Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Need For Speed

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Until recently, speed was a hard to quantify when it came to scouting players. Timers can be used to see how fast a player gets down the first baseline or how fast a player moves around the bases on a hit into the gap. Some scouting of speed was based on the eye-test because most scouts can look at a player and be able to tell if they are fast.

Earlier this season, I delved into some of MLB's new StatCast data. Thing like launch angle and exit velocity are becoming common place in the baseball lexicon. With increases in technology, StatCast continues to evolve and they have added a baserunning sprint speed component.

Fans know Byron Buxton is fast but how well does he rank compared to the rest of baseball. What other players run well for the Twins? Who is below the league average? 

Sprint speed is Statcast's foot speed metric, defined as "feet per second in a player's fastest one-second window." The Major League average on a "max effort" play is 27 ft/sec, and the max effort range is roughly 23 ft/sec (poor) to 30 ft/sec (elite). A player must have at least 10 max effort runs to qualify for the leaderboard. 

Byron Buxton is the lone Twins player who is elite. In fact, only Billy Hamilton ranks faster than him at the big league level. Buxton's average speed on a max effort play is 29.9 ft/sec while Hamilton clocks in at 31.1 ft/sec. Bradley Zimmer is only 0.1 ft/sec behind Buxton while the average for all center fielders is 28.2 ft/sec, the highest mark for any position. Earlier this season, Buxton made it to third in 10.73 seconds. Buxton also had an inside-the-park home run last season that clocked in at just over 14 seconds.

Above Average
Besides Buxton, three other Twins rank highly at their positions. Max Kepler ranks fifth among qualified right fielders with a 28.1 ft/sec sprint speed. He is only 0.2 ft/sec behind the right field leaders, Daniel Robertson and Ben Gamel. While Eduardo Escobar hasn't been the Twins regular third baseman, he ranks as the second fastest runner (28.0 ft/sec) behind Kris Bryant (28.2 ft/sec). Only two regular designated hitters rank above average, the Twins' Robbie Grossman and the Rays' Corey Dickerson. Grossman's 27.5 ft/sec mark is currently 0.3 ft/sec behind Dickerson.

Jorge Polanco is in the top-10 for shortstops but his 28.1 sprint speed is almost a full foot per second behind leader Trea Turner. Among left fielders, Rosario ranks in the top-20 with a 28.0 sprint speed but he ranks behind former Twins Ben Revere and Danny Santana at his position. Brian Dozier sits on the edge of the top-10 among second basemen but he is over 1.5 ft/sec behind the Marlins' Dee Gordon.

Below Average
Five Twins regulars sit below average on the sprint speed scale. Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer are the closest to reaching leave average speed. There are only five first basemen who are above average and Mauer is 0.4 ft/sec from joining that group. Sano has been faster than Mauer this season (26.8 ft/sec) and he is sandwiched in the rankings between former Twin Trevor Plouffe and the Rockies' Noaln Arenado.

Only six designated hitters rank lower than Kennys Vargas. His 25.9 ft/sec is tied for the slowest on the Twins. While Jason Castro ties Vargas in this category, he actually sits in the middle of the pack when compared to the other catchers in the league. Ehire Adrianza ranks as the fourth slowest shortstop with only JJ Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Troy Tulowitzki being slower.

Who's ranking surprised you? Did anyone not meet your expectations? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Searching For Relief

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
"The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen."--- Bob Lemon, Hall of Fame Pitcher

The Twins bullpen would hardly be called strong this season. In fact, Minnesota's relief core has been somewhat of a revolving door with a well-worn path between Rochester and Target Field. As Nick wrote about on Monday, Brandon Kintzler might be the bullpen's unlikely hero but the team is going to need some second-half help to stay in contention.

Are there internal options that could be added to the mix? Could any injured players be making a comeback? Who is out there on the trade market? Let's take a look at how the bullpen could be bolstered.

The Injured 
Phil Hughes has been making rehab starts for Rochester and it sounds like he could be joining the Twins as soon as the end of the this week. He will make one more appearance on Wednesday before being activated by the club. In three Triple-A appearances (3 IP), Hughes has allowed one run on three hits with one strikeout and two walks. He wants to contribute this season and the bullpen is his best option since he has some lingering symptoms of the shoulder weakness that caused him to have surgery last season.

