Monday, September 26, 2016

Can Derek Falvey Be The New Andy MacPhail?

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports
The Minnesota Twins of the early-1980's were bad... like really bad... like almost as bad as the Twins of the last handful of years. There was a 100-loss season in 1982 as well as multiple 90 loss seasons as a new age of young players took their lumps. As these players gained their footing, Minnesota would win two World Series titles in a five year span.

When Calvin Griffith sold the Twins to Carl Pohlad, the new ownership group looked for a young, up-and-coming executive to bring the team back from the abyss. Andy MacPhail, a 33-year old with two years experience as an assistant GM, was handed the reigns and the rest is history.

Putting trust in a young, unproven leader worked for the Twins in the late-1980's. Now Twins fans hope that history will repeat itself.

Sources point to the Twins hiring 33-year-old Derek Falvey from the Cleveland Indians as their new president of baseball operations. Minnesota wanted a new voice at the front of their baseball operations and Falvey is half as old as former GM Terry Ryan. To put this in more perspective, Falvey is the same age as current Twins player Joe Mauer.

Falvey has moved swiftly through the Indians organization as he started as his baseball career as an intern in 2007. In less than a decade, he moved up to assistant general manager. During the last calendar year, he will have moved from director of baseball operations to assistant GM and now to president of baseball operations.

As I mentioned at the end of last week, Falvey's young age and rapid rise in the Indians organization could all help his cause. The Twins don't switch front office personnel very often so a young, passionate person could hold down the spot for years. It's going to take a massive shift to move Minnesota from the bottom of the standings and a lot will be riding on the shoulders of Mr. Falvey.

MacPhail has gone on to work as the Preisdent and CEO of the Cubs, the President of Baseball Operations in Baltimore, and he currently serves as the President of the Philadelphia Phillies. Even with all of these stops, one of his biggest accomplishments might have been rebuilding the Twins pitching staff leading into 1987 and overhauling the rotation going into 1991.

Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven and Les Straker led the 1987 rotation with Jeff Reardon in the closer role. Jack Morris, Scott Erickson, and Kevin Tapani were the top three starters in 1991 with Rick Aguilera as the closer. "We had to turn the entire pitching staff over in a four-year period, which was no easy feat," MacPhail said. He went on to say it took "a little bit of everything" to turn the pitching staff around.

Now Falvey is tasked with a similar challenge including turning around a pitching staff with an AL's worst ERA. Falvey's current team, the Indians, are on their way to winning the AL Central and their pitchers have the AL's best ERA. Falvey currently oversees the Indians' whole pitching program and that might be one of the main reasons he is ending up in the Twins front office.

Only time will tell if Falvey can find some of the same magic that surround MacPhail and the Twins two World Series rosters. Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios could end up following in the footsteps of Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, and Scott Erickson.

Those days seem a long ways off but Falvey provides some hope for a better tomorrow even if a World Series title seems years away.

What can Falvey do to overhaul the rotation? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

President Candidates Narrowed To Five

Photo Credit: Jerry Lai, USA Today Sports
Minnesota's search for a new president of baseball operations might be getting closer to completion. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press reports the Twins front-office interviews could stop at five candidates. The list includes one internal option and four options with various roles throughout baseball.

As recently as last week, there were reports that "multiple GM types have rebuffed" the Twins interest. There are plenty of issues within the offices of 1 Twins Way and it is going to take some time to rebuild the team's infrastructure.

With a young core that includes the likes of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, there are pieces to build around. Minnesota also looks to be headed toward the number one overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. This would be another cornerstone piece and an attractive incentive for a potential hire.

So who are the candidates and what should fans know about their credentials?

Rob Antony
Current Position: Interim GM, Minnesota Twins
Antony is the only internal candidate that will be granted a formal interview for the Twins' president of baseball operations role. His interview has already been conducted and he has served as the team's general manager since Terry Ryan was fired two weeks before the trade deadline.

Antony was able to make a handful of deals at the deadline including dumping the contract of Ricky Nolasco. Even with this moves, it seems like the Twins are destined to look outside the organization for some new ideas and a new direction. Antony has been with the Twins since being hired as a public relations intern in 1987.

Jason McLeod
Current Position: Senior VP of Player Development , Chicago Cubs
Earlier this week, Buster Olney reported that McLeod "has done well in the Twins' interview process." He went on to say he is "well-regarded" and "well-positioned" in Minnesota discussions. In the days following Ryan's firing, I said the Twins should focus their attention on McLeod because of his connections to Theo Epstein. Epstein is widely regarded as the top front office mind in the game.

