Thursday, September 29, 2011

Parmelee's Powerful Debut

The Twins' 2011 season has mercifully come to a close. It's difficult to draw positives from a final month in which the club went 6-20 and averaged only 3.7 runs per game, narrowly avoiding a 100-loss campaign by defeating the Royals in last night's finale. Yet there's one player who stands out as a genuine bright spot. That would be September call-up Chris Parmelee.

In a season filled with disappointing offensive performances and underwhelming rookie debuts, Parmelee's performance down the stretch stands out distinctly. Following a rather ordinary season in Double-A, he came up to hit .355/.443/.592 in 21 games for the Twins here in September.

At 23, Parmelee was the third-youngest player to don a Twins uniform this season, with Ben Revere and Joe Benson edging him by a few months. Given the uncertainty surrounding Justin Morneau's future outlook, Parmelee could have a chance to make an impact next season, and his sterling debut only increases the odds that he'll be viewed as a viable option at first base in 2012.

Let's take a look at the three contributing factors in Parmelee's impressive September triple-slash line:

Hitting for average: Parmelee racked up 27 hits in 76 at-bats for a stellar .355 batting average. Measured against his full professional body of work, this appears to be a major fluke. He's a .266 career hitter in the minors and has never posted a .300 average at any level. With that being said, Parmelee has cut down on his strikeouts over the past couple years and that's resulted in more hits, as you can see below:

Strikeout Rate
Batting Average

Parmelee carried over his improved contact rate to the big leagues in a limited sample, striking out only 13 times in 88 plate appearances (15 percent). He won't carry a .389 BABIP in the long-term, but if he can keep the whiffs in check there's no reason to think he can't hit in the .280-.290 range, which will lead to solid production assuming he remains strong in the next two areas.

Patience: While coming up through the Twins' system, he hasn't really posted the kind of gaudy numbers that you'd hope for from a first-round first baseman, but Parmelee has generally displayed a very sound plate approach. In 2,663 plate appearances in the minors, he's drawn 315 walks -- a 12 percent clip that nearly matches Joe Mauer's career walk rate in the majors.

His ability to utilize the free pass has helped Parmelee consistently put up respectable OBP figures even when his batting average has sagged. The fact that he's already demonstrated this skill in the majors, with 12 walks for a 14-percent rate, is extremely encouraging, especially when you consider how much fellow rooks Benson and Revere have struggled to coax walks against MLB pitching.

Power: This, to me, is the big wild card with Parmelee. Nothing about his performance with the Twins has surprised me more than the pop he's shown, ripping four homers and six doubles in his 76 at-bats for a .592 slugging percentage. This is a guy who went deep only 13 times in 610 plate appearances for New Britain this year, and who's slugged .436 in his minor-league career.

As a slow-footed first baseman, Parmelee will need to develop a strong power tool in order to establish himself as an asset. The early signs are extremely promising in this regard, but I'm skeptical as to whether he can sustain it in the long-term given his track record.

That will be the question with Parmelee. Can he shake an unspectacular minor-league history and prove that this quick adaptation to the bigs is legit? I don't think the Twins can responsibly move forward with him as their sole insurance policy behind Morneau at first base, but the sweet-swinging young lefty has definitely given the club something to think about by making a tremendous first impression.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

TwinsCentric Cover Contest

One of the reasons that posting has been so light around here lately is that I've been busy working on content for this year's edition of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, which I've mentioned a few times recently. Since most fans have been looking ahead to the offseason for a couple months now, it should be just what the doctor ordered.

On that note, I'd like to announce a contest we're holding for readers with design skills. We want one of you folks to come up with a cover for this year's edition, so if you're interested, whip something up and send it to us at Entries are due by October 9th. Winner gets a free copy of the Handbook, credit on the cover and $50. Please note that if your design is selected, we may want to work with you to tweak a few things.

As a reference point, here's last year's cover:

Monday, September 26, 2011

On Free Agent Shortstops

As they look ahead to next season, the Twins know that there are a lot of areas on the roster they should probably address.

Here is a resource,, for those of you who want to get into the management side of sports.

The rotation is plagued by ongoing injury concerns. Joe Mauer's ability to remain at catcher is in question -- same with Justin Morneau and first base. The outfield is in a serious state of flux, with Denard Span battling concussion symptoms while Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel prepare to test free agency.

