Friday, February 15, 2008
We'll be shooting one new show per week for the next month or so, but once Opening Day nears the schedule calls for two new episodes per week through the end of the season. We also have some special season preview shows planned and I'll be flying to New York next month to shoot the episodes in studio. Whether radio or video I've always greatly preferred in-studio to over-the-phone, although I'm a little worried that viewership will plummet once Tiffany isn't the only person on camera.
Sadly, Krista Martin hasn't accepted me as a "friend" yet.
Gregg is responsible for first bringing me to Rotoworld back when I was still pretending to be a college student, asking me to contribute to their annual baseball magazine after reading my work in the early days of this blog. In the years since then he's become a co-worker and friend, but in addition to being one hell of a nice guy he's among the hardest-working people I've ever met. The award couldn't have gone to a more deserving person and it's great to see Rotoworld recognized within the industry.
Miller can't take a bad picture and the cover shot is pretty good, but this one is my favorite. Shockingly, she continues to look relatively decent with clothes on too.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21
Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 26-30, 31-35, 36-40
25. Angel Morales | Center Field | DOB: 11/89 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-3After stockpiling young arms with extremely pitching-heavy drafts for most of the past decade, the Twins selected high-school position players with each of their first four picks last June. Puerto Rican center fielder Angel Morales was the third of those four choices, signing for $235,000 and reporting to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he slid over to right field because of the presence of speedy first rounder Ben Revere in center.
Considered a good all-around athlete and a strong defender in center field with an outstanding arm, most of the draft-day questions surrounding Morales centered on his inconsistent and raw approach at the plate. Morales' pro debut saw him strike out in 31 percent of his plate appearances, which is an alarmingly high rate, but he also showed decent plate discipline and solid gap power while stealing 11 bases in 38 games as a 17-year-old playing in a very tough environment for offense.
Morales is very much a work in progress, but the skills are certainly there for him to develop into an impact player and his debut was a promising one all things considered. He may have to lag behind Revere as they travel up the organizational ladder simply to get consistent reps in center field, which is fine given that Morales is 18 months younger and a much less refined player at this point. He's a long way from the majors, but Morales is worth watching.
24. Paul Kelly | Shortstop | DOB: 10/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2005-2Taken out of a Texas high school by the Twins in the second round of the 2005 draft, Paul Kelly hit .277/.358/.365 in 40 games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League after signing. He moved up to low Single-A in 2006 and batted .280/.352/.384 in a pitcher-friendly environment before a knee injury cut his first full season short after 95 games. Initially expected to make a full recovery in time for 2007, Kelly instead missed essentially the entire season, playing in just two games.
At 21 years old Kelly is still young enough to make up for the lost development time, but a knee injury that ends one season and wipes out another is a big concern for a shortstop whose bat may not be an asset much further down the defensive spectrum. He showed league-average power during his first two pro seasons, which is good for a player who was young for the level of competition, but most of that was gap power and he doesn't project as much more than a 10-homer threat.
A high-school pitcher, Kelly boasts one of the organization's strongest arms and was considered a solid defensive shortstop before the injury, but knee problems could change that. Kelly's glove will ultimately determine the bulk of his value, but he has the on-base skills and doubles power to become a more capable hitter than his raw numbers suggest. Of course, he'll have to get back on the field and stay healthy first, which is why this season figures to reveal a lot about Kelly's long-term outlook.
23. Yohan Pino | Starter | DOB: 12/83 | Throws: Right | Sign: VenezuelaDespite little fan fare and a fastball that doesn't crack 90 miles per hour, Yohan Pino has consistently put up excellent numbers since being signed out of Venezuela in 2004. After a strong showing in the rookie-level Appalachian League in 2005, Pino made his full-season debut in 2006 and went 14-2 with a 1.91 ERA, 99-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .198 opponent's batting average in 94 innings at low Single-A before going 6-0 with a 1.67 ERA in the Venezuelan winter league.
He continued to compile ridiculous numbers after moving up to high Single-A last season, posting a 1.73 ERA, 64-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .192 opponent's batting average in 67.2 innings to earn a midseason promotion to Double-A. He struggled there for the first time as a pro, but even with a 5.13 ERA managed a fantastic 40-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 47.1 innings, showing that he was anything but overmatched.