While Hughes is close to impacting the Twins, former closer Glen Perkins seems much further away from making a return. Manager Paul Molitor told reporters on Monday that Perkins could resume throwing after he receives a cortisone shot. This shot could come as early as Tuesday but there are no guarantees for Perkins. At this point, it seems like a long-shot for him to make an appearance this season.

The Minors
Ryan Pressly has struggled in his big league time this season by posting an 8.18 ERA with a 1.41 WHIP. In five Triple-A appearances (8 IP), he has yet to allow a run while converting all three save opportunities. He has given up more walks (3) than hits (2) to go along with 12 strikeouts and a .080 opponents' batting average. Those numbers might be tough for the front office to ignore.

Michael Tonkin and John Curtiss are two other names to watch in the second-half. Like Pressly, Tonkin has struggled during his big league action this season. He has a 6.55 ERA and a 13 to 10 strikeout to walk ratio over 11 innings. With Rochester, he's posted a 2.81 ERA and a 23 to 9 strikeout to walk ratio. Curtiss was dominating as Chattanooga's closer before being promoted to Triple-A. For the season, he has allowed two earned runs (0.99 ERA) with 38 strikeouts over 27.1 innings.

The Reunion Possibilities
Former fan favorite Pat Neshek is currently on a bad Philadelphia team and his name has already be surfacing in trade rumors. The side-winding hurler has a 0.59 ERA to go along with a 0.783 WHIP that would be attractive to any team in contention. He is in the final year of a three-year contract so he will be a free agent at season's end. This makes it hard for a team to surrender multiple prospects for player who will only make a handful of appearances during the stretch run.

Another former Twin, Anthony Swarzak has been performing very well out of the White Sox bullpen. His 2.94 ERA is his best mark since 2013 with the Twins. Swarzak has also been posting SO/9 rate higher than his career average with a career-best 1.10 WHIP. Like Neshek, he will be a free agent at the end of the season so trading multiple prospects probably doesn't make sense. He's also currently plays on a division rival so that can make a trade less likely.

Other options are available and it still remains to be seen how the new front office regime will handle the trade deadline. Do they want to go all-in on a club that is surprisingly in the playoff hunt? How do you think the front office should sort through the second-half bullpen options? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Twins Minor League Report (6/25): Romero Rocks, E-Twins Roll

Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
This time of year can get very busy in the Twins farm system. The rookie league teams are starting to get up and running while the full-season affiliates have shifted into second-half mode. New playoff spots are on the line and players have a lot to prove in the months ahead.

After a plethora of roster moves over the last week, there are plenty of new faces in new places that are trying to make their mark. Whose Sunday performance got them closer to a call-up?

Rochester 7, Lehigh Valley 4
Box Score

Lehigh Valley has been the cream of the crop in the International League this season. In fact, the Red Wings were looking to avoid their 10th straight series loss to the IronPigs. Rochester pounced early as Zack Granite lead off the bottom of the first with his third home run of the season. Mitch Garver followed with a double and he moved to third on a JB Shuck single. Matt Hague grounded into a double play but Rochester still took a 2-0 lead. 

Red Wings' starter Tim Melville ran into a little bit of trouble in the third. The first two batters reached on a hit by pitch and a walk before a three-run bomb gave Lehigh Valley the lead. Melville would settle in from there and toss five frames by scattering four hits. He struck out six and walked two. Phil Hughes made his third rehab appearance and allowed his first earned run, a solo home run. Drew Rucinski tossed two perfect innings while striking out two. Michael Tonkin earned his second save as he struck out the side in the ninth. 

Rochester took the lead in the fourth inning. Matt Hague and ByungHo Park both doubled to start the frame. Niko Goodrum drove in Park with a single before coming around to score on a Leonardo Reginatto double. The Red Wings were up 5-3. In the seventh inning, Hague drove in two important runs with his sixth home run of the season to cap off the Rochester victory. 

Chattanooga 6, Pensacola 0 (Game 1- 7 Innings)

Box Score 
Dereck Rodriguez was rocking in this game as he picked up his first Double-A victory. In six innings of work, he allowed two hits while striking out six and walking two. There was only one time he faced a batter with a runner in scoring position.  Paul Clemens made things a little interesting in the seventh as he allowed a walk and a hit but he struck out the side to finish the game.

