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Twins Organizational Depth Chart: Starting Pitchers

6 Feb

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net –  

Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2012 – Now Available as an e-book for $6.99 by clicking here. You can, of course, still get the print version for $13.99 by clicking here.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve pointed out the organizational depth charts for the Twins hitters. We’ve looked at catchers, 3B, 1B, Middle Infielders and Outfielders. Today, I’ll take a look at the starting pitchers. Now, especially as I move to the lower levels, I won’t pretend to know which players will move to the bullpen. Often, due to innings limits, some ‘starters’ will begin the season in the bullpen. Others will begin the season as starters and get moved to the bullpen later due to innings. Frankly, most of the pitchers in the lowest levels have been starters their whole lives and some will be given at least some opportunity. As we saw with Carlos Gutierrez, even guys destined for the bullpen can be given an opportunity to start to work on pitches and gain arm strength.  

That’s OK, though, because the biggest purpose of this was to provide the organization’s depth. I need to reiterate that these are just my thoughts. I have no insider information to know where players will be playing for certain in 2012. Obviously after spring training, some of these players will be let go. There will be Disabled List players, extended spring training and more.

Minnesota Twins  

Carl Pavano (RHP), Francisco Liriano (LHP), Scott Baker (RHP), Jason Marquis (RHP), Nick Blackburn (RHP)

Gardy has announced Pavano as his Opening Day starter, an obvious choice based on last season. He’s been solid in his 2 ½ seasons with the Twins, most important he has provided a ton of innings despite an alarmingly low strikeout rate. There’s no question that Francisco Liriano has the best stuff of anyone on the staff, but if he can’t find control of his fastball, it will be another frustrating season. It is a contract season for Liriano, so the goal has to be for him to have a strong season. In 2011, Scott Baker was easily the Twins top starting pitcher. He was pitching the best he had in his career, until elbow problems curtailed his season. Nick Blackburn averaged 200 innings pitched his first two seasons while posting solid ERAs. He’s been pretty bad ever since getting the long-term contract. Unfortunately, the contract has given him many opportunities and likely will continue to do so. He misses very few bats, so we can just hope that a lot of baseballs get hit right at a defender. Many Twins fans are down on the Jason Marquis signing, and although I’m not a bit fan of the contract, he has actually had a pretty solid big league career.

Rochester Red Wings

Liam Hendriks (RHP), Scott Diamond (LHP), Aaron Thompson (LHP), Jeff Manship (RHP), Deinys Suarez (RHP)

We saw Hendriks and Diamond late in the 2011 season. Hendriks was the Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year and likely needs another half-season. Diamond had his moments, but overall 2011 was the first year in his career that he really struggled. He says he has made some adjustments, so we’ll see how it goes. Manship came up with the Twins and his first major league victory came on the final weekend of the 2009 season, when the Twins needed to sweep the Royals. He was supposed to be in the Twins bullpen last season, but he was hurt the entire season. He likely will pitch in the Twins bullpen, but they may have him start in Rochester first. Aaron Thompson is intriguing, at least. He will turn 25 years old later this month. He debuted with the Pirates last season, but in 7.2 innings, he gave up 13 hits, walked six and struck out just one. He has just six AAA games under his belt, and his AA career numbers are 15-37 with a 5.03 ERA in 96 games (80 starts). Deinys Suarez signed with the Twins last spring. The Cuban defector split time between New Britain and Rochester, not pitching particularly well either place.

New Britain Rock Cats

David Bromberg (RHP), Logan Darnell (LHP), Tom Stuifbergen (RHP), Marty Popham (RHP), Dan Osterbrock (LHP), Bobby Lanigan (RHP)

Bromberg’s 2011 season was unfortunately a lost season. He began the season in Twins spring training, but he went back to New Britain, had a line drive break his arm, spent a lot of time rehabbing, came back too quickly, shut it down, worked hard and then found out the Twins had removed him from the 40 man roster. However, he will be just 24 years old throughout the 2012 season, so don’t forget about him. Logan Darnell was a 2010 draft pick who started last year in Beloit and got all the way to New Britain. Stuifbergen had a solid season in Ft. Myers, had a terrific one-start showing in Rochester, and then was the pitcher of the year in the World Cup tournament that his Netherlands team won. He was then knighted in his homeland. Sir Tom Stuifbergen should spent this season with the Rock Cats. Dan Osterbrock missed most of last season with shoulder problems which was unfortunate because he was coming off of a very good season in 2010. Bobby Lanigan was in the Rock Cats rotation all throughout the 2011 season. Some think his stuff (specifically his slider) will play very well out of the bullpen, and we may see some of that this year too. Marty Popham was selected by the Twins in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. He has pitched in Hi-A, AA and AAA each of the past two seasons. He should spend this season in AA.

Ft. Myers Miracle

BJ Hermsen (RHP), Pat Dean (LHP), Adrian Salcedo (RHP), Alex Wimmers (RHP), Manuel Soliman (RHP), Ryan O’Rourke (LHP), AJ Achter (RHP)

This is certainly an intriguing group of pitching prospects. If not for Liam Hendriks’ terrific 2011 season, my starting pitcher of the year choice would have been BJ Hermsen who pitched very well in Beloit and followed it up with a solid performance in Ft. Myers (minus a rough final start). Alex Wimmers had a rough 2011 season too in Ft. Myers, but it ended with the seven inning no hitter. Assuming he has his control issues under control, he could move quickly. Adrian Salcedo has long been a top ten Twins prospect, and he’ll move up to the Miracle. Manuel Soliman was the innings-eater for the Snappers last year despite only having pitched now for three years. He is an intriguing prospect, but for him to remain a starter, he will need to improve his secondary pitches. Pat Dean is definitely a solid prospect  but like so many others, he missed a lot of time with injury in 2011. His season started about six weeks late, but he still pitched for three teams (including a late-season spot start in New Britain). Ryan O’Rourke is a tough, competitive left-hander with a nasty slider. When I saw him pitch in Beloit last summer, my comment was that I didn’t think big league left-handed hitters could hit that slider. He was successful as a starter, but he could also become a very good relief pitcher, so it will be interesting to see how his career progresses. The game I saw AJ Achter start last year, he was tremendous. He touches 90-91 with the fastball, but he has a terrific changeup and a curveball that had good bite.

