clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Twinkie Town 2015 Q&A with Rob Antony: Part II

New, 12 comments

Following on from yesterday's discussion about the offseason and the state of the Major League club, Jesse and Rob discuss the minor league system and a number of its best players.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We're back with Part II of our visit with Twins Assistant General Manager Rob Antony. We mostly focus on the minor league system here, although we may have touched on the Superbowl at the end. If you haven't yet done so, be sure to read Part I.

Jesse Lund: I think that's a good transition point to move to the minor league system. It's baseball prospect list season, and I'm sure you've seen them. The Twins have had a lot of love from Keith Law, Baseball America, MLB's own prospect lists, Baseball Prospectus - how does it feel to have such a respected farm system?

Rob Antony: Well, we've been on the other side of it where we thought we had some pretty good players that nobody was mentioning. And I guess it's some kind of a credit to Byron Buxton that he's still considered one of the top prospects even though he battled through a lot of injuries last year. He never really got going.

JL: You have to think that if anyone could hit rewind on the season, you'd have to think that Buxton would just want to completely wipe out 2014.

RA: Oh, man. No question. And I know he felt some pressure and there were a lot of expectations and everything else, but I think this has been a great offseason for him. He feels good, he looked good when he was just in for Twins Fest. He's just excited to turn the calendar and get going on 2015.

Miguel Sano had to sit out all year after having Tommy John surgery, and he's a guy who we really believe is going to be a cornerstone us and a guy who's going to be a run producer in the middle of the lineup.

It's not just you have a couple of position players or you have a couple of pitchers - we actually have players all around the diamond that we feel good about. We talked a little bit about May and Meyer earlier, and Berrios. But we also like Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers and some other guys that we think are going to compete for a spot in the rotation and be good performers for us before long in the Major Leagues.

Then you slide down and you look at the Kohl Stewarts and Lewis Thorpes. We have a number of guys that we like there. And we have some power arms out of the bullpen, which we've been trying to address. Especially last year in the draft, we went out and drafted several pitchers that throw hard. That was a whole point of emphasis for us. Because you look at the best bullpens, guys don't just come in throwing 89, 91 anymore. You have to have those guys that can strike people out, miss bats, can overpower. As long as they have two quality pitches and the ability to throw it by guys, they have a chance to have an important role in the bullpen. We've addressed a lot of those things, and we feel like we have some depth in the bullpen, in the rotation, and around the diamond.

JL: I've noticed that, certainly in 2012, the team took quite a few arms that projected as relievers even if some of them are currently in the rotation. So that was by design - going out and targeting high-velocity relief arms?

RA: I think everybody...if you have velocity starters, they're gone in a hurry. And if you want quality arms, you can drop down and take a guy who you might not think has as much ceiling or you can do what we tried to do the last few years, and that's take velocity - even if we think that guy's going to end up in the bullpen, because he can still have an important role on the club.

I think Jesse Crain was probably the first guy that we took high in the draft. For a long time, when we were selecting early in the draft, we would draft a guy who we thought had a chance to start over a guy who was pigeon-holed as a reliever. I don't think we view it that was as much anymore. We try to look at the roles pitchers could play, and it's no different than when a team wants to address catching. No team has enough catching. But if you select a catcher who is playing first base or left field a year or two later, if he's a really good hitter that's fine, even if you didn't really address the catching part of it.

Good two-way catchers go early in the draft, and if you have a chance to grab one you do it. The same goes for velocity, because I think guys who have velocity and have a second pitch and maybe have some ceiling whether that's starting or in relief, those guys go pretty quickly, too.

JL: Can you talk about some of those relief arms in the minor league system that maybe people aren't looking at, but you have pegged - or the system has pegged - as potentially being fast movers?

RA: It probably starts with Nick Burdi, who kind of picked up where he left off in college. Aside from his very first professional appearance, where he had trouble throwing it over, he did a very good job for us last year. He's got an 89-91 mph slider, and most fastballs are 96-100 mph. So he has two quality pitches, he has the ability to strike guys out, and his command and control are good enough. He's a guy who can move quickly.

