Monday, May 23, 2016

The Deterioration of Kevin Jepsen

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn- USA Today Sports
In the midst of a surprise playoff push last season, the Twins dealt two minor league players including one of the team's top-20 prospects for some relief help. Kevin Jepsen had playoff experience during his time in Los Angeles and he had been productive with Tampa Bay. There was an extra year of team control attached to Jepsen so Minnesota brought him into the fold.

His first 29 appearances with the Twins were very good. He posted a 1.61 ERA and a 25 to 7 strikeout to walk ratio while picking up 10 saves. It might have been the best stretch of pitching in his big league career. More importantly, he was doing this at a time when the Twins were fighting for the playoffs and Glen Perkins was trying to pitch through an injury before being shutdown for the year.

The 2016 season has seen a very different Jepsen in a Twins uniform. His ERA is north of 5.00 and he's never posted a season ERA that high in any season where he's thrown more than 15 innings. His already surrendered four home runs which is tied for the second most he has ever allowed in a season.

It's clear that something isn't clicking for Mr. Jepsen.

Over the last two seasons, Jepsen has been used a lot. From 2014 through 2015, the only AL pitcher with more than Jepsen's 149 appearances is Bryan Shaw (154 appearances). Jepsen lead AL pitchers in appearances in 2015. He will turn 32 later this summer so there could be a lethal combination of innings adding up with his age.

One of the biggest changes this season might be Jepsen's ability use his fastball effectively. Opponents are hitting .300/.338/.583 off his fastball after posting a measly .546 OPS in 2015. His fastball velocity has also been declining over the last three seasons. During the 2014 campaign, his average velocity stay at 95 mph or higher for nearly every appearance. This season he's been limited to two outings where the average velocity on his fastball was 95 mph.

Jepsen's curveball has been his most effective pitch for striking out batters throughout his career. However, this season there have been limited opportunities to use this pitch because he can't get ahead of batters early in the count. His SO/9 rate is 8.4 for his career and that number has dropped to 6.2 so far this year.

Minnesota's bullpen needs help and the struggles are not limited to Jepsen. The plan was for Trevor May, Jepsen, and Perkins to be a relief pitching trio that could bridge the gap from the starter to the end of the game. That plan hasn't worked yet and it isn't all Jepsen's fault.

Closers get a lot of focus because of the big leverage outs they are asked to get. Jepsen has not been the same pitcher this season and Twins Territory is frustrated with the way this season has started. In the end, Jepsen is going to need to find what life is left in his right arm to show he can continue to be a late inning pitcher.

Otherwise, he might become the fan's punching bag as the losses continue to mount.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Twins Minor League Report (5/19): Walker, Kepler Put On A Show

Winning baseball might not be happening in Minnesota but plenty of the team's minor league affiliates are playing well. Entering play on Thursday night, the Chattanooga Lookouts were the lone affiliate without a winning record. All of the organization's other clubs are within a handful of games for the top spot in their division. That could mean clinching a first-half playoff spot for some of the teams if they continue their winning ways.

Who could inch closer to the top of the standings on Thursday night? Read on to find out.
Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson- Captive Photons
Rochester 6, Durham 3
Roster Moves: Outfielder Eddie Rosario was optioned from Minnesota and outfielder Robbie Grossman had his contract selected by Minnesota.

Adam Brett Walker hit two home runs and Max Kepler fell a single short of the cycle as the Red Wings powered their way past the Bulls. Kepler finished 3-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored. Both of Walker's home runs were solo shots as he has six home runs so far this season. Eddie Rosario had a double in his return to Rochester.

Jason Wheeler picked up the victory for the Red Wings. Across 6.2 innings of work, he scattered four hits and allowed no runs while striking out six and walking one. His season ERA is down to 1.65 and this was the third time he had pitched at least six innings without giving up a run. Dan Runzler struggled with his control and allowed three runs after giving up three walks. J.T. Chargois was asked to get a unique save as he came in to finish out the eighth before closing in the ninth. It was his first save with Rochester.

The Red Wings have won three straight games and are one game behind the Scranton/WB RailRiders for first place in the International League North.

Chattanooga 2, Jackson 3
Box Score
The Lookouts jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but that lead would disappear in the second half of this game. Chattanooga scored a first inning run after a Leonardo Reginatto single and Daniel Palka walk was followed by a DJ Hicks single. The team's only other run came in the fourth inning as Joe Maloney knocked a one-out double and would later score on a wild pitch. Hicks finished the game 2-for-4 while Reginatto was the only other player to reach base twice in the game.

D.J. Baxendale was cruising through the first four frames before running into three-run onslaught in the fifth. He would be pulled after the frame as he allowed three runs on six hits with three strikeouts. Omar Bencomo and Corey Williams combined for three scoreless frames to keep the game close but the Lookouts couldn't manage any more runs.

