Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How valuable is Eduardo Escobar?

When the Twins traded Francisco Liriano to the Chicago White Sox last July, it seemed like the club was getting a bag of balls and some chewing gum in return. There wasn't much to get excited about with names like Pedro Hernadez and Eduardo Escobar. Flashforward a couple of months later and it is starting to look more and more like the Twins got some servicable players.

Escobar has built himself a nice little niche in the Twins clubhouse. Manager Ron Gardenhire uses him as a late inning defensive replacement a couple of times a week and he also makes his way into the starting line-up on occasion. In small doses, he has been very good for the team this year.

In fact, it seems like Escobar has been the thorn in the side of Minnesota's opponents. This season he is hitting .438/.455/.625 with a home run, a triple, and a double in 32 at-bats. His six runs scored rank higher than two current regular starters, Chris Parmelee and Pedro Florimon.

The switch-hitting middle infielder is finding ways to hit for average and power from both sides of the plate. As a left-handed batter, he is slugging .636 and when he switches to the other side that number stays at .600. His career OPS is only .639 so it has been a very good start to the year.

The Twins seem to be getting the best out of Mr. Escobar. Which brings up the question, how valuable is Eduardo Escobar?

According to FanGraphs, Escobar has been the second most valuable Twins player in 2013. Since he is still pre-arbitration eligible, the club is paying him $520,000 this year. His value according to FanGraphs has been $3.1 million and only Joe Mauer has been worth more at $3.8 million.

There are also some other interesting numbers from FanGraphs. Escobar has been the second most valuable offensive player with Josh Willingham being ranked ahead of him. Escobar's solid defense makes him more valuable in the field so his WAR ranking is second to Mauer.

By looking to the other reputable online baseball database, Baseball Reference, Escobar is also doing well there. Only Mauer and Willingham have higher WAR marks and his offense WAR ranks right behind both of these everyday players. His Win Probabilty Added ranks sixth in the American League. This puts him ahead of perennial MVP candidates like Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera.

It seems strange to talk about Escobar in the same breath as Mauer, Willingham, Cabrera, and Cano. For the most part, it is comical to think of the scrappy infielder in the same light as these great hitters. Compared to his Twins counterparts, he has less than a third of the amount of plate appearances as Mauer and less than half of what Willingham has strung together.

A small sample size can do wonders for Escobar and his value to the team. His numbers might look promising at this point in the season but things could come back down to earth in a hurry if he got more playing time.

Minnesota seems to have found the best way to get the most value out of Escobar. The team can only hope that his value continues to increase as the season progresses.

It turns out that he might have been worth more than a bag of balls and some chewing gum after all...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Talk to Contact: Episode 35

Episode 35 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
Episode 35 is a Minor League/Prospect heavy podcast, something we haven’t done for a while.  We talk specifically about Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Adam Walker, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Alex Meyer, and then finally go Down on the Pond with Kennys Vargas.  Lots of good stuff in there.  We also discuss the Twins recent performance against the Marlins and Rangers, pick out the Twins hitter and pitcher of the week, and then do a little bit of baseball chatter when we look Around the League.
You can follow me on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read my writing here at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find Paul on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Links-N-Thinks

The Twins actually got to get all of their games in so far this week. Monday's game with the Marlins had to be moved to Tuesday as part of a doubleheader but this was a step in the right direction after multiple cancellations last week.

Texas is in town for the weekend and it sounds like the weather is actually going to start feeling like spring. Highs will continue to rise and hopefully the Twins can continue to play baseball around the .500 mark.

The weekend is almost here so make sure to check out some of the top stories from the last week. Enjoy!
My Weekly Rundown
Video of the Week: Oswaldo Arcia had a whirlwind week last week by making his MLB debut, being sent down for one game, and then getting called back up. He has played a much bigger role in recent games by being a steady fixture in the line-up. There have been some struggles along the way but he hit his first home run earlier this week. Hopefully, it is the first of many in a Twins uniform.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Is Kevin Correia's performance just smoke and mirrors?

There can be plenty of surprises at the beginning of a season.

The Twins find themselves around the .500 mark and most fans would likely be happy if the club was able to keep up this pace for the remainder of the season. It might not be likely but stranger things have happened in the world of baseball.

One of the most intriguing players so far this year has been Kevin Correia. He has definitely surprised plenty of Twins fans with his performances on the mound. Out of the members in the Twins starting rotation, he has been the most consistent. He has thrown seven innings or more in each start by allowing three runs or less.

Correia became the first Twins pitcher to throw at-least seven innings in his first four starts of the year since Ramon Ortiz did it back in 2007. Oritz would compile a 4-4 record and a 5.14 ERA before the team dumped him on the Rockies in mid-August for Matt Macri. So it is important to take into account the wonders of small sample size at the beginning of the year.