Beloit Snappers

Tim Shibuya (RHP), Madison Boer (RHP), Matt Summers (LHP), Matt Bashore (LHP), Tim Atherton (RHP), Matt Tomshaw (LHP), Derek Christensen (RHP) 

Tim Shibuya was the Appy League Pitcher of the Year and threw seven innings of a no-hitter for the E-Twins. A smart pitcher with a full mix of pitches, he should adapt well to the Midwest League. Madison Boer and Matt Summers both began their pro careers in the E-Town bullpen. Each unsurprisingly dominated. Boer struggled upon his promotion to Beloit. It is likely the Twins will have each start. I believe Boer will move to the bullpen, but I think Summers can stick as a starter. Matt Bashore was a first-round pick in 2009 and has pitched very little since. However, reports indicate that in Instructs last fall, he was looking really good and throwing as high as 93 mph again. He could be one to watch in 2012. Matt Tomshaw was the Twins 43rd round pick just last year. Like many, he was given a shot with the Ft. Myers Miracle after a couple appearances with the GCL Twins. Like few, he was very successful for the Miracle. My guess, however, is that he will step back to Beloit and start. Derek Christensen had a terrific season as a starter with the E-Twins. The side-winder may eventually move to the bullpen but his combination of deception, fastball and slider make him a very intriguing prospect. Tim Atherton was with the Twins organization a few years ago as an infielder. The team let him go, but he came back in 2011 as a pitcher, and he pitched very well. He has all the pitches, but all will need to further develop.

Elizabethton Twins

Tyler Jones (RHP), Corey Kimes (LHP), Brett Lee (LHP), Chris Mazza (RHP), Angel Mata (RHP), Hung-yi Chen (RHP)

There are plenty of pitchers from the 2011 draft and from last year’s GCL team that will not be heading to Beloit to start the season. Tyler Jones was the 11th round pick a year ago out of LSU. He’s got great upside, throws hard, good breaking pitches. Kimes is a four year college guy who should probably be up in Beloit due to age, but he got hurt last year shortly after signing. Brett Lee and Chris Mazza both signed very near the deadline and didn’t pitch in 2011. Angel Mata and Hung-yi Chen were the two most intriguing pitching prospects from last year’s GCL team. Both have good stuff and are young.

GCL Twins

Hudson Boyd (RHP), Trent Higginbotham (RHP), Kuo-hua Lo (RHP), Austin Malinowski (LHP)

Boyd and Higginbotham are two very high ceiling high school picks from last year. The Twins had to go over-slot to sign their second supplemental first round pick from Ft. Myers. He touched 96-97 at times last year. Higginbotham was a late-round pick but the Twins went way over slot to sign him as well. He touches 94-95, and some believe he can be a top of the rotation starter or a dominant closer. Time will tell for both of them. Lo signed last year from Taiwan, and he’s fairly advanced for his very young age. He also has hit 94 mph on a radar gun. He debuted in Instructional League last year, and will likely be with the GCL Twins in 2012. Malinowski was the Twins 16th round pick out of Centennial High School (MN). He gave up a scholarship to Arizona to sign at the last minute with the Twins.   

TOP THREE (OR SO…) PROSPECTS 

1.)    Liam Hendriks, 2.) Kyle Gibson, 3.) Alex Wimmers, 4.) Adrian Salcedo, 5.) Tom Stuifbergen, 6.) Manuel Soliman, 7.) Hudson Boyd, 8.) BJ Hermsen, 9.) Pat Dean, 10.) Matt Summers 

SUMMARY  

The Twins starting pitching was really bad last year. That was a combination of struggles, injury and poor defense. For the Twins to be successful, Carl Pavano needs to throw 220 innings with a league-average ERA and WHIP. Francisco Liriano will have to pull his regain control of his fastball and show a little bit of self-confidence. Scott Baker needs to pitch like he did the six weeks before he got hurt. All three need to stay healthy. I personally think Jason Marquis will be just fine. He’s not going to post a sub-3 or sub-4 ERA, but I think he can do what Pavano did in 2011. Blackburn needs to pitch like he did his first two seasons… or so badly that Liam Hendriks gets called up. Frankly, there’s not much else waiting in the wings, ready to contribute right away as a starter. Manship can be solid, but I think the team has moved him to the bullpen in their minds. Diamond will have had to improved quite a bit to say he’s ready (which is possible).

That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare though. There are some solid pitching prospects throughout the minors. Kyle Gibson should be back in 2013 (if not late in 2012). Alex Wimmers could move very quickly as well. There are several pitchers that have the potential to be a decent #3 pitcher, if all goes well on the way up. The Twins have been successful with “Twins-like” pitchers. Guys like Hermsen, Salcedo, Stuifbergen and Shibuya fit that mold. The Twins have added some power arms in the last draft or two, especially in 2011’s draft with Boyd, Higginbotham, Jones, Boer, Summers, Corey Williams and others. It will be interesting to see how they develop. 

If you have any further questions, please feel free to e-mail me at sethspeaksnet@hotmail.com or leave your thoughts in the Comments Section!

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Nick (Blackburn) Goes Nine

25 May

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

  • Be sure to listen to last night’s SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins Podcast. The 45 minute show included a discussion with Jeff Vohs, the General Manager of the Beloit Snappers. And then we had two phone calls with some interesting Twins discussion. Please listen and provide any feedback you’d like.

