Thursday, April 23, 2015

Welcome aboard, Ahmad Gilbert!

Ahmad Gilbert, a 6-6 wing from Philly, has committed to the Gophers.  Gilbert isn't all that highly ranked, coming in at three stars from ESPN and overall recruit #259 and SF #49 at 247sports, but I'm optimistic after looking scouting reports and reading a bit more (more on that in a second).  He originally had committed to George Mason over Wichita State, Temple, and South Florida among others.  After GMU fired their coach he was released from his NLI and was recruited by Minnesota, Pitt, and South Florida, ultimately choosing the Gophers.

Everyone calls him a big-time scorer, and he looks like he's a big time shooter and he's left-handed so that's always fun to watch.  He shoots more of a set shot and has a really low release point so it's a question if he can get that shot off against big time competition, but it looks like when he does it goes in the basket and awful that and that's the whole point of basketball so that's good.  He's not a great driver or distributor, but with Kevin Dorsey and Jarvis Johnson on their way he shouldn't need to be, and the team could use more shooting without question.  Additionally he's one of those long type of guys and is already a good defender so he could play right away.

Most likely this also closes the door on Malik Ellison, a more highly rated wing, but Ellison's recruitment is picking up and he's had plenty of time to commit.  Pitino really couldn't take a chance holding off Gilbert until Ellison was ready to make a decision and potentially losing both guys, so it makes sense to take Gilbert on now.  And, although this post is maybe coming up negatively, I do like the signing.  Pitino is basically building this roster from scratch, and he needs a little bit of everything.  The one piece missing from this recruiting class so far, besides a power forward, is a shooter and ideally Gilbert will fit that role.  He'll be more of a project than any of the other perimeter signings and on a team with a few projects already things could get messy, but he has a ton of potential.  Not to mention building a team of similar sized, athletic types is a perfect recipe for the type of style Pitino wants to play.

One scholarship remains for 2015-2016, and it's almost certainly got to be a big guy.  Ellison and Gilbert could play together, but the team is so loaded with perimeter guys and so light on bigs right now they really need to bring in somebody with some size, and ideally some skill would be good too.  There are a handful of current candidates, but three of them would have to sit out next season:

- PF Chris Boucher, Powell, WY (#10 JuCo):  Boucher is big (6-10) but also skinny (205 lbs.) but can run and jump out of the gym and was the Junior College National Player of the Year.  He was a monster for Northwest College in Wyoming, averaging 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks per game (4.7!!!).  He also shot 58% from the floor and 44% from three on 126 attempts.  The stats are insane, but should come with some questions as well considering Minnesota's biggest competition for him looks to be are TCU, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, and Texas Tech.  Weird things happen with Jucos all the time, from guys that aren't highly regarded who become stars to guys who look like they'll be big time players who flame out.  I am very optimistic about Boucher if he becomes a Gopher, but wary.  Still, the Gophers badly need another big man for next year, and I'd be thrilled to take a chance on Boucher.

- PF Cullen Russo, Hobbs, NM (#33 JuCo):  Russo, formerly from somewhere in Minnesota that I don't feel like looking up, has bounced around a couple prep schools and junior colleges and finds himself back on the Gophers' radar (Tubby had recruited him in high school).  Russo played last season in New Mexico and averaged 12 pts and 7 rebounds per game.  If I recall he was kind of a fringey D-1 type of guy coming out of high school, but recent reports make it sound like he's really rounded his game into shape and, like Boucher, can score both inside and out and play solid defense and at 6-9 and 210 lbs. that would fit with the Gophers' needs nicely.  The Gophers should be in decent shape here, but Texas Tech and Tubby are still on him, Wichita State recently offered, and Indiana's been sniffing around so he's picking up some steam.  I'd rather have Boucher, but Russo could be a nice fall back.

