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9 Innings/Questions on the Twins

If you like what you read below, check out more from David at his site,  BaseballRoundTable.com.

This is a continuation of our series of articles where I ask fellow bloggers from the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) 9 innings worth of questions about their team. The goal is to do this for as many teams as possible (all 30 would be ideal) a few times a season. This one is a pre-All Star edition, then a post-All Star edition, another down the stretch (towards the end of the season) and then either a playoffs edition or off season edition or both!

So, without further ado …

  1. How are the  Twins’ offseason acquisitions working out so far? Any concerns?

The Twins were relatively quiet in the 2016 offseason, with the two most significant moves being the acquisition of power-hitting 1B/DH Byung Ho Park from Korea (four-year $12 million contract, plus a $12.8 million posting fee to Park’s Korean team for signing rights); and the trade of OF Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy.

 

The Twins had high expectations for Park, who had notched 104 home runs, 270 RBI and a .326 average over the two most recent Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) seasons. It was expected that the 29-year-old Park would bring additional pop to a lineup that finished in the middle of the pack (eighth in the AL) in runs scored last season. Of concern was Park’s contact rate – striking out about once every four plate appearances over the past two KBO campaigns.  The Twins got the expected power – as of June 13 Park was tied for the team lead in HR’s with 11 – but Park’s plate discipline has been troublesome.  Park was hitting just .207, with a .245 on base percentage – and had fanned in nearly one of every three plate appearances.

[graphiq id=”g95Q23CKDHf” title=”Byung-Ho Park Running HR and Batting Average (2016)” width=”640″ height=”603″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/g95Q23CKDHf” link=”http://baseball-players.pointafter.com/l/21569/Byung-Ho-Park” link_text=”Byung-Ho Park Running HR and Batting Average (2016) | PointAfter” ]

Murphy was expected to back up starter Kurt Suzuki at catcher (and perhaps even challenge the incumbent for playing time) after hitting .277 in 67 games with the Yankees last season.  He hit just .075 in 11 games (3-for-44) before being sent down to Triple A Rochester, where he continued to struggle with the bat.

 

  1. Who has been the most disappointing player so far this season? Will they improve as the season goes on?

When your home town team goes into mid-June more than 20 games under .500, there is plenty to be disappointed about. To me, the Twins season is exemplified by the tough year starting pitcher Phil Hughes has had.  An 11-game winner a year ago and a 16-game winner in 2014, Hughes got off to a 1-7 start (5.97 ERA), before being demoted to the bullpen.  Then, in his first relief appearance he was hit by a line drive, suffering a broken leg.

 

The fact is, however, the Twins have faced disappointment and injury up and down the roster. Of particular concern has been the injury to Miguel Sano – expected to anchor the middle of the lineup – and closer Glen Perkins’ health issues.  Notably, Kevin Jepsen, who filled in admirably for Perkins in the second half of last season (picking up 10 saves and ending the season with a 1.61 ERA) was not able to sustain that performance and was moved out of the closer role.

 

  1. Who has been the most surprising player so far this season? Can they sustain this pace?

The biggest surprise for the Twins has been Eduardo Nunez, who has taken over the starting shortstop spot and had provided much needed, instant offense. In his first 40 games played (as of June 13), Nunez is hitting .324, with nine home runs, 24 RBI, 33 runs scored and 15 stolen bases – numbers that put him in All Star Game territory. Nunez came into 2016 with a career batting average of .267 – and just 18 home runs in six seasons, so it’s unlikely he can continue at this pace.  However, he did hit .282 in 72 games a year ago, so we could see him maintain a solid average, and his speed is real.  The power, however, seems likely to tail off a bit in the second half.

 

I’m also pleased (not surprised) with the resurgence of Joe Mauer.  Although still far from his three-batting title performance, Mauer has maintained an average in the .280’s, an on-base-percentage around .400 and (through June 13) shown some added power (seven home runs).

 

  1. What top prospects might we see before the All Star break (What type of player are they: 5 tool player, speedster, defensive, power hitter, etc.)? What will be their impact on the team?

Given the Twins situation, we could see a number of new faces. We’ve already had glimpses of such prospects as Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Jose Berrios, Pat Dean, Buddy Boshers, and J.T. Chargois.  In addition, Byron Buxton – considered a five-tool player and, at one-time, MLB’s top prospect (Baseball America’s 2013 Minor League Player of the Year) – has been up and down (AAA and the Twins) this season.  Buxton is back up with the big club (after being sent down and hitting .336-6-14 at AAA) and seems to be on the upswing.  Still, he has a ways to go – and the Twins really need Buxton to live up to his top prospect status.