Yesterday, I wrote about the Twins bullpen struggles. Ron Gardenhire said before the game that his two top relievers, Matt Capps and Joe Nathan, would not be available to pitch on Tuesday night. In the ninth inning, Alex Burnett and Dusty Hughes were the two guys warming up.

Thankfully, Nick Blackburn came through with arguably the best start of the Twins season. The right-hander gave up two runs on seven hits. He walked none and struck out six. Most important, he threw nine innings. It took him 127 pitches, but he saves the bullpen, and he gave the Twins a win.

Blackburn has certainly been a controversial Twins pitchers in the eyes of many fans and bloggers. He is the definition of a pitch-to-contact pitcher. Although his walk-rate is higher this year, he has always been a very good control pitcher. His strikeout rate is alarmingly low. Because of those two things, he is going to give up some hits, but he also keeps the ball in the ballpark (1.2 career HR/9) very well. Although his stuff is far from electrifying, when he is pitching well, he gets just enough movement to make batters unable to make solid contact.

Blackburn’s margin for error on pitches is not great. However, if you look at his ERAs from month to month throughout his three full years in the big leagues, you can see that he has been above average most months. Of the 20 months he has been in the league, he has posted an ERA at 4.02 or better 12 times. Unfortunately, when he doesn’t hit that number, his ERA has been at or above 5.14 the other eight times. Again, because of the lack of strikeouts, there will be times that he will give up a lot of hits. His numbers in June and July of 2010 were terrible and the Twins actually sent him down to Rochester to work on things. Those were two months that were very hard to watch because he wasn’t just giving up hits, he was giving up some rockets all over the field.

He did have some surgery after the 2010 season on his elbow, so hopefully he is and will be healthy throughout the 2011 season.  

  2008 2009 2010 2011
Mar/Apr 3.52 4.02 6.85 5.14
May 3.24 3.08 2.65 1.63
June 2.45 6.32 10.17  
July 2.45 6.32 9.87  
Aug 4.00 5.70 1.72  
Sept/Oct 5.64 3.41 3.70  
Season ERA 4.05 4.03 5.42 3.40
ERA+ 103 109 77 1.14
WHIP 1.36 1.37 1.45 1.40
Season K/9 4.5 4.3 3.8 4.7
Season BB/9 1.8 1.8 2.2 3.2

 In 2008, Blackburn was 11-11 with a 4.05 ERA. In 2009, he was 11-11 with a 4.03 ERA. Both are solid seasons for a mid-to-late rotation guy. He was certainly consistent throughout 2008 with an ERA at 4.00 or lower in five of the six month breakouts. In 2009, he was at 4.02 or less three of the six months and over 5.70 the other three months. In 2010, his ERA was at 3.70 or below three of the months while it was at 6.85 or higher the other three months. Even in the two months of 2011, he has not been consistent, and that is not surprising. When he is pitching nearly perfect and getting good defense behind him, he can be a very good starting pitcher. And when he is just missing his spots, or not getting great defense, he is definitely at risk.

Regardless of all of the numbers, what Nick Blackburn did for the Twins last night was huge and very needed. He has shown the ability to step up at times in some big spots. I’m not certain that is a skill, but on those occasions, it is obviously very big.

Minor League Notes

Tuesday SethSpeaks.net Minor League Hitter of the DayLance Ray, Beloit Snappers 

Tuesday SethSpeaks.net Minor League Pitcher of the DayKyle Gibson, Rochester Red Wings

Red Wings Ramblings

Tuesday – Red Wings 10, Syracuse 4 – Toby Gardenhire went 3-4 with his fourth double to lead the Red Wings to a big win on Tuesday. Ben Revere went 2-4 with a walk and his third double. Luke Hughes went 2-4 with a walk and his first home run. Jeff Bailey went 2-5 with his fourth and fifth doubles. Aaron Bates went 2-5. Scott Diamond gave up two runs on eight hits and a walk in 5.1 innings. He struck out four. Jake Stevens, who was making his first Red Wings appearance, got five outs and issued only a walk. Carlos Gutierrez then gave up two runs on four hits in one inning. Kyle Waldrop pitched a scoreless ninth.  

Rock Cats Report

Tuesday – Rock Cats 7, Binghamton 3 – If only the rains had come just a few minutes earlier… Liam Hendriks took the mound for the Rock Cats in the eighth inning and the first two batters got on before he gave up a three-run home run. At that point, the game was called due to rain. He still gets the complete game win and his line was: 7 innings, 3 runs, 8 hits, 1 walk, and 9 strikeouts. Michael Holliman went 3-3 with a walk. Joe Benson was 2-2 with two walks. Steve Singleton and Mark Dolenc each had two hits.

Miracle Matters

Tuesday – Miracle 5, Tampa 4 – Matt Schuld started again and gave up three runs on five hits in five innings. He walked none and struckout four. Brad Stillings returned from the Disabled List and gave up one run on one hit and a walk in two innings. Matt Tone pitched a scoreless inning. Bruce Pugh gave up a hit and a walk in the ninth but no runs to pick up his ninth save. Nate Hanson went 2-5 with his eighth double and two RBI. Reggie Williams hit his second home run and drove in two more runs. The Miracle take over first place in the division after falling back as far 6.5 games.  

Snappers Bites

Tuesday – Snappers 0, Kane County 9 – It was a rough night for the Snappers as they lost for the seventh straight game. The offense managed just two hits. Adrian Salcedo started and gave up five runs on seven hits and four walks in 4.2 innings. He struckout two. Ryan O’Rourke gave up just one hit in 2.1 scoreless innings. Ben Tootle gave up four runs on two hits and two walks in 0.2 innings. Clinton Dempster got the final four outs.

