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Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Designated Hitter

When you're the DH, all you need to do is hit. Which is good news for Nelson Cruz because that's all he does. In the past six years, he's been an All-Star five times, and the one year he missed out, he hit 43 home runs.

Only once in my lifetime have the Twins signed a more accomplished hitter as a free agent, and it worked out supremely well. Can Cruz follow in the footsteps of Jim Thome with a legendary late-career pitstop?
Image courtesy of Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Projected Starter: Nelson Cruz
Likely Backup: Willians Astudillo

Depth: Miguel Sano, Tyler Austin, Wilin Rosario
Prospects: Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Brent Rooker

THE GOOD

Cruz projects as far-and-away the best hitter in the Minnesota lineup. His production last year alone – 37 home runs, 97 RBIs, .850 OPS – towers over any single season on the résumé of any other Twins hitter, and it was his "worst" of the last five.

Even conservative projections foresee monster output from the veteran slugger in 2019. He's 38, so there are naturally questions about how age might factor, but he hasn't shown too many signs of slowing down. His average exit velocity was fifth-highest in the majors last year, and while his batting average did drop off (the result of a career-low .264 BABIP), there were no major changes in whiff rate or push/pull ratio to indicate his swing was falling behind. Additionally, metrics say he's far better suited to his new home at Target Field than Safeco.

So, from all appearances, it is go time for one of baseball's most consistently excellent offensive players. The Twins signed him to a stunningly team-friendly pact, so they'll have the option to bring him back for $12 million in 2020.

Even if decline sets in rapidly for Cruz, or his sparkling run of durability (144+ games in each of the past five years) comes to an end, the Twins have no shortage of bats waiting in tow. Astudillo is just itching for regular ABs anywhere he can get 'em. If the Twins can find a way to keep Austin, he's a tailor-made slugging DH. Jake Cave, who figures to be a fourth outfielder, could form a semi-platoon as he slashed .287/.335/.509 against righties as a rookie. Marwin Gonzalez will theoretically not have an assigned defensive position after Sano comes back. And Sano himself has always seemed destined for DH duty at some point. Kirilloff and Larnach both loom in the minors.

THE BAD

The Twins seem to have landed themselves one of the most respected, feared and reliable hitters in the league, at an unbelievable bargain. Which prompts the question: why?

Cruz turns 39 in July. While there have been no conspicuous signs of breakdown, he's getting to that age where it can happen in a hurry. This surely played a part in his lukewarm market. So did his inability to play any defensive position, cutting out half of potential bidders.

But still, the man leads baseball in home runs over the past half-decade and he was a monster last year. He's been consistently dominant, and has a tremendous clubhouse rep. Not only were the Twins able to get him on their desired one-year guarantee, but they tacked on a team option to make it even more favorable.

It might just be a perfect confluence of circumstances, where the market was weird and every other AL team felt good enough about their DH situations to pass. But until we see Cruz get out there and pick up where he left off, we'll have to wonder why the lack of demand. Though the situations are wildly different, it's hard not to see some parallel with Logan Morrison a year ago.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Twins have come a long way since the days of grasping for straws at the designated hitter spot. They honestly would've looked pretty decent here without Cruz, but needless to say, injecting one of the league's most respected bats brings the team's DH strength to a whole new level.

The farm system is chock full of upcoming quality bats with positions TBD, so even if things don't work out with Cruz, there isn't much reason for concern.


***


Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Catcher
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: First Base
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Second Base
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Third Base
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Shortstop
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Left Field
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Center Field
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Right Field

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36 Comments

I will admit Cruz wasn't my ideal signing. I have always believed you put together the best player roster you can for production, depth and versatility. TK was pretty successful largely, not having a fixture at DH. In today's game, with expanded pitching staffs, it becomes even harder to carry a "bat" no matter how productive. But I love Cruz on board for his bat as well as his professional influence on the lineup and the young players on hand. (Something Falvey spoke of weeks before he was signed).

