Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Twins Minor League Report (8/30): Bash Brothers, Bullpen Blow-Ups

Photo Credit: Mark J.. Rebilas, USA Today Sports
You get an award, you get an award, everybody gets an AWARD!

While this might not be completely true, two full-season leagues announced their post-season All-Star teams on Tuesday. Daniel Palka and Zack Granite were both named to the Southern Leage Post-Season All-Star Team. It was the second career Post-Season All-Star Selection for both players.

The Rochester Red Wings had one representative make the International League Post-Season All-Star team. Relief pitcher Edward Mujica only signed with the club on August and has pitched in three games for the squad. During that time he has yet to give up a run and he's struck out four. Before joining the Twins organization, he had been pitching in the IL for the Phillies organization and he leads the IL in saves.

Rochester 5, Syracuse 1 
Box Score

After a third inning injury to starter David Hurlbut, Rochester used an interesting conglomeration of pitchers to make it through this victory. Hurlbut cruised through the first two frames as he only allowed to base runners and struck out one. He didn't make a pitch in the third. Omar Bencomo replaced Hurlbut and pitched well as he struck out seven and limited the Chiefs to one run across 4.2 innings.

Bencomo ran into a little trouble in the top of the seventh inning as he surrendered the first Rochester run. Neil Ramirez was able to come on in relief and leave a runner in scoring position. Ramirez pitched the next inning as well and racked up three strikeouts along the way. 

Daniel Palka and Adam Brett Walker continued to match each other in the home run department. Palka hit a solo-shot in the seventh inning, his 33rd of the year and his 13th with Rochester. Walker is keeping the home run race close as he smacked his 27th long ball an inning later. 

Rochester is 3.5 games behind Lehigh Valley for the IL Wild Card spot with six games to play. Luckily five of their remaining games are against Lehigh Valley so their fate is in their own hands. If they win, they will be in. 

Chattanooga 3, Mississippi 6

Box Score
Chattanooga held a slim 3-2 lead entering the final frame but Raul Fernandez struggled to get out of his second inning on the mound. After getting the last out of the eighth, Fernandez came back for the ninth and was charged with four runs on five hits with a strikeout and a walk. Ryan Eades started and went six-strong innings by giving up two earned runs and striking out seven. Luke Bard pitched two-shutout frames with three strikeouts.

Tanner Witt went 3-for-4 with a triple and a run scored. Zack Granite and Edgar Corcino were both 2-for-4 while Granite stole his 53rd base on the season. D.J Hick reached base three times and scored a run. Overall, the team went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base.

The loss drops the Lookouts to 71-63 on the season and they currently sit at 35-28 in the second-half standings. With six games to play, the Lookouts are 2.5 games behind Montgomery for a playoff spot.

Fort Myers --, Palm Beach -- (Postponed)
The Miracle and the Cardinals were postponed on Tuesday night due to rain. The game will be made-up as part of doubleheader (two seven-inning contests) on Wednesday with the first game beginning at 5 p.m. Fort Myers sits three games back of the St. Lucie Mets for first place in the FSL South second-half standings. Their elimination number currently stands at four with the Jupiter Hammerheads also ahead of them in the standings.

Elizabethton 4, Greeneville 10
Box Score

The E-Twins never held a lead in this game until the bottom of the eighth inning. With the club trailing 3-1, Luis Martinez and Ariel Montesino walked to start the frame. After a fly out, Mitchel Kranson brought home a run to make the score 3-2. A two-out wild pitch would score the tying run before Shane Carrier would drive in the go-ahead run to cap a three-run inning.

Elizabethton was limited to three total hits but the team coaxed seven walks. Montesino, Martinez, and Amaurys Minier drew two walks each. Kranson, Carrier, and Caleb Hamilton were the lone batters with a hit to their name.

After allowing five runs in five innings the last time out, Alex Schick put the E-Twins in position to win. He was charged with two earned runs and struck out five. It was his first appearance since July 16 where he didn't allow a walk. Austin Tribby took over for Shick and went 2.1 innings while giving up a run.

Things blew up in the ninth. Colton Davis struck out the first batter before a walk, a single, and a hit by pitch left the bases loaded. Patrick McGuff came into the mess and allowed four more runs to score. That wasn't counting the three inherited runs that were charged to Davis. Overall, seven runs crossed the plate and the game was out of hand.  

GCL Twins 7, GCL Rays 4
Box Score

Earning a win is a weird statistic for pitchers. Bo Hellquist had given up a total of three earned runs in his last two starts (9.2 innings) and he took the loss in both of those appearances. In this game, he game up three earned runs and came away with a win. Those three earned runs pushed his season ERA over 2.00 for the first time since the beginning of August. He struck out six and walked none. Zach Strecker earned his sixth save after pitching 3.2 innings while striking out three.

Justin Hazard and Gorge Munoz lead the way on the offensive side. Both players went 2-for-5 with a home run and Munoz drove in three RBI. The top three batters in the order (Aaron Whitefield, Lean Marrero, and Kidany Salva) combined to go 7-for-14 with each batter collecting multiple hits. Marrero reached base three times and picked up his fifth double along with two RBI.

With the win the GCL Twins are tied with the GCL Red Sox for the top spot in the GCL South standings. This is the only division in the league that has yet to be determined. The GCL Twins have two games remaining on their schedule and both are against the GCL Rays. 

