The Position Players
After any number of swings (and misses?) and roundabouts, the Twins finally have their starting outfield in place. Josh Willingham, Aaron Hicks, and Oswaldo Arcia are all healthy and playing together for the first time since the opening days of the year, which is nice. It's far better to see the names "Willingham" and "Arcia" penciled into the middle of a batting order than it is "Suzuki" and "Nunez."
The decision to bring both players up simultaneously was no doubt driven by the lack of offense. Leading into yesterday's (admittedly just as bad) two-run performance, the team had averaged one run per game over their last four contests, and the outlook was grim: Joe Mauer has been okay but hasn't been hitting like Joe Mauer; Chris Colabello was in a nosedive; Chris Parmelee wasn't much better; Trevor Plouffe had cooled significantly since the start of the season; Kurt Suzuki was in a funk; Jason Kubel hasn't broken out. Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar couldn't score runs on their own.
And so the Twins recalled their starting corner outfielders. Willingham had played eight games for Rochester, but looked lost by going just 5-for-27 (.185), with a .241 on-base percentage and a .370 slugging percentage, eight strikeouts, and just one walk. Arcia, at least, was raking: .312/.365/.597 through 22 games and 85 plate appearances, including five homers.
The Twins sent down Chris Herrmann, who played twice in his most recent return to Minnesota, and Chris Colabello, who was hitless in his last eight games and had put together a .110/.167/.164 triple slash over his last 20 games overall. Herrmann is the quintessential Quadruple-A player; ready as a player can be, he can field multiple positions adequately and isn't a terrible short-term stop-gap option, but isn't a player who should be given a couple hundred Major League plate appearances. Colabello, meanwhile, needs to play every day in Triple-A with the aim of adjusting his game. If he's going to have any kind of big league career, he needs to find out how pitchers are picking him apart, and then see if he can adapt.
If there is good news, and there is some, it's that Josmil Pinto and Kurt Suzuki have helped give the Twins the seventh-best hitting catchers in baseball as a team. At least, that's according to wOBA (.351) and wRC+ (123). By fWAR, the Twins are ninth with a solid 1.3 wins above replacement recorded so far.
Similarly, Aaron Hicks' two-hit game last night means he's hitting .300 with a .417 on-base percentage since his "call to Gardy" meeting. Hicks may not have much confidence at the moment, and he may now be hitting right-handed only, but on the season he's posted a .408 on-base percentage versus left-handed pitchers. If he sees the ball better from that side, and he does, then we should start seeing some better results versus right-handed pitchers over the long term, too. It's very, very easy to give up on Hicks, but there are a couple of things working in his favor right now.
Finally: how long can Danny Santana hold his own? He's now 34 plate appearances into his Major League career, and he's doing exceptionally well so far. Not only is he collecting hits like they're going out of style (.355/.412/.452), but he's done plenty of that while playing out of position. Colabello's last good game gave him 83 plate appearances before it all went in the tank. How will Danny adjust once pitchers have a better look at him?
Phil Hughes and Sam Deduno have held their own as starters, and Kyle Gibson has been up and down. But the trio of Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey have been terrible so far. Four of Correia's ten starts have yielded good or acceptable results, while the other six have swung between kind of ugly and straight up horrendous.
The performances of Alex Meyer (3.55 ERA in 9 starts) and Trevor May (3.00 ERA in 9 starts) continue to make the situation with starting pitchers in Minnesota quite tenuous. Nolasco's performance is likely something that the team will need to ride out, but Correia's job shouldn't be safe. Sooner or later, the Twins will get to a point where they'll need to admit that even a rookie without any Major League experience can give you the same value as has the 12-year veteran.
Pelfrey, meanwhile, has allowed just one run in ten innings at Triple-A. If just one job opens at the Major League level, does Pelfrey get the call instead of the future arms of the franchise?
In the bullpen, Glen Perkins, Case Fien, and Brian Duensing have all been very good. I'll give credit to the Twins there, since over the winter I was advocating giving Duensing's spot to Caleb Thielbar. Thielbar has been roughed up in his last four appearances, allowing a total of six runs in five innings. The strikeouts are there, but the few hits that he's allowed have been killers.
Jared Burton had been doing better, lowering his ERA from 9.00 on May 1 to 5.12 through play on Saturday. But yesterday he was lit up again for three runs. Matt Guerrier hasn't struck out a batter yet. Anthony Swarzak has regressed to his 2012 form, where hits and walks remove his ability to be a truly effective bullpen option.
The biggest issue facing the Twins for the rest of the season is: where will the help come from? While swapping out a rotation arm and a bullpen arm or two might allow the Twins to throw a couple of options at the wall to see what sticks, the only pitchers the team can turn to in terms of legitimate Major League upside are Meyer and May. From the position player side, could the Twins give a late-season opportunity to the slugging Kennys Vargas? Because looking up and down the 40-man roster, there aren't any other options for offense.
Minnesota can only look to their current crop of players on the 25-man roster if they're going to continue to play near .500 ball for the remainder of the season. It means that, first and foremost, Ricky Nolasco needs to be better. Next on the list are guys like Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia, who need to at least be some semblance of a threat in the middle of the lineup. It's a fool's hope to wish that guys like Escobar and Suzuki and Pinto can continue to provide consistent boosts in the bottom half of the order; we've already seen small sample sizes implode, and we should be expecting the same from our current crop of over-achievers.
This has been a somewhat meandering post after a weekend away, and hopefully serves up some food for thought as we continue to prepare for the draft in a couple of weeks. We'll see you back here later today for our scouting report on Aaron Nola.