Reed, who was our fifth-rounder, was out in the Arizona Fall League. I think he's got a chance to move quickly as well because he can throw strikes, has good velocity.

JL: I'm going to make a stupid joke. Do you feel it helps that he has the athletic ability that allows him to play in the NFL?

RA: (Laughs) Yeah, that would be...

JL: (Laughs) Sorry. That wasn't even worth interjecting. Please continue.

RA: (Laughs) Another guy that people may have forgotten about is J.T. Chargois, who looked very good. He had Tommy John and was able to pitch in the instructional league late in the season, but I think he's a guy who could move rapidly as well. He hasn't pitched in the mid to upper levels much, but I think he's 24 years old and I think he could move very quickly as well.

JL: When you look at a guy like Zack Jones, he looks like a guy who could be ready relatively quickly. Do you think he has an opportunity to contribute to the 2015 team?

RA: I think he needs to improve his breaking ball. Whether it's going to be a slider or a cutter or whatever it's going to be, I think he needs to improve that secondary pitch. He's got enough velocity, but he's got to have a "put away" pitch, and when he does that he'll have a chance to move up and get here.

JL: When you look at the 40-man roster, and this is something that I noticed a few weeks ago, it's quite interesting. You look at the construction of who's going to be on the 25-man roster, and then you look at the players who would be available to be called up, and the only other position player on the 40-man roster with experience is Chris Herrmann. The other guys you look at are Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco has a few games, Miguel Sano. Was that a move the team was comfortable making - making those players, essentially, so accessible?

RA: I think when it comes to roster management and protection, you basically just try and protect the players that you don't want to lose. And if you look at a guy and you say, "You know what, I'd be very disappointed if we lost this guy - I'd be kicking myself," then you probably need to have him on the roster.

At the same time, we also took some guys off the roster, outrighted them off, and were able to retain some guys that we think can be guys that could contribute. But at the same time you're trying to overhaul your roster a little bit so that when you look up there you feel good about the guys you have there that are available. We may not have as many position players, but I think that says more about the pitching that we didn't want to lose, and we believe that if we improve our pitching we'll be a drastically improved team.

JL: I also feel like it says something about the quality of young players that you have coming up at once. There are only so many roster spots to go around. So when you look at a guy like Miguel Sano who, unfortunately, missed all of 2014 - what does his timeline look like?

RA: He's going to go into spring training, we're going to be able to take a look. He's not going to make the club out of spring training - I don't think that's realistic. You never shut anything off but I think it's awfully tough to come out of Double-A, miss an entire season, and then jump to the big leagues. We're going to get him going again, he's going to get regular at-bats, and he's going to determine his course. When we believe he's ready to go and ready to help the Major League club, we'll find a spot for him and be able to do some juggling around to get a guy like him, and his bat especially, into the lineup.

JL: When you look at his chances, is there a chance for 2015? Or is it more likely he spends the year shaking off the rust and getting back into game shape and then we see him next year?

RA: It depends on how he performs. If we see him in 2015 I would guess it'd probably be later in the season. When the rosters expand there's a chance he could be a September guy if he earns that.

JL: Are we looking at sort of the same timeline for Byron Buxton?

RA: I think he has an opportunity and a chance that if, all of a sudden he reverts back to form, he's healthy, plays every day, and performs as well up in the Double and Triple-A level, yeah I'd say he has a chance and that you could see him in 2015 as well.

JL: I just want to see him put up video game numbers again. That's what he was doing prior to 2014. It looked like somebody had set the difficulty level to "Easy" and he just marched through everyone. Personally, I've never seen anyone do it quite like that before.

RA: And it's in all facets of the game.

JL: Yeah.

RA: He was hitting for power, he was hitting for average, great on-base, he was stealing bases, he was playing tremendous defense. You rarely see the true five-tool guys, and he is a five-tool guy. He's going to have some power; I don't think he's going to be a 30-home run guy, but I do believe he's going to have power. He's going to be able to impact the game in a lot of different ways.

JL: When you read the scouting reports on Buxton, a lot of them talk not just about his maturity but about his advanced approach inside the batter's box. Was that something you were aware of when you drafted him?

