Spring Training Redux.  How will the Twins do in 2016? Here is my prediction

Spring Training Redux. How will the Twins do in 2016? Here is my prediction

0 Edit Artikel
With the Twins' Spring Training almost in the books and having spend about 10 days in Fort Myers following the Twins' closely (here are all my Spring Training articles in Chronological order,)  I am ready to make a prediction for the 2016 Twins.

This team has a few question marks left, but a lot of my concerns were answered:

  • Miguel Sano will be a moster with the bat again this season, and regardless of his size, he will be at least as good an outfielder as Torii Hunter was last season, when it all said and done.
  • Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson are men on a mission in the Twins' rotation and might be the best 1-2 punch the Twins' had since Jack Morris and Scott Erickson in 1991.  Phil Hughes is pitching better than last season and Ricky Nolasco is pitching like a man with something to prove, and he has to.   The only question mark in the rotation is Tommy Milone, who could be easily replaced by the likes of Alex Meyer or Jose Berrios, or even Taylor Roger, if the need comes.
  • Byung Ho Park is the real thing.  And he does not have an attitude about it.  In 2015 DH was the most productive position in the Twins' lineup, mainly because the promotion of Sano.  The Twins got .251/.338/.421 with 21 HRs from the DH position in 2015.  I expect this to be Park's baseline.
  • Byron Buxton has shown signs of improvement with the bat, albeit small.   His glove alone is worth +2 wins and much improved Danny Santana and Oswaldo Arcia (who is in tremendous shape btw,)  can pick the slack if necessary.
  • Kurt Suzuki also looks better and refreshed.  Will a smaller workload keep them getting close to his 2014 numbers?  I hope so.   
  • Joltin' Joe Mauer (sorry couldn't help myself) has an .802 OPS for the Spring, which beat his .756 and  .667 OPS the last 2 Springs, sunglasses or not.
More importantly this team looks like a team that wants to win, a team that wins and a team that has fun doing it.

The biggest question mark is the bullpen, and especially the closer.  If you find out that the out of shape closer, who fell apart the last 2 seasons, took up home brewing as a hobby in the off-season and his fastball and slider are a good 5 to 6 miles per hour below their peak, you have to be concerned.  On the other hand, if Perkins falters, the Twins have good options at AA and AAA, including righties JT Chargois and Nick Burdi who can have a part in the Twins' pen today, and lefty Mason Melotakis,  who is a few innings away from returning from TJ surgery as a dominant lefty.  

The pen was the Twins' biggest concern this off-season and it has not been addressed at all.   The 2016 Twins will go as far as their pen lets them go.   I hope that Ryan has a short leash on Perkins and does the right thing for the team when he has to.

Because of this, and my lack of trust in the Twins' GM and the Twins' closer, I predict that the Twins will finish the 2016 season with an 87-75 record.  90 wins will not be out of reach, with a couple of early season pen investments...

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/23: Nolasco cements a job in the rotation

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/23: Nolasco cements a job in the rotation

0 Edit Artikel
Today was the last live game from Fort Myers.   Yesterday, I shared some thoughts about the Twins 25-man roster and based on what I have seen previously, Rickey Nolasco should be the Twins' fifth starter.    With another stellar performance today against the Rays, going for 6 innings allowing only 3 hits, no earned runs, walking 2 and striking out 7, he cemented that position, especially when in Field number 2 his only competition, Tyler Duffey, allowed two home runs among other hard hit balls this afternoon.   Pending a trade, I can see no way that Nolasco will not be in the Twins' rotation, and arguably has pitched pretty well this spring, earning a spot.

Glen Perkins' appearance today and the rest of the Spring has been worrisome.   His fastball barely reached 91 and his slider 81, and has been batter all over Hammond Stadium without finishing an inning.  In 2/3 of an inning he allowed 2 hits and a walk with no strikeouts, adding up to 3 runs.   I hope Terry Ryan has a plan B in his back pocket for a closer, because Perkins is continuing his decline from last season second half.

As far as position players go, Eduardo Nunez was horrible today:  Two errand throws to the first and a dropped ball on a base steal attempt did not help the Twins' cause.  Let's call it a hick up and hope that it will not continue to happen.

Byron Buxton has a lackluster performance a couple days ago,  but today, he made up for it.  He has a great running catch in the first innings and also got an infield hit in a ball hit deep in the shortstop, in the same situation he did not previously.  I think that he also might be cementing a spot in the 25 man roster.

So is Danny Santana, who got an infield hit in a drag bunt, then stole second, and in a play that featured 3 errant throws by Rays scored.  Great heads up play, plus his speed and versatility will help.

Oswaldo Arcia likely won the last 25 man spot over former hated White Sox player Carlos Quentin.  Arcia has been better on the field that Quentin, making some difficult plays, whereas Quentin has no position, and has been better with the stick and the basepaths, stealing a couple of bases so far.   I think that Quentin was brought in as a plan B if Byung Ho Park did not pan out right away as a 1B/DH, but this is not the case.   So it looks like the Twins' position player side in the 25 man roster is about set.  There are still some question-marks in the bullpen, as I indicated yesterday

Next: Catching an airplane up North tomorrow and either later this week or early next will will give my Spring Training Redux and my prediction for the Twins' 2016.  Still need to chew on this a bit... 

