Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Minor League Report
It's been over a week since I last had a Minor League report. I have tried to gather a few tidbits from various people with knowledge of the Twins system. I would love to give credit where credit is due in many of these notes, but many people have given me information and asked me not to name them. I fully understand that. I just appreciate some of the candor. I happen to think there is plenty of good information here and hopefully you get something out of it. I am going to try to have one key or main topic with these Minor League reports and then several smaller notes as well. So, again, please provide me with some feedback on this type of report. If you have questions for me regarding the Twins minor league system, please leave comments, or if you have topics or bugger questions, please feel free to e-mail me and I will try to get some answers by the next time I post a Minor League report. With that, let's get to the information.
DEVELOPMENT OF MINOR LEAGUE CATCHERS
The last Minor League report I did, I tried to get some answers as to what the Twins organization is looking for with their many young pitching prospects. To summarize, I think we learned that there really isn't a specific statistic that we should look at to know what the team thinks of a player. They are trying to develop big league pitchers which means that their minor league numbers are not as important as the progress they are making toward becoming a big league pitcher is. To paraphrase what I was told, "It's not about the statistics, it's about developing things that will eventually lead to better statistics and big league success."
I like that, and I do agree with it completely. That said, I can still look at a few pitching statistics. For instance, I can look at walk and strikeout rates and how many hits a guy gives up per inning. I can look at WHIP and ERA. I do have ways to see if that pitcher is improving as the year goes along.
However, the topic made me think a little about the other member of the team's battery, the catcher. As a fan of the Twins minor league system, what can I look at to determine how a minor league catcher is developing? Like any hitter, you can see how they are doing offensively through their batting statistics. But more so than any other position, the catcher position is a defense-first position.
So, what is the organization looking for in development of a catcher?
Receiving - how does the catcher catch the pitch? Is his arm extended and locked? Can he frame a pitch on the corner (or just off the corner)?
Preparation/Calling a game - Does the catch call pitches that make sense? Does he help the pitcher by choosing good pitches for him to throw, pitches that will help get the hitter out? Twins catchers throughout the organization call their own pitches and that is important in the learning and development process as well. This also goes to game preparation and study of the opposition's lineup. As more scouting reports are available, that is more study time for a catcher.
Blocking - This is key to a catcher, the ability to minimize the number of wild pitches thrown. A good blocking catcher is then able to allow a pitcher to throw any pitch even with a runner on 3B. In general, it can keep base runners from gaining free extra bases.
Arm Strength and Accuracy - Obviously in slowing the opposition's running game, a catcher needs to not only be able to get the ball to 2B in a hurry, but get it there so that the middle infielder is able to catch the ball easily and apply a tag.
Release Time and Footwork - A guy with a strong arm isn't necessarily better at throwing out runners than a guy who doesn't throw quite as hard. Just like a middle infielder needs to quickly switch the ball from the glove to his throwing hand, a catcher needs to be able to 'receive' the ball, quickly transfer it to his throwing hand and be in position to release the ball quickly. While doing that, a catcher must have great footwork to improve accuracy and strength of the throw.
Handling Pitchers - Goes along with calling a good game, but it's more than that. It's developing a relationship and a confidence with each pitcher on the pitching staff, knowing their best pitches and what they have confidence in on a given night. It is also knowing when to help settle down the pitcher and help him relax, or when to go out there and try to light a fire under his pitcher.
I was always a shortstop/infielder growing up. I didn't want to catch, there was no glamour or glory in that position. But while playing some town team ball one summer while I was in college, my brother (our regular catcher) got beaned with a fastball and broke/shattered many bones in his cheek. Someone had to catch and reluctantly I did. I absolutely loved it. After catching the rest of that summer, I did more catching here and there. What I am trying to convey by mentioning that is that doing those six bullet points (and believe me, there are other things that a catcher can do for a team, such as working umpires, but that's for another day!) is a very difficult job. Doing those things on a professional level are even harder. Oh, and then we really want you to hit as well as anyone in the lineup... believe me, that is much, much easier said than done.
