By Brandon Warne
The Twins snapped a five-game losing streak with a 4-3 in over the Rangers on Sunday. The club is now 4-9 in June and has sunk to 34-28, 1.5 games behind the Royals who were incidentally rained out in St. Louis on Sunday — the exact place the Twins open a series Monday.
But “sunk” and six games over .500 doesn’t really make sense in the grand scheme of things.
After all, wasn’t this a team that was supposed to lose 90 again, or thereabouts? And while even the latest updated projections have the Twins finishing at or around .500, that’s still pretty much playing to the level the projections set out for the team the rest of the way, with the solid start factored in.
In other words, few outside Minnesota think the club is for real.
And maybe it isn’t, but it isn’t because of the recent skid, which simply exemplifies the ebbs and flows of a long season. Last year’s San Francisco Giants — the World Series winners, if you don’t recall — had a six-game losing streak in June last year, and another in late July as well as a five-game skid in August. These things happen.
But if the Twins are to build on this start to prove legitimacy, where do they need to go from here?
A lot of minds will look to the minors, from which the Twins recently dipped to bring up Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and even Jorge Polanco for a brief stint. They’ve already quasi-addressed the shortstop situation by sending out Danny Santana, whose struggles had gotten to the point where he was legitimately a liability in each phase of the game. To Santana’s credit, he’s off to a fast start down at Rochester, with hits in all six games he’s been on the squad, and a batting line of .375/.385/.458. All but one of his starts have been at short (the other at DH), so there doesn’t seem to be any buzz about moving him around. The outfield is pretty crowded anyhow.
Similarly while we’re talking about Triple-A and outfielders, Oswaldo Arcia continues to struggle down there. He has just one hit in his last 13 plate appearances after a nice handful of games in early June and is now hitting just .154/.175/.212 down there, prompting some to wonder if this might be an extended stay for Arcia.
Another popular name on Twins fans’ lips when it comes to promotions is Josmil Pinto, but there’s cold water to be splashed on that for a number of reasons. Well, perhaps the reasons are related, as Pinto went on the 7-day disabled list with concussion symptoms late last week, and that came on the heels of a stretch where he had hit just .102/.154/.245 over his last 15 pre-injury games. It’s extremely worrisome on a few fronts, as it’s possibly linked to the spring training concussion that perhaps cost him a spot on the Opening Day Twins roster. And if it is, did it crop back up recently, or is it something he’d been dealing with for an extended period of time — hence the struggles?
Among position players that brings us full circle back to Polanco, who has played shortstop exclusively in the field this season at Double-A Chattanooga and was hitting .316/.361/.433 coming into Monday’s action against Birmingham. Polanco has also swiped 13 bags in 19 attempts and has committed 14 errors in 53 games at short. Errors are rarely a good barometer for guys playing in the minors, where field conditions pale in comparison to the big leagues. The belief seems to be that Polanco might be a bit steadier in the field, so perhaps he’ll get a longer look if the Twins decide they want to shift Eduardo Escobar to more of a utility role. Keep in mind, Escobar is hitting just .240/.267/.371, so while he had a much better year last year, the Twins may be apt to move on Polanco if they think it improves the team moving forward in the near future.
Pitching-wise you can keep an eye on Alex Meyer, as he’s taken to the bullpen relatively well. He’s still walking batters at a similar rate, but in his six appearances as a reliever, he’s worked 10.2 innings with 15 strikeouts, six walks and an opponents’ batting line of .184/.311/.237. That’s also brought his season ERA down to 5.76 from 7.09.
It’s unclear if Meyer is the next arm that’s likely to come up from Triple-A Rochester, but there are a few other potential prospects/suspects. Lester Oliveros is suspended for seven games for throwing at the head of Austin Romine, a Yankees catching prospect. Even before then, Oliveros had hit the skids a bit in recent weeks, sending his ERA up to 4.15. His WHIP and K/9 have both plummeted badly as the months have gone on this season, and he’s a non-roster player, so that’s another hurdle he has to clear to be called up as well. Beyond that, the Triple-A pen has Logan Darnell and A.J. Achter who project as middle relief arms — Achter’s having the better year — and Caleb Thielbar who would likely be a situational lefty, though he’s struggled with control this year.
The Chattanooga bullpen has proven to be filthy and probably has more of the guys prospect types should be watching for in terms of difference makers for the Twins moving into the future. Names like Cole Johnson (graduated to Rochester recently), J.T. Chargois, Nick Burdi, Zach Jones and Jake Reed are all in the picture. Chargois was recently promoted, while Burdi, Jones and Reed all throw in the upper 90s. Burdi has been solid since a rough April: 1.86 ERA, 22-5 K/BB ratio, .236/.288/.33 opponents’ line. Reed had a really nice May — 3.75 ERA, 9.0 K/9, 1.08 WHIP — but struggled in April and thus far in June. Jones has been solid throughout but was otherworldly in April (1.29 ERA, 16.7 K/9).
Essentially, the Twins have plenty of options to dip into the minors should they need help at pretty much any position. Keep in mind, we also didn’t talk about a certain Mr. Miguel Sano (.306/.409/.528 in June) or teammate Max Kepler (.359/.400/.583 in May), who is on the 40-man roster and as a result could move quickly if the Twins find a need in a corner.
So when people ask if I see the Twins making any moves in July, this is where I see the club going. I don’t know what the future will look like and if the Twins will still be over .500 in six or seven weeks, but I do know that they’ll have options down on the farm to supplement whatever that have going — or consequently, not going — at that time.