McLeod has worked with Epstein since the beginning and he has been rumored to be a candidate for multiple jobs through the years. Some of his player development successes include Dustin Pedroia, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo. He's also done a good job of finding undervalued pitchers like last year's NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

J.J. Picollo
Current Position: VP/Assistant GM-Player Personnel, Kansas City Royals
The Royals have been one of the darlings of the baseball world over the last two seasons. The Twins have gotten a first hand look as the Royals rolled through the AL Central in 2014 and 2015 on the way to back-to-back AL pennants. He has worked with the Royals since 2006 and has held the titles of Director of Player Development and Assistant GM- Scouting and Player Development.

Before coming to Kansas City, Picollo worked as an Area Scouting Supervisor in the Braves organization. He worked for Atlanta from 1999-2005 with his highest title being Director of Minor League Operations. As recently as last off-season, he was a finalist for Philadelphia's GM opening.

Chaim Bloom
Current Position: VP of Baseball Operations, Tampa Bay Rays
After graduation from Yale University in 2004, Bloom was hired by Tampa Bay as an intern. He has moved quickly through their ranks from assistant in baseball operations to assistant director of minor league operations in 2008. Other positions he has held include director of baseball operations and vice president of baseball operations.

According to the Rays, his current duties include overseeing "all aspects of the baseball operations department, including the Rays international scouting efforts and both domestic and international player development." He also assists the Ray's president of baseball operations with many of the day-to-day aspects of running the baseball operations side of their club. This could be vital with the Twins looking to create a new position in their organization.

Derek Falvey
Current Position: Assistant GM , Cleveland Indians
At 32-years old, Falvey was promoted to Cleveland's assistant general manager last October. He is in his ninth year in the Indian's organization. Before the move to his current position, Falvey spent four years as the Indian's director of baseball operations. He started his baseball career as an intern with the Indians in 2007 before moving to the role of Assistant, Scouting Operations.

Yahoo's Jeff Passan labeled Falvey as "emerging as a strong candidate for Minnesota Twins president job." He went on to say, "Falvey is extremely well-regarded in [the] industry." His young age and rapid rise in the Indians organization could all help his cause. The Twins don't switch front office personnel very often so a young, passionate person could hold the spot down for years.

Which candidate stands out to you? Who would you like the Twins to hire? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dozier's Case For American League MVP

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
There's no arguing how bad the Twins have been this season. Even through all the mucky mess on the field, Brian Dozier has emerged as one bright spot in a sea of darkness.

The home runs and his recent hitting streak have kept him in the news. He's put up numbers that have never been seen before from a second baseman but is it enough to put him into the American League MVP conversation.

By The Numbers
Dozier's 39 home runs as a second baseman (two have come as DH) have him tied for all-time AL record by a second baseman. He is only three home runs behind Davey Johnson and Rogers Hornsby for the MLB record. Baseball Reference ranks Dozier as the fifth best player in the AL this season while FanGraphs ranks him as the sixth best AL player. He has more home runs than everyone in front of him and he is closing in on the century mark with RBI (98) and runs (99).

When Dozier scores his next run, he will join Chuck Knoblach as the only Twins to ever score 100-plus runs in three straight seasons. Since June 18, Dozier has 34 home runs, the most in baseball, while his closest competitors have only managed 22 apiece. During his current 22-game hit streak, he's hitting .351/.425/.766 with 11 home runs in 94 at-bats.

Historical Precedent
Voters tend to look at the best players on winning teams when handing out the top AL hardware. However, there is a historical precedent for MVPs playing for losing teams. The 1991 Baltimore Orioles finished in sixth place in the AL East with a 67-95 record. Cal Ripken Jr. cranked 34 home runs and drove in 114 on his way to the AL MVP.

The 2003 Texas Rangers finished the year with 91 losses but Alex Rodriguez still came away with the AL's top honor. Rodriguez had a historical season for a shortstop while hitting 47 home runs and drove in 118 RBI. He combined for a 8.4 WAR, the seventh best total of his career.

It takes the right atmosphere in the baseball world but it is not unprecedented for player on a losing team to win the MVP.  

