Posted by: taylorjs | March 24, 2010

The State of the Bullpen

Today’s signing of Ron Mahay adds some spice to the bullpen situation.  With Joe Nathan being out for the year and a couple of interesting ‘pen possibilities struggling, it was a good idea to bring in a veteran reinforcement.  But where does that leave us?  In lieu of a full roster update, here are my thoughts on the bullpen.

First, let me say that while the Twins may be considering having Francisco Liriano move into the closer’s role, I think that there are two reasons that won’t happen — he’s pitched too well this Spring as a starter, and no one else amongst the possible alternative fifth starters has stepped up to grab the ring.  For now at least, Liriano should be the fifth starter.  The Twins can always re-evaluate if he consistently runs into problems in the fourth and fifth innings as he starts to get tired.

As for the bullpen:

LOCKS

Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jose Mijares

PROBABLES

Pat Neshek – Neshek has had an excellent spring, allowing just 1 run and giving up 3 hits in 6 innings, with a 7-3 K-BB rate.  He is also getting back into shape to be able to pitch regularly.  The only reason he isn’t on my ‘lock’ list is that I’m not 100% convinced he’s ready for prime time.  I fully expect, however, that the next 10 days will show that Neshek is able to pitch frequently enough and well enough to justify placing him on the roster.  He’s very close to a lock in my mind.

FIGHTING FOR A SPOT

Clay Condrey – Unlike Neshek, Condrey has had a horrid spring.  In just 7 innings he’s allowed 8 earned runs, given up 4 homers, and has walked two without a single strikeout.  If Condrey was just a young guy with no big league experience fighting for a spot, he’d have been cut already.  Of course, he does have big league experience — pretty effective big league experience.  In 2009, Condrey had a 3.00 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP over 42 innings and 45 games.  In 2008, he had a 3.26 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 69 innings.  Those numbers aren’t going to blow anyone away, but I’d take a guy like that in the Twins bullpen.  This is why I list Condrey as a probable — more than likely, if there is any way to justify keeping Condrey around, the Twins will probably do so.

Ron Mahay – Mahay obviously hasn’t pitched at all this spring, but he’s a veteran who is known to the Twins staff because of his brief stint with the team last year.  Can he get into playing shape in time for the season?  Yes, if he’s been getting his work in regularly (and he’d have been insane not to have done so).  Mahay would add a useful second lefty to the bullpen if added to the roster, which I think gives him another pretty significant boost in his favor.

Mike Maroth – Maroth has struggled in 2 of his 5 games this spring, but has been better than I expected him to be.  With the struggles of Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing along with Joe Nathan’s injury, Maroth may even have had the inside track on a roster spot because he’s a lefty — until Ron Mahay was signed.  Mahay is more likely to get the second lefty role in the ‘pen that Maroth would otherwise have been in line for, so while it is fair to say that Maroth is still fighting for a spot, he’s now once again distinctly an underdog in that fight.

Glen Perkins – Speaking of Perkins, he’s been horrid this spring (7 ER and 14 hits in 7 innings) and is now also dealing with an injury.  The odds on his breaking camp with the Twins are becoming pretty long.

Brian Duensing – Yet another lefty who has had a disappointing spring, Duensing has allowed 7 ER and 12 hits in 7 innings of work.  In contention, maybe, but just.

Anthony Slama – We’ve been talking seriously about Slama getting a shot at the major league level for awhile now, and this spring is certainly just going to continue that talk.  In 4 innings, Slama has not allowed a hit or a run, with the only blemish on his record being a single walk.  He’s also struck out 8 batters — in other words, he’s K’d 8 of the 13 guys he’s faced.  Those are impressive numbers and undoubtedly have turned heads.  Nonetheless, I’m still predicting a trip to the minors for Slama, with a likely callup upon the first injury or release when the season starts.