Chattanooga drops to five games under .500 with the loss. After winning four straight over the weekend, the Lookouts have lost three in a row.

Ft. Myers 5, Dunedin 4 (12 Innings)
Fort Myers found themselves training by two runs after three innings but they slowly picked away at the Blue Jays lead. The first big hit of the night was a Alex Real solo-home run to tie the game in the eighth inning. He would finish the night with three hits. Trey Vavra came up with the other big hit of the evening after being held hitless up until that point. To lead off the top of the 12th frame, he launched his fifth home run of the season. Nick Gordon drove in a pair of runs and Chris Paul reached base five times including two doubles.

Felix Jorge started for the Miracle and took the no decision after allowing four runs, two earned, in five innings. He struck out four and walked one and it was the first time all season that he didn't pitch six innings or more. The Miracle bullpen was outstanding. Brian Gilbert, Todd Van Steensel, and Raul Fernandez all pitched two scoreless innings. Brandon Peterson picked up his second save by striking out the side in the bottom of the 12th.

With the win, Fort Myers improves to 23-18 on the year as they have won three of their last five games. They currently sit atop the standings in the Florida State League South Division.

Cedar Rapids 2, Beloit 1 (11 Innings)
Box Score
Sam Clay did his best to put the Kernels in position to win but he wouldn't be around to see how this one ended. He tossed seven innings while allowing one earned run on three hits with seven strikeouts and three walks. Clay hasn't allowed more than one run in any of his starts this year and this was his third straight game with at least seven strikeouts. Michael Theofanopoulos collected strikeouts for four of the six outs he was asked to get. Nick Anderson improved to 3-0 with his third win out of the bullpen.

There wasn't much offense on the Cedar Rapids side of the ball so the ending of this game was fitting. A.J. Murray walked to lead-off the 11th inning. Zander Wiel tried to move Murray over with a bunt but the pitcher threw the ball away and both runners were safe. Luis Arraez grounded out to second and the runners advanced. J.J. Fernandez hit the ball to second and Murray was thrown out at the plate while trying to score the winning run. To end the game, Wiel scored from third on a wild pitch.

With the win, the Kernels took the final two games of their series with Beloit before playing Quad Cities this weekend. Cedar Rapids finds themselves a half game out of first place in the Midwest League Western Division. 

Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day- Jason Wheeler, Rochester Red Wings 
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day- Adam Brett Walker, Rochester Red Wings

Rochester @ Durham (6:05 CST)- LHP Logan Darnell (4-3, 4.17 ERA)
Chattanooga @ Jackson (7:05 CST)- LHP Nick Greenwood (1-0, 4.15 ERA)
Fort Myers vs. Tampa (6:05 CST)- LHP Randy Rosario (2-3, 3.48 ERA)
Cedar Rapids vs. Quad Cities (6:35 CST)- TBD

Please feel free to ask any questions and discuss the Thursday games.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Twins Minor League Report (5/17): Jay Keeps Rolling

Baseball is a game of streaks. Hitting streaks, winning streaks, and a pile of other streaks are all part of the game. After taking their last four games, the Lookouts entered play on Tuesday with their longest winning streak since last August. Tyler Jay was on the mound for Fort Myers and he hadn't given up a run in his last two appearances while lowering his ERA close to 3.00.

Would either of these streaks continue on Tuesday? You'll have to read on to find out.
Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson- Captive Photons
Rochester 9, Charlotte 3
Rochester's offense exploded for seven runs in the first four frames as the team collected 12 hits in the game. Every batter in the line-up had a hit with the exception of Max Kepler. Tommy Field led the way with a pair of home runs while finishing 3-for-4 with four RBI. Kennys Vargas belted his fifth home run of the season as part of a multi-hit effort. Stephen Wickens also joined the home run party with a solo-shot in the third.

Andrew Albers improved to 2-0 as he was able to pitch comfortably with a lead for six innings. He worked out of a few jams as he allowed 10 hits but limited the Knights to three earned runs. He struck out three and walked one. J.T Chargois was asked to get five outs and he did so by striking out five batters. Buddy Boshers and Dan Runzler each added zeros to the scoreboard during their appearances.

The Red Wings continue to hover around the .500 mark and now sit at 21-18 after winning three of their last four games. Few teams are gaining much separation in the International League North as Rochester is one of three teams tied for the top spot and no team is more than three games out of first.