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/22: The Twins Opening Day Roster is as Clear as it was in February

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/22: The Twins Opening Day Roster is as Clear as it was in February

0 Edit Artikel
There is about a week of Spring Training games (actually 9) left for the Twins, and the composition of the Opening Day 25 man roster is still very unclear, with exactly the same questionmarks as in the beginning of Spring Training:

1.  Who would be the last 2 Twins' Starting pitchers?  Tyler Duffey, Tommy Milone, or Ricky Nolasco?  Pick 2.

There was the feeling that it could be a 5 way battle with Jose Berrios and Trevor May also vying for a spot in the rotation, but it seems that the inclusion of Berrios & May was for PR reasons.  Milone seems to have earned a spot in the rotation, by arguably being the most consistent starter this Spring, so apparently it is up to Duffey and Nolasco, who both had pretty mediocre springs in official games to claim that last spot.  Nolasco had a great outing in the back fields the other day, and my take has been that it has always been his spot to loose, and he has not done that, or Duffey has not done anything to win it.  But still the Twins have not made it clear

2 (or rather 1b)  Who will be joining Perkins, Jepsen, May and Fien in the Twins' pen?

The only thing clearer than the beginning of the Spring Training here is that Ryan & Co do not want any of the young fireballers to start the season up North, and even though they pitched better than the rest, including the anointed closer whose fastball is about 6 mph south of its peak, Nick Burdi and JT Chargois, were reassigned and optioned to the minor league squads earlier.  Among the other cuts in the reliever group, Mason Melotakis did show flashes of greatness, but also did show rust from sitting for one year, which needs to be shaken, Pat Dean and Alex Meyer need to start games in AAA, Randy Rosario and Yorman Landa are a few years away, Mike Strong and his 40-man spot has proven the head scratcher that has been on paper and Aaron Thompson has proven than wearing a Civil War Beard in 80 degrees in Florida will not help your case if you do not have any talent.   Jake Reed was also disappointing and clearly did not pitch as well as the other young talent in the above list

Who is left:

from the RH side:

JR Graham
Brandon Kintzler
Ryan Pressly
Michael Tonkin

from the LH side:

Fernardo Abad
Buddy Boshers
Logan Darnell
Ryan O' Rourke
Taylor Rogers
Dan Runzler

The interesting thing is that none of those pitchers has pitched themselves out of competition.  If someone asked me yesterday, I'd say that Tonkin and Graham do not belong, but today they both redeemed themselves and maybe bought themselves a few more days, esp. Graham.  Tonkin, who is out of options, pitched two very clean innings throwing his fastball up to 95 and his slider up to 85, but those came against Baltimore's minor leaguers.  I like what Brandon Kintzler did today and most of the Spring, but from that group, Ryan Pressly deserves the first right hand spot, if there is only going to be one.  As far as the lefties go, Abad, O'Rourke, and Runzler, pitched equally well, so it could be one or 2 of them getting jobs.  Only O'Rourke has a 40-man spot, which is a consideration, but with Strong's primarily and Tonkin's, secondarily, spots in jeopardy, there is still a lot of work to be done.

And there is a wild card, who might make the Twins' pen better in 2016:  Tyler Duffey.  The former closer has not proven that he pitch more than 6 effective innings in the majors, and would likely be a force if the Twins' brass decide to move him to the pen, in a similar way that they did with Trevor May.

(Tommorow:  The position players)

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/21: Zen and the Art of Situational Hitting

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/21: Zen and the Art of Situational Hitting

0 Edit Artikel
.351/.387/.524 - The Twins' team slash line with less than two outs and men on third in 2015.
.489/.460/.766 - The Twins' team slash line with one out and men on third in 2015.
.000/.100/.100 - The Twins team slash line under the above circumstances today.

They simply have to do better than this to compete in the upcoming season.  And if that means trying to get the ball in play softly, instead of trying to hit home runs (Brian Dozier, Carlos Quentin, Oswaldo Arcia) or take a worthless base on balls (Kurt Suzuki,) let it be it.   And the problem here is that at least 3 of the aforementioned 4 will make the 2016 Twins, but still have not understood those fundamentals.

Today's Twins' game was closer that the box score would suggest.  Also based on today's play, I am about to make a prognostication:

Prognostication:  Danny Santana won a job in the 25-man roster for 2016.

Santana was one of the few Twins who played like they wanted to get a job today.  Two good hits in his first plate appearances and good follow ups on the bases, negate loosing the ball in the sun at RF in the later innings.  He played like he wanted that job, and I think that it is his to lose.

Albeit, Carlos Quentin did not do so.  Struck out twice with a man on third and less than two outs, and was a disaster about to be made in first with the globe (but thankfully did not happen.)

Byron Buxton was pretty awful today.  Yes, he took first on bases on balls by avoiding slapping at balls in the dirt in the first inning and moved to second on a mistake, but failed to score from second on a smoking single to RF corner by Santana in the same inning.   Hard time in the rest of his plate appearances and the cherry on top was the 3 pitch strikeout in his last inning.  Pretty sure that Buxton does not get it, and I don't know what he needs to get it.  The one thing that he does not need is pampering and false hopes and  major league roster sports.  He has to start at AAA, until he can prove that he is the hitter people hoped he will be.  Also, he looks at least one step slower, since he was called out on a ball that he hit to deep short, a ball that he would have beaten last season easily for an infield single.  Unless he did not get slower, but got lazier.  Regardless, the big leagues are way above his head right now and I hope that the Twins brass do not make the mistake to bring him up North soon.

Kyle Gibson made another brilliant appearance, allowing mainly ground balls.  His outing was very much like the one I described a few days ago.    Likely will be the Twins second or third starter this season. 

Taylor Rogers who relieved Gibson had a good outing with a fastball between 86 and 91 mph and a curve between 75 and 77.  Nothing spectacular, and had a lot of us on an edge, but it was effective.

So was Glen Perkins'.  He threw fastballs at 91, 91, 91, 89, 89, 94, 89, and 89 mph and two sliders at 78 and 81 mph in an 1-2-3 inning.  About 3-4 mph below where he should be, but...

Casey Fien threw his fastball between 88 and 91 mph, a single slider at 83 and a single changeup at 79 mph, retiring everyone he faced.

