Thursday, February 25, 2010

Race for the 5th Ace

Now that Pitchers and Catchers have reported there is really only one question on the minds of many, who will be the fifth starter. With the first spring training game just one week away, the favorite appears to be Francisco Liriano.

Frankie has had a good offseason in Winter Ball and the hope is that he can return to the form which he had in 2006. Sadly, the fact of the matter is that this will NOT happen. To give Liriano a grade on how he has done in the Dominican League would be like giving a college student a grade on a high school assignment. The fact of the matter is, Liriano would struggle more with the Pittsburg Pirates lineup than the lineups he has been facing in the Dominican league. Liriano has been anything but clutch in his tenure with the Twins. Duensing has shown to be nothing but a clutch performer in his tenure with the Twins on the other hand. He pitched three gems in September which ultimately helped lead the Twins to the pennant.

Both Liriano and Duensing were available when the Twins were in need of wins but who answered the call? Duensing has been the better pitcher as of late and should be rewarded as such. It should be his job to lose. Yet Bill Smith and Gardy are going to give Liriano one (hopefully) more chance to perform. As Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Think about this quote for a second and ask yourself, does this quote apply to the way Gardy is running the pitching situation?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Future of the Outfield

Future of the Twins Outfield by Joe Bronk

Terry Ryan and now Bill Smith have grown accustomed to drafting and acquiring high upside outfielders in the past. This strategy has allowed the Twins to build their teams around players such as Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter. Minnesota already has youth going into their third full year in Minnesota (Denard Span, 26 and Delmon Young, 24). The strategy as of late has created a surplus in the pipe line and will create a future debate of who will be manning the outfield in the newly built Target Field.

2010 Twins Outfield

Denard Span, Opening Day Age 26:
Denard Span played 145 games and was among some of the most consistent leadoff hitters in the game with a .311/.392/.415. The Twins traded Carlos Gomez raw physical tools and projection for Span’s consistency and ability to work the count and get on base for Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau at the top of the order. UZR indicates that Span is an average defensive outfielder and below average in center field however, I think this is one of those instances where you have to take what you see on the field versus the stat sheet. Span is a very good player ready to enter his prime this year or the next and should be in Minnesota for years to come.

Michael Cuddyer, Opening Day Age 31:
Michael Cuddyer had his best year in 2009 since his 2006 campaign where is seemed that he was going to establish himself as an elite run producers in the American League. Injuries and inconsistency left Twins fans frustrated however; Cuddyer seemed to find his bat in 2009 and had a career power year. Michael had to move to first base after the injury to Justin Morneau in the final month of the season, but racked up some of his best stat lines since 2006 after setting career highs in hits (162), home runs (32) and slugging percentage (.520). The Twins rewarded him after the season by picking up his option through 2011. So we now know that Cuddyer who will be 31 on opening day will be in a Twins uniform for the next two seasons. After that it will be a coin toss. It all depends on how the farm system develops. His defense is suspect, 2009 being the worst of his career with a -16.9 UZR rating. In my opinion he is a solid an important player to this team and will be a key component for the 2010 and 2011 seasons if Minnesota plans to go deep into the postseason.

Delmon Young Opening Day Age 24:
After being brought in to pretty much replace Torii Hunter, Delmon Young took a step back in 2009 again. His rookie year in 2007 with Tampa Bay set high hopes. However Young played 44 less games then he did in 2008. Young walked a disastrous 12 times last season but had September and October to remember. After September 1st Young hit .340 which helped drive the Twins into the playoffs. Although it was a major disappointment overall Delmon is still only 24 years old and after rumored that he has dropped over 25 pounds and there is reason to believe he is in place for a breakout year. Little fun fact, Delmon Young’s numbers are much better outside on grass (.309/.332/.451) versus indoors on turf (.264/.288/.405) in 2009. In the long term I think Delmon Young will be a piece of the Twins team. I expect the Twins to move him back to his natural position in right field in a couple years where he was actually pretty solid in the 2006 and 2007 seasons in Tampa Bay (UZR=7.3)

First Wave of Future Talent

Rene Tosoni, Opening Day Age 23, AAA Rochester:
Tosoni had a career year in the minors in 2009. He was invited to the Arizona Fall League, Easter League All Star, and was selected to the Futures Game where his game winning hit gave him the games Most Valuable Player award. He spent the entire year in AA New Britain where he hit .271/.360/.454. In 425 at bats Tosoni had a very impressive 15 home runs and 71 RBI. Basically this is what I think. Although Tosoni had a good year and is very likable with a career OPS of .827, their really isn’t much upside to what he has displayed now. He will be 23 this season and has yet to see a pitch in AAA. Delmon Young is 24 and has been in the majors for 3 and half years now. The Twins are loaded with left handed bats and Tosoni is a left handed hitter. He has played some center field but is predominately a right fielder. At best if he does well this year I can see him being called up as a 4th outfielder. For this to happen he will have to be put on the 40 man roster and someone like Luke Hughes or Alexi Casilla will have to be taken off which would be difficult. If I were the front office, I would consider using Tosoni as a trade chip along with some other young talent to bring in another bullpen arm or maybe a starter to strengthen a 2010 Twins playoff push.

Ben Revere, Opening Day Age 21, AA New Britain:
We all heard the negatives when Ben Revere was drafted in 2007. A 5 foot 9, 170 pound centerfielder taken in the first round when other scouts labeled him as a 3rd or 4th round talent. A draft that has already delivered major leaguers such as David Price, Matt Wieters, Ross Detwiler, Matt LaPorta, Madison Bumgarner, Jason Heyward, and Rick Porcello (who went one pick before Revere). So far it has benefited well for Minnesota considering they gave Revere a signing bonus of $750,000. Revere has done nothing but hit and rack up hardware everywhere he has gone. Revere has been an All Star in the Gulf Coast League, Midwest League, and the Florida State League. An MVP in Beloit where he hit .379, stole 44 bases and had 10 triples. Revere’s numbers fell off when he went to Fort Myers hitting .311/.372/.369. Although he had a negative ISO, which is very Nick Punto like, he still held his own getting on base in a very pitcher heavy league. I have no issue with Revere’s talent. I definitely think he can be a contributor on a major league team. But, maybe not this one unless the Twins get clever. In my opinion Revere is a little more then a year away from the majors. He will be 23 in 2011 but he will be blocked by Denard Span. Revere may have some better tools then Span (hitting is debatable, and speed) but Span is a more complete player. I have heard some rumors that Revere played some second base in high school and was pretty good one at that. If the Twins considered exploring this idea and taking a BJ Upton approach which is try him at 2nd base or shortstop for a while and if it doesn’t work then send him back to the outfield, it could work out for Ben and Minnesota in the long run. If not again he might have to be a trade chip to bring in a high profile pitcher. Maybe he could be used to spark a deal to rent Brandon Webb from Arizona to make a run at the World Series and take some pressure off guys like Scott Baker.

Wave 2: Little Far Off and Much Work To Do

Chris Parmelee, Opening Day Age 22 AA New Britain:
Chris Parmelee was selected 20th overall in the 2006 draft. Like fellow ’06 high school bats Bill Rowell and Chris Marero, Parmelee has developed very slowly. When looking back he was picked ahead of guys like Ian Kennedy, Hank Conger, Daniel Bard, 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, Chris Perez and Joba Chamerblin. A lot of comparisons have been drawn to slugger Adam Dunn, however Dunn was a career .304 hitter in the minors and had a .950 OPS. Parmelee has a career OPS under .800. In reality Parmelee is more like Jack Cust. He took some steps forward having his best full season with 16 home runs and 73 RBI in a pitcher friendly Florida State League. There is still optimism to think that Parmelee’s bat can take big strides in AA ball but we will have to wait and see. Parmelee was drafted as an outfielder but is about as bad as it gets defensively. Which means even if his bat does come around it will be blocked by Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel. This is a make or break year for Parmelee. I think Chris will show more power this year now that he is finally out of the Midwest and Florida State Leagues, so 20 plus home runs are definitely a probability, however he has show more plate discipline and raise his average to be considered an upper echelon prospect again. Most likely Parmelee will spend all of 2010 in New Britain at the age of 22 and the Twins will evaluate his future in the off-season.

