort to more quickly move his bat up to the majors.
Back then, center field was overloaded and second base was a position with no clear future.
My, how things change.
The embattled Rosario started playing games again at the end of May, opening in Ft. Myers where he got back up to speed with a quick eight-game stint before heading back to New Britain. He's played a bit of second base, but is back to playing mostly in center, where there is now a huge hole in Minnesota.
And while the Twins have plenty of quality arms available in the high minors to supplement their pitching staff, they are lacking reinforcements for their scuffling offense at Triple-A. Josmil Pinto and Deibinson Romero are really the only intriguing bats at Rochester, and Pinto will likely remain there indefinitely to work on his defensive game.
With the Kendrys Morales signing, the Twins made a loud statement that they are in "win-now" mode, with more of their decisions being driven by a desire to improve the current club. If offense continues to be an issue and they find themselves needing a boost later in the summer -- particularly in center field -- they may find that Rosario is in fact their best option.
My, how things change.
He needs to demonstrate complete mastery of the Double-A level -- and perhaps even the Triple-A level -- before the Twins would consider bringing him up, but Rosario is one of the most dynamic hitters in the organization and could provide a critical infusion into the lineup in the second half. As far as his stock has fallen in the past eight months or so, he'd be able to revive it substantially by coming up and making a positive impact for a Twins team that is trying to compete in a weak division.
There has been plenty of speculation the last week or two about which Twins starter would be replaced in the rotation, and by whom. First, it was Kevin Correia, and now he has had two straight terrific starts including last night’s 1-0 loss to the Red Sox. Sam Deduno has had two very poor starts in a row, and now the discussion is about who will take his spot in the rotation starting on Thursday.
The starting rotation has been very impressive which means that speculation of who will make Deduno’s start on Thursday can lead in several directions. We’ll try to clarify that today, or at least arm you with what you need to know as it relates to the Twins decision.
While we are at it, we’ll take a look at some of the other players (relievers and hitters) in Rochester who deserve at least consideration for a call up to the Minnesota Twins.
RED WINGS STARTERS
We’ve been informed via Chris Fee that Sean Gilmartin has been called up to the Red Wings and will start on Tuesday. Yohan Pino will now start on Wednesday. Alex Meyer has been pushed to Thursday. Logan Darnell follows Meyer in the Red Wings rotation. Trevor May pitched on Monday night, and Kris Johnson pitched on Sunday. So, here’s a look at the Red Wings starters and their promotion credentials.
Alex Meyer – Meyer is the top prospect, the guy that we are all waiting for. He has been solid with the Red Wings this year. Meyer has a record of 4-3, with a 3.62 ERA. In 64.2 innings, he has given up 56 hits, walked 30 and struck out 76. We love the strikeout rate. We love the big fastball, and the fact that he has four pitches that most evaluators believe will make him a top of the rotation starter. That said, if you’re walking 4.2 per nine innings in AAA, that isn’t very good. It is his career high.
He is coming off of his worst start of the year. He went just two innings on Friday and gave up three runs on five hits and two walks. He threw 55 pitches before being removed. The start before that, he threw six shutout innings and gave up just four hits and a walk while striking out eight. The game before that, four runs in five innings. Consistency is a legit concern at this point for the 24-year-old, but there’s little question that he can be a good big league starter.
Yohan Pino – The Twins signed Pino in 2004. He was traded to Cleveland in the Carl Pavano trade in 2009. Since then, he’s been between AA and AAA but never made it to the big leagues. The 30-year-old right-hander is at least putting his name on the map as a possible call up. He is 9-1 with a 1.92 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. Though he doesn’t throw very hard, he has been racking up strikeouts. In 61 innings, he has 61 strikeouts to go with just 16 walks. He has pitched out of the bullpen and as a starter and done well in either role.
Kris Johnson – Johnson came to the Twins this offseason in a trade for Duke Welker, who was the player to be named later in the Justin Morneau trade to Pittsburgh. Last year, he led the International League with a 2.39 ERA. He’s doing just as well this year. He is 6-3 with a 2.60 ERA. He has 62 strikeouts and 28 walks in 72.2 innings. He did make one start for the Twins earlier in the season and went five innings. Johnson has struggled in two of his last three starts. Most recently, he gave up three runs on five hits and three walks in 5.2 innings. The start before that, he gave up two runs in eight innings. Three starts ago, he gave up five runs on four hits and three walks in five innings.
