Monday, March 28, 2016

2016 Twins Bust Candidates

Ken Blaze- USA Today Sports
Every year there are surprises and disappointments on any big league roster. Poor play and mounting injuries can impact any number of players. That's one of the reasons teams try and build a deep 40-man roster so they are able to stay in contention even when players don't perform up to expectations.

Going into any season it can be tough to predict who is set-up to play poorly and maybe it is an exercise in futility. When the end of the season comes around, feel free to shout me out on Twitter and tell me how wrong I was in relation to this year's "Twins Bust Candidates."

Tyler Duffey, RHP
Duffey pitched well for the while the Twins were still in the postseason hunt. He finished the year boasting a 5-1 record with a very respectable 3.10 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Call it the "Scott Diamond Effect" but it seems unlikely for him to keep up this pace into the 2016 campaign. He was never considered one the organization's top pitching prospects as he averaged 7.4 SO/9 and a 3.73 ERA over four minor league seasons.

Can the Twins get by with Duffey as a back of the rotation starter? Sure, he can fit into this role. Baseball Reference projects him to compile a 3.64 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in just under 90 innings of work. Both of these totals would be better than his minor league track record and he hasn't exactly been light's out this spring as he works on his change-up. With top pitching prospect Jose Berrios in the wings, it seems likely that Duffey could find himself out of a starting spot at some point this season.

Glen Perkins, LHP
Perkins has made the All-Star Game in each of the last three seasons and he's even been asked to close out the game for the AL each of the last two years. However, the end of last season was a little rough for the Twins closer as he tried to play through injury and posted some poor numbers along the way. World Series legend Jack Morris even hinted that Perkins might not exactly be in shape in a Twin Cities radio interview last year.

While Perkins has been able to accumulate over 30 saves in each of the last three seasons, his other numbers have been on the decline. His first three years in the bullpen he posted a 2.45 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP and 10.2 SO/9. The last two years those numbers have declined to a 3.49 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP, and 9.1 SO/9. Perkins turned 33 at the beginning of March and the organization has a young core of bullpen arms working their way towards Target Field. If the recent trend continues, the team might have to look at other options.

Kurt Suzuki, C
Suzuki has been on the decline for most of the last year and a half so to say he will be a bust at this point in his career might not be too big of a stretch. After hitting .309/.365/.396 in his first 65 games with the Twins, he would go on to hit .259/.323/.339 in the second half of 2014. Last season was even worse as he finished the year hitting .240/.296/.314 while taking a beating behind the plate. He had the lowest caught stealing percentage (15%) of any AL catcher with at least 600 innings behind the dish.

The Twins had to add some depth to the catching ranks and they were able to do that this offseason. Minnesota has been clear that Suzuki is their starter and he should be to reward him for his work with the pitching staff over the last couple years. However, John Ryan Murphy will likely start to play more frequently as the season progresses. This could help Suzuki's performance if he isn't out there for over 130 games but it's hard to know how much he has left in the tank. His days as a starting catcher could be coming to an end

Who do you think is set-up to bust this season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Twins Twitter Origins

Brad Rempel- USA Today Sports
On Monday, the social media platform Twitter celebrated it's tenth birthday (Here's a link to the first tweet ever sent). In the last decade, Twitter has become one of the premier places for "Tweeters" to get instantaneous news and for the world to follow events in real-time.

For baseball fans and all sports fans, Twitter has become an avenue for everyone to interact as events are playing out on the field. If a player messes up, you can call out the player as the event unfolds. If Miguel Sano sends one into the upper deck, you can let your followers know that you want to "Let It Sano in July!"

Let's take a look down memory lane and find the initial tweets sent out by many of the accounts associated with the Twins organization.

Account: Dave St. Peter (@TwinsPrez)
Date of First Tweet: 3 Feb 2011
Dave St. Peter has been very active with fans over the years and he's usually willing to answer questions and to help fans enjoy their experience with the Minnesota Twins.

Account: Trevor Plouffe (@TPlouffe24)
Date of First Tweet: 8 Dec 2011
Plouffe's Twitter game has improved over the years much like his game on the field.

Account: Glen Perkins (@GlenPerkins)
Date of First Tweet: 23 Jun 2011
This might be my favorite first Tweet from any Twins player.

Account: Brian Dozier (@Brian Dozier)
Date of First Tweet: 22 Apr 2010
One of the longest tenured Twins players on Twitter and you can follow his on and off the field work.

Account: Joe Mauer (Doesn't Have Twitter)
Date of First Tweet: 16 Jul 2013
It might be good that he doesn't have a Twitter account at this point since there would be a lot of negativity thrown his way.

Account: Phil Hughes (@PJHughes45)
Date of First Tweet: 8 Mar 2011
"New to this shizzz" might be the best way to start your Twitter career.

Account: Kyle Gibson (@kgib44)
Date of First Tweet: 15 Jan 2011
Very fitting that Gibson's first tweet was about something he was doing in the community.

Account: Miguel Sano (@SanoMiguel)
Date of First Tweet: 23 Apr 2013
My response to this would be "Feliz Navidad" because I don't know Spanish.