Travis Harrison put the Lookouts on the board with a solo home run to start the second inning. In the fourth inning, LaMonte Wade came up with a huge two-out single with the bases loaded to score a pair of runs. Andy Wilkins started the next inning with a double and Brain Navarreto had to use a two-out single to score Wilkins from third. Wilkins would drive in another run in the sixth. Edgar Corcino walked and Wade walked before Wilkins brought them both home. Corcino reached base in all four plate appearances. Wilkins finished with a three hit night.

Chattanooga 6, Pensacola 0 (Game 2- 7 Innings)
Box Score
After only needing one relief pitcher in the first game of the day, Fernando Romero made sure the Lookouts could avoid using the bullpen in this one. He was masterful over seven shutout innings as he struck out six and walked three. The Blue Wahoos only managed three hits and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Romero hasn't lost a game since the middle of May and he has pitched into the sixth inning in five straight appearances.

Nick Gordon got things going in the first as he lead off with a single. TJ White bring him home with a two-out hit. Travis Harrison created a run by himself in the second. He doubled, stole second, and then scored on a throwing error. In the third frame, Wade singled and Wilkins walked before Levi Michael cracked his eighth double. Gordon and Harrison each reached base three times in the winning effort. Alex Perez went 3-for-3.

Fort Myers 8, Florida 3
Box Score
The Miracle pounded out 13 hits including a four-hit night from Max Murphy on their way to an 8-3 victory. Jaylin Davis and Mitchell Kranson each had multi-hit games with Kranson recording his first double. Tanner English reached base three times including a triple. In the fourth, Jermaine Palacios recorded his first FSL RBI with a sac-fly to right. Nelson Monlina was the lone batter in the line-up that failed to record a hit.

Anthony McIver was credited with his second win after he allowed three runs on six hits with four strikeouts. Keaton Steele took over for McIver and tossed two scoreless frames. David Fischer and Andrew Vasquez combined for two more scoreless innings as Vasquez struck out all three batters in the final frame.

The Miracle have an off-day Monday before the start of a seven-game homestand. Mets farmhand Tim Tebow was recently promoted to St. Lucie and the Miracle have four-games against his squad starting next Friday. Stay tuned...

Cedar Rapids 6, Quad Cities 2
Box Score
The Kernels used a strong start from Clark Beeker and some timely hitting to come out on top in this one. Beeker pitched into the sixth inning as he allowed one run on six hits. As part of his team-high seventh win, he struck out two and walked none. Max Cordy took over for Beeker and pitched 2.1 innings as he allowed one unearned run. He didn't surrender a hit but he walked three batters and struck out two. Hector Lujan pitched a scoreless ninth with a strikeout.

With two outs in the first, Travis Blankenhorn singled before a Amaurys Minier double to stake Cedar Rapids to an early 1-0 lead. Caleb Hamilton and Ben Rortvedt cracked back-to-back homers to start the fourth frame. In the seventh inning with two outs, Rortvedt would double in another run. Hank Morrison capped the scoring with a single to post a final score of 6-2.

Minier reached base three times in six plate appearances. Christian Cavaness, Rortvedt, and Morrison all had multi-hit games. The Kernels are now eight-games over .500 on the season.

Elizabethton 12, Pulaski 3
Box Score
The E-Twins compiled four three-run innings to blowout the Yankees. After trailing 1-0 early, Andrew Cosgrove singled to drive in a run and Jordan Gore doubled to plate two more. The fifth inning was the power inning as Matt Contreras and Brent Rooker both homered to extend the lead to 6-1.  Contreras drove in another run with a bases loaded single in the sixth. Carson Crites added a two-run double as the three-run inning streak continued. Six E-Twins batters had multi-hit nights lead by Gore as he went 3-for-4 with two doubles.

Melvi Acosta earned his first victory of the season. He scatted five hits over five innings while allowing three runs with five strikeouts. Jovani Moran was stellar in relief as he tossed three scoreless innings with six strikeouts and no walks. Juan Gamez finished with a scoreless ninth.