Roster Moves: Outfielder Robbie Grossman was signed by Minnesota and assigned to Rochester. Right-handed pitcher Jose Berrios was optioned to Rochester. In a corresponding move, left-handed pitcher Taylor Rogers was recalled by Minnesota

Chattanooga 7, Biloxi 9
Box Score
The Lookouts tried their best to keep their winning streak alive but an early five-run deficit was too much to overcome. Aaron Slegers got hit around for seven runs on nine hits including two long balls. He struck out three and walked two on the way to his fourth loss. Luke Westphal was called on and allowed two earned runs in three frames. Mason Melotakis and Mike Strong finished the last two innings without allowing a run but they combined to walk three without a strikeout. 

Zach Granite's speed was on full display in this contest as he reached base three times including a triple and his 17th stolen base. Joe Maloney went 3-for-5 with a double and two runs scored. Travis Harrison didn't collect a hit but he did get walked three times. Daniel Palka was the only player on the team not to reach base in the game. 

The loss drops the Lookouts to 18-21 which is good enough for third place in the Southern League North. They are five games behind the Jackson Generals for the top spot. Chattanooga has still won seven of their last 11 and they have a quick turn-around with any early Wednesday game.

Ft. Myers 0, Dunedin 4
Fort Myers was held to three hits as the Blue Jays cruised to an easy 4-0 shutout. Tanner Witt and Edgar Corcino both went 1-for-4 with a double but neither man made it around to score. Austin Diemer had the team's other hit, a single. Overall, the team left four runners on base and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

Tyler Jay suffered his third loss but he still pitched well. Over six innings of work, he allowed one earned run on four hits with six strikeouts and two walks. In his last three starts, he has pitched 19.1 innings and only allowed one earned run while striking out 19. John Curtiss gave up three runs in his inning of work to add to the Dunedin lead. Luke Bard struck out two in the eighth frame.

With the loss, the Miracle dropped to 22-17 on the season. This was the team's third loss in the last five games but the club still sits atop the standings in the Florida State League South.

Cedar Rapids 3, Beloit 5
Box Score
The Kernels found themselves in an early 3-0 hole and they spent most of the game trying to dig their way out. Cody Stashak started for Cedar Rapids and was charged with three earned runs over six innings. He struck out two and walked none. It was the fourth straight start where he has pitched into the sixth frame while allowing two earned runs or less. Sam Gibbons surrendered two earned runs as he walked three across two innings. Michael Cederoth struck out two in a perfect ninth.

Cedar Rapids went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base. Daniel Kihle was the only batter with more than one hit. He finished the night 2-for-4 with two runs scored. J.J. Fernandez had the team's only extra base hit, a double, but he also struck out three times. LaMonte Wade reached base three times in four plate appearances.

Following the loss, the Kernels dropped to 20-17 and sit two games back of Clinton for the top spot in the Midwest League Western Division. The Snappers are only one game behind the Kernels so tomorrow's game is a big one and Cedar Rapids send Randy LeBlanc and his 0.90 ERA to the mound.

Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day- Tyler Jay, Fort Myers Miracle 
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day- Tommy Field, Rochester Red Wings

Rochester @ Charlotte (6:05 CST)- RHP David Martinez (1-3, 5.14 ERA)
Chattanooga vs. Biloxi (10:15 am CST)- RHP Ryan Eades (2-2, 5.00 ERA)
Fort Myers @ Dunedin (5:30 CST)- RHP Keaton Steele (1-3, 4.01 ERA)
Cedar Rapids vs. Beloit (6:35 CST)- RHP Randy LeBlanc (4-2, 0.90 ERA)

Please feel free to ask any questions and discuss the Tuesday games.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Torii Hunter Hangover

Photo Credit: Marilyn Indahl- USA Today Sports
When a team starts out as poorly as the Twins have this season, fans are going to be left searching for answers. Is this Terry Ryan's fault for not having a better roster? Are the minor league coaches to blame for not preparing the team's top prospects? Or is there a much simpler answer?

Over the last week, there has been plenty of discussion about Torii Hunter not being on the current Twins squad. Even national baseball writers have noticed and wondered if Hunter could make a difference in turning this team around. Hunter himself has said that the Twins' "are kind of going through the motions."

For years fans of this club have engaged in endless discussion about who the clubhouse leader is with Hunter not on the roster. Joe Mauer's quiet demeanor doesn't demand everyone's attention. Some players might react better to more subtle leadership compared to Hunter's boisterous attitude. Players like Brian Dozier and Glen Perkins have taken on leadership roles but it's not quite the same as with Hunter.

This isn't the first team to struggle a year after Hunter left. There's been an interesting trend in regards to team's Hunter has been on and the club's results in the season following his departure.

Los Angeles Angels Era (2008-2012)
The Angels were a playoff team the year before Hunter signed with them as a free agent but they were easily swept out of the first round by Boston. In Hunter's first LA season, the team improved from 94 wins to 100 wins, the only team in franchise history to reach the century mark. The Angeles lost to the Red Sox again in 2008 before making the ALCS in 2009 and losing to the Yankees. That was the last year Los Angeles won a playoff series. Hunter's last year in LA was 2012 when the club went 89-73 and finished five games out of first place. The season after he left was even worse as the club dropped to 78-84. The Angels finished 18 games out of first which was their worst mark since 2003.