It'd be nice to add players at all these positions during the offseason, so as to build a foundation of depth that might prevent a similar disaster next season. There's one spot, however, where upgrading ought to be a mandate rather than a luxury. That position is shortstop.

Even if all the players mentioned above heal splendidly during the winter months -- which frankly would border on miraculous -- the Twins still won't have a player in the organization that they can feel comfortable about starting at one of the most important positions on the field. The Tsuyoshi Nishioka experiment is looking at this point like a complete bust, and while I believe Trevor Plouffe will figure things out eventually he's done himself no favors during this erratic late-season audition.

Without a doubt, the Twins are going to need to acquire someone to at least compete with Plouffe and Nishioka for a starting job next spring. Unfortunately, shortstop is always one of the toughest positions to address in free agency and that's certainly true this year. I sorted through the options in my research for the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, and suffice to say that the crop drops off very sharply after Jose Reyes.

One could certainly make a case that the Twins, who will have some money available this offseason and could use an exciting shape-up, would be wise to make a run at Reyes. He's a premier player at his position and he's wrapping up an excellent campaign.

Unfortunately, there are two things about him that should be viewed by Twins fans as red flags. One is his injury history; he's missed 191 games over the last three years. The other is his lack of outstanding power. It's extremely tough to find shortstops with good pop, but the problem is that a Reyes contract would consume money that the Twins -- who have hit the third-fewest home runs in baseball this year -- might have otherwise used on re-signing Cuddyer or Kubel, or on acquiring another power bat.

The Twins are probably best served by looking to the trade market and trying to find a buy-low candidate, like the Orioles did last year with J.J. Hardy. Free agency offers more in terms of solid depth than legitimate starters. If depth is the goal, though, the Twins might consider turning their gaze to a familiar face.

Nick Punto has been limited to 59 games for the Cardinals this year because of injuries, but when he's played he's been productive, batting .258/.373/.379 with an excellent 20-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio while bringing plenty of value with the glove as usual. His suspect health is obviously a sticking point, but if he comes as cheap as he did for St. Louis last winter ($750K), what's the harm in bringing him aboard? You don't sign him and designate him as your starting shortstop, but he's very handy to have around and for all grumbling about him from Twins fans over the years, there's no question that the team missed him this season.

It may be that Punto is only an incremental upgrade over the likes of Matt Tolbert, but perhaps incremental upgrades are what the front office should be focusing on. Fans yearn for that Reyes-like offseason home run, but what this season revealed is that the club's second tier of players is in a state of disrepair. What happens with the top-level guys like Mauer, Morneau and Span will happen, but either way the rest of the roster needs to get better, with stronger depth across the board.

Adding a player like Punto would help accomplish that. As far as finding a starter at shortstop, it doesn't look like free agency is the answer.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Baseball Man

When Terry Ryan stepped down from his role as Twins' general manager four years ago, the baseball world was shocked. At the time, he was the second-most tenured GM in the majors, and it was clear from the league's reaction that he carried a lot respect around the game.

Kevin Towers, who was the GM of the Padres at that point, said of Ryan: "He's an honest man with a tremendous integrity, and a great evaluator. The best way I can put it is he's a baseball man."

Ryan's replacement, Bill Smith, carries a different set of attributes. Unlike Ryan, he's not a trained scout with a keen eye for talent. The same article linked above described Smith as being "well-versed in baseball rules" and "a stickler for details and finances."

An administrator, perhaps, but not a baseball man.

Smith's tenure as GM started out on a sour note, as he drew the unenviable tasks of allowing Torii Hunter to walk as a free agent and trading Johan Santana. The dread of making these unpopular, yet necessary, moves likely played a big part in Ryan's decision to resign.

This first offseason at the helm qualified as trial by fire for Smith, and so it was somewhat easy to excuse his lackluster returns in the Santana and Delmon Young deals. Yet, several years later Smith still appears overmatched. Too many moves over the last 18 months have backfired, and fans are fed up. With the baseball season coming to a close and a slate of difficult decisions approaching this winter, faith in the front office is at a low point.

I've seen many calls for Smith's dismissal, but I'm not sure this would effectively resolve the core issues afflicting the organization. It's naive to think that the GM is working in a silo when it comes to personnel decisions -- especially a finance guy like Smith who is clearly reliant on the folks around him to evaluate talent and identify targets.

