Friday, July 17, 2009

Rebuilding From Within

It's no secret that the two clearest weaknesses on this club as we approach the trade deadline are second base and relief pitching. While the bullpen has looked decent as of late and hasn't posted staggeringly bad numbers, I don't think anyone feels comfortable with the current group being relied on to protect small leads down the stretch. Meanwhile, second base has been an undeniable disaster zone.

For the time being, it seems that Bill Smith and the Twins are content to try and address these problems internally. Farmhands Bobby Keppel and Brian Duensing were recently added to the big-league bullpen, and most recently Kevin Mulvey was called up to chip in as a reliever. Meanwhile, Alexi Casilla was called up just prior to the All-Star break to take his third stab at seizing the starting second base job. It's good to see the Twins showing a somewhat proactive approach when it comes to these problematic areas. Unfortunately, none of these players are likely to provide substantive upgrades.

I was actually fairly pleased when the Twins released Luis Ayala and called up Keppel to fill his spot, as I viewed Keppel as a ground-ball reliever who -- unlike Ayala -- had actually proven capable of inducing ground balls this year. So far, Keppel has lived up to that role, overcoming his mediocre stuff by consistently keeping the ball down in the zone and inducing an excellent GB rate of 64.9 percent, which has led to a 0.73 ERA in 12 1/3 innings of work. Keppel is almost certainly pitching over his head and by no means do I expect him to maintain this type of performance, but he's a definite upgrade over Ayala and I'm sure Rick Anderson and Ron Gardenhire are both very happy with the way he's been pitching.

Duensing, on the other hand, has struggled. He's allowed seven runs on 10 hits over 11 2/3 innings while tallying more walks (five) than strikeouts (four). He's not a bad pitcher, but he's not a difference-maker in the bullpen and is really best suited for mop-up duty at this point. The same is likely to be true for Mulvey, a 24-year-old right-hander who came over in the Johan Santana trade and will be making his major-league debut whenever he enters a game for the Twins. Mulvey, who ranked sixth on my preseason Top Ten Twins Prospects List (http://www.nickstwinsblog.com/2009/01/my-top-ten-prospects.html), has posted decent numbers in Triple-A, but he's been inconsistent and susceptible to rough outings. With a 3.93 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 81-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Mulvey has been downright average in Rochester, which makes him unlikely to have a seriously positive impact with the Twins.

Casilla, who has hit .180/.242/.225 while playing shoddy defense over his first two stints with the Twins this season, has ignited some hope that he'll be able to recapture his spark from last year thanks to a very good 827 OPS in Triple-A (that includes a 919 OPS this month). The problem is that his strong numbers are propped up by a .340 batting average. If Casilla can overcome his tendencies to swing at balls out of the zone and send every ball he hits either straight down into the ground or straight up into the air, he might be able to post a .300 average which would lead to solid overall numbers. Unfortunately, Casilla treads a dangerous line with his inability to draw walks or hit for any power, so if he hits even .250 (which would represent a major improvement over his performance earlier this year), we're still looking at some substandard production.

It's unclear whether the Twins have called up all these players because they actually view them as potential solutions or with the intention of showcasing them for possible trades within the next few weeks. I'm pretty skeptical of the latter possibility -- even if these guys succeed over a period of two weeks I can't imagine that the Twins braintrust really believes it's going to meaningfully ramp up their value in the eyes of other GMs. Instead, my guess is that that the Twins want to see if they can get any kind of subsantive upgrades to the areas that have emerged as weaknesses without having to look outside the organization.

That's not a bad idea -- acquiring relievers or middle infielders within the next couple weeks is going to be costly -- but I just don't really see these guys as answers. If the Twins want to try and catch lightning in a bottle with an internal candidate, they'd be better off looking at Steven Tolleson, whose skills seem more transferrable to the big leagues than Casilla's at this stage. And if they want to give the bullpen a jolt without overspending on another team's reliever, they'll probably have to wait on someone like Jesse Crain, Juan Morillo, Rob Delaney or Anthony Slama. Converted mediocre Triple-A starters like Duensing and Mulvey simply aren't likely to upgrade the unit as needed.

6 comments:

David said...

I think Casilla was called up to give him his last chance to make the team. If his batting average is below the Punto line for the next few weeks, the Twins will call up Tolleson.

Anonymous said...

maybe they are giving him a chance to impress other teams so we can unload his dead weight.

Dan said...

Can we see Steve Tolleson. Please?

Anonymous said...

Actually, the biggest weakness the first half was the starting pitching. I don't think the Twins should be making changes, necessarily with their starting staff, but if they aren't more consistent the other weaknesses don't matter.

If the Twins starters are healthy and pitching better then the lack of another reliable reliever is less noticable. Better starting also masks some offensive weaknesses as well.

I have no problem with the Twins addressing their problems at 2nd and in the bullpen, but unless the starting pitching improves a bit, those things won't matter. And if the starting pitching does improve they probably won't matter either.

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