15. Max Kepler, OF, 17 years old
2010 stats: .286/.346/.343, 153 PA, 0 HR, 27/13 K/BB at GCL Twins (Rookie)
Last year’s rank: N/A
Acquired: Signed out of Germany in July 2009 for $800,000
After the publishing of 'Moneyball,' the advantage small-market teams gained by placing emphasis on on-base average has slowly decreased. Though the Twins are no longer surviving on small-market resources, they are joining the hunt for the next comparative advantage. It seems they've found it. Over the past couple of years, the Twins have done a phenomenal job of being active on the international market.
Minnesota won the rights to Japanese star Tsuyoshi Nishioka a few weeks ago, the latest in a string of moves that display their international scouting net, which appears to be increasing in size every day. Max Kepler-Rozycki is a young, athletic outfielder the Twins signed out of Germany last summer. While almost nothing is known about him, Kepler does have the raw athleticism Minnesota loves.
Scouts see all five tools in Kepler (power, hitting, throwing, fielding, and running) and think he could be an All-Star outfielder some day. Kepler is still just 17 years old, though, and has a long road to travel before he can even think about becoming the first German amateur to reach MLB.
Last year, Kepler saw far better pitching in the Gulf Coast League than he saw across the Atlantic Ocean. Kepler made good contact against opposing pitchers, and got on base at a great clip, but his power has yet to develop. Of course, Kepler just finished high school and is sure to fill out some as he grows in stature and maturity over the next few years.
Ideal scenario: Kepler will spend the ’11 season in Fort Myers, Florida. He'll receive plenty of individual coaching in extended Spring Training, and will play in the Gulf Coast League once again. If the Twins are feeling especially gutsy, Kepler could see time with the Elizabethton Twins, a team that is usually filled with recently-drafted college draft picks. It will certainly be a challenging step for the young outfielder, and this trial by fire will reveal the strengths and flaw of Kepler's game.
Path to the majors: Like any player with a legitimate claim to all five tools, Kepler has a very high ceiling. He has an extremely long way to go before any projections or comparables can be given, but there is a very real chance Kepler could be a regular in a major-league outfield in a few years.no comments
By noon on Wednesday, December 1, several of my favorite baseball bloggers will be posting their answer to this question: "What is baseball's most important position?" The question is purposely vague and open to interpretation. How do you define "importance?"
Alex Gallardo | Associated Press (via LA Times)
Here's my take on the question:
Green Valley News: Ranking baseball's most important positions
What is baseball’s most important position?
The answer to this seemingly straightforward question depends entirely which question you ask yourself: No. 1: Which position is most essential for fielding a team on any given day? No. 2: Which position has the greatest impact on any given game? Or, No. 3: Which position would you address first if you were building a team from the ground up?
In terms of skills and abilities, the pitcher would be the toughest position to do without on any given day. A strong outfielder could throw the ball over the plate at a high velocity, but that patchwork solution wouldn’t last long.
The starting pitcher is also the winner of my second question, as he has the greatest influence on the outcome of the game, often pitching six or seven innings.
But the third question is by far the most interesting and subject to debate. In order to be a successful team, which position needs to be given priority?
To read the rest, please visit the Green Valley News' (recently-upgraded as of Wednesday) web site!
Knuckleballs - How Do You Score a 10?
K-Bro - Most Important Baseball Position: Starting Pitcher
Platoon Advantage - The Most Important Position in Baseball Today
Twinkie Town - What's the Most Important Position In Baseball?
Off The Mark - The Most Important Position In Baseball
Should the Twins bring back JJ Hardy for the 2011 season? On the surface, it seems a no-brainer. Why should a guy who hit .268/.320/.394 and spent much of the year on the disabled list be counted on for another season?
When healthy during the second half of last season, though, Hardy was one of the best shortstops in baseball. Over the last three months of the season, Hardy hit a very impressive .304/.363/.442. If extended over the entire season, that 805 OPS would have been the fourth-highest in the league, putting Hardy in the class of Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, and Stephen Drew.
Considering Hardy was demoted to the minor leagues during a miserable 2009 season, this is a remarkable development. When the Twins traded for Hardy last winter, they were of the belief that the struggling shortstop simply needed change of scenery. Twelve months later, it's obvious that they were correct.