-  SF Josh Cunningham, transfer from Bradley:  The surest bet of any of these guys to have a productive career, Cunningham is transferring from Bradley after his freshman year.  He had a successful season, averaging 7.9 points and 7.5 rebounds (led the team) in 30 minutes per game, but a coaching change triggered a mass exodus of players (6 at last count) and Cunningham was one of them.  Coming out of high school Cunningham was ranked as the #115 recruit and #30 SF in the country by 247, and there was mutual interest between he and the Gophers before he chose the Braves.  His proven production will have plenty of programs looking at him, but hopefully whatever relationship he developed with the Gophers' coaches was strong and he ends up at Minnesota because he would be a fantastic pick-up.  He'd have to sit out next season and obviously that's not ideal especially with Reggie Lynch already on the shelf next season, but for 3 years of his proven production the wait would be worth it.  Looking at Minnesota, Arizona, DePaul, Michigan State, Notre Dame, St. John's, Purdue, South Carolina, UIC, Dayton, and Colorado State.  Oof.

-  PF Kyle Washington, transfer from NC State:  Washington was a highly regarded recruit two seasons ago coming into NC State with 247sports listing him as the #82 recruit and #16 PF in the country.  In his freshman year he averaged 5 pts and 4 rebounds per game in 20 minutes, and followed that up this past season averaging 7 pts and 4 rebounds, but in just 18 minutes.  He also saw his playing time dwindle as the season went along, hitting double figures in minutes in just three of the team's final eleven games, including two games where he didn't get off the bench at all.  He's been a capable rebounder and defender in his two seasons, but his sub 47% shooting in each year isn't ideal for a non-perimeter player.  He's originally from Minnesota so there's some thought he might be looking here, but he spent time at a prep school out of state as well so who knows how strong that lure is.  I can't find any info on which schools he's considering.

-  PF Jordan Caroline, transfer from Southern Illinois:  Another part of a mass exodus (though this one not because of a new coach), Caroline is one of five Salukis set to transfer and he's shown interest in the Gophers.  Unlike Cunningham and Washington, Caroline wasn't highly regarded out of high school but he put up a nice freshman season for So Ill (9.2 points and 6.2 rebs) and is looking for a bigger stage to play on.  Granted he was playing for a terrible team, but he put up really impressive per possession rebounding numbers and a good free throw rate so he'd certainly be useful in 2016 (he would have to sit out 2015-2016).  Caroline has set up visits to Xavier, Cincinnati, Nevada, and Minnesota so the Gophers are definitely in the mix.

Pray for Boucher.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Welcome aboard, Reggie Lynch!

Center Reggie Lynch, formerly of Edina, announced he is transferring from Illinois State to the Gophers and OMG you guys.  A real, honest to go defensive force and bruising big man.  Unfortunately he has to sit out next season due to transfer rules, but come 2016-2017 this guy is going to be fun.

Lynch, 6-10 and 257 lbs., averaged 9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks in 22 minutes per game last season and has the speed and athleticism to run the floor in Pitino's uptempo system.  His offense is a bit of a problem considering he shot just 51% from the floor while 65% of his shots were classified as "at the rim" but his main weapon is dunking and ideally the Gophers will be able to get him his opportunities running the floor.  Here's his shot chart from, with the caveat that it only covers 7 games.

Yep, he's a dunker.
He looks to basically be a dunker, though that red dot is promising and at least he took a handful of shots on the perimeter in those 7 games, so maybe he can develop some kind of jumper.  Still, that's not really the big selling point on Lynch - he's a defender.

Lynch's 2.8 blocks per game was 14th in the nation, and on a per possession basis he was tops in the country, blocking 15.2% of all opponents shots when he was on the floor.  To put this in perspective so you know what to expect, A.J. Hammons of Purdue was 12th at 12.3%.  There will likely be some fall off moving from the Missouri Valley to the Big Ten, but Lynch's game should translate pretty given his size as long as he doesn't find himself constantly in foul trouble, which he did have some issues with.  Worth noting he had 6 blocks vs. VCU, 6 vs. UAB, and 5 vs. Wichita State in games last season.