Pitcher of the Day – Fernando Romero, Chattanooga Lookouts (CG, 7 IP, 0 ER, 6 K, 3 BB, 3 H)
Hitter of the Day – Max Murphy, Fort Myers Miracle (4-for-5, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI)

Rochester @ Buffalo (4:35 CST) - LHP David Hurlbut (4-4, 3.36 ERA)
Rochester @ Buffalo (Game 2) - RHP Aaron Slegers (6-4, 4.11 ERA)
Chattanooga vs. Pensacola (6:15 CST) -  RHP Randy LeBlanc (2-2 5.35 ERA)
Fort Myers - Scheduled Off-Day

Cedar Rapids vs. Burlington (6:35 CST) - RHP Tyler Wells (4-1 1.89 ERA)
Elizabethton vs. Pulaski (6:00 CST) - RHP Griffen Jax (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
GCL Twins vs. GCL Orioles (11:00 am CST)- TBD

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cody's Post-Draft Top 10 Prospects: 1-5

Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
In the aftermath this year's MLB Draft, it can be fun to reevaluate where an organization stacks up in the prospect department.  For better or worse, franchises can make it or break it with their selections in the draft. It's also important for teams to be able to build from within to help manage the bottom line.

Minnesota's top prospect list is littered with players drafted highly over the last handful of years. Players like Nick Gordon, Tyler Jay, and Kohl Stewart have all been taken with first round picks. Ideally, these players will form the nucleus of Minnesota's next championship winning club.

On Tuesday, I ran through the first half of my top-10 prospect list. Today I shift my focus to the top-5. Who's going to be number 1?

5. Alex Kirilloff, OF, 19-- Highest Level: Rookie
Preseason Rank: 4
Minnesota's first round pick in 2016, Kirilloff will miss all of 2017 after having Tommy John surgery. The Twins drafted him highly because of his ability to hit. He did that last year in his first taste of professional action. His batting average was over .300 with a nearly .800 OPS. Miguel Sano has been another big name Twins prospect to undergo Tommy John and he hasn't shown an ill-effects from the procedure. Kirilloff will be 20-years old before he gets back on the field. He will need to show he can continue to hit and the Twins will need to be aggressive with him when he returns to action.

4. Fernando Romero, RHP-- Highest Level: Double-A
Preseason Rank: 3
Romero is in the midst of a very important season. With a year under his belt since Tommy John surgery, he is sneaking into the Twins' long-term plans. With his big fastball and off-speed offerings, he has all the assets to be a front-line starter. He posted strong numbers last season at Low- and High-A but the transition to Double-A has come with some bumps. His ERA is over 3.00 and he has a WHIP north of 1.30. He's struck out 70 in 71.2 innings pitched so he will need to continue to improve his peripheral numbers as he gets closer to the big leagues. Romero might have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Twins system but he needs to prove he can stick as a starter. Otherwise, he could be destined for the bullpen.

3. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, 22-- Highest Level: Double-A
Preseason Rank: 2
Gonsalves hasn't done anything wrong to move him down my list. It's hard to ignore the talent of the players listed in front of him. After some rough moments in the Arizona Fall League, Gonsalves has gotten back on track to start the 2017 campaign. He has an eye-popping 0.912 WHIP which would be his lowest total in any season. His 11.1 SO/9 would be his highest total with any full-season affiliate. He's also walking fewer batters which might signal that the 22-year old is putting it all together. He has dealt with a left-shoulder issue which has kept him out of action in the AFL and at the beginning of this season. If he continues to put up strong numbers, there's no reason he shouldn't make his Target Field debut this season.

2. Royce Lewis, SS, 18-- Highest Level: High-School
Preseason Rank: N/A
It's might seem odd not to put the Twins newly minted top draft pick at the top of a prospect list. Lewis was the first overall selection but there are a few factors that go into his placement on this list. First of all, Lewis wasn't considered the best draft prospect on every draft list compiled before the draft. He is a very raw prospect with all the tools to be a superstar. However, it will be multiple years before the Twins know if they struck gold. Lewis will start in the rookie leagues and he needs to prove he can stick at shortstop over other prospects currently in the Twins system. Some believe he will need to be shifted to the outfield, a position where he has shown some promise in the past. Lewis might dominate the rookie leagues this season and force his way to the top of the Twins prospect list but he isn't there yet.

