September has been a brutal month for the Minnesota Twins. The team will finish with less than 70 wins for the third season in a row, manager Ron Gardenhire may not have his contract renewed next year and they have already seen two teams, the Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers, celebrate at their expense after clinching the playoffs.
There are two silver linings, however, to take note of.
First of all, Minnesota will get a better draft pick next year. Had they gone on a miraculous streak and finished September with more than 70 wins, they probably wouldn’t be in the running for a top five pick. While many members of the team that will not be around to reap the benefit of getting a high selection, it should fare well for Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins as well as Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano when they get called up.
Secondly, the team got to give all of the prospects and bubble players a chance to audition for next year. This probably doesn’t matter to the casual fan, but to a Twins nut, and more importantly to team management, it was pretty fun to see the future unfold. It was almost like seeing a blockbuster film before it gets released—or so everyone in Twins Territory hopes.
There were some breakout players. Two that stand out are Venezuelan signings Oswaldo Arcia and Josmil Pinto.
Arcia entered this year with a lot of hype and delivered in a big way. He is probably done for the year with a minor injury, but took the cover off the ball during his two stints at Target Field.
Pinto, on the other hand, was relatively unknown and a late call-up that turned heads by knocking balls out of the park like his fellow Venezuelan. His technical skills behind the plate have to improve, but the power at the plate is there for sure.
Minnesota used its first round picks in 2004, 2006 and 2008 on three players from Southern California and all of them are looking pretty shaky right now.
Trevor Plouffe isn’t a “call up,” but he is certainly a player auditioning for a role on the team this year. His defense at third base is suspect and his bat, which is Plouffe’s biggest asset, has been streaky all year long.
Chris Parmelee, the 2006 pick, isn’t going to make many highlight reel diving catches out in right field, but he plays the ball off the wall exceptionally well—an important asset in a park like Target Field, especially out in right.
He has failed to hit for contact, however, and his power has yet to fully manifest itself in the big leagues.
Finally, Aaron Hicks was probably called up too soon and did not join the team in September. The team feels he will be a bona fide five-tool player one day, and have reason to think so, but while Hicks played well in the field, he was overwhelmed by major league pitching after coming up directly from Double-A this season.
The pitching is the biggest concern, of course, and September did little more than eliminate a lot of players from a job in the future rotation. There were a few players that will get a look in Spring Training, however, including two soft-throwing Canadians.
Scott Diamond had a bit of a let down from 2012, but looked sharper in September and is working on curbing a bad inning from getting out of hand. Andrew Albers, who comes from the independent leagues, can’t hit 90 on a the radar, but his off-speed stuff, including a 67 MPH curveball, allowed him to go deep into his first two starts.
As a whole, September was quite dreary for the Twins. Wild and Timberwolves fans are probably already looking forward to action on the ice and hardwood and even the most die-hard of Twins fans found it difficult to support the team.
Fortunately, Arcia and Pinto look like they could crack the lineup next year, the SoCal first-rounders had flashes of brilliance and two finesse pitchers from Canada could become staples of the rotation in Minnesota.
The Venezuelan Signings Look Solid
Pinto and Arcia were signed in consecutive years, 2006 and 2007 respectively, and are both capable of putting baseballs in the seats—even in Target Field.
Pinto, 24, is two years older than Arcia and was a lesser-known prospect before arriving in Minneapolis, but every Twins fan knows who he is now. “Hose Meal,” as it is pronounced in a Minnesota accent, made a name for himself by hitting .333/.383/.560 with four home runs, five doubles and an OPS+ of 158 in 20 games for the Twins.
Yes, it’s a small sample size, but the man can straight up rake. At 5’11”, 210 pounds, he is not a giant, but he packs a big punch.
The bigger concern for him is whether or not he is ready to be an everyday catcher. With everyone from blogger Nick Nelson to longtime writer Pat Borzi questioning whether Mauer should be behind the plate after suffering a concussion in August and being shut down for the season, there is an opportunity for Pinto and 2009 sixth round pick Chris Herrmann, another player with prowess at the plate, to take over behind the dish.
If Pinto can get the defensive aspect of catching down and continue to hit big league pitching, it’s not hard to see him getting significant time in the lineup next season.
Like Pinto, Arcia is not a great defensive player, but hits bombs at the plate. He hit .254/.307/.435 with 14 home runs, 17 doubles, two triples and a 104 OPS+ in 96 games. He struggled to hit off-speed pitching at times and slumped enough to get sent down to Rochester, but has done enough to convince fans and management alike that he is part of the team’s future.
The real question is how much he can improve in the field. He played both left and right, but was outplayed defensively by Parmelee and Herrmann in right and the popular train of thought is that when Buxton arrives, Hicks will eventually move to left.
Pinto and Arcia have done enough at the plate to be considered part of the team’s future. The real question is where their ceiling is defensively.
The California First-Round Picks Need to Get Going
Okay, it’s a stretch considering all three call-ups, but the SoCal guys all were auditioning for a role this year.