RA: It's always difficult. When our scouts went and saw this guy he wasn't playing against great great competition. He's from a small town in Georgia. But just the tools he possessed. Guys like that just stand out when you go see them. But it's really hard to compare him to somebody who's tearing it up at Rice University or something. So it's a little different deal. But it's awfully tough to pass on somebody that has that kind of athletic ability and can run, throw, hit, and shows the power. It wasn't a tough decision for us to grab him when we had the second overall pick.

JL: Another guy that people like to talk about for maturity both on and off the field is Jose Berrios, or Orlando Berrios. Talk about his development - has he been something of a surprise, or how much of this did you see coming?

RA: I would say no, not a surprise. He got to Low-A ball in 2013 and he was okay - the numbers were okay, he pitched okay. But you look at it and say "He pitched okay" and he was 18-years old, that's pretty good. Then this last year, he was a man possessed. He was determined, he absolutely dominated the Florida State League, went up and pitched very well didn't really miss a beat in Double-A.

So I would say that his rapid progression may be a little bit of a surprise. But from the day we drafted him, when I saw him pitching in the GCL, he was a man among boys then. It's not a big surprise to see him performing as well as he has. He's very focused and he's on a mission: he wants to pitch in the big leagues and he wants to do it now. If it's not at the beginning of 2015 then he wants to make it sometime this year. And if it's not this year, then he wants to be ready to go and be in the rotation in '16. As long as he stays focused and stays healthy, continues to progress, there's no reason to think he's not going to be a Twin before too long.

JL: I actually look at another young pitcher, who's left-handed though, as something of a mirror for Berrios. Lewis Thorpe. Can you talk about his arm? I heard there was some concern over his elbow or his shoulder or his arm or something, I can't remember off the top of my head.

RA: Yeah, he had some elbow issues, but it wasn't a situation where they said "Oh, there's separation, it's a possible Tommy John." It's more a matter of a strain and some soreness. So by backing off and some rest, he appears to be fine. You keep your fingers crossed. Anytime you have shoulder or elbow issues you never really know until the guy gets going again. But from all reports he should be good to go and he's been having a normal offseason.

JL: When you look at Eddie Rosario's future on the team do you peg him as an outfielder or will he still be able to play some second base?

RA: I think we're going to put him at second base enough this year so that he stays comfortable there, in the event that we need him to play there. But probably with the way Brian Dozier's played, and Escobar and some other guys, we may have more of a need in the outfield than we do at second base. I think Eddie will probably play three quarters of his games in the outfield, and play enough games at second base to stay comfortable there.

JL: Alright, thank you very much. I want to get to a couple questions from the community here before I let you go. Terry Anderson asks: what potential do you see for pitchers Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers?

RA: Two guys that pound the strike zone. They both have average to slightly above average fastballs. They're two totally different bodies. Taylor Rogers is a narrow, thin guy. We're going to have to keep an eye on him on the durability to see if he's able to be a 170, 180, 190-inning guy. If he's not able to, he could be a quality guy out of the ‘pen, but we're going to give him every opportunity to be a starter.

Duffey is bigger, stronger, durable - all those types of things. He pounds the zone. I don't know if he's got any real plus-plus stuff, but he's the type of guy who could definitely be an innings-eater type guy, probably a back-end of the rotation type guy.

JL: Would his stuff play up if he was moved to the bullpen?

RA: Yeah, I think he probably would throw a little bit harder. He needs to tighten up his breaking ball a little bit, it's more of a slurve right now and it needs to be a little bit more refined. Either be a cutter or a hard slider with a little more life to it.

JL: I have a question here from Steve Adams. He's wondering about the reasoning behind signing a four-year deal for a starting pitcher this year rather than a stop gap, and then attacking a deep '15-'16 free agent starting pitcher class next winter.

RA: I think that we were very comfortable with Ervin Santana and with extending Hughes. I know that there will be free agents out there next year. We're hoping to turn the corner. Number one, these guys can help us in '15. Number two, we believe that some of the guys we've talked about are going to be able to challenge and plug in and hopefully win a start in the rotation so that we can develop our own guy

And hopefully Alex Meyer is a guy that, six/seven years from now, people are saying "Glad the Twins signed him long-term" or whatever, and he becomes one of those guys. Before these guys became who they are, they were young, they took their lumps a little bit, but they developed and became the quality pitchers that they are today.

