Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Keeping the Cats in the Bag

Considering how many times the Twins bullpen has fallen apart against the Tigers this season, it was nice to see the unit remain mostly intact last night as the Twins got back in the win column with a 6-4 win over the Tigers. There was reason for concern, as Ron Gardenhire's options were limited in the game -- Matt Guerrier had thrown 30 pitches in the previous night's ballgame, and the manager prefers not to use Jesse Crain (who'd also pitched in that game) on consecutive nights. This left the Twins without access to their two best right-handed relievers and meant that Brian Bass was sent out to throw 1 2/3 relatively high-leverage innings. That's a potential recipe disaster, but kudos to Bass and the rest of the Twins relievers for keeping the Tiger bats in check and holding on to this victory.

The win could have been by a much more comfortable margin, but the Twins made a TON of outs on the basepaths. Aside from the five double plays they hit into, they also had Nick Punto run into an out at home plate when he tried to score from second on a ball that skipped away from third baseman Carlos Guillen. I couldn't tell whether the decision to try and score was Punto's or third base coach Scott Ullger's, but it ended up proving a misguided one when Punto was thrown out by several feet at the plate. Combined with Carlos Gomez hesitating to go home from third on a ground ball to first base in the first inning, which led to his getting thrown out at home, this is not the type of fundamental baseball you'll want to teach your kids.

The litany of lost runners on the basepaths somewhat masks the fact that the Twins had a pretty good night against left-handed starter Nate Robertson, which is not insignificant. With Michael Cuddyer already on the disabled list, Ron Gardenhire elected to bench two of his other prominent middle-of-the-lineup bats in Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel against the southpaw. That Gardenhire saw fit to play Denard Span in favor of Kubel in right field is curious, seeing as how Kubel has been the team's best hitter over the past month by a wide margin, and Span was hitting even worse against lefties in the minors this year than Kubel has in the majors. Apparently Kubel's struggles in 13 career plate appearances against Robertson were enough to convince Gardenhire that Span -- who's never seen Robertson -- was a better option. And the decision worked out just fine, as Span went 1-for-2 in the game with a double off the Tigers starter.

In total, the speedy trio of Span, Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla reached base in 10 of their 14 plate appearances, which proved crucial in the absence of the aforementioned big bats. I feel another "piranha" craze coming on in some form (Dick Bremer last night called them "rabbits"), which does not excite me. Alas, I guess I can deal with it if these three continue to set the table for Mauer, Morneau and Co.

I'll part today with a couple minor-league notes...

* As I pulled my hair out while watching the Twins bullpen give away another game to the Tigers on Monday night and then bit my fingernails while watching Bass pitch to one of the league's most dangerous lineups with a three-run lead last night, it occurred to me that the Twins could use some bullpen help. Which makes it all the more baffling that Anthony Slama is still sitting in Ft. Myers.

For whatever reason, Slama was not promoted to Class-AA New Britain along with his teammates Danny Valencia, Robert Delaney, Jeff Manship and Brian Dinkelman a few weeks ago. This in spite of the fact that Slama is 24 (far older than the average prospect in Single-A ball) and has been -- and continues to be -- just about as dominant as a reliever can possibly be at that level. Slama currently holds a 0.42 ERA and 73-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 42 2/3 innings. In his last 10 appearances, 31 of the 45 outs Slama has recorded have come by way of strikeout. I realize that promoting prospects can be tricky business, but Slama is stagnating at the Single-A level, and as one of the only pitchers in the system who appears to have a legitimate chance of legitimately aiding the big-league bullpen in the somewhat near future, the Twins absolutely must find a way to move Slama up so he can face a more suitable level of competition.

* Deolis Guerra, the prized young right-hander acquired in the Johan Santana trade, tossed a three-hit shutout for the Miracle last night. In spite of his 8-4 record, Guerra has been fairly disappointing this year. He's a 19-year-old playing in Advanced A ball, so it's impossible to pass judgment on him at this point, but the fact that he's seemingly made no progress from last season is disconcerting. In fact, Guerra has taken some visible steps backward. Even after tossing the shutout last night, Guerra holds a 4.32 ERA in 16 outings, with a 4.99 K/9 rate and a 4.21 BB/9 rate. Last year, as an 18-year-old at the same level, he posted a 4.01 ERA along with 6.62 K/9 and 2.51 BB/9.

These numbers are far from condemning. I can't stress enough that Guerra is very young for this level of competition, and his coaches have apparently been fidgeting with mechanics which is bound to have a negative effect on performance. Still, for all his upside, Guerra has failed to put up dazzling numbers anywhere as a professional player, and I have a hard time viewing him as the top-notch pitching prospect that many others see him as. We can only hope that last night's gem represents a significant step in the right direction.

