Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Close Look at the Twins, Part II

Frequent commenter The Black Freighter is a Twins Geek.  Most of the folks on this blog are, aside from freaks like Barnyard (who likes the Brewers, because they are named after beer).  But The Black Freighter (TBF) is special--he can tell you which outfielder in Double A has a shot at the bigs.  He's a little scary.  We invited him to preview the Twins season.  This is part two (part 1 here), and it is mostly a look at the offense.  It is in depth. 

Without further ado, TBF speaks:

The Twins boast an offense that finished 3rd in the American League in both runs (829) and average (.279). However, if you want to be a bit more “glass half-empty,” they hit at an unsustainable .305 clip with runners in scoring position and finished dead last in homeruns (111).

On a complete Joe Posnanski-like tangent, I was watching a replay of the 1987

World Series and heard vintage Al Michaels mention the complete futility of the Cardinals to hit homeruns.  Shockingly, the years including and between their World Series appearances of 1982 and 1987, they never once hit 100 homeruns in a season... most notably a despicable 58 in 1985.  

The Twins return their entire starting lineup from 2008 and have added power-hitter, Joe Crede to the bunch.  Here’s a breakdown of the outfield and infield for your 2009 Twins.

The Outfield 

STARTERS: LF Denard Span, CF Carlos Gomez and RF Michael Cuddyer
BENCH: Delmon Young and Jason Kubel

The Twins boast one of the most defensively talented outfields in all of baseball, but make up for that awesomeness with a rather mediocre offense.  Although none of the players stand out as big stars, all five outfielders have room for improvement. 

Denard Span came out of nowhere to sport a .387 on-base percentage (OBP) in the lead-off spot, but only averaged .357 in a 6-year minor league career.  Did something finally click in Span that made him live up to his lofty 1st round potential?  If his .171 average, .258 OBP and 14 strikeouts in a team-leading 82 at bats this spring mean anything, we might have reason to worry.  Even if Span’s offense is a flash in the pan, his stellar defense is Gold Glove-caliber.  Span makes catches that would make even Torii Hunter blush. 

Carlos Gomez struggled mightily at the plate in his first year as a Twin, yet showed clear signs of future stardom as well.  The centerfielder swung and missed in 25% of his at bats, but also hit for the cycle on May 7th against Chicago.  Blessed with tremendous speed (33 stolen bases), Gomez has the talent to beat out many balls hit in the infield.

Only 23, Go-Go has the potential to blossom into a dual power-speed threat if his patience at the plate improves.  Like Span, Gomez is an incredible asset defensively.  He is the best defensive center fielder in the American League and is especially adept at retreating to balls hit over his head.  He made 23 additional catches last season that an average centerfielder wouldn’t have made.   

Michael Cuddyer’s 2008 season was a complete disaster.  Saddled with several injury setbacks, Cuddyer was never able to get on track.  When healthy, Cuddy Bear is a needed right-handed power presence in the middle of the lineup.  He is a strong hitter with runners on base and drove in 190 runs during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.  Defensively, Cuddyer has limited range, but makes up for that weakness with a potato launcher for an arm.  Cuddyer had an incredible 19 outfield assists in 2007 and plays the baggy very well in right field.

Delmon Young was rumored to be on the trading block this past summer, just a year removed from the controversial Matt Garza & Jason Bartlett swap.  Sporting a questionable attitude and an unwillingness to listen to batting advice from his coaches, Delmon failed to build on his impressive rookie campaign.  Young is far too talented to be just a singles hitter and needs to learn to pull the ball with more consistency.  At only 23, Delmon has arguably the highest ceiling of any player on the Twins roster.  In fact, his age-22 comparable at is none other than hall-of-famer Carl Yastrzemski.  Young has a fantastic arm, but ranked dead last for left fielders by costing the Twins 11 runs according to John Dewan’s “The Fielding Bible - Volume II.”  In contrast, Gomez saved the Twins an incredible 17 runs in 2008 with his stellar play.  Young also sported a vomit-inducing 37 misplays and errors in 152 games.  

