Thursday, February 4, 2016

Projecting Minnesota's Optimal Defensive Line-Up

Defense wins championships.

In the baseball world, this statement might not be completely true. Otherwise, there would be teams full of Andrelton Simmons-type players. There are a lot of other factors that go into the overall equation. Teams need offense, they need pitching, and sometimes a little luck goes a long way.

Baseball line-ups aren't usually built with a defensive as the first priority. Rosters usually need to have the right combination of defense and offense. You can hide a Josh Willingham-type player in a corner outfield spot if he is mashing a bunch of home runs.

What would the Twins line-up look like if it was made up completely with defense as the only factor in making roster decisions?
Outfield: Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler
In this line-up, there are no converted infielders pushed to a corner outfield spot. This team is all about speed, range, and having a cannon for an arm. Luckily for the Twins, their optimal defensive line-up is one that could see some significant playing time this season. All three players have seen time in centerfield during their minor league careers. Buxton was just named the best defensive player in the minors by MLB.com and Rosario finished second in the AL with 16 outfield assists. Add Kepler to the mix and you have one strong trio that would be able to cover foul pole to foul pole with ease.

Catcher: Stuart Turner
Kurt Suzuki has taken a beating behind the plate over the last couple seasons and he has his flaws as a defensive catcher. The Twins traded Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy this offseason and his defense is fine for now. Two players, Stuart Turner and Mitch Garver, are the future of the position are in the Twins system. Turner is the better defensive option and he could probably hold his own at the big league level behind the plate. He could be up as early as this September as he should spend a good chunk of the year in Rochester.

First Base: Joe Mauer
Ever since his high school days, Mauer has been considered a good athlete. That's why there was little concern over him making the defensive transition from catcher to first base. Everything hasn't been perfect for Mauer in the move to a corner infield spot but he continues to learn the nuisances of what has become his new home. Mauer's former roommate, Justin Morneau, was a very strong defensive first baseman. While Mauer might not be to that level yet, he is still a strong defensive option.

Second Base: Jorge Polanco
Brian Dozier's defense has been on a steady decline over the last three years which makes it a little easier to look past him when creating the team's best defensive line-up. Another prospect with a lot of time at shortstop could be a better solution in the middle infield. Jorge Polanco, like Dozier, would need to shift from shortstop to second base. There have been plenty of questions about whether or not he will be able to stick at shortstop. This solves the problem by moving him off the position and possibly offers a little up-side over Dozier and his declining defense. A younger, more athletic player seems like a better option over an aging Dozier.

Third Base: Trevor Plouffe
It's hard not to be impressed with how far Trevor Plouffe has come at the third base position. As he transitioned to third from shortstop and a brief taste of the outfield, he looked stiff and unable to adjust to the fast pace of being at the "hot corner." By the end of this season, he ranked as one of the best defensive third basemen in the American League according to the SABR Defensive Index. Miguel Sano might take over this position in the near future but Plouffe's defense will be hard to top.

Shortstop: Engelb Vielma
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), the Twins best defensive option at shortstop hasn't played a game above the High-A level. Many of the top national prospect rankings peg him as the best defensive infielder in the organization with quite possibly the best infield arm. His offense might be a couple years away from being big league ready but his defense is ready to make the next step.

Now it's your turn. Who would be in your defensive line-up? Leave a COMMENT and join the discussion.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Twins Sign Former All-Star Carlos Quentin

The Minnesota Twins announced the signing of outfielder Carlos Quentin to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp. The 33-year old last appeared in a game for Tacoma, the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. His last big league appearance was in 20014 with the San Diego Padres.

The former two-time All-Star was first round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003. He played parts of two seasons at the big league level in Arizona before being dealt to the Chicago White Sox for Chris Carter.  His debut season in Chicago was his best as he hit .288/.394/.571 with 36 home runs and 100 RBI while finishing fifth in the American League MVP vote. His 36 home runs were one behind Miguel Cabrera for the league lead.

Quentin would make another All-Star team in 2011, his last year in Chicago. The White Sox would trade him to the Padres in the offseason. Injuries limited him to averaging under 75 games played per season in San Diego. In 2014, he batted just .177/.284/.315 and he has long been a below-average defender. Plus, there have been just three times in his career where he's played in 100 or more games in a season.

