Dugout Splinters: Minnesota Twins

The following appears in this weekend's Dugout Splinters insert, part of the June edition of GameDay magazine.

Who’s On Third?

When the Twins brought in Mike Lamb over the off-season, his two-year contract said exactly what fans who study the home team’s farm system have been thinking for years:  there’s nobody ready to play third base, everyday, at a decent level, in the upper echelons of the minor leagues.  Approaching the halfway juncture of the campaign, Lamb’s had a difficult time transitioning into a full-time role.  As a result, the Twins are experimenting with a new platoon.

Matt Macri and Brian Buscher’s minor league numbers won’t blow anyone away, but they’ve been consistent on the offensive side of the ball, and while neither of them are Gold Glove defenders they’re more than serviceable.  Buscher’s made four starts and has gone 7-for-16 since his recall, in addition to making a couple of slick looking plays at the hot corner.  Macri, on the other hand, is getting playing time less consistently but has reached base in eight consecutive games in which he’s received a plate appearance.  While it’s not an ideal long-term situation, the Twins have done worse in recent years.

While the organization insists that Lamb will still get his time (they’ve invested too much money in his space on the roster to just let him loose), there’s a very legitimate possibility that if his performance isn’t approaching expectations by the end of the summer, the Twins may continue searching for an in-house replacement at third base and simply filling that spot in the lineup with the hot bat.  As it stands, Lamb hasn’t played since June 14th, and is 1-for-27 on the month.

For those of us interested in what’s in the pipe line, there are a few minor league third basemen you’ll want to keep your eyes on:  Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia and Deibinson “DJ” Romero.  The way Hughes has been tearing the cover off the ball in double-A (.335/.407/.618), it’s likely he’ll be getting a promotion to Rochester sooner rather than later.  Who knows?  We may see the Australian get a cup of coffee come September.

The Bullpen’s Back End

 

With the injury to Pat Neshek and recent axe brought down on Juan Rincon, the Minnesota relief corps is going through what should be known as The Yearly Shuffle.  ’06 saw the establishment of Jesse Crain, the emergence of Neshek and the revamped Dennys Reyes.  ’07 saw the legitimization of Neshek and maturation of Matt Guerrier.  This season is about to witness an increased reliance on both Guerrier (at one time the long-relief guy) and Crain (still working his way back to form after the injury and time off).  Those two and Joe Nathan make up the strong end of the bullpen bench.

 

On the other side of the bullpen pine sit four more arms.  Reyes the LOOGY, Craig Breslow the new guy, and then there are the four B’s:  Brian Bass and Boof Bonser.  These are the two men fighting for a single role, and unfortunately it’s called “mop up duty”.  June hasn’t been horrible to Bass, but it hasn’t been kind.  For Bonser, it’s been a maddening season, as even in relief he hasn’t been effective.  He’s allowed a run in five of his six relief appearances.

 

If the starters could go a full seven innings more often, and the Twins could get by on three relievers, a LOOGY and a closer, then we’d have less to worry about.  Unfortunately, in today’s game, that’s not plausible.  All six (or in our case, seven) of a team’s relief corps are needed to get through the season, and at some point a less effective relief pitcher will be used in a high-leverage situation.  You want to stay out of those situations.

 

It’s still baseball, which means it’s a situation that could work itself out.  But as it stands a team that wants to contend will wear its bullpen thin over the course of the seasons when it has a pair of unreliable relievers.  If one of the two don’t manage to find their groove soon, don’t be surprised if the Twins decide to make a move.  While Bass is out of options, some believe Bonser could pass through waivers and be assigned to triple-A.  Stay tuned…

Offense Rising

 

The Twins have established themselves as one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses, to the surprise of many.  It’s been a steady improvement across the board, not just in scoring runs but in those categories that most directly correlate with how many runs you score:  on-base percentage and slugging percentage:

Month

AB

XBH

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

April

871

58

55

160

.258

.302

.361

May

1011

77

106

181

.273

.341

.399

June

587

52

41

102

.278

.324

.417

As you can see, since May the Twins have been a far more effective offense.  This month’s improvements have been seen in the sheer number of extra-base hits that have been recorded.  In May, it was the additional walks.  The bottom line for a team that needs to score more runs than most squads looking to contend, is that runners need to continue to be on base.  Power has been hard to come by and inconsistent, so patience and the willingness to take a walk are keys.  Minnesota has good pure hitters, but they need runs in order to take advantage of those talents.  Hopefully, with patience, the power will come.

 

 

ON THE HILL  

 

Friday:  Scott Baker  (2-2, 3.71 ERA)

 

 

¨        2008:  51.0 IP, 51 H, 42 K, 9 BB, 8 HR

¨        2007:  9-9, 4.26 ERA, 143.2 IP, 102 H, 29 BB

¨        Fastball, changeup, curveball, slider

¨        Scott has performed brilliantly since his return, even notching a quality start his last time out when he wasn’t completely in control.

¨        He isn’t allowing a lot of base runners, but hitters are making good contact and putting the ball over the fence at above average rates.  One good start at this point, however, would drop that ratio back to average.

 

Saturday:  Nick Blackburn  (5-6, 3.87 ERA)

 

¨        2008:  86.0 IP, 106 H, 46 K, 15 BB, 7 HR

¨        2007:  0-2, 7.71 ERA, 11.2 IP, 19 H, 8 K, 2 BB

¨        Fastball, changeup, curveball, slider

¨        A minor tweak and a rough outing in his first two June starts were the biggest hiccups in Nick’s season thus far, but against Cleveland in his last start he was back in form.  But that was June 11th, and he hasn’t pitched since.

¨        Blackburn’s peripherals are some of the most solid in the starting rotation.  His good season isn’t a fluke—he’s earned it.

¨        His fastball can get a little sink to it, and on some pitch charts actually comes up as a sinker.

 

Sunday:  Livan Hernandez  (7-4, 5.51 ERA)

 

¨        2008:  96.1 IP, 141 H, 29 K, 15 BB, 13 HR

¨        2007:  11-11, 4.93 ERA, 204.1 IP, 1.60 WHIP

¨        His quality start on June 17th was his first in exactly a month.  ERA on May 17th:  3.88.

¨        For success, he needs to induce ground balls.  Lots and lots of ground balls.  Especially once he gets through the order once, it’s imperative he keeps the ball on the ground—because he’s not striking anybody out.

¨        The intriguing thing about Livan—the thing that will keep teams interested in his services if the Twins decide they want to trade him—is that certain peripherals aren’t horrible:  line-drive percentages, home runs percentages, ground ball percentages…they’re all right around average.  He just gives up a lot of hits.  Sure, he’s very hittable, but he’s had some bad luck, too.

 

[Editor's note:  Please forgive the formatting.  We've different fonts all over the place here, and it's far too time-consuming to re-type the entire thing than just cut-and-paste from Word.  It's still readible...right?  Enjoy your Friday, everyone.]

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