Twins Notebook: Santana Sidelined into the Season; Spring Training Invites Announced

Santana will miss 1-to-3 starts to open the season. (photo credit: Brian Curski, Cumulus Media)

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Twins announced that right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana had undergone a procedure to his right (pitching hand) middle finger. The procedure — a  capsular release/debridement — was at the MCP joint and took place in New York City earlier in the day on Tuesday. It was successful, and Santana will reportedly be sidelined for 10-to-12 weeks.

As noted by Twins PR man Dustin Morse, the initial diagnosis resulted in injections, and the symptoms did not recur until recent throwing sessions.

Here’s the initial reaction from our resident injury expert:

He expanded on these thoughts further in a full-length article on Zone Coverage which can be found here.

On the baseball side of things, the short end of the injury time frame puts him returning to the club in mid-April while the long side would be exactly May 1. With four off days in April as well as the one in March, the Twins can rework their rotation a bit to avoid using Santana’s spot in the rotation — the de facto fifth spot teams typically skip in the month — as a temporary measure. However, by the looks of things early, the Twins may need to use that spot on April 13 against the White Sox at home, again 11 days later in the Bronx against the Yankees and five days after that when the Cincinnati Reds come to town.

So it’s somewhere between 1-to-3 starts the Twins will need to patch together while waiting for Santana to return.

It’s not just the Twins who’ll sorely miss Santana’s time on the mound, either. Santana’s option for 2019 ($14 million) would vest at 200 innings — a virtual certainty he’ll miss after Tuesday’s news. Santana threw 211 innings last year and may only miss “one” start in theory, but he’ll end up missing something like 15 team games on the short side — or almost 10 percent of the season.

Even losing just 10 percent of last year’s innings puts him under that 200-inning threshold, and that’s before considering his previous most recent season with that many was 2013 with the Royals.  

With that said, if Santana comes back healthy and doesn’t miss a beat — as Seehafer suggests is possible in the previously mentioned article — then $14 million for one year for a pitcher of Santana’s caliber is a no-brainer.

But he’ll be 36 this offseason and has thrown a ton of sliders, and don’t forget that Father Time is undefeated. It’ll be an intriguing storyline this season.

In the meantime, while the Twins were likely looking to the outside for at least one more solid pitcher — Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the team is kicking around the idea of a Jaime Garcia reunion — it doesn’t necessarily make the situation more dire in the sense that they really have to cave to meet Yu Darvish’s demands.

Darvish is still No. 1 with a bullet — quite a few of them, really — on most teams’ wish lists for a starting pitcher even now as we head into the last part of the offseason, but the Twins can still move forward by signing another moderately good pitcher on the market — Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb come to mind — while also maybe dipping into the lower market for a lottery ticket-type such as Trevor Cahill or maybe a lower-end, show-me arm like Chris Tillman, Jeremy Hellickson or Clay Buchholz.

There’s still plenty of quality out there.

On Tuesday, the Twins announced their Spring Training invite list as well. According to a team release, joining the Twins in Fort Myers will be three pitchers: right-handers Myles Jaye, Michael Kohn and Jake Reed; catchers Willians Astudillo, Brian Navarreto and Bobby Wilson; infielders Taylor Featherston, Nick Gordon, Gregorio Petit and Brock Stassi; and outfielders Nick Buss, Ryan LaMarre and LaMonte Wade.

Jaye, 26, is a right-handed pitcher with some big-league experience (12.08 ERA in 12.2 innings) with Detroit last season. He’s worked almost exclusively as a starter in the minors, with so-so results (4.30 ERA in Double-A, 3.62 in Triple-A) and shaky peripherals. It’s possible his stuff could play up in the bullpen, though he might be a contingency plan in Triple-A Rochester as a starter to open the season. In his brief MLB time, he averaged 89.6 mph on his fastball while mixing in a slider (20.5 percent), curve (11.9 percent) and a show-me changeup (7.1 percent).

Kohn has spent parts of five seasons in the big leagues, spinning a 3.52 ERA between the Angels (four years) and the Braves (one) over 115 innings. It’s not all it seems, however, as Kohn has thrown fewer than 30 MLB innings since Opening Day 2014, and overall he’s got a FIP of 4.94, a 1.42 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 against 6.2 BB/9. That his WHIP is still in the stratosphere despite all those walks suggests one thing — he must be pretty hard to hit.

…which is absolutely true, as opposing batters have hit just .203/.337/.357 against him in his career. He may be turning 32 in June and coming off rotator cuff surgery that basically cost him the last two seasons, but he’s still fairly intriguing.

Reed was the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2014 draft, and went unselected in the Rule 5 draft this past winter when the team didn’t add him to the 40-man roster. That was a little surprising given his fairly strong numbers as a 24-year-old at Triple-A Rochester last season — 2.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in 30.2 innings, 25-11 K/BB ratio — but it’s possible teams didn’t think he’d miss enough bats at the next level. Teams rarely go for safer, middle relief types in that draft and most often shoot for the stars, but Reed should be able to help the Twins at some point this season if the need arises. His swinging strike rate was 11 percent with the Red Wings last season, and opposing batters hit just .224/.306/.271 against him with no real platoon split. How he wasn’t selected is baffling.