Trevor May had a fastball of 91-94, changeup in the low 80s, and a curveball about 75-76, but was not effective and did not have even a decent defense behind him

I expect more than a few cuts today.  Tomorrow the Twins are playing the Orioles in the Hammond Stadium at 1:05 PM local time.
2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/20: Santana, Sano and the Yankees

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/20: Santana, Sano and the Yankees

0 Edit Artikel
The Minnesota Twins played the New York Yankees this afternoon at Hammond Stadium, featuring a lineup that could very well be their opening day lineup. 

The starter, Ervin Santana, pitched better than what you will see when you see his line score.  He threw 69 pitches, mostly fastballs (91-94 mph; at some point right after the balk, he hit a 95, a 96 and a 97 mph in a row), sliders 82-84 mph and changeups 84-86 mph.  All of his pitches were working well and he was getting both looking and swinging strikes.   In the second inning, that he needed 21 pitches, he was squeezed badly by the home plate umpire who did not call the low strike he called in the previous evening and for Ivan Nova all night long.  Santana is in mid-season form and will be the Twins' opening day starter, as discussed here about 40 days ago.

Fernando Abad relieved Santana in the 6th inning and threw four kinds of pitches: a 90-92 mph Fastball, which did not fare well since it either was a ball or was contacted, and a couple times for hits, a 76-78 mph Curveball that was much better, a single 74 mph changeup that was taken for a strike and a single 87 mph cutter was was a ball.  Not a clean inning by any means, but it was workable.  Would Abad be better than any of the other LHRP possibilities in the Twins' pen?  I am not sure and he has not really pulled away from the competition.

Speaking of, JR Graham at this point is not a major league caliber pitcher.  In addition to 20 lbs, he lost at least 2 mph in his (straight) fastball that now tops at 94 mph.  Not a pretty picture today by any means.

On the other hand, the Rule 5 draft pick two seasons before the Twins selected Graham, Ryan Pressly, looks like he belongs to the Twins pen.  He threw a 94-96 mph fastball that had too much movement for the opposing batters to turn, a pretty nasty cutter/slider at 86-89 mph, and a solid 81-83 mph curve.  He will definitely be an upgrade to the Twins pen, but will he be enough if he is the only one?

On errors:  Miguel Sano "booted" a ball in the Right Field when he moved to his left to get in the right trajectory of a line drive, he did, but it hit the base of his glove.  E9.   On the other hand, Brain Dozier "booted" a ball earlier in that evening, when he decided to dive for a ball that was totally catchable without a dive.  Botched dive,  scored as a hit.

Carlos Quentin might be the stiffest baseball player I have seen play, and this includes such notables as Brian Buscher and Joshua Willingham.  He came in to play first relieving Joe Mauer in the late innings and made a fairly comical play.  When the ball touches a bat, Quentin puts his head down without looking at the ball and heads to first base to receive the ball potentially.   In one of those instances the ball hit less than a foot in front of him, without him being either away or interested.  Tailor made 3-6-3 double play, it just did not happen, and it is a shame.   I just cannot see how the Twins can bring this guy up North, because what he brings is close to what Park brings to the table but will less glove and bat.  Sorry Carlos, nice knowing you.

Speaking of Byung Ho Park:  Great adjustment in his first plate appearance:  Ivan Nova definitely schooled not to throw anything but stuff outside the zone, started with 2 curveballs in the dirt, that Park took for balls.  Then he threw a couple of chin low fastballs that Park missed swinging, but however adjusted and took the next 2 fastballs in the same location for balls and a walk.   Great to see this from Park. 

Good double for Byron Buxton in the base of the wall and over the outfielders' head in the 5th.  However there was a problem:  JR Murphy who was on first, did not even attempt to score, a thing that he would have done easily and Buxton was robbed by a triple, a thing he would have done easily.  There were zero outs, but the Twins have to be more aggressive in the bases this season, and really there is nothing much to lose, esp. in the Spring Training, being so...

Tomorrow the Twins are hosting the Pirates at Hammond Stadium, with Kyle Gibson getting the starting node.
2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/19: Rainy Day Fields Two and Three

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/19: Rainy Day Fields Two and Three

0 Edit Artikel
The thunderstorm system that caused havoc in Central Florida and the Grapefruit League and cancelled the Twins' game against the Pirates in Bradenton, hit Fort Myers with its tail end and cut action in the Minor League Fields short.   Here are my notes from today:

With the Twins A+ and A teams playing at home against those of the Red Sox, I was looking forward to see Nick Gordon in action.  Alas, he is still out injured.

Andro Cutura, the Twins 7th round pick in the 2014 draft from Southeastern Louisiana University has never been on my radar, but now he will.  He has an interesting 4 pitch mix: four-seamer, two-seamer, slider/cutter and a changeup.  They all overlap in velocity and his range is up to 91 for the four-seamer and down to 81 mph for the changeup.  He has great command and control of all his pitches and thew all of them in any count.  All of his pitches have the potential of being swing and miss pitches.  His velocity range is somewhat atypical for successful pitches, but his command is also atypical.  He utilizes the whole zone, up, down, in and out, and he is not afraid to throw a sinker or a cutter in the dirt for the hitters to change.  His windup will bring memories of Juan Berenguer to the older Twins' fans, since he starts it with both of his glove and ball arms extended in front of him.  Easy mechanics with a small pause right before his release, which is enough to confuse the hitters.  He pitched 3 great innings striking out 5 and having the rest of the hitters ground out.  He fell apart in his fourth inning of work, allowing 4 consecutive singles after his first fly out.  Not sure whether there stamina issues (the 22 year old missed all of 2014 recovering from injury) or whether his excellent sinker and cutter flatten when he pitches form the stretch, which was the case today.   Definitely someone who is not a household name, to keep an eye on.