If healthy, Hardy is one of the best offensive shortstops in the league, but the best aspect of his game is by far his defensive range. He doesn't have the quickest feet, and much of his defensive abilities lie in his incredible instincts. Several scouting reports claimed that Hardy's defense would have played at the major-league level even back in 2001, when he was drafted out of high school. He is obviously an exceptional talent in the field.
Hardy knows exactly where to position himself for each pitch, and his strong arm allows him to play a step or two deeper than most shortstops, which increases his range even further. This range cannot be quantified using traditional mainstream statistics, such as fielding percentage, so most don't appreciate how valuable Hardy was to the team last season.
Hardy hasn't compiled quite enough service time during his career to become a free agent, and will spend one last season under team control. Should Minnesota choose to offer the 28-year old a contract for the 2011 season, Hardy has no choice but to play for the Twins.
If a contractual agreement can't be reached, both the player and the team will submit figures to panel of independent arbitrators, which will pick one or the other. Neither party benefits from the risk involved with this arbitration process, so I'm confident a settlement will be reached. It's impossible to know the final value, but I would guess any potential 2011 contract for Hardy to be worth around $6 or $7 million.
But should the Hometown Nine choose to tender Hardy a contract, or allow him to leave as a free agent?
On the free agent market, a team typically spends around $4.5 million per additional win. Hardy was worth 2.4 wins during an injury-plagued 2010; how valuable could he be over the course of a full season? Even if the Twins aren't convinced of Hardy's ability to stay healthy or productive in 2011, it's a gamble they should be willing to take.
Alexi Casilla seems primed to take over the starting duties at second base, but finding a replacement at the shortstop position would be a much tougher task. The only viable internal candidate for the job would be Trevor Plouffe, who struggled in Triple-A last season. If Hardy weren't brought back for the 2011 season, the Twins would almost certainly need to look outside the organization.
Unless the Twins want to pony up for a free agent like Miguel Tejada or rely once again on Orlando Cabrera, Hardy is the only realistic option.
And he's absolutely worth the risk.
"Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
- The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, 1883
This quote from Emma Lazarus' famous sonnet, etched in bronze in the Statue of Liberty, is the philosophy the Twins will apply to the 2011 offseason. At least to one of their acqusitions.
In baseball, millions of dollars are won and lost every year. A team can award a large contract one day to find the player in line for Tommy John surgery the next. When this happens, most teams are tempted to cut their losses and sever ties with the player. Nobody wants an expensive, long-term project.
But sometimes they should.
Teams can strike gold when taking on reclamation projects. Just look at Rick Ankiel, Josh Hamilton, or even Tommy John himself. There are bargains to be had when dumpster-diving, even though you may get your hands dirty. This season, according to my blueprint, the Twins will take on a reclamation project and hope for the best. We'll get into that later.
What follows is a general outline of the seven steps Minnesota needs to take in order to get back to the postseason in 2011.no comments
By Matt McCabe
Allow myself to introduce...myself.
Ah, Halloween: the unique Holiday celebration with a very convoluted and bastardized history (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html). Halloween is a wary time for me. Call it my own personal superstition. With all the madness going down I feel like something or someone will get me in trouble. So I stay in-doors.
Fortunately, this year's Halloween falls on a Sunday. The day will be full of NFL action followed by a night of the World Series-and more football because, let's face it, who can sit through an entire baseball game anymore, especially when your favorite team isn't involved?
And with this blog entry, Halloween assumes a new kind of identity for me. (Allow me one last self-indulgence before we get to the good stuff.)
Ever since I could read I was drawn to the Star Tribune, first for the funnies but not long after for the sports pages. At first it was all about checking the leader boards for every Minnesota kid's favorite player: Kirby Puckett. Eventually I'd read Twins game recaps and finally I graduated to the sophisticated rants and ramblings of Sid Hartman and Patrick Reusee among others-though I didn't "know" who those writers were in the way I kind of do now. Looking back it seemed a matter of fate that I would one day follow in their footsteps to become a sports writer myself. Admittedly, the pipe dream of writing for the Star Tribune is most likely just that. Sid's only been doing this for 60 years, Reusse for like 40 so it's obviously tough to get your foot in the door when the big guns never leave. I am, however, writing about high school sports and actually making money doing it. So I got that going for me.
