WARNE: Getting Caught on the Twins Offseason

WARNE: Getting Caught on the Twins Offseason

Written By Brandon Warne (ColdOmaha.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski

As we move closer to the holiday weekend, it feels like a good time to get everyone up to speed with the happenings around Twins Territory. Over the last few days, the Twins have announced three minor-league deals with invitations to spring training: corner infielder Matt Hague, first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez and outfielder J.B. Shuck.

Hague, 31, has big-league experience with the Pirates and Blue Jays, but it’s under 100 plate appearances over three seasons. Hague won the International League MVP award in 2015 — the same league the Twins Triple-A affiliate plays in — with Buffalo as he hit .338/.416/.468 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Hague had less success as he played in Japan in 2016, hitting just .231/.339/.346 in 31 games before returning stateside. He’ll add to a crowded corner infield situation in Rochester which includes Kennys Vargas, Byungho Park and….

Rodriguez, who returns to Rochester for a fourth season in 2017. The 30-year-old Rodriguez missed 80 games early in the season when he was suspended for the use of steroid Stanozolol, and ultimately only got into 50 games for the Red Wings last season. He hit just .220/.304/.329 while playing first base and a little bit in the corner outfield spots for the Wings last season.

Shuck has significant big-league time, as he’s played nearly 400 games over five seasons with the Astros, Angels, Indians and White Sox. Arguably his best season came in 2013 with the Angels, when he got into 129 ballgames and hit .293/.331/.366 while playing both outfield corners. He finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year balloting that season. Shuck also had a fairly solid season backing up all three outfield spots in 2015 with the White Sox, when he hit .266/.340/.350.

If it feels like you’ve heard of Shuck more than most minor-league signings, it may be for good reason. He’s played 30 career games against the Twins, with only Detroit (33 games) being a more frequent opponent. After a decent 2015 season, Shuck had a disastrous 2016 with the White Sox, hitting just .205/.248/.299 in 241 plate appearances. He’s not regarded as a particularly good defensive centerfielder — the Angels never used him there, for what it’s worth — but he’s alright in the corners. Without having seen a ton of him, he seems a bit like a poor man’s Robbie Grossman. He never strikes out.

He also pitched an inning this year, which is kind of cool. He reached 89-91 mph on the gun and showed some offspeed stuff, too.

Shuck was a teammate at Ohio State of current Twins right-handers Alex Wimmers and Drew Rucinski.

The Twins also announced the finalized coaching staff for the 2017 season. The additions include Jeff Pickler as Major League Coach and Jeff Smith as First Base Coach as well as the previously announced move of hiring James Rowson as Hitting Coach. Rudy Hernandez will remain on as Assistant Hitting Coach, but will no longer be a part of uniformed personnel as MLB has limits on how many coaches can be in the dugout during games. As a result, he’ll be relegated to more duties in the cages and do more work with film.

We broke down Rowson in depth when he addressed the media nearly three weeks ago, but Smith and Pickler each have interesting back stories.

Smith has been in the Twins organization for the past 12 seasons, coaching or managing across the Single- and Double-A levels as well as a stint with the GCL team. The Twins drafted Smith in the 1995 MLB draft, and he played in the Twins system primarily as a catcher from 1996 to 2002 before spending time in the Red Sox and Rangers organizations. Smith hit .282/.332/.400 in his nine minor-league seasons, and got as high as Triple-A before joining the coaching ranks.

Smith was famously the manager when Miguel Sano was suspended back in 2013 for taking his time rounding the bases after he homered against former teammate Bobby Lanigan. Smith claims that’s all water under the bridge. “That was more of a teaching moment,” Smith said in a conference call with Twin Cities media on Wednesday. “In fact, he’s one of my favorite players now and probably my kids’ favorite.”

The Pickler addition is more unusual, as he’s coming out of the Dodgers organization and has basically no connection to Thad Levine or Derek Falvey, save for one “magical” night in Colorado Springs when he met the former when he was an executive with the Rangers back in 2005.