When the Twins signed Correia this offseason, there were plenty of people in the industry that scoffed at the contract he was given. Minnesota is paying Correia $10 million over the next two years. That is a decent chunk of change for a man without that great of a track record. His career ERA of 4.54 and a WHIP of 1.41 seemed hardly worthy of $5 million a year but that's what Minnesota is paying him.

Correia's first impression with the Twins wasn't the greatest. He scuffled in spring training and posted some terrible numbers. His ERA was 5.40 and his 1.68 WHIP was tough to stomach. He gave up more than a hit an inning and he only struck out eight men over 25 innings. Twins Territory was left bracing for the worst.

This could have left Twins fans wondering why the team had offered a player like this a two-year deal. But lucky for Twins fans, spring training statistics usually don't matter. Correia has looked great so far but it's hard to know if he will be able to keep up this pace.

The lowest ERA he has posted in a season was 3.45 back in 2007 with the San Francisco Giants. He only made eight starts that season. Since becoming a full time starter, he only has one season with sub-4.00 ERA. He was a Padres pitcher that season and over half of his starts came at the pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

In recent years, the Twins witnessed the turn around of Carl Pavano, another veteran pitcher with a poor track record. Pavano's flaws had been mostly related to injuries so he was able to put up solid middle of the rotation numbers when he was healthy.

Correia's connection to Pavano isn't exactly perfect because Correia didn't fight a lot of injuries before joining the Twins. He has pitched at least 145 inning since 2009 and that includes a minimum of 26 starts in those seasons. Over that stretch, he averaged 167 innings per season and that would have ranked second on last year's Twins behind Scott Diamond.

If a person is taking bets on Correia, it might be time to sell your stock while it is still high. It doesn't seem like he has anywhere to go but down. His track record shows that he will most likely come back down to earth at some point this season. For now, fans can relish the solid performances he is putting forth on a team that continues to surprise.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday's Minor League Tidbits

It wasn't that long ago that Oswaldo Arcia was a member of the Twins minor leagues. Today he made his biggest mark at the big league level by cracking his first home run and knocking in three runs. His long ball turned out to be the difference in the team winning the first game of their double header 4-3.

He would be moved up to the third spot in the batting order for the second game of the double header so it was an exciting day for the budding star.

There were some other exciting moments across the Twins farm system on Tuesday so let's check out what happened down on the farm.

Rochester Red Wings 7, Syracuse Chiefs 8 (13 innings)
Box Score
Rochester staked themselves to an early lead but the bullpen faltered in the late innings to send this contest to an exciting finish.

The Red Wings got three home runs from Clete Thomas, Eric Farris, and Nate Hanson. It was the Triple-A debut for Hanson and he certainly made his mark. He would finish 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBI. Farris and Thomas both racked up three hits in the game.

Virgil Vasquez started the night on the mound for Rochester but he would be long gone before this one was decided. He tossed 5.1 innings and allowed two earned runs on six hits. It was his second consecutive start throwing five innings and allowing two runs or less.

When the game went to extra innings, it looked like the Red Wings were close to finding a way to win. The team scored a run on a throwing error in the top of the 11th inning. This run would be answered by the Chiefs in the bottom half of the frame and the game continued on into the night.

Rochester tried to mount another lead in the 13th inning. The team loaded the bases with only one out in the inning. Farris grounded into an ill-timed double play and another scoring opportunity was lost.

Michael O'Connor came out for his second inning of relief work in the bottom of the 13th. Syracuse started the inning with three straight bunt attempts. The first one was good for a single, the second caused an fielding error by Ray Olmedo, and the third put two runners in scoring position. The next batter would single to end the game.

With the loss, Rochester still has one victory on the road this year. The Red Wings have three more games in their series with Syracuse before heading home this weekend to face Buffalo. The club will need to figure some way to win on the road.

New Britain Rock Cats --, New Hampshire Fisher Cats -- (Postponed)
The Rock Cats were trying to end a three game skid on Tuesday evening but Mother Nature had other plans. Their game with the Fisher Cats was pushed to Wednesday night as part of a double-header. Thursday's game is scheduled for 10:35 am so the team's will play three games in less than 24 hours.

Trevor May was scheduled to make his first start in over a week. With cold weather and early season pitch counts, May hasn't made it through more than 5.1 innings in any of his starts. He hasn't faced Syracuse yet this year so maybe he will be in line for a good start.

New Britain heads home for a seven-game home stand. The action starts this weekend with a three game set against Richmond. At the beginning of next week, the team has an important four-game series with Harrisburg. 
Fort Myers Miracle 5, Palm Beach Cardinals 1
Box Score
The Palm Beach Cardinals are getting really sick of seeing Miguel Sano trot around the bases. He hit a grand slam against them last week in Fort Myers. Some fireworks flew on Sunday when Palm Beach threw at Sano and he responded by cracking the ball over the fence. Tuesday brought another game and another Sano home run.