Astudillo, 26, is a favorite in the prospect community because of his squat build — 5-foot-9, 225 pounds — and his extreme contact abilities. Astudillo struck out just five times in 128 plate appearances with Triple-A Reno last year (3.9 percent), and has not struck out more than 5.0 percent of the time at any level. He’s a career .311/.350/.401 hitter who basically only hits singles and never walks. He’s a baseball unicorn.

Navarreto is regarded as a glove-first catcher who has hit just .209/.260/.297 in five seasons on the farm. The Twins took him in the sixth round in 2013 in their draft of catchers — Mitch Garver (ninth round) and Stuart Turner (third round) were also selected — and thus far his biggest value has been behind the plate, where he’s thrown out more baserunners (64) than he’s allowed successful steals (63). Teams invite numerous catchers to camp so they have enough bodies to catch all the pitchers who are in camp as well. Realistically, Navarreto has no chance to make the Twins.

Wilson has a slightly better chance, though it’d be a huge upset if Garver isn’t the second catcher come Opening Day. Wilson debuted in the big leagues in 2008 and has seen time in eight seasons, but has hit just .214/.268/.319 in 324 games. His best offensive season came in 2010 with the Angels, where he hit .229/.288/.417 with four of his 16 career home runs. Wilson is a career .273/.333/.409 hitter in the minors (882 games, 3,555 PA) and despite throwing out just 25 percent of baserunners in MLB is regarded as a good defender back there.

Featherston is a career .160/.221/256 hitter in 137 MLB games between the Angels, Phillies and Rays over the past three years. Featherston has played all across the infield and is a capable defender pretty much wherever he goes, but he feels a bit like the Doug Bernier of this year’s Twins — and Red Wings. He’ll provide insurance at Rochester most likely.

Gordon is one of three legitimate prospects to get invited to big-league camp this year, and was the team’s first-round pick back in 2014 (No. 5 overall). Gordon has been strictly a one-level-per-year player, which would mean he’d probably spend most, if not all this year at Triple-A Rochester. There are some possible hiccups to that notion, however. First of all, Triple-A isn’t much of a breeding ground for higher-end prospects, and Gordon certainly has the pedigree to skip Triple-A if his play merited it. With that said, he faded hard to end last season (.860 OPS through June 1, .603 after) so he might be headed back to Chattanooga for a bit. Nevertheless, if a starter goes down in Minneapolis for any length of time, this is probably the guy they go get. He’s better suited defensively at second base right now, but can play short and might see some time at third wants a longer look at his versatility. He did play a game at third base in Fort Myers in 2016.

Petit turned 33 in December and has seen big-league time in five seasons, dating back to his 2008 debut with the A’s. He’s a jack-of-all-trades defensively — he played second, third, short, left and right in 2016 for the Angels — but doesn’t offer much with the bat. He’s a career .249/.291/.353 hitter in 171 games in the big leagues, and hasn’t been a ton better in the minors (.269/.322/.376).

Stassi made it to the big leagues as a 27-year-old with the Phillies last year, and will provide the primary insurance for the Twins in the corners at Rochester. He’s a little like Ben Paulsen last year in that sense. Stassi hit just .167/.278/.295 with the Phillies, but is a career .262/.345/.386 hitter in the minors. He’s also pitched 10.1 innings at three different levels in the minors with an impressive 1.74 ERA, so look out Chris Gimenez fans!

Buss, 31, has some MLB experience with the Dodgers and Angels, and is coming off winning the PCL (Triple-A) batting title with El Paso (Padres). He hit an insane .348/.395/541 there last year, and even when corrected for the insane hitting environment it was still good for a .401 wOBA and 140 wRC+. Buss played a little first base last year, but was mostly a left fielder.

LaMarre has seen parts of three years of time in the big leagues, though they have not been terribly kind to him: 2-for-37 (.054) with 14 strikeouts. LaMarre, 29, is coming off a down year at Triple-A between two clubs (.628 OPS), but is a career .266/.343/.376 hitter in the minors with great speed (55 steals in 2011) and the ability to handle center (over 4,700 innings in CF in the minors).  

Wade is the final true prospect to get the invite to Fort Myers, and he’s a prospect that a lot of evaluators like for his discipline at the plate. The power has been a little slow to develop, but Wade has hit .295/.404/.437 through 273 minor-league games since the Twins took him in the ninth round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Maryland. Wade has played more center field than any other spot in the minors, but it’s unclear if he fits there on a regular basis. He doesn’t have a great arm, but that skill set makes him a good fit as a fourth outfielder as all three starters at this point can handle center. He’s got a fair chance to surface in Minneapolis at some point this season.

At present, the Twins will have 53 players in camp — these 13 invitees and all players on the 40-man roster.  Pitchers and catchers begin workouts on Feb. 14 and the first full-squad workout is five days later.

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Santana will miss 1-to-3 starts to open the season. (photo credit: Brian Curski, Cumulus Media)

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