Twins Infield Situation

5 Jan

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

The locker room in Ft. Myers will be full when spring training begins in February, and there will be a lot of infielders. Of course, that doesn’t meant that there aren’t still a lot of question marks. Here’s a look at the Twins infield positions as they stand now:

  • First Base – Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit, Luke Hughes, Joe Mauer, Aaron Bates, Chris Parmelee, Steve Pearce
  • Second Base – Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Jamey Carroll, Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier, Michael Hollimon
  • Third Base – Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, Sean Burroughs, Michael Hollimon, Ray Chang
  • Shortstop – Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, Ray Chang

First Base

If Justin Morneau is right and healthy and able to play 150 games, he is an MVP candidate. Therein lies the issue. What can be expected from Justin Morneau in 2012? And, unfortunately, the answer at this time is that we don’t know. It’s not a question of effort, as I often hear. His long-term well-being is far more important than its effects on the Twins. But if he can be back, the Twins have a chance. Joe Mauer showed last year that he can handle the position, if needed, and to keep him in the lineup more. Ryan Doumit can also play the position. Did you know that Aaron Bates hit .316 last year in Rochester with an On-Base Percentage over .400? He can play multiple positions too. He played in the big leagues for the Red Sox in 2009 after being their 3rd round pick in 2006. We saw Chris Parmelee in September and what we saw tells us that if needed, he can contribute. Steve Pearce is nice depth as well and has long been a big hitter in AAA.

Second Base

Alexi Casilla goes into the season as the starter at 2B, but which Casilla will show up, and will he be able to stay healthy for a full season? Luke Hughes was solid at second base and provides some power as a starter or off the bench. Tsuyoshi Nishioka will likely be in a utility role and spend time at both middle infield positions. Jamey Carroll may end up at second base at some point. I think we can assume that Brian Dozier will be plenty of time at second base in the minor leagues and could be ready at some point in 2012. Pedro FLorimon, Michael Hollimon and Ray Chang also provide depth.

Third Base

Danny Valencia remains the starting third baseman. The numbers from 2011 didn’t match his rookie season of 2010, but if he continues to hit line drives like he did in 2011, the hits will fall in. Luke Hughes can spend some time there as well. Knowing how Ron Gardenhire works, I would not be at all surprised if we hear him talking about Sean Burroughs as competition for Valencia. That would, of course, be crazy, but Burroughs has definitely hit at the AAA level and can be a decent bench option for the Twins at some point this season. Michael Hollimon and Ray Chang provide depth. And Deibinson Romero had a solid season in AA and remains in the system.

Shortstop

Jamey Carroll isn’t young, and may not have a ton of range, but he will make all the plays that he gets to and he is an on-base machine who will fit nicely into the #2 spot in the lineup as well. Nishioka and Alexi Casilla can give him a day off occasionally. As we know, Brian Dozier is waiting in the wings. Will he start the season in New Britain or with Rochester? We shall see. Pedro Florimon is a flashy defender who debuted last September with the Orioles. I believe that we would have seen Ray Chang with the Twins at some point last year if not for his broken fibula.

Free Agents

The one free agent that is intriguing is Derrek Lee. He’d be a nice right-handed bat who could play 1B and also DH. Of course, he would likely cost more than the Twins are willing to spend.

Other infield free agents include: Wilson Betemit, Brooks Conrad, Craig Counsell, Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera, Ronny Cedeno, Alex Cora, Adam Everett, Aaron Miles, Will Rhymes, Omar Vizquel, Jack Wilson, Russell Branyan, Jorge Cantu, Carlos Guillen, Brad Hawpe, Dan Johnson, Casey Kotchman and Xavier Nady.

Frankly, none of those names are all that intriguing. Some were good several years ago. Some are solid utility guys. The Twins have a lot of question marks, but none of these options would do anything toward helping the Twins compete in 2012. The Twins chose to invest in Nishioka, enough to give him a second chance after a season that quickly came to a halt just six games into the season. He had a lot to overcome, and maybe in a less stressful role, we can see what he is really capable (good or bad!). The Twins have solid, unspectacular starters, and Morneau is a difference-maker if only he can be healthy. There is depth at Rochester and on the bench. And, Brian Dozier is probably pretty close to big-league ready.