It was a solo home run, Sano's 7th of the year, and he would be involved in another scoring play in his next at-bat. The Miracle had already scored twice in the inning on an Eddie Rosario single and a Lance Ray sacrifice fly. Sano would get his second RBI of the game with a single to center field. The club would score four runs in the inning to push their lead to 5-0.

Taylor Rogers made his first start of the year after being called-up from Cedar Rapids. He performed well by limiting the Cardinals to four hits and no runs. He struck out four batters and only walked two men.  Zach Jones gave up the lone run for the Cards. Nelvin Fuentes and Corey Williams each had a perfect inning of relief.

Fort Myers got back on the winning track after losses in their last three games. The club still has the best record in the Florida State League. The Miracle have a scheduled off day tomorrow before playing three games against Charlotte

Cedar Rapids Kernels --, Burlington Bees -- (Postponed)
Rain washed out the final game of the series between the Kernels and the Bees. The game will be made up later in the first half as part of a doubleheader in Cedar Rapids.

The Kernels are on a little bit of a roll with wins in their last three games including the first two games against the Bees. Byron Buxton still has a batting average over .400 and his OPS of 1.128 is off the charts. He is making his first full professional season look easy.

The team has a scheduled off day on Wednesday before returning home for a three-game series vs Great Lakes. The six-game home stand will conclude with a three-game set against Lansing.

Two strike counts and Joe Mauer

"Strike two, you're out," seems to be the current mantra for most of baseball.

One of the biggest challenges for batters in recent years has been their ability to come back in an at-bat after falling into a two strike count. Since 2006, there has been a steady decrease in player's ability to hit with two-strikes. Last year, two-strike hitting dropped to a new low, as batters were only able to muster a .178 batting average.

How do pitchers have so much of an advantage when it comes to throwing to batters with two strikes?

For one thing, players don't care as much about if they strikeout. Blame the juiced up players in the steroids era. It didn't matter if a player was swinging and missing as long as the ball was flying over the fence. Home run and RBI totals made up for big strikeout numbers.

For batters to get anywhere near 200 strikeouts in the past would have been horrific. Bobby Bonds would be a trailblazer for the current generation of strike out prone players. He struck out 187 times in 1969 only to pass that mark the next year with 189.

The 200-strikeout mark hasn't been as much of an embarrassment in recent years with the mark being passed five times in the last five seasons. Mark Reynolds has three of the top five strikeout seasons and he also sits at the top of the list with 223 strikeouts. Adam Dunn came within one strikeout of tying the MLB record last year but the dubious honor still belongs to Reynolds.

Twins fans have become accustom to seeing one player buck the trend when it comes to hitting with a two-strike count. Joe Mauer is one of the best hitters in the game and he doesn't seem to have any trouble when he finds himself deep into an at-bat. It almost seems like Mauer becomes better as an at-bat goes on.

In 2012, Mauer ranked as one of the top five batters in all of baseball when it came to hitting with two strikes. His .266 batting average with two-strikes was the highest mark in the American League. It was just high enough to finish ahead of Prince Fielder.

Best Two-Strike Hitters in 2012
1. Martin Prado .286
2. Jayson Werth .286
3. Matt Carpenter .268
4. Joe Mauer .266
5. Prince Fielder .265

Mauer has been on quite the role to start the 2013 season. This has also helped his numbers with two strikes against him. So far this season, he is hitting .409/.435/.523 when he has two strikes. Those are unheard of numbers and it is hard to image that he will be able to keep up that pace for the entire season.

For his career with two strikes, Mauer has a batting line of .258/.312/.359 which gets him close to the top of the all-time list. Besides being a Hall-of-Fame caliber hitter, Tony Gwynn was also the best hitter of all-time with two strikes against him. His .302 average would be good for any count let alone when he has two strikes against him.

Todd Helton, Ichiro Suzuki, Juan Pierre, and Wade Boggs round out the rest of the top five with their averages sitting anywhere from .262 to .260. Ichiro would be a name that most would expect to see on this list. Pierre certainly doesn't fit the mold of all-time great but baseball is a funny game.

The game of baseball will always be changing and batters are going to need to find some way to improve when they have two strikes against them. If Mauer continues on his current track, he could become one of the best two-strike hitters in history. He is going against the trend in baseball and Twins fans are happy with those results.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Talk to Contact: Episode 34

Episode 34 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
itunes pic
Featuring Knuckleballs’ own Jim Crikket along with podcast stalwarts Eric and Cody talk about the Minnesota Twins’ Low-A Minor League affiliate Cedar Rapids Kernels.
The Kirby Puckett podcast has Cody and Eric talkin' about yoga, going around the league, and creating radio gold for almost 90 minutes.  Enjoy the podcast and thanks for listening!
You can follow me on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing here at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Links-N-Thinks

Tragedy struck Boston on Monday with the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon.