On last night’s SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins podcast, I was joined for a segment by Jeff Vohs, the General Manager of the Snappers. Just a 5 hour drive from the Twin Cities, I definitely recommend a trip out there for Twins fans. Check out their website for much more information and how to get tickets and special events. I am definitely planning on making another trip to Beloit this summer… maybe two!

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below.

Wednesday Game Notes: Twins Sweep White Sox

5 May

Before we start, I will be on KFAN, The Fan Radio Network and KFAN.com at about 10:20 on the Paul Allen show.

The Twins may be struggling during the early part of this season, and it’s not hard to come up with several reasons why. There are the injuries to several key players. There is a lack of defense. There is a lack of offense. There is a lack of basics. There is the fact that as of now, nine players who started the year in Rochester have had to play for the Twins, ready or not. There are logical reasons to understanding the Twins early struggles. Speaking to the offense, when we see a lineup that includes Casilla, Repko, Butera, Holm, Tolbert, etc., we shouldn’t expect these guys to be hitting higher than they are.

The White Sox struggles likewise are surprising. Their bullpen, assumed to be one of their biggest strengths coming into the season, has been a mess. Their offense is horrible, almost as bad as the Twins. The difference is that the White Sox haven’t had the injuries. The offensive struggles have been from the guys that are their core. In other words, they don’t have guys on the Disabled List that they can look forward to coming back. Their lineup is their lineup.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Twins topped the White Sox 3-2 to complete a two-game sweep. Nick Blackburn gave up just one run on four hits in 6.2 innings. He walked four batters for the second straight game and struck out just one. Jose Mijares got the final out of the seventh inning. Glen Perkins came in for the 8th inning and gave up an unearned run on a walk and a hit. He got just one out before Ron Gardenhire went to his closer, Matt Capps. Capps got out of the 8th, and although he put a couple of guys on in the 9th, he got the save.

The Twins offense did not exactly return to juggernaut-mode in the series. They scored just four runs in the two-game sweep. Jason Kubel drove in three of the four runs. He hit the home run that gave the Twins a 1-0 lead in Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he drove in the first run of the game with a single in the first inning. He added a sacrifice fly later in the game. Rene Tosoni drove in the third run of the game that proved to be needed in the 3-2 win.

With another day off today, the Twins (11-18) will head to Boston for a four-game series against the Red Sox who are now 14-16. Amazingly, they are just four games out in the AL East.

As you know, Trevor Plouffe and Ben Revere were on the bench for the Twins on Wednesday. They were added to the roster when Jim Thome and Jason Repko were put on the Disabled List. I would expect that when the Twins play on Friday night, Plouffe will be starting at shortstop and Revere will be manning the Green Monster.

Following the game on Wednesday afternoon, the Twins announced that backup catcher Steve Holm was being sent down to Rochester. No subsequent move was announced which, of course, made the Twitter world start thinking. The easy answer is that the Twins will promote either Danny Lehmann or Rene Rivera to the big league club. Either would need to be added to the 40 man roster. Because the Red Wings did not play on Wednesday and the Twins don’t play on Thursday. Holm could be playing for the Red Wings on Thursday night, and if he can, there is no reason that the player called up to wait until Friday to go to Boston. That’s the kind of stuff that makes me wonder if there isn’t something else going on. Could the Twins be looking to sign a free agent catcher? Could the Twins be working on finalizing a trade? If so, they would wait until the trade is officially finalized to announce the Holm move. So, again, I assume that it will be either Rene Rivera is 27 years old and hitting .200/250/.333 for the Red Wings. Danny Lehmann impressed in big league camp this spring. He has been the organization’s top minor league catcher the last two years. After going 6-13 (.462) in New Britain, he moved up to Rochester where he has gone 7-25 (.280) with a double and a home run. Of course, I prefer the Twins go with Lehmann, in part, because I prefer when the Twins promote from within. He was the Twins 8th round pick in 2007 out of Rice. He is the defensive equivalent to Drew Butera with a slightly better bat. I believe that Butera is a guy who can hit .180-210 in the big leagues (despite his current .111 batting average). I think that the 25-year-old Lehmann could hit .200-.240 in the big leagues.

As I mentioned on my podcast the other night, this is the time of year when transactions start happening in the minor leagues, and we saw some of that yesterday. Early in the day, the Twins:

  •  promoted C/OF Chris Herrmann from Ft. Myers to New Britain.
  • Josmil Pinto moves from Beloit to Ft. Myers to take his place.
  • Ray Chang was promoted to Rochester on Tuesday night (after the Plouffe promotion), and
  • last night, Steve Singleton got the call that he was also headed to the Red Wings.

Just as a reminder, I post all of this information, and much more, on Twitter immediately after I learn of it. So, if you want this kind of information sooner, be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Ft. Myers beat Palm Beach last night 6-2. Kane Holbrooks picked up his first win. The right-hander gave up two unearned runs on six hits. In six innings, he walked one and struck out three. Blake Martin recorded the three-inning save. He didn’t give up any runs, hits or walks and struck out just one. Danny Rams went 3-4. Anderson Hidalgo went 2-4 with his fourth double. Aaron Hicks was 1-2 with two walks and a double.

Beloit beat Wisconsin 4-1. Adrian Salcedo went seven innings and gave up just one run on five hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out eight. Clint Dempster struck out five in two one-hit innings to record the save. Daniel Ortiz went 2-4 with his ninth and tenth doubles.

Since the Twins don’t play today, you can follow the Twins minor league teams throughout most of the day. Here are the times (all central) and starters:

  • Rochester hosts Gwinnett at 6:05. Anthony Swarzak will pitch against Braves prospect Mike Minor.
  • New Britain hosts a double-header against Richmond starting at 9:35 this morning. Steve Hirschfeld, my choice for Twins minor league pitcher of the month, will start the first game. Liam Hendriks will start Game 2.
  • Ft. Myers will host Palm Beach in their “Cinco de Miracle” game. Andrew Albers threw 4.2 scoreless innings in relief in his last appearance, and now he will get a start.
  • Beloit will host Wisconsin again today, starting at 11:00. Andrei Lobanov will start for the Snappers.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below.

Blackburn Named Twins Starter (Predictions)

6 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

Following the Twins 6-1 win on Saturday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays, manager Ron Gardenhire announced another member of his starting rotation. Gardy said that Nick Blackburn, who threw three no-hit innings against the Rays, was one of “his guys.” Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano are givens. Gardy announced earlier in the week that Brian Duensing would be a starter as well. It would appear that the fifth spot in the rotation will be between Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker, although Gardy wants Kyle Gibson to also be given a shot to earn the role. One can only assume that he would say such a thing to potentially light a fire under the two right-handed veterans.

Many Twins fans, myself included, were calling for the removal of Blackburn from the starting rotation last year when he was really struggling. Rightfully, he was removed from the rotation shortly after the All Star break and sent to the minor leagues. He came back and pitched well down the stretch for the team. However, in the offseason, when discussion of which of the six starts should move to the bullpen, Blackburn was the easy choice for me. He had struggled in 2010, but in my mind, the right-hander’s cutter makes him a good bullpen option.

But maybe we are not giving Blackburn the appropriate due. The assumption was always that his extremely low strikeout rate would catch up with him. In 2008, he struck out just 4.5 batters per nine innings. That number dropped to 4.3 per nine in 2009. And as you would expect from watching last year, he missed even fewer bats in 2010 and struck out just 3.8 per nine innings. Check out the correlation between his declining strikeout rate and his hits per inning pitched.

Year K/9 H/9
2008 4.5 10.4
2009 4.3 10.5
2010 3.8 10.8

But let’s even look at his 2010 season. It started out bad, and he left the team to go to a family emergency. When he came back, he was tremendous in May. In fact, he was runner-up for AL Pitcher of the Month. Then things went bad. Really bad in June and July. Everything he threw toward the plate was hit, and hit hard, and often hit a long way. Blackburn would be replaced in the rotation by mid-July by Brian Duensing. He went to the bullpen and soon after was sent back to Rochester. He pitched well there and soon he was back with the Twins. He then pitched at least seven innings in seven of his eight starts before the end of the season. He ended the season with 14 quality starts. It’s incredible how up and down his season was.

Month W-L ERA WHIP OPS BABIP
April 1-1 6.85 1.73 1.058 .325
May 5-0 2.65 1.21 0.677 .288
June 1-4 10.17 2.18 1.079 .394
July 0-2 9.87 1.90 1.081 .362
August 1-1 1.72 0.77 .455 .233
Sept 2-4 3.70 1.14 .679 .236

After identical 11-11 seasons in 2008 and 2009 with nearly identical 4.05 and 4.03 ERAs, it’s hard to believe that with the movement he gets on his pitches, the sinker and the cutter, that he can’t return to those types of numbers again in 2011. Equally important, Blackburn combined to throw 399 innings between those two seasons.

The comparisons to Carlos Silva can be scary. Silva, in fact, struck out even fewer than Blackburn has. He has certainly had his struggles since leaving the Twins. However, he was a terrific starter for the Twins three of his four seasons. His one bad year, his third with the team, he posted a 5.94 ERA. Silva was at 1.6 walks per nine innings in three of his four seasons, and we all remember the season where he walked just nine batters in 188 innings. Blackburn was at 1.8 walks per nine innings his first two seasons, and that number jumped to 2.2 last year. Of course, Silva struggled in his two seasons with the Mariners after they gave him 4 years and $48 million. He was better last year with the Cubs and of course is already in the news this year for he went after teammate Aramis Ramirez in the dugout after the Cubs 3B had an error in Silva’s first spring outing.

Nick Blackburn PREDICTIONS for 2011:

So, let’s make some predictions. What are your thoughts on Blackburn starting the season in the Twins rotation? Can he stay healthy and production and in the rotation the full season? And how well will he produce? Here are my predictions… what are yours?

  • W-L (which of course are impossible to predict, but we will anyway): 16-11
  • ERA: 4.27
  • WHIP: 1.29
  • IP: 212
  • H: 222
  • BB: 52
  • K: 113 (4.8 K/9)
  • K/9: 2.17

Too optimistic? Maybe. So, stick your neck out too and post your projection in the Comments section.

The Duensing Dilemma

14 Feb

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

A big Happy Holiday to everyone out there. NO, not that fake, made up holiday, but a much more important holiday… Happy First Day of Pitchers and Catchers!! No, the Twins don’t report until Thursday, but several teams are opening their training camps today! Spring is here… kind of!!

There has been a lot of debate about which of the six Twins starters should move into the bullpen. Obviously Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano will be in the starting rotation. Scott Baker is going to be making $5 million in 2011, so he’ll be in the rotation. Plus, his predictive numbers in 2010 indicate that he should be better IF he is healthy. That leaves two spots to be fought for by Nick Blackburn ($3 million), Kevin Slowey ($2.7 million) and Brian Duensing ($0.45 million). By dollars alone, maybe Duensing is the appropriate choice.

In Friday’s TwinsCentric blog, Parker asked the question, “What role should Duensing have in ’11?” In it, he made a very logical, compelling argument for Duensing being in the bullpen. Looking at the numbers, it is a very fair argument.

Of course, I have the opposite opinion. I believe that Brian Duensing should begin the 2011 season in the Twins starting rotation. My reasoning is because each of the past two seasons, he has been a terrific addition to the Twins starting staff in the second half of the season. In 2009, he made nine starts and went 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. In 13 starts in 2010, he went 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP.

