The Final Spots

18 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

For the most part, spring training is a formality. Of the 25 man roster, likely 21 or 22 of those positions were set. Joe Mauer doesn’t need to win a job in spring training. Neither does Justin Morneau or Michael Cuddyer. Joe Nathan had to prove that he was healthy, but if he did, he isn’t fighting for a roster spot. Who were the givens coming into spring training?

Hitters: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, Delmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jason Repko, Jim Thome, Drew Butera (12)

Pitchers: Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Jose Mijares (9)

Coming into spring training, the Twins’ brass talked about a bullpen spot or two being up for grabs and the utility infield spot, and based on the above, that is clearly true. The Twins need a utility infielder and three pitchers. There was no shortage of options coming into spring training for those spots either.

For the utility infielder spot: Matt Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Chase Lambin

For the three bullpen spots: Jeff Manship, Pat Neshek, Jim Hoey, Glen Perkins, Scott Diamond, Dusty Hughes, Chuck James, Phil Dumatrait, Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Waldrop, Alex Burnett, Yorman Bazardo, Eric Hacker, Anthony Slama

Backup Infielder:

Going into spring training, most of us believed that the “competition” was more in name than in reality. Matt Tolbert is a “Gardy Guy.” He can play all three infield positions defensively. He has some speed. Not much of a hitter, but he has shown an ability to hit at times over the last few seasons. Trevor Plouffe has played shortstop and second base, and even logged some innings at first base, but he has struggled this spring with the bat and with the glove.

Meanwhile, Luke Hughes has again shown up to spring training and shown that he can flat-out hit. He is 14-40 (.350) with three doubles and five home runs. We will ignore the 12 strikeouts in 43 plate appearances. He has played adequate defense at 3B, 2B, 1B and even a couple of innings at SS. In his minor league past, he has played all three outfield positions as well. Gardy has been making quotes about defense not being the only thing that matters in the utility infield spot which certainly bodes well for Hughes.

Remember that the utility infielder will hopefully play about once a week, although Hughes would also be a good right-handed bat off the bench to compliment lefty Jim Thome. He may have to play ten to twelve innings of defense a week. How will he adapt to a role position? Can he stay healthy?

Tolbert and Plouffe each are in their final option year. Hughes has two options left. So, options do not need to factor into this decision, which is good.

Gardy’s Decision: Will come down to defense versus offense. Will he want Hughes’ right-handed bat off the bench, or will he want Tolbert’s defense at the three positions?

If the season started today: Hughes would be the man, no question. I think that when spring training started, it was Matt Tolbert’s job to lose. Instead, Luke Hughes has come to spring training likely made such a strong impression that he may have pushed his way onto the Opening Day roster.

Bullpen:

Anthony Swarzak, Yorman Bazardo and Eric Hacker have already been demoted to minor league camp. Chuck James and Phil Dumatrait haven’t done enough to put themselves into Opening Day consideration. Anthony Slama was my choice before camp started, but he has been unable to pitch due to an elbow injury. Alex Burnett will be a big part of the Twins bullpen for years to come, but I don’t think he’s in the competition for an opening day spot right now. Kyle Waldrop probably would be a strong candidate if he was on the 40 man roster. I believe he will be a Twins pitcher, but not by Opening Day. Same with Carlos Gutierrez. So that leaves six pitchers for three spots, and at least one of them (And maybe two) should be left-handed).

Jeff Manship: He has given up five runs on nine hits and three walks in nine innings. He has just two strikeouts. The organization compares his stuff to Matt Guerrier, and it’s hard to argue with that comparison. They both have good fastballs, though not overpowering. They have good control. They both have very good curveballs and changeups. The comparison is fair, but Manship has done little pitching out of the bullpen in his career. He has the stuff to do it well.

Pat Neshek: People talk about Neshek and his velocity. It is seemingly the biggest story. On Thursday, he hit 89. He also has a good changeup and slider. To me, it’s more about pitch movement and mixing up speeds. He has given up three runs on six hits and a walk in 6.1 innings. Of the six hits, three have been home runs. If Neshek makes the team and is given the opportunity to continue to gain strength by pitching in low-leverage situations, he can play a big role in the Twins bullpen as he has in the past.