This front office is plagued by stagnating philosophies. Barring a complete overhaul, that's not going to change. I've been as vocally critical of Smith's moves as anyone, but even I can't bring myself to believe that firing him is going to serve as a cure-all for this franchise's woes. More than anything, I don't think it's feasible to expect the Twins -- a fiercely loyal organization that promotes from within -- to replace Smith with someone who would take a meaningfully different approach.

What I would like to see, however, is a fresh face enlisted to fill a high-ranking decision-making role within the front office. A progressive thinker from outside the organization. A baseball man.

If the Twins are serious about turning the ship around, their shake-up must go beyond firing the Triple-A manager and pitching coach. This is a club in desperate need of new perspectives and outside-the-box solutions. Firing the general manager might not be a realistic solution, but putting a different voice in his ear than the ones he's been listening to recently could go a long way toward reversing the front office's growing trend of swings and misses.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Winding Down

You've probably noticed that the posts on this blog have grown increasingly sporadic here in September. Indeed, with only seven posts in the books, this is shaping up to be the least active in-season month in the site's history.

Part of it is because I've been busy, but the bigger issue is that I just can't bring myself to write about this team anymore. Things are basically as bad as can be. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and several others have been shut down for the season, leaving behind a motley group of mostly minor leaguers that seems legitimately incapable of winning a baseball game.

Meanwhile, it appears that Jason Kubel has slipped out of the Type A free agency field while Michael Cuddyer is on the verge of doing so himself. This would deprive the Twins' of their full compensation should either (or both) depart.

This organization enters the offseason facing a gamut of hugely alarming health concerns, a bloated and poorly allotted payroll, and a minor-league system that is bereft of impact talent in the upper levels. Without some creativity and ingenuity from the front office (not to mention some desperately needed good fortune) in the coming winter, things aren't necessarily bound to get better.

Once the offseason has arrived, the posting schedule figures to ramp up here as we mull the decisions that lie ahead. There will be plenty of fodder to supplement the third annual Offseason GM Handbook. In the meantime, if there are any topics you're interested in reading about, please share in the comments section. Thanks as always for stopping by.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Mauer Mystery Revisited

Joe Christensen wrote a good piece for the Star Tribune earlier this week delving deeper into Joe Mauer's season-long injury woes.

Within the article, Justin Morneau suggests that the public backlash against Mauer might have been lessened if the team hadn't initially put out such a vague and mysterious diagnosis:
"Joe's not one to make excuses," Morneau said. "The reality is, he tried to come back too soon from knee surgery. Could [the Twins] have helped him out if they said he never built back his strength, instead of calling it bilateral leg weakness? I think it would have been a lot different if they said, he tried to come back too soon so he could help our team win."
Morneau is sticking up for his friend and teammate, and there may be some validity to what he's saying, but I think he's missing the point. As I recall, the Twins made it fairly clear at the time that Mauer's ailment related to his offseason surgery, and I believe most people understood that the catcher had rushed himself back before he was ready. That was evident in his paltry April numbers and his very quick trip to the disabled list.

This resource,, has information for people who want to help injured players like this out and get them back into the game faster.

Regardless of how you want to label Mauer's leg issues, though, the explanations we continue to hear ring hollow. Granted, he faced an abbreviated recovery timetable during the offseason because he didn't undergo surgery until December. But that still gave him two months to prepare for spring training, and once he arrived in Fort Myers he spent several weeks rehabbing there as well.

Mauer started a total of 16 games at catcher between spring training and the regular season before being shut down and placed on the DL, where he'd remain for over two months. Then, from his June 17 return through the end of August, Mauer batted .302 but managed a measly .375 slugging percentage, notching only 14 doubles and one homer in 255 plate appearances. He continued to complain of leg weakness and rarely caught more than two or three games in a row.

Catching is of course very hard on the knees and Mauer undoubtedly set himself back by forcing an early return. But the surgery -- which Bill Smith stressed at the time was a "minor procedure" -- is now nine months old and between the offseason, spring training and his DL stint, Mauer has had no less than five months to work on rehabbing it. That's more time than he's spent playing. His persisting issues simply don't add up; a healthy 28-year-old body should not recover this slowly.

