Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Twins Minor League Report (7/26): Rosario Helps Fort Myers Roll

Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons (Randy Rosario)
Andrew Albers wasn't in the Twins organization the last two years but he is back and making a mark on the International League. Entering tonight's contest in Pawtucket, Albers sported a 9-3 record (97.1 innings) with a spiffy 3.14 ERA and a 63 to 23 strikeout to walk ratio. 

At 30-years old, Albers isn't exactly considered a prospect any more but he has helped the Red Wings to get off to a fantastic start this season. Rochester entered the night 16 games over .500 (60-44) and they were only 2.5 games out of the wild card race.

Players like Albers deserve recognition for their contributions to the Twins organization. That's one of the main reasons we write these daily minor league write-ups. Players throughout the organization deserve to be recognized for their dedication to baseball even if they won't all be superstars. 

Rochester 2, Pawtucket 4 (11 Innings)
Box Score
The Red Wings collected seven hits but no player had more than one hit. In the second inning, Wilfredo Tovar doubled after a Daniel Palka walk to put two runners in scoring position. Carlos Paulino singled in both runners to give Rochester an early 2-0 but the offense would go quiet from there.  

Andrew Albers did his best to put himself in position for his tenth win but the Rochester. Albers went 6.2 innings by scattering seven hits and striking out four. It was the fourth straight start where he pitched at least six innings. Neil Ramirez and JT Chargois kept the game tied at two but Sean Burnett took his third loss after allowing a walk-off two-run shot in extra-innings.

Rochester dropped to 60-45 with the loss, their third straight defeat. The Red Wings sit 6.5 games behind Scranton/WB for first in the International League North. They are also just three games back of the wild-card spot. 

Chattanooga 9, Tennessee 13

Box Score
The Lookouts tried their best to overcome a deficit that stretched to 12-0 at one point but the comeback would fall short. Aaron Slegers got hit hard over two innings as he allowed six earned runs for his fifth loss. Brandon Peterson didn't fare much better by allowing four runs in his two frames. Ryan Eades slowed some of the bleeding but still gave up two runs across three innings. In the last two innings, Tyler Jay allowed the final run.

With two outs in the fifth frame, Zach Granite smacked his fifth triple. Ryan Walker followed with a single to put Chattanooga on the board. Mitch Garver doubled to push across the second run of the inning. Trailing by a score of 13-4, the Lookouts pushed across five runs in the ninth. Granite, Garver, and DJ Hicks all doubled in the frame but a Stuart Turner double play would effectively end the threat. 

Fort Myers 7, Palm Beach 1
Box Score
T.J. White wasted little time putting the Miracle up in this contest. He took the first pitch of the game and cranked a 381-foot home run to give Fort Myers a 1-0 lead. White finished the game 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs. Four innings later Joe Maloney started a three-run inning with a with a solo-blast of his own. Trey Vavra and Chris Paul joined the hit parade with multi-hit nights. 

This offensive output was more than enough to back-up a terrific start from Randy Rosario. For only the fifth time this season, he pitched more than six innings. He allowed one earned run over 6.2 innings with three strikeouts and three walks. Luke Bard and Nick Anderson pitched 2.1 shutout innings by each allowing a hit and combining to strike out three. 

After losing four straight games last week, the Miracle have now won three of their last four games and tomorrow they will go for a three-game sweep of Palm Beach. The club (18-5) currently sits 2.5 games behind Jupiter for the second-half title.

Elizabethton 0, Pulaski 7
Box Score
The E-Twins offense had a hard time getting things going against the Yankees pitching staff. Elizabethton collected three total hits, went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, and struck out 14 times. Travis Blankenhorn went 2-for-4 with a double. Bryant Hayman added the other hit, a double, while Amaurys Minier reached base twice on walks. 

Domenick Carlini was handed his fifth loss after allowing three runs on seven hits. He struck out seven and walked one in five innings of work. Hector Lujan gave up four runs in his three frames while striking out two and walking two. 

With the loss, the E-Twins five game winning streak is over. The team dropped to 15-17 on the season but they have still won seven of their last ten games.