A very visible sporting event was attacked and this story hit home with a lot of people. It is scary to think about attacks happening at big events but people are resilient. There were plenty of positive stories coming out of the tragedy. A former New England Patriots lineman carried a woman to safety and there were plenty of other stories like this.

Many teams around the world of baseball paid tribute to Boston in a similar fashion. The song "Sweet Caroline" has become synonymous with Red Sox games. Most teams saw it fitting to play this song during a break in the action even the rival Yankees stood united in support of Boston. Here are the fans at Target Field singing "Sweet Caroline."

Baseball continued to go on this week and there were some great stories from across the web. Have a safe weekend and give someone you love a call.
My Weekly Rundown:
Video of the Week: It is hard for Ben Revere to amaze after some of the plays he made in a Twins uniform. This catch from earlier this week might still leave you with your mouth open. He miss plays the ball a little at the beginning and has to make up for it at the end with a Superman like jump. It was a very cool play by a good defense center fielder.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wednesday's Minor League Wrap-Up

The Twins weren't the only team to get impacted by the weather on Wednesday evening. Minnesota's affiliate in Cedar Rapids also got postponed due to inclement weather. The Upper Midwest is still waiting for spring to show up and there will probably be more weather issues before spring is finally sprung.

Three other affiliates took the field for some Wednesday action. The Miracle were going lucky win 13 to start their season. Rochester has been struggling and the call-up of Oswaldo Arcia is going to hurt their offense. New Britain played an afternoon game and they found themselves in another tight contests.

Let's see how the teams and players fared in "Wednesday's Minor League Wrap-Up."

Rochester Red Wings 0, Scranton W/B RailRiders 7

It was a rough night for the Red Wings as the team was shutout for the second consecutive night. The loss marked the seventh in a row for Rochester and the team hasn't recorded a win since last Tuesday. Going back to last season, the RailRiders have won 10 of the last 13 games between these two clubs.

Liam Hendriks made his first start at Triple-A this season after starting the season with the big league club. He would give up a run in each of the first three innings to put Rochester in an early hole. For the game, he would toss six innings by giving up nine hits and four earned runs.

Anthony Slama got to get back on the mound after being hit around in both of his last two outings. In those appearances, he only recorded three outs and gave up seven earned runs. After walking multiple batters in those rough outings, he had a clean ninth inning with no walks and strikeout.

There wasn't much to write home about on the offensive side of the ball. Jeff Clement and Brandon Boggs were the only men to record more than one hit. Boggs added his second double of the year. Evan Bigley made his 2013 debut with the Red Wings as a pinch hitter but he flied out in the ninth.

Rochester only had four plate appearances with runners in scoring position. The team failed in all of those attempts. Overall, the team left eight runners on base.

The team starts a four game series with Pawtucket tomorrow night and the club will look to get back on track.
New Britain Rock Cats 2, New Hampshire Fisher Cats 3 (11 Innings)
The Rock Cats have a flare for the dramatic this season. After winning in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday, New Britain found themselves in the middle of another tight contest this afternoon. The team was held scoreless until the bottom of the ninth so the Rock Cats need two runs to make things interesting.

Back to back one out singles by Josmil Pinto and Daniel Ortiz had the team in good shape. A throwing error on the hit from Ortiz left two runners in scoring position. Curt Smith came through with a grounder up the middle cut the score to 2-1. James Beresford was the next batter and he cracked a sac fly to center to knot the game up at 2.

The Fisher Cats would mount their own rally in the top of the 11th inning to score the go ahead run. Two singles and a balk by Aaron Thompson allowed the winning run to score. It was the first loss of the year for Thompson in only his second appearance with the club.

Pat Dean pitched seven very strong innings by allowing one run on seven hits. He was being very democratic by not striking out a batter and letting the defense do their work behind him. He also didn't walk a batter and it was the first time he made it into the fifth inning this year.

New Britain managed a lowly seven hits in the game. Smith and Ortiz were both 2-for-5 and they were the lone members of the Rock Cats to collect more than one hit. The team was 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and the club left seven men on base.

Fort Myers Miracle 2, Palm Beach Cardinals 5
The hunt for win number 13 turned out to be unlucky for the Miracle. After finding a way to win their first 12 games of the year, Fort Myers suffered their first loss on Wednesday night. The Miracle found themselves with an early 2-0 lead but offense of the Cardinals proved to be too much.