For all of that, like most organizations, the primary concern is defense first, then hitting. If you look around the big leagues, you will generally find one of two things. Big league catchers are either average defensive catchers and good hitting catchers or they are very good defensively and below average hitters. Of course there is some give and take, but the philosophy is pretty much the same. Think about this... how many great hitting catchers have their been over the past decade. Mike Piazza and Victor Martinez are two examples of catchers who hit very well and are not good defensively (although it is important to point out that both were actually considered quality game callers, but bad throwers). Their teams have been willing to accept the bad defense for the most part although there were continual rumblings of them needing to move to 1B or DH because of their arms.
Hopefully this explanation tells you just how valuable Joe Mauer really is. He's a gold glove (and arm) caliber catcher as well as a very good hitter. It also explains why there are a lot of backup catchers who stay in the league for a long time without really hitting. A catcher who can not hit but is above average defensively can still be a valuable big league player as a backup or as an emergency, third catcher.
As to some of the thoughts on the Twins minor league catching prospects:
Jose Morales is more of a hitter than a catcher, although he does work hard at it.
Drew Butera simply can not hit. He will likely never be a good hitter. However, the Twins feel that he should be a major league caliber defensive catcher.
Wilson Ramos does have a chance to be a good hit, good glove guy, but he has a long way to go yet in each category.
Australian Allen de San Miguel has always been young for his level of competition, but he has not come close to decent hitting yet. However, he has very good receiving skills and handles pitching staffs well.
There are three catchers at Beloit who are all getting fairly similar playing time:
Jair Fernandez came over to the Twins from the Mariners organization in exchange for R. A. Dickey late this spring. He is a big, strong catcher who could be solid. He still needs to learn the pitchers in the organization and on his team, but they believe he will be able to do that. Right now, he leads all Twins minor league catchers in OPS... just ahead of...
Danny Lehman was the Twins 8th round pick last year out of Rice University. He has a track record of catching very good catchers back to his championship in college. I was surprised he was still available when the Twins took him. I also believe that he will hit, and he is hitting well so far this year. I happen to think that he will separate himself over time.
Greg Yersich. For the second straight year, he begins the season in Beloit. Last year, he couldn't hit at the level and went back to E-Town where he performed well. He isn't hitting terribly well again this spring, but I am told that he has the strongest arm of any of the catchers in the Twins organization.
Jeff Christy is definitely known for his catching. I have relatives in Nebraska who saw him play in college and they were shocked that he was drafted at all, much less in the 4th round as he was. Must be an excellent glove!
Danny Rams is in Extended Spring Training and will head to Elizabethon when the short season begins. He was the Twins second round pick just last year out of high school. He is touted as a guy with a lot of pop in his bat despite a slow start in the GCL last year. I won't worry too much about such few at bats. Hopefully he will show more pop this season. I had heard that he was not much of a catcher defensively though and that a position change (to 1B or DH) might be necessary as he advanced. However, I have heard several reports from Extended Spring Training that he has been very impressive behind the plate and has a very strong arm. I have also been told that he has 'bat potential' and has made progress defensively, but still has a long way to go.
I think a lot of times with minor leaguers we only consider their offensive production when making our rankings and determining who will be big leaguers. At most positions that is alright, although I do like to believe that being at least average defensively at any position is a beneficial thing, but at catcher, hitting tells only a very small part of the story. Since there is no way to evaluate a catcher's defensive abilities through box scores and offensive stats, it is likely that catchers will be overlooked and undervalued in my Twins Prospects lists and many others. But clearly it is an important position to fill well for any team.
STRIKEOUTS AND WALKS
If you've been to this site for awhile, you know that I am a fan of hitters who can walk more than they can strike out. To me, that is a sign of plate discipline, that they swing at good pitches and don't swing at bad pitches. Over time, that will mean positive things. So, who are some of the Twins prospects who have walked as much as they have struck out (through games played Sunday)?