Here's my point: this blog post is quite meaningful for me. It is the first time I'll have written freely about my first and favorite sports team, the Minnesota Twins. And tying this momentous personal triumph with the day's theme, it's time for me to finally exorcise the demons of Halloween's past by churning out my first ever entry on TwinsTarget.com and thereby assigning new meaning to this holiday (much in the same way Christians altered the originally pagan celebration). So, without further ado, here is a breakdown of the Twins free agents this offseason and one man's opinion of who should go ("tricks") and who should stay ("treats"). Enjoy.
The Twins ranked 13th in 2010 with a payroll of just over $90 million (that salary went up with trades). In 2010, team salaries didn't really start getting obscene until the #6 team, Detroit at $122 million. The Red Sox were 2nd at $161 million and the Yankees of course were #1 at $207 million. *All figures based on start of the season.
Many of the Twins top players are in line for raises in 2011, led by Joe Mauer's $10.5 million increase. Also getting bumps are Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Nick Blackburn, and Scott Baker. Increases to contracts add up to $19.35 million; the Twins have over $70 million invested in eight players next year. So, decisions need to be made and the organization started the process off wisely on Friday.
Picking up Jason Kubel's $5.25 million option was a good deal for the Twins. Not picking up Nick Punto's $5 million was also smart. Although Kubel's constipation at the postseason plate is well-documented, the guy is a regular season boon, capable of hitting for average, homeruns, and RBI's. As for Punto, well what can you say? The guy Twins fans love to hate finally demonstrated enough stupidity on the base paths, weakness at the plate, and overall fragility to make Gardy and the front office come to their senses. He will have a job next year because he fields better than any player at multiple positions, but I don't think it will be for the Twins.
Final verdict: Kubel's a treat, Punto is a trick(ster).
Other than Kubel and Punto, the Twins have 10 free agents. Two besides Kubel are Type A's which means they're considered among the top 20% of players in baseball: Carl Pavano and Matt Guerrier. Five Twins are Type B's which means they're considered among the next top 20% in baseball: Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Orlando Hudson, Jon Rauch, and Jim Thome. Three Twins are unclassified free agents which means they are in the bottom 60% of players: J.J. Hardy, Randy Flores, and Ron Mahay.
Let's begin with the bullpen.
I'm sure the Twins will let veteran relief men Fuentes ($9 million last year), Mahay ($4), and Flores ($650,000) walk unless they agree to some bare minimum deals. All are guys you use to shore up the bullpen's holes and none of the three did great at that last year so we'll all call them tricks for 2011.
That leaves the enigmatic trio of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and Jon Rauch. LaVelle E. Neil III said on KFAN radio Friday that the Twins strategy may be to offer the same deal to each of the three players-that is, they'd offer something in the range of 2 years, 6-8 million first to Guerrier, if he turned it down, they'd offer it to Crain, if Crain turned it down, it's on to Rauch. Bottom line, all three guys alone are expendable but the Twins will likely need two out of the three to maintain a respectable bullpen. Twins fans can expect two of the three to set up Matt Capps until (a big if) Joe Nathan is back and healthy.
Final verdict: even though they both drive me crazy at different times over the years, I'd like to see the Twins keep treats Crain and Guerrier. The trick man of this group would then be Rauch, appropriate because he seemed to use "smoke and mirrors" to get opposing batters out last year.
On to the infield which is as dicey and unknown as ever. Up for free agency are shortstop J.J. Hardy ($5.1 million in 2010) and 2nd baseman Orlando Hudson ($5 million in 2010). Of all the Twins' issues going into 2011 their up-the-middle defense may be the most glaring. Do the Twins have enough faith in Alexi Casilla to be the regular 2nd baseman? If it's up to Gardy, I'd say probably not. Yet, as Neil III reported on Friday, Hudson left the Twin Cities after our latest postseason sweep convinced he wouldn't be with the team next year. The shortstop position is even more problematic. The Twins are evidently high on Trevor Plouffe, for what reasons I don't know. Hardy showed once again in 2010 that he can't stay on the field. It also seems his supposed punch at the plate is still lost somewhere in Milwaukee. It simply would not make sense to resign Hardy unless it was a dirt-cheap deal, except that leaves Plouffe or (gasp) a resigned Punto as our only other options.