Pitcher of the Day – Omar Bencomo, Rochester Red Wings
Hitter of the Day – Gorge Munoz, GCL Twins

Rochester vs. Syracuse (6:05 CST) - RHP Jose Berrios (10-5, 2.44 ERA)
Chattanooga vs. Mississippi (1:15 CST) - RHP Felix Jorge (2-4, 4.17 ERA)
Fort Myers @ Palm Beach (4:00 CST) - RHP Miles Nordgren (1-4, 5.08 ERA) 

Fort Myers @ Palm Beach (Game 2) - TBD 
Cedar Rapids @ Wisconsin (7:05 CST) - RHP Sean Poppen (0-0, 1.00 ERA)
Elizabethton vs. Greenville (6:00 CST)- LHP Domenick Carlini (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
GCL Twins vs. GCL Rays (11:00AM CST) - TBD

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Broken Defensive Heart

Photo Credit: Mark L. Baer, USA Today Sports
It can be one of the most exciting plays in baseball.

A pitcher finds himself with runners on base before a perfectly placed pitch coaxes a ground ball to a middle infielder. After a flip to second and a laser throw to first, the defense is walking off the field. Fans in the stands get on their feet for the perfectly timed double-play.

But what's been the Twins' double play trouble this season?

Minnesota is actually near the top of the American League when it comes to turning double plays. Only the Texas Rangers have turned more double plays than the Minnesota Twins. On the surface, this seems like it could be a positive place for the Twins to be. But when one digs a little further, there are some hidden problems under the surface.

Twins pitchers have been able to collect more double plays because they are allowing more base runners than other teams. Minnesota has allowed the highest batting average in the AL by 13 points. They also rank last in WHIP, BABIP, and left on-base %. According to FanGraphs WAR, Twins pitchers only rank ahead of the Angles and they trail the Yankees, the highest ranking team, by over 10 WAR.

Another hidden problem has been Minnesota's defensive problems. The Twins's defense has a negative 33.5 defensive runs saved, the second worst mark in the American League. Following this weekend's tough series in Toronto, the Twins have now committed 100 defensive errors (55 fielding errors and 43 throwing errors). The next closest team in the AL is 17 errors behind the Twins.

Earlier this season, I discussed Minnesota's defensive dilemma and things haven't gotten better in the latest update (through August 7, 2016) of SABR's Defensive Index. Joe Mauer dropped from second to fourth among AL first basemen. Brian Dozier continues to rank near the bottom among second baseman with a -3.2 SDI. Like Dozier, Kurt Suzuki ranks as the third worst player at his position.

Other players haven't accumulated enough time to be featured in the rankings but there are still not many positive things on the horizon. Max Kepler has the most errors among all right fielders in the American League. Not to be outdone, Robbie Grossman has the most errors among all left fielders in the American League. Then there was this play from over the weekend.

If Minnesota wants to dig out of their current hole, there are plenty of changes that need to occur. One of the easiest ways to improve the pitching staff is to have better defense behind them. Twins' pitchers are giving up hits and the defense isn't helping the situation.

Even with double plays piling up, there are other glaring holes. Big innings can be avoided with better defense. Starters can make it longer into games with better defense. The bullpen can be relied on less often with better defense.

When fans walk through Gate 34, they pass a giant glove with all the names of former Gold Glove winners. Fielding was part of the heart of the organizational philosophy.

Now that heart seems to be broken.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Twins Minor League Report (8/25): Rochester Homer Party, Romero Rocks

Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons (Joe Maloney hugging Fernando Romero)
As August comes to a close, the minor league season is dwindling. For many of the Twins affiliates, playoff races are starting to heat up as teams try and stay in the hunt while holding off other opponents.

Minnesota might not be playing the best baseball so let's turn our attention to the future of the Twins. Would contending teams be able to pick up wins on Thursday night? Or would other teams push Minnesota's affiliates closer to being eliminated?

Rochester 6, Norfolk 2
Box Score

The home run party got started early for Rochester as Byron Buxton homered on the first pitch of the game. It was the second straight game Buxton has hit a home run. In the third, Buxton beat out an infield hit in front of a Tommy Field home run, his tenth of the season. One inning later, Daniel Palka blasted his 33rd home run of the season to push the lead to 4-1. 

Any Rochester home run part would not be complete without a bomb from Adam Brett Walker. He hit is league-leading 26th homer of the season. Walker has now hit safely in 11-straight games, the longest streak by a Red Wings player this season.

Home runs were not the only story in this one. Omar Bencomo pitched into the seventh inning on the way to his second victory with the club. His final line read 6.2 innings pitched while allowing one earned run on six hits with four strikeouts. D.J. Baxendale and Alex Wimmers combined for 2.1 shutout frames to close out the game. Baxendale struck out three.

Even with the win, Rochester is four games away from being eliminated from first place in the International League North. However, the club trails the Lehigh Valley IronPigs by four games for a wild card spot.

Chattanooga 7, Jacksonville 6

Box Score
After jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the middle innings, the Lookouts did their best to try and give this one back to the Suns. Chattanooga used an error and four singles to push across three runs in the top of the third. Zach Granite doubled to lead-off the fifth frame and would later come around on a Edgar Corcino two-run double.

Things got a little dicey from there as Jacksonville mounted their comeback. Ryan Eades had put up zeros through the first four frames but ran into a little trouble in the fifth and seventh innings. He ended the night after 6.2 innings and allowed four earned runs. Todd Van Steensel picked up his second hold since being promoted but he was charged with a run in 0.2 innings. Raul Fernandez blew the save in the eighth but earned the win after an interesting ninth.

Chattanooga capitalized on the opportunities they were given in the ninth. Niko Goodrum singled to start the frame. Tanner Witt sacrificed Goodrum to second before a wild pitch moved him to third. Levi Michael walked to put runners on the corners. Zach Granite would single to score Goodrum and move Michael into scoring position. A wild pitch would move both runners up a base and Engelb Vielma drove in Michael on a fielder's choice.

The Lookouts are 3.5 games out of first place in the Southern League North but there are currently two teams in front of them in the second-half standings (Jackson, the first half champs, and Montgomery).