Logan Wade, the 24 year old Australian who had an excellent 2013 in Elizabethton and then he fell off the face of the earth, looked very good today.   In his first plate appearance, he singled to the opposite field,  was successful in a delayed steal of second base when the ball was pitched in the dirt, and  then scored from second on a single by TJ White to shallow right field.  In his next plate appearance he hit a line drive home run to the opposite (right) field as a right hand batter against Boston's LHP Jalen Beeks.

Speaking of TJ White, the 24 year old Twins' 18th round draft pick in 2014 from UNLV, has been riding a 4 AB hitting streak that he extended to 6 with singles in his first 2 plate appearances. 

Max Murphy, also 24 and the 9th round pick of the 2014 draft, had another excellent day with a long home run and a shoestring catch in the outfield.   I wrote what he did about days ago here.

Brian Navarreto, the 21 year old Twins 6th round pick in 2013 from Jacksonville, FL Arlington Day School, looked definitely bigger in statute from last Spring.  At this point he looks bigger than Adam Walker.  Navarreto was always regarded as a good catcher, but his hitting was been more than suspect.   He has a very good plate appearance with a single at the opposite field, after he swang wildly at a breaking ball in the dirt, but let the next one go for a ball.  There are some hopeful signs but there is still a lot of work necessary.

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/18: Ricky, the Pen, and a Prognostication

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/18: Ricky, the Pen, and a Prognostication

0 Edit Artikel
Another day without a Twins' home game and I decided to state at the back fields of Lee County Sports Complex to watch Ricky Nolasco pitch with the Twins' AAA team against the Red Sox' AAA team, instead of making the trip across I-75 to Jet Blue Park to watch the MLB Twins and Tyler Duffey face the MLB Sox.   Despite what the Twins are saying, and not only because they are starting the same day these days, it is pretty clear that Tommy Milone is guaranteed a position in the rotation and the last spot will be a potential battle between Nolasco and Duffey.

Nolasco pitched for 4 innings in Field 3 today.  He threw four pitches, a 90-92 Fastball, a 73-77 mph Curveball, an 82-84 mph Slider and a 80-82 mph split finger change.  All in all, Nolasco's appearance today was much better than that by Hughes yesterday.   As with Hughes, Kurt Suzuki was Nolasco's catcher.  Last week I wrote an in depth analysis of Nolasco's performance and among other things, I included an analysis of his pitches and results.   And it was spot on based on my observations today:   His curveball was totally filthy and induced both looking and swinging strikes and strikeouts and weak grounders.  His split finger change is a pretty much awful pitch.  Very little command and when it was in the strike zone did not fare well.  This pitch, as per my previous recommendation, should never see the light of day or artificial day in a major league ballpark again.  His fastball was better as the game went on with more command in the later than the earlier innings and he broke at least a couple bats with it.  Definitely his breaking stuff is his out pitches and it is plus to plus plus.  The problem is that he needs the good fastball so that major league hitters do not avoid his breaking balls and waiting for the fastball (or the horrible split finger.)  If he throws his slider and curveball about 50%+ of the time, he has a good possibility for a come back season, depending on the day his fastball is having.    Overall it was a very good performance over the eyes of a couple of scouts (Rangers & Padres) and Terry Ryan and the Twins' media dignitaries:

Prognostication:  based on his Spring Performances, his stuff and his career record, unless traded, Ricky Nolasco will be the Twins' fifth starter over Tyler Duffey who had another hard start today.

A few more observations from Field Three today:

I was looking forward to see the Twins' number 18 prospect for 2016, Daniel Palka for the first time live as a Twin.   He hit a no-doubter home run in the first evening to the warehouse behind right Centerfield in his first plate appearance and then hit another long ball to far right for a foul in his second PA before eventually grounded out to first in a footrace.  I like what I saw from him in a limited action.  I think that he will turn into a useful player for the Twins and will bring in some left handed power they really lack...

Speaking of left handed power, DJ Hicks, hit a very long home run, right about  where Palka hit his.  Really good to see him finally healthy and swinging the bat, since the Twins need that left hand power. 

Speaking of power, the Twins' number 19 prospect for 2016,  Adam Brett Walker, hit two very long home runs in fastballs in the middle of plate and struck out in 3 breaking balls in the dirt in his other plate appearance.  If someone teaches Walker to recognize the spin of the breaking ball and keep the bat on his shoulder when he sees it, will be doing him and the Twins a great service.

Niko Goodrum, the Twins' number 37 prospect for 2016, who came a bit bigger this Spring showed much better plate recognition taking two walks in his first two plate appearances, but was thrown out stealing after the first, in a situation that would have been an easy SB for him last season, and made an error bobbling a ball at SS.  OF is his position and hopefully this will be where he will play when the middle infield cuts from the MLB camp trickle down to the minors.

After today's cuts, here are the players left who are competing for 7 spots in the Twins' pen:

Glen Perkins
Kevin Jepsen
Trevor May
Casey Fien
Ryan O'Rourke
JR Graham
Ryan Pressly
Mike Tonkin

Logan Darnell
Taylor Rogers
Fernando Abad
Buddy Boshers
Dan Runzler

Brandon Kintzler
Nolasco or Duffey

The first 8 (maybe with the exception of Pressly) were part of the 2015 bullpen that was one of the worst bullpens (maybe THE Worst, depending on how you are counting) in the league; one of the group of the next 5 lefties will replace Brian Duensing and one of the next two might replace Blaine Boyer.

Unless the Twins decide to get Duffey a pen roll (which is unlikely since they will like him to start in Rochester,)  this pen is spiting image of the 2015 pen that was as effective as spitting in the wind...

This is by no means good news for the Twins...

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/17: The action was at the back fields.

