Friday, August 24, 2012

Twins Hitters Who Could Contribute to a Playoff Team

The Twins are far from contending.  It really is the sad reality.  As much as we may think that adding two starting pitchers to the roster for 2013 will make the Twins contend, the reality is that 2 high quality starting pitchers added to this year's roster might have lead to a .500 finish.  .500 teams are worthless in my mind.  You either want to make the playoffs or rebuild, but you don't want to be in the middle.  Middling teams usually do not compete for the playoffs and have difficulties drafting and developing high-end talent. 

The one caveat is that the Central is a weak division and a .500 team might be close to a playoff spot.  We all know from history that a Central Division Championship is nice, but not a predictor of Twins' success in the playoffs.  In my mind, a few years of rebuilding can really replenish the farm system and lead to a bright future.  The tradeoff is an unpleasant present.  However, reality is reality.  Perhaps the Twins can have a Baltimore Orioles type success next year, but I doubt that would lead to the World Series.  A long term plan is needed.   I am going to look at the players on the current 40 man roster, to see who could help a contending Twins team (likely in 2014 at the earliest).  There are a variety of factors to consider, but each player will be analyzed based more on their future value than their current value.  While a playoff spot in 2014 is certainly possible, 2015 or 2016 seems a lot more reasonable. 
Let's start from the bottom:

Drew Butera - Catcher

Matt Carson - Outfielder
Carson is a 31-year-old outfielder with about 50 games of MLB experience.  He is not a piece to the puzzle and he is not a piece to any team's puzzle.  The fact that he made it back to the big leagues is a cool story, but that is about all it is. 

Alexi Casilla - Infielder
Casilla has been a useful player over the past few years.  Ok, useful might be a stretch, but a guy who can play both middle infield positions well is pretty useful.  He really can't hit at all, but he is fun to watch.  He has some charisma, but that doesn't really help a lot on the field.  I have enjoyed watching Casilla play the infield these past few years, but I don't think he will be in Minnesota next year.  A good team would maybe use him as a late inning defensive replacement/pinch runner, and nothing more.

Oswaldo Arcia - Outfielder
The future looks bright for Arcia.  He is a great hitter, and his AA stats are pretty impressive.  He isn't much of a fielder, and he might have to move to left field, as his arm is not right field quality.  The way he is hitting in AA and the fact that he is already on the 40 man roster, could combine to get him to the Twins' active roster in September at the young age of 21.  If Denard Span needs rest, he could easily get some playing time in right field with Ben Revere moving to center.  He likely will not be a full-time regular until 2014, but he might be a bit of a Jason Kubel (at his peak) type player down the line, and that type of player can definitely contribute on a future playoff team.

Joe Benson - Outfielder
Benson did not leave a good taste in fans' mouths last September and his struggles continued throughout this year in the minors.  He strikes out a ton.  He likely always will.  However, a strikeout is the same as a ground out, fly out, line out, pop out, and any other kind of out in the box score.  If he can be productive around the strikeouts, he has a lot of potential value.  He runs well, fields well, throws well and has power.  Put it this way, he could be what Trevor Plouffe is right now, with the added defensive and speed values.  Benson has a right field arm and potential 20 home run/20 steal ability.  He is still pretty young and I think he can contribute.  Personally,  I hope the Twins can fit him in the lineup next year, regardless of his struggles in 2012.  I would not give up on this player just yet.

Eduardo Escobar - Infielder
Escobar was acquired in the Francisco Liriano trade back in July.  He is already 23 years old, and is likely a utility man at best.  According to what I have read, he is a very good fielder.   He is also versatile enough to play second, third and short.  He could be a better version of Nick Punto, if he hits.  As much as Punto was disliked in Minnesota, his type of player does have some value off the bench. 

Pedro Florimon - Infielder
Florimon has a pretty similar skill set compared with Escobar.  He is a skilled fielder, but not an accomplished minor league hitter.  He could also be a utility player, but likely not one with as much value as Escobar.  I don't think he can contribute to a playoff team. 

