|Usually when a team replaces its closer in the heat of the pennant race, it’s because the incumbent has repeatedly flirted with disaster. That hasn’t been the case with the Twins. Jon Rauch, their closer, has registered 21 saves in 25 chances, with solid if unspectacular peripherals. Regardless, Minnesota traded one of its brightest prospects to the Nationals to acquire all-star closer Matt Capps, who has a similar profile to Rauch as a strike-throwing reliever. Both closers are stingy with walks, though Capps gets most of his outs on groundballs, while Rauch is more flyball-oriented.
The Nationals acquired Triple-A catcher Wilson Ramos and struggling Double-A lefty Joe Testa in exchange for Capps and $500,000. It’s a sound move by Washington, kicking in cash to buy low on a solid catching prospect. A quality reliever like Capps has little value to a last-place club like the Nationals.
Prologue: The Twins lost closer Joe Nathan to season-ending surgery this spring, but despite his loss and shakier-than-usual starting pitching—not to mention Joe Mauer’s comedown from his historic MVP campaign—Minnesota was very much in the thick of the AL Central race as August loomed. They sat just 1 1/5 games behind the first-place White Sox as they began play on July 30.
|Wilson Ramos, c
Age: 22. Position: C (61 G).
Born: Aug. 10, 1987 in Valencia, Venezuela.
Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Bats: R. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Twins, July 7, 2004.
Ramos, 22, has ranked as the Twins’ No. 3, No. 3 and No. 2 prospect the last three seasons, first joining the Top 10 after his 2007 season at low Class A Beloit. He made a strong positive impression in May when he earned his first big league callup and went 8-for-27 (.296), including four hits in his major league debut.
Ramos struggled initially when sent down to Triple-A Rochester and has been a notorious slow starter throughout his career, and as usual he had heated up as the season went along. In 49 post-all-star-break at-bats, he went 19-for-49 (.388) with a homer, three doubles and nine RBIs. Ramos has two premium tools with his above-average raw power and arm strength, and he can be an above-average receiver as well. Despite his poor start, Ramos was still a name several scouts brought up when Baseball America made calls for its Midseason Top 25 Prospects. Part of the reason is his defensive performance, as he was leading the International League by throwing out 19 of 38 basestealers (50 percent). He’d also committed just two passed balls.
Ramos’ hitting ability eventually will rest with how consistently he makes contact, because he doesn’t draw walks consistently and remains an aggressive hitter. The Twins had issues with his conditioning, and he’s heavier than the above indicates. He’s a base-clogger and well-below-average runner.
|Joe Testa, lhp
Born: Dec. 18, 1985 in Jackson, N.J.
Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 175. Bats: L. Throws: L.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Twins, July 1, 2008.
Testa is a lesser version of Tim Collins, the small lefty recently traded by the Blue Jays to the Braves in the Yunel Escobar-Alex Gonzalez swap. Like Collins, Testa was passed over in the draft and signed as a nondrafted free agent—though Testa signed as a college senior, so he was four years older than Collins, who signed out of high school. Testa has had good minor league results, but he hasn’t been as dominant as Collins because his stuff is a grade below Collins’ in quality. Testa was rocked in his first stint at Double-A New this year, but he has 50 strikeouts in 54 innings. His best pitch is an average fastball at 88-91 mph that at times features some sink and tailing life. His slider and curve have their moments, but Testa’s best-case scenario, as a lefty specialist, will depend on him honing one of those breaking balls to be at least average if not better.
|Matt Capps, rhp
Age: 26. Remaining Commitment: Approximately $1.3 million; Nationals to send $500,000. Capps has 1 arbitration year (’11) prior to free agency—he signed 1-year, $3.5 million deal with Nationals in January.
Contract details courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.