GCL Twins 5, GCL Orioles 4
Box Score
The GCL Twins took a 5-1 lead into the eighth frame before seeing the GCL Orioles claw their way back into this one. Miguel De Jesus put the Twins in position to win by pitching into the sixth inning without allowing a run. Overall, he tossed 5.1 shutout frames with six strikeouts and three walks. 

Moises Gomez allowed the tying run to score in the seventh inning but earned the victory by stopping the scoring there. He allowed one run on two hits over 1.2 innings. Onas Fanfar pitched the final two innings and allowed three runs (two earned). 

Offensively, Tyree Davis led the charge by going 2-for-3 including his sixth double. Akil Baddoo drove in a pair of runs and scored a run. Aaron Whitefield reached base three times, stole two bases, and scored twice out of the lead-off spot. The team combined to go 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position while leaving seven runners on base. 

Pitcher of the Day – Randy Rosario, Fort Myers Miracle
Hitter of the Day – TJ White, Fort Myers Miracle

Rochester at Pawtucket (6:05 CST) - RHP Jose Berrios (10-4, 2.31 ERA)
Chattanooga vs Tennessee (6:15 CST) - LHP David Hurlbut (7-5, 3.56 ERA)
Fort Myers vs Palm Beach (6:05 CST) -TBD

Cedar Rapids @ Kane County (6:30 CST) - RHP Dereck Rodriguez (2-11, 5.73 ERA)
Elizabethton at Pulaski (6:00 CST) - RHP Tyler Wells (1-1, 4.80 ERA)
GCL Twins @ GCL Orioles (11:00AM CST) - TBD

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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Brandon Kintzler: Proven Closer?

Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports
Proven closer...

In a baseball world full of analytics and new statistical analysis, what does the term "proven closer" even mean?

Old-school baseball minds would tell you that a "proven closer" is the player a manager always turns to in the ninth inning of a close game. He has experience collecting saves and pitching in high leverage situations. It doesn't matter the match-ups for the final frame because the "proven closer" will be out there on the mound. However, not every team has a proven closer and every closer needs to start gaining experience somewhere to earn their "proven closer" badge of honor.

Terry Ryan, the Twins recently fired GM, was no stranger to this adage. Entering the 2012 season, Glen Perkins had been dominant in relief the year before but he was hesitant to give him the closer role. "He doesn't have any experience in that role," said Ryan. "I think you're wise to ultimately see if you can find a guy with experience." Perkins would serve as closer that season and he has been a three-time All-Star since 2012.

Flash-forward to the 2016 season and the Twins have shuffled through multiple players at the back-end of the bullpen. Glen Perkins began the year with the closer title but he was limited to two appearances before requiring season-ending shoulder surgery. Kevin Jepsen was fantastic at the end of 2015 so he stepped back into the closer role. However, he posted a 6.16 ERA and was recently released by the club.

Enter Brandon Kintzler, a 31-year old who the Brewers organization didn't want in the off-season. Since earning his first save on June 8, Kintzler has posted a 1.69 ERA and a 10 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio in 17 appearances. Opponents are slashing .238/.262/.317 and he has yet to blow a save.

There's been a shift with the former 40th round draft pick this season. In previous season's he stayed in the low to mid 90's but this season he has hit over 95 multiple times. Another significant change in 2016 has been his use of his sinking fastball. For his career, he has used this pitch 52.8% of the time but this season he has bumped that total up to 83.4%.

Kintzler's sinking fastball has also resulted in 15 strikeouts this season which is 75% of all of his strikeouts this season. Over the course of his career, this pitch has been the out pitch in 53.2% of his strikeouts. This pitch has also been effective because he has hit nearly 96 mph with it but he can also drop it all the way down to 87.6 mph.

The myth of the "proven closer" might still be out there in some baseball organizations. Kintzler has been good and hopefully someone would like to pay for Kintzler and his new closer title as the trade deadline approaches.

Because he seems to have "proven" himself.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Minnesota's Defensive Dilemma

Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports
Defense wins championships. While in baseball that adage might not completely apply, the defensive side of the ball is a big part of the game. Teams can make up for other holes in the roster by playing solid defense and doing some of the other little things right on the field. 

The Twins needed their defense to help this team to take the next step. Many of the regular players on the roster have been sub-par at their primary defensive position and this has only added to some of the first half frustrations.