Logan Darnell – The 25-year-old had a nice ten-day stint with the Twins earlier this season when the Twins needed a bullpen guy who could eat multiple innings. In his one appearance, he was very impressive in three shutout innings. With the Red Wings, he is 2-4 with a 2.75 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. In 55.2 innings, he has 53 strikeouts, but he also has walked 24 (3.9 BB/9 IP). On June 8, he gave up four runs on eight hits and three walks in 5.1 innings. In his most recent start, he threw five innings and gave up only an unearned run. He gave up just three hits, but he uncharacteristically walked five. His spot in the rotation comes up on Thursday, making him the starter who is in line to start in Deduno’s spot without altering his schedule.
Trevor May – The speculation was that the 24-year-old might be the guy to come up to replace Deduno. Some of that may be because he was on the same schedule as Kevin Correia who two starts ago looked to be on his last leg. May made his scheduled start on Monday night. He wasn’t on a pitch count limit, to be sure. He threw 120 pitches and pitched in the ninth inning and gave up just one run. Control was his biggest issue earlier in his career, but his walk rate has drop from 4.7/9 innings in 2012 to 4.0/9 innings in 2013. After last night’s start, his walk rate is at 3.5 per nine. Like Meyer, May has the “stuff” and the prospect status that people believe will give him a shot to succeed in the big leagues.
Let’s just compare the stats of these five starters. Try your best not to look at the name and especially their ages when evaluating in your mind who has been the best, or is the most deserving of the promotion.
There is no statistical analysis that can look at the above numbers and say that Yohan Pino is not deserving of an opportunity. However, that’s where the statistical world and the scouting world will butt heads. Many will say that Pino doesn’t have the stuff to get big league hitters out. That may very well be true. However, my opinion (and maybe mine alone) is that when you put up those kinds of numbers at the highest level below the big leagues, you deserve an opportunity to just see. That said, if any of these five guys got called up, or get called up later in the season, it will have been earned.
If you believe that Trevor May should be the one promoted, they can do so creatively. They could have Darnell start for the Twins on Thursday, in his normal spot, and then after the game send him down. At that point, there could be a shifting of the rotation such that May would start on Sunday or Monday for the Twins as well. It can happen if they choose to go in that direction. That said, if it is Logan Darnell, he’s earned the opportunity and it would be nice to see him get a handful of starts.
THE BULLPEN OPTIONS
Real quickly I wanted to point out that there are a couple of good options in Rochester if the Twins needed a bullpen arm (and didn’t just move a starter there). AJ Achter and Michael Tonkin both have pitched well for the Red Wings. Tonkin has the name, and he’s on the 40 man roster, and he throws pretty hard. Achter is not on the 40 man roster, doesn’t throw as hard, but has consistently put up remarkable numbers. If they were to want or need a left-hander, Aaron Thompson should be considered.
Chris Colabello and Josmil Pinto were a big part of the Twins offense early in the season. They are each working their way back in Rochester, but a few other names are worth getting to know.
Deibinson Romero made a strong impression with his bat in spring training, and he has continued to rake in Rochester. He is now hitting .312/.407/.468 (.875) with 17 doubles and five home runs. He does already have 15 errors at third base, but his bat may be able to play in the big leagues.
While Romero is the hitter, the Twins have a couple of glove-first guys in Rochester who would have to be considered if the Twins need another utility infielder (they have several already). We saw Doug Bernier last year. He has been playing all over the diamond this year, and he’s hitting .288/.369/.412 with 10 doubles and three home runs. James Beresford has been the Red Wings second baseman. He’s hitting .293/.343/.360 (.703) with 11 doubles, a triple and a homer.
Eric Farris got one at bat in 2011 with the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2012, he went 1-8 with the Brewers. He came to the Twins a year ago and split time between New Britain and Rochester. He’s been the primary centerfielder for the Red Wings this year. He has hit .289/.328/.362 (.690).
So, there may not be as many hitters as pitchers putting up big numbers, but it’s always nice to know who could be next should a need arise.
Aaron and John talk about Sam Deduno being on thin ice, pitching prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May being almost ready, the Twins sending mixed messages about now vs. later, Josmil Pinto's demotion, weird phobias, Trevor Plouffe and Aaron Hicks getting hurt, the end of the line with Jason Kubel, Vance Worley rising from the ashes in Pittsburgh, and how to become a cat person in one week. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.
Lots of stuff at TwinsDaily this weekend and late last week including both good news and bad news, like:
Sure, not everyone thought he was washed up. Over the winter his agent -- Matt Sosnick of Sosnick Cobbe Sports-- reassured me that Willingham was strong like bull after his knee surgery in 2013. The procedure cleaned everything up and he was healthy. The message? Get ready because 2014 would be a rebirth of Willingham --avert your eyes because you cannot handle the raw power!
