Monday, April 24, 2017

Polanco Providing Poise

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson, USA Today Sports
Shortstop is becoming a position of strength across baseball. Names like Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager are becoming household names. These budding infielders are leading the next generation of baseball stars. It is truly seems like the sky could be the limit for each of them.

The sky has not been the limit for the Twins when it comes to the shortstop position. In fact, the position has become a revolving door in recent years. While other organizations are building their franchise around a star shortstop, Minnesota has struggled to fill the void.

Even in midst of a young season, Jorge Polanco is providing poise at one of baseball's hardest positions.

Doubling Down On Defense
Polanco's biggest question marks as a prospect were on the defensive side of the ball. The Twins blundered a little with his development last season as he didn't play a single inning at shortstop in the minors. Twins manager Paul Molitor was asked about how the organization handled Polanco during spring. "I wish I had a better explanation for you. But I think myself, a lot of other people, realized  we didn't handle it the right way."

Even with this organizational blunder, Polanco seems to have overcome some of these defensive faults. According to FanGraphs, he currently leads the American League in defensive runs saved (3). The only player with a better DRS mark this season is the Cubs' Addison Russell. Polanco also ranks in the top-10 across baseball in RZR, UZR, and defensive WAR.

Looking For Lumber
Being a two-way player is what separates many of the young shortstops mentioned above. Polanco was never expected to be an elite hitter but he showed positive signs as a prospect. So far this season, he ranks third in the American League in shortstop WAR. He has the third fewest strikeouts and the fourth highest OBP. This puts him ahead of players like Carlos Correa, Troy Tulowitzki, and Elvis Andrus.

Much of Polanco's offensive success has come against left-handed pitching. He has hit .364/.391/.591 (.982 OPS) against southpaws with three extra-base hits in 22 at-bats. His OBP is almost 100 points lower against righties and this has come in 21 more plate appearances. He does have an impressive 6 to 5 strikeout to walk ratio versus right-handed hurlers.

Waiting In The Wings
The Twins have other young shortstop prospects waiting in the wings. Former first round pick Nick Gordon is off to a hot start at Double-A. Through 14 games, he is hitting .339/.397/.464 with four extra-base hits in 56 at-bats. After playing every game in 2016 at shortstop, Gordon has started four games at second base this season.

Gordon's time at shortstop is being challenged by Engelb Vielma. When it comes to shortstop, Vielma is widely considered the better defender. Vielma has started six games at shortstop and seven at second base. There have been questions about Vielma's offensive in the past but he is hitting .340/.365/.400 to start the year.

While shortstop might have been a weakness in recent years, the Twins look poised to stop their revolving door. Polanco is emerging as a very viable shortstop candidate. If he can't keep up his hot start, Gordon and Vielma are waiting for their own opportunity.

Who will be the Twins shortstop by 2018? What about 2020? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Twins Minor League Report (4/23): Kranson Cranks

Photo Credit: Seth Stohs
Minnesota had stuck with their Opening Day roster through the team's first 17 games. That changed on Sunday as first baseman Kennys Vargas and left-handed reliever Buddy Boshers were recalled from Rochester. To make room for them on the roster, the Twins placed right-hander Justin Haley on the disabled list and optioned left-hander Adalberto Mejia to Triple-A.

Rain was the main headline on Sunday. Both the Red Wings and the Lookouts were washed out including a double-header in Chattanooga. This left the Kernels and the Miracle to carry the load. Who would shine? Who would struggle?

RED WINGS REPORT
Rochester --, Charlotte --

Rochester and Charlotte were postponed on Sunday due to inclement weather. The game will be made-up as part of a doubleheader when the Knights play a three-game series in Rochester near the middle of July. Rochester has an off-day on Monday before starting a six-game homestand. With Sunday's game not being played, they went 2-3 on their six-game road trip. The Red Wings are tied for second place in the International League North as they trail first place Buffalo by 2.5 games. 

CHATTANOOGA CHATTER
Chattanooga --, Tennessee -- 

Chattanooga was scheduled to play a double-header on Sunday to make-up for Saturday night's postponed game. However, the weather didn't cooperate again as inclement weather, unplayable field conditions and an impending forecast got in the way. The Lookouts will make up these games as part of two double-headers, one on Monday and one on Tuesday. With an 8-7 record, the Lookouts are tied with three other teams for second place in the Southern League North. Each team trails Jackson by two games.

MIRACLE MATTERS 
Fort Myers 1, Dunedin 7
Box Score
Lachlan Wells ran into a buzz-saw that was the Dunedin offense. In three innings of work, he allowed five hits with four of those hits being home runs. He walked two and struck out three. Williams Ramirez took over in the fourth and pitched two shutout innings. He limited the Blue Jays to two hits. Anthony McIver pitched two frames and struck out two. Brady Anderson pitched the eighth and allowed one run, a solo home run.

There wasn't much excitement on the offensive side of the ball. Fort Myers went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Chris Paul went 2-for-4 and Casey Scoggins reached base three times including a multi-hit game. Alex Perez scored the team's lone run.

With the loss, Fort Myers drops two games under .500 on the season (8-10 record). The Miracle had won four straight games before Sunday's loss. They currently sit two games out of first place in the Florida State League South.

KERNELS NUGGETS 
Cedar Rapids 11, Kane County 2 
Box Score
While the Miracle lacked some offensive pop there was plenty of action in the Kernels line-up. Mitchell Kranson went 4-for-5 including a solo home run and Jermaine Palacios drove in five runs as the Kernels routed the Cougars. Kanson finished a triple shy of the cycle. Cedar Rapids tied their season high with four home runs.

Besides Kranson and Palacios, Jaylin Davis and Caleb Hamilton each had a homer. Hamilton scored twice and drove in a pair as part of a multi-hit day. Aaron Whitefield went 2-for-4 with a triple and a run scored. Ariel Montesino and Lewin Diaz were the lone batters not to reach base for the Kernels.

Not to be outdone by the hitters, Clark Beeker put together a very strong performance on the mound. He pitched seven strong innings by allowing one earned run on eight hits with five strikeouts and no walks. It marked the first time in his career where he won back-to-back starts and it was his third straight quality start. Hector Lujan didn't allow a runner in the final two frames while striking out three.

TWINS DAILY PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Pitcher of the Day – Clark Beeker, Cedar Rapids Kernels

Hitter of the Day – Mitchell Kranson, Cedar Rapids Kernels

MONDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS
Rochester - Scheduled Off-Day
Chattanooga vs. Tennessee (4:15 CST) - TBD

Chattanooga vs. Tennessee (Game 2) - TBD
Fort Myers - Scheduled Off-Day

Cedar Rapids vs. Burlington (6:35 CST) - RHP Tyler Beardsley (2-0, 0.82 ERA)

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Santiago Starting To Turn Heads

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
As Nick wrote about earlier in the week, Ervin Santana has been a legitimate threat in the Twins rotation. Santana is off to a tremendous start to the season and it's easy to see why the Twins decided to hang on to the veteran right-handed hurler.