Pino's raw stuff has never matched his on-field results and the Twins have been naturally skeptical of his success, repeatedly shifting him back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. He now has a 2.86 ERA, 267-to-59 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and just 15 homers allowed in 276.2 career innings, and at some point performance should take precedence over velocity. He won't be handed any opportunities, but Pino will be tough to ignore if he can put together a strong showing at Double-A in 2008.
22. Mike McCardell | Starter | DOB: 4/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2007-6A two-way college star at Division II Kutztown University, Mike McCardell hit .367 with a .570 slugging percentage and posted a 2.30 ERA, 173-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .176 opponent's batting average in 137 innings during his final two seasons. The Twins liked him more as a pitcher when they selected him in the sixth round of June's draft and McCardell made them look smart by dominating at two levels of rookie-ball after signing.
A big, 6-foot-6 right-hander with a low-90s fastball who split time between the rotation and bullpen in college, McCardell went 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA and amazing 95-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 63 innings as a starter during his pro debut. His numbers are sure to come down to earth as he faces more experienced competition, but the Twins had success in the past uncovering a small-college standout who produced exceptional numbers without overpowering stuff.
That's obviously not to suggest that McCardell will automatically follow in Kevin Slowey's footsteps by emerging as a top-notch prospect, because there are certainly plenty of small-college gems whose success doesn't translate to the pros. However, the possibility definitely exists, the Twins have a decent eye for such pitchers, and he's off to a good start. This season will be key for McCardell, who figures to begin the year at Single-A and could move quickly through the Twins' system.
21. Brock Peterson | First Base | DOB: 11/83 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2002-49A Washington high schooler who was picked by the Twins in the 49th round of the 2002 draft, Brock Peterson began his pro career in 2003 as a third baseman and struggled defensively while hitting .290/.404/.473 in 61 rookie-ball games. He switched to first base and moved up to low Single-A in 2004, but hit just .256/.337/.348 in 124 games. Promoted to high Single-A the next season, Peterson hit just .250/.332/.401 in 119 games and was asked to remain at Fort Myers in 2005.
He responded to repeating the level by putting together a breakout season, batting .291/.356/.497 with 21 homers, 56 total extra-base hits, and a 93-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 121 games. After topping the league-wide OPS by over 150 points in an extremely pitcher-friendly environment, Peterson showed that it was no fluke by moving up to Double-A last season and hitting .285/.382/.476 with 15 homers, 40 total extra-base hits, and a 90-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 112 games.
Peterson tends to get overlooked despite being one of the most productive hitters in the organization over the past two seasons. Still just 24 years old despite never receiving an in-season promotion and repeating a level, he's arguably the best bet to potentially become an impact bat that the Twins have in the upper minors, but has no clear path to an everyday gig in the majors with Justin Morneau, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel seemingly all around for the long term.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Twins Sign Livan Hernandez
Faced with the possibility of an entirely 26-and-under rotation following the trade of Johan Santana, the Twins predictably acquired a veteran starter yesterday by signing Livan Hernandez to a one-year deal worth $5 million plus $2 million in incentives. With a pair of All-Star appearances and a World Series MVP, Hernandez is a relatively big name. However, heading into his 13th big-league season he's far from the same pitcher who starred as a rookie for the Marlins during their World Series run in 1997.
If not for coming one-third of an inning short in 1999, Hernandez would have 10 straight seasons with at least 200 innings, which is why nearly every article about the signing describes him as an "innings eater." While the label is accurate, Hernandez's innings have decreased dramatically in both quality and quantity in recent years. Since winning 15 games with a 3.20 ERA and 178-to-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2003, Hernandez has experienced a steady and significant decline in performance:
YEAR GS IP IP/G ERA WHIP OPS SO% BB% K/BBHernandez's ERA, WHIP, OPS against, strikeout rate, and strikeout-to-walk ratio have all gotten worse in four straight seasons. During that time his ERA jumped from 3.20 to 4.93 while his OPS against rose from .691 to .863, and he lost a staggering 46 percent of his strikeouts. Over the past two years he's averaged fewer innings per start than ever before and Hernandez's control has gotten worse with age, culminating with last year's walk rate ranking as his worst since his first full season.
