2018 Minnesota Twins: To be young and upwardly mobile


Jerry Zimmerman

Jerry Zimmerman played nine years and was released twice before he got to the major leagues, and once there didn’t play much, though he did reach two World Series. Zimmerman was a backup catcher whose career high in games played was 104 in 1967, when he hit just .167. The Twins, for whom he played in seven of his eight big-league seasons, released him during spring training in 1969. Zimmerman coached under Gene Mauch, who managed Zimmerman’s minor-league Minneapolis Millers to the 1958 Junior World Series, for the next 11 years. Zimmerman didn’t make it to the majors until 1961. When he did, he was one of six catchers for 1961 Reds, who won the NL pennant (one of the six was Darrell Johnson, who managed the 1975 Red Sox to the seventh game of the World Series against his old team). By the Series, Zimmerman, who batted .206 and slugged .230 in 204 at-bats, wasn’t playing and Johnny Edwards and Johnson were. Zimmerman was traded to the Twins after the season and settled in as Earl Battey’s backup; until 1967, he never made more than 176 plate appearances. He hit his first homer in 1965, when the Twins won the AL pennant, and batted .252 in 1966, when he had a career-high .666 OPS, and hit another homer. He hit one more in 1967, homering not in three consecutive games but three consecutive seasons. Zimmerman died in 1998 at age 63. Career numbers: .204 average, .508 OPS, 203 hits, three homers, 22 doubles, 72 RBIs, 42 OPS+, 42% opposing base stealers thrown out, 0-1 at bat in the World Series, 3.2 defensive WAR, -2.7 WAR.

 

Next man up: There was a time midway through last season — when Nick Gordon was hitting .315 and Jorge Polanco .224 — it seemed inevitable that Gordon would be called up to be the next Twins shortstop. Then Gordon finished the season like Polanco started it, Polanco finished it like Gordon started it, and Brian Dozier remained a Twin for a second straight offseason. Now it seems fair to wonder if Gordon will be a major-leaguer much before Royce Lewis, the No. 1 pick of last June’s draft. A better bet to be Twins before Gordon are pitchers Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero. Gonsalves was a candidate for promotion last year but he finished the year in AAA with a 3.27 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 110 innings. Romero has a career 2.85 minor-league ERA and has fanned six in five hitless 2018 spring training innings. Both will be better than Bartolo Colon — 5.18 ERA for the Twins and 6.48 overall — was in 2017.

What he said: Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey on signing free agent Logan Morrison: “We’ve always prioritized the culture. Logan had some years early on where he was probably a bit more outspoken than maybe he wishes he was. But he’s learned a lot, grown up a great deal.” What he meant: “He knows we’re on Twitter, too.”

Three reasons it will be a good year: 1. The Twins improved with subtle additions. Their designated hitters were eighth in the AL with a .711 OPS and 12th with a .383 slugging percentage; Logan Morrison should improve both if he approaches last year’s 38-homer, .868 OPS season. Twins starters were 19th with a 4.73 ERA; Jake Odorizzi, acquired for prospects, will be better than that, and might be better than last year’s 4.14 ERA, if his 117 hits in 143.1 innings are any indication. And Twins relievers were 22nd last year with a 4.40 ERA and 25th with a .752 OPS against; Fernando Rodney (45 saves, .582 OPS against) and Addison Reed (2.84 ERA, .656 OPS against) should help. 2. The Twins have a group of young players getting better, which is how a small-market team wins until they’re eligible for arbitration and can’t pay them all. Pitcher Jose Berrios (23 years old, 3.89 ERA), outfielders Max Kepler (25, .828 OPS vs. righties), Byron Buxton (24, Gold Glove, .893 OPS after the All-Star break) and Eddie Rosario (26, .507 slugging, 27 homers), shortstop Jorge Polanco (24, .870 OPS after the break) and third baseman Miguel Sano (24, 28 homers, .507 slugging) are all 26 or younger and all in their third season or less. There’s no reason they shouldn’t keep getting better. 3. Catcher Jason Castro hit .242 last year, which may not sound like much, but it’s at least 20 points higher than anything he’s hit since 2014. Somehow he’s managed to keep a job for the Astros and Twins. Mitch Garver, who batted .291 with a .928 OPS at AAA last year, gives the Twins a chance to better themselves.

Three reasons it won’t: 1. The Twins improved by 26 wins last year, won 85 games and made the playoffs, but their +27 run differential points toward regression. The Twins won 83 games in 2015 and improved by 13 games over 2014 with a -4 run differential, and regressed 24 games in 2016. 2. Rodney saved 39 games for the Diamondbacks last year but blew six and had a 4.23 ERA. Sometimes that phantom arrow he’s shooting into the sky after saves makes a U-turn. Give Rodney credit — he’ll be 41 on Opening Day and has fanned 139 in 120.2 innings over the last two seasons. But the Twins will be his seventh team since 2015, and his saves are often tension filled. Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver, whose closer Don Stanhouse was nicknamed Full Pack for how many cigarettes Weaver went through during his save opportunities, might find Full Pack a calming influence compared to Rodney. 3. Ervin Santana, who began 2017 by allowing three runs in his first six starts, won’t have such a good April this year. He’s on the DL after surgery to fix a finger injury he neglected to mention last October. Given Santana’s wild-card performance — two innings, two homers, four runs — the Twins would have been better served if he had the surgery last fall. Even worse, veteran depth in the rotation is not a Twins strength. Either Adalberto Mejia (4.50 ERA), Phil Hughes (5.87) or Anibal Sanchez (6.41) will fill in.

Team song: Christian McBride: Youthful Bliss

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