Fort Myers 1, Palm Beach 0
Box Score

Fernando Romero was masterful on the mound in this contest. In seven scoreless innings, Romero faced just two batters over the minimum while striking out nine and walking none. Both hit he allowed were infield singles and 60 of his 87 pitches were for strikes.

While Romero was pitching well, Fort Myers wasn't able to strike until the seventh inning. Joe Maloney knocked a one-out double to put a runner in scoring position. After a strikeout, Christian Ibarra hit one up the middle and Maloney cruised around to score the lone run of the game.

Luke Westphal allowed one batter to reach on a walk with one out in the eighth. Luckily, he got a strike him out, throw him out double play to end the frame and keep the Miracle on top. Confesor Lara earned his third save with a scoreless final frame.

Fort Myers is one game out of first place with 10 games remaining on the regular season schedule.

Cedar Rapids 12, Quad Cities 1
Box Score

Cedar Rapids supported their pitchers very well in this one. The team pounded out 12 runs on 12 hit on the way to their 72nd victory of the season. Travis Blankenhorn drove in three runs and hit his first triple with Cedar Rapids. Luis Arraez went 2-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored. Jaylin Davis and Rainis Silva both had doubles to add to the scoring barrage.

Lachlan Wells had some control problems as he issued four walks in six innings. However, he limited the River Bandits to one hit and no earned runs on the way to his career high sixth victory. Max Cordy collected strikeouts for five of the six outs he was called on to get. He walked one and allowed a run on two hits. Logan Lombana struck out the first two batters he faced in the ninth before back to back doubles pushed across a run.

With a second-half record of 35-24, the Kernels are currently in second place in the Midwest League Western Division. If the playoffs started today, Cedar Rapids would be in based on finishing second. They are currently 3.5 games ahead of third place Burlington.

Elizabethton 0, Johnson City 11
Box Score

Things got ugly in a hurry in this one and didn't get much better. Elizabethton allowed runs in all but two innings and the team committed four errors. All but one batter in the E-Twins line-up reached base at least once but no one had multiple hits and there weren't any extra-base hits. Alex Kirilloff reached base twice with two walks. Amaurys Minier went 1-for-3 with a walk.

Jose Martinez took the bulk of the damage on the mound. Eight runs were scored while he pitched with six of them being earned. He allowed two home runs and struck out one. Austin Tribby was charged with two earned runs on five hits with three walks and a couple strikeouts. Johan Quezada pitched the last 2.2 frames and limited Johnson City to three hits and one earned run.

Even with the loss, the E-Twins would be in the playoffs if they started today. They currently sit in second place in the Appalachian League West and the top two teams in the division make the playoffs. Elizabethton is 5.5 games up on the third place Greeneville Astros.

GCL Twins 2, GCL Orioles 9
Box Score

The GCL Twins found themselves down 6-1 after three innings in this one and they didn't have much in the tank to make a comeback. Huascar Ynoa took his fifth loss of the season after not being charged with a loss since July 27. He allowed five earned runs in 2.2 innings with five strikeouts and two walks. Zach Strecker surrendered three earned runs on five hits in 4.1 innings with a pair of strikeouts. Juan Gamez ended the game with two scoreless frames. 

No Twins batter had more than one hit and the team went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Aaron Whitefield reached base three times out of the lead-off spot and he is still batting over .300 for the season. Gorge Munoz had the team's only extra-base hit, a double. Akil Baddoo walked twice and scored a run. 

Even with the loss, the GCL Twins only trail the GCL Red Sox by one game for first place in the GCL South Division. 

Pitcher of the Day – Fernando Romero, Fort Myers Miracle
Hitter of the Day – Byron Buxton, Rochester Red Wings

Rochester @ Scranton/WB (6:05 CST) - LHP Adalberto Mejia (1-2, 4.66 ERA)
Chattanooga @ Jacksonville (6:05 CST) - RHP Felix Jorge (1-4, 4.38 ERA)
Fort Myers @ Jupiter (5:30 CST) - RHP Dereck Rodriguez (1-1, 1.83 ERA) 

Cedar Rapids @ Clinton (6:30 CST) - RHP Tyler Beardsley (0-2, 3.60 ERA)
Elizabethton vs. Burlington (6:00 CST)- RHP Miguel De Jesus (0-2, 3.21 ERA)
GCL Twins vs. GCL Red Sox (11:00AM CST) - TBD

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Dozier's Not Jerking Around

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
Baseball has a long season. Players show up in early spring and play well into the fall with few days off in-between. How many players can continue to be successful over the course of 162 games? This grueling nature of the game is one of the things that attracts fans of all ages.

Slumps are something players in baseball try to avoid. The best players can avoid prolonged slumps. Brian Dozier has been no stranger to slumps throughout his career. So what adjustments has Dozier made during this season's second half? Let's look back before we look forward.

In recent years, the season's second half has not been kind to Brian Dozier. In 2014, Dozier hit 18 home runs in the first half and stole 16 bases. It looked like he could be on his way to a 30-30 season. Things slowed down in the second half as he was limited to five home runs and five steals. His OBP jumped up 12 points but his power numbers declined.

Dozier's 2015 second half slump was even worse. He was selected to his first All-Star Game based on hitting 19 home runs with a .841 OPS in the first half. His batting average dropped almost 50 points in the second half and his OPS dipped to .639. His nine home runs were good but not nearly as good as his 19 first half long balls.

This season has taken on a very different trend for Mr. Dozier. He struggled out of the gate as he was hitting under .195 after the first month of the season with only three home runs. In fact, the second month of the season didn't go much better. On June 5, he was hitting .206/.299/.351 with six home runs and 10 doubles.

A walk near the end of May might have been the key to Dozier's turn around. It also signals the first time in his career where his second half numbers are going to be much better than his first half totals. Dozier told the Pioneer Press, "The whole thing is staying behind the ball. Knock on wood, I don't feel like I'll fall into the habit of jerking it again. It just comes natural now."