Christensen's article continues to downplay the notion that Mauer is being afflicted by anything more than post-surgery complications. A passing reference is made to the "frenzy of speculation" about a "more serious illness" that arose when the bilateral leg weakness diagnosis was first announced. However, I've heard from multiple (albeit secondhand) sources that the Twins are privately concerned that there are deeper issues in play.

Hopefully none of those whispers will turn out to have substance. Mauer has looked much better at the plate lately, with a .346/.433/.538 hitting line since August 20th. Of course, the caveat is that August 20th marks the last time he caught in back-to-back games. At no point this season has he shown that he's capable of producing offensively while regularly crouching behind the plate. Perhaps Mauer's many years of catching have simply taken their toll and his legs aren't equipped for it anymore.

Reporters are doing a good job of shedding more and more light on this troubling situation, but I still don't believe we know the full story. For the time being, Mauer's future as a catcher is very much in doubt, which means finding another competent option at the position should be a high-ranking priority for the front office in the upcoming offseason.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Three-Bagger: Perkins, Heroes & Rookie Whiffs

* Glen Perkins surrendered the game-winning homer to Brandon Inge on Saturday night, continuing a troubling trend of poor performance for the lefty. He's has been charged with at least one earned run in nine of 16 appearances since the beginning of August.

It seems fair to speculate that Perkins may be wearing down here late in the season. He worked almost exclusively as a starter in the minors and has never experienced this type of workload before.

Perkins had never pitched in more than 39 games in a prior season; Saturday's appearance was his 59th this year.

* Michael Cuddyer earned praise from several local scribes a couple weeks ago when he heroically asked into the lineup for a meaningless game after taking a pitch to the wrist the night before. Since the plunking, Cuddyer has gone 4-for-34 (.118) with 10 strikeouts, and now the wrist has been bothering him enough that he hasn't played in a week.

Meanwhile, Joe Mauer, who sat out to let a sore neck heal at the same time Cuddyer was playing through a debilitating wrist injury, is back in the lineup and producing. He even a caught a game in Detroit over the weekend -- his first time since August 20th.

Turns out resting might actually be the smart approach with certain injuries rather than toughing it out and playing hurt in order to satisfy some ridiculous tenet of machismo. Imagine that.

* In his first 19 major-league plate appearances, Joe Benson has three hits and seven strikeouts. I wrote last week that whiffs figure to be a major issue for the promising young outfielder.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Final 2011 Prospect Rundown

The seasons for all of the Twins' minor-league affiliates have drawn a close, so this seems an appropriate time to take a final look at how the players I ranked as my top ten prospects in the organization fared here in 2011.

Much like with the big-league club, you'll find that this list is riddled with setbacks and major injuries. It seems no one in the organization can escape the voodoo hex that has befallen the Twins.

10. Carlos Gutierrez, RP
2011 Stats (AAA): 62.1 IP, 4.62 ERA, 57/31 K/BB, 1.46 WHIP

One thing is clear: the Twins have settled on Gutierrez's role. After making almost half of his appearances last year as a starter, the righty pitched exclusively in relief for the Red Wings. His strikeout rate of 8.2 K/9 was by far the highest of his career -- a promising sign for the sinker baller -- but his results were truly ugly after returning from an arm injury that cost him all of July, as he allowed 11 runs on 18 hits and six walks over 13 2/3 innings between August and September.

Having seen Gutierrez pitch live a few times, I'm definitely a believer in his talent and expect him to be an impact arm in the Twins' bullpen in the coming years.

9. Liam Hendriks, SP
2011 Stats (AA/AAA): 139.1 IP, 3.36 ERA, 111/21 K/BB, 1.13 WHIP

Hendriks sneaked onto this list with a spectacular 2010 campaign and then backed it up here in 2011, assuring that he'll rise several slots next year. The Australian right-hander demolished Double-A, posting a 2.70 ERA and 81/18 K/BB ratio in 90 innings, before holding his own in Rochester and earning a September call-up to the big leagues.

Despite his dazzling numbers in Single-A and Double-A, the 22-year-old profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors, falling into the Twins' mold as a prolific strike-thrower with marginal stuff. With that being said, he's clearly established himself as the organization's top MLB-ready pitching prospect.

