Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Twins Youth Yo-Yo

If the Twins think they are in a pennant race they are fooling themselves. The Twins are closer in the standings to the Royals than the Central leading Tigers. One third of the season is already washed away. Small changes can be made to ensure the remainder is not.

A 9-15 start in April was dismissed to their tough schedule. A 16-12 May does not foster great optimism for the summer. It is very apparent this team is inconsistent, flawed in fundamentals, and lacking an overall plan.

No magic bullet will heal their 2006 season. Instead of all the micromanaging, Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan need to start thinking about the big picture. Return the inept veterans to the scrap heap and give consistent playing time to people with a shot at playing in the majors in 2008.

It is time for a moderate youth movement. This is vastly different than a Florida Marlins fire sale. Nothing that drastic. This isn’t a call to trade Johan Santana and Joe Mauer. Some simple tweaking and a wise trade or two will leave the Twins in much better shape now and for the future.

The key to the Twins’ recent run has been the ability to regenerate through youth. The organization still has excellent depth, but the pipeline is getting clogged for many of the future starters. By choosing veterans like Tony Batista, Juan Castro and Rondell White, they risk stunting the growth of younger, potentially more productive players who rot on the bench or get held back in Rochester.

Exhibit A is Jason Kubel. Considering he missed all of 2005 with a knee injury, where he should have started the year is up to debate. The minors probably would have allowed Kubel to shake the rust from his swing and gain confidence in his leg strength. Instead he has already been shuttled to Rochester and back in the first two months. It does him no good to shuttle back and forth and wait for inconsistent appearances.

The Gardener himself agreed, saying Kubel is worried about being demoted with every at-bat. How in the world would that seed get planted in his head? Because the Twins feel a dodgy, fragile veteran like Ruben Sierra is somehow better for this team.

Look at Michael Cuddyer for a success story. He is finally playing one position everyday and is producing (.295/367/.576 7HR). Yes, he had 400 AB’s last year and had sub par numbers. Look at his game log and see he was shuttled among four positions and, excluding two stretches in the summer, rarely played everyday. One other thing about Cuddyer, often considered a disappointment last year. His 2005 numbers (.263/.330/.422) at third base are better than his replacement Batista (.250/.308/.417).

This habitual yo-yo with young players extends to pitchers too. Rookie Scott Baker is next in line. With an ERA above 6.00, he is obviously struggling. Their alternative is bringing veteran Carlos Silva from the bullpen. Silva would come from the bullpen because he was demoted there two weeks ago for having too many meatballs on his menu. Baker has pitched well in spots and obviously is struggling now. Keep in mind he is basically a rookie.

Silva is a proven major league starter. If he has corrected his sinker, then there is no problem returning him to the rotation. The puzzling part is demoting Baker instead of keeping him in the bullpen. He gets strikeouts and minimizes walks, exactly what the Twins want in pitchers. Right now he is giving up too many hits, especially home runs. It seems better to work on this in the majors, under the eye of pitching coach Rick Anderson, than in Rochester against lesser hitting. And this doesn’t even address the possibility of screwing with Baker’s confidence as he heads to the minors.

The Twins have ten series until the All-Star Break. Barring a major turnaround, especially offensively, the Twins will still trail in the Division race by double digits. At that point, if not earlier, it is time to start playing young players. If not, the Twins will be in a worse predicament at the end of the year.