PROJECTED BULLPEN

Given all this, I’d expect a bullpen of:  Rauch, Guerrier, Crain, Mijares, Neshek, Condrey, Mahay

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Posted by: taylorjs | March 23, 2010

Spring Thoughts – 3/23/10

I’ve lost count on game numbers because I’ve been rather lax in my posting, so I’ve switched to identifying by day.  I hope to get a new roster breakdown up somewhere tomorrow as well.

Today’s Big Winner:

I thought long and hard about this one.  I ended up deciding to give it to Nick Punto, who went 2-for-3 with a double and raised his average to a . . . erm . . . robust (?) .192.  If Punto is to have any hope of claiming a starting spot, he needs to finish strong this spring, and this was a good start.  Honorable mention to Pat Neshek, who continues to pitch well as he builds up his strength for a return.

Today’s Big Loser:

Lacking any obvious candidates, I’m going with Matt Tolbert.  Both Tolbert and Casilla finished o-for-1 and continued their horrible springs (neither wants a major league roster spot, apparently).  If push comes to shove, however, I’m assuming the Twins will go with Casilla over Tolbert because Tolbert can still be optioned and Casilla cannot.  In that scenario, Tolbert needs to give the Twins an actual REASON to bring him north.  Right now, he’s not doing it.  Every time he plays without showing something, anything, is a day wasted.

Posted by: taylorjs | March 21, 2010

Mauer!

I expect that I will have a lot more to say about this over the next few days, but for now I just have to say that I’m thrilled about today’s news that Joe Mauer will be a Twins through at least 2018.  I’m sure that most Twins fans feel the same way, although there are undoubtedly some nay-sayers and contrarians who will argue that the Twins should have moved Mauer in a deal to gain back younger talent because they can’t afford his new contract.  Hogwash, I say — the deal is expensive, but is made possible by the revenue that will be generated by the new stadium.  The Twins might not have playoff success in the next decade — but it won’t be because they can’t afford good players.

I’m particularly pleased about Mauer’s signing because it deals a blow to all the self-righteous Yankees and Red Sox fans (and a few members of the national media) who felt that there was simply no way anyone could turn down the allure of playing in New York or Boston.  I also can feel justified in believing that this deal was going to get done (although as a few friends of mine will know, I was beginning to lose a bit of faith in the last few days).  It’s a great time to be a Twins fan!

Posted by: taylorjs | March 15, 2010

Spring Roster Breakdown #3

  • The third roster breakdown includes the first cuts of camp, as a number of filler players were reassigned to minor league camp
  • 1 – Scott Baker (SP)
  • 2 – Carl Pavano (SP)
  • 3 – Kevin Slowey (SP)
  • 4 – Nick Blackburn (SP)
  • 5 – Francisco Liriano (SP/RP)
  • 6 – Jon Rauch (RP)
  • 7 – Matt Guerrier (RP)
  • 8 – Jesse Crain (RP)
  • 9 – Clay Condrey (RP)
  • 10 – Jose Mijares (RP)
  • 11 – Pat Neshek (RP)
  • 12 – Glen Perkins (SP/RP)
  • Brian Duensing (SP/RP)
  • Anthony Swarzak (SP/RP)
  • Mike Maroth (SP/RP)
  • Jeff Manship (SP/RP)
  • Anthony Slama (RP)
  • Kyle Waldrop (P)
  • Alex Burnett (P)
  • Rob Delaney (P)
  • Joe Nathan (P) ***Due to Injury***
  • Deolis Guerra (P)
  • Loek Van Mil (P)
  • Jose Lugo (P)
  • 13 – Joe Mauer (C)
    14 – Jose Morales (C)
    Drew Butera (C)
    Wilson Ramos (C)