And all of that took place in the NL, where pitchers bat and the overall competition has been weaker. Hernandez will now take his mid-80s fastball and rapidly declining numbers to the AL for the first time in his career and the results don't figure to be pretty. He had a tough time keeping his ERA under 5.00 in the NL over the past two seasons--allowing the most hits and second-most homers in the league last year--and even including his prime Hernandez's career mark during interleague play is 4.91.
He's a decent bet to crack the 200-inning mark again, but only because the Twins figure to hand him the ball 33 or 34 times. His actual performance figures to be well below par. Hernandez's relatively big name and "innings eater" label are likely enough for many Twins fans to approve of the signing--and a dieting Boof Bonser surely welcomes another big-gutted hurler--but his performance last season was every bit as bad as Ramon Ortiz's performance in 2006 (the year before he signed with the Twins):
GS IP ERA AVG OBP SLG OPSHernandez managed to post an ERA that was a half-run lower, but the .308/.371/.499 hitting line that opponents produced against him was actually slightly worse than the .297/.362/.486 mark that hitters turned in while knocking Ortiz around (although Hernandez was calling a much tougher ballpark for pitchers home). The hitting lines produced against Ortiz in 2006 and Hernandez in 2007 both look fairly similar to the career marks that Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have posted at the plate:
AVG OBP SLG OPSLike Ortiz in 2006, last year Hernandez essentially turned the hitters he faced into a cross between Morneau and Mauer. Similar struggles in the year before joining the Twins aside, signing Hernandez for $5-7 million is less of a mistake than handing $3.1 million to Ortiz last season. Hernandez has been a better pitcher than Ortiz during their respective careers and even in the midst of a steady decline figures to be a better pitcher for the Twins.
Ortiz's track record suggested that he had little chance of being even mediocre for the Twins, while Hernandez at least looks somewhat capable of potentially supplying the team with 200 innings of an ERA around 5.00. Beyond that, after trading Santana and losing both Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva to free agency the Twins had plenty of payroll room to work with, making a one-year commitment for somewhere between $5 million and $7 million less hurtful than usual.
Of course, there are still much better ways to spend $5-7 million and despite all the usual talk of the team desperately needing a "veteran starter" the Twins had no shortage of rotation options between Bonser, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn, and Philip Humber, not to mention guys like Zach Day, Kevin Mulvey, Brian Duensing, Brian Bass, Ryan Mullins, Anthony Swarzak, Oswaldo Sosa, and Kyle Waldrop (among others) as backup plans.
The Twins have succeeded because of young talent and have often won in spite of their annual pursuit of veteran mediocrity. Signing guys like Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Tony Batista, and Juan Castro had little benefit and wasted money, hurt the team, and held back better, younger players. Rather than pay $5-7 million for a five-something ERA while the rotation at Triple-A Rochester dominates the International League, the Twins could have trusted their stockpile of young arms while using that money elsewhere.
Hernandez's salary would go a long way toward draft and international bonuses, where frugality has lessened the Twins' ability to acquire high-end prospects. An extra $5-7 million may not mean anything this season, but it could be a big help come 2010 and using that money to ink players to long-term contracts before then is another superior option. With that said, given as much as $25 million in payroll room following key departures the Twins no doubt felt pressure to spend money immediately.
Throwing $5-7 million at a formerly good pitcher who'll struggle to keep his ERA below 5.00 is far from a disaster and Hernandez's durability certainly carries some value, but if ever there was a time to trust young talent and avoid wasting money on veteran mediocrity this season was seemingly it. Young and unproven are not synonymous with bad, and the Twins had more than enough quality rotation options to get through the season without paying Hernandez $200,000 per start.
A rotation headed by Liriano, Baker, Bonser, and Slowey, with Humber, Perkins, Blackburn, and others taking their turns would have been plenty effective and there's an argument to be made for there being value in letting everyone gain experience and take lumps together in a rebuilding year. On the other hand, there's also an argument for many of those pitchers benefiting from additional seasoning in the minors or bullpen, and delaying service-time clocks will allow the Twins to control them longer.