Entering the 2015 season, he was sent to Atlanta as part of the deal that brought Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton to the Padres. The Braves released him and he signed with Seattle before retiring last May. He cited chronic knee injuries as his reason for stepping away from the game before his 33rd birthday.

During his nine-year career, he hit .252/.347/.484 while hitting 13 home runs or more in six consecutive seasons. From 2008-2013, he hit .260 with an .860 OPS while averaging 30 homers per 150 games.

At this point, it seems like Quentin is being added as organizational depth and he'll have to prove himself healthy and ready with Rochester. There are already plenty of first base and corner outfield options on the Twins roster including Joe Mauer, Byung Ho Park, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, and Oswaldo Arcia.

It seems hard to see him cracking the Opening Day roster unless the injury bug hits the team hard in Florida.

What are your thoughts on the signing? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Mr. 3000... Maybe Not

When the Twins signed Joe Mauer to an 8-year, $184 million contract after the 2010 season, the team had high hopes for their hometown star as he started to age at one of baseball's toughest positions. Mauer was coming off an MVP season in 2009 and batting titles in 2006, 2008, and 2009. It looked like Mauer was on pace to be one of the best hitting catchers of all time.

Things change and Mauer's career has taken a different turn in recent years. Twins fans are well aware that concussions caused him to be shifted from catcher to first base. With the shift has come a different version of Mauer at the plate. After being a .323/.405/.468 hitter through the first ten years of his career, Mauer's declined to the point where he's hit .270/.348/.376 over the last two seasons while averaging over 100 strikeouts for the first time in his career.

Mauer's Hall of Fame case looked to be in good standing when he was a perennial All-Star as an American League backstop. Unfortunately, a light hitting first baseman don't usually get inducted into Cooperstown.

One of the most important milestones for Mauer to reach could be the 3,000 hit mark. Only four members of the 3,000 hit club are not in the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose because of his lifetime ban from baseball, Rafael Palmeiro because of his steroid use, along with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez who are not yet eligible.

Mauer enters the 2016 season just three hits shy of 1,700 and he has been averaging just over 142 hits over the last three seasons. In fact, Baseball Reference has him projected to have exactly 142 hits this season. If Mauer could keep up that pace for the next nine years, he'd be just shy of the 3,000 hit total following his 21st season in the league. He'd be over 40 at the time and it's hard to know how players will age in the twilight of their careers.

Derek Jeter retired in 2014 when he was in his age 40 season. He actually led all of baseball with 216 hits in 2012 when he was 38 years old.  Alex Rodriguez is the only active member of the 3,000 hit club and he combined for 131 hits last year in his age 39 season.  This was his highest total since 2010 but he was suspended for the entire 2014 season.

Is it still possible for Mauer to reach the 3,000 hit plateau?

Anything is possible in the baseball world and there have been weirder things that have happened. It would take a resurgence from Mauer in the second-half of his career. He'd have to show the longevity to stay productive well through his 30s when the Twins might have younger more productive players ready to take over.

Ichiro Suzuki could join the club this season with 65 more hits. It seems more likely that players like Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols, and Adrian Beltre will all have a better chance at joining the 3,000 hit club than Mauer. Pujols and Beltre are further into their careers but they are a both in striking distance. Cano is the same age as Mauer and he is over 300 hits ahead of him. Cabrera seems destined for 3,000 and he could end up with one of the best hit totals of all-time.

The Twins could always find a line-up spot for their hometown hero but the organization is trending upward and Mauer would need to continue to contribute to a team that is hopefully fighting for the playoffs. He can be a free agent after 2018 so the finances of keeping Mauer will also contribute to his long-term role with the club.

Mauer could end up being Mr. 3000 but maybe not...

Monday, January 25, 2016

Minnesota Twins Top 30 Prospects: 1-10

Even with prospects like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario graduating off this list, there are still plenty of things to be excited about in 2016. Byron Buxton fell just short of meeting the rookie eligibility so he will get one more year to be considered the Twins top prospect. Other players like Jose Berrios and Max Kepler could use up their rookie eligibility this season as well. 