What might be more of a surprise than Santana's start is the outings put together by Hector Santiago. For those that have forgotten, Santiago and Alan Busenitz were the two players acquired from the Angels last season in exchange for Alex Meyer and Ricky Nolasco.

Santiago, the former 30th round pick by the White Sox, could be on the cusp of a breakout season.

Another All-Star First Half
Santiago has shown flashes of this type of pitching in the past. During the 2015 campaign, he got the season off to a great start and was named an American League All-Star. In the season's first half, he posted a 2.33 ERA with a 98 to 33 strikeout to walk ratio. In those 18 games, batters hit .213/.281/.356 against him.

Following his All-Star first half, things fell apart in the second half of the season. His ERA rose to 5.47 and his WHIP rose from 1.10 to 1.49. Batters OPS also rose by over 200 points. Minnesota is seeing glimpses of Santiago's All-Star abilities but there's no evidence of him being able to sustain this level for an entire season.

What's Up, Pitches?
Opponents have struggled this season with making consistent contact against Santiago's sinker. For his career, batters have hit .217 against him when he throws this pitch. So far this season, opponents have been limited to a .135 average with two extra-base hits. His velocity has dipped a little with this pitch but he seems to be using this pitch more effectively.

He has yet to surrender an extra-base hit with his secondary pitches but he throws these less than 40% of the time. When throwing his change-up, batters have been limited to a .200 average which is almost 60 points lower than his career mark. His cut fastball has yielded a .750 opponent's batting average, the highest of any pitch he throws.

The Jason Castro Factor
During the entire off-season, Twins fans heard rave reviews about Jason Castro and his ability to coax umpires into calling strikes. This might not have been more evident than on Sunday afternoon when "Castro had the best day of any backstop at getting his pitchers extra strikes."

For seven innings on Sunday, Santiago was the beneficiary of Castro's catching abilities. Fangraphs showed multiple pitches from Santiago that ended up being called strikes. Castro is clearly factoring into the Twins early season pitching.
It's been a small sample size and there is plenty of season still ahead. Santiago needs to prove that he can sustain these numbers over the course of an entire season. He's shown flashes of this type of pitching in the past but the league will adjust. Can he make the type of changes necessary to sustain this success?

Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Twins Minor League Report (4/16): Palka Power, Dueling Shutouts

Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (Randy LeBlanc)
As Easter weekend comes to a close, many of the Twins minor league affiliates are starting to settle into an early season groove. With the weather continuing to warm up, pitchers and batters can be more comfortable and play up to their full potential.

Even though there were only three affiliates playing on Easter Sunday, there was still plenty of action. Big name players hit home run. There were also some strong pitching performances. Who stood out above the crowd? Read on to find out.

RED WINGS REPORT
Rochester 10, Syracuse 6 (Game 1- 7 Innings)
Box Score

Rochester exploded for multiple runs in three of the first four innings to out pace Syracuse in game one of the double-header. The Red Wings got things off to a good start by plating four runs in the first frame. Ben Paulsen had the big hit in the inning as his two-out double drove in three runs. Tommy Field cracked a two-run home run in the second inning to push the lead to 6-1. 

In the bottom of the fourth, Kennys Vargas helped to extend the lead by knocking a three-run shot, his second of the year. Every batter in the Red Wings line-up reached base and Matt Hague was the lone hitter not to record a hit but he drew a walk and scored a run. 

Jason Wheeler started and allowed three earned runs over five innings of work. He gave up seven hits while striking out four and walking two. Alan Busenitz walked three batters in the sixth frame as he allowed three earned runs to make the game closer than it needed to be. Trevor Hildenberger closed out the game with a perfect ninth including two strikeouts.

Rochester 6, Syracuse 7 (Game 2- 7 Innings)
Box Score

Syracuse got revenge in the second game as they jumped early on Aaron Slegers for four runs in the first inning. Slegers wouldn't make it out of the fourth inning as he allowed five runs on 11 hits. He struck out six batters and only gave up one walk. Buddy Boshers finished off the fourth for Slegers but the damage had already been done. 

Rochester did their best to claw back into the game. Daniel Palka drove in a run with a second inning double. Niko Goodrum continued the scoring with a sacrifice fly. Palka would add to the scoring with as he lead-off the fourth inning with a his third home run of the year. Palka finished the game 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double, three RBI, and four runs. 

Raul Fernandez run into some late inning trouble as he surrendered two home runs in his 1.2 innings of work. Alex Wimmers collected the last four outs without allowing a runner and striking out one. Former Twins closer Joe Nathan earned his second save even though he allowed Palka's second home run. 

CHATTANOOGA CHATTER
Chattanooga 1, Jacksonville 0

Box Score
In a tightly contested pitchers duel, the Lookouts were able to find a way to scratch out a win. Paul Clemens started for Chattanooga and pitched into the sixth frame. He scattered five hits and struck out four while walking one. After pitching 1.2 scoreless frames, Todd Van Steensel earned his first victory of the year. Mason Melotakis picked up his first save after tossing two perfect frames.

The hits were few and far between for both clubs. Jonathan Rodriguez picked up the games biggest hit as he smashed a solo home run with one out in the seventh. Engelb Vielma finished 1-for-4. Ryan Walker and Jose Gonzalez each picked up a hit. Levi Michael and Nick Gordon were the only Lookouts hitters that didn't strikeout in the game. 

With the win, Chattanooga won the rubber game of the three-game set with Jacksonville.  The Lookouts moved to 5-5 on the season. 

MIRACLE MATTERS 
Fort Myers 5, Daytona 0
Box Score
Randy LeBlanc was the story of this game. He tossed seven scoreless innings for the second straight start. He limited the Tortugas to three hits with four strikeouts and two walks. Nick Anderson completed the shutout with two innings of work. He allowed two base runners and struck out a pair of batters.

Daytona went on an error spree in this game to help Fort Myers separate themselves. The Tortugas combined for four errors which lead to three unearned runs. Zander Wiel drove in a pair of runs with his first home run of the year. Chris Paul and Brian Navarreto each knocked a double and Navarreto drove in a run.

After losing five straight games by one run, the Miracle have one two of their last three including a pair of shutouts. Fort Myers now sits with a 3-8 record on the season.