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/17: The action was at the back fields.

0 Edit Artikel
Today, for the second start in a row, the Twins chose not to pitch Phil Hughes against the Orioles (a team they open the season with 3 games in Baltimore.)  Instead Hughes pitched 5 innings in the back fields with the Twins' A+ team against the Rays' A+ squad.   Curt Suzuki was there to catch him.  Next door with the A squad, Kevin Jepsen pitched the first inning and Oswaldo Arcia had 3 plate appearances as a DH against the Rays' A team.  

Phil Hughes labored for 5 innings with 78 pitches, including a 28 pitch second inning, in which the defense behind him failed to convert 3 straight forward double play opportunities.  He thew 55 of those pitches in strikes and commanded the ball pretty well, inducing mostly weak ground balls, a couple of fly balls and a couple of strikeouts.   His fastball was at 89-91, with one at 92, his cutter 86-91, changeup 81-84 and curve 77-79 mph.  These numbers were close to his 2015 velocity averages (90.7 for the FB, and  87.8 for the cutter.)  All in all it was a "getting his work in" type of session for Hughes, who by no means cruised against high A competition.

Across the field, Kevin Jepsen had a better game, of what I could catch with my peripheral vision, but Oswaldo Arcia stole the show there, hitting a home run close to the major league practice field, under the watching eyes of scouts from the Cubs, Padres, Athletics and another team.  The same Rangers' scout who was there yesterday was the single scout scouting Hughes and the Twins' A+ team.

Additional impressions from the A team field: 

Amaurys Minier, the Twins' number 15 prospect for 2016, played First Base, coming off an injury plague season in Elizabethton.  His swing seems more compact that it did last season and he legged out a single in a not very hard hit ball at the SS and had another opposite field single at an outside corner ball with full count.  Also went from first to third with ease on a ball hit to Right Field.  His speed and running has been improved, since Minier has been pretty much a non-factor in the base paths his whole career.   He made a couple of good fielding plays at first base, moving easily both to his left and to his right and made secure and on the spot underhand throws to the pitcher to get the outs.

Jermaine Palacios, the Twins' number 8 prospect for 2016, played Short Stop at that game.  He seems not to have gained a pound last off-season, but his fielding, which has been for a good reason, was fine.  He made several routine plays at shortstop and did not look tentative making them, but he was not really challenged.  In the couple of plate appearances I followed, he showed quick wrists and good contact capabilities. 

I saw a single plate appearance by Travis Blackenhorn, the Twins' number 38 prospect for 2016.  He has the capability of making contact since he saw several balls and fouled a lot of them.  He went with the ball and was able to move it to the opposite field.  Would need work to start making productive contact, but the basics are there.  He did not look tentative at all and went around his business like he owned the box.  Reminded me a bit of a young(er) Max Kepler.

22 year old lefty Sam Clay, pitched 4 innings in that contest.  He featured an 89-91 mph fastball with good movement in both planes and a low 80s slider and change up.  The slider is above average at this point and has the potential of being a plus pitch, but his control with all of his pitches is all over the place.  If he learns how to command and control them, the former 4th round draft pick of 2014, will be someone to watch for.  But he is still a work in progress.  He looks like a good defender, defending a tough bunt towards his throwing arm side flawlessly.

25 year old Tyler Stirewalt, a righty who was drafted by the Twins in the 21st round of the 2013 draft and lost all of 2014 and part of 2015 to injuries, also pitched in that game.  He threw a 90-92 mph fastball and a 77-79 slurve.  Many command and control issues as well, but there is potential there.  However being 25 and never pitching above Rookie ball, might mean that there might not be time to realize that potential.

A couple of snippets from the other field:

Max Murphy, the Twins 9th Round pick in 2014, a Minnesotan from Robbinsdale looked like a man on a mission.  This is his age 23 season and he really looks bulked up and much stronger.  He legged out a triple  in a long hit at the CF over the defenders' heads and scored in the subsequent play by tagging up after a shallow ball at the RF.  After an excellent 2014, he did not do much last season in Cedar Rapids, but definitely someone to pay attention to this season.

Felix Jorge, the Twins' number 20 prospect for 2016 pitched 2 innings for the high A team.  I had a chance to watch one of them.   His sinker was from 91-93 with good heavy action and his changeup was in the low 70s and it was pretty much lethal as usual.  Seemed to have good control with the fastball, which has been questionable in spots.  The big question mark around Jorge is weather he will have the stamina to be a started, which will likely take more than a season to answer.

Regretted not seeing Nick Gordon and Lamond Wade who were injured as well as Trevor May who threw after I departed.

Tomorrow Ricky Nolasco will be starting in the back fields, while the Twins will be playing the Red Sox at the Jet Blue Stadium and I will be there to give you the action on the field by him, as well as by the scouts on the bleachers.
2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. Day 1: The Doubleheader

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. Day 1: The Doubleheader

0 Edit Artikel
Today the Twins had a 7:05 PM game hosting the Boston Red Sox.  At 1PM the Twins' AAA and AA teams hosted the equivalent of the Orioles'.  I spent the afternoon watching the Twins AA team, before moved to Hammond Stadium in the evening for the nightcap. 

I was delighted to see that Tyler Jay was the starter for the AA game.  Jay was ranked as the Twins' number 2 prospect in my off-season 2016 rankings and I have to say that he proved me happy with that ranking.  He pitched for a full 4 innings and featured 4 pitches:  a 93-94 mph FB that topped at 96, an 85-86 mph slider, an 81-83 mph change up and a 77-80 mph curve.  This is a very effective pitch mix for him.  He has a short arm delivery and hides the ball well.  He commands all pitches well and his fastball is definitely his out pitch; sets it up beautifully with the slider and the change up.  He throws his curve low and outside the strike zone to make hitters chase it; and they do.  At this level.  One of the questions about Jay has been the ability to be a started as far as endurance goes.  Today he was not frugal with his pitches, which is something that he would have to learn as he matures as a professional.

