Today I will begin my review of the organization, beginning with the Rochester Red Wings. I will review New Britain next week. I will return with Ft. Myers on November 5th after a two week vacation.
Seven Twins players began play in this year's Arizona Fall League on Tuesday. Cole DeVries, Brett Jacobson, Bruce Pugh, Dakota Watts, Chris Herrmann, Brian Dozier and Aaron Hicks are all with the Mesa Solar Sox. DeVries was their opening day starter, allowing five hits and three runs in 2.2 innings of a 12-8 loss to Phoenix. Dakota Watts gave up five runs in 0.2 innings of relief. They lost again to Phoenix the next day, 10-4, with Bruce Pugh allowing four runs in 1.1 innings. They lost a one run game, 8-7, to Surprise on Thursday with Billy Bullock picking up the save. Brett Jacobson, who allowed three runs in 1.2 innings, was charged with the loss. Mesa lost their fourth straight yesterday to Salt River, 4-3. Dakota Watts was solid in his second outing of the fall, pitching 2.0 innings with two hits and an unearned run.
Chris Herrmann has been the Solar Sox catcher in two of their four games. Herrman is 3-6 with a pair of doubles, two walks and a run driven in. Aaron Hicks was in center field in three games. He is hitless in thirteen at bats with one walk and a run scored. Brian Dozier has hit well at every stop of his professional career and the AFL doesn't appear to be an exception. In three games, Dozier is 6-13 with a double, home run, walk, three runs scored and three runs driven in.
My season review of Rochester follows the jump.
The Red Wings finished in last place at 53-91, becomming the first Red Wings team to finish with over 90 losses in consecutive seasons since the Red Wings of 1903-1904. The worst team in over a hundred years had to be ugly for the Red Wings fans. With another disastrous season behind them, the big news out of Rochester is that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees will play 37 of their games in Rochester this year. The Yankees' ballpark is being renovated and they will play roughly half their home games in Rochester's Frontier Field. With the Wings playing the Yankees 'on the road' four times at Frontier Field in April, they will spend nearly all of April in Rochester's cold spring weather.
Last winter the Twins made the decision to sign more six year minor league free-agents. This was done for two reasons. First, the veterans should have strengthened the Red Wings roster, making them more competitive in 2011. Second, it enabled the Twins to leave several of their top prospects, including Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee, and Liam Hendriks, at New Britain so they wouldn't be pushed up to AAA before they were ready.
When the Red Wings broke camp, nearly half of their roster were players new to the organization, including pitchers Andrew Baldwin, Eric Hacker, Chuck James, Phil Dumatrait and Yorman Bazardo. Both catchers, Rene Rivera and Steve Holm, were new as were Matt Brown, Chase Lambin and Jeff Bailey. Also on the opening day roster were top prospects Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Rene Tosoni, Kyle Gibson, Carlos Gutierrez and Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond. Returning players included Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Waldrop, Luke Hughes, Anthony Slama, Dustin Martin, Toby Gardenhire, Brandon Roberts and Ryan Mullins.
Hacker led the PCL in wins in 2010, Gibson was the Twins top prospect and Swarzak had some success with the Twins. With this trio leading the way, the Wings were excited about the 2011 season as they headed to the ballpark in Pawtuckett on April 7th. Before arriving however, they learned that Luke Hughes was needed by the Twins and was sent to the airport. That phone call was a hint at what Tom Nieto would be dealing with all summer as fifty-six different players wore a Red Wings jersey for at least one game during the season.
When you lose over ninety of one hundred forty-four games, you can't place all the blame on any single reason. But when your most experienced starter (Swarzak), your top reliever (Dumatrait), four of your top young players (Plouffe, Revere, Hughes and Tosoni) and your starting catcher (Rivera) all spend more time with the Twins than the Red Wings, it's going to be a long season. Add the Twins determination to keep their top prospects at New Britain in New Britain and the Red Wings never had a chance as the losses continued throughout the summer.