This is a very nice get for a team with so many questions about the future front court, and a good use of one of the three (I think) remaining open scholarships, and also breaks up the recruiting classes a little.  With a bunch of guards coming in, nabbing up a nice big man who has already established himself a bit is great, and getting a true rim protector is awesome.  Fun stuff.  With two scholarships still open for 2015 I'll write up a post later this week on potential future Gophers.  I promise.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Twins Preview - Throwers

I really don't want to do this.  The Twins' pitching has been horrible for years, and even though it might be a little bit better it's still bad and it's also boring.  I guess just dive right in?  Yeah ok.

Opening day starter Phil Hughes should be the ace.  The Twins signed him prior to last season on the cheap, hoping he'd be a better pitcher getting out of Yankee Stadium and boy did that pay off.  He slashed his walks to an insane 0.69 per 9 innings which was the third lowest mark since 1920.  1920!  And he somehow managed to do that while increasing his strikeouts and giving up half as many homers per fly ball.  The homers number is maybe a little fluky, but moving from Yankee Stadium to Target Field can explain a lot of that too and it's balanced by a slightly higher than it should have been BABIP.

I mean Hughes was a really, really good pitcher last year.  Imagine if the Twins weren't one of the two worst fielding teams in the league last year (I can't remember the other one).  Hughes' FIP, which stands for Fielding Independent Pitching and attempts to measure a pitcher based solely on things he can control, was 2.65, almost a full run lower than his ERA (that means the Twins' fielding and Hughes' luck were both really, really bad).  That number was fifth among qualified starters in all of baseball.  He was fifth among starters in WAR.  He won 16 games on a terrible team.  He finished 7th in Cy Young voting.  I mean geez.  I didn't even realize just how good he was.

Honestly, and it scares me to say this a little, there's really no reason not to expect him to be the same pitcher this season. None of the improvements he made are unsustainable, even if a little regression should probably be expected because that's only natural after you set an all-time freaking record for K/Walk ratio, and there's actually some room for his luck to improve.  Most of the projection systems like his walk rate to about double (to a still really good number in the low 1s) and his ERA/WHIP/FIP to go up accordingly, but what if he can come closer to replicating that 0.69?  Man wow.  I know his extension is a bit of a risk since it's pretty much based on one season, but if he can come close to that pitcher again it'll be an absolute bargain.

After Hughes come a couple vets in new Ervin Santana and last year's new Ricky Nolasco.   The latter was an unmitigated disaster, as Nolasco cashed in $12 million to put up career worsts in nearly every category to the tune of a 5.38 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, all while failing to reach 200 innings pitched.  Looking into the advanced stats there's not much of a reason for optimism, though he probably won't be worse.  Even so, I took him with my first pick in a horrible players fantasy league, where you're rewarded for sucking.  Santana is a good signing for a contending team who needs someone in the middle of their rotation, but he doesn't make much sense for a a team like the Twins, especially if it helped push Alex Meyer and Trevor May back down to AAA.  I mean, he's been a pretty good pitcher in five of the last six seasons and he'll almost certainly help the team win more games this season, but he's pretty pointless unless he's still good when this team is contending.  Which will be soon, right?  Whatever.  The team probably thought they were signing Johan Santana anyway.

Starter four is Kyle Gibson who has pretty much lost his top prospect shine but had a pretty successful second season.  He improved from his (admittedly disastrous) rookie call-up two years ago by getting better in pretty much every metric you can find.  His WAR was 2.1 last season, which puts him in line with guys like Chris Tillman and Henderson Alvarez in the pretty darn good pitcher area.  I'd really like to see him up his K rate to somewhere closer to what he was putting up in the minors, but you can't really argue to much with a 2:1 ground ball to fly ball ratio.  He's a solid #4 or a so-so #3 with potential for more if he can whiff more dudes.  Keep an eye on that.

Winning the fifth starter competition over Meyer, May, and Mike Pelfrey (who is in the bullpen in a move I'm sure will work out) is your guy Tommy Milone, who came over in the Sam Fuld trade in what was a steal because Fuld is terrible.  Not that Milone is anything particularly special, but he's made himself into a serviceable major league pitcher despite a fastball that doesn't break 87 miles per hour unless there's a stiff breeze behind him.  But he mixes his pitches well and generally keeps the walks down, so he's not the worst option you could have as a fifth starter - though I promise you he'll have games where he's missing his spots where you'll believe he's pretty much the worst.