His Catcher was 25 year old  Joe Maloney who the Twins signed as a minor league free agent after an MVP season in the Canadian-American Association Independent League Rockland Boulders.  Maloney's problem is that he is not a very good catcher and he showed that today, having a throw sail over the head of the second baseman on a steal attempt and two passed balls.  The second passed ball bounced off Maloney's glove to the home plate umpire's hand to his cup, incapacitating the umpire.   Twins' legend Tom Kelly had to call balls and strikes behind the pitcher for the next half inning before a replacement umpire relieved him:

Another new minor league free agent on display today was Keury De La Cruz.  The 24 year old outfielder has one of the longest swings I have seen with an extremely violent back swing.  After his first PA, I mumbled that someone will get hurt here, and in the 5th inning, it happened to get the Baltimore catcher's head with that backswing.  Some serious coaching needs to happen here.   De La Cruz  provided a bit of a comic relief sliding feet first about 2 feet to the left of where a routine fly ball fell in the second inning.  Will not be surprised in the Twins bite the bullet and cut him soon.

The Twins signed 27 year old RHP Omar Belcomo from the American Association Independent League where he last played for the Wichita Lugnuts, to make 3 starts for the Fort Myers Miracle at the end of their season.   Belcomo last played affiliated ball in 2011 for the Tampa Bay Rays single A team at Bowling Green.  He is an interesting player to keep an eye on, as he is a poor man's Sam Deduno.  He has two pitches:  A fastball that goes from 86 to 91, which he can absolutely not command and goes all over the place, including the head of a Baltimore hitter in his second inning of work.  His second pitch is a 77-81 mph change up that actually is an above average to a plus pitch, and a pitch that he seems to be able to control. 

Raul Fernandez was another of the minor league free agents the Twins signed last off-season.  The 25 year old RHP Dominican was converted from Catcher to Pitcher by the Rockies after his first DSL season and spent last season in the White Sox' AA team.  Long arm motion with 92-93 mph FB with late pop, an 88 mph cutter/2-seamer and a low 80s change up.  Very good ability to mix them and throw them all for strikes and good command.  He seemed to confuse batters.

Brian Gilbert seems to get his fastball up a couple ticks, consistently hitting 94 and 95 with a couple of 96 mph.  He complemented that with an 85-86 mph slider.  Seemed to be effectively wild, but it is the start of the Spring Training.  Just 23, drafted by the Twins in the 7th round in 2013; keep your eye open for him.

Yorman Landa was the last pitcher for the AA Twins, fresh from the MLB side of Spring Training.  I last saw him pitch a couple seasons ago and he is a different pitcher.   He supplemented his excellent high 80s low 90s 2-seamer with a 4-seamer that sit at 93-95 and popped up to 96, but is straight with inconsistent command and control.  Straight FBs at 95 and 96 will get hit hard by good AA hitters and that is what happened to him today.  His 78-81 mph curve was good.  He did not throw a change up today.  Definite potential there, but he needs work. 

Something to keep in mind:  Today watching the Twins' AA pitchers was a Texas Rangers' (who train in AZ) scout.  Not sure that anything is going on, but he was there.

Fast forward a few hrs to the Twins' MLB game at Hammond Stadium against the Red Sox. 

Kyle Gibson was the starter, and he had things really working for him, including his best pitch, a slider, purely made of filth, dancing at 84-86 mph and striking out Red Sox who were either looking at it with open eyes or swinging and missing wildly.   That today was a FranKKKKKKKKKKKKKie Liriano slider in his prime, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Four seamer 92-95, two seamer high 80s, and a changeup at 79-81 was the rest of Gibson's repertoire tonight. Gibson was in mid-season form.

Another player who was in mid-season form was Miguel Sano, who punished a Bucholtz breaking ball deeply off the Centerfield wall for a double, and even more importantly made a solid catch in RF and threw a pea that would had thrown the tagging runner out at third if Trevor Plouffe did not bobble the ball.

Back to pitching.  One of the greatest mysteries this spring has been Glen Perkins' velocity, so I charted all of his pitches.  Here they are:

FB 90, FB 89, FB 91, FB 86, FB 89, SL 78, FB 91, FB 88, SL 78, SL 79, SL 81, FL 89, FB 89, FB 90, SL 81, FB 89.

86-91 mph FB and 78-81 mph SL.  This is a good 5-6 mph off where Perkins need to be to be effective.  Nevertheless this should be raising more Red Flags to the Twins' brass than there are outside the Kremlin...

Have a few more notes from today, but for the sake of brevity, I will include them in one of the future writeups 
2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. Day 0: What to expect

2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. Day 0: What to expect

0 Edit Artikel
Tomorrow after a couple of flights, I will be arriving at Fort Myers, FL, for my annual coverage of the Minnesota Twins Spring Training.  This year, it will be for about 10 days, and like every year it will conclude with my annual prediction about how the Twins will do this season.   Last year, after I saw the team, I wrote this in my Spring Training Redux post:

Conclusion: This will not be another 90 loss team, unless something weird happens.  80-82 is the baseline.  Another factor:  I did get some 1987-like excitement there, like this might be a magic year (like that one.)  But I think that they are one year away.  So my prediction for 2015 is that the Twins will have the same record as their Pythagorean in 1987: 79-83.  But, yes, this year feels a lot like 1987, and you never know what is going to happen...

Even though the Twins got closer to the actual 1987 team record last season (83-79 vs 85-77), I think that this 79-83 prediction is probably the closest 2015 preseason prediction to their actual record.
Speaking off,  this was my 2014 prediction in that Spring Training Redux post:
My prediction: I hate to say it, but 70-92 and 5th place.   But I do hope that this time someone is held accountable for this...
That one hit the bull's eye on both counts.