During last week's All-Star Break, SABR released their updated rankings for the SABR Defensive Index (SDI). According to SABR, the Defensive Index draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts.

The SDI rankings were updated through games as of July 10, 2016. It allows fans to compare the defense of their everyday players in relation to other players at the same position in the American League. Zero is the baseline score for SDI so a player with a positive score is doing well and a player with a negative score is not doing so well.

Here are the position players that have qualified so far this year and how they compare to other players at their position in the American League.

Joe Mauer, First Base
SDI Score: 2.8
While Mauer's bat might have cooled off a little in recent weeks, his defense continues to be strong at first base. Mauer trails only Mitch Moreland in the AL SDI rankings for first base. This is a vast improvement over Mauer's play even as recent as last season. In 2015, Mauer posted a -0.1 SDI score and finished ranked tied for the fourth worst defensive AL first baseman. It might be tough for Mauer to catcher Moreland for the top spot in the AL but he should be a Gold Glove finalist at first base.

Brian Dozier, Second Base
SDI Score: -4.5
I wrote about Dozier's defensive ineptitude during the off-season in hopes that he could make a turn-around similar to Jose Altuve. Unfortunately, Dozier's defense hasn't improve and he might actually be getting worse. Only Johnny Giavotella of the Angels ranks lower than Dozier according to the SDI. Last year, Dozier was only able to finish ahead of Robinson Cano and Giavotella. He finished with a -6.1 SDI score last season so it looks like Dozier will shatter that mark in 2016. Many Twins fans associate Dozier with playing good defense but that's not the case. He struggles to get to balls that are routinely made by other players at his position.

Eduardo Escobar, Shortstop
SDI Score: -1.1
Only four shortstops in the AL have posted positive SDI marks this season. Escobar ranks fifth on the list ahead of players like Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Elvis Andrus. In the final 2015 SDI rankings, Escobar finished ninth in the AL (-1.4 SDI score). Overall, he has moved up in the rankings but his score is trending in the wrong direction. Escobar is also playing less frequently so he might not end up having the required number of innings at the position to qualify by season's end.

Kurt Suzuki, Catcher
SDI Score: -2.5
Suzuki has never been known for his defensive prowess. He has a hard time throwing out runners but Twins pitchers like throwing with him behind the plate. Suzuki currently sits in ninth place in the AL which ranks him ahead of five qualifying catchers. He was the worst ranking catcher according to SDI last season with a -8.4, a total that was more than four times worse than the next qualifying catcher.

At this juncture of the season, only one everyday player has a positive score which is scary considering the state of the Twins pitching staff. Young players like Max Kepler and Byron Buxton haven't played enough innings to qualify but they both should score well in future updates. With Miguel Sano's recent struggles at third base, Minnesota's infield is almost entirely composed of sub-par defensive players.

With young pitchers like Tyler Duffey and (eventually) Jose Berrios trying to establish themselves, it's imperative for the defense behind them to be strong. Right now, there are some holes in Minnesota's defense but the next month could see some changes as veteran players are dealt away.

Did any of the SDI scores surprise you? Who would you put in Minnesota's best defensive line-up? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Twins Minor League Report (7/19): Polanco Parks One

Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons (LaMonte Wade)
It's getting to that point in the season where minor league team's need to decide if they are contenders or pretenders. Players get promoted and demoted but each team has the goal of reaching the playoffs and finding success in the post-season tournament.

Twins minor league squads have fared well in recent years. Can this year's crop of teams live up to those that have come before them? Read on to see which teams are trending in the right direction.

Rochester 6, Durham 7 (10 Innings)
Box Score

It was Christmas in July night in Rochester but the Red Wings took awhile to open their gifts to their fans. Darin Mastroianni lead off the first inning with a triple and was driven in by a James Beresford sacrifice fly to put Rochester up 1-0 before the offense went into a Christmas freeze.

Things picked up again in the eighth inning with Rochester trailing 6-1. After Wildfredo Tovar reached on a single and Logan Schafter walked, Darin Mastroianni was hit by a pitch to load the bases. James Beresford, who is in the midst of an eight-game hitting streak, drove in another pair of runs with a single. Jorge Polanco cleared the bases with his ninth home run.