8. Angel Morales, OF
2011 Stats (A+): .264/.326/.388, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 17 R, 3/5 SB

Morales hurt his right elbow while playing ball in Puerto Rico last winter, and the injury kept him off the field for much of the 2011 campaign. At one point, it seemed likely that the outfielder would be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, but doctors elected instead for a minor surgery in June to remove bone chips.

He returned to the Miracle in late July and played in 33 games, posting the numbers you see above over 138 plate appearances. His strikeout rate rose to a career-high 26 percent, raising concern over what may be a crippling deficiency in his offensive game. All in all, this sadly looks like a lost year for Morales, who will probably open in Fort Myers once again in 2012.

The Twins need to add Morales to the 40-man roster this offseason in order to protect him from the Rule V draft. It will be interesting to see if they choose to take that step.

7. Alex Wimmers, SP
2011 Stats (A+): 40.2 IP, 4.20 ERA, 39/22 K/BB, 1.23 WHIP

The Twins' first-round draft pick a year ago, Wimmers started his season on a depressing low note, walking all six batters he faced in his first start for the Miracle after dominating in a short stint at the same level a year ago. Twins fans groaned as they recalled the case of Shooter Hunt, who burst onto the scene after being drafted before completely losing the ability to throw strikes.

However, to his credit, Wimmers went to extended spring training, worked with his coaches and got back on track, returning to the Miracle in July and posting much better numbers the rest of the way while splitting time between the bullpen and rotation. In July, August and September, the 22-year-old righty posted a 3.32 ERA and 39/16 K/BB ratio over 40 2/3 innings. He still struggled with walks from time to time so he's not out of the woods yet, but Wimmers is poised for a big season in 2012 if he can keep the control demons at bay.

6. David Bromberg, SP
2011 Stats (AA): 37 IP, 6.08 ERA, 23/15 K/BB, 1.75 WHIP

After a solid stint in Rochester to close out his 2010 campaign, Bromberg seemed ready to step up to the majors if the Twins needed help this season. Instead, he opened the season back in New Britain and was hit by a comebacker in early May that fractured his arm. He'd miss significant time and make only four more starts for the Rock Cats, turning in a 9.82 ERA and 12-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 14 2/3 innings while allowing a .406 batting average.

Bromberg, who turns 24 in a week, will enter next season with much to prove after a ruined 2011.

5. Joe Benson, OF
2011 Stats (AA): 285/.388/.495, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 69 R, 13/22 SB

Benson's season stands out as one of the true bright spots on this list. Although he spent most of his time at Double-A for a second consecutive year and continued to strike out at an alarming rate (109 times in 472 plate appearances), he raised his batting average by 30 points and his on-base percentage by 50. A year after blasting 27 homers between Fort Myers and New Britain, Benson went deep 16 times for the Rock Cats, including 11 in the second half.

He's very athletic and will almost certainly be a defensive asset, but Benson still has strides to make at the plate in order to become a true threat in the lineup.

4. Ben Revere, OF
2011 Stats (AAA): .303/.338/.364, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 15 R, 8/10 SB

After posting the pedestrian numbers shown above in 32 games for Rochester, Revere was called up to the Twins for good in mid-June and -- despite leaving much to be desired with his offensive performance -- he's been a mainstay in the lineup ever since. His game-changing speed and eye-popping defense seem to have ingratiated him with the coaching staff, putting him in position to claim a spot in next year's outfield.

He's been a drain this year with his .583 OPS, but if Revere can hit .300 he'll be a serviceable offensive player and a worthwhile starter. He hasn't shown that ability yet in Minnesota, but he's done it at every level of the minors. Plus. he has accumulated a lot of valuable major-league experience this year, and he's the same age as Benson and Chris Parmelee, who are just now getting their first taste.

3. Miguel Sano, 3B
2011 Stats (Adv Rk): .292/.352/.637, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 58 R, 5/9 SB

Sano posted those numbers in just 66 games. Projected to 162, that would work out to 49 home runs and 145 RBI. Granted, it's just rookie ball, but Sano is only 18 years old. He has his flaws, most notably in his plate discipline, but he appears to be the best power bat that has come through this organization in some time. Of course, he's still got a long way to go.