What else to expect the next couple weeks?

A: True, fair, realistic analysis of players, both major leaguers and prospects, without fear of losing my "access privileges", because I do not have any.   Here is another excerpt form my 2014 redux:

I got a really bad feeling last week.   And it was there precipitated and displayed in front of the eyes of the 100 of us who remained late Tuesday night to see the last pitch at that Twins' night game hosting the Rays.  And it had not much to do with Vance Worley's right arm and the batting practice projectiles he was throwing, but by the lackadaisical play and non-effort by the position players the whole spring.  And not only the ones who are fighting for a job per Rob Antony.  And not only at that game, but this was the epitome. 
 On the flights to Fort Myers and back I have been reading Cool Of The Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins by Jim Theilman (an excellent book and highly recommended, btw.)  Thielman mentions that one of the turning points of the 1965 magical Twins' season came at the middle of Spring Training in Orlando's Tinker Field:  At the middle of a game, because of lack of effort, Sam Mele, the Twins' manager, took Zoilo Versalles (the eventual 1965 MVP) out of the lineup, benched him for a while and fined him $300, an amount very high for the time.  This gave the message that it is expected for even the best players to give 100% even during Spring Training and set the tone for the rest of the season.
How many times the last 3 seasons have you seen plenty of Twins' players not giving it all?  And with what consequences?   And it is continuing this Spring and I do not think that the Twins will go anywhere unless they go back to full effort (Mele's season, piranhas' season or whatever, take your peak.)   Examples (from that game) :

  • Josh Willingham hits a scorcher past third base to left that bounced just over the bag, half a foot fair and rolled all the way to the corner.  As the ball was hit, I was thinking triple all the way.  Mr Willingham jogged around the bases and managed to get himself thrown out at second by a few feet.  It ended up being recorded as a single with the hitter thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double. On the field It was much more.
  • Vancy Worley was hit hard. Very hard.  And at about four times, if Trevor Plouffe was guarding the line on inside fastballs, he would have made outs out of those 4 hits.  I do understand it if it happens once.  Then you adjust.  And the Twins have a special infield coach who should supposedly help these days too. On paper it was four hits (a couple doubles as well.)   On the field it was much more. 
  • Alex Presley gets on base.   Gets a good jump trying to steal second.  He is there before the throw.  He over-slides the base.  He is tagged out.  For the third time.  On the paper it was recorded as an CS.  On the field it was much more.
  • Later in the game there is fly ball to the short left field.   LF Wilkin Ramirez goes in, SS Eduardo Escobar goes out to catch the ball.  Ramirez yells "I got it".  Escobar stops 7-8 feet away.  The ball drops in front of Ramirez.  On paper it was an error.  On the field it was much more.
I suspect that you cannot find many other sources that described this game that way

B: Live tweets, pictures and insights on the games that are not given any place else.  Like this.  My Twitter is @thrylos98, please make sure you add me, if interested.

C: Minor league reports like this from last year.

Here is a link to the whole 2014 Spring training coverage and here one to the 2015 to give you an idea of what else to expect.

Win Twins!
In depth analysis of Ricky Nolasco's performance, his stuff, root causes and a view in the future

In depth analysis of Ricky Nolasco's performance, his stuff, root causes and a view in the future

0 Edit Artikel
Ricky Nolasco's performance with the Minnesota Twins has been a disappointment.  He was signed into a large 4-year contract after the 2013 season to be the Twins' Ace, a destiny he has yet to fulfill.   There has been discussion this Spring that despite that contract, Nolasco would have to earn a position in the 2016 Twins' rotation, and hints that at this point, he might be outside, looking in.   A couple of days ago, there were indications that he might not want to accept this, and the Twins' blogosphere and fan forums erupted.  I am not going to discuss this particular event at this point, other than say that it is not anything new.  For example, last season Mike Pelfrey did not take his demotion to the pen lightly, and back in the day, current Twins' closer Glen Perkins filed a Union grievance against the Twins for being demoted.  Nolasco's situation is not a done deal. Yet.   I think that it is really important to look at his performance, potential root causes for the drop and whether there is hope for Nolasco being an effective starter for the Twins.  I will attempt to do this by examining several metrics, and look at raw numbers and data about his pitches. 

A few years ago (2011) there was an excellent article about Nolasco, by Vince Caramela at The Hardball Times, titled Ricky Nolasco and the Disappearing Curveball.  He looked at Nolasco's pitch selection from 2008 to 2010 and concluded that Nolasco does not throw his curveball enough and has replaced it with a slider, which is not as good.   Let's take this as a starting point and look at Nolasco's pitch usage in his whole career from 2006-2015.

Very Important Note (and this stands for this whole article) :  2007 and 2015 data are based on 21.3 and 37.3 innings pitched only, so they might not be significant.  Here is Nolasco's % of each pitch:

Clearly Nolasco decreased the use of his curve and started to replace some of its use with a slider beginning in 2008.  The year before, he replaced a change up with a split finger fastball.   How does this correlate with results?   Let's superimpose ERA+ and FIP+ on this graph to see any trends.  FIP+?  Is there such a beast.  I needed something analogous to ERA+ (higher is better), so I used FIP- (lower is better from Fangraphs) and took its mirror image around 100 (ie. 90 FIP- became 110 FIP+).   Here is the data:

As you can see there is not much correlation of ERA+ (blue)  and FIP+ (green) with any individual pitch use and potential replacement of curveball with the slider. If anything, the  peaks in ERA+ and FIP+ are in 2008 and 2009, the years he started throwing that slider more and more.  Ok.  This theory does not seem very true.   How about contact?   Here is Contanct% off Nolasco in the years with ERA+ and FIP+