But that’s agent talk, right? An agent is supposed to be the best wingman alive, pumping a player’s tires even if the engine won’t start.
Then, like those cartoon dynamite sticks with a 100 yards of fuse that fails to ignite while an animated coyote waits with his ears plugged behind a rock, the Twins waited for the big boom from Willingham that never came this spring. Yes, spring training statistics are wholly meaningless but scouts look for signs of life and Willingham’s performance had a very weak pulse. He accumulated just three hits in 50 spring plate appearances and one of those happened to be a wall-scraping home run at Boston’s JetBlue Park in the final practice game of the year.
Based on that, the assumption was that Willingham was continuing where he left off in 2013. Last season, bogged down with a knee injury, he finished with his worst season at the major league level. While playing in 111 games, he turned in a .208/.342/.369 line with 128 strikeouts. With his highest whiff rate and lowest power output, there were rumblings that the 34-year-old was simply stranded.
Willingham made it just six games into the 2014 season before Cleveland’s Justin Masterson sent him to the infirmary again with a fastball that ran in on Willingham’s wrist. After a rehab stint in Rochester that seemed as disappointing as his spring production, Willingham looked to be poised to flounder again.
Only he has not.
Since returning to the team on May 26 he has flipped a switch and posted a .316/.467/.632 batting line with five home runs and a 14/14 K/BB ratio in 75 plate appearances. Only Lonnie Chisenhall, Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Alex Gordon and Edwin Encarnacion in the American League have put up better slugging percentages in that time while his extra nerdy .464 weighted on-base average is only bested by Chisenhall and Gordon.
While some may want to consider this as his dead-cat bounce, there are some positive signs in this small sample size that may indicate that this is truly a health rebound and not a fluke, the most notable sign being how improved his plate coverage is in comparison to last year.
Part of Willingham’s game is being able to extend those meaty arms in order to pull pitches to left field. Without a stable base to support those Popeye forearms, there would be little ability to drive the balls that are thrown on the opposite side of the plate. This was evident last year. If you divided the plate into thirds, according to ESPN/tTruMedia, last year Willingham slugged .538 (7 HR) on the inside, .438 (7 HR) in the middle and .224 (0 HR) on the outer portion. That is in stark contrast to his output in his impressive 2012 season where he slugged .526 (8 HR) inside, .642 (16 HR) middle and .422 (11 HR) outside.
Visually, you can see how different his season with a knee-injury (2013) is versus a healthy season (2012) and how that injury affected his ability to drive the ball on the outer half for power. It is amazing how abrupt his power ended at the middle portion of the strike zone:
Fast forward to this season and Willingham’s tendencies are mirroring his 2012 season in which he has been able to drive the ball on the outer-half with authority. Statistically in 2014, he is slugging .649 because he has tagged three of his five home runs from the outside portion of the zone. Here is how that looks visually with his slugging percentage this year:
Willingham is not only able to connect with those pitches that are thrown away but he’s able to drive them a long way from home. This is important because this is the region that opponents have attacked him most frequently rather than risk throwing inside:
Beyond just the heat maps that may confuse the color-blind, here are two visual examples with a fastball on the outer-half where one turned into a left-center field home run and the other a foul out to first base:
This may be the smallest of small sample sizes when drawing a two-swing comparison but overall this shows the discrepancy accurately: this year he is able to drive the outside pitch whereas in 2013 he was not.
At his age and his health history, it is difficult to say how long this production will last. Still, at the very least, Willingham is now doing the things that he was doing in his successful 2012 that he was not in 2013. Depending on how you look at it, this is an inflation for his trade deadline value or an offensive weapon to help the Twins combat the rest of the AL Central.
Coming into spring training, I don't think that Ron Gardenhire and the Twins were planning on bringing Josmil Pinto north with the big-league club. The young backstop had been awfully impressive with the bat during a September audition in 2013, sure, but Twins officials commented repeatedly throughout the offseason that he was still somewhat raw and his defensive game needed work.
That was a fair position to hold. Pinto was a bit of a slow developer in the minors, and had played only 19 games in Triple-A. As Chris Parmelee had demonstrated two years earlier, you can only put so much stock into a great September debut in the majors.
As spring camp unfolded, Pinto hit, and -- for the most part -- no one else did. With the offense looking rather shabby, the Twins decided that they needed Pinto's bat, and that turned out to be very wise indeed as the catcher's stellar April helped fuel a surprisingly strong start for the lineup.