Danny Lehmann (C)
Jair Fernandez (C)
Daniel Rams (C)
15 – Justin Morneau (1B)
16 – Orlando Hudson (2B)
17 – J.J. Hardy (SS)
18 – Brendan Harris (3B)
19 – Nick Punto (IF)
20 – Jim Thome (1B/DH/PH)
21 – Alexi Casilla (IF)
Matt Tolbert (IF)
Danny Valencia (3B)
Luke Hughes (IF)
Trevor Plouffe (IF)
Brian Dinkelman (IF)
Chris Parmelee (1B/OF)
Brock Peterson (1B)
Toby Gardenhire (IF)
Estarlin de los Santos (IF)
Steve Singleton (IF)
22 – Delmon Young (OF)
23 – Denard Span (OF)
24 – Michaeld Cuddyer (OF)
25 – Jason Kubel (DH/OF)
Juan Portes (OF)
Jacque Jones (OF)
Ben Revere (OF)
Rene Tosoni (OF)

The first cuts of spring are reflected here, which has resulted in some minor shifting at the bottom of the positional rankings.  The biggest shift is a change in a member of my projected 25-man roster — nobody is playing particularly well in the battle for the extra infield slot, but given that Matt Tolbert has particularly struggled and that Alexi Casilla is out of options while Tolbert isn’t (and Casilla doesn’t appear to be going anywhere in a trade, not having played well enough to really prove his worth to anyone), I’m now projecting that Casilla will get the last roster spot over Tolbert.

I’ve also moved Juan Portes to the fifth outfielder spot — still off the roster but in position to possibly make a run at a roster spot if Casilla, Tolbert, and the rest continue to struggle and the Twins decide they want an extra outfielder with some pop.

Posted by: taylorjs | March 14, 2010

Spring Thoughts – Game #9

I missed posting on Game #8, but a rainout meant I didn’t miss anything on Friday.  Yesterday’s first televised match of the Spring was interesting but ultimately disappointing, as a Jose Mijares meltdown resulted in a 5-4 loss.

Today’s Big Winner

I had a tough time deciding who the big winner of the day was.  Generally speaking, the ‘big winner’/’big loser’ decision is made based on things that happen on the field, so while I considered giving this to Denard Span for the combined force of his 2-for-3 day and his contract announcement, I ultimately decided to go in a different direction.  I also considered Pat Neshek for making another solid step forward in his return, as he got back into a game for the first time in six games following the body issues he had after his first outing — and performed well, with a perfect inning and two K’s.  However, I ultimately decided to give the nod to Carl Pavano, who had three perfect innings with two K’s against the Phillies ‘A’ lineup.

Today’s Big Loser

Delmon Young, who had been having a pretty nice spring by all accounts, went 0-for-3 with 3 K’s.  Nick Punto and Brendan Harris continued to seem to run away from wanting the starting third base job, both going 0-for-2, as did Alexi Casilla.  Matt Tolbert seemed to forget how to play second base, running around and dropping balls all over the place.  Today, however, I’m giving the Golden Goat to Jose Mijares for giving up the three run homer Cody Ransom that lost the game for the Twins.

Posted by: taylorjs | March 10, 2010

Spring Thoughts – Game #7

With all of the attention today focused on Joe Nathan quite possibly being done for the season, it was easy to forget there was still a meaningless spring game going on — but not here!  I’m all about meaningless things . . .

Today’s Big Winner

You hit a game winning homerun when you’re competing for a job, you get the nod.  Danny Valencia went deep today to hand the Twins a 7-6 win over the Cardinals in his only at bat of the game.  He’s now hitting .429 on the spring (remember, it’s early) and seems to be comparing rather favorably right now with the Twins other third base options.  I really didn’t expect him to have a realistic shot at winning the job outright, but if he keeps it up the Twins may be tempted to just hand him the keys and let him drive.

Today’s Big Loser

When Joe Nathan went down, a spot in the bullpen (probably) opened up.  One guy who is rapidly pitching himself out of contention for that spot is Jeff Manship, who allowed 3 runs (2 earned) on 2 hits and 2 walks in an inning of work today.  That follows a horrendous first outing of the spring.  With a lot of other guys pitching well, Manship is rather quickly falling into the ‘soon to be cut’ list.  Another bad performance his next time out might see the Twins ship him to minor league camp.  Oh yeah, Jim Thome went 0-3 and is 0-6 on the spring.  I’m just saying . . .