Even in the ninth inning, the club tried to hold on to their perfect season. Trailing by three runs entering bottom of the final frame, Fort Myers would load the bases on singles from Michael Gonzalez, Kyle Knudson, and Kennys Vargas. Another single from Adam Pettersen would score a run. Unfortunately, Angel Morales would ground into a double play. This left Eddie Rosario on deck and Miguel Sano in the hole.

Sano played the hero on Tuesday with a grand slam to give the Miracle the lead. He struggled in this game going 0-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts. Even with the bad day, he is still hitting .380 on the season. Rosario has also helped the offense and he went 1-for-4 with his seventh RBI of the year.

The bottom of the line-up did most of the damage for the Miracle. Hitters five through eight all had multiple hits. Extra base hits were tough to come by as Michael Koch had the lone two-bagger in the game.

Matthew Summers started for the Miracle and pitched 5.2 innings. During his outing, he gave up three runs on seven hits. He walked one and struck out one to earn his first loss of the year. Adrian Salcedo did well in relief by striking out three of the four batters he faced.

Fort Myers will look to start a new winning streak as the team travels to St. Lucie for a three game set.

Cedar Rapids Kernels --, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers -- (Postponed)
The only thing slowing down Byron Buxton this spring has been the bad weather. Cedar Rapids had their game cancelled on Wednesday due to inclement weather. Since the Kernels and the Timber Rattlers don't play again in the first half of the MWL season, the game will not be made up.

Cedar Rapids will now head out on the road for six games in Peoria and Burlington. There next home action will be Thursday, April 25th when they open a six game home stand against Great Lakes and Lansing.

With a 9-3 record the Kernels find themselves on top of the Western Division of the MWL. They are looking to keep the good juices flowing as they take a two game winning streak into their road trip. The addition of J.O. Berrios, the 32nd pick in last year's draft, from extended spring training should be a boost to the pitching staff.

Arcia's ascension could mean Willingham's exit

With the Twins up and down start to the year, it is hard to know if the team will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Most likely the team will be selling. There will be plenty of talk about Justin Morneau being dealt in the coming months since his contract is up at the end of the year. Another important name to watch out for in the hot stove reports is Josh Willingham.

Willingham is coming off his best season as a professional and there might be more than one team looking to add a powerful corner bat for the stretch run. In a story published this weekend, the Boston Globe talked about the possibility of a Willingham trade.

According to one National League GM, "He's a powerful right-handed bat that any contender could stick right in the middle of their lineup and get outstanding production." He went on to say, "You'd have to give something up, but he'd be worth the expenditure. He can really hit."

ESPN's Rumor Central mentioned the Pirates as a possible trade fit. They need an upgrade in their outfield and they have some players in the minor leagues that could be enticing for the Twins. It also helps that Willingham has a very club friendly contract. He is in the second year of a three-year, $21 million deal.

Another wrinkle in the Willingham trade rumors is the ascension of stud prospect Oswaldo Arcia. It has been a whirlwind couple of days for Arcia. He made his MLB debut on Monday, he played for Rochester on Tuesday, and he got called back up to the big leagues after last night's game. Darin Mastroianni's injury will mean a longer look at Arcia this time around.

Arcia won't turn 22 until next month so become the youngest position player to debut with the Twins since a 20-year old Joe Mauer. He was killing the ball at Triple-A and he certainly deserved this call-up. In ten games for Rochester, he was hitting .394/.474/.727 with three home runs, two doubles, and eight runs scored.

If Arcia kept putting up those types of numbers, it would have been hard to keep him at Triple-A. The problem for the Twins could be finding him a place in the line-up. Arcia is primarily used as a corner outfielder or designated hitter. The Twins have plenty of these type of players with Willingham, Chris Parmelee, and Ryan Doumit.

It might take a trade for Arcia to stick with the club for the long-term. Morneau could be dealt to create a spot for Parmelee to move back to first base. Willingham could also be sent packing to open a hole in the outfield. Both of these men could be traded away before July and then there would be plenty of playing time for Mr. Arcia.

Things might be moving a little fast for Arcia. He started the 2012 season at the High-A level so he only played 69 games at Double-A before getting the bump to Rochester. Now he had a grand total of nine Triple-A games under his belt before he made his MLB debut.

There should be tempered expectations for Arcia as fans have seen how much Aaron Hicks has struggled in his first 10 big league games. The Twins need Arcia to be a cornerstone of the franchise as the team tries to get back to winning baseball. This might be just the first taste of what is yet to come.

Players are blocking the path of Arcia and he most likely will get more playing time at Triple-A before all is said and done. If the Twins are looking like sellers at the trade deadline, a deal including Willingham could pave the way for Arcia's permanent spot on the roster.