Dozier has been on quite the tear. Since the June 5 date mentioned above, he has hit .310/.370/.660 with 22 home runs, five triples, and 18 doubles across 68 games. His 97 long balls also leads all MLB second baseman since 2013. While last season Dozier saw his second half OPS drop to .639, this year he has an eye-popping 1.048 second-half OPS. That total ranks him sixth in all of baseball and fourth in the American League.

Take a look at Dozier's hit chart from last year to this year. In 2015, it looks like he was definitely falling into his habit of jerking the ball. Almost all of his power and almost all of his hits were left of second base.
While this season hasn't been a complete shift away from pulling the ball, Dozier has started to use more of the field. He's finding more hits right of second base and he is even finding some power to the opposite field.

At 29 years old, Dozier might be finally be settling into a more veteran approach at the plate. Dozier's defense continues to be sub-par at second base but his offensive totals are more than making up for his defensive ineptitude. He's one of the team leaders on and off the field but is this new and improved version of Dozier going to last? Or will he fall back into his old habit of jerking the ball?

Only time will tell...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Twins Minor League Report (8/16): Blankenhorn Blast Powers Kernels Win

Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons (Joe Maloney)
How many double headers can be played in one day? The Twins farm system tried their best to answer this question on Tuesday

There were a trio of double headers up and down the Twins system on Tuesday. The Miracle, Kernels, and DSL Twins all had to make-up from some weather issues in the last month. This lead to a jam pack Monday schedule with plenty of chances for players to shine.

Chattanooga had a scheduled off day and the GCL Twins were postponed but all the other teams were in action. What players would stand out above the crowd? Read on to find out.

Rochester 0, Buffalo 3
Box Score

For the third straight start, Nick Greenwood pitched at least seven innings and allowed three runs or fewer. On Monday night, he tossed seven innings while scattering seven hits. He struck out three and walked three but left the mound trailing 2-0. Neil Ramirez came on in relief and allowed a solo home run during his inning of work. 

Unfortunately, the Rochester offense couldn't get going in this one. The team combined for five hits, went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, and left six men on base. Adam Brett Walker collected two of the team's six hits but he also struck out twice. Daniel Palka added his 12th double, the team's lone extra-base knock. Mitch Garver reached base twice and is hitting .375 since being promoted. Byron Buxton was 0-for-4 out of the lead off spot. 

The loss drops the Red Wings to 68-56 on the season as they sit nine games out of first place in the International League North. Luckily, Rochester finds themselves 4.5 games behind Lehigh Valley the wild card spot with 19 games to play. This includes what could be a pivotal four game home and home series to end the regular season against Lehigh Valley. 

Fort Myers 1, St. Lucie 0 (Game 1- 8 Innings)
Box Score

In what was scheduled to be a seven inning contest, the pitching staffs for both teams combined to put up zeros until the eighth frame. Christian Ibarra singled to lead-off the inning and was immediately replaced with pinch runner Sean Miller. With Nick Gordon batting, Miller advanced to second on a wild pitch. Gordon was able advance Miller to third on a deep fly to left. Joe Maloney brought home Miller on a ground ball single.

Maloney finished the game 2-for-4 with the only RBI for either team. Alex Perez picked up a pair of hits in three trips to the plate. Nick Gordon and Christian Ibarra both finished 1-for-4. Overall, the team went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Sam Clay had orginally started this resumed game and made it through one inning. He walked two and didn't allow an earned run. Luke Westphal and Michael Theofanopoulos each pitched 3.1 scoreless innings while combining to strike out seven. Todd Van Steensel picked up his third win after recording the final out of the eighth inning.

Fort Myers 6, St. Lucie 8 (Game 2)
Box Score

Game two started off worse for Fort Myers as they saw St. Lucie jump out to an 8-1 lead by the end of the third. Joe Maloney had spotted the Miracle an early 1-0 lead on his third home run. In the fifth inning, Fort Myers tried to crawl back into the contest. Alex Perez walked in front of a Trey Vavra single. Following a double-play, Tanner English slashed a triple to score Perez. Sean Miller drove in English with a double.

Things got even more interesting in the final frame. After back-to-back singles from Brad Hartong and Daniel Kihle, Christian Ibarra hit a three-run blast to cut the lead to 8-6. The comeback attempt ended there as the next two batters failed to reach base.

Randy LeBlanc started and was charged with eight earned runs on 10 hits. He struck out one and walked two. Cam Booser tossed three shutout frames while striking out six. It was the first time all season where Booser pitched more than two innings and the six strike outs tied a career high.

Cedar Rapids 1, Peoria 10 (Game 1- 7 Innings)
Box Score

Sam Gibbons was roughed up in this one for seven earned run in less than five inning of work. The Chiefs pounded out four first inning runs on the way to the blowout win. Gibbons walked two and struck out two as he was charged with his first loss since May 5. Max Cordy allowed two runs on four hits with three strikeouts in relief.

Luis Arraez was the lone batter to record multiple hits as he finished 2-for-3. Travis Blakenhorn picked up his third double since being promoted and he scored the team's only run. J.J. Fernandez finished 1-for-3 with an RBI. On the defensive side of the ball, Zander Wiel was charged with his 15th error at first base.

Cedar Rapids 7, Peoria 2 (Game 2- 7 Innings)
Box Score

Cedar Rapids didn't want a nail biter in game two as they pounded out seven runs on ten hits. Travis Blankenhorn hit his first Low-A home run, a two-run shot to give the Kernels a 2-1 lead. In the fifth inning, Cedar Rapids pushed across four runs with the biggest hit being a two-run triple by Zander Wiel. He would finish the game 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, and two runs scored. Blankenhorn and Jaylin Davis both picked up two hits and combined for four RBI.