Pat Dean started for Rochester and allowed four runs on eight hits in six innings of work. Marcus Walden took over for Dean and gave up a pair of runs (one earned) in two frames. J.T. Chargois took the loss as he was asked to come out for a second inning of work and he couldn't make it out of the tenth. After getting the first batter to fly out, the next two men reached and he exited. Sean Burnett was on the mound when the go-ahead run was scored but it was charged to Chargois.

Rochester remains 4.5 games behind first place Scranton/WB, who also lost on Tuesday night. It was the second straight extra innings affair between these two teams with Durham winning both contests.

Fort Myers 3, Lakeland 5
Box Score
Keaton Steele got off to a rough start in this one as the Flying Tigers pounced on him for two first inning runs. He would recover for a few innings before surrendering three more runs in the fifth inning. Steele went five frames and scattered seven hits while striking out six and walking three. His nine losses are tied for the second most in the Florida State League. 

The bullpen did well to keep the Miracle in striking distance. John Curtiss, Michael Theofanopoulos, and Nick Anderson combined to toss four shutout innings on three hits. None of the relief arms allowed a batter to get further than second base. 

It took awhile for the Fort Myers offense to wake up in this one but the team tried to mount a comeback in the late innings. Alex Perez lead off the inning with a single in front of a TJ White walk. Following a ground out and a pop out, the runners were still in scoring position. LaMonte Wade brought them home with a three-run home run. 

It was the second straight loss for the Miracle after winning three straight over the weekend. The club currently sits at three games over .500 for the entire season. In the second half standings, they are 15-11 and are near the top of the Florida State League South.

Elizabethton 9, Kingsport 8
Box Score
If you are a fan of offense, there were plenty of fireworks in Elizabethton on Tuesday night. The E-Twins pounded out 13 hits but it took quite multiple comebacks to for the squad to end up the victors. 

Elizabethton entered the sixth frame trailing 7-2 as starter Tyler Beardsley couldn't make it out of the fifth frame. He was charged with five earned runs (seven total runs) in 4.2 innings while striking out three and walking one. Quin Grogan and Johan Quezada allowed one unearned run the rest of the way to set the stage for what was to come. 

The E-Twins scored three runs in the sixth inning but only managed one hit in the frame, an RBI single from Alex Kirilloff. Before Kirilloff's hit, the first two batters reached with walks. Then a force attempt coaxed a throwing error by the second baseman to load the bases. A wild pitch and a ground out scored two runs before Kirilloff drove in the third run of the frame. 

In the next inning, the club would continue to mount their comeback. Mitchell Kranson singled and moved to second on a Caleb Hamilton walk. Andre Jernigan cracked his third double to drive in both runners and the score was now tied at 7-7. 

After allowing an unearned run in the top of the ninth, the E-Twins needed to find one more comeback. With one out, Jernigan reached on a fielding error to put some pressure on the pitcher. Luis Martinez flew out for the second out of the inning but Ariel Montesino walked to put the winning runner on base. After a pitching change, Shane Carrier ripped a double to score both runners and to send the fans home happy. 

GCL Twins 4, GCL Rays 2

Box Score
After giving up a first inning run, Bo Hellquist settled in nicely for the GCL Twins. He scattered six hits over five innings while striking out seven and walking none. His season ERA dropped to 2.08 and this was his first professional victory. Hellquist, a Minnesota-Duluth product, set career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts. 

Garret Kelly picked up his second hold in relief of Hellquist by limiting the Rays to one base runner in two shutout innings. Callan Pearce got in a little trouble in the later innings but not enough to surrender the lead. He allowed one run, an unearned run, while striking out three and walking two in two innings. It was his second save and he has yet to allow an earned run this season. 

Jean Carlos Arias came up with the first big hit for the Twins. He drove in a pair of runs after Jhon Alvarez walked, Gorge Munoz was hit by a pitch, and Heiker Meneses singled. This put the GCL Twins up 2-1 in the third frame. 

Things got a little wild in the sixth frame. Joe Cronin was hit by a pitch with one out in the inning. This was followed by a pair of wild pitches that allowed Cronin to move all the way around to third. Zach Featherstone drove him in with a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 3-1. Tyree Davis didn't want the scoring to end there. He singled and stole second before advance to third on a throwing error by the catcher. He would come in to score on a wild pitch to cap the GCL Twins scoring for the day. 

