Mackey: Twins sending odd message by snubbing Anthony Slama
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It's possible the Minnesota Twins created more buzz among fans due to the players they snubbed this week, as opposed to the players who did receive September call-ups.
While shortstop Eduardo Escobar and pitchers P.J. Walters, Esmerling Vasquez and Luis Perdomo will receive extended looks this month, shortstop Brian Dozier, Double-A outfielders Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks, and right-hander Anthony Slama will not.
Dozier, Arcia and Hicks were understandable cases. Dozier mostly struggled in his three-month stint as starting shortstop in the big leagues, and he didn't fare well over the past couple weeks in Rochester. Arcia and Hicks likely wouldn't see much playing time.
But Slama is a different story. At age 28, Slama has accomplished more in the minor leagues than is usually required to earn an extended look in the majors.
On Monday, he tallied his 100th career minor league save. He finished the season with a miniscule 1.24 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings. For his minor league career, Slama owns a 1.99 ERA with 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
He had elbow issues in 2011, but his performance this season suggests those troubles are behind him. Same for the broken leg he suffered earlier this summer.
Yet, despite these minor league accomplishments, Slama has pitched only seven innings in the big leagues.
It's worth noting general manager Terry Ryan has mostly stuck to his March message -- no scholarships. On the flip side of that, the Twins have also preached about players earning call-ups and playing time. Dozier didn't do enough to earn a September call-up. Matt Carson, for example, did.
Internally, Twins officials have said behind the scenes for at least two years that Slama's stuff and command are not good enough to get hitters out consistently in the big leagues. The word has always been that Slama puts too many runners on base, and his low-90's fastball lacks the necessary life for late-inning success in the majors.
A Twins official said Tuesday there is more to it -- that the Twins want to take a closer look at certain pitchers to see if they deserve to be on the 40-man roster headed into next season. Vasquez and Perdomo are among those pitchers; Tyler Robertson and Casey Fien are as well.
But here's where Slama's glass ceiling makes little sense -- since Johan Santana was traded five seasons ago, no pitching staff has struck out fewer opposing batters than the Twins'.
The Twins should crave strikeouts more than any team in baseball, and their hunger was apparent by their decision to draft strikeout-oriented pitchers in June.
Slama, whether he's using smoke and mirrors or not, has mowed through opposing hitters at every minor league level. And of the 214 International League pitchers who threw at least 30 innings this season, Slama tallied more strikeouts per nine innings than all of them.
The Twins might absolutely be right about Slama. If he were exposed to big-league hitters for an extended period of time, he might get rocked. That's entirely possible.
Meanwhile, 31-year-old Jeff Gray -- with a 5.71 ERA and 1.54 WHIP -- made it to the end of August before getting the boot. In fact, Gray appeared in more games than all but three Twins pitchers this season.
It's fair to say there was nothing in Gray's track record that suggested he could be a viable bullpen workhorse this season. In 140 2/3 career major league innings, Gray has fanned fewer than five batters per nine innings (Nick Blackburn territory), and he averages putting 1.5 hitters on base per inning. His Triple-A track record wasn't much different.
Keeping Gray on the roster for five months while telling Slama he hasn't earned 10 September innings seems bizarre, at best.
The Twins are on pace to lose more than 90 games for the second consecutive season. Doesn't it make sense for a team starving for strikeouts to allow Slama to prove it himself at some point?