It is interesting that Tom Nieto was fired shortly after the season ended. He wasn't the warmest, most friendly guy when dealing with local media and fans but much of the team's problems were beyond his control. A valid complaint that has surfaced is that young players weren't fundamentaly solid when joining the Twins. But shouldn't they have developed sound fundamentals before arriving in Rochester? It is more likely that the Twins felt they needed to do something as they try to earn another contract extension with the Red Wings next summer and that began with a change in the teams leadership.
Of the ten minor league free agents who joined the Wings this spring, only relievers Chuck James and Phil Dumatrait performed as expected. Although he wasn't great in his brief stay with the Twins, James was excellent with the Wings with a 2.30 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 62.2 innings. Dumatrait had a 1.15 ERA, but lasted only 15.2 innings before joining the Twins. Eric Hacker, who had led the PCL with sixteen wins in 2010, saw his ERA balloon to 6.10 in twenty-five starts, losing 14 of 21 decisions. Andrew Baldwin also had a 5.51 ERA in a team high 143.2 innings with a 7-13 record. After a solid year as a spot starter/long reliever in the PCL and excellent winter in Venezuela, Yorman Bazardo was released after making only three starts with a 4.71 ERA.
Jeff Bailey, who had been the International League's MVP in 2008, hit only .239 with seven home runs prior to the all-star break. Matt Brown hit only .225 average before leaving the team on June 1st. Steve Holm hit a disappointing .179 average in 151 at bats. Two of the veteran minor leaguers who played well were Rene Rivera, who hit for a .268 average, and Chase Lambin who hit a respectable .274 average and .728 OPS in 471 at bats. Another minor league free agent who began his season in New Britain was Ray Chang. Chang moved up to the Wings in May when he hit .322 average in 87 at bats before breaking his leg and missing most of the season. Michael Holliman, who spent most of his season in New Britain, hit .257 average in 101 at bats with the Red Wings. Holliman recently resigned and looks to compete for an infield position in 2012. A pleasant surprise was Aaron Bates, who was signed early in the season and went on to be one of the best hitters in the league. Bates hit for the leagues third best average (.316) with a .847 OPS in 358 at bats. Was the decision to add so many veteran free agents the right decision? Probably, although it would have worked better if Hacker, Baldwin, Bazardo, Bailey, Brown and Holm had been anything like the players they were in 2010.
Anthony Swarzak was solid in six starts, joining the Twins with a 2-1 record and 3.90 ERA for the Wings. Kyle Gibson, who was on a fast track to Minnesota, had a 3.60 ERA in April and May. His biggest negative was that he struggled when asked to pitch beyond five innings. Perhaps that was a hint of what was to come as he was shut down in late July and would eventually undergo Tommy John surgery. Perhaps the most solid starter for the entire season was Scott Diamond. The Twins selected Diamond from the Braves in last winter's Rule 5 draft, then traded reliever Billy Bullock to the Braves so that they could send him down to Rochester. Diamond was solid in a majority of his starts, however, several ugly outings caused him to have a less than impressive 4-14 record with a 5.56 ERA in twenty-three starts (123.0 innings). A hopeful sign for 2012 is that Diamond pitched better with the Twins in September than he had in Rochester.
Two pitchers who should have helped were Jeff Manship and Anthony Slama, however, both spent much of their seasons on the disabled list with Manship pitching only 25.0 innings and Slama 37.0 innings. Kyle Waldrop turned his season around after the all-star break. Waldrop, who finished with a 5-5 record and 3.87 ERA, had a 2.17 ERA in 29.0 innings after the break. Former top pick Carlos Gutierrez was the mirror immage of Waldrop, pitching well with a 3.88 ERA in 48.2 innings before the break then struggling with a 7.24 ERA in 13.2 innings after the break before going on the disabled list.
