Saturday, January 05, 2008

Minnesota Draft Revisited: Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda (offensive edition).

After rifling through all of the amateur drafts records the past week, I was struck by how different the Twins organization may have been had several players over the years been enticed to sign. To be sure, playing the 'What If' game is like attending a strip club: it is fun envisioning the titillating possibilities but at the end of the day you are still going home to your girlfriend or wife (for better or worse). Needless to say the ability to alter the past is reserved for the likes of Scott Bakula through his quantum leaps, but, like the strip club in the aforementioned analogy, it doesn't hurt to look.


1993. r1.21) Jason Varitek

It is common Twins lore of how in 1993 the Twins failed to coerce Jason Varitek from Georgia Tech as the 21st pick overall (one pick prior, the Twins selected Pine Bluff, Arkansas native Torii Hunter). Instead, Varitek went back to college where he was selected as the 14th overall pick by the Mariners the following draft year.

Between the 1993 draft and 1997 the Twins had to use Matt Walbeck, Derek Parks and Matt Merullo. If one were to consider five years as sufficient development time, giving Varitek ample preparation for the big leagues, Veritek would have reached the majors in 1998 or 1999 (Boston brought him up in 1997). In 1997 the Twins had agreed to sign 35-year-old New Ulm native Terry Steinbach to a two-year, $5.7 million dollar contract. In 1996, Steinbach had a career year belting 35 home runs (in which his previous high was 16 in 1987) and finished with a .272/.342/.529 line. Meanwhile, the Twins relied on the 30-year-old Greg Myers - who hit 6 home runs and .286/.320/.426 in 326 at-bats.

Dissatisifed with the results, the free agent Steinbach appealed to the Minnesota front office who had just lost Kirby Puckett and had been offensively deficient in the catcher position since Brian Harper in 1993. Steinbach failed to repeat his previous production. A pessimist might point towards the fact that Oakland has since been labeled a hot-bed of performance enhancing drugs and that both Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi, two players allegedly tied to PEDs, were on the roster. A 35-year-old player typically doesn't have that kind of offensive outburst. Regardless, the Twins inked Steinbach to a two-year deal.

As Steinbach was re-acclimating himself to the Midwest in 1998, Jason Varitak was introducing himself to Boston after being trade with Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocum on July 31st, 2007 in possibility one of the worst trades of all-time. On arrival at Fenway Varitek found himself splitting time with Scott Hatteberg. A season later, the Red Sox gave Veritek the starting position and 483 at-bats. Varitek responded by hit 20 home runs and .269/.330/.482. The 1999 63-97 Minnesota Twins relied on a 37-year-old Steinbach who hit 4 homes and .284/.358/.391 in 338 at-bats. Had the Twins made proper reparations for Varitek, they would have 16 more home runs and an ops+ 16 points higher while being $2.63 million lighter in the payroll.

On the other hand, had we received commitment from Varitek we may never had the incentive to play AJ Piersynski and therefore we might not be discussing Boof Bonser's new found diet, Francisco Liriano's rehab program or whether or not to trade Joe Nathan to a National League team. Ultimately, not signing Varitek was a blessing in disguise.

2002. r12.362) Jeff Clement

So he hasn't seen much major league time yet (just 19 plate appearances with Seattle) and we do have a pretty good core of catchers (Mauer and Redmond) but Clement is possibly the best prospect in the Mariners organization not named Adam Jones. And having an embarrassment of riches in one position is a good thing.

The Twins tried to select Clement, the Marshalltown, Iowa standout with their 12th round pick, but instead he decided to attended USC in hopes of moving up several rounds. And he did: In 2005 with their 1st round, 3rd overall pick, the Mariners locked him up.

Baseball America had him ranked as the premier prospect in the organization in 2006 - only to be usurped by Jones in 2007 - but his 2007 numbers helped solidify him as an elite hitter ready for Safeco. After finishing 2006 in Triple-A Tacoma with 270 plate appearances, 4 home runs and .257/.316/.347, Clement returned to Tacoma for a full season in 2007 where he emerged as a left-handed power threat with 20 home runs in 533 plate appearances and hit .275/.369/.497. Most impressive though were his peripheral stats such as his high walk rate (12.0%), relatively low strikeout rate (16.5%), and good line drive rate (19%) all bode very well for a 24-year-old.

Had the Twins convinced Clement to sign, we might be in the midst of the same debate Seattle is having regarding where Clement belongs on the field. He is currently blocked by Kenji Johjima (and to a lesser extent Jamie Burke) and there has been some internal discussion of relocating Clement elsewhere. He will most likely start 2008 in Tacoma again but if his numbers come anywhere close to his 2007 totals he will be shuttled up I-5 in no time.


