Wednesday, July 06, 2011


“A man becomes preeminent, he’s expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms. Enthusiasms… What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which give me joy? Baseball!”

- Al Capone in The Untouchables

I know better than to dispute Capone, especially after watching the end of that scene. But I wonder if we don’t need to temper our enthusiasms a little regarding a couple of saviors that are seemingly “stuck” in Rochester.

Trevor Plouffe
It’s been suggested that it is time to recall Plouffe from Rochester again, to play – well – his role is unclear beyond hitting the ball hard. Maybe to start at second base, or at first base or in all kinds of places at once, like Bugs Bunny. So long as we aren’t expecting him to make too many throws from shortstop, his .663(!) slugging percentage in AAA this year could play just about anywhere.

I’m fine with that.

But understand that the Trevor Plouffe that we have seen this year is NOT the Trevor Plouffe that has been in the Twins system since 2004. He’s never had an OPS over 736 in any stop in the minors – and now he’s at 1047. He’s 25 years old and in his FOURTH season at AAA. He also hit all of .200 in his admittedly short (71 plate appearances) time with the Twins this year. So that .308 batting average with 15 home runs that we’re seeing in his 196 plate appearances in AAA is either:

a) a huge fluke
b) a huge breakthrough
c) a little of both.

Personally, I’m going with “c.” Want to know what number encourages me the most? 32 strikeouts vs 20 walks. For most of his career, that ratio was anywhere from 2:1 to 3:1, and now it’s about 1.5:1. He’s drawing a lot more walks than he has at any other time in his career. That might be just a result of hitting well and for power, but it’s almost always a good sign when you see that kind of leap. It’s the same thing that happened to Denard Span when he broke through in 2008.

I’m optimistic that the Twins 1st round choice from 2004 can be an everyday player in the major leagues – maybe a very good one. I also agree that now is as good a time as any to promote him. But pointing to home run totals that far exceed anything he has ever done before is borderline deceptive. He’s not that guy. We shouldn’t let our enthusiams get the better of us.

Kyle Gibson
Somewhere along the line the term “future ace” got attached to Gibson’s name. My sense is that is taking things a little too far. Let’s see how he’s doing and compare him to some other Twins who were hyped at his age.

There is a lot to like, to be sure. As a 23-year-old in Rochester, he’s having more success than his 3.87 ERA (itself, pretty good) suggests. His hits (85) per inning pitched (81.1) are about even, which is about average. His control looks excellent with a 4:1 strikeout (83) to walk (21) ratio. But the stat that gets prospect hounds’ attention is that he’s striking out a guy per inning this year. That’s even more encouraging because it improves on what he did last year (126K in 152 IP).

Compare that to two other guys who also had their first extensive time at Rochester as 23-year-olds. Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey both had very good profiles. They matched Gibson in most ways – hits, control - but neither had quite that good of a strikeout rate. It isn’t unreasonable to expect that Gibson could be better than either of them, which would be nice considering they’ve both been up and down so far in their careers. Certainly neither could be described as an ace entering this year.

Now compare those numbers to a third guy in the rotation who spent most of his time in Rochester as a 21-year-old: Francisco Liriano. Liriano showed the same control, but he was striking out 11 guys per nine innings and giving up just 56 hits in 91 innings. Now THAT’S a guy who profiles to be an ace – and even then he’s had a rocky road.

Gibson is more than his stats obviously. He seems like a genuinely good guy, and people also like to talk about his sinker, and how it induces a lot of ground balls. I’ll just note that neither his hit or home runs totals suggest that the latter is a particularly significant factor yet.

Finally, I’ll throw one more name out there. Matt Garza threw 92 inning in Rochester as a 23-year-old before being called up to help the 2007 Twins. His numbers at Rochester over that time are almost identical to Gibson’s. Since he’s been promoted to the majors, he’s posted a career 3.98 ERA and has been a workhorse, averaging close to 200 innings per year.

Of course, he’s also on his third team, in part due to some well-publicized attitude issues. Could Gibson be a Garza, with fewer strikeouts but more ground ball tendencies, and without the head case issues? That’s something to be excited about. I don’t know if “future ace” applies, but enthusiams are justified.

The Twins control all five members of their starting rotation for next year, and you can add Kevin Slowey and Anthony Swarzak to that list if you like. But I’d have trouble listing Gibson as trade bait for anything but the biggest fish. He might truly be one of The Untouchables.