Account: TC Bear
Date of First Tweet: 18 Nov 2009
The bear has been very operational over the years.

There are tons of other first Tweets for current and former Twins but this is just a sampling. What's your favorite first Tweet? What was your first Tweet? (Use the link to find out). Leave a COMMENT to start the discussion.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Plouffe's Failure Leads To Transformation

Caylor Arnold- USA Today Sports
In the summer of 2004, the Twins were in the midst of a run for their third straight AL Central crown. The sudden success on the field meant the club was in the routine of drafting later rather than earlier in the first round of baseball's amateur draft. That June the team focused on shortstop and a scrawny high schooler would be their first pick.

Trevor Plouffe grew up in Southern California and was committed to the University of Southern California before the Twins came calling. He was listed as 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds but those might have been a little exaggerated if you look at this photo from shortly after he was drafted.

Baseball America wrote this scouting report about Plouffe as he entered the draft. "He has a wiry frame, soft hands and fluid middle-infield actions in the mold of Robin Yount." They went on to say, "His range and arm strength are a notch below Matt Bush, the nation's top prep shortstop, but Plouffe may be a better hitter. He has a flatter swing path and the wrist action needed to drive balls."

This prediction would turn out to be true as Bush and two other high school shortstops were taken before Plouffe in that draft. The aforementioned Bush was the first overall pick but he never made the big leagues and ended up serving prison time. Chris Nelson is a bench player that has accumulated a negative WAR over five seasons. Stephen Drew is the only one of the group with a higher WAR than Plouffe and he's played almost twice as many big league games.

After being drafted by Minnesota, Plouffe moved through the system while being younger than the competition at every level. In his minor league career, he hit .258/.320/.405 (.725 OPS) while never hitting more than 15 home runs at any level. He made it to Triple-A by age 22 and would make his big league debut at the age of 24.

There were plenty of struggles for Plouffe in his first taste of the big leagues. From 2010-2011, he hit .226/.286/.382 (.668 OPS) with 30 extra-base hits in over 360 plate appearances. He also struck out in 26% of his at-bats. His defense at shortstop was also rough to say the least. According to defensive runs saved, he cost the Twins 14 runs alone in 2011.

Something needed to change.

In the winter of 2012, the Twins decided to move Plouffe away from shortstop and shift him to the outfield. The club hoped the move would spark Plouffe much like it did for another first round pick, Michael Cuddyer. However, he would only play 17 games there that season because Danny Valencia struggled at the plate and Minnesota needed someone for third base. Plouffe had found a new home.

Flash-forward to the present day and Plouffe is now the second longest tenured Twins player behind Joe Mauer. He has nestled himself nicely into a solid everyday regular with improved defense at third base while topping 20 home runs in two of the last four seasons. He also went on one of the most impressive home run tears in team history when he hit 10 home runs in a 14 game stretch during the 2012 campaign.

In recent years, there had been rumblings about the possibility of Plouffe being traded to make room for star prospect Miguel Sano. Those rumors never came to fruition and Plouffe's strong defense at third means Sano will play outfield this coming season. Plouffe is under team control for the 2016 and 2017 seasons but that still doesn't mean the Twins won't consider moving him over the next handful of years.

Minnesota surprised a lot of teams by contending in 2015 even while some of their young prospects were still trying to figure out baseball's highest level. Many feel the Twins will come back to the pack this season. If the Twins are out of the race in mid-July, Plouffe will likely hear his name on the trading block once again and it could make sense to deal him if the price is right.

Plouffe has been part of some tough seasons in Minnesota with multiple 90-loss seasons marking the last handful of years. He's still transformed from a first-round pick to a failed shortstop to an above average MLB regular.

Minnesota stayed the course with Plouffe and it has paid off on the field and in the clubhouse.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Contemplating a Platoon Advantage

Jonathan Dyer- USA Today Sports
Teams are always searching for the a way to get a leg up on the competition. Analyzing spray charts to find the right placement for outfielders, shifting infielders to the right side against a power hitting lefty, or bringing in a LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) in the late innings. Baseball continues to evolve and the teams changing the fast seem to find more success.

Possibly one of the biggest flaws under the Ron Gardenhire regime was his refusal to platoon hitters. For example, take a look at Danny Valencia's tenure in Minnesota. During his rookie year, the right-handed hitter managed to hit .280/.303/.410 against righties which is pretty good. In 2011, his numbers dropped as his OPS dipped to .626 against righties while he posted a .822 mark against lefties. Gardenhire could have taken advantage of Valencia's strength and played him against lefties while utilizing another option against right-handed starters.

The Twins have an interesting opportunity facing them this season and it could be setting up to be a very nice platoon advantage for Paul Molitor. Byung Ho Park will almost assuredly make the team's 25-man roster when they head north. Oswaldo Arcia is out of options and it would make sense to have him at the disposal of the big league squad. Park is a right-handed batter and Arcia is a left-handed batter so the Twins might have a perfect solution.

Arcia has been a very streaky hitter over the course of his career and that's one of the reasons the Twins let him toil in the minors for almost all of 2015. In nearly 100 minor league games last season, Arcia posted a .678 OPS versus righties which was 243 points higher than what he was able to do against lefties. This still wasn't that great as his OBP was under .280.

