Ehire Of Hope: Can Adrianza Seize A Prime Opportunity?
Image courtesy of Douglas DeFelice, USA Today (Ehire Adrianza)On Sunday, the Minnesota Twins and their fans were stunned to learn that Jorge Polanco, fresh off a breakout finish in 2017, was being hit with an 80-game suspension after testing positive for the steroid stanozolol. Not only will he miss the first half of the season, but the shortstop will also be unavailable for a theoretical playoff run.
It's a crushing blow after Polanco's offensive emergence in August and September last year helped carry the Twins to a postseason berth. He batted either third or fourth in all but two of Minnesota's final 33 games. The switch-hitter figured to provide thump near the bottom of the lineup this season, as well as insurance for injury or regression near the top.
Now, the Twins must plan around life without him. It's a huge bummer.
But for Ehire Adrianza, the unfortunate situation presents a huge opportunity. The 28-year-old was penciled in as a utility man destined for sporadic playing time, but now could seize a regular job. This would prove very advantageous for both him and the club.
Adrianza's lackluster offensive performance in parts of four seasons with the Giants landed him on waivers, where Minnesota was able to claim him last spring. His outstanding glove at short has kept getting him chances in the majors, but during his tenure in San Francisco, Adrianza just didn't hit enough to make himself an asset.
Then again, he rarely received steady at-bats for any length of time. And Adrianza's career .303/.385/.412 line in 115 games at Triple-A is hard to ignore, even if it was accrued in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
In his first season with the Twins, Adrianza received a career-high 186 plate appearances, and posted a career-high .707 OPS. Like Polanco, he's a switch-hitter who rarely strikes out. And while his light production in the past had cast him in a certain mold, Adrianza took steps to alter his reputation last summer.
"I was thinking 'Good field, no-hit shortstop' when we got him," Molitor said early in camp. "I was wrong. He hit the ball hard quite a bit. And he looks stronger this spring."
Despite making a good first impression, Adrianza had little shot at becoming a lineup fixture this year. Until now.
The Twins don't seem to love Eduardo Escobar's defense at shortstop, the infield's most vital position, so they could turn to Adrianza often. Especially if he and hitting coach James Rowson can build upon last year's progress at the plate.
Adrianza's defensive aptitude is such that if he can establish himself as a moderately above-average hitter – last year the average OPS for an MLB shortstop was .735, so that bar is not terribly high – he suddenly turns into a very valuable regular. Whether that's for the Twins or somebody else, it figures to benefit the club.
If Adrianza can back up his encouraging 2017, as well as his promising 2018 spring (he's slashing .294/.333/.529 in Graprefruit play), Polanco could return to a very different landscape at the shortstop position in July.
Situations like this are exactly why the myth of Wally Pipp's plight continue to endure.
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