Detroit Tigers Time (2013-2014)
Hunter moved on from Los Angeles and came back to the AL Central in 2013. The Tigers were coming off a World Series sweep the year prior to signing Hunter. Detroit jumped from 88 wins in 2012 to 93 wins with Hunter in the line-up. That club made it to the ALCS before falling to the Red Sox in six game. Detroit's 90 wins topped the AL Central again in 2014 but they were swept by Baltimore in the ALDS. The club took a big step backwards during their first year without Hunter and finished 74-87 (20.5 games behind Kansas City).

Minnesota Twins Homecoming (2015)
Minnesota brought Hunter back last year on the heels of four straight 90-loss seasons. Some questioned the move since it didn't seem like the Twins were in a position to start winning now. The Twins proved plenty of doubters wrong as the team wasn't eliminated from playoff contention until the final weekend of the season. Minnesota also improved from 70 wins in 2014 to 83 wins. His play on the field wasn't leading to wins but his off the field leadership might have kept moral a little higher. It's hard to argue with results as the Twins struggled to get to double-digits wins by the middle of May.

All three of Hunter's clubs have struggled in the year after he left. Los Angeles won 11 fewer games, Detroit fell by 16 games, and Minnesota seems destined for another 90 losses. Can one player make that much of a difference?

There's no way to quantify what a player's off-field contributions are to a team. A lot of this leadership happens behind closed doors and out of the earshot of local media members. From dance parties to firing guys up in the clubhouse, Hunter made his mark on this franchise but he certainly couldn't get the current squad into playoff contention by himself.

Hunter has been the heart and soul of this organization during his two Minnesota stints but there isn't a simple solution to fix the 2016 Twins because there are plenty of other things wrong with this team. Pitchers need to pitch better and batters need to break out of their slumps. Baseball is a game of adjustments and this club hasn't made the right adjustments yet.

No amount of dance parties is going to fix those issues.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What Could The Twins Trade For Trout?

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel- USA Today Sports
The craziest rumor has been swirling around the baseball world... What if the Angels considered trading Mike Trout?

By many accounts, Trout has been the best player in the baseball world since his rookie campaign. His first full season was 2012 and during that time he has the highest fWAR. It's not really all that close as Andrew McCutchen's 28.4 WAR is 11.5 point lower than Trout. He's used his five-tools to lead the league in a variety of categories and win multiple MVP awards but does it even make sense for Angels to part ways with a once-in-a-generation player.

To understand why this could be necessary, it's important to understand the current state of affairs in Los Angeles. The Angels are hurting with mounting injuries and they have a historically bad minor league system. Having the best player in the world doesn't help if a team isn't able to provide supporting pieces to make a postseason run. Los Angeles hasn't been in the playoffs since 2014 and they haven't won a playoff series since 2009. 

Minnesota's poor start to the season isn't exactly screaming that this club is ready to take a big step forward and make a playoff push. However, the Twins have one of the best farm systems in the game and this means they could put together quite the package to try and lure Los Angeles into at least considering a deal. 

Any deal for Trout would likely need to include many of the Twins best prospects. Coming into the 2016 season, Minnesota's top position player prospects included Byron Buxton, Nick Gordon, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco. The team's best pitching prospects were Jose Berrios, Tyler Jay, Stephen Gonsalves, and Kohl Stewart. 

For the Twins to make this kind of move, it would likely take five, six, or even seven of these players. The club has a lot already invested in each of these men as they get closer to becoming big league regulars. This core of young talent is supposed to change a losing culture back into this organization's winning ways.

Trout is a superstar player and he can make a huge difference on the field but he can't play all nine positions at once. He is under contract through 2020 when he will be 28-years old. The scary thing could be that he might still be getting better as he gets closer to his prime and this would only add more value to his current contract. 

The Twins don't look like they are in a position to win this season. Trading away the organization's top prospects would be bargaining away the future with no guarantee that Trout would bring winning baseball back to Minnesota. In fact, Trout coming to Minnesota might be a worse situation for him than his current club unless the Twins were to overhaul their roster. That would be tough to do with a chunk of the farm system dealt for Trout. 

At this point, a deal for Trout might be a pipe dream as the Angels' GM came out and said that Trout isn't going anywhere. "We have not intent or desire to consider moving Mike Trout -- he's not moving," said Billy Eppler told Fox Sports. "He's an impact player, a huge piece in a championship core."

If you are sitting in Terry Ryan's chair, what kind of offer would you put on the table? Would it be worth betting the future for the best player in the game? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.