 

A couple of prospects that could be “back” up with the Twins sooner rather than later are:

  • Right-handed reliever  J.T. Chargois, who was called up this June and sent back down to AAA after just one  appearance – when the Twins signed reliever Neil Ramirez off waivers from the Brewers.  (Chargois was knocked around pretty good in that first MLB appearance) Despite first-MLB-game jitters, Chargois seems to have plenty of “stuff,” including a fastball that hits triple digits fairly regularly, an effective breaking ball (slider/slurve) and a change up in progress. At AA/AAA (through June 13) this season, Chargois had posted a 1.12 ERA in 22 games, with 11 saves and 34 strikeouts (nine walks) in 24 innings.    With the Twins issues in the bullpen, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Chargois’ power arm back in Minnesota.
  • Right- handed starter Jose Berrios spent some time with the Twins in April (was sent back down after going 1-1, 10.20 in four starts). Now considered the Twins’ number-one mound prospect, the 22-year-old Berrios has a mid-90’s fastball, a solid curve and an improving change up – as well as, according to observers, a good feel for the game.  Already a five-year professional, Berrios (as of June 13) has a 41-22 minor league record (3.04 ERA, 515 strikeouts in 488 1/3 innings.)

 

  1. What top prospects are currently being blocked by current players on the big club? Will this make them trade bait, will they switch positions or will the vet eventually be traded?

Really, as the Twins work to put together a winning combination, players with potential really aren’t blocked like they might be in some other organizations.  Twins fans should get a pretty good preview of some of the top young players in the system this season. The closest thing to “being blocked” might be the emergence of Eduardo Nunez as shortstop and the presence of Brian Dozier at second base somewhat restricting the opportunities for infield prospects Jorge Polanco and Nick Gordon. Polanco in particular seems to be ready to contribute on the MLB level (In brief stints with the Twins over the past three seasons, he has hit .262; while in seven minor league campaigns, he has hit in the high .280’s).

 

  1. What is the team lacking that either wasn’t addressed in the offseason or the offseason acquisition isn’t cutting it?

Starting pitching has proven a significant issue this season. The Twins starting staff continues to be a “pitch-to-contact” bunch, with no real power-arm staff “ace” to lead them and serve as a stopper.  That, and the fact that we’ve seen sub-par performances from some of the veterans on the staff, has contributed to an ERA among starters that is north of 5.00 AND an overworked bullpen.  There is potential for improvement, if some of the staff rebounds to the levels of performance they’ve delivered in the past. The Twins could really benefit from the development/maturing of some of the power arms in the farm system. 

  1. Are they better or worse off now than they were at the end of last season?

At the close of the 2015 season, when the Twins finished second in the AL Central with an 83-79 record (after four straight 90+ loss seasons), there was cause for optimism. The offense seemed improved (and would enjoy a full 2016 season from power-hitting Miguel Sano); a stable (if not spectacular) starting staff would be bolstered by a full season from Ervin Santana (suspended for 80 games in 2015); and closer Glen Perkins would be back to lead the bullpen. However, a combination  of regression/off seasons by some players, injuries to others and some issues with the “fundamentals” have put the Twins in a hole (more than 20 games under .500), they do not seem likely to dig out of.

 

Right now, as a fan, I see the season as one “for the future.”  The Twins have some potentially exciting young players already in Minnesota or in the system: Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Max Kepler, Nick  Gordon, Kohl Stewart, Alex Meyer, etc. The key word is potential and I’d like to see the Twins develop that potential (ala the Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Tim Laudner, Frank Viola “class of 1982” – who suffered through some tough seasons before the 1987 World Series win.

 

 

  1. What is your predicted outcome for the team this season? Why?

Although I originally predicted a third-place finish for the Twins, it now looks like they will finish at the bottom of the AL Central.  There just seems to be too many issues to address – offensively, defensively and on the mound – plus the hole they’ve dug is pretty deep.

 

  1. What players need to go (traded, released, etc.) & why?

I really don’t see the Twins making a major move this season. Rather I expect continued minor-to-majors (and perhaps back to the minors) movement, as the Twins look for a competitive combination and work to further develop some of their prospects.  I could see some interest (from contending teams) at the trade deadline in veterans like Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier. The Twins do have Miguel Sano (who could play 3B), as well as middle infielders Jorge Polanco and Nick Gordon in the wings. I’m not expecting it, but (for the right value) a trade could be made with a team that needs a veteran infielder for the stretch drive.

One or more of the Twins veteran pitchers could also become available if the team continues to disappoint.  However, the potential return would be determined by how well they progress (improve) as the season goes forward.

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