TWINS DAILY PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Pitcher of the Day – Randy LeBlanc, Fort Myers Miracle
Hitter of the Day – Daniel Palka, Rochester Red Wings


WEDNESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS
Rochester- Scheduled Off Day
Chattanooga vs. Biloxi (6:15 CST) - TBD
Fort Myers vs. Florida (5:35 CST) - LHP Lachlan Wells (0-1, 1.29 ERA) 

Cedar Rapids @ Peoria (6:30 CST) - RHP Clark Beeker

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

How Much Can Minnesota's Defense Improve?

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
Minnesota's defense has shown some flaws in recent years. Putting Miguel Sano in the outfield was an unmitigated disaster. Other players like Danny Santana have been asked to play a different position than their natural position. Brian Dozier has also been below average at second base. With all of these issues, it's hard to know what to expect in 2017.

The new front office made minimal off-season roster moves. This leaves the Twins with a lot of familiar faces around the diamond. How much can Minnesota's defense improve?

Outfield
Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario have all played center field at some point during their professional careers. Buxton's five-star ability was on full display during the season's first week. According to MLB.com, Buxton made the first five star catch of the 2017 season with his Opening Day dive.

"Us outfielders have this thing where nothing falls but raindrops," Buxton said. "We take that to heart and want to be the best outfield out there. We're trying to be aggressive to every line drive and foul ball we can be. We know we'll have backup, so it allows us to play freely."

This young trio is trying to reverse a recent Minnesota outfield trend. Over the last five seasons, the Twins outfield have accounted for a -30 defensive runs saved mark, the third worst mark in baseball. With a pitching staff that gives up a lot of balls in play, it's critical for the defense behind them to be strong.

Infield
Joe Mauer was one of the lone Twins fielders to rank well as a defender in 2016. The entire rest of the infield projects to be below average. As I mentioned before, Dozier struggles on defense. He makes some great diving stops but that's usually the result of him not being able to get to a ball. These would be routine plays for a better defender.

Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco compose a left-side of the infield with plenty of questions. Sano's arm strength is very good but his large body size raises questions about his ability to get to balls. Questions about Polanco's defense at shortstop have followed him throughout his professional career. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how these two rank as the innings begin to pile up.

Even if the outfield sees improved defense, it's hard to imagine the infield helping out the pitching staff on a regular basis. They have the ability to make routine plays but there will be plenty of holes on plays with a higher difficulty.

Catcher
Jason Castro was brought to Minnesota because of his defensive reputation. As I wrote about this spring, it's going to take the better part of the season to fully see what Castro is able to do with the pitching staff. No matter how much he is able to coax strikes from umpires, the pitchers still need to make pitches.

In regards to SABR's Defensive Index (SDI), former catcher Kurt Suzuki ranked second from the bottom in the American League. Castro still posted a negative SDI total but he ranked in the seventh in the AL. This was a steep drop-off from the 2015 season where he ranked second in the AL and he was a finalist for a Gold Glove.

If the Twins end up with a catcher that is somewhere between the 2015 and 2016 version of Castro, things will be working out very well for the club.

So what do you think? How much can Minnesota's defense improve? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Twins Minor League Report (4/9): Schick Stymies, Gordon Stays Hot

Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
It's early in the minor league season and there are plenty of games left to be played. However, it's great to see some of the Twins affiliates playing well to start the year.

Nick Gordon is hot to start the season and he looked to continue that streak. Rochester was scheduled to play two games due to some early season weather problems. Would Gordon stay hot? Could the Red Wings sweep their twin-bill?

Read on to find out all about Sunday's results.

RED WINGS REPORT
Rochester 6, Syracuse 2 (Game 2- 7 Innings)
Box Score

Nick Tepesch made his debut in the Twins organization on Sunday by starting the first game of a double-header. He allowed two runs on six hits while striking out two and walking two. His first inning was all over the board. He allowed two hits, two walks, and struck out two. He'd settle in from there before turning things over to the bullpen. 

With the Wings down 2-0, Tommy Field got things started in the fourth inning. He doubled to start the frame before Kennys Vargas drove him in with a two-out single. The next two batters would walk but Ben Paulsen would leave the bases loaded.

Paulsen would get another opportunity. In the sixth inning, Matt Hague singled before ByungHo Park struck out and Vargas grounded out. Daniel Palka and Mitch Garver collected back-to-back singles before Paulsen smacked a three-run shot. 

Trevor Hildenberger in his Triple-A debut struck out the side in the sixth to keep the game at 5-2. After tacking on another run in the top of the seventh on a Vargas double, Hildenberger faced one over the minimum in the ninth for his first save. 

Rochester 10, Syracuse 4 (Game 2- 7 Innings)
Box Score


Rochester pounded out four home runs including Daniel Palka's first two home runs of the year (CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO) to defeat Syracuse in game two. It was a tight game until the fifth and sixth frames where the Red Wings lit up the scoreboard for eight runs. The two through six hitters all combined for multiple hits. Paulsen homered for the second straight game. 

Drew Rucinski started for Rochester and pitched well. In four innings of work, he limited the Chiefs to one run, a home run, on three hits. He struck out five and failed to walk a batter. Alex Busenitz pitched two scoreless innings and was credited with the win. Alex Wimmers had a rough final frame as he allowed three solo home runs.

CHATTANOOGA CHATTER
Chattanooga 5, Mobile 4

Box Score
For the second time in three games, the Lookouts were walk-off winners against the BayBears. Edgar Corcino started the 10th inning with a single. After two fly outs, a wild pitch moved Corcino to second. With first base open, Jonathan Rodriguez walked. LaMonte Wade followed with a walk to load the bases. This left Dan Rohlfing to play the hero as he drew the walk to win the game.

Friday night's hero, Nick Gordon, got the game off to a fast start as he cranked his first home run of the year. He finished the day 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. He has seven hits in the team's first four games including two three-hit efforts.

Felix Jorge made his first start of the year. In four innings of work, he allowed two runs on six hits with three strikeouts. Todd Van Steensel and Nick Burdi combined for three shutout innings. Raul Fernandez struggled with control in the ninth as he allowed three walks and took the blown save. Luke Bard earned the win as he allowed one hit and struck out one.

MIRACLE MATTERS 
Fort Myers 2, Jupiter 3
Box Score 
Keaton Steele cruised through four innings before running into some trouble in the fifth. The first four batters of the frame reached base and two runs would eventually cross the plate. Randy Rosario and Michael Theofanopoulos combined to allow one earned run and struck out four over the final four frames.

The seventh inning is where the Miracle missed their opportunity. Daniel Kihle plated a run with an RBI single. With one out, Fort Myers loaded the bases. Sean Miller struck out and Nelson Molina grounded out to end the frame. Kihle and Miller both finished the game with multiple hits including their second doubles of the year.

Fort Myers scored a ninth inning run to cut the lead to one but that was the end of their luck. The Miracle begin a seven-game road trip on Monday.