Pitcher of the Day – Bo Hellquist, GCL Twins (5 IP, 1 ER, 7 K, first professional win)
Hitter of the Day – Tyree Davis, GCL Twins (3-for-4, 2 doubles)

Durham @ Rochester (10:05 AM CST) – TBD
Chattanooga @ Jackson (7:05 PM CST) – RHP Kohl Stewart (3-4, 3.78 ERA)
Lakeland @ Fort Myers (6:05 PM CST) – LHP Randy Rosario (5-6, 3.73 ERA)
Bowling Green @ Cedar Rapids (6:35 PM CST) – LHP Lachlan Wells (2-1, 1.27 ERA)
Kingsport @ Elizabethton (6:00 PM CST) – LHP Domenick Carlini (1-3, 4.71 ERA)
GCL Twins @ GCL Rays (11:00 AM CST) – TBD

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Five Potential Twins GM Candidates

Jerry Lai, USA Today Sports (Chicago Cubs Brass including Jason McLeod)
The winds of change are in the air around Target Field. The Twins removed Terry Ryan from his position as general manager. Minnesota will immediately begin their search for Ryan's replacement and the hope is to have someone new in the position by season's end.

So here's where the rubber meets the road... what kind of candidates are available to get the Twins back to their winnings ways?

By many accounts, Theo Epstein is the "Godfather" of the current baseball world. He acquired 11 members of the 2016 National and American League All-Star teams during his 14-year tenure with the Red Sox and Cubs. If Minnesota wants to make a step in the right direction, it might be good to find someone connected to Epstein.

Candidate: Jason McLeod 
Role: Cubs Senior VP of Player Development 
McLeod has worked with Epstein since the beginning. McLeod has been rumored to be a top GM candidate for years and Chicago's recent turnaround will only help push the envelope. Some of his player development successes include Dustin Pedroia, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo. He's also done a good job of finding undervalued pitchers like last year's NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

If I were running the Twins, McLeod would be the candidate I would spend the most time pursuing. As recent as last season, he wondered what it would be at the helm of his own organization. Minnesota might provided the right opportunity with a budding farm system and talented young players already on the roster.

Candidate: Ben Cherington
Role: Former Red Sox GM
Cherington, the man that took over for Epstein in Boston, left the Red Sox front office last August after the team hired Dave Dombrowski as the new president of baseball operations. This basically took away any decision-making power from Cherington. At the time, he indicated that he wanted a break from the baseball work and he turned down opportunities to interview for the GM openings in Seattle and Philadelphia. In his four years at the helm in Boston, he finished last three times and won the 2013 World Series. He is currently teaching at Columbia University in the sports management program.

Candidate: Kim Ng 
Role: MLB Vice President for Baseball Operations
Minnesota could really make a splash by hiring the first female GM out of the four major sports. While previously working as an assistant GM with the Yankees and Dodgers, she has interviewed for various GM jobs with the Dodgers, Mariners, Padres, and Angels. She has worked in her current position at MLB since 2011 where she works under Joe Torre. When taking the position, she made it clear that her career goal remains being a GM as other executives have made the jump from the Commissioner's Office to a GM position.

Candidate: Thad Levine
Role: Rangers Assistant GM
Levine has worked well with Jon Daniels in Texas so it would take quite the offer to remove him from his current position. The duo was behind one of the best trades in Rangers history that sent Mark Teixeria to Atlanta for a bushel of prospects including Elvis Andrus. Before joining the Rangers eight seasons ago, Levine worked in Colorado as the Rockies' Senior Director of Baseball Operations. Levine was a candidate for the Diamondbacks job in 2014 but he withdrew his name before Arizona hired Dave Stewart.

Candidate: Hal Morris
Role: Director of Pro Scouting for the Los Angeles Angeles
Ryan had a deep background in the scouting world so the Twins might want to go in a different direction than Morris. However, Morris does have an MBA from Stanford so he could be good at handling the business side of the GM position. Morris also served as a scout for the Red Sox and Pirates before taking his current position. He has been a candidate for the Diamondbacks and Angels GM positions in recent years and many people think highly of him in baseball circles.

What names stand out to you? What kind of characteristics should the Twins be looking for? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.