I have always been a proponent for the DH, as well as a lover of the NL game. And that is not a dicotemy. Never been a fan of asking pitchers to hit. It's like asking a kicker or QB to block and tackle. I never thought the NL game was interesting via strategy of PH. You're down and the pitcher is up? Oh my, what do I do? No. It was about the concepts of hit and run and speed, especially considering that, for a time at least, it seemed the AL parks and NL parks were not only different sized, but there were turf vs grass issues.

Sometimes what was old suddenly becomes new again. What's wrong with a roster where you can play to power...the IN thing...but also "surprise" the opposition with speed and some situational ball?

I think Cruz will pay big dividends the next year or two. But your best roster/lineup is 12/13 guys who can play and hit and you roll through the DH spot for days and half days off. I like Cruz and think we will benefit. But I think we are on the precipice of not needing a "designated bat" on the roster.
    • mikelink45 and rdehring like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Mar 15 2019 06:01 AM

I think the why is pretty straight forward. He's not going to the NL, and there weren't many teams with a gaping hole at DH in the AL. 

 

This is a good fit... now let's hope that father time is kind enough to let him play at a high level for 2 more years. 

    • gunnarthor, mikelink45, howieramone2 and 1 other like this

Wasn't a fan of the Cruz signing at the time everyone was gushing over his possible signing.My fear was that last year's decline in production would continue.If that does occur, his performance is going to be very average.

 

Since the signing, however, I have warmed to it mostly because of what I have learned about what he contributes on the bench and off the field.

    • Nebtwinsfan likes this

I think there are also increasing numbers of teams who don't want to fill their DH slot with a guy who can't play in the field if they don't have to, so that probably reduced his market a little as well, along with the fears of aging, price tag, etc. But production still speaks, and there's no reason to think Cruz can't be an excellent DH for this team this year and possibly next year as well. And with his clubhouse reputation, he should be a benefit to a relatively young team in other ways as well.

 

There's plenty of franchise depth for this spot: Sano could move in there easily, Austin is a good fit if the team finds a way to keep him around, Cron could shift in if they decide they don't like his defense but he keeps on hitting, Rooker might be ready for extended MLB time soon...lots of options.

 

I think if Cruz hits over 30 hrs and puts up another OPS of .850 or so, he'll be back for another run. It'd be hard to complain about that.

    • caninatl04 and Original Whizzinator like this

I will admit Cruz wasn't my ideal signing. I have always believed you put together the best player roster you can for production, depth and versatility. TK was pretty successful largely, not having a fixture at DH. In today's game, with expanded pitching staffs, it becomes even harder to carry a "bat" no matter how productive. But I love Cruz on board for his bat as well as his professional influence on the lineup and the young players on hand. (Something Falvey spoke of weeks before he was signed).

I have always been a proponent for the DH, as well as a lover of the NL game. And that is not a dicotemy. Never been a fan of asking pitchers to hit. It's like asking a kicker or QB to block and tackle. I never thought the NL game was interesting via strategy of PH. You're down and the pitcher is up? Oh my, what do I do? No. It was about the concepts of hit and run and speed, especially considering that, for a time at least, it seemed the AL parks and NL parks were not only different sized, but there were turf vs grass issues.

Sometimes what was old suddenly becomes new again. What's wrong with a roster where you can play to power...the IN thing...but also "surprise" the opposition with speed and some situational ball?

I think Cruz will pay big dividends the next year or two. But your best roster/lineup is 12/13 guys who can play and hit and you roll through the DH spot for days and half days off. I like Cruz and think we will benefit. But I think we are on the precipice of not needing a "designated bat" on the roster.


I couldn't disagree more.
DH is a position. It's a position that doesn't require any defensive abilities or versatility.
You wouldn't pass up adding a great centerfielder because he can't pitch an inning in a blowout. That would be absurd, because that's not the job of a centerfielder.

To steal another posters analogy, if you are hiring a CEO, you don't pass on the best one, just because he doesn't know how to work the assembly line.
    • USAFChief, Twins33 and Dantes929 like this

 

I couldn't disagree more.
DH is a position. It's a position that doesn't require any defensive abilities or versatility.
You wouldn't pass up adding a great centerfielder because he can't pitch an inning in a blowout. That would be absurd, because that's not the job of a centerfielder.