KERNELS NUGGETS 
Cedar Rapids 6, Beloit 1 
Box Score
Alex Schick tied his career high with seven strikeouts and pitched a career-high seven innings on the way to his first victory of the year. He struck out at least one batter in each of the first six innings. Max Cordy took over for Schick and struck out the side as part of a perfect eighth inning. Alex Robinson finished the game with a perfect frame while striking out one.

Travis Blakenhorn and Jermaine Palacios combined for six-hits and four runs scored. Blankenhorn knocked his second home run and his second home run in as many days. Brandon Lopez joined the hit parade with three hits of his own. Mitchell Kranson went 2-for-4 with a double.

TWINS DAILY PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Pitcher of the Day – Alex Schick, Cedar Rapids Kernels
Hitter of the Day – Ben Paulsen, Rochester Red Wings


WEDNESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS
Rochester at Buffalo (12:05 CST) - LHP Jason Wheeler (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Chattanooga vs. Mobile (6:15 CST) - RHP Paul Clemens (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Fort Myers @ Tampa (6:00 CST) - TBD 

Cedar Rapids @ Kane County (6:30 CST) - RHP Clark Beeker (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

2017 Minnesota Twins Awards Preview

Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Another regular season is upon us and that means that it is prediction time for a lot of writers across the inter-web. There will be surprise teams, surprise players, and even some other surprises along the way. The unknown and unpredictability of baseball is one of the most enduring qualities of "America's Pastime."

The Twins have an interesting year ahead. Who will stand out? Who will take the next step? It's time to predict who will shine for the 2017 version of the Twins.

Each of the awards below has been named after someone that optimizes that award for the Twins organization. There are legends from the past and all have had a significant place in Twins lore.

Harmon Killebrew MVP: Brian Dozier, 2B
Ideally, the Twins hope there is a young core of players that battle Brian Dozier for the team's top award. Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, or Max Kepler could all take big steps to put themselves in the end of the year discussion.

That being said, Dozier is coming off a monster year and he has the opportunity to show that these numbers weren't a fluke. It's hard to imagine him clubbing 40+ home runs for the second straight year and he has been prone to offensive slumps in the past. I've also been critical of Dozier's defense in recent years. All of these things could hurt his chances.

If there was a betting line in Las Vegas for this award, the money would be on Dozier to win.

Johan Santana Pitcher of the Year: Kyle Gibson, RHP 
Two years ago, Gibson looked ready to be a mainstay in the Twins rotation. Last season, he took a step back while dealing with multiple injuries. To counteract some of these issues, Gibson took on a unique throwing plan this off-season. Reports out of Fort Myers have his slider looking great and this pitch could help him to reach the next level. 

There will be other pitchers in the discussion as well. Ervin Santana was the team's best pitcher a year ago by posting his best ERA in three seasons. He's 34-years old and there's no guarantees that he will be on the roster after the July trade deadline. It would also be great to see Phil Hughes return to form or Jose Berrios have a breakout season but my money is on Gibson. 

Rick Aguilera Relief Pitcher of the Year: JT Chargois, RHP
The Twins bullpen is thoroughly unimpressive to start the season. Minnesota is bringing 13 pitchers north and JT Chargois isn't one of them. This still doesn't mean he can't be the team's best relief arm by season's end. Chargois has been dominant in the minor leagues even though he hasn't found a lot of big league success. I think he's ready to take a big jump while being used in high leverage situations. 

Brandon Kintzler will start the year as the team's closer but he hardly has a strangle-hold on the position. The hope is to get former All-Star Glen Perkins back at some point this season but it's hard to know what he will look like when he returns. Rule-5 pick Justin Haley could provide some value and Taylor Rogers is another name to watch this year. 

Rod Carew Rookie of the Year: Daniel Palka, OF/DH
Minnesota has seen a lot of big names use up their rookie eligibility over the last two seasons. This leaves a wide-open race for the 2017 Rookie of the Year. Palka destroyed the ball in the minor leagues last season and he could battle his way into the Twins long-term plans. This would likely mean an injury to one of the club's corner outfielders but a lot of things happen in a long baseball season. 

Tyler Jay's shift to the bullpen could mean he ends up in Minnesota at some point this summer. If he has a big impact on the team's second half, he could end up in the discussion as well. With a lackluster bullpen to start the year, there will be other names that could slide into the conversation. Other top prospects are a little further away from Target Field so Palka has a good chance to make his mark in 2017.

Who would be your pre-season picks? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Analyzing Minnesota's Early Season Schedule

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Baseball is finally back... well almost. Twins fans are eager to put memories of last year's 103-loss season behind them. Building off a young core, Minnesota hopes many players take the next step. There will be many factors that contribute to the team's 2017 campaign but a fast start could help the team avoid a repeat of last year's poor performance.

Most of the first month of the season is filled with battles against AL Central foes. In fact, the club only has three games outside of the division. These contests will be critical to understanding where Minnesota fits in the divisional pecking order.

Kansas City Royals 
Home Series: 4/3, 4/5-4/6: Road Series: 4/28-4/30
The Twins struggled against the Royals last season with a combined 4-15 record. Three of their four wins against Kansas City came at Target Field. Minnesota pitchers allowed 124 runs against the 2015 World Series Champions. Minnesota's 65 runs scored was also their lowest total against any inter-divisional opponent.

Minnesota will see the Royals top three starters (Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, and Jason Hammel) in the first series. Ervin Santana gets the Opening Day nod as he posted a 4.55 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP against Kansas City last year. Hector Santiago fared even worse than Santana. He had a 10.93 ERA in three starts. Kyle Gibson faced the Royals three times and had a 6.75 ERA with a 1.85 WHIP.

Chicago White Sox
Road Series: 4/7-4/9: Home Series: 4/14-4/16
Minnesota's first road series of the year will come on the south-side of Chicago. The Twins went 7-12 against the White Sox last year including three road victories. Twins batters were outscored by 12 runs in those games (86 to 98) but that was the team's second highest run total in inter-divisional games.

Chicago went into rebuilding mode this off-season by trading away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for a boat full of prospects. Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada will be names to watch in the years to come. For now, the Twins will have to hope their young core can find a way to win against one of the team's biggest rivals.

Detroit Tigers
Road Series: 4/11-4/13: Home Series: 4/21-4/23
The Tigers held Minnesota a 4-15 record during the 2016 campaign. All four of Minnesota's wins came in Detroit so the Twins will need to find a way to beat the Tigers at Target Field. Detroit scored 107-runs against Twins pitchers and Minnesota only saw 69 runs scored. Six of the team's first 22 games come against Detroit so the Twins will need to solve Detroit's curse in a hurry.