1. Nick Gordon, SS, 21-- Highest Level: Double-A
Preseason Rank: 1
In almost any other organization, Lewis would be a team's top prospect. However, Gordon is destroying baseballs this season. He is over three years younger than the competition in the Southern League and he's hitting .315/.376/.504. Gordon has hit more home runs this season than his first three season's combined. Since Engelb Vielma has moved to Rochester, Gordon has played shortstop on a regular basis. He's gotten a taste of second base but the organization seems committed to giving him as many opportunities as possible to succeed at shortstop. Like his brother, he might need to eventually move away from shortstop but his bat is better than even the Twins might have imagined when they drafted him. He's a strong top prospect and he could be a regular in the Twins line-up as soon as next season.

There you have my top-10 Twins prospects following the 2017 MLB Draft. Who did I miss? Who ranks too high? Who ranks too low? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cody's Post-Draft Top Prospects: 6-10

In the aftermath this year's MLB Draft, it can be fun to reevaluate where an organization stacks up in the prospect department.  For better or worse, franchises can make it or break it with their selections in the draft. It's also important for teams to be able to build from within to help manage the bottom line.

Minnesota's top prospect list is littered with players drafted highly over the last handful of years. Players like Nick Gordon, Tyler Jay, and Kohl Stewart have all been taken with first round picks. Ideally, these players will form the nucleus of Minnesota's next championship winning club.

The Twins took Royce Lewis with the first overall pick. Where will he fall in the team's top prospects?

10. Daniel Palka, OF, 25-- Current Level: Triple-A
Preseason Rank: 12
Palka hasn't been hitting for as much power as his first season in the Twins organization. However, he has lowered his Triple-A strikeout percentage from 38.6% last year to 24.6% in 2017. The Twins added him to the 40-man roster this off-season so he could have been a call away from making his big league debut. Unfortunately, he broke his left index finger at the end of April which will keep him on the DL for a chunk of this season. His potential continues to be high but he is going to have to come back strong from this injury and fight his way on to the 2017 Twins roster.

9. Felix Jorge, RHP, 23-- Current Level: Double-A
Preseason Rank: 10
Like Palka, Jorge was added to the Twins 40-man roster this past off-season. As a 23-year old, he is over a year younger than the competition in the Southern League. He's off to a tremendous start with an 8-1 record and the Lookouts have gone 12-1 in games he has started this season. Jorge isn't overpowering but he finds a way to get outs. Last year at Double-A, he posted a 3.9 SO/9 and he has improved that number to 6.2 in 2017. He's struck out over 100 batters in back-to-back seasons while being younger than the competition. Jorge might not be a front-line starter but he could settle into a very important pitching role on a future Twins roster.

8. Tyler Jay, LHP, 23-- Highest Level: Double-A
Preseason Rank: 5
One of the most disappointing stories out of spring training this year was the Twins deciding to move Tyler Jay to the bullpen. When the Twins took Jay with a top-10 pick, they were hoping to shift him from the bullpen to a starting pitcher. There were some ups and downs during his first two professional seasons and it sounds like both Jay and the new Twins front office felt like this was the best decision. He's only made a couple appearances this season as he has dealt with bicep tendinitis. Baseball bullpens are evolving with players no longer being limited to one inning or one batter. Jay could develop into a late inning weapon much like Cleveland's Andrew Miller.

7. Lewin Diaz, 1B, 20-- Highest Level: Low-A
Preseason Rank: 9
Diaz is making his mark during his first taste of full-season action. Even though he's over a year younger than the competition in the Midwest League, Diaz is hitting .271/.314/.446 with a career-high 21 doubles. Even though he is a power-hitter, he has been able to control his strikeout numbers with 45 strikeouts in 274 plate appearances. Defense will never be his calling card but he can make the plays he needs to make at first base. While there might be some defensive struggles, Diaz has the bat to impact the game. The Kernels clinched a first-half playoff spot on Sunday and Diaz was one of the main cogs leading them to the postseason.

6. Wander Javier, SS, 18- Highest Level: Dominican Summer League
Preseason Rank: 7
In July of 2015, Javier made a splash when the Twins signed him for $4 million dollars. He was limited to nine game during the 2016 season as he dealt with hamstring issues. This still didn't stop him from hitting .308/.400/.654 with five of his eight hits being for extra bases. With the addition of first overall pick Royce Lewis, it will be interesting to see how at-bats are handled to start the year in the GCL. Both Javier and Lewis will need repetitions but who will be able to standout above the crowd. All of the tools are there for Javier and he will need to showcase them this season as the Twins shortstop picture is starting to fill-up in the minor leagues.

How would your rankings look? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.