To steal another posters analogy, if you are hiring a CEO, you don't pass on the best one, just because he doesn't know how to work the assembly line.

Concur.

 

And not only is it a position, having a better one than the team you're playing gives you an advantage, just like having the better starting pitcher, or better right fielder. The advantage is limited to the offensive side, but nonetheless, it's an advantage.

    • Twins33, Dantes929, LA VIkes Fan and 1 other like this

I couldn't disagree more.
DH is a position. It's a position that doesn't require any defensive abilities or versatility.
You wouldn't pass up adding a great centerfielder because he can't pitch an inning in a blowout. That would be absurd, because that's not the job of a centerfielder.

To steal another posters analogy, if you are hiring a CEO, you don't pass on the best one, just because he doesn't know how to work the assembly line.


Terrible analogy, because there isn't a 25 person limit outside sports.

That said, it's their best move of an otherwise underwhelming off-season.
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puckstopper1
Mar 15 2019 10:38 AM

Not seeing the Twins trot out Robbie Grossman as their DH this season is a big win in my book!

    • Mike Sixel, REPETE, PseudoSABR and 3 others like this
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howieramone2
Mar 15 2019 11:54 AM

 

Terrible analogy, because there isn't a 25 person limit outside sports.

That said, it's their best move of an otherwise underwhelming off-season.

A very solid off-season! Did you know for the first time in the history of TD, the board has embraced not one, but two signings? Cruz and Gonzalez. Big step forward for the board. The I'm smarter than the FO clique can not be happy at all. 

    • DocBauer likes this

I think Cruz has earned the benefit of the doubt by leading all of major league baseball in HRs over the last 5 years while hitting in one of the worst HR hitting parks in the game. I don't think 40 HRs is an unreasonable expectation of him this year. That being said, unless you're really convinced he's fallen off a cliff and we're looking at LoMo 2.0 I don't get why anyone would be against this signing, or how him not being able to play any defense is really a negative thing. How is the "flexibility" to rotate lesser hitters through the lineup to give them "half days off" a better option than plugging an elite bat into the heart of your order every day? You can only play 8 defensive guys each day. You're not subbing your DH into the game to play a position ever. If someone is too tired to play the field give them the day off and let them just relax while we put the best hitter we have in at DH and watch him launch balls into the second deck in left or over the batters eye in center.

 

Now if the plan was for Cron, or Austin, or someone like that to be your everyday DH then I can understand frustration. But as of now Cruz is the best hitter on this team. Being able to plug him in everyday without question should be an unquestioned good thing. I don't get why anyone would prefer Buxton's bat in the lineup while he's not playing center, or Kepler's, or literally anyone else on this team. If the goal is to put your 8 best fielders and 9 best hitters out there as often as possible, having a DH only who is your best hitter isn't a bad thing since you get an "extra" hitter. I think the bigger reason you see fewer "DH only" types is because there are fewer guys who can hit and can't field. We're seeing the elite bats be guys who field well, and even be up the middle guys. Boston seemed to do alright with Ortiz as a DH only, and now with JD as a DH only.

"Only once in my lifetime have the Twins signed a more accomplished hitter as a free agent, and it worked out supremely well. Can Cruz follow in the footsteps of Jim Thome with a legendary late-career pitstop?" 

Are you really that young?Paul Molitor in 1996 and I would be thrilled if Cruz follows in his footsteps and has the kind of year Molitor had then.  

    • Mike Sixel and DocBauer like this
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mickeymental
Mar 15 2019 01:21 PM

chili davis.

    • woolywoolhouse and DocBauer like this
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mickeymental
Mar 15 2019 01:23 PM

 

Concur.

 

And not only is it a position, having a better one than the team you're playing gives you an advantage, just like having the better starting pitcher, or better right fielder. The advantage is limited to the offensive side, but nonetheless, it's an advantage.

and in the nl, having a better-hitting pitcher than the team you're playing gives you an advantage, just like having the better dh.

