Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Monday, June 05, 2006

Down on the Farm: AAA Report

The best source for information on the Red Wings is the team website.

Game recaps and such are available on the website, and that is not the purpose of these "Down on the Farm" posts. Instead, I'm going to look at how the players are doing, and what I think is going to happen with those players. In future versions, I'll mostly stick to talking about players who have played particularly well, or particularly poorly, over the past week.

For starters, I would like to make some kind of comment on the players the Red Wings currently have on their 25-man roster. The roster is available here.

The first thing that is somewhat interesting is the fact that, of the 25 players on the roster, 14 are pitchers. This isn't particularly unusual; considering that many major league teams can't survive without 12 pitchers anymore, that effect is magnified at the minor league level. It's a lot easier to survive by running a light-hitting, poor fielding Left Fielder (just an example, and not meant to slight anyone on the Red Wings) than it is to survive with too few pitchers. I'll break the rest of this post down by position, for simplicities sake.

Starting Pitchers
Pitching rotations at the minor league level are often much more amorphous than they are in the bigs, simply because there are more pitchers that the team would like to "try out" as starters and mid-level relievers. Starters also will often go no more than 5 or 6 innings, since there are more relievers to get work for, and the emphasis is more on development of players than on victory for victories sake.

That said, the Red Wings have something resembling a regular rotation right now, and it goes as follows (the numbers are more for convenience than for actually denoting who is the "ace" and who is the #5 starter):

1.) Kyle Lohse
2.) Scott Baker
3.) J.D. Durbin
4.) Pete Munro
5.) Mike Smith/Henry Bonilla

Smith has started 8 games for the Red Wings, and Bonilla has started 6. Durbin and Munro have both started all 11 of the games that they have appeared in, while Baker was just sent down, and Lohse has only been in AAA for about 2 weeks.

Perhaps the most promising numbers are coming from J.D. Durbin. In 11 starts, he has compiled an ERA of 2.42, striking out 55 in just over 62 innings. Durbin was once nicknamed (by himself) "The Real Deal," but for the past couple of years he has been far from it. In fact, he was putting himself on a course strikingly parallel to that followed by former Twins prospect Adam Johnson, a former first round draft pick who turned into a head case and is no longer with the organization. The fact that Durbin is pitching so well now gives hope for Twins fan that he will fulfill his promise and contribute as a Twin in the future. Lohse is also pitching well, but I would place the odds of him returning to the Twins at somewhere close to nil. Best case scenario: Lohse pitches well enough in AAA that his value goes way up, and the Twins trade him to a contender in desperate need of starting pitching.

Relief Pitchers
If there are 6 players who can legitimately be called starters, that leaves 8 who are primarily relievers. They are as follows:

Closer - Pat Neshek
2.) Ricky Barrett
3.) Beau Kemp
4.) Jason Miller
5.) Kevin Cameron
6.) Matt Ford
7.) Bobby Korecky
8.) Dave Gassner

Gassner pitched a little for the Twins last year, but hasn't pitched at all this year due to injury. By far the biggest name to pay attention to on this last is Pat Neshek, who has a 1.74 ERA and a staggering 67 strikeouts in just over 41 innings. Neshek is a side-arming right hander originally from Minnesota. I would be stunned if he was not up with the Twins by seasons end. In fact, in an earlier post I suggested the Neshek could be brought up when Baker was sent down, and if the Twins had decided to stick with 12 pitchers, that is exactly what would have happened. Instead, expect him to be first up if a reliever goes down with an injury, or if Jesse Crain struggles mightily and needs to be sent to the shop for some work.

Beau Kemp, Jason Miller, and Kevin Cameron have all been pretty effective as well, especially Kemp and Miller. Nonetheless, unless the Twins suffer a total meltdown in the bullpen, I don't expect any of these guys to make it to the big league level this year. Kemp has been around in the Twins system for some time, and it would not surprise me if he got an invite to Spring Training and a chance to win a job next year.

Not a whole lot to talk about with Catchers. The Red Wings have two, Chris Heintz and Shawn Wooten. Wooten, who is most remembered for his time as a backup with the Angels, was almost called up when Scott Baker went down (see previous post for a discussion of why this would have been a horrible move). Heintz has actually played well this season, with a .310 batting average in 22 games. Wooten has played in 43 games, and is hitting just .221. With the departure of mainstay Rob Bowen, Heintz may be in a position to become the Twins "emergency minor league catcher."

The Red Wings have five players primarily classified as infielders:

1B - Garrett Jones
2B - Luis Maza
SS - Jason Bartlett
3B - Glenn Williams
IF - Gilbert Velazquez

With the call-up of Terry Tiffee, Williams takes over as the clubs primary 3B, where he can hopefully improve on his .218 batting average. Jones leads the team with 7 homeruns, but is hitting just .212. Jason Bartlett, meanwhile, is having a solid season, hitting .307, as he tries to position himself for a chance to make it back to the big show. I don't expect that to happen until next season, at the earliest, however. Maza is hitting .228. Velazquez is leading the team with a .378 average, but he has played in only 18 games and is not considered one of the top prospects, at this time.

Who to watch out for? Bartlett is the most likely to be called up in the event of an injury to one of the infielders. Even if the injury were to involve Justin Morneau or Tony Batista, that would just mean that Terry Tiffee would get playing time at that position, with Castro and Punto likely backing up more at those positions. Bartlett makes the most sense as a call-up in that case.

The Twins are high on Jones for the future, but his bat just isn't there yet. Williams had a great run when he was up last year, but is struggling mightily and is probably too old to get a serious shot at the major league level.

There are 4 primary outfielders on the Red Wings:

1.) Kevin West
2.) Josh Rabe
3.) Jason Tyner
4.) Andres Torres

West just rejoined the team, after missing significant time with an injury. He is considered a top prospect, but has only 5 games this season, and so there isn't a lot to say about him. Tyner is a veteran, formerly of the Devil Rays system. He played well in spring training, and has continued that this season by hitting .315 through 48 games. If there were an injury to an outfielder at this point, he wouldn't be a bad option to go to. Josh Rabe has impressed the Twins by hitting .3o4 in 52 games, with 3 homeruns. He probably isn't in the plans for the immediate future, but could very well get an invite to spring training for next year. Andres Torres, meanwhile, is hitting .267 in 44 games, and is leading the team with 7 stolen bases. He is not likely to be called up this year, and is unlikely to get a spring training invite for next year.


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