12 comments:

Andrew Kneeland said...

Only five double plays tonight for the Twins? I could've sworn it was more...

TT said...

Slama is 24 (far older than the average prospect in Single-A ball)

I suspect that means he really isn't much of a prospect. There is reason he was drafted in the 39th round. I doubt you will ever see him in a Twins uniform, much less helping at the major league level in the near future.

Andrew Kneeland said...

On another note, doesn't it feel great not having to label all your posts with "offensive ineptitude"?

I remember almost every post last year being labeled with that tag.

Nick N. said...

I suspect that means he really isn't much of a prospect. There is reason he was drafted in the 39th round. I doubt you will ever see him in a Twins uniform, much less helping at the major league level in the near future.

I realize that you're highly skeptical of Slama because of his age, but most scouts believe he has major-league stuff, and --regardless of how old you are -- it's a good sign when you're dominating professional hitters to that degree. I'd bet a bit of money that Slama appears in a Twins uniform by the end of the next season.

On another note, doesn't it feel great not having to label all your posts with "offensive ineptitude"?

Haha, yes, it is a great feeling. I do painfully recall having to add that tag to every post for stretches of time last season.

Andrew Kneeland said...

I agree with you on Slama, Nick. There really isn't a reason why he isn't up in the Bigs right now. It's not like we have all the crinks worked out of the bullpen.

I'm sure it takes nothing away from his ability, but he has a tiny stinking head!

http://usdtoreros.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/mtt/slama_anthony00.html

That picture almost looks doctored, lol.

TT said...

most scouts believe he has major-league stuff,

If that's true, how did he last until the 39th round of the draft? Its possible he has turned some heads, but I have not seen anything that indicates he has put himself on the major league fast track. Certainly the Twins don't seem to be on that page.

--regardless of how old you are -- it's a good sign when you're dominating professional hitters to that degree.

Good sign? Yes. Meaningful? Not so much. We are talking about A-ball hitters. And they are facing him without benefits of scouting reports. And he is doing it a pitcher friendly league.

Nick N. said...

If that's true, how did he last until the 39th round of the draft? Its possible he has turned some heads, but I have not seen anything that indicates he has put himself on the major league fast track. Certainly the Twins don't seem to be on that page.

He wasn't very good in college. Does that automatically doom his career? Nick Blackburn lasted until the 29th round, and I'd say he's doing alright for himself.

Good sign? Yes. Meaningful? Not so much. We are talking about A-ball hitters. And they are facing him without benefits of scouting reports. And he is doing it a pitcher friendly league.

Look, you can diminish what Slama has done in the FSL all you want. Your points are all valid and that's why we can't put too much stock into his numbers. The only point I made in this post was that there is NO reason for him be pitching at that level anymore. He quite clearly has it mastered. He needs to move up to Double-A and face better hitters, and then we can start to judge whether or not he can end up being a factor for the Twins.

TT said...

He wasn't very good in college.

That was a little over a year ago but now he is almost ready to contribute at the major league level?


Nick Blackburn lasted until the 29th round, and I'd say he's doing alright for himself.

Blackburn was 20, not 24, when he was drafted in 1982. And no one was talking about him being ready to help at the major league level a year later.

I am not saying Slama won't be successful, but you don't really believe the Twins have "NO reason for him be pitching at that level anymore" do you?

The reality is players get promoted when they are ready for the next level, not when they have "mastered" the level they are at. My guess there are still some things the Twins want Slama to master before they let him try his hand at AAA.

Nick N. said...

That was a little over a year ago but now he is almost ready to contribute at the major league level?

I NEVER claimed he was "almost ready to contribute at the major league level." My goodness.

Blackburn was 20, not 24, when he was drafted in 1982.

Uhhh...

The reality is players get promoted when they are ready for the next level, not when they have "mastered" the level they are at. My guess there are still some things the Twins want Slama to master before they let him try his hand at AAA.

I said he should be in Double-A, not Triple-A. And I've never said he should be in the majors this year, much less right now. You're doing a great job of mischaracterizing my arguments though.

Dianna said...

If anyone is around Saturday, I'll see what the official reason is for keeping Slama in High A. How ever, I suspect Radcliff & Company will be gone by then.

Nick N. said...

If anyone is around Saturday, I'll see what the official reason is for keeping Slama in High A. How ever, I suspect Radcliff & Company will be gone by then.

I'd be interested in hearing how they responded to that. Thanks Dianna.

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