I couldn't disagree more.
DH is a position. It's a position that doesn't require any defensive abilities or versatility.
You wouldn't pass up adding a great centerfielder because he can't pitch an inning in a blowout. That would be absurd, because that's not the job of a centerfielder.
To steal another posters analogy, if you are hiring a CEO, you don't pass on the best one, just because he doesn't know how to work the assembly line.


I respect your comment, but we are going to have to agree to disagree to some extent. To re-iterate, I like the Cruz signing a TON. My preference was Brantley or McCutchen because they are good, dangerous, productive hitters who can actually play a position, thus increasing roster depth and flexibility. In said scenario, you roll different guys in to the DH slot for half days off.

There is nothing wrong with having a difference making hitter like Cruz, or an Ortiz, on your team, filling their role.

And it's OK if you disagree with me, but let me better explain myself. And considering the recent rule changes that begin in 2020, we will use the upcoming 26 man roster. Regardless of who, we will go with a 13 man pitching staff. That leaves 13 position players. We will also say there is a given 8 man "starting" lineup. Next, we will add a backup catcher, a traditional utility player, and a 4th outfielder. We are now at 11 position players and 2 spots left. Could that be a special bat who can realistically only DH? Yes, of course.

But let us consider a very easy to predict roster "crunch" over the next season or so at OF and 1B with Rosario, Buxton, Kepler, Cave, Wade, Kiriloff and Rooker. (Note, I'm not including the real possibility of Larnach fast tracking, or anyone else taking a step forward). A nice problem to have, yes?

Now, let's plug Lewis in at SS and move Polanco to 2B. As talented as Javier is, as highly regarded a talent as he is, he could be knocking at the door as early as 2021. (A small stretch, I grant you). For purpose of discussion, the newly dedicated and fit Sano is your 3B, who can also play 1B. (Just like the OF/1B situation, I am not including Miranda, Arraez or any other surprise or fast riser).

I would rather have this kind of positional player logjam and roll different guys, who are legitimate players in the field, in to the DH spot rather than reserve a spot for a DH only bat. I create competition, matchup situations and depth for guys hurt or struggling.

Even with the possibilities of trades, 1 or 2 guys not reaching their potential, there is still a fascinating and tantalizing depth "problem" here that is good to have. And even then, there are guys not even taken in to "consideration" as I've broken down the options listed here.

Again, just my opinion on how I'd like to address the roster construction and DH spot.
    • railmarshalljon likes this

 

"Only once in my lifetime have the Twins signed a more accomplished hitter as a free agent, and it worked out supremely well. Can Cruz follow in the footsteps of Jim Thome with a legendary late-career pitstop?" 

Are you really that young?Paul Molitor in 1996 and I would be thrilled if Cruz follows in his footsteps and has the kind of year Molitor had then.  

And Thome wasn't much of a DH. He could still hit with the best of them, but he was a serious roster liability. He couldn't run, at all. He played about 6 innings per game before the pinchrunner took over, and he couldn't play 3 days in a row. imo, he was more of a bench piece than a DH.

 

But you're right. It's been rare.

 

    • woolywoolhouse likes this
He is always dear to my heart since he couldn’t catch the 9th inning triple in Game 6 of the World Series in 2011. He has tested positive for Peds. He hits 35 HRs with a decent OBP then you will be happy.

I respect your comment, but we are going to have to agree to disagree to some extent. To re-iterate, I like the Cruz signing a TON. My preference was Brantley or McCutchen because they are good, dangerous, productive hitters who can actually play a position, thus increasing roster depth and flexibility. In said scenario, you roll different guys in to the DH slot for half days off.

There is nothing wrong with having a difference making hitter like Cruz, or an Ortiz, on your team, filling their role.

And it's OK if you disagree with me, but let me better explain myself. And considering the recent rule changes that begin in 2020, we will use the upcoming 26 man roster. Regardless of who, we will go with a 13 man pitching staff. That leaves 13 position players. We will also say there is a given 8 man "starting" lineup. Next, we will add a backup catcher, a traditional utility player, and a 4th outfielder. We are now at 11 position players and 2 spots left. Could that be a special bat who can realistically only DH? Yes, of course.

