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Looking for Answers, Part I

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Upgrading the overall performance of the 25-man roster may be the way to go for the Twins.  As Terry Ryan refuses to look for help externally, Minnesota is left to look to the farm for improvements.

While Tuesday night's masacre was certainly disappointing, our reactions to the performances on the field can't keep us from maintaining a clear view of the larger picture.  With that in mind, Ramon Ortiz has turned in three consecutive sub-par performances, and there should be no doubt as to what the next three weeks will mean to his future with the Twins.

Garrett Jones, Minnesota's first fresh-faced callup in 2007, collected his first major league hit in the 15-7 loss.  Last week I asked if Jones deserved a shot, and while there are a number of takes on the move running the gamut from toeing the company line to blatant (and justified) pessimism, it looks like Twins management believe he's earned his chance.  More surprising than the hit was the walk Jones collected, as the rookie went 1-for-3 with a run in his major league debut.

While the Twins prepare to give the strikeout prone left-hander his opportunity, there are a couple of more established players who continue to struggle, providing little if any help to the major league club.

The Replaceable Parts

Luis Rodriguez
AB   H   XBH   SB    Avg    Obp    Slg

48  10    2     0   .208   .283   .292

Positives:  Versatility, reliable glove work

Rodriguez is a fine utility player.  He can alternate between second and third, and in a pinch probably shortstop, and on any team this is a valuable asset.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of offensive depth on the club currently, he's one of Gardenhire's primary pinch-hitting options and has played in roughly half of Minnesota's games.  As the primary defensive substitute on the left-hand side of the infield, his role is secure.  As a spot starter who will often collect multiple at-bats per game, it's been a painful start.

Nick Punto
 AB   H   XBH   SB    Avg    Obp    Slg

124  28    7     2   .222   .315   .294

Positives:  Versatility, heart, 2006

I want to believe in Nick Punto and his Popeye forearms, I do.  Unfortunately he's looking more and more like his .257/.323/.338 career self and less and less like his .290/.352/.373 2006 incarnation every day.  He's just as quick as Rodriguez but for pure speed is much faster, and being able to play the exact same positions as Rodriguez (and then some) could make him the perfect utility man for any team in the league.  His history gives him a passing grade for spot starts and extended stays at defensive-minded positions like second base or shortstop, but the longer he's penciled into the starting lineup the more that same history says he'll be the feather-hitting middle infielder.

Left Field
 AB   H   XBH   SB    Avg    Obp    Slg

137  30    6     0   .219   .265   .263

Positives:  Kubel's promise

This is how Minnesota's left fielders performed (as left fielders) coming into Tuesday night's game.  Suffice it to say, even Jason Kubel's first homer of the spring isn't going to save this line.  If he's able to turn into some semblance of the hitter he was projected to be then things will start to look up, but until that time this offensive black whole has remained vacant since Shannon Stewart's .827 OPS graced his 2004 campaign.  Should Kubel's year regress and fizzle in spite of regular starts and at-bats, the Twins third-best hitting prospect to breach the majors this century might be best suited for the bench.

Internal Candidates for Promotion

2007 Statistics, Position Players
Name      Age   Pos    AB    Avg    Obp    Slg

Tolbert    25    SS    91   .396   .467   .604
Morales    25     C   102   .324   .378   .441
Oeltjen    24    OF    65   .308   .357   .431
Watkins    26    3B   101   .287   .387   .436
Moses      22    3B   104   .250   .262   .356
Span       23    OF   131   .244   .303   .328
Casilla    22    SS    58   .241   .318   .328

This list consists of a couple of star performers along with a few long-touted prospects.  As far as Moses, Span and Casilla are concerned, all three are better suited to remain in Rochester.  Whether it's for defensive or offensive purposes, or just to gain experience and get every day at-bats, all three will be better in the long run by putting in their time with the Red Wings.  In addition, Morales needs to remain as well.  Even though he's having an amazing spring up to this point, his past has been haunted by injuries and functionally he will probably need the experience more than anyone on this list.

This leaves middle infielder Matt Tolbert, outfielder Trent Oeltjen and third baseman Tommy Watkins as the best options to be brought up.  Just like Garrett Jones, neither of them are sure-shot candidates to make a positive impact, but also like Garrett Jones they'd be hard pressed to do much worse in their respective roles.