Other pitchers who spent much of the season in Rochester included Cole DeVries, who joined the Wings after being the organization's Player of the Month in April with the Rock Cats. DeVries was solid with a 4-2 record and 3.90 ERA in 62.1 innings. Dusty Hughes pitched reasonably well after being sent down from the Twins in late May. Hughes had a 3-1 record with a 4.29 ERA in forty-three games. Jim Hoey also spent much of his season in Rochester, putting up a 3.83 ERA in 42.1 innings with 38 strikeouts and 21 walks. Ryan Mullins wasn't able to recover from his season ending injury in 2010 and was released in June.
Perhaps the brightest spot for the Red Wings staff was the late season performance of Liam Hendriks. He was 4-4 with a 4.56 ERA after joining the Wings after appearing in the Future's Game. Excluding two outings shortly after his promotion, Hendriks allowed only twelve earned runs in seven starts (42.1 innings) while allowing only three walks with the Wings. Although he will likely return to Rochester next spring, Hendriks certainly looks like a pitcher in the mold of Brad Radke, a pitcher who just may be able to lead the Twins staff for many years.
Although their pitching was the worst in the league with a staff ERA of 4.76, the Wings season would have been better had four of their best players spent most of their seasons in Rochester. Trevor Plouffe hit for a .313 average with a 1.019 OPS in 192 at bats with a team best fifteen home runs. Ben Revere hit .303 average with eight stolen bases in only 132 at bats. Luke Hughes and Rene Tosoni both enjoyed some success while with the Twins. They weren't as successful in Rochester, however, as they moved between Rochester and Minneapolis several times. Tosoni hit for only a .226 average in 274 at bats with Hughes hitting .231 average in 117 at bats.
The top returning Wings player was Dustin Martin. Martin hit for a .265 average and .772 OPS while tying Plouffe and Bailey for the team home run lead at fifteen and leading the team with 69 runs driven in. Brandon Roberts, who was again injured much of the season, hit .267 average in 255 at bats. Toby Gardenhire was solid as a utility player, hitting .247 average in 332 at bats. Although he seemed to be on base in nearly every at bat with the Twins in September, Brian Dinkelman hit for only a .243 average and .316 on base percentage in 469 at bats with the Wings. Dinkelman is on the 40-man roster, however, the other three will all be six year minor league free agents.
Roster chaos, disappointing performances by several minor league free agents and injuries to several key players can be blamed for another terrible season. Yes, there was a lot of turmoil with their roster, but three of their opening day starters spent their entire season in Rochester, Eric Hacker, Scott Diamond and Andrew Baldwin. Collectively, they started 72 games with a combined record of 18-41 and ERA's of 6.10, 5.56 and 5.51, respectively. Others brought in to help included Deinys Suarez, 0-3 with a 6.48 ERA in five starts and Tom Diamond, 0-4 with a 8.25 ERA in five starts. As a former Twins manager once said, "You are only as good as your next days starter." Unfortunately, the starting staff in Rochester didn't get it done and it wasn't because of injuries in Rochester or Minnesota.
With the future of their relationship with Rochester at risk, the Twins cannot have another ninety loss season. Fortunately, several young players who gained valuable exerience with the Twins these past few months should be the foundation of what could be a very good team. The starting staff should be led by Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond. They could have a couple starters move up from New Britain, however, the Twins will again need to go outside of the organization to bring in at least two veteran starters. For Rochester to have a good 2012 season, their scouts will need to do a better job of identifying and signing free agents than they did last winter.
Their lineup should feature Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee and Rene Tosoni. Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe are out of options, but Brian Dozier and Yangervis Solarte should be capable replacements. Steve Holm has elected free-agency, however, Jair Fernandez and Danny Lehmann should form a solid catching duo. Add a few of this year's returning regulars and the 2012 Red Wings should be significantly better than the last two teams. They had better be or the Twins may be looking for another home for their AAA team in 2013.