Are those numbers he can maintain over the course of a full season? Who knows? I’m just of  the opinion that he has done enough to earn that opportunity. Visibly, I see Duensing as a pitcher who throws in the low-90s and has good control of the strike zone with his fastball. He has a good curveball/slider and a good changeup. Although he is not overpowering, he gets really good sink on his fastball which helped him to a very high groundball rate. And also, he is left-handed.

The Twins have a lot of left-handed options in the bullpen to team with Jose Mijares. None of them have experienced the kind of success in the bullpen in their careers that Duensing did in his 40 bullpen appearances in 2010, but the team has options. The Twins seem to really like their Rule 5 draft pick Scott Diamond. They were willing to DFA Rob Delaney to claim Dusty Hughes who pitched well against the Twins and apparently has four good pitches. Chuck James and Phil Dumatrait have pitched in the big leagues and were acquired on minor league contracts. And then there is Glen Perkins, who for all his struggles the last two years, has some good stuff and we have seen him pitch well at times in the past. He is also out of options.

The bullpen is full of question marks, and Duensing could help alleviate some of that if he were in the bullpen. However, I will maintain that because of what he has done the past two years as a starter, I would rather have him pitch 180 to 200 innings than 60 to 80 inning in 2011.

Just because he starts the season in the starting rotation doesn’t mean he’ll end up there. Obviously Duensing will have to prove over the season’s first two months that he deserves to be a starter. A year ago, Nick Blackburn was coming off of two straight seasons in which he threw 399 total innings and posted ERAs of 4.05 and 4.03. There was no question that he should be in the Twins starting rotation, but soon after the All Star break, he was in Rochester. Of course, when he came back in late August, he pitched seven or more innings in seven out of his eight starts.

Maybe Duensing doesn’t profile as a top or even middle of the rotation starter. He doesn’t have Francisco Liriano or David Price like velocity or sliders. But that does not mean that he can’t be a good starter. There are plenty of examples of guys that may not have the greatest stuff, but they have terrific careers because they know how to succeed with what they have. Sometimes they even succeed over a long period of time.

I’m not saying that Duensing is the next Cliff Lee. I’m not even guaranteeing that he will end the season in the Twins rotation. Once the season gets to July, changes could be made to make the team better for a playoff run. What I am saying, and what I believe, is that his performance over the past two seasons, maintainable or not, has been more than enough to put his name, in pen, in the Opening Day starting rotation alongside Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano.

UPDATE – After writing this, I went to Over The Baggy and in Parker’s OTB Twins Notes, his first note was, “Ron Gardenhire told Sid Hartman and Mike Max on WCCO on Sunday that Scott Baker experienced a setback in his rehab stint following his off-season elbow surgery.

If that is a setback that pushes into the regular season, it should make the decision for Duensing to start the season in the rotation even easier.

I’m curious what people think about this topic. Has Brian Duensing done enough to earn the right to start the season in the Twins starting rotation, or does he need to do something more? Feel free to post your comments here.

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Here are some more blogs and articles for you to peruse today:

  • Let’s start with a great series that K-Bro started on Sunday called Why Baseball is Better than Football. (Let me count the ways, right?!) Day 1 discusses training camp/spring training. I look forward to following the series throughout the week!
  • Be sure to read the rest of the OTB Twins Notes which along with the Scott Baker setback news also discusses a plan for Ben Revere/Joe Benson/Aaron Hicks, possible competition for Alexi Casilla this spring, and more.
  • Aaron Gleeman asks if the Twins are giving up on Francisco Liriano.
  • In Roger’s Weekly Twins Minor League Report, he posted updates on the Australian Baseball League championship series which Perth won. Luke Hughes and Allan de San Miguel played a huge role for that team.
  • There is a ton of great stuff over at Twinkie Town. I assume most of you already go there daily, but if not, check it out.
  • Puckett’s Pond takes a look at the Twins non-roster invitees to spring training. The player that everyone will be watching is Kyle Gibson, but they brought in a couple of others that have a chance to contribute to the Twins over the course of the season. I’ve mentioned Carlos Gutierrez, but I also think that Jeff Bailey and Justin Huber have a chance to contribute if needed, as do Chuck James, Phil Dumatrait and maybe even Yorman Bazardo.
  • The Baseball Outsider takes a look at the thinness of the shortstop market.
  • Off the Mark wants your help Predicting the Bullpen.
  • When I got home from the weekend away, I checked the mail. In it, I found a copy of the FoxSports.com FANTASY baseball magazine. It is the 2011 Fantasy Baseball & scout.com Prospect Guide. It will be on newsstands and the cover shows Roy Halladay surrounded by Cliff Lee, Albert Pujols, Carl Crawford and Robinson Cano. I wrote the Twins minor league content in the magazine which consists of a Top 20 list and a few paragraphs on the Twins system. I know I have a bunch of products available right now that people can spend their money on. I feel a little guilty always posting them, but in this case, I guess I would say that if you’re getting some Fantasy Baseball magazines anyway, this is a good option. They have bloggers like myself provide the same information for all 30 major league teams, plus a top 300 prospects lists. That all comes after a ton of great fantasy baseball information and rankings.
  • I have been told that many people have started receiving their copies of the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2011. If you have not yet ordered a copy, you can get one here. If you pre-ordered a copy and have not received it yet, let me know if you still don’t receive it by Tuesday or Wednesday, and I’ll do some digging. As you do receive yours, please feel free to share your thoughts, opinions, ideas for future books, and anything else you would like. I welcome all feedback.
  • Along with my Twins prospect book, I have also purchased the Baseball America Prospect Handbook and John Sickels Prospect Handbook. The Digital Prospect Guide from Project Prospect is also now available now in either the Video Version or the Text Version. I can never get enough prospect talk and reading!
  • And finally, I am going to blatantly steal from the Twins Geek who wrote the following last Thursday:

 One week from today, pitchers and catchers begin their first workout AND the 2011 Maple Street Press Twins Annual ships, hopefully to you. There’s a good chance you’ll have it before Jim Thome has a bat in his hands.