Jim Hoey: Hoey came over from the Orioles in the JJ Hardy trade. He throws hard, touching 99 mph. As we know, it’s all about throwing strikes for him. If he can harn the velocity, he can be dominant. That is yet to be seen. He has given up five runs on seven hits and four walks in 6.2 innings.

Glen Perkins: Perkins is out of options. He’s left-handed and can’t get left-handed batters out. He really struggled last year. The year before, he got off to a great start and then was hurt most of the season. The year before that, he was a double-digit winner for the Twins. Clearly the Minnesota native has some stuff. He’s left-handed, throws hard, has a good slider and he is breathing. Did I mention that he is out of options? That may be the biggest factor at the end of the day. However, for what it is worth, this spring he has given up two runs on seven hits and two walks in seven innings.

Scott Diamond: He was the Twins Rule 5 pick in December which means that he has to stay on the Twins roster throughout the 2011 season or be offered back to the Braves. Although he has given up just one run on six hits in six innings, he has also walked six batters. Twins brass talks about how slowly he has worked, which is something they have not seen in their years of scouting him.

Dusty Hughes: Inexplicably, the Royals designated the southpaw for assignment and the Twins happily claimed him and added him to the 40 man roster. They speak of his four-pitch mix. He has certainly made a strong impression during spring. In eight shutout innings, he has allowed just three hits. He has walked three also, but all three came in his Thursday outing.

Gardy’s Decision: The coaching staff seems quite high on Manship, and everyone is saying great things about Glen Perkins. Hughes has pitched great this spring, but the team needs to determine what happens with Perkins and Diamond before they determine what they will do with Hughes.

If the season started today: Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Dusty Hughes

The Big Picture:

How good can the Twins be if the roster decisions at this point are for the 12th hitter and 11th and 12th pitchers? That isn’t to minimize their roles at all. Each of the 25 players can help the team win games at any time. How large does a small sample need to be (good or bad) to be large enough to mean something? I mean, Dusty Hughes has been amazing through eight innings, but what if he gives up five runs without getting a batter out in his next outing? Luke Hughes has shown great power from the right-side, but what if he strikes out in his next 14 at bats against big league pitchers and commits two errors a day all around the field? The Twins have been disappointed with Scott Diamond and the pace he has shown on the mound this spring. In an interview on 1500espn on Sunday, assistant GM said that it was something they hadn’t seen in their years of scouting him. That scouting led them to love Diamond, so are they really going to let six innings in spring training completely negate what he had done for three minor league seasons before?

What if the Twins keep Dusty Hughes and let Glen Perkins and Scott Diamond go? If Hughes then struggles, two options are gone.

In the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, I included Luke Hughes on my 2011 roster blueprint, as a right-handed bench bat because of his power. He had a great spring last year and was the first non-catching hitter called up. If not for injuries last year, we would likely have seen much more of him. What he has done this spring with the bat is likely taken a job that going into spring training, he was third on the depth chart. Again, he’s crushed it in spring for a role on the Twins bench that may get him six or seven at bats a week, but I do like the bat.

Sprint Training is always fun and interesting, and there are always great stories. To this point in spring, the Hughes Brothers (who of course are not brothers) have both put together strong springs that probably put them on the big league roster. With two weeks to go, what are the other stories of spring to follow? Are any other jobs up for grabs? What are your thoughts?

Here are some other notes and blogs to peruse:

That’s it for today! Have a great weekend! If you like, please feel free to comment, ask questions.

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20 Responses to “The Final Spots”

  1. mike wants wins March 18, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Perkins should make the roster. I believe that he can be a very effective reliever, if he settles into the role. Losing Diamond is not the end of the world. It would be nice to have him, but you can’t keep him and Perkins, probably.

    Neshek has been effective in the past, if healthy, he can be again. I say you give him a shot. He can make guys swing and miss, which is something they’ll need late in the year. I’m much more worried about what they do in the playoffs, than in having enough “good enough” players to beat the AAAA lineups in KC and CLE. Neshek should be given every chance to return to the strikeout guy he was.

    Of the remaining guys you list, I’d say Hughes, which surprises me. The other guys are JAGs or can’t control their pitches yet (man, I hate the Hardy trade).

  2. TT March 18, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    1) Is the utility infielder really going to get 10 innings per week? Barring injuries, I doubt it unless Casilla, Nishioka or Valencia are not performing.

    2) Who is Hughes going to hit for? Kubel? Regardless of whether the pitcher is left handed, how often is he going to pinch hit with Kubel or Thome as the alternative?