Brady Anderson pitched six strong innings by allowing one run on four hits. He struck out four and walked one. In four of his last five starts, he has pitched six innings and allowed one run or fewer. Williams Ramirez ran into a little trouble in the final frame as he walked a couple batters with two outs but it wasn't nearly enough

Elizabethton 7, Johnson City 17
Box Score
The E-Twins found themselves in the middle of quite the slugfest but they didn't have nearly enough firepower on this night. Johnson City pounded out 17 runs on 21 hits with all but one batter in their line-up reaching base multiple times. Ryan Mason started and was charged with seven earned runs on nine hits. He struck out two and walked one. Quin Grogan allowed five runs in his three innings with a pair of strikeouts. Austin Tribby closed things out as he allowed five runs in the final two frames. 

Lewin Diaz collected his eighth home run, a three-run shot in the third inning. This kept the game closer at the time. Ariel Montesino scored a pair of runs out of the lead-off spot and hit his third double. Caleb Hamilton drove in two runs as part of a multi-hit night. Alex Kirilloff went 0-for-5 but managed to score a run.

The E-Twins might have been looking forward to Wednesday's off day a little early as the club will have to recover from this lopsided affair. 

Pitcher of the Day – Brady Anderson, Cedar Rapids Kernels
Hitter of the Day – Joe Maloney, Fort Myers Miracle

Rochester at Buffalo (12:05 CST) - LHP Andrew Albers (9-5, 3.51 ERA)
Chattanooga vs. Montgomery (6:05 CST) - LHP Stephen Gonsalves (5-1, 2.01 ERA)
Fort Myers @ St. Lucie (5:30 CST) - TBD

Cedar Rapids @ Peoria (7:00 CST) - RHP Eduardo Del Rosario (4-2, 4.38 ERA)
Elizabethton- Scheduled Off Day
GCL Twins @ GCL Rays (11:00AM CST) - TBD

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kepler Versus Buxton Has Become No Contest

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
In the prospect ranking department there are always players that fall slip through the cracks. For instance, take a look at Brian Dozier. As Nick wrote about on Monday, Dozier hit a combined total of 16 home runs over 1,600 plate appearances in the minors.

Needless to say, Dozier was never featured on any national top 100 prospect lists before evolving into possibly the best power hitting second baseman in the game. Sometimes prospects slip through the cracks before putting it all together and other times great prospects fail.

The Twins currently have an interesting situation unfolding with two young players. Byron Buxton was touted as one of the best prospects in the game after the Twins made him the second overall selection. In fact, he has been ranked as the first or second best prospect each of the last three seasons by Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus.

Like Dozier before him, Max Kepler has been a very different story in the prospect world. The 23-year old has moved slowly through the Twins system in the seven years since he signed. It wasn't until last season when he made his presence known. He hit .322/.416/.531 with 54 extra-base hits on the way to being named the Southern League MVP.

National prospect list took note of Kepler's breakout campaign and he found himself sprinkled on multiple lists entering this season. Baseball American had him 30th, MLB.com had him 44th, and Baseball Prospectus had him all the way back at 66th. Not nearly as high as Buxton but that's not how these rankings are put together.

Kepler already has more home runs this season than his last two minor league seasons combined. He's getting on base over 33% of the time and his .508 slugging percentage ranks second among rookies in the American League. He is establishing himself as one of the best hitters in the Twins line-up while continually being penciled into the middle of the order.

Meanwhile, Buxton's struggles have been well documented during his big league tenure. Pitchers are constantly getting ahead of him and Buxton has a 36.7 K%. He's now toiling at Rochester where he has slugged .982 this season while Kepler continues to thrive in Minnesota.

Kepler's performance has been clearly superior to Buxton and that can show why prospect lists are fickle. Buxton could eventually put it all together and be the five-tool player most thought he would become.

Kepler versus Buxton might be no contest for now but Twins fans should be patient. No matter what the results are now, both players are going to need to perform well for the Twins to return to their former glory.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Twins Minor League Report (8/9): Steele Shines, Kernels Implode

Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons
With less than a month left in the minor league season, teams need to make their move for any potential playoff run. For Minnesota's affiliates, Tuesday's action came with a ton of roster moves throughout the system.

Infielders Travis Blankenhorn and Brandon Lopez moved up from Elizabethton to Cedar Rapids. In a corresponding move, Christian Ibarra was promoted to Fort Myers and Manuel Guzman was moved down to Elizabethton.

Rochester sent out quite the updated list of roster moves. Three players were added to the roster. Byron Buxton was optioned from Minnesota and Mitch Garver and Leonardo Reginatto were transferred from Double-A Chattanooga. Infielder Heiker Meneses came off the disabled list and was sent to Double-A while RHP Marcus Walden was added to the DL with a right shoulder strain. TJ White was also moved from Fort Myers up to Chattanooga.

Baseball can be a cruel game too for players trying to find a spot on a roster. After all the other moves of the day, outfielder Darin Mastroianni and infielder Buck Britton were released from their contracts.

Rochester 4, Syracuse 6
Box Score

Pat Dean ran into a little bit of a buzzsaw in the third inning of this contest. After making it through the first two innings, Dean was knocked around for six runs in the third while only collecting one out. He wouldn't make it out of the frame after allowing 10 hits. The Rochester bullpen trio of DJ Baxendale, Ryan O'Rourke, and Pat Light didn't allow a run the rest of the way as the Red Wings attempted their comeback.

Daniel Palka had gotten Rochester out to an early lead with a solo home run to lead off the top of the sixth. Tommy Field doubled to start the sixth but was left at second with two outs. Adam Brett Walker wouldn't leave him hanging as he cracked his third triple of the season. James Beresford joined Walker with a triple of his own in the seventh inning before a Wilfredo Tovar single brought him home. 