Since the end of April, though, Pinto has quietly faded. Dating back to May 1st, he's hitting just .200/.227/.329, and after posting an even 17-to-17 K/BB ratio in the first month, his plate approach has deteriorated substantially, with 19 strikeouts against three walks in 75 plate appearances.
Pinto's decline may be attributable, in part, to his sporadic playing time -- he has started only 18 of the team's 39 games since the start of May -- but some holes in his swing have also become evident, and it's clear that his defense needs work.
He'll require regular reps in order to improve these areas, and he was having a tough enough time finding those with the Twins before Kendrys Morales came aboard. Since the Twins are paying him a lot of money, you can bet that Morales is going to get the vast majority of starts at DH, and Kurt Suzuki has earned the opportunity to start most of the time at catcher -- he's simply been a much better player than Pinto, all-around.
So the writing is on the wall. Pinto is going to head back to Triple-A, and he'll be replaced by a player like Eric Fryer who can more justifiably spend most of his time on the bench.
The only question at this point is this: What are the Twins waiting for? Pinto is a very important long-term piece for this club, and letting him languish on the bench as he has for much of the past several weeks isn't going to aid his development.
I suspect that the Twins are simply waiting to make sure that Morales is up to speed after his long layoff before taking away the best alternative option at DH. A few good games from the newly acquired slugger should be all they need to make that determination.
What do you think? Are you OK with Pinto heading back to Triple-A to play regularly, or do you believe the Twins should keep him around and find ways to get him into their lineup?
Once you're done here, head over to Twins Daily where today you'll find:
* Cody Christie's recap of Tuesday's minor-league action, which almost included a no-hitter.
* SD Buhr's writeup on the Midwest League debuts of Fernando Romero and Lewis Thorpe.
* Cody's updated, post-draft version of the Twins Top 10 Prospects.
* Christopher Fee's interview with Rochester Red Wings manager Gene Glynn.
The last time I can remember the Twins making a "win now" move was prior to the 2011 season, when they re-signed Carl Pavano and Jim Thome in an effort to recapture the magic that led to 94 wins and a playoff berth in the first season at Target Field.
You can argue that these weren't especially wise moves, but they were clearly aimed at a goal of short-term winning. Pavano, 35, was signed for two years and cost the Twins a potential draft pick. Thome, 40, was signed for one year.
Things obviously fell apart during that season, and in the years since, while the Twins have made a lot of moves -- some of them very good moves -- I don't think any could be described as aggressive "win-now" maneuvers.
Not until now.
Over the weekend, the Twins announced that they have signed Kendrys Morales for the remainder of the 2014 campaign, at a hefty prorated $12 million salary. That's a significant spend for a player whose sole purpose is to make this team better right now.
What prompted this uncharacteristic shift in approach? In part, it might be frustration. The Twins have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for their top prospects to progress through the minors and help propel the big-league club forward, only to be met with a seemingly endless string of setbacks.
Miguel Sano's elbow, Byron Buxton's wrist, Eddie Rosario's suspension… they have all pushed the arrivals of potential difference-makers backward, leaving the team in perpetual limbo.
And then there are the outside factors in play. You've got a manager and GM who are -- at least to some extent -- on the hot seat after three straight 90-loss seasons. You've got a ballpark with dwindling attendance numbers. And you've got a club with tons of extra money on hand after falling well short of its spending limit during the offseason.
On top of all that, the Twins are in last place but only five games out of first, and closer than that to wild-card position. So as Terry Ryan aptly put it when discussing the Morales signing, "Why not us?"
To be clear, Morales is not a slam-dunk signing nor a perfect fit. He hasn't played since September of 2013, and in the two seasons since his devastating leg injury with the Angels he has been a good but not spectacular hitter. He also has limited defensive versatility, so working him into the lineup around young guys who need to be playing, like Josmil Pinto and Oswaldo Arcia, will be a challenge.
But the bottom line is that Morales is a massive upgrade over the guy he's replacing on the roster (Jason Kubel), and he's a bat that you can immediately slot into the middle of the lineup. This isn't a move that suddenly turns the Twins into a World Series contender, but it does significantly boost their chances of hanging around .500 and remaining relevant late into the season.
Even more importantly, though, it indicates that the Twins are finally back in a mindset where they're focused on winning baseball games now, not next year or the year after. For fans who have endured some brutal results in recent years, that is a tremendously encouraging development.
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