Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

One sign of Thanksgiving: I haul out
 this old pic of a turkey in my mom's oven.

Happy Thanksgiving, all, and thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Outfield options: Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario
led AL left fielders in
assists, double plays
-- and errors.
As the Twins made their ultimately futile playoff push in September, Paul Molitor essentially went with three outfielders: Eddie Rosario in left, Aaron Hicks in center, Torii Hunter in right.

Today Hunter is retired and Hicks is a Yankee -- and Shane Robinson, who spent the entire season on the roster, has signed with Cleveland.

So Molitor's 2016 outfield is going to be markedly different than the one he went with at the end of 2015. 

Start with the one certainty for April's lineup: Rosario.

Rosario's plusses: He's a good defensive corner outfielder and probably passable in center, although the Twins have better options in the middle garden. He hit for more power (.459) than might have been anticipated and led MLB in triples with 15. He didn't fall off against lefties -- in fact, his slash line stats were all better against southpaws than against righties.

Rosario's minuses: His walk-to-strikeout ratio was abysmal: 15 walks, 118 strikeouts. His on-base percentage was a lowly .289, and that makes ludicrous the notion floated by some that he belongs at the top of the order.

Keith Law, the ESPN prospect writer, said in a recent chat that he expects Rosario to eventually be the odd man out of the Minnesota outfield. And if Rosario's inability to control his strike zone persists, Law's right. It's not possible to be a productive hitter striking out eight times for every walk.

But I'm not sure that what we saw in 2015 is what we'll see in the future.

The scouting word on Rosario as a minor leaguer was always: Outstanding hit tool, probably a bit shy on power. That was part of the motivation for the second base experiment in 2012-14, that a good singles hitter's bat plays better in the middle infield than in an outfield corner. But Rosario in the majors was more a power hitter than a singles hitter. The level of production was essentially what one might have expected; it simply took a different shape than projected.

Rosario is young -- he turned 24 in September -- and his development as a hitter was certainly detoured by his half-season suspension in 2014 and possibly by the position uncertainty. There's growth possible here. And, considering the talent the Twins have among young outfielders, he'll need to grow. But he is first in line for the chance.

The catching future

The Twins this offseason have, as noted in Monday's post, shed three catchers who have bounced between Triple A and the majors the past three years -- Eric Fryer, Chris Herrmann and Josmil Pinto. They also, during the season, moved Dan Rohlfing to the Mets organization.

This essentially clears the deck for the trio of catchers the Twins selected in the first nine rounds of the 2013 draft: Stuart Turner (3rd round), Brian Navarretto (6th round) and Mitch Garver (9th round).

Turner, who turns 24 next month, figures to be the primary catcher at Triple A next year. He didn't hit much at Double A Chattanooga (.223 batting average with a .306 slugging percentage), and he didn't hit much the two previous years either. Drew Butera is probably a good comp to him: the defensive chops to catch in the major leagues, not enough bat to be a useful regular.

Garver can expect to move up a rung to Chattanooga. He'll turn 25 in January. He has shown a good bat in the past, but his production fell off notably when he moved from Low A Cedar Rapids to High A Fort Myers. That's not a plus, obviously, but some decline is always likely with that transition because Fort Myers is a notoriously difficult hitting environment, while CR is one of the more hitter-friendly venues in the Midwest League. Anyway: Garver is certainly a better hitter than Turner, and also said to be weaker behind the dish, He's also been consistently old for his level of competition.

Navarretto was the one high schooler of the three, which is why he's a level behind the other two.  He turns 21 next month. He will probably be the No. 1 catcher for Fort Myers. What he showed in Cedar Rapids was an excellent throwing arm and a weak stick -- .217/.256/.281. I happened to witness one of his two homers.

If there's a major league regular in that trio, my money's on Navarretto, but that's strictly on the basis of his youth, But the Twins can't count on any of the three emerging, which is part of why they traded for John Ryan Murphy. I think it likely that Murphy will split time with Kurt Suzuki in 2016, then become the regular in 2017, perhaps with Turner as the backup

I also think it likely that the Twins will be targeting catchers again in the 2016 draft.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Have a heart, Rod Carew. Literally.

Rod Carew during the pregame festivities at the
2014 All-Star Game at Target Field.
The news Monday that Rod Carew is in need of a heart transplant was a bit of a thunderbolt, especially to Twins fans of my age. For a good chunk of the 1970s, Rod Carew was the focal point of the Twins -- perennial All-Star, perennial batting champion.

Steve Rusdin of Sports Illustrated broke the news.

One aspect of Carew's situation that seems to be getting misinterperted in the Twin Cities reports I've seen: According to Rushin, Carew is not actually on the transplant list. He's not healthy enough yet after surviving a major heart attack in September. He's on an artificial heart of sorts, an LVAD -- Left Ventricular Assist Device -- while he waits to get on the list and then for a matching donor.