Final verdict: the whole lot of them are tricksters. This is a hung jury that needs to see more evidence (i.e. free agent options) before making a decision.
That leads us to two of the most important players for the Twins last season: Jim Thome and Carl Pavano. It's astounding looking back that we got Thome for the low low price of $1.5 million last year. He led the team in homeruns (25), slugging % (.627), and was 2nd in OPS (1.039 to Morneau's 1.055) in 276 at bats. Granted, Thome can't play the field, can't run, and needs to rest regularly. But the Twins certainly benefited from his leadership, his bulldog mentality, and his flair for the dramatics (Chicago walkoff anyone?). If he doesn't elect to retire, the Twins ought to pay him at least as much as Kubel since even at 41 he's every bit the player Kubel is. That means $5+. Sign that treat!
And then there was one. A Mr. Carl Pavano. Knowing the Twins, I think odds are that Pavano will not be returning as our #2 starter next season. Starting pitchers who give you 200 innings with an ERA at or below 4.00 get overpaid. Even when they're 34 years old like Pavano. Case in point: the Dodgers signed 34-year-old Ted Lilly to 3 years and $33 million two weeks ago. Here is a split between Lilly and Pavano
Lilly last season: 193.2 innings, 30 games, 166 k's, 10-12 record, 3.62 ERA; career: 113-96 record, 4.18 ERA, 1474 K's.
Pavano last season: 221 innings, 32 games, 117 k's, 17-11 record, 3.75 ERA; career: 97-89 record, 4.34 ERA, 956 K's.
Pretty similar aren't they?
Unfortunately working against the Twins favor is the fact that beyond Cliff Lee, Pavano may be the best starting pitcher free agent available. Someone overpays for him and it isn't going to be Minnesota.
Final verdict: you were a treat to watch Pavano, but you're going to trick someone.
That's it for now, Twins fans. Thanks for checking out my first blog effort. I'll do better the next time. I'll leave you with a couple suggestions from the world of popular culture to hold you over until my next post.
- Book suggestion of the week: You are not a Gadget, A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier. Lanier, one of Time magazine's 100 most Influentional People of 2010, offers a cautionary look at the way the web and computers transform our lives for better and for worse. Just started this non-fiction book but already its wisdom has been enlightening and entertaining.
- Book suggestion of the week from a friend: Especially appropriate for Halloween: my pal poopy_magoo suggests the fiction work Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III. To try to summarize would be a ridiculous waste of space-even more than I've already wasted. Suffice it to say, Mellick is called this generation's Vonnegut which is a pretty damn cool title to claim.
- Movie I've seen lately: With all the potentially great movies in theaters now (Social Network, Hereafter, Secretariat) I opted for Jackass 3D and boy was I satisfied. You know what you're getting with the Jackass franchise so you really don't need my suggestion but let me just say it was crazy fun.
- TV special you should've watched: Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Great showmanship, great music, great message, no politics. Just an outstanding three hours of television.
- TV special you must purchase on DVD: "Once Brothers" This was a 30-30 special on ESPN which aired a few weeks ago that tells the story of Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, fragmentation in Yugoslavia, and the tragedy of circumstance. I dare you not to cry. Available on DVD at your fine online stores.
Along with my controversial Willie Mays Award ballot of last week, I have the opportunity to vote for the pitchers who I believe have enjoyed the best seasons in 2010.
This time around, there will be no factoring in of future potential or ceiling, as the Walter Johnson Award goes simply to the pitcher with the best season in either league. Here is my ballot:
5. Francisco Liriano, SP, Minnesota Twins
Liriano did exactly what was hoped of him this season, and so much more. The south paw struck out batters, limited his walks, and induced ground balls for one of the league's best defensive infields. The only thing Liriano didn't do as well as others was last long in games, as he failed to even crack the 200 innings pitched mark.