After waiting several years for Jason Kubel’s break-out season, he finally came through with a .272 average, 20 dingers and 78 RBI.  Kubel was a star in the minor leagues and there is no reason not to believe he can improve on his impressive 2008 totals.  With Joe Mauer currently injured, Kubel will most likely start the season in the 3-hole and has the potential to hit 30 home runs and 100 RBI.  As the designated hitter, you’ll rarely see Kubel in the field.  After his Daunte Culpepper-esque knee injury in 2004, Kubel has clearly lost a step.     

The Infield:
STARTERS: C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau, 2B Alexi Casilla, SS Nick Punto and 3B Joe Crede
BENCH: 3B/1B Brian Buscher, IF Brendan Harris, C Mike Redmond, C Jose Morales*
* Jose Morales has made the opening day roster, but will likely be sent down once Joe Mauer returns from the disabled list. 
The 2009 Twins will enjoy the deepest lineup they’ve had in years.  Having Buscher, Harris, Redmond and one of the above-average outfielders on the bench each game is a huge asset in the late innings or if injury strikes.  

The core of that depth is in the infield where the Twins possess three all-stars and top-notch defenders at each position.

In 2006, The Baby Jesus* was the first American League catcher to ever lead the league in batting.  Unsatisfied with just one title, Joe decided to bring another one home in 2008.  

If Mauer continues at his current pace, he is a good bet for the Hall of Fame.  Joe combines incredible plate discipline with one of the sweetest swings since Ted Williams.  Mauer will probably never be a 20-homer threat, but any player that is on base over 40% of his at bats is a stud in my book.  Mauer also won his first Gold Glove award in 2008.  He’s regarded as the best catch and throw backstop in the league.  

Unfortunately, Mauer will begin the season on the disabled list with inflammation in his sacroiliac joint.  The injury doesn’t appear to be serious, but an extended absence would severely derail the Twins’ post season plans.  


We all know that Joe Mauer pretty much has the best life ever.  He plays in front of his parents at every home game, models for Travel & Leisure magazine, dated former Miss America Chelsea Cooley and is the white equivalent of St. Paul’s other favorite son, Dave Winfield by being graced with the athletic ability to star in a multitude of sports.  Probably would kick Michael Phelps’ ass in the pool any day.  BUT did you know he could dance?  Attending his older brother Jake’s wedding, I witnessed Joe… I swear to God… leading the Soulja Boy dance.  Per usual, he was good at that, too.

The other half of the M&M Boys is 2008 MVP runner-up, Justin Morneau.  The hulking Canuck is the main power threat for the Twins as 18% of his hits fly out of the ballpark.  Morneau had a great All-Star Game Weekend in 2008 as he won the Homerun Derby and scored the winning run in extra innings of the mid-summer classic.  Morneau’s offense petered off in the final weeks of the season which possibly cost the Twins a spot in the playoffs and a 2nd MVP trophy.  Regardless, Morneau is a perennial all-star and rakes in the extra base hits and RBI.  

Defensively, Morneau is above average as he fielded 47 poor throws, more than any other first baseman.   

Second baseman Alexi Casilla has been a bit of an enigma for the Twins.  After being named the Twins Minor League Player of the Year in 2006, Casilla has struggled to translate his talent to the big leagues. 

Casilla didn’t even make the team out of spring training in 2008, but received a call-up when the infield was decimated by a string of injuries.  Right when it had appeared that Casilla was finally finding a groove (.313 average and 39 RBI in 243 at bats), he tore a ligament in his hand.  Hand injuries are incredibly detrimental to a player, so it was not a surprise to see the young Dominican struggle after coming off the disabled list (.225 average and 11 RBI in 142 at bats).  

Optimally, the Twins view Casilla as switch-hitting speedster batting second in the lineup.  Casilla doesn’t strike out much and can steal loads of bases as evidence by his 153 swipes in 5 minor league seasons.  A natural shortstop, Casilla will turn in the occasional stellar play at second and has excellent footwork when turning the double play.    