Candidates Catching A Cold
For much of the first half of the season, it looked like Jose Altuve could run away with the AL MVP. The Astros were playing well and he was putting up tremendous numbers. He hit .341/.413/.542 with 14 home runs, 24 doubles, and 23 stolen bases. As the Astros have fallen further behind in the standings, Altuve has struggled at the plate. So far in September, he is hitting .222/.279/.365 with five extra-base hits.

Josh Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP, looked to join Miguel Cabrera as the only back-to-back MVP winner in the 2000's. Much like Altuve, he played very well in the first half by combining for a 1.017 OPS with 23 home runs and 20 doubles. A second half slide has seen his average dip to .253 while be limited to just 20 extra-base hits. Toronto is just four game out in the AL East so this could help Donaldson's candidacy.

Fishing For Trout
While other candidates might be falling by the wayside, Mike Trout might be emerging as a favorite. Like Dozier, Trout is on a bad team but his WAR total far outpaces the competition on both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. He entered play on Monday leading the AL in walks and OBP. He's also on pace to lead the AL in Offensive WAR for the sixth consecutive season.

If the voters looked solely at WAR, Trout would have many more MVPs in his trophy case. His lone MVP award came in 2014 when the Angels won the AL West by 10 games. If Altuve and Donaldson continue their recent cold streaks, the voters might look to a familiar name even if he is on a bad Angels squad. By many accounts, he is the best player in the game and he has only one MVP award.

When push comes to shove, Dozier will likely get some top-10 and even top-5 votes for the AL MVP. He would need to continue his blistering pace over the last few weeks to make his numbers truly stand apart from the crowd.

Unfortunately, there haven't been many eyes on Minnesota baseball this season and that can only hurt his MVP chances. It's been an historic season for the Twins Brian Dozier but it has been a small ripple in a very big MLB pond.

Where would Dozier be on your AL MVP Ballot? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Is The Buxton Era Beginning?

Photo Credit: Jordan Johnson, USA Today Sports
The Twins' schedule is slowly coming to an end and many fans might be turning away as the losses continue to mount. But while fans are averting their gaze, they could be missing the start of something special on the field.

After struggling through his first 100+ games, Byron Buxton might finally be putting together all the skills that made him one of baseball's best prospects. Is the Buxton Era beginning in Minnesota? 

Being able to adjust to pitching at baseball's highest level can be one of the toughest challenges. When the Twins drafted Buxton, a concern surrounding him was the fact that he played his entire amateur career in rural Georgia. Even with this background, he showed few hitting concerns as he moved through the Twins system. 

Buxton has dominated the upper levels of the minor leagues over parts of the last two seasons. In 2015, he hit .305/.367/.500 at Double-A and Triple-A. The 2016 season has been even better as his Triple-A OPS is up to .927 while hitting double digit home runs at a level for only the second time in career. All the signs were there but the transition to baseball's highest level wasn't smooth. 

Through his first 109 games, Buxton batted .199/.248/.319 while positing a 34.8% K%. Pitchers were overpowering him at the plate. There were sprinkles of positive signs but the overall numbers don't lie. Something had to change with the 22-year old uber prospect and maybe he finally found the cure for his big league blues. 

One of the biggest changes for Buxton this season might be the return of his leg kick. Minnesota tried to have Buxton cut back on this movement after drafting him. According to FanGraphs, the Twins organization has a "front foot down early" hitting approach. At the beginning of this season his leg kick wasn't there but throughout this season his leg kick has reemerged. 

Since being recalled on September 1, Buxton has looked like he might finally be hitting his stride at the big league level. Entering play on Wednesday, Buxton has gone 15-for-43 with five home runs and four doubles in his last 12 games. Obviously this isn't a huge sample size but the Twins are searching for small rays of hope during this mess of a season. 

It may be too early to declare the official start of the Byron Buxton era but he is certainly one of many reasons to watch the Twins as the season winds to a close. Minnesota's future is tied to Buxton's success. He will need to continue to make adjustments but we could be on the cusp of a new era for the Twins. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Examining Alex Anthopoulos

Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro, USA Today Sports (Alex Anthopoulos) 
Word trickled out earlier this week that the Twins were considering Alex Anthopoulos as the team's president of baseball operations. This would be a new position in the organization as part of the front office restructuring following the firing of general manager Terry Ryan.

This is following a growing trend across baseball where a president of baseball operations oversees the hiring of a general manager and other personnel to compose the front office staff. Twins owner Jim Pohlad recently told the Pioneer Press that the Twins might be leaning towards this new trend.