The salient paragraph in Rusdin's piece about Sir Rodney's future:

Some patients keep the LVAD permanently when transplantation is not an option. At 70, Carew is near the age border for a transplant, though age standards are considerably more liberal in the western United States, where waiting lists are shorter. “I don’t know if I’m going to be bionic or what,” says Carew, who is concentrating now on becoming healthy enough to quality for the transplant list.
Carew is aiming to be at spring training, although he has been told that if he does go to a training camp this spring it will be the Angels (who train in Arizona), not the Twins. He's under contract with both organizations, and both renewed their deals with the Hall of Famer after his health crisis began, a nice gesture by the two teams he played for.

We all die sooner or later. I'd prefer to see Carew hang around a few years more.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Good-bye, Josmil

Josmil Pinto spent
2015 in Rochester
and on the disabled
The Twins have moved rather aggressively to reshape their catching options for 2016.

Kurt Suzuki is still around, of course. But Chris Herrmann was traded to Arizona, Eric Fryer was outrighted and signed with St. Louis, and Josmil Pinto was claimed by San Diego. That's three catchers with major league experience cleared off the roster -- and one, John Ryan Murphy, added -- in roughly five weeks.

Pinto's departure had three causes: First, he isn't much of a defensive catcher, and it's not for lack of effort. Second, he was, by my count, sidelined three times by concussions last season. And three, there didn't figure to be a role for him on the roster. There are plenty of other DH options.

That he was claimed by a National League team suggests that not everybody is convinced that his defensive issues negate his batting. San Diego is a tough park to hit in, so even if Pinto gets playing time with the Padres, his numbers may not impress anybody.

The Padres have Derek Norris as their No. 1 catcher, and he's pretty solid. Austin Hedges was the primary backup, and he hit just .168, so there is an opportunity for Pinto to make the club. But he's one of four catchers on the 40-man roster.  He's got his limitations, and he's got competition.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Sunday Funnies

The great 19th century catcher/outfielder King Kelly is playing right field in Boston. The game goes into the 12th inning, and it's getting dark. With two outs, the batter drives a pitch deep to right. Kelly dashes back, leaps for a two-handed catch and trots back to the bench. The umpire calls the batter out and calls the game on account of darkness as a tie.

Kelly's teammates congratuate him for saving them a loss. One asked how deep the ball was hit. "How the hell should I know?" the King replies. "It went a mile over my head."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Setting the stage for Rule 5

Friday was the deadline for teams to protect their current minor leaguers from the Rule 5 draft by putting them on the 40-man major league roster. The Twins elevated seven prospects -- and lost two players with some major league time, catcher Josmil Pinto and right-hander A.J. Achter, on waivers, Pinto to the Padres and Achter to the Phillies.

I'll probably write something in more detail about the Pinto move next week. Achter is a marginal reliever who had another good season in Triple A last year -- he has a 2.69 ERA in 99 Triple A appearances -- who might be able to wander into a decent major league season if given a chance, but lacks the dominant pitch to force a career. Good luck to both of them.

The seven additions include several pitchers who emphatically have that dominant pitch. I see four categories in the seven:

Hard-throwing right-handed relievers: J.T. Chargois and Yorman Landa.

Left-handed Triple A starters: Pat Dean and Taylor Rogers.

Left-handers with Tommy John surgery: Mason Melotakis and Randy Rosario.

Outfielder: Adam Brett Walker.

Landa and Rosario spent 2015 at low A Cedar Rapids, and I saw both pitch during my handful of Kernels games last August, Rosario as a starter and Landa as a reliever. I didn't write about Landa, but he did show some serious velocity; I wrote instead about Luke Bard, who wasn't put on the 40 and is eligible for Rule 5. Anyway -- while Landa and Rosario will be in major league camp, I don't think the Twins will elevate either to the majors this year.

Dean and Rogers are slightly surprising protects to me. I don't see either as a particularly likely candidate to ever be starters for the Twins. There are certainly a lot of rotation guys ahead of them.

Walker's protection illustrates the importance of the power tool. ABW has serious power -- and, like Oswaldo Arcia, little else to recommend him. I'm not particularly enthused about Walker's chances.

Melotakis missed 2015 with Tommy John surgery while Chargois returned from two years on the shelf. These two guys each have pitched in Double A and have realistic chances to be part of the reconstructed 2016 bullpen, although I doubt the Twins would graduate Melotakis in particular to the majors out of spring training.

The Twins now have 38 player on their 40-man roster. One of the open slots is slated for Byung Ho Park; the other may well go to a Rule 5 selection.