A Look at the Twins Middle InfieldPublished 11:21am Sunday, February 5, 2012
Since pitchers and catchers are soon to report in means Spring Training is about to begin for all the Major League baseball teams. So I have decided to look at the Twins roster by position and see what we may have to look forward to this summer.
As I look at the Spring Training roster we all know Twins manager Ron Gardenhire enough to know that he has most of the positions already set in his mind so there may not be that much competition for spots. This makes it easier to look at the team. Today we will look at the middle infield situation as we see it right now.
Going into last season’s Spring Training Tsuyoshi Nishioka was slated to play second base and Alexi Casilla was set at shortstop and that is how they broke camp. At the time I did not like this set up as I thought the Twins should have held onto J.J. Hardy at shortstop to have a better veteran presence to help the Japanese Nishioka. I turned out to be right as Hardy went on to have a terrific season with Baltimore and the Twins middle infield was a mess all season. We all saw that Nishi was just over matched in the big leagues but what surprised me is how bad he was on defense. This guy was supposed to have won gold gloves in Japan at two positions and I didn’t see anything even close to that as he played for the Twins. I know he was hurt and had to adjust to a different culture but what does adjusting to a different culture have to do with fielding a ground ball. Anyway we can say that last year the middle infield was a bust as Trevor Plouffe disappointed me when he was given a chance, Casilla was confusing, and Luke Hughes and Brian Dinkelman were even given a chance.
So the Twins answer to the middle infield problems of last year was to sign 38 year old utility man Jamie Carroll. Ok, I happen to like Jamie Carroll. He is the guy who didn’t give up on his dream to be a big leaguer and didn’t get his chance until much later in life than most players. He has been good where ever he has played but that was in a utility role. Yes he has played a lot the last couple of years due to injuries on his teams but still he is a utility guy. But I do have to say because last year the middle infield was such a mess Carroll is a vast improvement at shortstop. To his credit he is a smart baseball guy and knows how to play the game and he also knows where his talents lie and he sticks to them. He is not a run producing hitter but he is a good on base kind of hitter which should fit well in the second spot of the batting order. His range at shortstop may not be the best but he is going to make the plays he should make and that didn’t happen a lot last year by anyone who played shortstop. So Shortstop will be an improvement but I would have liked the Twins to have spent a little more money and gotten Clint Barmes who has more range and has a little more pop in his bat and is a lot younger. Remember you heard it here first, they should have signed Barmes.
At second base we have Alexi Casilla. It seems we go into every season with Casilla at second. We did have a reprieve when Orlando Hudson was signed but we are back to Alexi again. For a second baseman Alexi makes a pretty good utility player. This means I would rather have him as a utility player than a starter and he has done well in the capacity. Casilla is just so frustrating because he does have the tools to play the position and be a decent hitter too. It is just that there seems to be something missing that allows him to be what he can be. Hopefully this will be the season that he finally breaks out.
So these two guys seem to be set in stone as the starters at these positions so who is going to back them up. It has already been said that Nishioka is the guy to be the utility man to fill in at shortstop and second base. In my mind a utility guy needs to bring some pretty good defense into the game when he plays and I don’t think Nishi’s the guy. Hopefully he will bounce back and show all of us that last year was just a fluke year and that he can actually play this game at this level. If he can’t then the Twins need to decide whether he goes to AAA or they cut their losses and buy out his contract and send him back to Japan.
If Nishioka is kept on the roster it may not bode well for Luke Hughes and to me that would be a shame. Hughes can do a capable job at second and third and if Carroll needs a break Casilla can shift over to short. I thought Hughes did a good job last year. He isn’t flashy but gets the job done and can also play 1st base if necessary. He has more pop in his bat so when he is in the lineup there would be a better chance of some run production than if Nishi was in there. In fact I would like to see Hughes either start at second base or at least platoon with Casilla at second base. Hughes has no options left so if Nishi makes the team over him the Twins stand a good chance of losing Hughes to another team.
As we saw last year the Twins were devastated by injuries so hopefully there are players in the minors that could help here. There are a few but very few that may be ready for the big leagues. Brian Dozier is the guy who may have the best chance of a call up if something goes wrong. From what I have heard he is a smart player and does pretty good on defense and he can hit as he has hit .300 for past few seasons. I think he is thought to be either the shortstop or second baseman of the future so who knows the future could mean 2012. Other than Dozier I am hoping everyone stays healthy. Ray Chang may be interesting though as he played well in Spring Training last year then went to AAA and got hurt so maybe he would be ok. Otherwise the only other two I see as I write this is Brian Dinkelman, who came up late last year, and Pedro Florian. Dinkelman is a converted outfielder and Florian hits like Drew Butera so if the Twins need to dig this deep the must be in some deep dodo of their own.
So over all, the Twins middle infield will be better than last year but since it was a mess last year and the Twins lost 99 games that may not be saying much. Carroll does bring some veteran experience to the tandem and I understand he is a great clubhouse guy and we all know how much that makes a difference. It remains to be seen if this is the tandem that will get the Twins back in contention for the Division title or one that may help the Twins get back to .500