So who is Alex Anthopoulos? What do Twins fans need to know about this potential candidate? He could be shaping the future of this organization for years to come and fans are hungry to see a winning team back on the field.

Blue Jays Rising
Anthopoulos served as the general manager and senior vice president of baseball operations with the Toronto Blue Jays from 2010-2015. Last season, he helped the Blue Jays end a 22-year playoff drought but he decided to leave after some changes to the team's front office. Mark Shapiro was brought in as president and CEO and it sounds like the Jays wanted to cut costs and stop trading away prospects. He currently works as the vice president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers which seems like a springboard job to other positions in the baseball.

Wheeling and Dealing
During his time in Toronto, the 39-year old Anthopoulos was not afraid to make moves. Some of his biggest trades included:

  • Acquiring 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson from Oakland for Brett Lawrie
  • Sending Noah Syndergaard to the Mets for RA Dickey
  • Pushing to get Troy Tulowitzki from the Rockies for Jose Reyes and other prospects
  • Dealing a trio of left-handed pitchers to Detroit for David Price
Besides his willingness to deal away prospects for established players, he also spent plenty of money on contracts for players like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Many Twins fans have wanted the front office to be more active in making trades and spending money. As Nick alluded to earlier this week, this might not always be the best strategy.

Scouting Background
Anthopoulos has a background in scouting and he made major additions to the scouting department in Toronto. He created regional cross-checker positions and nearly doubled the size of the scouting team from 28 to 54. In doing so, he was able to shrink each scout's coverage area so they could spend less time traveling and more time working. "We get to see players more often -- more innings pitched, more at-bats, Anthopoulos said. "We've added layers we didn't have before." It seems likely that he would do some major shake-ups throughout the Twins' scouting team including bringing in some scouts who have previously worked with him.

The Future 
When the Twins let go of Terry Ryan, they made it clear that they would like to have someone hired by season's end. The Dodgers are four games up in the NL West and posed to make a playoff run. This could mean Anthopoulos continues to work in his current position until deep into October. When the Dodgers hired him, they had to know he was destined to get other opportunities. Maybe they will be willing to let him out of his current position so he can start finding Minnesota's next general manager. 

There's plenty of changes that still need to happen and hiring Anthopoulos is just the first step.

What are your thoughts on Anthopoulos? Is he the right fit for the Twins organization? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Twins 2016 Short-Season Minor League Pitcher Of The Year - Huascar Ynoa

Short season pitchers can be tough to evaluate. One bad outing when players have limited innings can really skew a player's overall numbers. Should fans only be looking at the players that are starters? Can a relief pitcher be the best player on short season team?

As evident by the ballots below, the Twins Daily minor league writing team had a tough time voting for this award. The overall winner was left off one person's ballot, was fifth on another ballot, but he was the only player to make it onto four ballots. The third place winner only made it on to two ballots but he finished first on both of those ballots.

The five Twins Daily Minor League Report authors were asked to vote for the various awards. For the short-season pitcher of the year, we each voted for five players. The player who was voted as #1 received five points, #2 received four points and so on with the #5 vote receiving one point. Results were tabulated and can be found below.

First, a reminder of our previous awards:
Short profiles of our top five are to follow, but first, some players worthy of Honorable Mention.

Honorable Mention:
  • Brady Anderson, GCL Twins: 13 G, 9 GS, 5-0, 1.43 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 56.2 IP, 43 H, 0 BB, 42 K.
  • Moises Gomez, GCL Twins: 13 G, 0 GS, 3-0, 1.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 32.2 IP, 29 H, 11 BB, 21 K.
  • Migeul De Jesus, GCL Twins/ Elizabethton Twins : 11 G, 11 GS, 3-3, 2.38 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 53.0 IP, 37 H, 19 BB, 47 K.
Pitcher of the Year

Here are the top five vote-getters for Twins Short-Season Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year.

#4 (Tie) –Tyler Wells, Elizabethton Twins: 10 GS, 5-2, 3.23 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 47.1 IP, 40 H, 17 BB, 59 K.

Wells ended on quite the stretch for the E-Twins. He earned victories in his last four starts (24.1 IP) and he posted a 0.74 ERA and a 27 to 7 strikeout to walk ratio during that stretch. He lowered his ERA by 3.24 between July and August while decreasing his walk rate and his WHIP. Wells was particularly effective against right-handed batters as he collected 34 strikeouts compared to six walks over 112 at-bats.  