Hicks got called up to quickly, was sent down at the beginning of August and then was shut down after battling injury and struggling in Triple-A.
Parmelee played with the Twins throughout the year, was sent down to Rochester, and then was called up in September with guys like Eduardo Escobar and Diamond. He is the only “genuine” SoCal up, I guess.
Plouffe played the entire season at third base for Minnesota. He had a breakout season last year, his first full season in the majors, hitting .235/.301/.455 with 24 home runs, 19 doubles and one triple. There was a feeling that if he could improve his contact hitting and play well defensively, the 27-year-old had the power necessary to keep him in the lineup.
Plouffe improved his play at third base, sailing less throws and playing the ball more instead of letting it play him, but he battled a sore calf all year and suffered a wrist injury late in the season. His average improved marginally, .251/.306/.393, but his OPS and power dropped. His 14 home runs and OPS+ of 93 are on par with his 2011 season, had he played more than 81 games that season.
The jury is still out on whether Plouffe, who signed for $1.5 million as the No. 20 selection in 2004, is part of the team’s future.
The same can be said of Parmelee. Like Plouffe, he can hit the ball a country mile, but struggles to hit for contact. The Long Beach native is two years younger than his SoCal counterpart, who is from Castaic Lake, and has played more games at age 25 than Plouffe did at his age while putting up similar numbers: .234/.315/.364 with eight home runs, and 13 doubles. (Plouffe hit .238/.305/.392 with eight homers, 18 doubles and a triple at age 25).
The hope is that both players play roles in the future. Sano currently mans the hot corner in the minors, but will have a learning curve just like Plouffe did. Plouffe is also versatile in the field: He was drafted as a shortstop, played in the outfield, was converted to a third baseman and can play first.
Similarly, the Twins hope that Hicks becomes a combination of Ben Revere and Denard Span, the two players they traded which enabled him to play this year. He played well defensively this year, making a couple web gems as the team’s Opening Day centerfielder, but hit around .040 as the leadoff man and finished the year .192/.259/.338 with eight home runs, 11 doubles and three triples.
While it was a tough year for Hicks, he said he’s going to rest in the offseason in lieu of playing winter ball and should benefit from having 81 major league games under his belt this season.
Of the three SoCal guys that the Twins drafted in the first round, his future looks the brightest right now.
There are Still Questions About the Canadian Pitchers
Moving from sunny Southern California to snow blanketed Canada, specifically Southern Ontario and Saskatchewan, pitchers Scott Diamond and Andrew Albers may be the only two arms that get a spot in the rotation next year, other than Kevin Correia, of course, who was signed to a two-year deal last season and Kyle Gibson, who did not get a call-up.
Both Diamond and Albers took an interesting path to the major leagues.
Diamond went undrafted and became the first MLB player from SUNY-Binghamton when Minnesota used their Rule 5 pick on him in 2011. He had a breakout year in 2012, going 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA, but regressed this season. The Guelph native had trouble getting through the order a third time and often was the victim of a big inning, and his ERA ballooned to 5.54 while his ERA+ dropped from 116 to 73.
Albers was drafted by San Diego in the 10th round of the 2008 draft out of the University of Kentucky, but only played one year in the Padres system. He ended up playing for Quebec of the Canadian-American Independent League in 2010 and then signed with Minnesota a year later.
He was called up in August and went 8.1 and 9.0 innings, respectively, in his first two starts. Things evened out a bit after that, he had a 1.2 inning doozy at Houston, but he is one of only two Twins starters with an ERA below 4.00. There is, of course, the concern that a player that can’t hit 90 MPH, but if he can continue to be precise and crafty, he has to have the inner track on a spot in the rotation next year.
Samuel Deduno is the other starter with a sub-4.00 ERA. He’s a wild card: When he’s on he can’t be hit, but when he’s not he can’t hit the catcher’s mitt. He throws a wacky fastball that tails either left or right. He has no control where he goes and catchers essentially have to treat him as a knuckleballer.
It is his off-speed stuff, specifically his curveball, which is the harbinger of his success. When he can locate his curveball, he has success. When he can’t, he doesn’t.
There is also an argument to be made to re-sign Mike Pelfrey. He will eat up innings and has the potential to get back to the pitcher he was from 2008-10 since he’ll be two years removed from Tommy John surgery.
And, of course, 2009 first-round pick Kyle Gibson, who also underwent Tommy John in the offseason, will likely get another shot next year after an inconsistent rookie season. He is a legitimate strike-throwing starter that should be a staple in the future rotation.
That does not change the fact, however, that if those two Canadians can figure things out and turn into reliable starters it would go a long way to stabilizing the rotation.
And, as we all know, it doesn’t matter how many home runs Arcia and Pinto hit or if the Plouffe, Parmelee and Hicks pan out if the starting rotation does not give the team a chance to win.
Hopefully next September we’ll be talking about how two Venezuelans, three Southern Californians and two Canadians helped turn around Minnesota’s professional baseball team.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.