1987. r28.711) Bret Boone

Between 1993 and 1997 the Twins had no real need for a second baseman since Chuck Knoblauch was firmly entrenched in that position but Boone had significant trade value when he was moved several times in the course of his career that netted his former teams Dan Wilson, Bobby Ayala, Rob Bell, Denny Neagle, Wally Joyner and Reggie Sanders among others. Had the Twins drafted, signed and developed him like they had wanted to in 1987, they may have had a solid bargaining chip for similar trades in the lean 1990s.

His career numbers are good at first glace for a second baseman (252 home runs, .266/.325/.466), but with the exception of three seasons where he seemingly "injected" offensive while with Seattle where he hit 37, 24 and 35 home runs (2001-2003) and his first year with Cincinnati where he had a 123 ops+ (1994), the rest of his career is stunningly average.

Most Twins fans will reflect fondly on Boone's 9 singles and 3 rbis he procured in his 14 games played with Minnesota in 2005. Absolutely no love lost by letting that fish get away.

1966. r3.60) Steve Garvey

The Twins tried to get Garvey, a native of Tampa, Florida, in the 1966 draft. Garvey declined to sign and found his way to the franchise that he grew up idolizing. In 1968 Garvey was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers as a third baseman out of Michigan State (he had a duel football/baseball scholarship). Unfortunately, Garvey arrived in LA with a severe case of throw-the-ball-away-itis. In 1972, Garvey accumulated 28 errors in only 85 games. It got so bad, as Rob Neyer describes in his book "Big Book of Baseball Lineups", that when Garvey was manning third the running joke was that it was "Ball Night at Dodger Stadium". The Dodgers shifted him around the diamond to first base in 1974 where he emerged as an elite ballplayer being rewarded with an National League MVP for his 21 home runs, .312/.342/.469 season in addition to a gold glove.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Twins were milking the last remaining good years out of Harmon Killebrew:

- In 1972, the 36-year-old Killebrew hit 26 home runs and finished with a .231/.367/.450 batting line before steadily declining in the next three seasons.

-In 1973, Killebrew played in 69 games and the majority of time Joe Lis was playing first base and hit .245/.325/.403 with 9 home runs.

-In 1974, Killebrew played in just 33 games at first while Craig Kusick was the starter who replicated Lis's line at .239/.353/.403 with 8 home runs.

-By 1975, the Killebrew era ended in Minnesota and the next few seasons Kusick and Rod Carew split time at first. The 29-year-old Carew hit very well (.359/.421/.497) but without any home run power.

As the Twins were wallowing in offensive futility at first base, Garvey was a perennial MVP candidate for the remainder of the 1970s. Though never really a contender between 1972 and 1975, by 1976 the Twins finished 5.0 games behind Oakland and Kansas City in the AL West. Garvey added nearly 3 marginal wins to the Los Angeles Dodgers with his bat alone. Had he been with Minnesota, this may have been enough offense to propel the Twins ahead of both the A's and Royals. After 1976, the Twins once again faded from pennant contention.

(Note: It is hard to estimate how many extra children would have been fathered by Garvey had he signed with the Twins.)


1992. r38.1074) Gary Matthews Jr.

Yes, Torii Hunter's future outfield mate in Anaheim was selected by the Twins in 1992. Declining to sign, Matthews re-entered the draft only to be selected in 1993 by San Diego in the 13th round. Since coming up with the Padres in 1999, Matthews has spent nine seasons with seven different teams and did not receive ample playing time until 2001 at the rip age of 26. Matthews made a name for himself with his glove in center with Texas making Web Gem catches meanwhile his offensive has been grossly overrated due to the 2006 season's output.

From 2000 to 2005 the Twins had possibility one of the better defensive outfield combinations in the American League. Torii Hunter, Matt Lawton, Jacque Jones as the nucleus along with Dusty Kielmohr, Shannon Stewart and Lew Ford offering support after Lawton was traded. Had Matthews been placed in the rotation during that time as well, flyballs hit at the Dome may never have reached the turf the entire season and the highlight reel would be cranking out Web Gems.

Offensively, Matthews would have been a downgrade from Lawton, Jones or Stewart.

offensive honorable mentions

1993. r37.1045) Emil Brown: Good right-handed utility player. Rule 5 draft pick from Oakland to Pittsburgh. Too many at-bats with Kansas City, not enough with Pittsburgh. Hits lefties ok (.264/.338/.439).

1994. r11.295) David Dellucci: Drafted by Baltimore a year after the Twins then nabbed by the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft. Obvious platoon candidate. Hits righties well (.263/.355/.464). The lefties? Er, not so much (.204/.269/.310). The Twins had no real need for him, we'll see if Cleveland does.

2002. r8.242) Adam Lind: Good minor league numbers so far. Had two stints with the Blue Jays where he consistently hit line drives at a 20% clip.