Rochester Red Wings - Denard Span (19 walks, 17 strikeouts), Alexi Casilla (18 walks, 18 strikeouts)
New Britain Rockcats - Steve Tolleson (18 walks, 19 strikeouts)
Ft. Myers Miracle - Brian Dinkelman (19 walks, 15 strikeouts), Whit Robbins (25 walks, 15 strikeouts)
Beloit Snappers - Ben Revere (8 walks, 5 strikeouts), Danny Lehman (7 walks, 7 strikeouts), Chris Cates (8 walks, 9 strikeouts)
Likewise, I like pitchers who strikeout a lot of hitters without walking many (Note - I realize this isn't rocket science, most baseball people think this way, I just wanted to highlight a few Twins prospects who have done a great job in this right)
Rochester Red Wings - Tim Lahey (1 walk, 22 strikeouts, in 16 innings), Mariano Gomez (4 walks, 19 strikeouts in 26.2 innings)
New Britain Rockcats - Yohan Pino (6 walks, 23 strikeouts in 36 innings),
Ft. Myers Miracle - Rob Delaney (2 walks, 23 strikeouts in 22.2 innings), Anthony Slama (7 walks, 37 strikeouts in 24.1 innings)
Beloit Snappers - Santos Arias (3 walks, 20 strikeouts in 21.2 innings),
On the other side, it is never a good thing if you've walked more batters than you have struck out (or are even close). In fact, that is a ticket to free agency in many cases:
Rochester Red Wings - Philip Humber (19 walks, 22 strikeouts in 40.2 innings), Julio DePaula (16 walks, 23 strikeouts in 25.2 innings)
New Britain Rockcats - Oswaldo Sosa (25 walks, 23 strikeouts in 35.0 innings), Kyle Aselton (18 walks, 15 strikeouts in 24.1 innings)
Ft. Myers Miracle - Danny Hernandez (10 walks, 1 strikeout in 6.2 innings - Note, like Francisco Liriano, Hernandez is just coming back from arm surgery)
Beloit Snappers - Dan Berlind (15 walks, 22 strikeouts in 32.1 innings)
Steve Tolleson was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2005 draft after three years at the University of South Carolina. He played well with Elizabethton for three weeks and then spent a little more than a month playing for Beloit. That is where he began the 2006 season as well, but he was promoted to Ft. Myers about the midway point in the season. He spent the whole 2007 season with the Miracle, and this year, he is playing every day in New Britain. He has played three infield positions as well as time as his team's DH. His father, Wayne Tolleson, was a big league shortstop (from 1981-1990 with the Texas Rangers, the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees) known solely for his glove. Steve has a strong glove, but he has a great eye at the plate, but also enough pop to get plenty of extra base hits. He is quite fast and a solid base runner and base stealer. In 2008, he is hitting .300/.403/.518 with 10 doubles, a triple, four homers and 18 RBI. As noted above, he has walked more than he strikes out. Because of how he has moved up the system and that he has played numerous positions without really having a 'home' position, I couldn't help but wonder what his future with the Twins really is. So, I asked someone with the Twins if Tolleson was an organizational filler, or someone who had a future with the team. The response was very clear. Tolleson is NOT considered an organizational filler. He probably has a future as a utility infielder, but if he keeps hitting and getting on base as he is, along with improving on defense, he could potentially be an every day 2B.
OTHER MINOR LEAGUE NOTES
Here are just some random notes that I've been able to accumulate in the past week. Hopefully some of it is news to you or interesting. (In no particular order)
Ozzie Lewis was told by doctors that his wrist was OK to play. However, it is still sore and he will continue a rehab program while playing.
David Winfree is hitting just .227/.301/.480, but he has ten homers and 35 RBI. Am I the only Twins fan who was listening to the game (I was driving, so couldn't watch) on Sunday, when the Twins left so many base runners stranded who was thinking, "Man, I wish David Winfree was up in this situation." Seriously, I was totally thinking about that. In his career, he has found a way to drive in a lot of runs. I know that I am not a big believer in the RBI stat as too telling because it is dependent on teammates getting on base ahead of you, but there are times when just driving in the run that is out on base is important, and Winfree just finds a way.
Rene Tosoni fouled a ball off of his foot. It is something that happens from time to time in baseball. It certainly isn't a rarity, but Tosoni did it last week and ended up with a broken foot. He will be out around two months, and maybe for the rest of the season. It is really unfortunate because Tosoni has been one of the offensive minor leaguers that has stood out. Because he essentially skipped Low A ball, and was hitting so well, it is just too bad. Hopefully things heal quickly and he can make it back before the season is complete.