Rochester got the tying run on base in the ninth inning but the comeback stopped there. Walker and Field both collected three hits while Beresford crossed the plate twice. Byron Buxton wasn't in the starting line-up but made an appearance as a pinch runner in the final inning. 

Chattanooga 0, Jacksonville 3

Box Score
Before tonight's action, the Lookouts reset their rotation for the rest of the season. LHP Stephen Gonsalves was given an extra day of rest before reentering the rotation. RHP Felix Jorge starts tonight's contest followed by Gonsalves, RHP Aaron Slegers, RHP Kohl Stewart, and LHP David Hurlbut. 

Jorge and the Lookouts were locked up in a pitchers duel in this one. Jorge put up zeros through five innings before allowing a solo home run in the sixth. He came out for the seventh and collected first two outs quickly before three straight hits pushed across two runs and he exited the game. Jorge struck out two and walked one. Zack Jones finished off the seventh inning and worked a perfect eighth frame while collecting three strikeouts. Jake Reed pitched a shutout ninth inning with a strikeout. 

The Lookouts were limited to five hits in the game with no batters collecting multiple hits. The team only had one opportunity to bat with runners in scoring position and it came with two outs in the inning. Every batter besides Shannon Wilkerson reached base at least once. 

Fort Myers 0, St. Lucie 1 (7 Innings- Game 1)
Box Score

After being rained out on Monday night, the Miracle found themselves in a pitcher's duel in the first game of their double header. Keaton Steele pitched all seven innings for Fort Myers but ended up taking the tough luck loss.

After allowing a lead-off double in the fourth frame, he almost wriggled out of the inning unscathed. Unfortunately, a two-out double would push across the only run of the game. Steele dropped to 5-10 with the loss but it was his third straight start where he pitched at least six innings and gave up two earned runs or fewer. He struck out three and walked one.

Only three Miracle batters were able to record hits. AJ Murray reached base twice in his three plate appearances before being lifted for a pinch runner. Joe Maloney and Chris Paul both went 1-for-3. Fort Myers never had a runner reach second base.

Fort Myers --, St. Lucie -- (PPD- Game 2)
Tuesday's second game was washed out and has been rescheduled as part of a doubleheader on Wednesday night. The Miracle will try and play two seven-inning games on Wednesday if the weather will finally cooperate. 

Cedar Rapids 6, Peoria 8
Box Score

Cedar Rapids looked to be sailing to their 62nd victory as they took a 5-2 lead into the final inning. Brady Anderson pitched six solid innings as the only run scored against him was unearned. He found his way out of four walks and five hits but the Kernels were in position to win when he left the mound.

Zander Wiel got the scoring started with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first. It was his 14th home run of the season. Cedar Rapids would push another run across in the fourth. Casey Scoggins would walk in front of a Sean Miller single to put two runners on base. Luis Arraes doubled to score Scoggins from second but the Kernels left two runners on base in the frame. JJ Fernandez started the seventh with a triple before being knocked in by a Rainis Silva single. Silva would later score on a fielding error to make the lead 5-2.

The ninth inning got ugly in a hurry for the bullpen. Andrew Vasquez pitched the seventh and eighth without any issues but he allowed the first two batters to reach in the ninth. Max Cordy didn't fare much better as the first two batters he faced collected singles before a Jaylin Davis fielding error allowed another run to score. After coaxing two outs, Cordy hurled a wild pitch that was followed by a single and a double as the game slipped out of hand.

Elizabethton 6, Danville 3
Box Score
The E-Twins took advantage of six (yeah, count'em... six) fielding errors by Danville on their way to their 23rd victory of the season.  Elizabethton didn't record an extra-base hit but the team went 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Ben Rortvedt was the lone batter with multiple hits including an RBI. Shane Carrier scored two runs and first round pick Alex Kirilloff was 1-for-4.

Tyler Wells put together his best start of the season for his second win. He went six strong innings while scattering five hit and two earned runs. Wells struck out four and walked two. Domenick Carlini earned his first save in unconventional fashion by tossing three frames. He allowed one unearned run and struck out four. 

Pitcher of the Day – Keaton Steele, Fort Myers Miracle
Hitter of the Day – Adam Brett Walker, Rochester Red Wings

Rochester at Syracuse (5:35 CST) - LHP Adalberto Mejia (0-1, 2.57 ERA)
Chattanooga- Scheduled Off Day
Fort Myers vs St. Lucie (4:00 CST) -RHP Randy LeBlanc (4-5, 4.25 ERA)

Fort Myers vs St. Lucie (Game 2- Makeup of 8/9 PPD)- LHP Sam Clay (1-1, 4.15 ERA)
Cedar Rapids @ Kane County (6:30 CST) - RHP Dereck Rodriguez (2-11, 5.73 ERA)
Elizabethton at Kingsport (6:00 CST) - TBD
GCL Twins @ GCL Orioles (11:00AM CST) - TBD

GCL Twins vs. GCL Orioles (Game 2- Makeup of 8/9 PPD)- TBD

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Painted Into A Corner (Infield Crunch)

Photo Credit: Richard Mackson, USA Today Sports
Something had to change. MLB rosters are limited to 25 active players each day and someone wasn't going to be around when Trevor Plouffe returned from injury. Paul Molitor discussed the possibility of demoting Miguel Sano before his big weekend in Tampa Bay. Sano stayed and Byron Buxton was expendable as he continues to struggle at baseball's highest level.

This recent roster shake-up brought to the forefront a glaring roster issue. Minnesota currently has a plethora of options when it comes to corner infielders and designated hitters. There are also other alternatives playing well in the minor leagues. It's important to have plenty of hitting options but the Twins 40-man roster is overloaded and something is going to have to change moving in 2017.

Each player offers a different skill set so the new general manager will likely have some tough decisions to make in regards to each of these players.