Brian Dozier - Infielder
I am not a huge Dozier fan.  He will be 26 for most of next year, and he didn't really impress while in Minnesota.  He didn't hit enough to be valuable, especially when you consider that his defense needs work.  As unexciting as Escobar might be, his glove makes his shortcomings with the bat a bit more tolerable.  Dozier hasn't shown enough in the field or at the plate, and he is 2 years older.  Some have compared him to Jamey Carroll, but he doesn't walk nearly enough for that to be an accurate comparison.

Jamey Carroll - Infielder
More than 10 percent of the Twins' current 40 man roster consists of utility players.  Not all utility players are created the same way.  Carroll is a very valuable utility player.  He can play second, short and third in a pinch.  He gets on base enough to make up for his lack of power.  He is old.  I would not be surprised if he was retired the next time the Twins are contending.

Darin Mastroianni - Outfielder
Mastroianni is exactly the type of player that when used properly, has good value, but might be just good enough to earn more playing time and become an issue.  I know that might not make sense, but to me, Mastroianni is a good 4th outfielder.  When he becomes a regular, he looks a lot less impressive.  He clearly has the glove for any outfield position and he gets on base enough to be valuable.  However, he also appears to be a "gamer" and that worries me.  Gardenhire likes his gamers and a guy like Mastroianni may earn more playing time on that basis.  If he works hard and plays well, he certainly deserves that opportunity.  I just prefer to have players in positions that best emphasize their skill sets.  So, in summary, 4th outfielder Darin Mastroianni good, starting outfielder Darin Mastroianni bad.  Outfield is actually a position of strength here in Minnesota in the present.  Looking to the future, I hope there is never a situation where a guy like Joe Benson or Aaron Hicks is blocked by Mastroianni.  Then again, Matt Carson was getting starts over him the last week, so maybe Gardy doesn't like Mastroianni as much as I thought he would.

Chris Parmelee - 1st Base/Outfield?
I'm not sure Chris Parmelee should play the outfield on a contending team.  I am also not sure he can be productive enough with the bat to play first base on a contending team.  He is down in AAA earning the right for everyone to find out.  If the power translates, like Trevor Plouffe's AAA power surge in 2011, then he could be valuable.  He isn't likely to hit 30 bombs in the Majors, but 20 could be possible.  If he can draw walks and mix in some doubles, he could contribute at first base.  A player like that, under team control and cheap, can really contribute.  Spending a million or so on a starting first baseman can free up a lot of money to spend in other places.  Pitching comes to mind, but that is a story for next week.

Ben Revere - Outfielder
It is almost hard not to think of Juan Pierre when I think of Ben Revere.  Both have tons of speed, good contact, no power whatsoever, great range in the outfield and no arm.  This type of player is very dependent on stolen bases and batting average.  Research shows that batting average can vary significantly from year to year.  Without a .300 batting average, Revere is not a player that can help a good team.  That is my worry.  He makes contact so well and he is so fast, that he could defy variance and be productive for years.  Realistically, he might be best served as a 4th outfielder.  I will say, he is extremely fun to watch in the outfield and that provides some visual value for fans during down years.

Trevor Plouffe - 3rd Base
If Plouffe could just throw, the Twins would have an extremely valuable shortstop.  At third, he still can contribute.  The power surge in June/July was likely somewhat lucky.  His home run to fly ball ratio was very high, but that doesn't take the home runs off the board.  If he can provide an .800 or so OPS and can continue to make the throw from third base, he can be valuable in the same way as Chris Parmelee.  He will be cheap and under team control for awhile.  Corner infielders with average to good power have value and can help on a playoff team.

Ryan Doumit - Catcher/Outfielder
In many ways, Doumit is a perfect backup catcher for this team.  The fact that he could catch 4-5 times per week and put up good numbers, gives him the versatility to move to corner outfield positions and not look out of place offensively.  Catchers simply cannot play every day behind the plate, but having a good offensive player like Doumit to replace Joe Mauer a few days a week is extremely valuable.  Doumit isn't even a good fielder, regardless of where he plays, but his bat is above average and his positional versatility makes him a good piece.  He will be 33 in 2014, so the only way he contributes to a Twins playoff team is if they have success sooner than expected. 