Detroit saw a rebound year in 2016 from many players in their core. Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Justin Verlander all looked like they were back to their old tricks. They finished in second place in the division and they have a chance to make a big step forward this year. It probably won't be enough to catch Cleveland but weirder things have happened in the baseball world.

Cleveland Indians
Home Series: 4/17-4/20
The defending AL Champions are the only divisional team the Twins play once in the season's first month. However, it is their longest series of the month (four games) and it does come at Target Field. Even with Cleveland running through the Central last season, Minnesota posted a 9-10 record against the Tribe while matching them in runs scored.

Cleveland rode tremendous pitching to being within a game of winning the World Series. This could result in a couple different directions for the coming season. The team could have a chip on their should and ride this momentum back to baseball's highest level. On the other hand, the team might not be able to overcome their October collapse and end up not living up to this year's lofty expectations.

Texas Rangers
Road Series: 4/24-4/26
Minnesota played two series against Texas in 2016 and won both of them. They finished with a 5-2 record and their .714 winning percentage, their highest total against any team. The Twins averaged almost nine runs per game while allowing less than 4.5 runs  per game. Minnesota had their two highest run producing games (17 and 15 runs) against Texas.

Even though the Rangers struggled against Minnesota, the club won 95 games and finished in first place in the AL West. Texas did this while struggling in multiple areas of the game. Only the Twins and Athletic allowed more runs. It seems likely for the Rangers to regress in 2017 and the Twins will need to take advantage this fall back to the back.

Minnesota finished 7-17 during last April. How will the club fare in the season's first month? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Tyler Jay and Baseball's Evolving Bullpen

Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (Photo of Tyler Jay)
Twins fans were recently hit with the news that former first round pick Tyler Jay will be moved to the bullpen. This is disappointing news for many as the team used a high draft pick on a player they hoped could be become a strong starting pitcher.

Even with Jay shifting away from starting pitching, there might be a small ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Baseball's use of relief pitchers has begun to shift in recent years. During last year's postseason fans saw the importance of dominant relief pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.

At the end of January, I wrote about the disappearance of the 200 inning starting pitcher. Managers have pulled starters earlier in games to use team's reliable bullpen arms. Batters are forced to adjust to a new pitcher with a different pitching repertoire. This can be one of the reasons for scoring decreasing across baseball.

Trevor May was a player I hoped could become the Twins version of Andrew Miller. May and Miller both began their careers as starters before being shifted to the bullpen. Unfortunately, May underwent Tommy John surgery last week and he will miss all of the 2017 campaign. This was devastating news for a young player still looking to establish himself.

With May out for the season, Jay has the potential to fill an even more important role in the organiztion. Miller and Jay have many things in common. Both pitchers attended college, throw left-handed, and were selected with the sixth pick in the draft. Miller, like Jay, is more comfortable in a relief pitcher role. The move also means Jay could make his way to Minnesota as soon as this summer.

Jay's "more comfortable in the pen, his stuff plays up and it could put him on the fast track," said Brice Zimmerman, the former radio voice of the Fort Myers Miracle.

Perhaps Minnesota's new baseball operations will utilize a more progressive approach to bullpen usage in the years to come. FanGraphs explains one part of the shift like this:

"During the course of a game, some situations are more tense and suspenseful than others. For instance, we know that a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning is more suspenseful than a one-run lead in the top of the third inning. Batting with two runners on and two outs in the eighth inning is filled with more pressure than batting in the same situation in the second inning. Leverage Index (LI) is merely an attempt to quantify this pressure so we can determine if a player has been used primarily in high-leverage or low-leverage situations."

A team's best pitcher is usually their closer but some teams and managers only use their closer in the ninth inning. What good does it do to leave your best relief arm in the bullpen? (Ask Orioles fans about Zach Britton use in last year's AL Wild Card game) If the opposition has the heart of their line-up coming up in the eighth inning of a one-run game, it makes sense to have your best pitching option on the mound to face their best hitters.

Tyler Jay has the ability and skills to be a high-leverage pitcher. Fans can expect to see his fastball move back up into the mid-90s and his slider could end up being a devastating pitch. He ceiling could be very similar to what fans saw with Glen Perkins during his All-Star seasons.

No one knows if he will be the next Andrew Miller but baseball is changing. Bullpens are evolving and Tyler Jay can still end up being one of the most important pieces of Minnesota's march back to respectability.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Can Zach Granite Follow Brian Dozier's Footsteps?

Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
Developing MLB players is a tough task for any organization. There are so many factors that can impact the development of a team's top tier talent. Through the ups-and-downs of a players professional career, there can be moments where everything clicks or moments that push a player away from the game.

When the Twins took Brian Dozier with an eighth round pick, the organization probably never imagined he would turn into a hitter capable of belting 40 home runs. Now the Twins have another late round pick that is starting to blossom in the Twins system.

Can Zach Granite follow Brian Dozier's footsteps?

As a 24-year old, Dozier split the 2011 season between High-A and Double-A. He hit .320/.399/.491 with 54 extra-base hits in 127 games. He was almost a year and a half older than the competition in the Florida State League so it was tough to fit him into the Twins prospect picture. Because of the numbers he accumulated, the club would name him the 2011 Twins Minor League Player of the Year.

Granite was taken in the 14th round on the 2013 MLB Draft. He spent all of the his age-23 season in the Lookouts' outfield. He hit .295/.347/.729 with 30 extra-base hits in 127 games. His 56 stolen bases were the most steals by any minor league player last year. He was a year younger than the competition in the Southern League. Like Dozier before him, Granite was awarded the 2016 Twins Minor League Player of the Year. 

"He's one guy I was looking forward to watching play," Paul Molitor told the Star Tribune. "He's coming off a really good year with a lot of people speaking really highly of him. I like those kind of players. There's a place for those guys."

There are some notable differences between Granite and Dozier. Dozier came up through the Twins system as a shortstop but was never strong enough to stay at that position. Granite's speed has seen him play the majority of his professional career in center field. Dozier is still a below average defender and Granite has the potential to be above average. 

Both players have a very different approach at the plate. Dozier has developed into one of the best power hitting infielders in baseball. Granite wants to put the ball in play and use his speed to his advantage. His speed and defensive ability should help him fit into the big league line-up in the near future.

"I don't care who's on the mound, I think I can hit anybody," Granite said. "I've got the confidence to be here. Playing scared, that's not my game. I believe I belong, so hopefully somebody else does, too."

Granite will never be a big home run hitter. However, he's on a path to go from being a late-round pick to a MLB regular. This type of late round find needs to continue to happen if Minnesota is going to get back to respectability in the American League.