What would you do? Feel free to leave comments in the Comments section.

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23 Responses to “Twins Infield Situation”

  1. mike wants wins January 5, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    No way I’d sign another infielder for this team. Not with the holes in the pitching staff. Plus, they don’t really know what they have in Valencia and Morneau, or even Casilla. They need to see what those three can do this year, before making any other decisions. I suspect Dozier will start in AA, slowly move to AAA, then maybe get to the majors after September. Hughes should get a chance to back up Casilla, but I think there is a chance they lose him this year. I don’t see them sending Nishioka down.

    It all comes down to Morneau’s health. He’s the man that can make a difference. The rest are complimentary players.

  2. nate January 5, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    i would love to see Derek Lee… this could be our next go around with a Thome like bat and fantastic back up for “Morny” who will not or should not play first base again in my opinioni…
    Nate

  3. dave January 5, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Casilla as your starter at second. Says it all

  4. TT January 5, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Holliman is a minor league utility player. He is “depth” at the major league level only if the Twins have huge injury problems like last year. The same is true of Bates and Pearce. They are all players who will fill a spot on the major league bench because no one else is available or ready.

    I don’t know why you left Jamey Carroll off the list of third base depth, but he belongs there. Valencia’s real competition may be the middle infielders. If Nishioka or Dozier play well enough to claim a spot, Carroll could shift over to replace him.

    Valencia’s problem is his defense. He doesn’t hit well enough, and likely won’t, to make up for his lack of range. The issue is less having those line drives fall in than it is getting to balls quicker. Which is why Burroughs or Carroll could end up taking his spot. Neither one will match his bat, but at least they will make the plays on defense.

    Chang is an interesting player. He is still young and may still have some room for development. He’s played internationally for the Chinese team (although he grew up in Kansas City). It sounds like his best defensive position is third base, but his bat probably doesn’t play there. He could take the utility spot if Nishioka plays like last year.

    • Seth January 5, 2012 at 10:49 am #

      TT, I think my point that Hollimon is ‘depth’ is exactly what you said. It’s if things go as bad health-wise as last year. But, if it does go that bad, it doesn’t matter if it’s Hollimon or Chang or Orlando Cabrera or Jack Wilson.

      I mentioned the minor league invites also because they are exactly what you said. I’m not looking for them to be major contributors, but I also think they can be good role, bench type players. Bates is a guy that I think could be a decent player. 3rd round pick. Got up to the Red Sox in 2 years. Suddenly available last May.

      Chang was pretty solid last year, and I’m glad he came back. I don’t know that he has any upside, but could contribut, again, if needed.

  5. gobbledy January 5, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    looking at these options makes me sad!

  6. Jim H January 5, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Nice post, Seth. Other than good health, starting pitching is the key to Twins success in 2012. But, the infield is very important. Morneau is good enough defensively that he makes the other infielders better. If he can’t play defensively, it hurts the overall infield defense. I think the other key is whether either Nishioka or Dozier can be good enough at short(and offensively) to force Carroll back into a utility role. The team sets up much nicer with Carroll as a utility infielder. I am not sure I agree with TT about Valenica’s range, he just seemed to play much worse defensively in 2011 than he did in 2010. If Castilla is ever going to be a big league regular, now is his time. One hopes that the “good” Castilla is the “real” Castilla.

    • Seth January 5, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      Carroll isn’t a utility player any more. He’s an every day player who has the ability to play 3 positions very well. In my mind, Casilla is the one that should be a utility player. I’d much rather see Carroll at SS, Hughes get a legit shot at 2B and Casilla play the three spots in a utility role.

  7. Jim H January 5, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Sorry for mispelling Casilla’s name.

  8. cj January 5, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Valencia has better range than Tony Batista, but it’s close.

  9. R Hobbs January 5, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    I agree with Seth, none of those free agents does much for me. If Morny isnt healthy (and the silence suggests he is not), we will have the worst infield in MLB. The sad thing is not only can they not hit but they are below average defensively in every spot which is always problematic, but you couple that with a pitching staff that relies on defense ( Pavano, Blackburn, Marquis, Capps) and it portends another really long season.

  10. Matt January 5, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    I’m no fan of Alexi Casilla but the thought of Hughes as the #2 option at second base is a little scary. Valencia and Carroll are not much for range and with Hughes at 2nd there would be a lot of ground balls rolling through the infield.