No.  Nothing there.  Contact% has been practically flat, and withing the standard deviation his whole career.  How about better contact or more contact or batting average in balls in play (BABIP?)  But this is luck.  Then how about percent of runners left on base, which also is luck.  %LOB fits this scale, but I had to normalize BABIP to something that looks like this (higher more favorable and around 100) so I created something I call BABIP+ : I took BABIP and multiplied by 300 (so it is around 100), but this would make higher less favorable, so this is more like BABIP-, so I did its mirror image around 100, and call it BABIP+.  Here we go:

As you can see we are getting somewhere.  Both Left on Base and BABIP correlate nicely with ERA+ (orange), but not with FIP+ (lighter blue).  So why don't we call the beast by its name and make a single metric out of LOB% and BABIP to represent it and see how it correlates with ERA+

Here we have it.  Almost perfect correlation of ERA+ with LUCK. And LUCK is LOB% times BABIP+ and divided by 70 to fit in the scale.  So we confirmed what we always knew:  ERA and his derivatives, like ERA+,  have a lot of random causes, especially things outside of the control of the pitcher such as BABIP, LOB% etc (I could have used HR/FB here, too, but there is no point.) 

So the major reason for Nolasco's performance as measured by ERA+ (and ERA) was luck.  

How about FIP-based performance, which would actually more importantly tell us what the Twins may expect.  Is there anything that correlates well with FIP.  Clearly, there is a decline in FIP+ after 2009, with a few peaks, but the moving average is there.  There seem to be a couple of things. Enter mystery measurement:

Ignore the ERA+ blue line here.  We are done with that.  This mystery measurement (burgundy) nicely approximates a FIP+ tendency. You can clearly see the peaks in 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2015 and the valleys in 2010 and 2012, but it is much smoother than FIP+.  It more like a running average, which could be a very good leading indicator.  What is Mystery Measure?  Something very simple and has to do with Nolasco's pitch selection:  It is the number of his pitches that were not changeups (a pitch he is not throwing any more) or split fingers, a pitch he has been throwing about 10% of the time as his off-speed pitch.  If you look at Fangraphs pitch values, this pitch has been below average and ineffective the last 3 seasons. 

So one of the reasons that Nolasco has has bad years as measured by FIP+, is that his split finger fastball is not a good pitch for him.  Abandoning it and maybe replacing it with his curveball, will help him in the future.   But how much?  FIP is better than ERA, but FIP is not perfect either and the reasons are stated here.   My preferred tools in looking at pitcher performance are SIERA, which is also explained in the previous link, and it is a measure close to ERA and FIP scale and direction (lees is better) and PE and xPE, which I devised and are on a different scale and the opposite direction. Bigger is better.  They are quickly derived, unlike SIERA, and have a great correlation to SIERA, which makes them easy to use.  Here is Nolasco's career performance described by PE and xPE (xPE normalizes PE for league average BABIP, so it is more of a predictive tool than PE).  The xPE and PE scale is as follows for starters:

35+ Ace
25+ number 1 or 2
15+ number 2 or 3
10+ number 4 or 5
7.5+ number 5
<7 .5="" level="" p="" replacement="">

Clearly based on PE and xPE (and ERA+ and FIP+ before it, but not as obvious) Nolasco had a career peak from 2008-2010 when he was a top of the rotation starter, and declined afterwards.  There was an outlier hickup in 2013, which showed potential for a number 2 (or 3) starter and that was not realized?

So I am afraid that the 33 year old Nolasco is in the declining phase of his career reaching his peak at ages 26-28.  Here is some additional proof:  We are looking at his fastball and slider velocities through his career:

As you can see the velocities of the fastball, and especially the slider have been declining.  The slope of the decline in the Slider velocity is fascinating so I did this plot:

What you see is PE and xPE (both multiplied by 5 for scale) and normalized slider velocity when 2006 is 100.   PE and xPE really show clearly Nolasco's career bell curve, with the 2013 aberration, and unlike FIP, do not like his small sample 2016 either.   The normalized slider velocity clearly approximates the drop.  

So additional explanations for Nolasco's performance is that he is in his declining years and his slider is not what used to be.    For what is worth, Fangraphs pitch values, shows a considerable effectiveness of his slider in 2013, which definitely explains the bump in performance.

In summary:   Nolasco has been unlucky.  However, he is in the declining phase of his career, is a pitcher who lives and dies with his breaking stuff, because his fastball is an average pitch and his slit finger a bad pitch.  As his breaking stuff go, so does Nolasco.  He could be better in 2016 if:

a. Luck is on his side
b. His breaking stuff improves (if there were injury considerations) or no further declines
c. He stops throwing his split finger fastball and uses his curve as a change of pace pitch

You cannot determine A.  B will be a good leading indicator even in Spring Training and C. is totally up to him and his coaches and it is an easy fix.

Glen Perkins throws Rick Anderson under the bus during the Twins broadcast

Glen Perkins throws Rick Anderson under the bus during the Twins broadcast

0 Edit Artikel
The Twins closer Glen Perkins is not known to be diplomatic about expressing his opinion on teammates.  Here is a great article by Jim Mandelaro at Rochester, on the subject.   Today Perkins was on TV in the Spring Break Twins' broadcast in the second inning.  Then, without even being prompted, at about the 27:21 mark of the broadcast (if you have mlb.tv, great way to check) he said the following:

"How much better we pitched last year, compared to years past. Some of it is Neil Allen"

This confirms what a lot of us knew: Rick Anderson never cut the mustard as a big league pitching coach and now this is openly confirmed by one of his pitches, in so many words.  Unfortunately the Twins held to someone like Rick Anderson way too long...