Beyond that, it's possible that Hernandez could fetch a decent prospect in a midyear trade or barring that garner a supplemental first-round draft pick after the season if he's again ranked as a Type B free agent. Both on the field and off the field Hernandez is not without value and overpaying for veteran mediocrity is much more palatable this season, but like with Craig Monroe's $3.82 million deal there were perhaps better ways to spend money that's apparently burning a hole in the team's pocket.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Twins Notes: Wedding Bells, 20 Pounds, and Scary Stuff
And just so that those new readers arriving here by way of Google and Yahoo! don't leave tremendously disappointed, here's a picture of Martin sans shades:
This concludes the "Aaron pretends to be C.J." portion of today's entry.
Thanks to interleague play, Santana threw 182.2 innings against National League teams while with the Twins. He went 16-4 with a 2.27 ERA, 191-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .187 opponent's batting average while hitting .258/.281/.355. There's an awful lot of room for Santana to ultimately be viewed as a disappointment in New York given the tremendous hype and massive long-term contract, but he's in position to put together some amazing numbers for the Mets over the next few seasons.
Whatever the case, with Santana gone the Twins are counting on Bonser to provide some stability in the rotation given that his 48 career starts are tied with Scott Baker for the most on the staff. Compared to his rookie season Bonser lost 12 percent of his strikeouts and handed out 50 percent more walks last year, but also did a better job keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. There's no doubt that Bonser struggled, but his 4.60 xFIP suggests that he pitched better than his ugly 5.10 ERA shows.
It took a couple months for the "vastly overpaid compared to similar players" part to become clear, but sure enough Monroe's salary predictably sticks out like a sore thumb now that numerous other veteran, platoon-caliber bats have settled for low-paying jobs or are still attempting to latch on somewhere with minor-league contracts despite just days remaining until spring training. Compare Monroe's salary and production over the past three years to some similar players who were available to the Twins:
OVERALL vs LEFTIES SALARYOver the past three seasons all seven of the above players have hit better than Monroe both overall and against left-handers, often by wide margins. Despite that, unless the Twins cut Monroe next month and eat $600,000, he'll make more than the guaranteed money in all seven contracts combined. In other words, the Twins could have signed all seven of those guys for less of a commitment than they'll likely end up making to Monroe, who's been the least productive player in the entire group since 2005.
Carew has forgotten more about hitting than I'll ever know and part of LEN3's job is passing along information that sources have told him about players, but repeatedly suggesting that Young can be compared to Robinson is a pretty clear case of team-friendly spin and it's something that some fans have already begun repeating as dogma. Meanwhile, compare the actual numbers from Young and Robinson through the age of 21:
G AVG OBP SLG OPS+ HR K/BBAs you can see, there's absolutely no comparison. Robinson was already a Hall of Fame-caliber player through the age of 21, batting .307/.378/.543 in an extremely low-scoring era to rank as one of the elite hitters in baseball. He smacked 67 homers, controlled the strike zone well with just 1.73 strikeouts for every walk, ranked among the league leaders in most offensive categories, and made two All-Star teams with a pair of top-10 MVP finishes.
Meanwhile, through the same age Young has hit just 16 homers in 192 games while showing poor plate discipline and striking out 5.5 times for every walk, producing a measly .319 on-base percentage and .419 slugging percentage that makes him a below-average hitter. Many smart people believe that Young has the potential to become a great hitter, but Robinson was already a great hitter at Young's age and any comparison between them is based on something other than actual performance.
Those situations where last year, where we had Mauer DHing and Redmond catching, those are scary stuff. So, you know what, you can put a situation where if you catch Redmond, you DH Morneau to give him a break, and play Joe at first base a day or two, that would be wonderful, probably for his legs and probably for Morneau's.Gardenhire has repeatedly talked about his phobia of that scenario over the years and the Twins lost talented young players in order to misguidedly keep Chris Heintz on the roster as a third-string catcher solely to avoid that situation, but being forced to play by NL rules for a few innings is hardly "scary stuff." There are far worse things, like having Heintz on the roster or keeping Mauer on the bench to avoid a situation that rarely occurs and is perfectly manageable when it does.