JL: I know that some scouts believe that Meyer could transition to being a shut-down bullpen arm. Do the Twins still believe that he has the potential to be a borderline number one starting pitcher?

RA: Yeah, I believe that he could be a front-line starter. The velocity holds up throughout the game. He's got a very, very good breaking ball that's a strikeout pitch, and the changeup is ever-improving. So with three pitches, if he is able physically to handle the workload of a starter, which is probably the biggest question mark just because he hasn't done it yet, but if he is then I don't see any reason why he can't start.

And I guess the basement to his potential is that he could be a back-end of the bullpen, closer-type guy.

JL: Is Alex Meyer's efficiency down to mechanics, and sort of the results of having more pitches outside the strike zone and then needing more pitches to get through fewer innings?

RA: He's one of those guys that's not dissimilar from a guy like Verlander or Scherzer. Whenever you have strikeout-type guys, sometimes they go deeper into the count in an attempt to strike guys out rather than having the quick one/two pitch at-bats. So sometimes the pitch count can get up there which leads to shorter outings, but I think that he can find that happy medium where he can throw quality pitches, have good stuff, and still not be at 100 pitches in the fifth inning.

JL: I have someone who wants to ask about Mitch Garver. Do you expect him to stick at catcher, and how soon do you expect him to be available to help the Major League team?

RA: I believe he will stick at catcher. He made some improvement there and I believe that if he's going to be a big leaguer, I think his ticket there is behind the plate. I'm not sure where he would play if he wasn't catching; he does have some athleticism. But he has the potential to be a .270 hitter with some power and be able to play behind the plate, and that's a best-case scenario for us.

I don't have a timeline for him. He's going to get an opportunity to move up to Fort Myers this year, and once you get into High-A ball, Double-A, you can move in a hurry.

JL: Baseball Pirate asks: how many women do you see working in the front offices around baseball?

RA: Probably not as many as there could be. We have some in our organization; we have people in scouting, we have people in player development, but there aren't as many as you'd think that there could be. I do believe that there are some very good baseball minds, females with good baseball minds, and that there probably will be more in the future.

JL: And the final question comes from my dad. He wants to know: are you guys going to find a middle-of-the-order power bat, or are you guys done?

RA: I would say that we hope that Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia become our middle-of-the-order power bats. I don't think there are any middle-of-the-order power bats out there right now that we're trying to do anything with. I think that what we have right now is going to be pretty close to what we start spring training with.

JL: Do you daydream about Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, and Kennys Vargas sitting in the middle of your lineup, hitting 35 home runs a year apiece?

RA: More than once. (Laughs) The word "potential" can be very dangerous, but it's awful good to have several guys that you believe have high-upside potential, than it is to wish that you had guys that had more potential, or look at what other organizations have and wish that you had or wonder why you don't have more guys like that. It's a pretty good feeling when you have guys that you feel have a chance to be impact Major League players.

JL: That's one of the exciting things about the Twins this year I think, is that we're going to get a chance to see some of those young guys who could potentially be the building blocks for the next Twins team that contends for a title. Did you watch the Superbowl last night?

RA: I did. Wow.

JL: If it had come down to you, would you have pounded the rock? Would you have handed the ball off to Marshawn Lynch or would you have tried to mix it up and throw the ball?

RA: I have tremendous respect for Pete Carroll, and I was absolutely praising him when he didn't just take the field goal with six seconds left - he took the shot and they scored the touchdown. Man, with the beast in the backfield I don't know how he doesn't score from a yard out. You've got two cracks at it probably. I think you have to run the ball, I don't think there's any doubt in my mind. There wasn't anything in my mind other than it'd be going to Marshawn Lynch.

JL: Perfect. Thanks for your time, Rob.

Thanks again to Rob for his time. It was probably the longest pre-season chat we've had to date - and after an hour of talking about the sport we love, the most animated either of us got was the last five minutes when we were talking about those final fateful seconds of the Superbowl.

Click here to read Part I.