Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lost Weekend

I spent the past weekend at a friend's cabin, disconnected from the world of Internet and cable TV, so I wasn't really able to follow any baseball. As it turns out, that wasn't such a bad thing. The Twins lost a home series against a mediocre club while seeing some frustrating bullpen issues reemerge, Justin Morneau sat out his first game in two years and Joe Mauer went 2-for-12 to lower his average to a paltry .407 (though he did add another home run, setting a new career high).

The Twins have had such a tough time on the road that winning games at home has become absolutely crucial. As such, a 3-3 homestand against the Pirates and Astros must be viewed as a rather substantial disappointment. With the Tigers continuing to play good ball, the Twins are going to take hold of their own destiny and start stringing together some wins if they want to make gains in this division. Heading into a daunting nine-game road trip, that's no easy task.

Seemingly frustrated with their continued bullpen woes, the Twins did make a roster move during yesterday's off day, calling up Triple-A reliever Bobby Keppel while designating Luis Ayala for assignment. Keppel, a 27-year-old right-hander, held a 2.43 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 55 2/3 innings in Rochester. Similar to Ayala, he doesn't strike many hitters out and rather tries to induce grounders -- he's been fairly successful in that regard with a solid ground ball rate and only one home run allowed on the season. Still, given his unimpressive peripherals and mediocre minor-league track record, my sense is that this is a lateral move at best. Nevertheless, I'm not disappointed to see Ayala go.

One might be surprised to see Ayala get the axe, given that he has posted a 2.40 ERA over his past 12 appearances to lower his ERA near 4. Yet, Ayala simply has not demonstrated that he can get hitters out consistently enough to fill the role the Twins have asked him to fill. He has allowed runs in four of his past six appearances and opponents are hitting .306/.358/.484 against him this season. The Twins signed Ayala hoping that he could rebound from a tough 2008 season and return to the form he showed earlier in his career. But, in terms of strikeouts, walks and hits, Ayala's performance has been nearly identical to last year, and his already weak ground ball rate has actually dropped.

Last season, Ayala shuttled between two teams, posted a 5.71 ERA and subsequently drawing very little interest in free agency before the Twins signed him to a relatively meager one-year contract. He's been basically exactly what they should have expected. Hopefully they properly scale their expectations for Keppel.

On a brighter note, top Twins prospect Aaron Hicks was finally moved up from Extended Spring Training last week, following the path of last year's first-round pick Ben Revere by heading straight to Low-A Beloit. Hicks made his debut for the Snappers over the weekend. In three games, the 19-year-old went 3-for-8 with a double, an RBI, three runs scored, two strikeouts and four walks. When I ranked Hicks as the organization's top prospect during the offseason, I noted that his combination of plate discipline, speed, power and defense made him an exciting and promising young player, and he displayed all of those skills while manning center field for the Snappers this weekend. He'll be a fun one to follow from here on out.

I also just learned as I'm writing this that Danny Valencia has been promoted to Rochester, but I'll touch on that more later this week... maybe tomorrow.

4 comments:

Topper said...

By far the best Twins news in the recent week has been Hicks and Valencia moving up. Each one tiny step closer to being able to see them in Minnesota someday (though Hicks has several steps over several years to do that sadly).

I don't think Ayala was awful, but he certainly wasn't a lock-down arm in the bullpen. However I'm sure Keppel won't be either. Seems like an even exchange, Keppel being slightly cheaper.

I wonder how many more close games Henn is going to have to ruin before Bill & Gardy decide to let Delaney show what he can do.

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