Joe Mauer, 1B
Contract Status: Signed thru 2018
Mauer is in year six of his eight year deal and this season marked his third since being forced to move out from behind the plate. He has been one of the best defensive first baseman in the American League. His offensive numbers have struggled as he transitioned to first base but there have been flashes of the old Mauer this season as he has posted a .382 OBP and a .795 OPS. Mauer isn't going anywhere so he will be part of the big picture next season.

Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible 2017, Free Agent 2018
Plouffe's days in Minnesota seemed to be numbered and he might have already been traded if he were healthy leading into this year's trade deadline. Plouffe became serviceable at third base after working hard on his defense but those skills seem to be declining now that he is in his 30's. He's hit 14 or more home runs in each of the last four seasons and has a career OPS over .720.  With younger and cheaper options already on the roster, this might be Plouffe's last season in Minnesota.

Miguel Sano, 3B/DH
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible 2019, Free Agent 2022
There was probably little chance of Sano putting up the number he did during his 80 game rookie campaign. Things were going to come back down to earth. Minnesota's attempt to turn him into an outfielder was a massive failure and now he has struggled as he transitions back to third base. He currently ranks fifth on the team in fWAR and his 18 home runs are four behind Brian Dozier for the team lead. Even with the rumblings out the Twin Cities that Sano might not be working hard enough, he's still on track to be one of baseball's best power hitters.

Kennys Vargas, 1B/DH
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible 2018, Free Agent 2022
Vargas has been up and down during his big league tenure. He showed some promising signs as a rookie back in 2014 with nine home runs and a .772 OPS across 53 games. Last year wasn't nearly as good as he struggled to hit over .240 and his slugging percentage dipped to .349. Since being recalled this season, Vargas has been one of the team's best hitters. Vargas is hitting .278/.404/.569 with 13 extra-base hits in 21 games. If he continues this pace, Minnesota might have to consider him for the full-time DH role in 2017.

Byung-Ho Park, 1B/DH
Contract Status: Signed thru 2019, Team Option for 2020
Park held his own during the first month of the season with a .848 OPS and six home runs. Things took a nose dive from there as he hit .136/.224/.303 for the month of June. In 26 games since being demoted to Triple-A, he has hit nine home runs and compiled a .862 OPS. However, his batting average is .234 and he's only getting on base 31% of the time. With other players doing well in front of him, there doesn't look to be a spot for Mr. Park. His story line will be an interesting one to follow in the coming months.

Even with this list of players, there are others making their way to Target Field that could be better suited for a designated hitter role. Adam Brett Walker continues to mash home runs at every level. Daniel Palka has been powerful during his first season in the organization and could be added to the 40-man roster in the off-season. Where do both of these players fit into the team's long-term plans?

Minnesota's offense seems to be clicking so maybe having lots of power hitting options is a positive. This still leaves the new general manager with an interesting corner to paint themselves out of during the offseason. Time will tell about which players will make their mark for 2017 and beyond.

If you are the GM, what corner infield options will be on your roster? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Death Of The Ticket Stub

As a nine-year old boy going to my first big league game, I tried to soak in everything around me. The sounds of the game, the smells of the Metrodome, and the feel of the warm hot dog in my hand were all part of my exposure. This was an experience like nothing I had felt before and I wanted to cherish every moment.

When my family got back to the car, the first thing I did was grab everyone's ticket stub. Maybe they reminded me of the boxes of trading cards I had in my room at home. Maybe they were a cheap way for me to remember the events of the day. Either way it was the start of something more.

To this day, I have kept at least one ticket stub from every MLB game I have attended. However, the future is changing and the ticket stub is slowly dying. Ticket stubs are a physical representation of childhood and historical memories. Kirby Puckett's walk-off hit, Target Field's first game, or even the 2014 All-Star Game are all important Twins memories and they are all stubs I proudly display.

As technology has increased, the use of actual printed tickets from professional sports teams has declined. Fans can print out their tickets at home or have them sent to their phone. As the Vikings open US Bank Stadium this fall, all season ticket holders will only have electronic versions of their tickets.

Major League Baseball wants to see the end of the traditional ticket stubs sales. According to Market Watch, in 2012 "the traditional ticket stub accounted for less than a third of single-game seats sold this past season, down from 55% in 2011." This number will only continue to shrink as most fans have apps on their phones like Apple's Wallet or the MLB Ballpark App that make it easy to transfer tickets at the click of a button.

Bob Bowman, President of Business and Media of Major League Baseball, knows it will still take time for there to be a complete shift away from paper tickets. "It's been a tradition of 100 years, and some traditions die harder than others," he said.

In 2014, the Los Angeles Dodgers all but did away with paper tickets. They called it a fan enhancement because fans could transfer tickets easily to friends, clients, or sell them on the secondary market. Some fans even started petitions to bring back their paper tickets. When Clayton Kershaw tossed a no-hitter later that year, the Dodgers printed commemorative tickets for their season ticket holders.

I recently interviewed Dave St. Peter, the Twins President, about the shift in the ticket market. He said, "Including 'Print at Home' capability, roughly 35% of our total tickets are in electronic form. Less than 10% of our current tickets are used via a mobile device." When I asked him if he sees a time when all MLB tickets will be electronic, he said, "That's certainly a goal, but it's going to take some time for it to become reality."

St. Peter went on to say, "The Twins will continue to migrate more fans to digital tickets in 2017 and beyond." However, "That being said, current plans call for 'Print at Home' capability to remain an option."

The owner of FAN HQ, a Minnetonka based chain of sports apparel and memorabilia, Shaun Hagglund told me, "It's too bad hard tickets are going the way of printer tickets or even electronic tickets." He continued by saying, "Not only did they serve as a personal memento for a game attended, they were also unique items to have autographed by players who made an impact in a particular game or had a milestone event- first game, 3,000 hit, etc."