Justin Morneau - 1st Base
I don't see it.  Morneau was a very important part of the Twins' success in the 2000s.  He won an MVP award and may have won another had he not suffered a concussion in 2010.  His season in 2012 has started to look good, but the looming head issues are a concern.  In addition, he will be 32 years old next year.  With Chris Parmelee seemingly ready for a shot and making more than 10 million dollars less in salary, I wouldn't be surprised if Morneau's healthy season earns him a ticket to another team.  I hope he can contribute to another team's success, as he has been a player I have enjoyed watching over the years.

Denard Span - Center Field
I heard Span on the radio and the host asked him who the most underrated player on the Twins is.  He said Jamey Carroll, but the correct answer would have been given had he said "me."  Span is a player that it took me a while to warm up to.  I focused too much on what he couldn't do (power, arm) and didn't see all the good things that he can do (hit, get on base, range in the outfield).  His base running is not great, but he doesn't need to steal bases to have value.  He gets on base at an above-average rate, he plays a good center field, and he has started to hit a lot of doubles this season.  He is a legitimate leadoff hitter and his healthy (head-wise) season is very encouraging.  All that being said, if the Twins can trade him for legitimate pitching prospects, I would do that.  You can't just sign quality pitching prospects as free agents.  You have to give something to get something.  However, iIf Span can't fetch a good return, I wouldn't trade him right now.  Down the line, if the outfield prospects (Arcia, Benson, Hicks) develop, you might trade him just because there are equally attractive options.  Right now, he is still the best all-around outfielder in the organization.   

Josh Willingham - Left Field
Josh Willingham is having a wonderful season.  He is getting on base and hitting for a ton of power.  He might have been the best free agent signing off the offseason in all of baseball.  His contract is reasonable and he is signed at that reasonable rate for two more years.  In addition, he replaced Michael Cuddyer, which earns him a special place in my heart.  On the other hand, Josh Willingham is a terrible outfielder.  He can only play left field, which is unique, but not cool.  He has very little range and his arm isn't great.  He is 33 years old, but if he stays healthy, there is no reason he can't put up similar offensive numbers for the next two years.  I would prefer that he does that as a full-time DH though.  With Joe Mauer on the roster, having a full-time DH is not an option.  So, yes, he can contribute, but he might be too old and not versatile enough to contribute to a Twins playoff team.  He is another candidate to trade for young pitching and after this season, he actually might bring something significant back in return. 

Joe Mauer - Catcher/DH
Joe Mauer is an excellent player.  It is very easy to look at all the things that he does not do and be critical.  To do that would ignore all the things that he does extremely well.  He gets on base as well as any player in baseball.  Only 3 active players have gotten on base at a higher rate than Mauer in his career:  Todd Helton, Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman (4 players if you count Manny Ramirez as active.  He might not have home run power, but he does have good gap power.  He may not be the elite catcher that he once was, but he can still play catcher at a respectable level.  He has played more games this year than any other Twins player with the exception of Josh Willingham.  Joe Mauer is the type of player that every team would want.  Of course, he is almost certainly overpaid, but that was as much a business decision as a baseball decision.  How could the Twins let a MN-born, homegrown player walk with a new ballpark opening.  Plus, he was coming off one of the greatest seasons ever produced by a catcher human.  The Twins had to overpay to keep him and it was the right decision.  While his salary adds a degree of difficulty to the rebuilding process, his talent makes it a lot easier to build a good team.  If the Twins contend in the next 6 years, he will be a positive contributor.

In summary

In my opinion, the following players will play a significant role on a future Twins playoff team:
Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe, and Chris Parmelee

The following players could play a significant role, if the Twins contend in 2014:
Josh Willingham, Denard Span, Ryan Doumit

The following players could play a bench role on a good Twins team:
Ben Revere, Eduardo Escobar, Darin Mastroianni

It is too early to tell, but these young players are exciting and could contribute:
Joe Benson, Oswaldo Arcia

The remaining players either will not be around, or will not contribute positively. 

Next week, I will tackle the pitchers. 

What do you think of this list?

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