If all of these players graduate off this list, next year's top 10 will have a very different feel to it. However, that's a story for a different day and a different time. Let's focus on the present and the future of the club with this year's top-10 prospects for the Minnesota Twins.
1. Byron Buxton- Centerfield
2015 STATS: .209/.250/.326, 7 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBI (MLB) .305/.367/.500, 10 2B, 13 3B, 7 HR, 45 RBI (Rochester/Chattanooga)
Buxton made his debut in 2015 and found some struggles at the big league level. He saw limited action as the Twins attempted a postseason run but his defense continues to be strong in centerfield. He is a five-tool prospect with more potential than any player on this list. Fans will have to be patient with his bat but he will take over centerfield for the Twins at some point next season. He could be a perennial All-Star and he should be the face of the franchise in the post-Mauer era.

2. Jose Berrios- Starting Pitcher
2015 STATS: 14-5, 2.87 ERA, 27/27 G/GS, 1.05 WHIP, 175/38 K/BB, 166.1 IP (Rochester/Chattanooga)
Berrios has little left to prove in the minor leagues after another dominating year. This time he was overpowering hitters at Double-A and Triple-A which left him on the doorstep of making his big league debut. That didn't happen in 2015 but fans should see him shortly into the 2016 campaign. His strikeout rate continues to be over 9.0 K/9 and he posted a 9.9 K/9 at Triple-A. He has the potential to be a top half of the rotation starter and be part of the Twins rotation for the better part of the next decade.

3. Max Kepler- Outfield
2015 STATS: .143/.143/.143 (MLB) .318/.410/.520, 34 2B, 13 3B, 9 HR, 71 RBI (Fort Myers/Chattanooga)
After years of waiting for a breakout season, Kepler finally lived up to all the hype. He destroyed the ball at Fort Myers before being promoted to Chattanooga and doing more of the same. The Southern League named him the MVP of the league as he helped the Lookouts win the championship. It was the third league title he has won since joining the Twins organization. Minnesota hopes his winning ways payoff at the big league level as he should be called up for good in the second half of 2016.

4. Nick Gordon- Shortstop
2015 STATS: .277/.336/.360, 23 2B, 7 3B, 1 HR, 58 RBI (Cedar Rapids)
Gordon's father and brother have both made an All Star Game so it's looking like Gordon has all the genes to become the Twins shortstop of the future. Gordon held this own this year as a teenager in the Midwest League. He has room to grow into his body and this could result in more power. His strong arm and good range at shortstop should allow him to stick at the position long-term. With the players above him expected to graduate, Gordon could be the team's top prospect at this point next year.

5. Byung-Ho Park- First Base/DH
2015 STATS: .343/.436/.714, 35 2B, 1 3B, 53 HR, 146 RBI (KBO)
Park will join the Twins this season after plenty of experience in Korea. He has hit over 30 home runs in each of the last four seasons and the last two seasons he has topped 50 home runs. Minnesota is hoping his bat can become a potent part of the middle of the line-up that already includes Miguel Sano. Since the beginning of 2014, he averaged over 150 strikeouts per season so he has struck out in just over 30% of his at-bats. He's going to strikeout but the Twins hope that he balances it out with a ton of home runs.
6. Jorge Polanco- Shortstop
2015 STATS: .300/.417/.300, 1 RBI (MLB) .288/.339/.386, 23 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 53 RBI (Rochester/Chattanooga)
Polanco will be out of options after this season so the Twins will need to make a decision about him. There are questions about whether he can play shortstop long-term but the Twins might give him the opportunity to sink or swim at the position in 2016. His offensive numbers continue to be strong as he has an advanced approach at the plate. If things go well, Polanco should be the Twins starting shortstop in the second half of the season and at the start of 2017.

7. Stephen Gonsalves- Starting Pitcher
2015 STATS: 13-3, 2.01 ERA, 24/24 G/GS, 1.10 WHIP, 132/53 K/BB, 134.1 IP (Cedar Rapids/Fort Myers)
Some could argue that the season compiled by Gonsalves was just as good as Berrios. He was over three years younger than the competition in the Florida State League. His big stature on the mound makes him very projectable as a big league pitching prospect. Even though his fastball tops out in the low 90s, his secondary pitches are what will make him an effective starter at the next level. His potential as a mid-rotation starter could make him very valuable.