Willingham has done some great things in his Twins tenure but Arcia is the wave of the future.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Finding solutions for struggling Aaron Hicks

With the Twins struggling to find offense in the club's games this weekend, there have been a few boo birds flying from the stands at Target Field. Some of this might be angry fans sitting out at a cold baseball game with nothing better to do. For others, it could be the frustration of the last couple seasons coming to a head.

Aaron Hicks has found himself in a little bit of a rough patch to start his MLB career. According to FanGraphs version of WAR, Hicks has been the worst player in all of baseball this season. He has a -1.0 WAR and that places him ahead of the next closest competitors Victor Martinez, Matt Kemp, and Adam Dunn.

The Twins have seen this with Hicks in the past because he has shown a track record of struggling when he is promoted to a new level. He usually finds a way to work out the kinks but this was a bigger jump than he has ever made before. It is hard to know how patient the Twins can be with their young outfielder.

There has to be some solutions to solve the struggles for Hicks. Here are a few different ways the Twins front office could approach the situation.

1.) Send Hicks to Triple-A: He has never played at the Triple-A level and the team might need him to find success at that level before they give him another chance with the big league club. Hicks earned the starting job this spring with his performance but player's numbers can be deceiving in exhibition games.

He looks lost at the plate against big league pitching and he might need to regain some confidence. Triple-A could give him a chance to get out of the spotlight and get his head back on his shoulders.

2.) Move Hicks down in the order: Last weekend when Ron Gardenhire was asked about moving Hicks down in the order, he was against the idea because he didn't want to hurt the rookies confidence. It has been another full week and Hicks hasn't shown any signs of breaking out of his slump.

Moving him down in the order could take some pressure off the rookie and it could help the offense. Gardenhire even said he wasn't opposed to having Mauer take over the lead-off role.

3.) Take away some playing time: It can be tough to get use to life at the big league level. Maybe Hicks just needs some time to adjust and a little less playing time. This could allow him to get some wind in his sails and maybe it would produce some better performances on the field.

The team has given him a couple days off but he didn't exactly come back from the hiatus hitting the cover off the ball. Out of all of the solutions this seems like the least likely since they want Hicks to continue to get at-bats no matter where he is playing.

4.) Be Patient: So far, the team has followed this plan but it is hard to know how long this patience will last. There might need to be some positive signs from Hicks for the club to continue to follow this course of action.

His defense has been good in center field but the offense has been terrible. The strikeouts continue to add up and it seems like the boo birds are going to continue to fly.

Will the rookie have enough to overcome his early season struggles or will the team have to follow a different plan?

If you were in charge of the Twins, what would you do? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Talk to Contact: Episode 33

Episode 33 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

We ran into a slight audio issue this week, because Eric is bad at recording.  There is a slight echo on the recording for the first 25 minutes or so.  Sorry!
In Episode 33 Cody and Eric discuss the finer points of a five game losing streak, Oswaldo Arcia’s surprising call-up, what the do with a struggling Aaron Hicks, and we look at the general happenings around the league.
Cody and Eric both enjoy a Leinenkugel’s beer to remind them that summer is near.
Just a one hour show this week, but Cody and Eric are pretty cool dudes, so they make it work.
Thanks for listening!
You can follow me on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read my writing here at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Links-N-Thinks

Everything was nice and fuzzy last Friday when the Twins had pulled off some nice wins and they had themselves near the top of the American League. Things have changed in the last week as the club got swept by the Kansas City Royals and the Twins are near the bottom of the AL Central.

It is still early in the year so there is plenty of things that could change. Joe Mauer wasn't hitting the ball very good for the first few games of the year but he has started to come around. Josh Willingham powered a couple of home runs over the fence and Chris Parmelee has been on quite the roll at the plate.

Pitching will continue to be the biggest wild card for the Twins. If the starters can keep the scores close, Minnesota's offense might be able to score enough to keep them in games. It also helps to have a strong bullpen to cover up a poor pitching staff.

There was plenty of good material across the web this week. Check out the latest edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks" and have a fantastic weekend!
My Weekly Rundown
Video of the Week: A terrible strike call end a game with the Rangers and the Rays earlier this week. One of the biggest parts of this strike was the fact that it capped Joe Nathan's 300th save in the big leagues. Twins fans got to see Nathan climb the club's all-time list before he broke the record. He continues to rack up saves and it will be interesting to see how high he can get on MLB's all-time list.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wet Wednesday in the Minors

With last night's loss, the Twins failed to win a series for the first time in 2013. Things didn't go much better tonight for Minnesota as the club fell to the Kansas City Royals. It was the first time the team had been swept in 2013 and the Twins only scored five runs in the series.