4. Jon Lester, SP, Boston Red Sox
Considering the grandiose stage he plays on, Lester had a relatively quiet 2010 season. He led the league in strikeouts per nine innings, had the fourth-lowest xFIP in the league, and was also among the leaders in WAR. Lester's biggest drawback was his deficiency in the innings pitched department.
3. Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Weaver enjoyed the best season of his career this year, but did so in relative obscurity. The 27-year old led the league in strikeouts and games started, but also compiled a mediocre win/loss record. The national media will likely pay less attention to Weaver than Hernandez, though, because the Northridge native had a respectable offense – though still below average – scoring runs.
Even so, Weaver's season was excellent (he led the league in SIERA) and deserves to be ranked among the best in the league.
2. Cliff Lee, SP, Texas Rangers
Few pitchers combine strikeout ability and walk avoidance like Lee did season. In fact, Lee came extremely close to breaking the strikeout/walk record with a figure of 10.28 this year, coming within 0.72 of Brett Saberhagen's record of 11. Even though it wasn't the best ever, Lee doubled the next highest figure in the league.
The only negative that can be found to count against Lee's record is that he missed the first month of the season due to an abdomen strain. Lee's xFIP is the second-highest in the league, and his WHIP – an even 1.00 – is the lowest mark in baseball.
1. Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
With one of the worst offenses in baseball history providing run support, Hernandez is the best player on a horrible team since Maurice Jones-Drew. Hernandez, who just signed a five-year extension, led the league in innings pitched and was one whiff away from leading the league in strikeouts. Hernandez can also be found in the top five in the league in WAR, xFIP, and WHIP.
There's no doubting Hernandez's worthiness of this award. Skeptics may point to his mediocre win/loss record, but that he managed to win 13 games with an average run support of just 3.17 should only further contribute to his candidacy.
Close cuts: CC Sabathia, David Price, Justin Verlander, James Shieldsno comments
Last season, the Twins signed Miguel Angel Sano from the Dominican Republic for a $3.15 million signing bonus. This was, by far, the largest bonus the Twins had ever given to an international free agent. The biggest bonus had been $750,000. This was the second largest bonus in MLB history for a Dominican amateur. He was also given the second largest signing bonus in Twins history, behind what Joe Mauer got as the #1 pick in the 2001 draft. This was a big deal! The Twins really stepped up. This financial commitment to a 16 year old was the exact kind of move Twins fans have been waiting for. It's a year later, how is he doing?
Sano, just 17, spent just 20 games and 80 plate appearances with the Twins Dominican league team. His .344/.463/.547 line demanded that he come to America and some tougher competition. He spent the rest of the summer with the Gulf Coast Twins, hitting .291/.338/.473 in 161 plate appearances. He hit a HR in his first state-side professional at bat, while posting respectable numbers against the league. His OPS was 11th best in the league. Every one in the top 10 was at least 13 months older than Sano.
He is very young and at least 3 years away from the majors. Signed as a shortstop, the already 6'3" 195 lb Sano looks to end up at 3rd base or in the outfield. Baseball America's 94th ranked prospect in 2010, Sano is already playing more games at third than at shortstop. So, what to make of Sano's GCL numbers? Not many 17 year olds reach the GCL, but a player I compare to Sano did. Miguel Cabrera had an MVP caliber season with Detroit in 2010, hitting .328/.420/.622. As a 17 year old in the GCL, Cabrera hit .260/.344/.352 in 250 plate appearances. He did not match the .810 OPS Sano put up this year, until he was a 20 year old in AA. Another example of 17 year old in rookie ball, Pablo Sandoval's had a .266/.287/.373 line. Players such as Hanley Ramirez had awesome first years in Gulf Coast, but most players don't reach the level until they are 18 or older. There are very few examples of a player doing as well as Sano did as a 17 year old.
Sano does have a lot of work to do. He struckout 43 times in 161 plate appearances with only 10 walks. He will most likely start the season in the GCL again and probably not get past high rookie Elizabethtown in the 2011 season. It will be interesting to see how he does in his second pro year. He has a lot of work to do but, for a guy who will be just 18, he has looked every bit the prospect that the Twins are paying him to be. Give it a few years, he might be the, right-handed, middle of the order bat that Twins fans have been waiting for.no comments