That's it for the starters, so now we're on to the bullpen which is going to be awful.  Glen Perkins will close of course and he's pretty awesome.  I have a tendency since he's a Minnesotan on a Minnesota team (and also I'm kind of a shithead sometimes) to assume he's being locally overrated but Perkins really is an elite closer.  Since he took over the closer role permanently in 2013 he ranks 9th in saves (on a terrible team), 13th in K/9, 58th in ERA, and 22nd in FIP, and 25th in WHIP among all pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched - that's pretty damn good!  And he has four more extremely affordable years on his contract (including this season).  I kind of love the guy, but they should probably be listening at every trade deadline.  Some team in win-now mode who is desperate for a closer might do something foolish, and he's a very valuable trade chip.  For now, I'm just going to love watching him, and he's young enough he could be the closer when the team is in contention again (they will!), but you know, think about it.

I'm not saying shop him, not at all.  I'm just saying if say, the Dodgers and their bottomless pit of money find themselves in a dogfight for the division they could come sniffing around.  What if Kenley Jansen's injury festers and he's out all year, and terrible Brandon League and unproven Chris Hatcher aren't getting the job done?  Between Perkins's skills, proven closer status, and super nice contract he'd be an attractive option.  Maybe you can pry Kyle Seager or Julio Urias away.  That would be pretty stupid on the Dodgers' end, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.  They have a super deep farm system and they clearly want to win and they want to win now.

Casey Fien will be the main setup guy after another pretty good year even if he did slip a bit.  It's a smidge disconcerting, however, that his K/9 dropped from 10.6 in 2013 to 7.3 in 2014.  His velocity was actually up so there's a decent chance this was just a weird blip, but there was also a huge jump in contact rate.  Keep an eye on this guy.

Brian Duensing was brought back for some reason and he'll be the sole non-Perkins lefty even though he's really quite terrible at pitching.  He has been decent at getting lefties out in his career, but his inability to strike anyone out drives me crazy and he should never, ever pitch to right-handed batters.  I really don't know why they tendered him other than continuity and familiarity which, as you know, the Twins value to an absurd degree.  I'd rather just roll the dice on Caleb Thielbar.  Granted in his two seasons he's shown reverse splits and if the Twins looked at that then bravo, but I guess I don't buy the front office is that sophisticated.  There aren't really any other in house options for a lefty bullpen guy which is sad in and of itself, but there's always plenty of crappy lefty arms out there you could probably snag for a minor league deal.  In the long run I suppose it doesn't matter, but giving $2.7 million to a terrible Duensing is kind of gross.

The rest of the bullpen is pretty much a mess.  Tim Stauffer is a failed starter who's dealt with a couple of really significant injuries and he's probably the best of the group.  Mike Pelfrey is absolutely terrible and should be released but instead the Twins are putting him in the pen which also pissed him off, so this is just a great situation all around.  J.R. Graham pretty much made the team because he was a Rule 5 pick and has to be on the big league roster or be sent back to his original team, and I literally have no idea who Blaine Boyer is.  This is not an impressive collection of arms, and to make it even worse the only guy in the entire bullpen who is under 30 is Graham.  It's a group of old, failed pitchers.  I prefer my bullpen made up of hard throwing young guys with at least one who isn't sure where the ball might be going all the time.  That's fun.  This is a garbage fire.

It's not like the team's going anywhere anyway.  You could roll with 25-year old Michael Tonkin, 25-year old Stephen Pryor, 26-year old Lester Oliveros, 22-year old Nick Burdi, and 22-year old Jake Reed and be just as well off, if not better, and it would be a lot more fun.  Or hell, throw Meyer and/or May into the pen to start like the way the Orioles have handled Kevin Gausman.  I don't know.  I'm not entirely certain this team has a coherent plan beyond "waiting for 2016 and hoping all the prospects are good" but whatever.

All in all, the starters could be decent this year, and will most likely be the best the Twins have had in a few years.  The bullpen, however, is going to blow a lot of games.