Ticket stubs will always be part of baseball's history. They are a collector's item that continues to be harder and harder to find. Actual ticket stubs might be relegated to Cooperstown relics but that takes nothing away from baseball's past and the ticket's tiny slice of history.

I was at Target Field this weekend but my tickets were in electronic form. The nine-year old kid in me looked through the stands after the game to come away with a rare relic to add to my ticket collection.

The ticket stub might be on it's death bed but that doesn't mean fans have to forget about this important part of baseball history.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Twins Minor League Report (8/2): Walker Homers, Plouffe Rehabs

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports
Not every prospect is going to make it to their ultimate goal. That's the nature of baseball. However, last year's Southern League MVP Max Kepler is sure making hitting at the big league level look pretty easy.

A night after becoming the fifth Twins player with three home runs in a game, Kepler cranked another one out in Cleveland. His 13 home runs since June 26 are the most in the American League (two ahead of Brian Dozier). Minnesota's 49 home runs are the most during that same stretch.

Are any players following in Kepler's footsteps? Read on to find out.

Rochester 6, Pawtucket 3
Box Score

With Monday's trade deadline passing, there were a flurry of roster moves that impacted the Rochester roster. Newly acquired pitchers Adalberto Mejia and Pat Light were both assigned to the Red Wings. Trevor Plouffe also joined Rochester as part of his rehab assignment. 

On Tuesday, Jason Wheeler didn't have his best stuff but he was still able to put the Red Wings in position to come out on top. While pitching into the sixth frame, he gave up three runs on nine hits with two strikeouts and a walk. DJ Baxendale, Sean Burnett, and JT Chargois put up zeros the rest of the way to close out the win. Chargois allowed two base runners in the ninth but still earned his ninth save.

Trevor Plouffe helped get things started for Rochester as he singled to start the second frame. Adam Brett Walker followed with his 21st home run. Things kept moving with Logan Schafer singling before stealing second base. Wilfredo Tovar doubled in Schafer and John Ryan Murphy capped the four run inning with an RBI single. 

Schafer reached base in all four plate appearances including a three hit night. He also threw out a runner for his fourth outfield assist. Plouffe finished 2-for-4 with a run scored. Daniel Palka and Byung Ho Park each added a double as part of the Triple-P (Palka, Park, Plouffe) middle of the line-up.

Chattanooga --, Mobile -- (Postponed- Rain)

After being rained out on Tuesday, the Lookouts sit at 56-51 on the season and 20-17 in the second half. Kohl Stewart was a tough luck loser as he threw six innings and allowed one earned run but still took the loss. Monday's trade deadline impacted the Chattanooga roster as Alan Busenitz, the minor league player included with Hector Santiago, was assigned to the Lookouts. 

Cedar Rapids 5, Burlington 11
Box Score
The Kernels tied things up in the top of the seventh inning at 5-5 but the bullpen imploded in the bottom part of the frame. Kuo Hua Lo allowed nine runs, six earned, on eight hits including two home runs. Sam Gibbons started and scattered six hits while limiting the Bees to two earned runs. He struck out two and walked three. Tom Hackimer pitched 1.1 scoreless innings to end the game.

Even in victory, the Bees couldn't get Luiz Arraez out in this game. Arraez finished with a career-high five hits along with two RBI. He is hitting .335 with the Kernels this year. JJ Fernandez collected his 22nd double as part of a two hit effort. Chris Ibarra also had a double and those were the only extra-base hits for Cedar Rapids.

Elizabethton 6, Princeton 12
Box Score
The E-Twins offense had plenty of opportunities with runners in scoring position but the club went 2-for-16 in those situations and left nine runners on base. Shane Carrier led the way offensively by going 3-for-5 with a home run, a double, and two RBI. Alex Kirilloff, Amaurys Minier, and Travis Blankenhorn all went 2-for-5 with each player adding a double. It was Kirilloff's eighth double and he's up to 21 RBI.

Blankenhorn had a very rough night in the field as he was charged with three errors, one fielding and two throwing. Add in an Ariel Montesino throwing error and there were seven unearned runs scored against the E-Twins pitching staff. 

Tyler Wells couldn't make it through four innings and allowed six earned runs on eight hits. Alex Robinson pitched 2.1 innings and limited the Rays to one run on a solo home run. Austin Tribby was asked to get a few extra outs as four unearned runs were scored with him on the mound. Quin Grogan finished the game with a pair of strikeouts in 1.1 innings of work. 

GCL Twins 6, GCL Orioles 1
Box Score

Huascar Ynoa put the GCL Twins in a great position to win after hurling five shutout frames. He limited the Rays to one hit with five strikeouts and one walk. Onas Fanfar kept the shutout going with three scoreless frames while striking out three. Moises Gomez ran into a little trouble in the ninth by giving up a run on two hits and two walks. Garrett Kelly finished off the final frame for his second save. 

Every Twins hitter reached base at least once but the club didn't manage a single extra-base hit. Gorge Munoz drove in two runs as part of a two hit effort. He also stole his fifth base. Aaron Whitefield scored three runs out of the the lead-off spot. The win moves the GCL Twins to two games over .500 and the team is in the midst of a three game winning streak. 

Pitcher of the Day – Huascar Ynoa, GCL Twins
Hitter of the Day – Shane Carrier, Elizabethton Twins

Rochester vs Pawtucket (6:05 CST) - LHP Pat Dean (4-6, 5.29 ERA)
Chattanooga @ Mobile (5:05 CST) - TBD (Rain delay could alter rotation)

Chattanooga @ Mobile (Game 2) - TBD
Fort Myers @ Bradenton (5:30 CST) -LHP Randy Rosario (6-6, 3.60 ERA)
Cedar Rapids vs Clinton (6:35 CST) - TBD
GCL Twins vs GCL Rays (11:00AM CST) - TBD

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