At first, it looks like a 128-page magazine previewing the baseball season. But unlike anything else you’re buying, it isn’t half ads. In fact, it doesn’t have any ads. It also isn’t a preview of every team in the league. It’s JUST the Twins. It is like nothing else you have ever read in its breadth and depth of coverage of your favorite team.

That’s one reason I’m so proud of it. Nobody else dares risk something like this. This is our chance to show that a product like this, created for Twins fanatics, can work. Needless to say, if you’ve been stopping by this blog all offseason, this magazine is your payoff.

And like this blog, it’s a product of TwinsCentric. Nick, Parker, Seth and I helped arrange and edit its 19 feature-length stories and player profiles. But unlike our other products, this is old-school: a collectible with paper and great pictures, available on your magazine rack in March.

But who wants to wait until March? Not you. All offseason you’ve been talking about how winter can’t end soon enough. Here’s a chance to put your money where your mouth is. Enjoy your early spring. 

You can find out a LOT more about it here.

Late Night Heroes in Cleveland

12 Sep

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

The game was delayed for nearly two hours at the start due to rain. And then it took 12 innings to decide a winner. Fortunately, the Twins have Jim Thome on their side. The burly 40 year old made another magnificent memory in his career, as he launched a solo home run deep into the Cleveland night. The blast gave the Twins a 1-0 win. It was the team’s first run scored in 21 innings. It was his 587th career home run which is now one more than the great Frank Robinson, and Thome is alone in 8th place on the all-time home run list. Making the night even better for the Twins and their fans was that the Kansas City Royals beat the Chicago White Sox 8-2 on the South Side which means that the Twins again have a six-game lead in the AL Central. The Twins are now 84-58, 26 games over .500, and their Magic Number to clinch the AL Central division title was reduced to just 15.

Jim Thome provided the late-inning heroics, but Nick Blackburn put in a yeoman-like effort. The righty worked the first eight innings of the game and did not allow a run. He had to work out of a couple very tough situations, but he found a way to do so. Since his return to the Twins, he has made four starts. He has gone 33.2 innings in those starts. He has given up five runs on 21 hits and seven walks. He has 18 strikeouts in that time. Whatever it was, something mechanical or becoming a father for the first time, Blackburn is pitching great.

Jesse Crain worked two scoreless innings. Randy Flores came in to start the 11th inning. The lefty was asked to get lefties Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner out, and he got neither. Ron Gardenhire went to Matt Guerrier, and the veteran pitched incredibly. The first batter he faced pounded a bunt right at him. Danny Valencia did a nice job reading the ball, retreating to 3B and catching a Guerrier 90 mph fastball from short range in time for the inning’s first out. Valencia then caught a foul ball pop up for the second out. And Guerrier got a ground out to 2B for the third out. When looking for heroes in last night’s game, the incredible work by Matt Guerrier should not be lost.

Then came the Thome blast, giving the team a 1-0 lead. Matt Capps came in and threw a perfect bottom of the 12th inning for the Save and all is well with the world.

Hopefully on Sunday, the Twins bats will find a way to put some early runs on the board versus Mitch Talbot. The 21 inning scoreless streak was not good, and yet if you watched the past two games, it is understandable. The Twins had some decent at bats, but both Fausto Carmona (Friday) and Carlos Carrasco (Saturday) pitched great. They threw strikes and had tremendous movement on their pitches. Sometimes bats go cold. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the pitcher who made them that way.

With the excitement of the day, the Twins win and the White Sox loss, there was a definite need to talk about our favorite team (The Twins, in case you didn’t grasp that from the previous paragraphs). So, there was a Special SethSpeaks.net Minnesota Twins podcast following the game. Travis Aune was my co-host and we talked about all kinds of Twins topics. We discussed the bats, Jim Thome, Nick Blackburn, and Matt Capps. We asked who the Twins #4 starter would be in the playoffs. We discussed what to do in the offseason with JJ Hardy. There was terrific discussion in the chat room. It was a really fun show, even if it was late at night. So, if you have a chance on this first Sunday of the football season, please listen to it here.

Again, it is Kevin Slowey against Mitch Talbot at noon today. I expect Joe Mauer to be completely out of the lineup today, and I think that is a wise decision if Ron Gardenhire makes it. The lead is back up to six. The magic number is down to 15. There is an off day on Monday and the big series in Chicago starting on Tuesday night. Mauer will catch all three of those games. He is vital to the Twins postseason run and giving him a day off now is a luxury that the team does have. Any other thoughts on the Twins, Saturday’s day in the AL Central or what you expect today and going forward? Feel free to leave your questions and comments here.

Monday Morning Notes

23 Aug

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

It’s going to be a quick update today. Got back from the lake pretty late last night and decided that sleep would be for the best. So, I woke up really early instead and jotted down a few notes. Today, please feel free to comment with any other thoughts that you have after a weekend series win against the Angels. Seriously, this team is playing so well right now. They won two out of three against the Angels, and two out of three against the White Sox. They had a nice 7-2 home stand and have been one of baseball’s best teams since the All Star break. The team headed to Texas late after last night’s game, and will now start a four game series against a very good Texas Rangers team. These games are important. You see, the Twins and Rangers are the current leaders in their respective divisions. Between those two teams (assuming they are the two division’s representatives in the playoffs), the team with the higher record will have home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs against the Wild Card team. They play seven games before Labor Day, and they are important. Here are some thoughts on the Twins, but please feel free to add storylines if I missed any because I had to listen to the game on Friday night, only watched bits and pieces of the Saturday game and thanks to spending more time at the lake than planned on Sunday (a good thing), I had to listen to most of the Twins game, although I also had to spend most of the drive listening to kids’ songs.