When will Granite make an impact on the big league squad? What type of MLB player do you think he will be? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Top 20 Twins Prospects: 1-5

Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons
With the season fast approaching, I have been spending time reviewing the top prospects in the Twins system. There are plenty of players to be excited about in the years to come. Here's a recap of the previous posts:
Prospects 11-20
Prospects 6-10

A year after players like Byron Buxton and Max Kepler impacted the big league squad, there's a chance that none of the players below will debut this year. Who will be number one?

5. Tyler Jay, LHP
Age: 22/ Highest Level: Double-A
Jay's first five 2016 starts were rough as he was knocked around for 11 earned runs in 19.1 innings. He failed to pitch more than five innings in any of these starts and opponents were getting on base 33% of the time. Over his next 38.1 frames, he posted a 0.70 ERA with 42 strikeouts and nine walks. He went 4-2 during this stretch as batters were held to a .OPS of under .500. He made his Double-A debut on July 10 and over his next two starts he allowed eight earned runs across 10 innings. His final three appearances came out of the Lookouts’ bullpen where he allowed one earned run on three hits. Jay, a left-handed pitcher, struck out lefties in 22 of their 66 at-bats while limiting them to a .645 OPS. Right-handed batters hit .249/.306/.355 with a 55 to 18 strikeout to walk ratio. His season would be done on July 30 after dealing with some neck and shoulder issues. In August, doctors diagnosed him with neuro praxia, or nerve irritation, in his neck.

4. Alex Kirilloff, OF
Age: 19/ Highest Level: Rookie
The Twins recently announced Kirilloff will miss the entire 2017 season as he will be undergoing Tommy John surgery. This takes little away from his promising future. Kirilloff skipped the GCL and headed to the Appy League. He was 2.5 years younger than the competition at this level. In fact, he never faced a pitcher younger than himself in over 230 plate appearances. He came out hitting well in his first full month as a professional. He batted .373 with a .919 OPS for the month of July. This included four home runs and seven doubles. He cooled a little in August as his average dipped to .232 but he was still getting on base over 30% of the time with six extra-base hits. Kirilloff, a left-handed batter, posted an OPS that was 155 points higher against right-handed pitching. Kirilloff started games at all three outfield positions while the majority of his appearances came in right field. In the outfield, he combined for four errors in 86 chances with seven assists.

3. Fernando Romero, RHP
Age: 22/ Highest Level: High-A
Romero made his presence known on his return to the mound in 2016. Even after missing all of 2015, he was almost a year younger than the competition in the Midwest League and he was over two years younger than FSL opponents. This resulted in 85% of his at-bats coming against older batters. He started the year by making five starts for the Kernels. He allowed six earned runs over 28 innings (1.93 ERA) with 25 strikeouts and five walks. Near the end of June, he was promoted to Fort Myers where he allowed seven earned runs across 29 innings (five starts). He posted a 26 to 5 strikeout to walk ratio while holding batters to a .225 average. From July 23 to August 25, he compiled a 1.62 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. Left-handed batters struck out in 29% of their at-bats. He struck out 26 or more batters in every month where he made four starts or more. For the season, he set career best marks in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP. He made it an easy decision for the Twins to add him to the 40-man roster at season’s end

2. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP
Age: 22/ Highest Level: Double-A
For the third consecutive season, Gonsalves split time between two different levels. His first 11 starts came back in the FSL, where he finished the 2015 campaign. After allowing three runs in his first outing, he combined to allow three runs over his next six starts (36.2 IP). Overall at High-A, he had a 2.33 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP and a 66 to 20 strikeout to walk ratio. Gonslaves had one bad Double-A start in his second appearance (6 ER in 3.2 IP) before going on a dominant stretch for the rest of the season. Across 65.2 IP, he allowed seven earned runs (0.96 ERA) with 75 strikeouts and a 0.95 WHIP. He held opponents to batting .144/.263/.177 during that stretch. Batters never hit higher than .228 against him in any month. He struck out 20 batters or more in any month he made at least three starts. Over 80% of his at-bats came against older batters. Even though he is a lefty, left-handed batters hit 20 points higher than righties but they also struck out in 34% of their at-bats.

1. Nick Gordon, SS
Age: 21/ Highest Level: High-A
For the third consecutive season, Gordon was over two years younger than the competition. In 494 total at-bats, he faced a younger pitcher twice.  At the beginning of the season, only three players were younger than him in the FSL. Gordon got the season off to a good start as he hit .333/.363/.483 with nine extra-base hits in April. He ended June on a nine game hit streak. July saw him set season highs with 17 runs and 20 RBI. He got on base over 31% of the time in every month except August. Gordon, a left-handed batter, hit .315/.356/.431 against righties. A year after stealing 25 bases, he stole 19 and was caught 13 times. Overall, he had 35 multi-hit games and reached base in 74% of the games he played. After posting fielding percentages of over .960 in both of his professional seasons, he saw that number dip to .952. He was charged with 24 errors in 503 chances. Gordon carried over his strong regular season to the Arizona Fall League. As one of the younger players in the 2016 AFL, he hit .346/.418/.444 with six extra-base hits and 15 runs in 21 games.

Who is too high? Is anyone too low? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Leadoff Candidate Conundrum

Photo Credit: Brad Mills, USA Today
Recent years have seen a shift in the evolution of the leadoff hitter. Gone are the days of needing a speedy player to swipe bases in front of the power hitting middle of the order. Teams are more focused on players getting on base to start an inning.

Last year's World Series clubs, the Cubs and the Indians, are slated to start Kyle Schwarber and Carlos Santana in the lead-off spot. Both of these players don't exactly scream speed. However, they do get on base and can be a threat out of the leadoff spot.

Minnesota is also trying to decipher which player should be featured at the top of the order. Here are four candidates to consider:

Byron Buxton, CF
Minnesota's speedy outfielder has many of the tools to be a weapon out of the leadoff spot. Buxton is one of the fastest players in baseball. As recently as the 2013 season, Buxton stole 55 bases while primarily being used as a leadoff hitter. It's an interesting situation because Buxton could end up being used in multiple line-up spots throughout his career.

Joe Mauer told the Pioneer Press, "Buck’s so talented he could hit anywhere in the order and probably do pretty good. It’s fun to have that type of speed at the top of the lineup." Molitor will likely start the season with Buxton as the number nine hitter so he can be a "second leadoff hitter." This will also put less pressure on the budding star in his sophomore season.

Brian Dozier, 2B
Dozier seems like the most likely candidate to start the year in the leadoff spot. Last year, he hit 27 of his 42 home runs as the first batter in the order. He did this in 73 starts. For his career, he has hit .250/.317/.496 with home runs in 23% of his games. Dozier's career batting average of .246 doesn't exactly scream leadoff hitter but he has gotten on base over 32% of the time.