But let us consider a very easy to predict roster "crunch" over the next season or so at OF and 1B with Rosario, Buxton, Kepler, Cave, Wade, Kiriloff and Rooker. (Note, I'm not including the real possibility of Larnach fast tracking, or anyone else taking a step forward). A nice problem to have, yes?

Now, let's plug Lewis in at SS and move Polanco to 2B. As talented as Javier is, as highly regarded a talent as he is, he could be knocking at the door as early as 2021. (A small stretch, I grant you). For purpose of discussion, the newly dedicated and fit Sano is your 3B, who can also play 1B. (Just like the OF/1B situation, I am not including Miranda, Arraez or any other surprise or fast riser).

I would rather have this kind of positional player logjam and roll different guys, who are legitimate players in the field, in to the DH spot rather than reserve a spot for a DH only bat. I create competition, matchup situations and depth for guys hurt or struggling.

Even with the possibilities of trades, 1 or 2 guys not reaching their potential, there is still a fascinating and tantalizing depth "problem" here that is good to have. And even then, there are guys not even taken in to "consideration" as I've broken down the options listed here.

Again, just my opinion on how I'd like to address the roster construction and DH spot.


You are right, we don't agree.
Most players don't have max tools across the board.
Once you remove the handful of true superstars that have elite bats and gloves, most players have a scale of tools. Every game that someone who gets a legitimate chunk of their value from defensive tools starts at DH, is a game that you completely waste a portion of someone's value.

Roster spots are tight in the NFL too, think of the extra flexibility a team could have on game day if, instead of rostering a punter, they just used that position to rotate in other position players?

If guys need a day off, just give them a day off. How are you making your lineup better by removing Cruz from the roster so that a guy like Kepler or Polanco can DH? Are their bats better than Cruz's? Isn't your lineup better with Kepler on the bench, Cave in RF and Cruz at DH than it is with Cave in RF, Kepler at DH, and Cruz on another team?

Obviously this only applies if you can find a bat only guy whose bat is superior to most of the position players. If Robbie Grossman is your DH, then sure, you are better off just gaining flexibility and rotating guys.
    • ashbury, Twins33 and DocBauer like this

 

You are right, we don't agree.
Most players don't have max tools across the board.
Once you remove the handful of true superstars that have elite bats and gloves, most players have a scale of tools. Every game that someone who gets a legitimate chunk of their value from defensive tools starts at DH, is a game that you completely waste a portion of someone's value.

Roster spots are tight in the NFL too, think of the extra flexibility a team could have on game day if, instead of rostering a punter, they just used that position to rotate in other position players?

If guys need a day off, just give them a day off. How are you making your lineup better by removing Cruz from the roster so that a guy like Kepler or Polanco can DH? Are their bats better than Cruz's? Isn't your lineup better with Kepler on the bench, Cave in RF and Cruz at DH than it is with Cave in RF, Kepler at DH, and Cruz on another team?

Obviously this only applies if you can find a bat only guy whose bat is superior to most of the position players. If Robbie Grossman is your DH, then sure, you are better off just gaining flexibility and rotating guys.

Couldn't agree more. For me, the payoff from a relentless emphasis on positional flexibility is the freedom to assign one roster spot to someone with a bat this good. (We hope that Cruz is still that guy.)

 

A corollary that I mention now and then is that I never again want to invest scarce resources in a stud-hitting catcher. If one develops, great, but don't trade for one, don't pay big FA bucks for one, probably don't sign one you developed to an extension. Catchers need days off defensively, and to have one good enough to DH is a big roster challenge. If, say, Ryan Jeffers's bat develops, don't refrain from having a good DH - you want a DH so good that Jeffers sits on his days off anyway.

 

But I've digressed...

    • Riverbrian and DocBauer like this

Cruz should be great for us. He was #2 on my list of guys I wanted the Twins to sign (after Machado who would have been f-ing perfect). He'll also add some leadership and mentorship to some of our younger players.

 

He'll be an all-star.