Miguel Sano hit his first home run of the year on Tuesday evening. He has only been held hitless in one game so far this year and he was hitting .421 entering play today. The Miracle had a 5-0 record entering play tonight and new manager Doug Mientkiewicz has to be pleased with his team performance. How long can they keep it going is another question.

Two of the best pitching prospects in the Twins organization were suppose to be on the mound in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Both Kyle Gibson and Trevor May were scheduled to make their second starts of the season and each man was looking for his first win.

Let's see how things went on a west Wednesday night in the minor leagues.
It was a little cold in Wisconsin
Rochester Red Wings --, Scranton/WB RailRiders -- (Postponed)
Kyle Gibson didn't get to take the mound on Wednesday due to inclement weather. The game will be made up on Monday, June 17 as part of a doubleheader at PNC Field. The first game will be scheduled for 5:35 pm (Eastern Time) with the second game following shortly after.

Rochester was trying to win back-to-back games for the first time this season. On Tuesday, Chris Colabello cranked a solo home run to break a 1-1 tie in the ninth inning. Anthony Slama closed the door in the ninth inning for his first save of the year and the 101st of his career.

The Red Wings will now travel to Pawtucket to open a four-game series with the Red Sox beginning on Thursday night.
New Britain Rock Cats 17, Harrisburg Senators 5
The Rock Cats found themselves in a tight contest with the Senators before back-to-back four run innings put the club out in front for good. A rain delay wasn't even enough to slow down the Rock Cats offense as the team pounded out 17 hits and 17 runs including 15 runs in the last four innings.

Reynaldo Rodriguez and Josmil Pinto each had two home runs. Rodriguez finished the game going 3-for-5 with two bombs, a two-bagger, and four RBI. It was quite the game for Rodriguez considering he didn't have a hit so far this season. Daniel Ortiz, Danny Lehmann, and Nate Hanson joined the mash party as New Britain pounded out seven home runs in the game.

Trevor May started for New Britain and gave up two earned runs on four hits including one long ball. It took him 82 pitches to get through four innings so he wasn't exactly being efficient. He struck out seven batters and walked three. May was replaced by Edgar Ibarra who three two perfect innings and struck out four.

New Britain starts a four game series at Portland tomorrow night. The club sits one game over .500 and they will try to continue to play winning baseball.

Fort Myers Miracle 7, Jupiter Hammerheads 6 (10 innings)
The Miracle found themselves in an early 4-0 hole and this could have spelled trouble but the team was able to complete the comeback. The win improved the Miracle to 6-0, the club's best start since 2006.

In the bottom of the tenth inning with two outs, a pitch hit Kyle Knudson with Jonathan Goncalves already on first base. The next batter was Stephen Wickens and he sent the fans home happy with a line drive single to center field.

Miguel Sano went 2-for-5 in the game with his third double of the year. With a double and a triple, Angel Morales had his first multi-hit contest of 2013. Kenny Vargas and Jonathan Goncalves added two hits of their own while Goncalves rocked his first home run.

Tom Stuifbergen pitched six innings and only allowed one earned run. Sano had two errors in the first inning and this caused a few unearned runs to score. Corey Williams earned his first blown save and Adrian Salcedo picked up his first win out of the bullpen. He struck out two of the four batter that he faced in the 10th inning.

The Miracle finish out their series with the Hammerheads tomorrow night. The team looks to remain unbeaten on the season before heading out on the road for a weekend series with Charlotte.

Cedar Rapids Kernels -- , Wisconsin Timber Rattlers -- (Double Header-- Postponed)

For the second day in a row, the Kernels game against the Timber Rattlers was postponed. The team was supposed to have a double header today but it was too cold in Wisconsin to be playing baseball.

Cedar Rapids was off to a very good start with a 4-1 record so it is disappointing that they haven't been able to play the last couple of days. Hopefully, the team can get in some action tomorrow as they head back to Iowa to play the Clinton LumberKings.

Will the real Twins base stealers, please stand up?

Twins fans have been spoiled in the last two seasons.

Ben Revere made base stealing look easy. Even Denard Span could swipe a base or two if the club needed it. Both of these men are in different uniforms to start the 2013 season. In fact, three of the top four base stealers from the 2012 Twins are no longer with the organization.

Last year the Twins stole 135 bases, which ranked first in the American League. In 2011, the club finished in 10 place in the AL with 92 stolen bases. The team only had 68 steals in 2010 and that was bad enough to rank 12th among the 14 AL clubs. It obviously helps to have Mr. Revere on your club for any part of a season.

Stealing bases is an art form. Unfortunately for the Twins, the club is going to have to find some different artists for the coming year.

Chris Parmelee was thrown out trying to steal second base in the late innings of Monday afternoon's game. This meant the Twins have only been successful in two of their six stolen base attempts. The current team leaders in steals are Trevor Plouffe and Parmelee with one steal apiece.