2. Aaron Hicks, OF
2011 Stats (A+): .242/.354/.368, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 79 R, 17/25 SB

He's a world class athlete, but so far on the field Hicks has only proven to be an enigma. While his ability to draw walks remains exciting (his 14.7 percent walk rate in Fort Myers this year would have led the Twins), his power still hasn't developed and he didn't exactly rake like you'd hope a 21-year-old top prospect in Single-A would. Hicks remains on track to reach Target Field in a few years, but his star is dimming with each unspectacular minor-league campaign.

1. Kyle Gibson, SP
2011 Stats (AAA): 95.1 IP, 4.81 ERA, 91/27 K/BB, 1.43 WHIP

After dazzling Twins coaches during spring training, Gibson picked up where he left off in 2010, performing well out of the gates for Rochester. As the season progressed, though, Gibson increasingly had difficulty lasting deep into games. He was shut down due to elbow soreness in late July, diagnosed with a torn ligament in early August, and placed under the knife for Tommy John surgery earlier this week.

Gibson, who at one point was almost certainly being figured into the Twins' 2012 rotation, will now miss the entire season. He'll hope to return in 2013 while facing fewer tribulations than recent local hurlers who have undergone the procedure.

Tough break for the kid. And for the Twins.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Financial Crunch

Yesterday I searched for beams of light within this gloomy season. A quick spin through the comments section showed that the most controversial aspect of the column (aside from the very notion of injecting positivity into this wretched mess) was my suggestion that the Twins would face a "financial crunch" as they plan for next year.

Several commenters bristled at the notion that the Twins, in their third year at Target Field, could be up against budgetary constraints that might prevent them from improving in areas of weakness. Let's examine the claim a little further…

In early August, John Bonnes took a preliminary look at the team's 2012 payroll. He found that, with current locked-in obligations accounted for, we're looking at a $74 million base.

Even if you haven't taken online accounting classes, it's clear that's a lot of money.

That's about $50 million short of their 2011 payroll, so they'll seemingly have ample room to maneuver during the offseason, right?

Maybe. First, they'll have to make decisions on Francisco Liriano, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Liriano will be entering his final season of arbitration eligibility, while Cuddyer and Kubel will both be free agents.

Bringing back all three players would probably cost around $25 million next year. Letting one, two or all three walk is an option but would be tough to stomach, since each offers a trait that is in short supply for the Twins.

Liriano might be the organization's only pitcher outside of Scott Baker with the upside to effectively hold down a spot at the front end of the rotation next year, while Cuddyer and Kubel are the only players with a realistic shot at hitting 20-plus home runs (together they've combined for a third of the team's long balls this season).

The Twins are already hurting for strikeouts from their starting pitchers and home runs from their lineup. If they want to try and contend next year, they're going to either need to bring these three back or find players who can replace what they provide, which won't be cheap.

Then, there's the bullpen. It basically needs to be rebuilt from scratch, with Glen Perkins looking like the only reliable arm who will carry over from this season. Free agent relievers aren't cheap -- at least not the good ones. What's a fair allotment for a decent bullpen? Ten million? Fifteen million?

If you bring back Cuddyer, Kubel and Liriano at $25 million while putting a modest $10 million into the bullpen, you're looking at a $110 million payroll, which is close to where I expect them to land next year. That leaves little room for upgrades in the starting rotation, middle infield or catcher.

Which is why I said that the Twins would hugely benefit from being able to use Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe in starting roles. It would prevent the front office from having to go outside the organization to fill vacancies in the lineup left by Delmon Young and (hopefully) Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

As for the other holes and depth issues that have become appararent this year? Well, Bill Smith is going to need to get creative.

I'm only scratching the surface of a multitude of difficult decisions that will face the front office in the approaching offseason. You'll be able to get a much more comprehensive look at all these issues in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, which should be available shortly after the season concludes. Keep your eyes peeled.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Beams of Light

It's been a season full of malady and sorrow for the Minnesota Twins, and last night's Triple-A lineup might have exemplified this more than ever. Plenty of time has been spent -- and will be spent -- going over all the things that went wrong and all the things that must be done to get this franchise back on track.

Today, I thought I'd take a break from the doom-and-gloom, and grasp for some positives within this pitiful season. Believe it or not, there are a few (and I do mean few) things we can look at for encouragement. They're listed below, as I see them. Feel free to add your own.

