Dugout Splinters: Minnesota Twins

The following appears in GameDay magazine's Dugout Splinters insert for the Minnesota Twins, for this week's series with the Texas Rangers.

Help Wanted

 

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Wait…was that The Wrath of Khan?

Injuries and unexpected performances are a part of baseball, and the Twins are certainly no exception to the rule.  Additionally, it’s not as though they’ve been to minor players:  Michael Cuddyer, Kevin Slowey, Adam Everett, Scott Baker, Nick Punto, Pat Neshek and Matt Tolbert.  That’s a lot of middle infielders, and the Twins were fortunate to have as many off-days as they did with the injuries to a pair of starters.  It’s frustrating because the division is beating itself up a bit, so playing .500 ball has kept the Twins at, or near, the top of the AL Central.

Once again, career back-ups and unproven minor leaguers are being asked to step up and fill in the gaps.  Alexi Casilla, the 23-year old speedster, was brought up to replace Punto.  When Tolbert went down, 34-year old journeyman Howie Clark was brought up.  With former Astros Mike Lamb and Adam Everett unable to take advantage of their playing time, and with Brendan Harris not hitting as the Twins had hoped, it’s easy for both Casilla and Clark to look at their callups as an opportunity to impress rather than a necessary evil.

Clark, drafted in ’92 by Baltimore, saw his major league debut 10 years later and has bounced between Toronto and the Orioles since.  With his third franchise, he made his debut with the Twins Sunday, but there aren’t any delusions about what he can or can’t bring to the club.  So, even if he plays well, he’s likely back to Rochester when Punto or Tolbert return.

Casilla, while likely in line for the same fate as Clark when Punto returns, is a player on another path.  Lightning quick but frustratingly raw, the organization still views Alexi as part of the infield’s future.  If he plays well, he’ll still be optioned back to Rochester, but he’ll have made it an easy decision for the team when they decide to make a change later in the summer.  This season in Rochester he’s in many ways the same player he’s always been:  fast but undisciplined on the bases, makes some mental mistakes in the field, complicated by basic mechanical problems (chicken and the egg, anyone?), zero power.  The main difference, and it’s a big one, is that he’s drawing significantly more walks.  As a result, his batting average was a paltry .219, but his on-base percentage was a respectable .350.  He hasn’t seen much time, and you can count his plate appearances with the Twins on one hand this season, but he’s extraordinarily exciting to watch.  And if this spike in his walk rate is an indication of better plate discipline or pitch recognition, that’s very good news for the Twins.

Unfortunately, infield replacements aren’t the only place that the Twins are looking to for more help.  A handful of position players pegged as regulars have had an achingly difficult time contributing offensively.  Of all the offenders, Delmon Young is Suspect #1.

Young doubled and tripled in the final game against the Rockies on Sunday, and although he’s on a bit of a hot streak (.326/.367/.391 since April 22), it’s important to remember that it’s all relative.  There’s still a baffling lack of power in his game, which is something that he hasn’t legitimately flashed as part of his repertoire since he was in double-A in 2005.  What’s more problematic are the trends we’re seeing this season, as he hasn’t been making consistent, solid contact.  Coming into the series with the Rangers, just under 16% of his balls in play have been line-drives (league average is around 20%).  Additionally, more than 60% of his balls in play are ground balls; ground balls are easily converted into outs.

In the big picture, there’s not reason to fret over Delmon yet.  This team is on a path to 2010, and Young’s successes (or lack thereof) need to be analyzed in terms of The Big Picture.  He’s only 22, and is still developing.  Still, he’s struggled this year, so here’s to hoping he can keep putting it together and can add power to this little hot streak he’s been on.

Mike Lamb and Cuddyer, unlike Young, are established and veteran performers.  Lamb was brought in to give the Twins a boost offensively from the hot corner, and is struggling to do so.  Cuddyer, who had been hot coming off the disabled list, has been equally as cold over the last few games.  Between them they’ve combined for 11 doubles, a triple (courtesy of Cuddyer on Sunday afternoon) and only a solitary home run.  Finally, Jason Kubel has had another disappointing start to the season after his torrid finish to ’07.  He’s had the power (5 doubles, 4 home runs), but no plate discipline and has been making poor contact on the whole.

Baseball has a sense of balance, but the Twins have been unlucky and unfortunate offensively so far this year.  Hopefully balance can be restored sooner, rather than later.

ON THE HILL  

Monday: Boof Bonser (2-5, 5.37 ERA)

¨        2008:  52 IP, 55 H, 33 K, 15 BB, 5 HR

¨        He’s had a rough 3 starts in May, but they’ve all had just one bad inning each.  Avoiding the proverbial “big inning” would be good.

¨        His tight curve has always been his money pitch, but the slider’s been bearing its teeth a bit more recently.  Just having it as a decent show pitch can make everything else much more effective.

Tuesday: Glen Perkins (0-1, 3.75 ERA)

¨        2008: 12 IP, 14 H, 9 K, 2 BB, 3 HR

¨        Perkins has made two quality starts in as many appearances, and is looking for a permanent role in the starting rotation.

¨        Fastball in the low-to-mid 90’s, a good changeup (low-80’s) and, according to some scouting reports, two kinds of breaking balls (73-78 mph).  You could call them both curveballs; one breaks sharply, the other one loops in a bit slower.

¨        For the most part, Perkins has been a fly-ball pitcher in his tenure with the Twins.  Fortunately, even though he’s allowed three home runs in just 12 innings, he also has excellent control.  As he continues to garner experience, a combination of stuff and control should limit how many bombs this fly-ball pitcher allows.

Wednesday:  Nick Blackburn (4-2, 3.77 ERA)

 

¨        2008: 57.1 IP, 68 H, 30 K, 10 BB, 2 HR

¨        Blackburn doesn’t strike a lot of guys out, and isn’t necessarily a ground-ball pitcher, so he relys a lot on his defense to convert balls in play into outs.

¨        From the stretch, Blackburn can be slow to the plate.  Watch to see how aggressive Texas is on the bases.

¨        Standard arsenal:  fastball, change, curve, slider.  The fastball isn’t overwhelming, but looks faster than it is due to very effective off-speed stuff.

Thursday:  Livan Hernandez (6-2, 3.88 ERA)

¨        2008: 65 IP, 80 H, 21 K, 11 BB, 9 HR

¨        Fielding-independent stats indicate he’s pitching over his head, but that’s common for profiles like Livan when they succeed.

¨       Hernandez survives on horizontal movement, location and a 55 mph curveball.

 

 

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