  • Unfortunately, arguably the biggest story of the weekend was more injuries. Before the weekend started, Nick Punto was put back on the Disabled List, and Matt Tolbert was brought back. Saturday’s game was painful in a few ways. Kevin Slowey got hit in the second inning, and he left the game after the third inning with that pain behind his right elbow again. Later in the game, Ron Mahay injured his non-throwing shoulder. The two were put on the Disabled List following the game, and Nick Blackburn and Anthony Slama were called back up. Blackburn makes sense for two reasons. First, there isn’t exactly a better option at Rochester, and he has been solid there. Second, this team made a serious commitment to him this spring and will continue to give him opportunities. He has done it before and should be able to do it again. He was supposed to start for Rochester on Monday night, but instead will start for the Twins. In doing so, the Twins also pushed Francisco Liriano back to Thursday, giving him an extra three days to rest his “tired arm” I know some people don’t like that and may want him to push through it, but this is the smartest thing to do. The team has a five game lead in the division and can afford to do this. No, that doesn’t mean they are giving away anything, but Liriano is so important to this team that you have to make sure he’s right, and he’s strong, especially in September and October. And the other promotion with Anthony Slama who has certainly had some ups and downs since his return to Rochester, but is a good pitcher.
  • With Mahay on the DL, and Glen Perkins unable to get left-handed hitters out, the Twins are essentially without a Left-handed relief specialist. Unfortunately, Jose Lugo is the lone lefty in the Rochester bullpen and he’s been overused and has an ERA over 6, and walks too many. Ryan Mullins is a soft-tossing starter, but he’s out for the year with a back injury. In New Britain, Tyler Robertson (a good prospect, young, left-handed) has been pretty bad in his first AA attempt. Blake Martin was just promoted from Ft. Myers.2009 draft pick from the University of Florida, Tony Davis, is probably the lefty in the minors most ready to help the Twins, but he is walking a ton. I have no doubt that the Twins are claiming any left-handed reliever that is being put through waivers. But I also think that having a lefty specialist is quite as big of a deal as many seem to think.  The Angels won a World Series several years ago with no lefties in their bullpen. Of course, that requires that the right-handers in the bullpen actually get left-handed bats out. Or… 2010 third round pick Pat Dean, a lefty out of Boston College, is dominating at Elizabethton. Maybe he can be the Twins’ version of Chris Sale!!
  • The Twins added another game to their division lead over the White Sox this weekend thanks to some horrific scheduling. When Friday night’s game between the White Sox and the Royals was rained out, they scheduled a double-header for Saturday night. Instead of playing a day-night double header with the first game at noon and the second at the normal time, they played two games at night… In fact, the second game didn’t start until after 11:00 central time because the first game went 11 innings (and the Royals won!). That second game didn’t finish until after 2 a.m. which is terrible, and the teams had to play another 1:00 game on Sunday. Three games started and completed within about a 22 hour period. I don’t care if I’m happy that the White Sox lost two of those three, that kind of scheduling isn’t fair for anyone!
  • There are sayings that ball players use sometimes to talk about a batter taking really good swing. “Good wiggle!” “Swing out of your shoes!”  Well, after watching the swing that Danny Valencia put on his home run ball, I think those could apply as he took one of the biggest swings I have seen in a long time. Fortunately, he connected and gave the Twins a needed first run in last night’s game. With Punto back on the DL, Valencia is going to continue playing 3B. He would have anyway, even with Punto back, but Punto could have given him a day off a week or so. With Matt Tolbert as the backup option, let’s hope that Valencia doesn’t get too many more days off!
  • At 9:30 tonight, I’ll be hosting the SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins podcast. Tune in, ask questions. I’ll be taking your questions or comment on the Twins and their minor leaguers throughout the show.

Here are some notes from Sunday’s minor league games:

  • Rochester 3, Lehigh Valley 1 – Anthony Swarzak won for the fifth time this season. The righty gave up one run on five hits in 6.2 innings. He walked one and struck out four. Rob Delaney got the next four outs, two via the strikeout. Alex Burnett gave up a hit and a walk but pitched a scoreless ninth for the save. Brendan Harris and Brock Peterson each went 2-3 with a walk.
  • New Britain 3, New Hampshire 6Tyler Robertson gave up six runs on seven hits and four walks in 4.1 innings to take the loss. Loek Van Mil gave up a hit, walked three and struck out two in 1.2 scoreless innings. Tony Davis threw two shutout innings. The Rockcats managed just three hits.
  • Ft. Myers and Bradenton had their game suspended in the 2nd inning. 2010 draft pick and St. Cloud State alum David Deminsky made the start for the Miracle and struck out two in two scoreless innings before the rains came.
  • Beloit 5, Burlington 8Edgar Ibarra gave up six runs (3 earned) on seven hits and three walks in five innings. Zach See then gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in his two innings. Andrei Lobanov pitched one scoreless inning. Daniel Santana was 2-4 with a walk and his second triple. Wang-Wei Lin went 2-2.
  • Elizabethton 2, Bluefield 0 (10 innings) – The winning run scored on a wild pitch, but the E-Twins are in a close division race, so they’ll take them any way they can get them. Logan Darnell started and gave up just two hits in seven shutout innings. He walked four and struck out ten. Dallas Gallant then threw two scoreless innings before Jose Gonzalez came in and recorded his fifth save. The E-Twins managed just four hits. Derrick Phillips hit his fourth double.
  • The GCL Twins had Sunday off.
  • Cole DeVries is on his way to Rochester. Will he start in place of the scheduled Nick Blackburn tonight?

Any questions or comments on the Twins or the minor league system? Feel free to leave your questions and comments here.