Adding injury to, well, injury, Danny Valencia has missed the last several games with a hand injury. The severity is not yet known.
As mentioned, Yangervis Solarte was promoted to the Miracle for a few days when Tosoni was put on the DL. He played in the GCL last summer, so this is clearly just a stop gap. Remember that Eli Tintor will be back by the end of the month and will fill a role, like in Ft. Myers at some point.
Remember Jose Morales got off to just a horrible start with the bat this season in Rochester? Well, he is seven for his last 12, and in his last ten games, he is hitting .455. He is now batting .290, a dramatic improvement. He has made himself into a viable third catcher again. However, a deeper look at the numbers tell us that he has just three walks and 19 strikeouts. Like many in the Twins organization and specifically with the Twins, Morales pretty much refuses to take a walk.
Don't look for Ben Revere to advance to Ft. Myers in 2008. I really think that the Twins would prefer to keep him in Beloit all year. So unless there is a need with the Miracle, expect him to spend the year, and be very successful, in the Midwest League. That said, if he keeps hitting over .400, that is hard to ignore.
If the Twins decide at some point to purge some of their excess veteran baggage at Rochester, there are several New Britain players ready to move up to AAA. I would say that right now Brock Peterson and Luke Hughes are ready. I would say that Trevor Plouffe, Steve Tolleson and Dustin Martin are close. That said, I agree with what someone with the Twins told me, that it is just as easy to call someone up from AA as it is from AAA, so whether they get promoted during this season, or start next year with Rochester really doesn't matter.
If Brian Dinkelman is promoted to AA, and Steve Singleton is promoted to Ft. Myers, who would move up to play middle infield in Beloit? Well, remember that Estarlin de los Santos and Paul Kelly will likely be ready to play in the next couple of weeks.
Loek Van Mil will be eligible for the Rule V draft after this season. Hopefully he has a very strong 2008 season and makes the decision on whether to protect him on the 40 man roster a difficult one. My assumption is that if he is even just solid this year, someone will take a chance on him.
In his last ten games, Erik Lis is hitting .359 with nine doubles. I am told that he still really does not have a position, but that he continues to work really hard to get better. Obviously this is an attempt to be more valuable to the Twins organization, giving himself more opportunity for promotion.
The Twins agreed that Garrett Guzman could stay with the Washington Nationals organization by receiving either a Player to be Named Later or cash considerations. At this point, the Twins have not received a player. Based on how well Guzman is playing for the Nationals AAA team (which is to say, not very well!), it may just be a few dollars!
I asked someone with the Twins about a couple of prospects I am intrigued about. Joe Benson is still striking out a lot in his second season in Beloit. In 152 at bats through Sunday, he had 49 strikeouts. I asked if there was concern. I was told that Benson has so many high ceiling tools, but it just might take a while with the bat. But, I was also reminded that Torii Hunter took a few years too. Sounds like a pretty good comparison. Benson has a lot of speed, but he has also been caught stealing a lot. I found out yesterday that his two most recent caught stealings were actually missed suicide squeeze plays. In other words, he was on 3B and the hitter was asked to bunt, but he missed, so Benson was left dry.
Despite Kevin Mulvey's recent struggles on the mound (he's been really bad his last five or six starts), he still has "a certain something, a confidence and an attitude" that tells people that he will be just fine. Add in that he is just 22 years old, and there is no need to worry yet.
I also asked about Zach Ward, who as a starter in Ft. Myers last year went 5-17 with a 4.08 ERA. He has seemingly found himself in the New Britain bullpen. To this point, in 17 games, he has thrown 28 innings. He is 2-0 with a 0.32 ERA. I was told that there is no plan to move Ward back to the rotation. Unless something unforeseen happens, he will remain in the bullpen.
And finally, a quick report on the rehab of Kyle Waldrop. I am being told that there is little to report which, at this time, is great news. He is right on track with his rehab. He likely will not throw a baseball for another month, but he is already feeling much better.
Any thoughts on the Twins minor leaguers, please leave comments below.|
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