In his time at the major league level, Arcia's splits are much better against right-handed hurlers. His OPS is almost 200 points higher against righties (.807 OPS vs. RHP) and only six of his 36 home runs have come against southpaws. Since Arcia has been a streaky hitter in the past, the best way to use him could be to get his at-bats exclusively against righties.

Byung Ho Park will be facing a tough transition this season as he transitions from the KBO to the MLB level. Things have been going fairly well for him so far this spring but it's hard to take spring training numbers too seriously. Minnesota is going to want to take a long look at Park this season but his best option might be to step-in more regularly against lefties.

Last season, Park's batting average was 39 points higher against lefties and he posted a very respectable 24 to 21 strikeout to walk ratio. The right-handed slugger struck out 105 times in 343 at-bats versus righties. Park might be better suited to set-up more frequently against southpaws if the Twins want to avoid some of the struggles that come with transitioning from a foreign league.

Overall, it seems more likely for the Twins to use Arcia in a role as fourth outfielder. This would allow him to get one or two starts a week and to step in if a player was injured. His bat coming off the bench would be a nice option but his time in Minnesota might be slowly sinking away.

Park is going to get playing time this year as the club tries out their new acquisition. Molitor likely won't use a full platoon with Park and Arcia because this would mean playing Arcia more than Park since there are more right-handed pitchers in the baseball world.

However, the team could benefit from giving Park the night off against tough lefties like Chris Sale and David Price.

So, what do you think? Could the Twins take advantage of some platooning this season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Twins Trio Tops AL Rookie of the Year Candidates

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Well, baseball fans think it is the most wonderful time of the year because spring training workouts are in full swing, games are being played, and the first regular season action is right around the corner. With the beginning of the season, there comes a lot of prognostication as writers from across the baseball world attempt to select the division winners, award winners, and breakout players.

Selecting rookie of the year candidates can be a tough accomplishment at this point in the season. Some teams might keep players in the minor leagues until later in the season to gain more team control. Other rookies might go back and forth between the high levels of the minors and the 25-man roster.

By many accounts, Minnesota could have three players in the running for the top rookie player in the American League. Miguel Sano was a finalist for the award last season but finished in a distant third place. Each of the following players will be attempting to be the first Twin to take home the hardware since Marty Cordova in 1995.
Kim Klement- USA Today Sports
Jose Berrios
Why He Should Win
Berrios has been slowly creeping up national prospect lists as he has dominated the upper levels of the minor leagues over the last two seasons. Last year, he led the minors in strikeouts and many Twins fans were clamoring to see him debut while the team was still in postseason contention. Many eyes will be on him as he makes his debut so this could set-up for him to shine while being in the spotlight. Combine his outstanding control with a tenacious work ethic and there's a recipe for a breakout star waiting to happen.

Why He Won't Win
There's little chance he will start the year in the Twins rotation. Other players like Tyler Duffy, Tommy Milone, Trevor May, or even Ricky Nolasco could get a shot to start before Berrios. He's also not on the 25-man roster at this point so the Twins would need to make room for him before his debut. Minnesota will keep him in the minors until at least June to avoid the Super-2 deadline and pick up an extra year of arbitration. Also, his innings have been limited in the past but the Twins have already said that he won't be limited this season.

Byron Buxton
Why He Should Win
Buxton's name is well known in baseball circles as he has been considered one of baseball's top prospects since being drafted by the Twins. If he's able to show some offensive improvements, there's no doubt that the other parts of his overall game would carry him to this award. He has the potential to be a base running threat and to be one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game. If his name is on the ballot, there's a good chance that the national writers will strongly consider him for the honor on name recognition alone.

Why He Won't Win
His offensive skills didn't shine through during his first taste of the big leagues and his playing time was inconsistent since the Twins were in the thick of the playoff race. There's also a chance that Minnesota could start Buxton at Rochester to let him build some confidence to start the season. If he struggles again on the offensive side of the ball, it would be a challenge for him to earn this award. The name recognition is there but he would need to be capable with the bat in order to be considered one of the three finalists.

Byung Ho Park
Why He Should Win
The Twins are going to want to give their new internationally signee as many opportunities as possible to be successful. This could mean the team will continue to play him even if he struggles. The Pirates Jung Ho Kang finished third in last year's National League Rookie of the Year balloting so the voters have recently considered a Korean for the top rookie honor. Park has shown tremendous power potential in Korea and the Twins hope he can translate that to the big league level. If he is putting up solid power numbers and playing on a consistent basis, he should be in the discussion by season's end.

Why He Won't Win
Transitioning from Korea to America can be a tough endeavor. There's a cultural and language barrier plus the level of competition jumps up significantly. Since the beginning of 2014, Park averaged over 150 strikeouts per season so he has struck out in over 30% of his at-bats. If that trend continues or if he raises those marks, it might be hard for voters to take him seriously. Minnesota could use Park in a platoon with Oswaldo Arcia and that would also cut back on the number of at-bats he receives.

Who do you think has the best shot at winning the award? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.