    3) I don’t think Hughes is a shortstop except in an emergency. And I haven’t noticed Nishioka playing any shortstop this spring either.

    I think Hughes is a classic spring training story. A guy excites fans by getting hot with the bat, but has no position available. If second base or third base were up for grabs, Hughes would be a roster candidate. They aren’t.

    Hughes could be the utility guy, but Tolbert is a much better choice. He can play all three positions well and he can pinch run. And those are a lot more important to this team than another bat off the bench.

    As for the bullpen, I have always thought Perkins was a lock if he pitched well. He has.

    I think the Twins will try to make a deal to keep Diamond. But he has pitched well enough that he likely won’t pass through waivers even if something can be arranged with the Braves.

    I don’t really think the Twins would let Perkins go on waivers to keep Diamond, but they might trade him. I think Dusty Hughes is a lock unless he really melts down the last week.

    I think the last spot is still a pretty wide open competition.I don’t think being on the roster is going to be a critical issue. They will open a spot if they think a non-roster guy is their best option.

    With Slowey/Baker as long relief, the Twins are looking for someone from the right side, preferably a hard thrower, who can go more than one inning if needed. They have Capps/Mijares in the setup roles, so this is more a middle relief spot. Manship, Waldrop and Neshek are probably the leading candidates. But anyone still in spring training has a shot.

    There is also a chance that the Twins could grab a player off waivers or make a trade for the bullpen or utility spot. As rosters get paired down, other teams are going to be facing decisions similar to the Twins and may make someone available that fits the Twins needs.

  3. roger March 18, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Seth, Hughes was added to the 40-man roster on 11/19/2008. Wasn’t he optioned in both 2009 and 2010? If so, he would have one option remaining like Plouffe and Tolbert.

  4. Kopy March 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    A utility infielder will get plenty of time. If Hughes is on the roster. He will start any time Valencia, Casilla, or Nishioka need a day off. If Casilla needs off, Nishioka will slide over to SS (yes, he has started there at least once this spring). Tolbert would just take the spot of whoever is not playing. It’s not the best defense, but no team is 100% when guys have days off. You could pencil the utility guy in for 9 innings on B-Squad Sundays alone, and probably an additional start each week. That’s if everyone is healthy. I could see Hughes pinching over Thome or Kubel if the pitcher is a lefty, but also especially if the hitting scenario is a “need baserunners not RBI” situation.

    • TT March 18, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

      “If Hughes is on the roster. He will start any time Valencia, Casilla, or Nishioka need a day off”

      True enough. How often is that?

      “You could pencil the utility guy in for 9 innings on B-Squad Sundays alone, and probably an additional start each week. ”

      You could, but would you? With Hughes as the only alternative on defense its unlikely its going to happen very often.

      Moving Nishioka to shortstop when Casilla needs a day off just leaves you weaker defensively at two positions. You might as well put Cuddyer in there.

      Pinch hitting for Casilla, whether Thome or Hughes is the pinch hitter, means you have to either move Nishioka to shortstop or play Hughes there. You are giving up a lot of defense for one at bat. Having Hughes pinch run for Thome is a downgrade from Tolbert too.

      Besides Casilla, who is Hughes going to pinch hit for? Nishioka? I hope that isn’t a good idea. Valencia? Kubel? Likewise, we hope not.He might take some at bats away from Thome or Kubel, but I don’t think hat is a huge upgrade.

      The I think the reality is that there are just not very many situations where Hughes would play and make the Twins a better team. And a lot of situations where he would play and make it worse.

      “he has started there at least once this spring”

      Nishioka started at shortstop on March 4th. Gardenhire announced he would be the second baseman on March 5th. It looks like he played shortstop are least once since then. So he has had more time there this spring than Hughes. But given the language issues, the need for the shortstop to coordinate with the second baseman and “quarterback” the infield, sliding Nishioka over on a regular basis is a bad idea. Circumstances may for it, but you don’t plan your roster that way.

      • Seth March 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

        If Hughes makes the roster, at least early in the season, Gardy will probably start him twice a week to give guys a day off, yes, including the Sunday game.

        I think it’s clear that Kubel can’t hit lefties, so Hughes would DH against some of the tough lefties out there.

        As the season goes along, it may become one start a week based on how the 3 IF are doing.

  5. TT March 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    One other thing. Luke Hughes last played shortstop in the minor leagues in 2006 at Fort Myers. He was shortstop in 1 game and got 4 chances. The only other time he played shortstop was his first year as a pro in the Gulf Coast League in 2003. He isn’t a shortstop. He played the outfield in 2009 – one game in left field.

    I am not sure he is a major league second or third baseman either, but at least he has played those positions regularly.

    BTW – I am taking this from his stats here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=hughes001luk, so its possible he actually did play positions at other times but didn’t get any chances.

  6. TT March 18, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    Seth – I think your statement that Hughes could hit against tough lefties is exactly the point. Essentially the Twins have three DH’s – Kubel, Thome and Hughes. Kubel is probably a better outfielder than Hughes is an infielder.

  7. Jim H March 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    My question, Seth, is on what are you basing your statement that James and Dumatrait are not in the running for a roster spot. I am not sure you are wrong, but their spring numbers are similar to the other lefthanders with the exception of Hughes. I don’t know if you saw either pitch when you were in Fort Meyers or if you are basing your statement on something you heard.

    My guess is unless they are sent down this weekend, they are in the running for a roster spot. I would expect the Twins to go with 3 lefthanders, a pretty sure thing if they keep Diamond or don’t trade Perkins.

    • Seth March 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

      I would say that James and Dumatrait are out for the moment. Obviously since they’re still there, they can make a strong final push. Also, they need non-roster invites to go to Atlanta with the team.

  8. UncleGreg March 19, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Seth-
    A concern of mine is how closely related the Utility Infielder selection impacts the decision to have only two catchers on the 40-man (much less the 25-man). I’ve read that Gardy was feeling comfortable with Joe & Drew as he only catchers because he had Luke Hughes in the dugout that could act as an ‘emergency’ backstop.
    Does this mean that we must have Luke in the dugout or add a third catcher to the 40-man at least? Seeing how Gardy has been working Dano, Holm, and Rivera leads me to believe that he may be thinking of adding a third to the 40-man.
    Where do we get the room on the 40-man for another catcher and/or Chase Lambin (for that matter) if he wins the spot?

    Great Post, very informative and insightful!!

    • Seth March 19, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

      I don’t think there is any reason to add a 3rd catcher to the 40 man roster until you need the third catcher. If there were an emergency and Hughes had to catch a couple of innings, they would make a 40 man and 25 man roster decision right away and the 3rd catcher would be there.

      Lambin’s got no shot at a big league spot, so no need to add him to the 40 man roster until he would get called up (and Plouffe would get called up first because he is on the 40 man roster).

      There are guys on the 40 man who could be taken off the roster if needed. Guerra will have to show something quickly, as would Swarzak and Hacker.

      • TT March 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

        The chances Guerra is going to be removed from the roster is zero. He is the youngest player on the roster and the youngest pitcher by two years. He will likely be the youngest player at New Britain to start the season. Angel Morales, the youngest player at Fort Myers last year, was the only player younger than Guerra on that team.

        It looks like Guerra is out of options next year and the Twins may face a tough choice then. But they aren’t going to give him away to make space on the 40 player roster before then.

  9. Steve March 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Here’s what I’m wondering. What if Morneau can’t play everyday for the opening month? And what if Cuddyer’s foot continues to be slow to heal and he’s not ready to go north at the end of March (11 days from now). Who’s on first?

    I’m not hearing any public speculation about potential problems at first, and everyone’s thinking positive. Hope it works out!

    • UncleGreg March 19, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

      In response to Steve’s comment: You’re right, we have to speculate on how long it takes these guys to completely recup and be ready to play 5 games a week. This is why I brought up the point of a third catcher on the 40-man. We have to understand that it was JUST last week that Joe caught his first ‘Bull Pen’ and was sore the next day.

      We’ve got injuries throughout (like all teams do) and you must have a good Manager to figure these things out.

      I don’t see a problem at firstbase as much as I do behind the dish. Joe’s a stud and will play unless he Absolutely can’t. If, God Forbid, he and Drew are unable to finish a game, we have to make sure we have someone that can catch a 95mph fastball. I think this is more important than having 12-13 pitchers on the 25-Man roster. There are only 3 or 4 other teams that have only 2 backstops on the 40-man. Ofcourse its pre-season and much will change over the next few weeks, but I would feel more comfortable with another catcher on the 40-man.

