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Gardenhire announces his outfield plans

Attached Image: Outfield.jpg After months of expecting Josh Willingham to move from left field, the outfield position he has played the most in his career, across the turf to right field, Ron Gardenhire has switched courses on that plan.

Back in February, Gardenhire acknowledged that the experiment of moving Willingham to right field might not work but that they would be ready if he would be unable to adapt to the new position:

[COLOR=#000000][FONT=arial]"That's what we are going to do. We're going to try to figure this out in Spring Training. We're going to start out this way and if it looks like it's working OK and he's getting used to that, he'll be out in right field. But if it looks like he's not comfortable in right field, I know the other guys can do it for a fact."[/FONT][/COLOR]

Prior to Sunday's game, the Twins manager said that Willingham would be his left fielder and not his right fielder has was initially intended.

[FONT=Georgia]"Let's call Josh Willingham my left fielder," Gardenhire said before Sunday afternoon's game with the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.[/FONT]


Those who have watched him play have rated his arm as being below average. According to Fangraphs.com's Fans Scouting Report his Arm Strength has rated a 45 on a scale of 100 and an even slower release (40). This is not exactly ideal for right field play where those individuals have to make the longer throw to third base in addition to home plate making his transfer back to left field a better idea. Of course, voters think little of his range as well. In those categories - First Step and Speed - Willingham rated 34 and 37 respectively. Meanwhile, the BillJamesOnline.net Plus/Minus system says that he has had troubles over his career in left going back on balls, finishing -21 on deep balls dating back to 2008. Perhaps it was one of both of these factors that played a role in Gardenhire's decision to move Willingham back to his more familiar position.

So who is going to be the starting right fielder? Gardenhire said the race is between the hot-hitting Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe and Ben Revere (who is likely going to wind up the team's fourth outfielder, according to the team's assistant general manager Rob Antony on 1500ESPN.com).

Parmelee's clearly earned an opportunity to play for this team with both is previous September performance as well as his torrid spring. However, he is fairly raw when it comes to outfield play. In the past two years in the minors, he's played 57 games in right field. His range factor of 1.86 (RF/G) over his full minor league playing time in right suggests that he isn't a significant liability (by comparison Michael Cuddyer's career range factor in right is 1.87) but he's not going to be a coverage guy in the field either. Likewise Plouffe is also green when it comes to the outfield position, having only played 21 games in the outfield in his professional career.

Revere, who was the early favorite over the winter, had worked hard during the offseason to get his arm strength up to snuff (whereas Willingham's rated a 45 on Arm Strength, Revere was rated a 4) but the organization seems to have cooled on the idea of him being a starter. While he has been an amazing fly-tracker, reports from Fort Myers is that Revere is struggling when he has to charge balls on the ground.

Although neither Gardenhire nor Antony mentioned this in their discussion of the outfield alignment, Ryan Doumit's name will very likely be mixed in the lineup in the outfield - particularly if Justin Morneau is a DH and Parmelee is shifted to first base. After dishing out $4 million to him, there is little doubt in my mind that they attempt to get him into the lineup more than two times a week to allow Mauer to rest.

For the more fly-ball oriented pitchers on this staff, this alignment should raise their anxiety levels just a bit. With Revere and Span, the pitchers had some reassurance that more fly balls would find leather. Now, the gaps are going to get a little bigger. The hope, of course, is that with this alignment, the Twins should have a more potent offense that would off-set the defensive liability.


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