Posted by: taylorjs | March 9, 2010

Spring Roster Breakdown #2

The second roster breakdown takes into account action from the first 6 games of the spring and the injury to Joe Nathan.  Here goes:

1 – Scott Baker (SP)
2 – Carl Pavano (SP)
3 – Kevin Slowey (SP)
4 – Nick Blackburn (SP)
5 – Francisco Liriano (SP/RP)
6 – Jon Rauch (RP)
7 – Matt Guerrier (RP)
8 – Jesse Crain (RP)
9 – Clay Condrey (RP)
10 – Jose Mijares (RP)
11 – Pat Neshek (RP)
12 – Glen Perkins (SP/RP)
Brian Duensing (SP/RP)
Anthony Swarzak (SP/RP)
Jeff Manship (SP/RP)
Mike Maroth (SP/RP)

Anthony Slama (RP)
Alex Burnett (P)
Rob Delaney (P)
Deolis Guerra (P)
Kyle Waldrop (P)
Loek Van Mil (P)
Jose Lugo (P)
Joe Nathan (P) ***Due to Injury***

13 – Joe Mauer (C)
14 – Jose Morales (C)
Drew Butera (C)
Wilson Ramos (C)

Jair Fernandez (C)
Danny Lehmann (C)
Daniel Rams (C)

15 – Justin Morneau (1B)
16 – Orlando Hudson (2B)
17 – J.J. Hardy (SS)
18 – Brendan Harris (3B)
19 – Nick Punto (IF)
20 – Jim Thome (1B/DH/PH)
21 – Matt Tolbert (IF)
Alexi Casilla (IF)
Danny Valencia (3B)
Luke Hughes (IF)

Trevor Plouffe (IF)
Estarlin de los Santos (IF)
Steve Singleton (IF)
Brian Dinkelman (IF)
Chris Parmelee (1B/OF)
Brock Peterson (1B)
Toby Gardenhire (IF)
22 – Delmon Young (OF)
23 – Denard Span (OF)
24 – Michaeld Cuddyer (OF)
25 – Jason Kubel (DH/OF)
Jacque Jones (OF)
Rene Tosoni (OF)
Ben Revere (OF)
Juan Portes (OF)

The big changes this week were in the pitching department.  The injury to Joe Nathan opens up another spot in the bullpen, and primarily because he’s a lefty with a bit of experience, I’m slotting Glen Perkins is as the biggest beneficiary by giving him the inside track for the last spot in the ‘pen.  I’ve also locked in Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Clay Condrey, and Jose Mijares because I don’t see a realistic scenario now where the Twins decide not to take any of them north.  Neshek has pitched well in his return, but he will have to show that his arm can hold up to repeated performances and that he can continue getting guys out before I lock him in.

Elsewhere, things are in a holding pattern.  There just isn’t enough information, for instance, to act on Juan Portes’ 2 homerun game and move him up, or to flop Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla, etc.  After another week of games it will become a little clearer who just had a good game and who is actually stepping up and performing well.

Posted by: taylorjs | March 9, 2010

Ugh

I think that about says it.  Joe Nathan has an elbow ligament tear, and his 2010 season is in jeopardy.  The Twins, who have made some nice moves to put themselves into contention during the first year in Target Field, are now likely to be without a proven closer.

Of course, the season isn’t over.  There are plenty of people who think that closers are dramatically overvalued and that the loss of even a good one like Nathan won’t be too painful (although my poor fantasy baseball team can’t say the same thing — I’m now in pretty deep trouble in the saves category).  And of course, the pitchers battling for a spot in the bullpen now find themselves with another available roster spot to compete for.