Dozier also adds in the ability to steal bases. Over the last two seasons, he has averaged 17 steals per season. "I just love the leadoff spot," Dozier said. "Just like Mollie, I like to ignite, get things going." Throughout his career, Dozier has been a very streaky hitter. If Dozier is in the midst of a cold spell, other hitters might be given the opportunity to take over the leadoff spot.

Joe Mauer, 1B
With a new analytic baseball operations department, Mauer could take over the leadoff spot. He is the most experienced hitter in the Twins line-up and he posted a .363 OBP last year. Derek Falvey's former team, the Indians, used Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot for over half of their games last season. Mauer batted leadoff on eight occasions last year while going 5-for-32 (.156 BA) with 10 to 4 strikeout to walk ratio.

It might make the most sense to have Mauer be the leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching. I made the argument that it might be time to use a platoon system with Mauer so he is getting the majority of his at-bats against righties. This would allow right-handed hitters like Kennys Vargas and/or Byungho Park to see more at-bats against lefties.

Robbie Grossman, OF
Grossman might be a sleeper pick to be the lead-off hitter. With a Rosario-Buxton-Kepler projected outfield, Grossman will likely make the team as a fourth outfielder. One injury to a starting player and his role will quickly become more important. If Dozier goes cold or Buxton slumps, Grossman might find himself at the top of the pile.

Last year, he posted a .386 OBP which was almost 40 points higher than his career total. Grossman's defense was so poor in the outfield that the new front office might search for different candidates. It also seems likely for him to regress closer towards his career totals for getting on base.

Who do you want to see get the majority of the leadoff at-bats? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Top 20 Twins Prospects: 6-10

Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons
Last week I began running through my personal picks for the Twins top prospects. The players I have ranked 11-20 include multiple players who could impact the Twins roster during the 2017 campaign.

While the Twins have multiple players ready to debut, the back-end of my top-10 includes only one player who will play with the Twins next season. There are many players to be excited about but many of the players with higher upside are multiple years away from Target Field.

10. Felix Jorge, RHP
Age: 23/ Highest Level: Double-A
In Jorge's first taste of the FSL, he showed why he is considered one the Twins top pitching prospects. Through his first seven starts, he posted a 2.00 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 45.0 IP. From May 26-July 5, he reeled off seven straight victories while averaging over six innings per start. Jorge was promoted to Double-A in July and struggled through his first six starts (5.06 ERA). He ended the year strongly in his last five starts as he averaged over seven innings and posted a 3.16 ERA. He set career best totals in wins, innings pitched, and he struck out over 100 batters for the second consecutive season. Following the season, the Twins added Jorge to the 40-man roster. If he continues to pitch well, Jorge could be a September call-up in 2017.

9. Lewin Diaz, 1B
Age: 20/ Highest Level: Rookie
Diaz has been over a year younger than the competition at every stop in his professional career. During the 2016 season, he hit .321/.366/.585 against older pitchers and only faced younger pitchers in 15 at-bats. Diaz, a left-handed batter, had an OPS that was 19 points higher against righties. He ended the year by hitting .352/.387/.563 with eight extra-base hits in his last 19 games. He also limited his strikeouts to 35 in 174 at-bats (20% of his AB). Diaz committed four errors at first base in 318 chances for a .987 FLD% which is better than his career fielding percentage. Like other players on this list, Diaz won't be making his debut for multiple seasons.


8. Adalberto Mejia, LHP

Age: 23/ Highest Level: MLB

Mejia spent his first six minor league seasons in the Giants organization before joining the Twins in the Eduardo Nunez trade. He began the year at Double-A where he went 3-2 with a 1.94 ERA and 58 strikeouts over 65.0 IP. In June, he was promoted to Triple-A where he pitched six innings or more in five of his seven appearances. After joining the Red Wings, he allowed 10 earned runs over 19.1 innings with 20 strikeouts. Mejia made his big league debut on August 20 as he allowed two runs on five hits over 2.1 frames. His final start of the year came back in Rochester as he allowed one earned run over seven innings with five strikeouts. Lefties hit .205/.247/.301 against him with 42 strikeouts in 146 at-bats. Mejia will factor get multiple opportunities to stick at the big league level this season.
7. Wander Javier, SS
Age: 18/ Highest Level: Dominican Summer League
Javier made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League. In nine games, he went 8-for-26 (.308 BA) with two home runs and three doubles. He was pulled from a game on July 1st with a hamstring injury and he wouldn't appear in another game the rest of the season. The injury wasn't considered serious but the Twins let him rest until fall instructional league play. He posted a 3 to 4 strikeout to walk ratio against right-handed pitchers while combining for a 1.234 OPS (29 plate appearances). All but one of his plate appearances came against older pitchers. He made eight starts at shortstop and was charged with one error in 25 chances. Javier is many years away from Target Field but he has plenty of upside.

6. Kohl Stewart, RHP
Age: 22/ Highest Level: Double-A
For the fourth consecutive season, Stewart was more than 2.5 years younger than the competition at his level. His first nine starts came in Fort Myers. In 51.2 innings, he posted a 2.61 ERA with a 44 to 19 strikeout to walk ratio. He held opponents to hitting .207/.286/.287. H was promoted to Double-A at the beginning of June. In three of his first seven appearances, he failed to get out of the fifth inning by allowing a combined 13 runs. In the other four starts during that stretch, he averaged 6.2 innings with a combined four earned runs allowed. From August through season’s end, he started to get in a rhythm at Double-A. Over his last six games (38.2 IP), he allowed 11 earned runs on 30 hits with 16 strikeouts and 21 walks. There's an outside chance he could debut this year but it seems likely for him to pitch most of the year between Double-A and Triple-A.

Who is too high? Is anyone too low? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Planning A Mauer Platoon

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
Joe Mauer has been a mainstay in the Twins line-up for most of the last 13 years. He's won an MVP and three Gold Gloves while being selected to six All-Star teams. However, the All-Star version of Mauer has been missing from Target Field in recent years.

Mauer will turn 34 next month and he is turning into the elder statesman of the Twins clubhouse. A younger core of players is surrounding him and this could mean a shift in playing time. Mauer has two years remaining on his monster contract so he's not going anywhere but the Twins might need to start adjusting to an aging Mauer.

Batting Order Options
Mauer made his spring debut on Wednesday while batting in the second spot. Manager Paul Molitor is still trying to decide how the line-up will shakeout before the season begins. Byron Buxton or Brian Dozier will likely start the year in the lead-off spot and other players like Mauer are dependant on who starts at the top.

"How Buxton comes along, how that's going to affect Dozier in some regard, there's just a trickle down there in where people could go," Molitor told the Pioneer Press. "I still like Joe up there somewhere, against right-handed pitching in particular."