#4 (Tie) – Taylor Clemensia, GCL Twins: 11 G, 10 GS, 1-4, 2.47 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 43.2 IP, 27 H, 26 BB, 47 K.

Clemensia joined the Twins organization this season after pitching last year in the Dutch Major League. He got off to a strong start as he allowed two earned runs and held opponents to a .083 batting average through his first four appearances. Walks have been the biggest struggle for Clemensia as he has allowed batters to get on base over 31% of the time. 

#3 – Bo Hellquist, GCL Twins: 11 GS, 3-2, 1.34 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 60.2 IP, 46 H, 15 BB, 49 K.

Hellquist, an Edina native and a University of Minnesota-Duluth product, has been very consistent this season as he didn't allow more than one earned run in his first 10 appearances. In his last outing, he allowed three earned runs but he struck out six on the way to his fifth victory. His ERA was 2.50 or lower in each month of the season.

Even though he is a lefty, Hellquist fared better against right-handed foes. Lefties posted a .705 OPS and a 9 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio (56 AB) while righties had a .571 OPS and a 37 to 5 strikeout to walk ratio (156 ABs). He struck out five or more batters in four of his eleven appearances and he never walked more than two batters in a game. 

#2 – Patrick McGuff, Elizabethton Twins/GCL Twins 22 G, 17 GF, 2-0, 2.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 31.2 IP, 26 H, 10 BB, 42 K.

During his professional debut, McGuff has shown plenty of positive signs. He started the year with four appearances out of the GCL Twins bullpen. He picked up two saves and only allowed three base runners during that stretch. He struck out nine and didn't issue a walk before being promoted to the E-Twins.

He continued his hot pitching after being promoted. Through his first six appearances with Elizabethton, he didn't allow an earned run and he posted a 17 to 5 strikeout to walk ratio. Over his next four games, he allowed a pair of earned runs but he was still able to pick up saves in two of those outings.

Across his last eight games (11.0 IP), he has earned a save or victory as the E-Twins were in the midst of the playoff hunt. Opponents were limited to a .275 SLG during this stretch and he had a 12 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio.

Starting Pitcher of the Year – Huascar Ynoa, GCL Twins : 11 G, 11 GS, 3-5, 3.88 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 51.0 IP, 44 H, 12 BB, 51 K.

In his first year of baseball in the United States, Ynoa took awhile to get the ball rolling. Through his first five appearances (27.1 IP), he had an 0-4 record but combined for a respectable 2.96 ERA with a 31 to 7 strikeout to walk ratio. Opponents were hitting .241/.299/.287 against him during this stretch but he wasn't able to earn a win.

As the calendar flipped to August, Ynoa began to find his groove. He would reel off three straight wins to start the month where he pitched five innings in every outing and allowed only one earned run. He collected 13 strikeouts and only two walks through those three games as opponents were limited to a .426 OPS and a .243 BABIP.

His last two stars would not be as clean as he allowed nine runs (eight earned runs) in 8.2 innings of work. Batters were getting on over 32% of the time and he allowed more than a hit per inning. Even with this rough end to the season, Ynoa did well enough to be the Twins best short season pitcher.

There you have it, the top pitchers in the short season leagues. 

The Ballots

In an attempt to be transparent, here are the votes from our Twins Daily minor league writers:
  • Seth Stohs – 1) Patrick McGuff, 2.) Moises Gomez, 3.) Huascar Ynoa, 4.) Jordan Balazovic, 5.) Taylor Clemensia
  • Jeremy Nygaard – 1) Huascar Ynoa, 2.) Taylor Clemensia, 3.) Brady Anderson , 4.) Miguel De Jesus, 5.) Patrick McGuff
  • Cody Christie – 1) Bo Hellquist, 2.) Tyler Wells, 3.) Huascar Ynoa, 4.) Tyler Beardsley, 5.) Miguel De Jesus
  • Steve Lein – 1) Brady Anderson, 2.) Patrick McGuff, 3.) Tyler Wells, 4.) Miguel De Jesus, 5.) Huascar Ynoa
  • Eric Pleiss – 1) Bo Hellquist, 2.) Taylor Clemensia, 3.) Colton Davis, 4.) Tyler Wells,  5.) Moises Gomez
Feel free to discuss. What do you think? How would you rank them? How would your ballot look?