Archived Story

Twins and 1st and 3rd

Published 4:43pm Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    Today I’m going to take a look at third base and first base for the Twins. We all hoped that it would be Justin Morneau and 1st and Danny Valencia at third for a number of years, but as in life, things don’t always work out they way you would like.

    With that last statement I am not giving up on the two guys, no not at all, but after last season it just isn’t a sure fire thing anymore. Last year may be chalked up to the old sophomore jinx for Valencia. His batting numbers were down and he didn’t quite field as well at third base as he did the year before. Manager Ron Gardenhire was quite vocal at times at how displeased he was with Valencia’s play at third so that is why the position isn’t a for sure thing in his favor.

    On the offensive side he didn’t hit as well as he did the year before but it wasn’t a total bust either. He hit 15 homeruns and drove in 72 while batting .246 which really isn’t all that bad for his second year. He has already stated that he knows he needs to change some things in his swing and I believe he will. He also, like a lot of Twins, may have been a little embarrassed about his season last year especially in his defense.

    I think Valencia will be fine. I see him hitting better and being a productive hitter in the lineup for 2012. He will also field better as I am sure all the losing last year may have had an effect on a lot of things and players. It’s not easy losing 99 games and after awhile, and especially with everything going wrong for the Twins, it is easy to get a little lethargic especially if you are a young player. Valencia was also the most healthy of the regular players last year and that has to be held into some account for him.

    The Twins lacked backup plans for a lot of positions going into last season so they have tried to fill that in a little this off season. The one guy they have brought in to put a fire under Valencia is Sean Burroughs. He is coming back from some alcohol abuse issues and is a very good fielding third baseman. He also hits left handed so if Valencia struggles a little bit they could platoon the two like they did with Pagliarulo and Leius back in 1961. Luke Hughes is another guy who can fill in at third if necessary or to give Valencia a rest. But I really think Valencia is going to bounce back with a little more maturity and have a good season for the Twins.

    First base may be the key to the Twins season. If Justin Morneau is completely healthy and can put up his normal numbers or reasonably close, the Twins will have a good year. The problem with that last statement is that the if in front of it is a big IF. Poor Justin hasn’t finished a season for the Twins the last three years. After being kind of a rock in the lineup he has turned into a pebble with some kind of injury. I love the guy, but with some of his nagging injuries and now his concussions and wrist injury I am a little more than concerned about his baseball future.

    He says he feels pretty good now but what will happen when he starts to play again. A lot of these guys with the head injuries have really struggled to play again. Peirre-Marc Bouchard of the Wild hockey team has hardly played since he had his concussion. When he seems recovered he goes out on the ice for awhile and then gets another one. At some point these players have to make a decision whether they want to risk more injury or just retire.

    So what is the backup plan if Morneau can’t play first base? They don’t have Michael Cuddyer to plug in there anymore. One may be to shift Joe Mauer from catcher to first, but then there is a hole at catcher. (more about that later when I look at the catchers) Ryan Doumit who was signed this winter could play there but he is a little defensively challenged at that position and I’m not sure you would want him there for any length of time. Luke Hughes could play there but may not have the production at the plate that you would want out of a first baseman. The final answer could be Chris Parmelee. He came up late last season and played in 21 games for the Twins and hit 4 homers, drove in 14 runs and hit .355. Now I think we all know he more than likely can not duplicate those numbers throughout a whole season, but in a pinch he did show he can play. He hits left handed so if Morneau goes out Parmelee could platoon at the position with either Doumit or Hughes but we all know platooning isn’t one of Gardy’s things.

    With Kubel and Cuddyer’s bats out of the lineup it is imperative that Morneau is healthy for the whole season for the Twins to be relevant in 2012. That is a lot of pressure on Morneau’s shoulders especially with his head problems. So maybe we better not tell him just how key a player he is as he will have enough on his mind.

    After all of this what do I think about the Twins at first base? I am concerned!

    Next up, the outfielders.

  • Tracy Mitchell

    Its hard to think of two players more critical to the success of the Twins this season than Valencia and Morneau. I share the worries about Morneau’s ability to come all the way back this year. A healthy, productive Morneau just can’t be replaced. Except maybe by Prince Fielder, and he’s with Detroit now.

    Valencia is a different matter – its now time for him to take the next step. Gardy gave the impression last year that he questioned Danny’s commitment to doing what he needs to do to reach the next level. Its really hard to tell how coachable a guy is and how dedicated he may be, just from watching the games on TV and reading the paper and blogs. But its not hard to tell when DV is struggling with his focus and concentration in the field, which was a recurring problem this past year.

    I’m not overly worried about Valencia’s ability to hit. Sure, there are times when it looks like he goes to the plate without a plan, and sometimes will just give at-bats away. But he’s got quick wrists, some real pop, and he never appears intimidated or overmatched at the plate. It seems like he’s a guy that Vavra can do something with.

    I’m not a huge stat guy, but BABP is an interesting way people have used to discuss Valencia. The stat measures batting average for balls put in play. An extremely high BABP suggests that a guy has been real lucky and may not be able to sustain his hitting level, as over time, the BABP will tend to regress to the mean (come down). Conversely, a severely low BABP suggests that a player’s hitting numbers are subject improvement as the BABP drifts back up. With DV, his BABP was real high in 2010, suggesting that 2011 would not be as good a hitting year for him. It certainly wasn’t, and his BABP was real low last year, suggesting that this year his hitting will be somewhat better as more balls fall in for hits. If Vavra can keep him focused, with a clear idea what he wants to do each at bat, we all could be favorably impressed this year.

    Its almost funny how snake-bit we Twins fans are from the last two years that we can’t talk about positions without routinely discussing plan B and plan C. I think Tom’s well covered the backup options at first and 3rd and I’m well satisfied. But for a team to win, it is expected that a backup guy may be needed for occasional days off, and maybe one 15 day DL stint. No team has the money or roster spots to have front-line plan B guys at every position who can play 110 games without some drop off. Such was the case last year. Here’s hoping our back options at 1st and 3rd this year are only called on for backup roles.

Editor's Picks

Unused prescriptions find a home: Program removed 622 pounds of drugs in 2014

A new program in the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office collects and destroys unwanted prescription drugs from anybody in the county, and its organizers say ... Read more

Author to share lessons from family tragedy

A renowned health care worker and public speaker who suffered a tragedy has made rounds across the country for years, and will speak next week ... Read more

Fergus Falls Festival of Quilts returning to town

Quilters will put their heart into their work at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls next week. The biennial Fergus Falls Festival of Quilts, ... Read more

Seniors support elementary kids: Mentor program matches high schoolers with younger students

A course at Fergus Falls High School gives students first-hand experience working with an elementary class and has become a valuable asset to elementary teachers. ... Read more