Is Molitor hinting at something more with Mauer? Will he sit more against lefties? Could he drop in the order against same-sided pitching?

Numbers Dropped Against Lefties
During the 2016 campaign, Mauer hit .272/.383/.410 against right-handed pitching in almost 450 plate appearances. His numbers dropped against southpaws as he hit 48 points lower and got on base 29% of the time. In 2015, Mauer hit .267/.327/.393 against left-handed pitching including 14 extra-base hits in 191 at-bats.

There were plenty of holes in his swing against lefties. There were only two zones where he hit at least .200 when facing southpaws and one of those areas was out of the strike zone.
Image courtesy of FanGraphs
Other First Base Options
Besides Mauer's dropping numbers against lefties, there are other options in camp who could platoon with Mauer. Kennys Vargas and Byungho Park both have a chance at making the roster. Each of them might be a better option when it comes to facing southpaws.

Vargas, a switch hitter, has hit .302/.360/.474 against lefties in over 211 MLB plate appearances. His .834 OPS is 141 points higher than his total against righties. Park suffered through plenty of struggles during his MLB rookie campaign. However, he is off to a good start this spring as he has two home runs. If he is able to stay healthy this season, he could be a player to watch.

New Men At The Top
During his first two years as manager, Molitor has controlled the line-up construction on a daily basis. According to the the Pioneer Press, he was having "regular batting order discussions with Jack Going, the Twins' director of baseball research."

With newly created baseball operations department, Thad Levine and Derek Falvey might have more of a say in line-up creation. This will remain to be seen in the year ahead. Molitor wasn't hired under the current regime so it will be interesting to see how their relationship develops over the course of the 2017 season.

Put yourself in the manager's chair. Should Mauer be platooned this year? What is the Twins optimal line-up against right-handed and left-handed starters? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Top 20 Twins Prospects: 11-20

Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons
Twins Daily has running through the top prospects in the Twins organization. Those profiles are a combination of multiple rankings from the different writers at the site. My own top 50 list was recently included in the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook.

There will always be differences when deciphering which prospects are the best. Should a person give a higher rank to the player with the most potential? Should it be the player with the most tools? Maybe, it should be the one who has a lower ceiling but a higher floor?

Over the next week, I will release my top 20 prospects. Here is a look at prospects 11-20 with multiple players who could impact the big league roster during the 2017 season.

20. LaMonte Wade, OF
Age: 23/ Highest Level: Low-A

Wade showed an advanced approach at the plate this season by getting on base over 40% of the time. He has strong baseball skills and showed them throughout the 2016 campaign. He might not have the tools of some of the other higher ranked prospects but he has shown the ability to play multiple outfield positions. Depending on how rosters shake out this spring, he could end up back in Fort Myers or he could get bumped up to Chattanooga.

19. Lewis Thorpe, LHP
Age: 21/ Highest Level: Low-A


Thorpe is an intriguing name even though he hasn't made a professional appearance since the 2014 season. Baseball Prospectus has included him in their top-101 prospects prior to the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He was the youngest player in the Midwest League back in 2014 so there is still time for him to develop. Fans will need to be patient as he returns to the mound. If he shows that he's ready this spring, the Twins could start him at Fort Myers.

18. Huascar Ynoa, RHP
Age: 18/ Highest Level: Rookie

Ynoa pitched all of the 2015 season in the Dominican Summer League with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. He made his stateside debut in 2016 and lowered his WHIP by almost 20 points as he allowed 18 fewer walks. He also increased his SO/9 from 7.5 to 9.0. His three pitch mix (fastball, curveball, change-up) could all turn into above average pitches. He's added some weight to his frame the last couple years and this should only help him to add velocity.

17. Ben Rortvedt, C
Age: 19/ Highest Level: Rookie

Minnesota used a second round pick in last year's draft to select a Wisconsin high school catcher. He struggled in his first stop in his professional debut as he hit .203/.277/.254 in 20 GCL games. Things improved in Elizabethton as he averaged jumped over 45 points and he got on base almost 35% of the time. Since he is 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, he has some room to grow into his body. He will need to do this if he wants to stay behind the plate. Most likely he will start 2017 in extended spring training before heading back to the E-Twins to start the year.

16. Engelb Vielma, SS/2B/3B
Age: 22/ Highest Level: Double-A

Even though he was two years younger than the competition in the Southern League, Vielma posted an OPS that was almost 20 points higher than his career average. His defensive skills continue to be very strong at shortstop and this ability might be his ticket to a big league career. There will likely continue to be offensive struggles as he moves closer to Target Field. If he can continue to make small offensive improvements, he could become a consistent MLB regular.

15. Nick Burdi, RHP
Age: 24/ Highest Level: Double-A

When the Twins drafted Burdi in the second round of the 2014 Draft, there were high hopes that he would move through the system quickly. These hopes haven't come to fruition as he has spent each of the last two years at Chattanooga. During the 2016 season, Burdi was limited to three appearances after he suffered a bone bruise. There were set-backs along the way and he wouldn't make it back to the mound. If he's healthy, Burdi could spend time in Chattanooga and Rochester with a chance of him making his debut in 2017.

14. JT Chargois, RHP
Age: 26/ Highest Level: MLB

Chargois dominated the upper levels of the minor leagues on the way to making his MLB debut in 2016. His debut was a disaster as he allowed five earned runs in less than an inning of work. However, he came back in the middle of August and posted a 2.82 ERA over his final 24 appearances. In the minor leagues, he averaged over 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He will need to get closer to that mark at the big league level in order to be a more effective relief pitcher.

13. Mitch Garver, C
Age: 26/ Highest Level: Triple-A

While the Twins signed Jason Castro to be the catcher of the present, Garver is setting up to be the team's catcher of the future. His emergence allowed for the team to expose Stuart Turner to the Rule 5 Draft. Barring any major injuries, Garver will likely spend most of 2017 at Triple-A. This will give him the opportunity to work with some of the team's pitching prospects as they look to make the jump to baseball's highest level.

12. Daniel Palka, OF/1B
Age: 25/ Highest Level: Triple-A

Palka displayed some impressive power during his first season in the Twins organization. Across the Twins two highest levels, he smashed 34 home runs and posted an .848 OPS. The Twins have other MLB ready options at first base and DH so his path to the big leagues might be in a corner outfield position. If Max Kepler or Eddie Rosario sputter at the beginning of the year, Palka could be an intriguing early season call-up.

11. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/3B
Age: 20/ Highest Level: Low-A
Blankenhorn was profiled as the Twins Daily number nine prospect. He's shown an advanced approach at the plate despite being younger than the competition. In 2016, he took positive strides on offense. After being drafted as a third baseman, he was mainly used at second base during his second professional season. There's a good chance he is a top-10 prospect by mid-season.