1. High draft pick in 2012.

This stands out as perhaps the most significant bonus to come out of the Twins' lousy performance this season. At present, only two teams in baseball have a worse record, which puts Minnesota in line for the third overall pick in next year's draft. If they continue to tank here in the final month, which seems likely based on where things are headed, that slot could continue to improve.

Between Miguel Sano, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Sosa, Eddie Rosario and Adrian Salcedo, the organization's most intriguing minor-league talent rests in the lower levels. Next June the Twins will have the opportunity to add one of the top amateur players in the nation to that mix, so in three or four years we could be looking a truly exciting wave of youth at Target Field.

2. Experience for the kids.

Trevor Plouffe and Ben Revere have accrued more at-bats than expected this year, and while both have experienced their share of growing pains, that's not necessarily such a bad thing.

The Twins will be in a financial crunch next season, so the ability to use players who are making the league minimum in starting roles would be hugely beneficial. It's not clear that either Plouffe or Revere are ready to be assets as starters yet, but they both will enter the offseason with a good idea of where they need to improve in order to get there.

3. Sense of urgency for the front office.

Since 2002, the Twins' three most successful seasons -- in terms of wins -- have been 2004, 2006 and 2010. Not coincidentally, the offseasons that followed have been the front office's three least active during that span. If there's one thing the Twins have shown over the years, it's that success makes them complacent.

As bad as things have gotten, Bill Smith and Co. won't have that luxury this winter. Fans will be hungry for a shake-up, and over the years the team has generally been willing to provide just that in the wake of a disappointing campaign.

After the the Twins missed the playoffs in 2005, Terry Ryan traded prospects for Luis Castillo, shoring up a longstanding hole at second base. After the club finished below .500 in 2007, Smith took over and made several big moves, including the Delmon Young and Johan Santana trades.

What will the front office have in store for us this winter? You can bet some significant moves will be coming. Let's just hope they do more good than the rest of Smith's tinkering over the past 12 months.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Reinforcements

Yesterday, the Twins collected one run on eight hits across 18 innings in a split double-header against the White Sox at Target Field. Things have turned uglier than ugly, and while help is on the way in the form of September call-ups, these new troops aren't exactly stud prospects worthy of palpable excitement.

This site,, could give you insight on what makes some players major-league ready.

Over the past several days, the Twins have promoted a handful of pitchers -- including Liam Hendriks, who will start tonight -- along with Matt Tolbert, Brian Dinkelman, Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson. The latter two would have to be considered the organization's top two position player prospects that are anywhere near major-league ready.

Parmelee, a former first-round pick, hit .287/.366/.435 in his second turn at Class-AA New Britain this season. Early in his career, the first baseman struggled to hit for average, batting .239 in two straight seasons at Beloit, but over the past couple years he's raised his hit rate while sacrificing his power, which was never overwhelming in the first place. 

Given his struggles against left-handed pitchers since graduating to Double-A and his lack of speed, the best realistic projection for Parmelee is a poor man's Jason Kubel who can play first base along with the corner outfield spots. He doesn't seem to have the tools to become a big-league starter.

Benson, who I ranked as the organization's fifth-best prospect before the season, has put together a more impressive campaign in New Britain, batting .287/.389/.499 while blasting 16 homers and excelling defensively in center field.

The gaudy on-base percentage appears to be a big bonus, but one wonders how well Benson's penchant for getting hit by pitches -- he's been plunked 13 times -- will translate to the bigs.

It's going to be hard for him to keep his batting average afloat in the majors due to a strikeout rate that has teetered between 22 and 26 percent over the past few years. The hope is that his power can offset the inevitable low average, and 16 homers would be nice from a slick-gloved center fielder, but that figure represents a significant drop-off from his total of 27 last year, and it's worth noting that he'd never hit more than five in a pro season before 2010.

Like fellow young outfielders Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks, it appears at this point that Benson's best (or at least most reliable) asset might be his defense. That's troubling news for an organization that has become increasingly starved for offense.

Let's put the performances of Parmelee and Benson at age 23 in New Britain into perspective: When Revere toured the Eastern League as a 22-year-old last year, he hit .305/.371/.363. This year, with the Twins, he's hitting .251/.298/.288.

I think Revere has a solid future in front of him, and both Benson and Parmelee have a chance to be impact players at some point, but I doubt that point is near, and both have enough flaws that they can't be penciled into the club's plans yet. Maybe we'll know more in a month, though.