      • TT March 19, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

        Seth’s point is correct. It doesn’t matter whether the third catcher is on the 40 player roster or not. They have two catchers with major league experience under contract to play at Rochester. They can call them up and add them to the roster as needed. If you are really worried about an in-game emergency then I think several guys could probably do it. Justin Morneau started his minor league career as a catcher, not that I think Gardy would risk that.

        First base is a bigger puzzle, but they have Bailey still with the team. He plays first. I think Luke Hughes has played there this spring, although not in the minors. That is probably more an emergency situation. If Cuddyer isn’t able to play, Kubel will play left and I think Hughes probably has a spot on the roster as a DH with Thome.

        Twins appear to be a very deep organization that can survive a lot of injuries.

  10. UncleGreg March 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    TT: Many, if not all infielders could effectively play first base, including Ron Gardenhire himself if he was on the roster. First base is a fielding position and it matters not whether you favor your left or right paw. I see absolutely zero ‘puzzle’ there. If you are looking at it from an entirely offensive point of view, which I believe you do when I read your blog: http://grannybaseball.blogspot.com/
    Then I might see it similarly to you.

    My point is this… We have our Starting Catcher at less than 100% and by less than, we have no idea how he’s going to be able to handle 5 games per week. In Two Weeks from now!

    But Joe, being Joe, is going to play whether he is hurting or not. I fully understand that a 3rd catcher position on the 40-man is not a must, but why do most clubs do it? And why have the Twins had 3 on the 25-man for several years?

    Your ‘Second Tier’ of Danny and Jair are much, much more than the ‘receivers only’ that your blog states. And to that point, the Rams/Hermann tier are more than an offensive threat.

    The Pitcher/Catcher relationship can never be under stated. I witnessed Dano and the others’ interactions with the pitchers last week and read about how the pitchers feel about their receivers all year long. Its a much different deal than grabbing a batted ball and chucking it to the 1st bagger or back into the infield.

    A Catcher is involved in every pitch of the game, not just the batted ball. Maybe I’m wrong, let’s stick 12 chuckers on the 25-man and the appropriately proportioned amount on the 40-man and leave two backstops on the 40 and hope for the best.

    Go Twins!!

    • TT March 20, 2011 at 8:48 am #

      “And why have the Twins had 3 on the 25-man for several years?”

      They haven’t. They occasionally had Morales in the big leagues when the other two catchers were healthy. But that was almost exclusively after rosters expanded. And Morales was there as much for his bat as his catching. The Twins haven’t had three pure catchers on the 25 player roster since they let Corky Miller go in 2005.

      “Your ‘Second Tier’ of Danny and Jair are much, much more than the ‘receivers only’ that your blog states.”

      Neither Fernandez or Lehman are at all likely to be called up if the Twins need a catcher. Rivera and Holm were signed for that purpose.

      If you want to comment on my blog, comment there. This is Seth’s space.

      • UncleGreg March 20, 2011 at 11:16 am #

        TT: You’re right, I misspoke when I said they’ve had 3 catchers on the 25-man for ‘several’ years. They definitely had 3 or more on the 40-man for several years. And last year I think they broke camp with 3 (Mauer, Morales, Butera)on the 25-man and 4 (Mauer, Morales, Butera, Ramos) on the 40-man. The Twins actually took these 4 plus Lehmann to Target Field last year for the exhibition games against the cards.

        Agreed, doubtful that Fernandez would be called up, but there is a slight chance that Lehmann may be. From what I witnessed in camp over the last few weeks, there seems to be some Gardy evaluation and comparison going on with Lehmann, Holm, and Rivera. Holm and Rivera have Big League experience, Lehmann has ST Big League experience only. And again I agree, Rivera and Holm were definitely signed for that purpose. The only difference is that Lehmann has 3-years experience in catching these pitchers. Not sure if that is important, but it has been written that the pitchers like Lehmann’s catching. Through this ST, these three are pretty comparable stat-wise defensively and offensively Holm is outhitting both Lehmann and Rivera.

        It was definitely not my intent to highjack Seth’s blog. I merely brought your post up because I thought it related to our conversation here on Seth’s post. I apologize Seth, if I’ve offended you in any way by quoting TT’s Blog.

  11. scot March 20, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    Padres just claimed Neshek off waivers so he is gone.

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