Pickler was the 1998 SEC player of the year — four years after future Twins draft pick Todd Walker was — and was an 11th-round of the Milwaukee Brewers out of the University of Tennessee. He spent four seasons in the Brewers system before joining the pre-Levine Rangers and ultimately wrapping his playing career up at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2005. Pickler played primarily second base, and hit .299/.370/.374 over his eight minor-league seasons.

One key question that came up was if either coach was fluent in Spanish, especially since Hernandez’ influence will be felt more outside of games rather than in them:

Pickler is coming over from the Dodgers organization, and his focus with the Twins will be to “oversee outfield instruction, advise all coaches and players on game preparation and strategy, and coordinate communication between the major leagues and player development.” Pickler had been a Special Assistant in Player Development with the Dodgers. He had also worked with the Padres as a Pro and Special Assignment Scout as well as various other duties with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Arizona Diamondbacks and with the Arizona Wildcats NCAA baseball team. Pickler lauded the continuity and trust between Twins coaches and ownership as a big factor for why he made the jump, and he also said that he’s very excited to work with the team’s young talent to bring winning baseball back to Minnesota.

In addition to coaching first base, Smith will work with the catching instruction and assist with baserunning instruction. The catching instruction was previously part of the duties that bench coach Joe Vavra was handling.

We managed to catch up with Rucinski on the Midwest Swing podcast. He’s a Packers fan, but other than that he seems pretty cool. Check him out here. He’ll likely start the season in the Rochester rotation.

The Brian Dozier trade chatter has slowed immensely. Jon Heyman from FanRag Sports suggests the Twins and Dodgers are at a potential impasse in trade talks. Heyman, Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan and others have reported that the teams have agreed on right-hander Jose De Leon as the primary trade piece coming back, but the haggling over the second and any other subsequent pieces have been the hangup in consummating a deal.

“On source insisted that the Twins were quite comfortable taking Dozier, their best position player, into the season,” Heyman reported on Wednesday, noting that the team had made arrangements for the second baseman to pick up his Diamond Award and appear at TwinsFest in January.

Heyman continued to report that the Twins loved first base prospect Cody Bellinger as well as a number of pitchers in a prospect-laden Dodgers system, but the teams just haven’t found common ground — at least not yet.

Heyman and others have reported that there are multiple teams still sniffing around Dozier, but with no real evidence who those teams are, it seems safe to suggest the Dodgers are in the driver’s seat as far as teams looking to acquire the power-hitting second baseman. Just a personal opinion here, but a Dozier for De Leon, Brock Stewart and Trayce Thompson deal makes sense for both sides.

The prospect-rich Dodgers are going to soon find themselves in a 40-man roster crunch as players reach maturity, and with few needs on what is already a stocked roster, it makes sense to liquidate some of their more MLB-ready assets to cash in on a player who can help them immediately and immensely in Dozier. And none of the three players in that deal would be essential to the Dodgers — at least not like they would be to the Twins in due time. A move makes too much sense not to happen, but in baseball, we learn to expect the unexpected.

Old Friend Update(s)

A few #OldFriends found homes recently:

  • Outfielder Oswaldo Arcia inked a minor-league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to join former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who is the bench coach.
  • First baseman Chris Colabello signed a minor-league deal with the Cleveland Indians.  
  • Starting pitcher Tommy Milone signed a big-league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.
  • Catcher Juan Centeno signed a minor-league deal with the Houston Astros.
  • Relief pitcher Marcus Walden — who spent 2016 with the Rochester Red Wings — signed a minor-league deal with the Boston Red Sox.
  • Shortstop Pedro Florimon and relief pitcher Sean Burnett signed minor-league deals with the Philadelphia Phillies.
  • Catcher Eric Fryer and relief pitcher Jordan Schafer signed minor-league deals with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Former Twins infielder and MLB Hall of Famer Rod Carew underwent heart and kidney transplant surgery. The surgery, which reportedly took over 12 hours, was a success and a full recovery is expected.