8. Kohl Stewart- Starting Pitcher
2015 STATS: 7-8, 3.20 ERA, 22/22 G/GS, 1.38 WHIP, 71/45 K/BB, 129.1 IP (Fort Myers)
Even though Stewart's numbers haven't been outstanding over his first few professional seasons, there is still hope that he will be able to develop into a top of the rotation starter. When the Twins drafted him out of high school, he had been splitting time between football and baseball. Since he's transitioned to baseball full-time, he needs to learn more of the nuances of pitching. This will come with more experience as he moves up the ranks.
9. Tyler Jay- Starting Pitcher/Relief Pitcher
2015 STATS: 0-1, 3.93 ERA, 19/0 G/GS, 1.42 WHIP, 22/8 K/BB, 18.1 IP (Fort Myers)
Minnesota's first round pick from this past June is the team's fourth straight top-6 pick. Jay, a left-handed pitcher, was taken out of college where he was primarily used as a reliever. The Twins hope to transition Jay to being a starting pitcher. There are questions about whether he will be able to make that transition but most accounts believe he has the stuff to be a mid-rotation starter. Next year will go a long way to deciding his future path to the big leagues.

10. Wander Javier- Shortstop
2015 STATS: No stats
Javier was signed out of the Dominican Republic this July. Baseball America ranked him as the 9th best prospect available at that deadline. He's only 16-years old so his high ranking is based solely on his potential. Some believe he will be able to stick at shortstop but he's got a long way to go before that decision is made. He will get his first professional action in the Dominican Summer League and some think he could debut in the States when the GCL season starts.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Eddie Rosario: Sophomore Stud?

Miguel Sano got a lot of the praise following his breakout rookie performance in 2015. He finished in third place in the American League Rookie of the Year voting and he was named the Twins Most Valuable Player even though he played in less than half of the team's games. He made a tremendous impact but he wasn't the only rookie leaving his mark at the big league level.

Eddie Rosario made his debut on May 6, 2015 and spent the rest of the season in the Twins outfield. The former fourth round pick  would go on to lead all of baseball with 15 triples and he lead the American League with 12 outfield assists. He became the 18th rookie since 1901 to reach double digits in homers, triples, doubles, and stolen bases. Also, he's on the ninth player in Twins history to record at least ten homers and ten triples in a season.

Rosario's career in the minor leagues might best be described as tumultuous. He burst onto the scene in 2011 by winning the Appalachian League MVP and out homering Miguel Sano and Kennys Vargas. Over the next two seasons, the routine became double-digits in home runs and over 30 doubles. The Twins thought so highly of Rosario, they transitioned him to second base, a position of need in the organization at the time.

During the 2014 off-season, the hammer fell on Rosario. He was handed a 50-game suspension for a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. After returning from the suspension, Rosario hit poorly for the first time in his professional career. The Twins sent him back for a second stint in the Arizona Fall League where his bat started to show some signs of life.

Flash-forward to 2015 and Rosario wasn't exactly hitting the cover off the ball when he was called up from Rochester. Through 23 games, he was batting .242/.280/.379 with six extra-base hits. His batting average was almost 50 points lower than his career in the minor leagues and he was getting on base 6% less than his career average.

Now, it's weeks away from Rosario reporting to his first spring training where he will enter the year with his name already penciled into a starting job. Some players run into struggles during their second full season at the big league level. There are more advanced scouting reports on players so pitchers have a better idea how to attack a batter. This is where the term "sophomore slump" has been used in baseball circles.

Will Rosario be able to breakthrough the sophomore slump and actually be a sophomore stud?

Baseball Reference projects Rosario to hit double digits in home runs, triples, and doubles while increasing his batting average and on-base percentage. FanGraphs ZiPS projects have Rosario's batting average dropping over 10 points and his on-base percentage staying around the same point. They also have him combining for 44 extra-base hits which would be two less than the 2015 season in over 50 more plate appearances.

After the numbers Rosario put together in his rookie season, it is going to be tough to live up to the offensive punch he provided. However, there are some adjustments he can make to avoid slumping in 2016. In every minor league season before his second drug suspension, Rosario got on base over 34% of the time. He also struck out in 19% of his at-bats compared to 26% in his rookie season. If Rosario could improve his walk rate and reduce his strikeout percentage, he might be able to avoid some of the biggest parts of the sophomore slump.

One of the things working in Rosario's favor has been the fact that he's hit tool was always considered advanced in the minor leagues. His quick wrists and good plate coverage meant that his bat looked MLB ready even if other parts of his game weren't there yet. Because of this advanced approach, Rosario should be able to avoid any long-term slumps at the big league level.

Some minor tweaks here and there should make Rosario a solid contributor in his sophomore season and he could surprise a lot of people with his performance.