Watkins has been in the Twins farm system since being selected in the 38th round of the 1998 amateur draft.  He's never been the hitter he is this season, but at 26 (again, like Jones) is at the age where he should be logging success at the dish if he has any offensive prowess at all.  He's less likely to strike out than to simply ground out, carries average speed and totes the power typical of a middle infielder.

Oeltjen signed with the Twins in 2001 as an undrafted free agent, and has been on most Twins gurus prospect lists since he put up decent numbers in 2003 with Quad City.  Like Watkins there isn't much power, and he's putting up a career high with his current .788 OPS.  Between 2003 and 2006 he stole 98 bases.

Finally, there's Matt Tolbert.  He recently received high praise from Seth, who thinks that Tolbet projects as a starter, not a backup.  With the exception of high-A ball in 2005 he has a nearly 1-to-1 walk to strikeout ratio.  It's becoming a trait of the people listed up and down this post, but there isn't power to speak of, although Tolbert's speed could aid him in racking up doubles and triples.  Registering six errors already this spring his defensive prospects aren't presently of the highest calibre.

2007 Statistics, Pitchers
Name      Age     IP   ERA   K   BB   WHIP

Baker      25   42.2  3.16  41    4   0.89
Slowey     23   41.2  1.51  38    2   0.62
Garza      23   36.0  3.75  41   15   1.53

If the Twins still plan on stretching out Perkins before starting him now that Ponson is out, they won't have much in the minors to choose from should they be looking for another southpaw.  All three of the primary subjects are right-handed hurlers.  Each of them have their individual strengths, but as things sit only one will be called up.  Should the Twins decide they want to keep Perkins in the bullpen, one of these men will be bumped up to that final echelon in the immediate future.  Another could be called up if Ramon Ortiz continues to stumble over his next handful of appearances.

Scott Baker has made appearances with the Twins in both '05 and '06.  While he maintained decent walk rates, his pitches often missed their spots and lacked movement.  So far in Rochester however, he's owned the opposition to the tune of only four free passes.  His experience and name recognition have made him popular trade fodder in the blogosphere.

Kevin Slowey has been kicking asses and taking names, posting a miniscule WHIP and a very flattering ERA.  In addition he's walked all of two hitters, and has currently done everything he needs to do to be the next shiney prospective arm showed off by the Minnesota Twins, courtesy of the Minnesota Pitching Factory.

Last and not least is Matt Garza, who has suffered one miserable outing and a stiff neck.  He continues to be a strikeout machine but walks significantly more hitters than the other two, but is able to absorb them thanks to better "stuff" and pitches with more life.

Conclusions

There isn't an easy answer for filling holes and finding depth.  Every season there is speculation and debate as to who and how help needs to be applied, and this summer will be no different.  Minnesota lacks power, depth and reliable starting pitching, and only the latter could have a rockstar answer to the dilemma.  As for the rest you're rolling the dice, but you're also in the unique position where rolling the dice probably isn't going to put you into any worse of a situation.

Picking a position player I'd go with Tolbert over Luis Rodriguez as a utility backup.  Ideally I'd call up Watkins or Moses to take over at third base and move Punto into the utility role, but Moses isn't ready yet and Watkins won't be able to help as a starter.  Additionally, Tolbert has been on fire this spring and the Twins might be able to capitalize on a hot streak.

With the pitchers my hand is tipped toward Slowey for the same reason as Tolbert:  he's HOT.  Garza would be my pick for a long-term answer but he's struggled the most of the three, and one way or another he'll make the club at some point over the summer regardless.  Scott Baker deserves another shot as well, it's just unfortunate for him that Slowey has been lights out.

I'm no genius; my question on Garrett Jones last week was more about timing and simply asking the question than it was me "calling it".  As we wrap up a look through other internal candidates, are there any who could (at the very least) thicken up the bench?  Perhaps the Twins are in a place where, lucky them, trying to strike gold with an aging prosect having a good season isn't a bad idea.

[EDIT: Be sure to check out Jon talking to himself below. Normally you keep that kind of thing to yourself, but you'll be glad he didn't.]