Joe Benson, Opening Day Age 22, A+ Fort Myers or AA New Britain:
Joe Benson has been looked at very highly for his projection over the years. 2008 Baseball America saw Benson as the number 2 prospect in the system behind Nick Blackburn. Benson has been plagued by injuries over the years, most recent a broken hand suffered after punching a wall. He only played 80 games for the Miracle in 2009 which leaves reason to believe that there is a chance he will repeat the level and get a promotion sometime in June or July. I could be wrong but the Twins have been known for giving prospects the proper amount of playing time at each level before giving them a new test. Benson’s stat line in 2009 was the best it has ever been (.285/.414/.403). Benson showed great plate discipline as well as speed on the base paths (14/21 in steals). Like Revere and Parmelee, I believe that the Florida State League played a part in the lack of slugging power shown in 2009. In a perfect world Benson would actually start the year in AA and do very well by working the count, getting on base and showing solid power. Benson can play all 3 outfield positions which gives him an advantage over the other three players listed above. I expect Benson to remain with the Twins for the future. At best he will be an everyday left or right fielder with solid all around tools resembling J.D. Drew.

Wave 3: High Ceiling Guys

Aaron Hicks, Opening Day Age 20, A Beloit or A+ Fort Myers:
The 14th overall selection in 2008, Hicks has been the top prospect in the system for the past 2 years, and will probably be labeled as that until he is major league ready sometime in 2012. Aaron has already been labeled as the best prospect the Twins have ever had since Joe Mauer which is a huge burden to put on a kid at his age. Hicks we all know is a prototypical 5 tool talent with high upside. At the age of 19, Hicks already showed great plate discipline in 2009 with a 40/55 BB/K ratio. After dominating the GCL his rookie year, Hicks showed some normal struggles in Beloit which leaves reason to believe he will at least start out there in 2010. Hicks’ projections have been very high with names such as Darryl Strawberry, Carlos Beltran, BJ Upton, and Grady Sizemore being labeled as comparables. Out of all the names I have dropped in this article, Hicks is the only one that will not be blocked anywhere he goes. Hicks will be a guy who can bat anywhere in the order. If he leads off, he will get on base, hit for average, steal bases, show power and score runs. If he bats third he will do all those things plus drive in runs and so on. He can play all three outfield positions with gold glove capability. The possibilities with this guy are endless which will make him very exciting to watch in the future. I will feel very comfortable if Michael Cuddyer hands over his number 5 jersey to Aaron Hicks in 2012.

Angel Morales, Opening Day Age 20, A+ Fort Myers:
Morales, a 3rd round pick in the same draft that may end up being one of the better Twins drafts in the past decade (Ben Revere). After raking up the Appalachian League in 2008 (.301/.413/.613) the Twins had very high hopes for the 19 year old in his first season of pro ball. Unfortunately, Morales got off to a dreadful start, hitting well below .200 and striking out a ton. Morales ended the season on a tear and finished with rather respectful stats and hit 13 home runs and stole 19 bags. Morales low contact rate makes me hope that he does not end up turning into Delmon Young or Jeff Francour, but he is so young that it is too far away to actually think of the negative of him. Morales will spend all of 2010 in high A Fort Myers where he will face his greatest challenge yet which are huge parks and great pitching. Twins fans are drooling at the chance that Angel Morales and Aaron Hicks both hit their ceilings and play together at every level and then form one of the most exciting outfield tandems the American League has seen in years.

After 2011….
So after the 2011 season a few things are going to be known. Former first round picks such as Chris Parmelee, Ben Revere, and Aaron Hicks are going to be ready for the major leagues. Max Kepler, and Miguel Sano will both be celebrating their 19th birthdays! Michael Cuddyer who will be 33, will be a free agent and most likely not brought back. Delmon Young will enter his 3rd year of arbitration and Denard Span will enter his second. There are going to be a lot of questions between now and then, but this is a good problem to have and an exciting one to watch develop.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To Sign or Not to Sign

After a first round exit, most Twins fans felt this would be like any other year. Like normal, extremely quiet but maybe pick up an old washed-up player as we had before in Rondell White or Tony Bastista. Well not this year Twins fans! Just two days after the World Series ended the Twins made a move to shore up their infield by trading outfielder Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for shortstop J.J. Hardy. Hardy, who was an All Star in 2007 and had All Star-like numbers in 2008, struggled in 2009 and was sent down to Triple-A Nashville. The Twins hopes and expectations are that Hardy can return to the All Star form he had in years past. Later on the off season, the Twins signed both Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson to one-year deals. What could better cap off an already outstanding off season better than signing the hometown hero Joe Mauer to a legacy contract? Wrong! I believe that the Twins should not sign Mauer to a long term deal.

The Rangers are probably the best example of why NOT to sign a star player to a large contract. In 2000, the Texas Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez to ten year deal worth two-hundred and fifty two million dollars, which at the time was the most lucrative contract in baseball history. Just like Rodriguez, Mauer is a big-time player who is the face of the franchise. I'm not saying that Mauer will leave Minnesota if he does sign long term but I am saying that this could backfire.

We all know that catcher is the position which takes the most wear and tear. So why would you sign a player to a long term contract, even if he is the best in all of baseball?

As in the real world, people (owners in this case) like to protect their investments. Whether it be changing the fuel in your car or putting anti-virus software on your computer, people do their best to see they get their money’s worth. The same is true in baseball. Instead of throwing two-hundred million dollars at a potential risk the Twins need to protect their investment. Therefore, I believe the Twins should not sign Mauer long term if they do not intend on keeping Wilson Ramos in the Twins system.

Think of it this way, when Mauer catches Ramos can DH, and when Ramos catches Mauer can DH. This can prolong both careers and protect the investment we would put in both Mauer and Ramos. By starting Ramos, the Twins lose nothing defensively or offensively to Mauer. This is like killing two birds with one stone, which is the most efficient method.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The search for Third- A belated Nick Punto Day Post

Going into Spring Training, one of the key stories to watch for the Minnesota Twins is the situation at third. The Twins have taken a look at many third basemen throughout the offseason, most notably Joe Crede and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

As Spring Training approaches, Gardy seems to have become accustomed to the idea of a platoon between Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla at third. This season, the Twins move into their new ballpark and with a new ballpark the revenue generated has increased. The Twins payroll has skyrocket from 65 million last year to an astonishing 95 million this year. The expectations of a World Series appearance has grown tremendously.Looking back at the last five years, 4 of 5 World Series winners (exception is the 2009 Phillies with Pedro Feliz) have had power-hitting third basemen. The current platoon hit a combined 3 home runs in 2009. In order to improve the shortcomings of the hot corner, I believe that Gardy should look at giving Cuddyer some time at third this spring training.

Now let's look at the potential lineup if this were to happen.

CF Span
2B Hudson
C Mauer
1B Morneau
LF Kubel
3B Cuddyer
DH Thome
RF Young
SS Hardy

This move would allow the Twins to add some power in the lineup in Thome and move Young back to his true position in RF.
Cuddyer with his stellar arm and above-par range would make for the third basemen we have been looking for since the departure of Koskie in 2004.
As I said, this is just Spring Training and if Cuddyer does not produce as he should be producing we can go with the option of the platoon but I feel that this move could open up a new future for the Twins.

Feel Free to comment away!