  11. Shane Wahl January 5, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    Hughes was slightly above average at 2B defensively last year, correct? With the defensive versatility of Carroll, Casilla, and Hughes (and in an in-game emergency, Plouffe), replacing Nishioka with Derrek Lee is what should happen ($4-5 million?).That would push the Twins over their ridiculous $100 million spending limit though . . .

    I am not sure what is so upsetting to people about this list. Maybe they are forgetting just how terrrible, terrible SS was last year? Carroll is solid and provides OBP. Valenica is bound to middle out between 2010 and 2011, which means he hits .275 with 15 homers and plays average defense like he was always expected to do. A healthy Casilla is a good enough 2B. He is hitting very well this winter. Hughes could be utilized by a smart manager against lefties to maximize his utility. Meanwhile, Nishy could learn how to play second base (why is he being referred to as a utility man after that injury and never returning to the position!?!?) playing everyday in Rochester for 6 weeks or so (until someone gets injured).

    P.S. is it anywhere near appropriate to refer to Burroughs as Josh Hamilton Ultra Lite?

  12. Shane Wahl January 5, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    TT, I think maybe Seth lists some of these guys because he likes minor league baseball and likes these players as opposed to adding in *old* replacement players for $1 million each. Holliman is mentioned so James Beresford doesn’t have to be!

    • Seth January 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

      I’d have mentioned Beresford, but he’ll likely be in New Britain and I primarily just went with guys who will likely start the season in AAA.

  13. Jim H January 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    Seth, actually Carroll is a utility infielder. He has been his whole career and has been occasionally stretched into almost regular duty. He is this year’s version of Juan Castro. A little more accomplished with the bat. The best case scenario for the Twins is for either Nishioka or Dozier to be good enough to be a major league starting shortstop. If they can’t, Carroll will make a decent stopgap at short. But, especially at his age, he is no long term answer. Clearly the Twins would be a better team if either Nishioka or Dozier can make Carroll the utility infielder he really is.

  14. Jim H January 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    Seth, I also understand your feelings about Casilla, but he is going to get his shot at 2nd. At his best, he has good range, a great arm, very good speed and enough patience, pop and bat to be a very good top of the order hitter. The Twins are a patient organization, but I think they are nearly out of patience with him. He will get the first shot at 2nd but they aren’t going to ride him too long. He will have to produce.

  15. darin January 5, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    I have no idea why Morneau doesn’t at least start the first month of the season at DH. He should not be pushed so soon. If golden boy Joe Mauer can miss 5-12 days with a case of the sniffles why not ease Morneau back into playing shape. Obviously, Justin would not want to do this but it would be the best for him and the team.

  16. Andy4Twins January 5, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    I don’t think Valencia has as long of a leash as most think. If he doesn’t produce early I agree with an earlier commenter that Carrol appears to me to be second on the 3rd base depth chart and that they will give Nishioka another chance at Short or Florimon if they want to go the defense route.

    Valencia has a lot riding on this season (mostly on defense).

  17. Paul Sparke January 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    I think its time for people to realize Morneau is no longer an elite player. He will not be close to the player he was before. Look at other players in different sports when they get symptoms like Morneau has experienced the past 2 years their career is over. He won’t ever hit 20 home runs again or drive in 100 runs. The twins I think are holding out for a miracle or else they don’t know what to do with his contract. I’m sure Justin will hang around to cash in on his contract.

    • darin January 5, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

      He would put up good numbers if he played DH. I would bet he could hit more than the $23 million player who is part time DLer.

    • TT January 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

      I think its too early to come to that conclusion. Baseball is not a contact sport and its not at all clear that his symptoms will prevent Morneau from hitting. Or even from playing first base. But that certainly is one of the big questions for the Twins this eyar.

      • Andrew January 6, 2012 at 8:21 am #

        I don’t think we can say that Morneau is done yet. You’re right, darin and TT, he should still be able to hit even if he’s only 80 or 90 percent back to normal. I think the 2012 season will be telling, though: he needs to stay healthy enough, have no further concussions (of course), and see if he can be productive. Otherwise I think his chances of a “permanent” recovery are pretty low.

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