Who will get the nod in the 9th inning for the Twins this year?  I don’t think there’s a clear answer, and perhaps the Twins will use a ‘closer-by-committee’ arrangement.  I would actually favor that, as it would allow the team to simply let matchups dictate who gets the rock in the 9th rather than relying on the ‘we have a closer and we’re going to use him no matter what’ mentality that dominates the major leagues.  Of course, it is also possible that the Twins will watch the contestants closely this spring and emerge from Spring Training with a replacement closer ready to role — perhaps Jon Rauch?

Obviously this will be a significant topic of conversation throughout the Spring.  Hopefully all is not lost for Nathan’s 2010 season — but it certainly doesn’t look good.

Posted by: taylorjs | March 9, 2010

Spring Thoughts – Game #6

A nice 5-0 Twins victory over the Orioles today as the first full week of games gets underway.  In case you’re wondering, I haven’t forgotten about the roster status posts — I’m hoping to get one up tomorrow (to make up for the last two Sunday’s of nothing).

Today’s Big Winner

Ben Revere had the best line of the day, going 3-5 with a double, a triple, and two runs scored.  However, he’s not the guy I’m singling out, because Revere has next to no chance of making the Major League roster — he’s the kind of guy who should be playing every day in the minors, not rusting away on the bench.  So instead, I’m giving the nod to Luke Hughes, who went 2-4 and got a chance to play the entire game, splitting his time between second and third.  Hughes is a dark horse in the infield race, but he’s a more realistic 25-man roster candidate than is Revere, and today was a good day for him.  As has become commonplace early this spring (with a few notable exceptions), several pitchers also could have been named today, as Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn worked up to three innings a piece and put together identical 1 hit, 1 walk, 2 K lines.  The relievers were also great.  Love to see it, even if it’s early spring.

Today’s Big Loser

Nick Punto would probably have to break both legs, punch Gardy, and swear at Bill Smith’s wife to not make the roster at the end of the spring, but I’ll still be noting his bad days.  Today was one of them, as Punto went 0-4 with 2 K’s and 3 left on.  If he was terrible, and if a couple of other guys were good . . . I’m just saying, it’s not impossible — just highly, highly unlikely.

Posted by: taylorjs | March 7, 2010

Spring Thoughts – Games #4/5

On a day that was overshadowed by Joe Nathan returning to Minnesota with arm troubles and Nick Blackburn’s new 4 year deal, the Twins played a couple of split squad games today.  Here’s the short breakdown:

Game vs. New York Yankees

Today’s Big Winner

He has no chance of winning a roster spot, but I can’t NOT give the nod in this game to Juan Portes, who hit a couple of homeruns and drove in 6.  The pitching was superb tonight, including a nice bounceback performance from Mike Maroth, but Portes gets the edge just because a 6 RBI game is pretty remarkable.

Today’s Big Loser

Matt Tolbert, who went 0-4 and left 3 guys on base.  With Alexi Casilla still around, Tolbert probably has to have a pretty solid spring to win a job.  So far, he’s 0-7 at the plate.

Game vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

Today’s Big Winner

How about anyone who didn’t pitch today?  The Pirates bats were alive, as the Buccos scored 15 runs and pounded the hapless Twins hurlers.  Because of that, I’m giving the nod to Kyle Waldrop — the one Twins pitcher today who didn’t get hammered. Waldrop went 1.1 scoreless innings with a hit allowed and a strikeout.  Honorable mention to Justin Morneau, who went deep and had 2 hits and 2 RBI’s.

Today’s Big Loser

Four different pitchers — Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett, and Rob Delaney — had horrid outings today.  The worst outing was Anthony Swarzak’s, who gave up 5 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks, including allowing 2 homers, but each of these performances was enough to make a fan a bit queasy.  Duensing and Swarzak are still in the running for roster spots, but performances like this are dangerous when there are so many competitors for spots.

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