It is obvious that these two men aren't the fleetest of foot. So where are the steals going to come from for Minnesota?

One man the Twins will rely on for steals this year is Aaron Hicks. He has gotten the year off to a bad start and this has meant he has only been on base four times. If a batter isn't getting on base, he obviously isn't going to be able to rack up steal attempts. In his one attempted steal this year, he was thrown out pretty easily (see photo above).

Hicks had an outstanding year last season at Double-A and his solid offensive output was only helped by his ability to steal bases. He stole 32 bases last year and was caught stealing 11 times. Before last year, he had never had more than 21 steals so this was a step in the right direction.

The Twins can't just rely on Hicks for steals so there will have to be some other men to reek havoc on the base paths.

Darin Mastroianni had 21 steals in 24 attempts last season. These were very good numbers for someone that played in only 77 games. He has been hampered be a nagging injury from the end of spring training. When he is able to get back to being fully healthy, he could get more playing time and the chance to steal some more bases.

The middle infield core of Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, and Eduardo Escobar has yet to join the steal parade. Dozier had nine steals for the Twins last season but in his last full season in the minors he took 24 bags. Florimon and Escobar have a track record of getting double digits in steals but they will have to be selective with when to take an extra base.

One dark horse when it comes to stealing bases could be Joe Mauer. He usually gets on base at one of the best rates in the AL and being on first base a lot can lead to some opportunities to swipe second. Mauer's athletic ability can always make him a threat but he has never stolen more than 13 bases. This could be the year for him to set a new career high.

Steals might be few and far between this year unless the Twins get some other players into their everyday line-up. The opportunity to swipe bags might be there but the club will need to be selective in sending some runners with less ability on the base paths.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Anthony Swarzak could be key to the bullpen

When word came out following TwinsFest about the injury suffered by Anthony Swarzak, it had to be embarrassing. He suffered a fractured rib after wrestling with some teammates during the Twins annual fan festival. Swarzak would open the season on the DL and it was tough for him to watch the Twins fight the Tigers and the Orioles before he could get on the field.

Swarzak returned to the mound on Sunday and got four big outs for the Twins on their way to a second series win in a row to start the year. He entered in the sixth inning and allowed two hits and a walk along with one strikeout. He was forced to toss a lot of sliders because he didn't have a great feel for his fastball.

It would be his first victory of the year and he made the appearance without making any rehab starts in the minor leagues. Swarzak is back and he has a little something to prove.

One of the biggest surprises for the Twins in the first week of the season has been the performance of the pitching staff. There have been positive signs from almost every starting pitcher but only Kevin Correia has pitched seven innings. This leaves the bullpen in charge of getting a lot of outs.

The Twins could be relying heavily on Swarzak during the coming season. The long relief pitcher could be called on for some big outs when the starting staff doesn't make it into the late innings. In recent years, he has even been called on to make a start or two.

Players like Jared Burton, Glen Perkins, and Brian Duensing are going to have important late-inning roles out of the bullpen. It might take a bridge to get from the starting pitcher to those back of the bullpen arms.

That is where Swarzak can make his mark.

As one would expect, his numbers are much better as a relief pitcher versus his time as a starter. For his career, he ERA is 1.19 points lower out of the bullpen. His WHIP is .153 points lower and he has a higher strikeout per nine. Opponent's batting average against him is 60 points lower when he is used in relief.

Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson know the bullpen is one of the team's strengths in 2013. This could mean a lot of use out of some of the more consistent arms in the bullpen. The team has relied on the bullpen to keep their games close so far and that trend will likely continue in the coming weeks.

Swarzak wants the ball as much as possible. He said, "As long as they want me to pitch, I'll pitch. That's always been my attitude here, and that will always be my attitude anywhere. I'm a pitcher before anything else. As long as they want me to have the ball, I'll take the ball."

The Twins might need Swarzak to take the ball a lot this season. It looks like the bullpen is going to be one of the most important parts of the roster and Swarzak could be a key figure for the success of the 2013 Minnesota Twins.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Talk to Contact: Episode 32

Episode 32 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
itunes pic
This week Cody and Eric forge ahead with Paul who is now out to sea with the United States Coast Guard.  The two of them talked about the first place Minnesota Twins, surprisingly decent starting pitching, and the hitter (Justin Morneau) and pitcher (Kevin Correia) of the week.  After a quick run down of Twins news from the first week of games Eric and Cody are joined by Andrew Walter, the Twins Fan from Afar.  Following a quick break Cody and Eric go Down on the Pond, talk about beer, and take a look around the league.  Join us for an enjoyable 90 minutes of Twins talk.
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help Wilkin Ramirez get playing time).
You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond. You can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs. You can follow me on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read my writing at NoDakTwinsFan.