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Nick Nelson
Mar 16 2019 02:32 PM

 

"Only once in my lifetime have the Twins signed a more accomplished hitter as a free agent, and it worked out supremely well. Can Cruz follow in the footsteps of Jim Thome with a legendary late-career pitstop?" 

Are you really that young?Paul Molitor in 1996 and I would be thrilled if Cruz follows in his footsteps and has the kind of year Molitor had then.  

Ahhh yes! Molitor totally slipped my mind. Maybe I should've said they've only once signed a more accomplished slugger. 

 

 

chili davis.

I think Cruz is more accomplished than he was. 

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yarnivek1972
Mar 16 2019 03:16 PM

Ahhh yes! Molitor totally slipped my mind. Maybe I should've said they've only once signed a more accomplished slugger.


I think Cruz is more accomplished than he was.



If you’re going to count Molitor who was WAY past his prime when he came to Minnesota, you should count Dave Winfield in 1993 as well.

You are right, we don't agree.
Most players don't have max tools across the board.
Once you remove the handful of true superstars that have elite bats and gloves, most players have a scale of tools. Every game that someone who gets a legitimate chunk of their value from defensive tools starts at DH, is a game that you completely waste a portion of someone's value.
Roster spots are tight in the NFL too, think of the extra flexibility a team could have on game day if, instead of rostering a punter, they just used that position to rotate in other position players?
If guys need a day off, just give them a day off. How are you making your lineup better by removing Cruz from the roster so that a guy like Kepler or Polanco can DH? Are their bats better than Cruz's? Isn't your lineup better with Kepler on the bench, Cave in RF and Cruz at DH than it is with Cave in RF, Kepler at DH, and Cruz on another team?
Obviously this only applies if you can find a bat only guy whose bat is superior to most of the position players. If Robbie Grossman is your DH, then sure, you are better off just gaining flexibility and rotating guys.


Nice to know we can disagree...but not by much. (Including Ash in this as well).

Especially with the pending 26 man roster, I can see room for a Cruz or similar bat to be just that, a bat. No arguement there.

And I think we can all agree that a Grossman as our DH is just an immediate stopping point! Lol (No insult meant to Robbie).

The sticking point to our two opinions is; "most players don't have max tools across the board". Agree with you 100%! My contention is simply that over the next couple of seasons, with what is on hand, and what is coming up, some of them very quickly, the depth at OF/1B/3B could be such that instead of having a "bat only" DH, you could be rotating Sano, Khirilloff, Rooker and others between the field and DH. Simply means your roster is deep enough and talented enough that you wouldn't have to carry a bat only player because your roster was deep enough and talented enough you spread around the playing time.

Is that a pipedream? Meh...maybe. But the potential is there, IMO, to have this "problem" of too many good bats on hand.

A fun debate! Let's hope I'm right and the Twins have too many guys to work in to the lineup!
    • ashbury, Riverbrian and LA VIkes Fan like this
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Nebtwinsfan
Mar 17 2019 07:46 PM

 

Cruz should be great for us. He was #2 on my list of guys I wanted the Twins to sign (after Machado who would have been f-ing perfect). He'll also add some leadership and mentorship to some of our younger players.

 

He'll be an all-star.

 

I was fortunate to watch Nelson Cruz doing some batting practice on Friday morning. First of all, he is impressive in person. Second, he was also having so much much fun with his teammates and Tony Oliva and Rod Carew. It was entertaining but you could also see him being a leader and mentor. 

    • bluechipper and DocBauer like this

Thanks for writing this JLease:

 

"There's plenty of franchise depth for this spot: Sano could move in there easily, Austin is a good fit if the team finds a way to keep him around, Cron could shift in if they decide they don't like his defense but he keeps on hitting, Rooker might be ready for extended MLB time soon...lots of options."

 

The '19 Twins may have more hitters than spots.And, as pointed out, by July, there will be more knocking on the door.

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railmarshalljon
Mar 18 2019 01:13 PM

The only problem I see with this signing Cruz is how are we gonna get him in our lineup come WS time? For away games are we sticking him in the outfield or do we give him a first basemans glove and hope for he best?

    • Mike Sixel and LA VIkes Fan like this

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