Much to the chagrin of many Twins fans, Nick Punto was resigned to “bust his tail off” as the starting shortstop.  Punto is generally overmatched at the plate and his role as the second hitter in any lineup is incredibly shortsighted.  Nick Punto belongs in the 8th or 9th spot and can actually be an asset there when he is hitting .280.  Punto hits for very little power and has a tendency to fly out often.  He’s at his best when he hits the ball on the ground and utilizes his speed to slide headfirst into first base.  Defensively, Punto is one of Baseball Tonight’s Web Gem favorites.  He covers a lot of ground at short and is versatile enough to play any infield position with flair and pizzazz.  Weeeeeee!   

Third basemen Joe Crede was the biggest free agent splash for the Twins since Kenny Rogers in 2003.  The oft-injured 2008 all-star is a much-needed right-handed power source in the middle of the lineup.  When healthy, Crede has the ability to hit 25-30 homeruns.  Crede isn’t the savior that many fans have anointed him as, but he’s certainly an upgrade over the Buscher/Harris platoon.  Don’t be surprised when Crede only hits .250 with a paltry .300 OBP.  Crede’s bread and butter is his defense.  His reflexes and strong, accurate arm make him one of the better double play facilitators in baseball.

Brian Buscher* had a nice year for a player that was basically picked off the scrap heap in 2007.  He delivered several key hits and had an impressive .386 average with runners in scoring position.  Buscher struggles as a full-time player, because he has difficulty hitting left-handed pitching (9 hits in 44 at bats), but against righties, he can hold his own.  A clear platoon player, Buscher doesn’t hit for much power and is limited defensively.     

* Randomly, Brian Buscher’s uncle assessed the hail damage on my car last summer.  An obvious Buscher-booster, Mr. Uncle did not have kind words for the hefty contract given to the “big millionaire 3rd baseman,” Mike Lamb.  I thought that type of monetary vitriol was generally reserved for players like A-Roid or Latrell Sprewell, but I suppose the $6.6 million, 2-year pact was a bit Yankee-like for the hometown nine.   

Before signing Joe Crede, Buscher’s platoon partner would have been Brendan Harris.  Harris has found it difficult to stick with one organization in his five-year career, playing for a new club each season.  Harris has the ability to play third, second or shortstop but isn’t necessarily great at any of the positions.  Harris is a streaky player, but will finish a season with over 30 doubles and double-digit homeruns given regular playing time. 

Mike Redmond has been the perfect compliment to Joe Mauer since 2005.  A team leader and advocate for naked batting practiceRedmond consistently hovers near the .300 average line.  Defensively, Redmond has a strong arm and calls a good game.  He also has a strange tendency to get the absolute crap beaten out of him behind the plate, most memorably a Jim Thome bat to the head in 2007.   

Jose Morales beat out defensive wiz, Drew Butera for the backup catching role while Joe Mauer nurses a tender back.  Morales is a bit of a liability defensively and will be stolen upon with frequency by teams with speed (the Rays had 5 on Wednesday).  Offensively, Morales is the proud owner of a career 1.000 batting average.*  After his 3rd consecutive hit in a September 8, 2007 game, Morales shredded his ankle running the bases.  It’s a great story to see him get another chance and he’ll hit for a solid average with an occasional double.      

*Speaking of Twins debuts, one of my favorites (and saddest) will always be that of third baseman Glenn Williams.  A heralded prospect out of Australia, Williams was a huge disappointment in the minors before finally getting a shot in 2005 as an 11-year minor league veteran.  Williams started off his career by hitting safely in all 13 games he played in before suffering a shoulder injury diving back to first.  Williams could hardly be consoled in the locker room as I’m sure he probably knew his only chance was finished.  He retired this past year and boasts the highest career batting average of any player with at least 30 at bats.   

No comments: