Three Takeaways from Opening Day 2014


It’s come and gone.  The first game of the season.  The perfect record.  Gone.  None of us are that surprised, however. You could look at the first game of the Twins’ 2014 and start having flashbacks to last season.  Low run production and pitchers giving up the lead the inning after the team ties it up.  BUT……There are some positives to take away from this loss.  3 to be exact.

 

Pitching staff:  Yeah, Nolasco struggled in his 3rd Opening Day start.  He wasn’t locating his fastball which is an all too familiar issue with Twins pitching.  Had he located better, you would have seen a much better outing.  The positive however here is the bullpen.  In 2 innings of relief the pen started the 2014 season scoreless.  Overall pitching wasn’t horrible.  5 run is all that were surrendered and coming of of last season I’m okay with that.

Kurt Suzuki: Let’s be honest, this guy was signed for his defense and ability to handle pitching staffs.  Whatever offense he provides is a bonus.  That being said, this guy had one helluva Twins’ debut.  3 RBI and all three were in clutch situations with 2 outs.  I don’t have the number of runners the team stranded with two outs last year, but I do know it was astronomical.  Man was it refreshing to see a batter knock in runs in two different two-out situations.

3rd Positive: Aaron Hicks got two hits!  TWO HITS!  In the first game of the season!  No 0-42 start this year!  I couldn’t believe Hicks won the centerfield job out of camp (even with the lack of centerfielders in the system) and he shut my mouth yesterday.  It remains to be seen how the next 161 games go, but yesterday the bat was working for Hicks.  Now he just needs to stop shying away from fly balls near the wall.

 

God is it nice to have baseball back!

What to Watch For Spring Training 2014: Infield Edition


In what is likely the area with the least bit of doubt the infield looks to be set.  In 2013 the health and late departure of Justin Morneau left questions at first base, but those were quickly answered during the Winter when the Twins decided Joe Mauer would be taking over the position.  The move will hopefully preserve his health and lock down the position for years to come.  Lets look at what the Twins infield will look like in 2014.

First Base: As mentioned above Joe Mauer, the baby Jesus himself, will be your starting first basemen.  While I believe the Twins are making the right decision by moving Mauer to protect him, they are leaving a hole in the offense by putting a singles hitter at a position that is typically held by a power hitter.  That being said, I’m hoping the move will get Mauer in the mindset of driving the ball towards right field more this year.  He’s got the talent to drive the ball wherever he wants on the field, he just has to want to do it.  If he hits for more power like he did in his MVP year this team could have a pretty nice offensive year. 

Second Base: Brian Dozier had a coming out party in 2013 with 18 home runs and 66 RBI.  Easily the greatest production the Twins have gotten from a second basemen in at least 5 years.  While Dozier only hit .244 it was a ten point improvement over 2012.  I would be happy with another ten point improvement to his BA if he hits around 20 home runs again this year.  His defense has been stellar, and how could we forget his all too famous hair flips?

Shortstop:  Stephen Drew is still on the market.  Let me say that again.  STEPHEN DREW!  Now your saying, OK, Stephen Drew.  An average shortstop at best.  However if you look deeper at the numbers this guy that had 50 extra base hits last season and an on base plus slugging percentage of .777.  Only three other shortstops had an OPS of .750 in 2013.  Now, take Pedro Florimon who will be the Twins’ starting shortstop barring any unseen moves the Twins are looking at.  Florimon had 26 extra base hits and an OPS of .661.  Yes, he is a better fielder than Drew and that’s probably more important to the Twins staff but I am getting really tired of having a solid defensive team with no offense.  Florimon will be great in the field and hit .225 with 8 home runs and 40 RBI.  Makes Drew sound awful nice doesn’t it. 

Third Base: Trevor Plouffe might not have produced the way we had hoped he would in 2013.  His defense was shaky, he didn’t hit for the average we thought he would, and his power numbers were nowhere near where we thought they’d be.  To be fair he did only play in 129 games.  He never found his swing last year, putting up 14 home runs and 52 RBI.  He did have a career best batting average at .254.  Hopefully with improved footwork and a healthy season Plouffe can return to his 2012 version when he 24 home runs. 

No surprises in the infield this year which we can hope means improved offensive production from each player, solid defensive play, and coupled with an improved starting pitching staff, a few more wins in 2014.

Tommy John Surgery Takes Out Top Prospect for 2014


2014 was supposed to be a monumental year for Miguel Sano.  After finishing 2013 in AA it was presumed that he would start in AAA Rochester with a good chance of getting called up to the Twins later in the season.  But after that 2013 season Sano started having a mild pain in his throwing elbow.  It was billed as nothing serious until a doctors visit revealed a strain in Sano’s ulnar ligament.  The Twins decided to handle the problem with rest and rehab,  which the team will now undoubtedly take some heat over.

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Fast forward to a few days ago when the Twins took the field for their first intra-squad scrimmage.  Sano made a throw from third base and felt that all too familiar twinge in his elbow.  Later that day he called his agent and said something wasn’t right in his elbow.  He went to see Dr. James Andrews who diagnosed Sano with a high grade partial tear to his UCL, an injury usually seen in pitchers.  The good thing in this is that Sano, being an infielder, should be able to start swinging a bat again in 4-5 months and begin throwing around the 6-8 month mark.  The fact that he doesn’t pitch makes his return time shorter.  The Twins have said that they hope that he can begin DH’ing in the minors once he starts swinging again.  Don’t be surprised however, if Sano doesn’t see the field in 2014.  As the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball the Twins will likely take Sano’s return very carefully.

What to Watch For Spring Training 2014: Outfield Edition


To say the Minnesota Twins’ outfield was a disaster in 2013 would be a fair assessment.  The opening day starters were Josh Willingham, Aaron Hicks, and Chris Parmelee.  Willingham spend most of the season on the disabled list, after destroying opposing pitchers in spring training Hicks started the regular season 2-44, and Parmelee kept his trend of pure inconsistency alive throughout the entire season.  The result was a hodge podge of fill-ins from Rochester and acquisitions, non of which, provided much production.  The Twins are hoping the 2014 season doesn’t bring them flashbacks of 2013.

          Willingham

Josh Willingham will be starting left fielder again this season.  After a career year in 2012, his 2013 season was marred with injury and when he did find the field he wasn’t the same player.  In 111 games last year Willingham notched only 14 home runs and 48 RBI, a far cry from the 35/110 he put up in 2012.  Staying healthy and returning to the consistent power hitter the Twins expect are huge keys for Willingham in 2014.

Chris Parmelee has been up and down with the Twins for the last 3 seasons.  We know one thing about him.  He has power.  But there’s a problem: Parmelee is one of the most inconsistent hitters in the Twins’ lineup.  One game, he’ll go 3-4 with a home run, double, and 4 RBI.  Then the next he’ll go 0-4 with 4 strikeouts.  Parmelee will be battling Oswaldo Arcia for the starting right field position and whoever shows more consistency will win the job.

That bring us to Oswaldo Arcia.  The highly touted Twins’ prospect made his debut last season due to injuries and came up with a bang.  However it only took the pitchers a couple times through the order to figure out his tendencies and he finished the season very slowly.  Arcia did hit 14 homers and racked up 43 RBI, but he also struck out 117 times in 351 at bats, only walking 23 times.  I hate when people talk about plate discipline because there are players who have too much of it however in Arcia’s case, he has ZERO.  If he wants to stay in the majors he needs to up his walk totals and lower his strikeouts.

The Twins acquired Ryan Presley for Justin Morneau in the second half of 2013.  He spent parts of 4 seasons with the Pirates and struggled to keep a job at the major league level.  His stats weren’t very impressive and there’s also this guy named McCutchen that has a pretty good lock on centerfield in Pittsburgh.  Once with the Twins he filled a much needed centerfield role and even more as lead off hitter.  In 28 games with the Twins he posted a .283 BA with 1 HR and 11 RBI.  He is a scrappy, hard working player that should be able to post good on base percentage numbers as well.  Presley has good speed which is why Ron Gardenhire has said this year he wants to see Presley’s stolen base totals much higher.  Presley seems to be the favorite for the centerfield job heading into Spring.

Aaron Hicks starting the 2013 spring training session with a bang.  Arguably the best player during camp he dazzled fans with great catches and huge home runs and everyone thought finally Hicks was ready to make the jump.  Then came the regular season which saw Hicks go 2-44 to start the season and he never recovered.  He finished the year in Rochester and was left there during September call ups.  His 2013 totals were even more disappointing: A .192 BA, 8 HR, 27 RBI and a brutal OBP of .259.  As disappointing as the 2013 season was for Hicks, he has a small chance to win back the centerfield spot.  He is going to have to mirror his Spring fom 2013 and even then Alex Presley will have to really struggle, because the Twins already know they can’t rely on Hicks’ spring training numbers.

Other than the position battles in the outfield, other interesting stories to watch will be prospect Max Kepler and the return of Jason Kubel.  Kepler is in his first major league camp and even though he hasn’t played higher than single-A ball, the club really likes his raw skills.  The 21 year old from Berlin has good speed and baseball IQ, and has gained some power over the last year.  Kubel is back with his original team after spending two years in the NL with Arizona and ended last season in Cleveland.  2012 was good for Kubel but 2013 saw numerous injuries which really hurt his production.  He looks to make the most of his minor league contract and make the club as a DH/back up corner outfielder.  Twins fans will remember the power Kubel provides when healthy.

Overall I don’t see the outfield improving much in 2014 unless Willingham returns to form and stays on the field and if Arcia can bloom into a consistent version of himself.  Otherwise look for a lot of platooning again in the Twins outfield this season.

What to Watch For 2014 Spring Training: Bullpen Edition


In our second installment of What to Watch For we’re taking a look at the bullpen.  It was arguably the only positive the Minnesota Twins have to look back on during the 2013 season.  Other than Glen Perkins, it was basically pieced together with AAA arms who came up to the big club and provided some quality innings.  Unfortunately it was usually when the Twins were down by 4 runs.  The coaching staff hopes the additions of Nolasco and Hughes will lessen the burden the bullpen carried last season.  Let’s take a look at what to watch for in the bullpen this Spring.

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Middle Relievers:

-Casey Fien posted a sub 4.00 ERA last season and in my opinion pitched better than this number represents.  He started the season with a couple of awful outings but as the season went on he just got stronger and stronger.  He posted a 10.6 K/9 IP and finished with a record of 5-2.  Look for Fien to be a big part of the middle relief corps.   

-Matt Guerrier signed this offseason to a minor league deal and is coming off of right flexor mass surgery. The Twins are hoping Guerrier can provide a veteran presence for this young bullpen.  That is, if he makes the team.  The club is being very cautious with him at the start of pitchers and catchers camp.  During his prime Guerrier was a quality long relief arm that the Twins leaned heavily on.  He looks to regain that form and make the team out of Spring Training.

-Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak both were banished from the starting rotation after having caught the Twins’ sickness of pitching four innings of great ball, then imploding in the fifth.  However after being moved into the bullpen in 2013 they flourished.  Duensing was the Twins’ only left handed long relief option and posted a  6-2 record and a respectable 3.98 ERA in 61 innings pitched.  Swarzak may have been the biggest surprise with  69 K’s in 96 innings, leading major league relievers (in IP), not to mention an era of 2.91.  Both of these relievers are arbitration eligible but look for the Twins to make them offers to keep them around.

After struggling to find an effective set up man for three seasons, the Twins finally found one in Jared Burton.  Yes, he struggled at times, but overall, this kid did a good job.  His lack luster fastball is made up for by an absolutely filthy change up.  In 2013 he posted a 3.82 ERA and 61 K’s in 66 IP.  Coming into 2014 the Twins should be solid in the setup role if he comes close to duplicating his 27 holds from 2013. 

The closer position won’t surprise any Twins’ fans.  Glen Perkins has been one of the best closers in the American league since he took the reigns from Joe Nathan.  Experts might look at his save numbers and say he doesn’t stack up against the other high end closers, but remember, he closes for a 100 loss team.  36 saves for a 100 loss team!!!!  He also played in his first All Star Game, which he rightfully deserved.  With a fastball that can touch 96 at times, and a slider that can screw batters into the ground, Perkins will again be one of the top closers in the league. 

Who to Watch This Spring Training:

At 6 foot 7 inches Micheal Tonkin shouldn’t be too hard to spot at camp this Spring.  And if you do have a hard time finding him, just listen for the loudest pop in the bullpen.  With a fastball that can reach 97 he spent most of the 2013 season in AA refining a secondary pitch.  That pitch turned into a sharp slider that the Twins’ had been hoping he could find.  He was called up at the end of last season and logged 11 innings, holding opposing batters to 1 run and a batting average of .205.  Don’t be surprised if Tonkin makes the club out of Spring training and holds down a one inning, power reliever spot. 

-Caleb Thielbar had an impressive rookie campaign and looks to gain more responsibility and innings in 2014.  Logging 46 innings he struck out 39 batters and provided a stingy ERA of 1.76.  This guy has good stuff and showed it last season however down the stretch he seemed to tire a bit.  He will have to battle for a spot in a very competitive bullpen this Spring but will most likely find himself with the club in Chicago on Opening Day. 

2014 will hopefully afford the Twins bullpen a little more rest, but if it doesn’t at least they’ll have the arms to keep the team in games.  That is, if the starters can keep the games within reach. 

 

 

 

 

What To Watch For: Spring Training 2014 Starting Pitching Edition


It’s finally here.  The day you have been waiting for all Winter.  The smell of green grass, the sound of baseballs popping into gloves, and the renewed hope of a fresh start to another Major League Baseball season.  While there might not be a ton of hope for Minnesota Twins fans for the 2014 season, there is hope for the club just over the horizon.  The Twins enter the season boasting arguably the number one farm system in baseball, which should make for a fun Spring camp.  In this installment we will go over some of the names to pay attention to this Spring. 

We will start with starting pitchers.  I’m not going to talk about Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes because we all know all eyes will be on them after the Twins spent a historic amount of money in free agency to nab them.  No, we are going to focus on pitchers that are already with the club and are battling for spots.  While not all of these players will make the big club, they all have large opportunities this Spring for the Twins.

Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond, and Vance Worley

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There are three things these players have in common.  They all struggled in the 2013 season (Deduno mostly because of an injury), they all lost their jobs in the rotation last season, and all three will be battling for the 5th and final pitching staff.  While Deduno posted a nice ERA of 3.83, he struggled with command which led to very high pitch counts early in his starts.  You can make the argument that he is effectively wild but he needs to reign it in a bit before I can comfortably give him that title.  He also was knocked out in the final month of the season due to shoulder soreness which led to off season surgery.  If he is healthy, which he says he is, I believe he is the front runner for this spot. 

Worley, you know, The Vanimal?  The guy we traded Ben Revere for?  Former ROY candidate who was banished to the minors only a couple months into the 2013 season after posting a 7.21 ERA?  Well he’s back in camp and according to him he is ready to show everyone why the Twins wanted him.  After hearing noise about his weight gain last year he has dropped 25 pounds this off season.  He has also changed his off season throwing program, cutting back on the amount of throwing sessions, an effort to keep his arm fresh.  The coaching staff will look to regain that power sinker that made him successful while he was with the Phillies.

Scott Diamond came into the 2013 with the expectations that he would duplicate his fantastic 2012 campaign in which he pitched to a 12-9 record and a 3.54 ERA.  However, they were not met as he struggled with his command which is disastrous for a pitcher who tops out at 88-90 MPH.  This season he looks to return to the dart throwing pitcher of 2012 we all thought would grow into a steady part of the rotation.

Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, and Trevor May

After a thrilling debut last season, in which Kyle Gibson showed Twins fans why he was the number one pitching prospect, he struggled with command which is expected with a rookie pitcher.  He got the speed back on his fastball, which was around 94-95 MPH and is completely unheard of for a Twins starting pitcher.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a Twins starter blow away an opposing batter with a fastball.  He looks to build off the experience gained while he was with the big club last season.  He has an outside chance at the 5th spot on the rotation if he shines in camp this Spring.

Alex Meyer, the Twins’ new top pitching prospect finished the year at AA New Britain and posted a cool 4-3 record and 3.21 ERA.  The most impressive stat was his 10.8 K’s per 9 innings.  He is also an intimidating presence on the mound.  At 6’10 he is virtually releasing the ball at 55 feet instead of 60 from his monstrous wingspan alone.  He will likely start the season in AAA but don’t be surprised when he joins the big club in September.  My only worry for Meyer is if his arm can hold up to throwing in the high 90s for an extended amount of time. 

Trevor May was another trade acquired arm the Twins got leading up the 2013 season.  Not the power pitcher that Meyer is, but a more prototypical Twins style pitcher.  Good command, no walks, and lets batters get themselves out.  May has three nice pitches, a 92-93 MPH fastball with sink, a hammer of a curve, and an above average changeup.  In 27 starts in AA last season he posted a 9-9 record with a 4.51 ERA.  May will likley find himself in AAA to start the season with Meyer.

Over the next week, we will go over who to watch in the bullpen, and the position players this Spring.  And because I’m so happy that Spring Training is here, I have a bonus picture for you!

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Dominant Bullpen Leading Twins To Wins


0.00, 1.04, 1.08, 2.08, 2.35, 3.86, 4.91.  These are the ERA’s of each one of the Minnesota Twins’ bullpen pitchers.  I’m still in shock over it.  The bullpen has easily been the nicest surprise so far this season.  They have kept the ball club in games in which they have been behind and tied in, and more importantly, have held leads.  Something that was desperately lacking in 2012.

In 2012 the Twins bullpen sat 17th in the majors in bullpen ERA at 3.77 and piled up 21 losses.  The only pitchers under an ERA of 3.00 were Glen Perkins and Jared Burton.  The starting pitching didn’t help either, requiring the bullpen to pitch in 558 innings, second to only Kansas City by 3 innings.  16 different arms were used.  Not stats that a winning ball team compiles.  Fast forward to 2013.

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The new and improved bullpen has a combined ERA of 2.15 in 54 innings of work, putting them 4th in the majors in ERA.  Only 8 pitchers have been used so far this season and we may be seeing the building blocks of what could be the MLB’s best closing duo.  Jared Burton and Glen Perkins have been absolutely untouchable so far in 2013.  Burton, the eighth inning set up man, has compiled a 1.08 ERA, has given up only 4 hits in 8.1 IP with 10 strikeouts and only 2 walks.  Opposing batters have hit a measly .148 against him.  Perkins has been just as dominant.  In 8.2 IP Perkins has an ERA of 2.35, given up 3 hits, and has struck out 14 batters including striking out the side in the first game of today’s double header against the Marlins.  Opposing batters are completely flailing at his pitches, batting .120 against him. 

If the middle relievers keep holding leads and keeping teams off the scoreboard so Burton and Perkins can finish them off, you will see the Minnesota Twins keep winning ball games.  The starters are pitching into the sixth and seventh innings preserving the arms in the bullpen and the offense is scoring enough runs to get wins.  It has been a great start for a team that didn’t generate much hope or positive thinking before the season, but this team is night and day different from the 2012 Twins and a lot of that is because of the bullpen’s success.