The Odd Man Out?
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins DailyBrent Rooker debuted in exciting fashion for the Twins in 2020. He showed Twins territory a glimpse of the 2017 SEC Player of the Year by hitting .316 with 1 homerun and 5 RBI in 7 games before an errant fastball fractured his forearm to end his season. He got to show off why he got the call, but his season was cut short before he could force himself into the Twins future plans.
It’s never been the bat holding Rooker back, but rather his defensive ability which kept him entrenched at first base and eventually just the corner outfield. Reports warned that Rooker struggled plenty with both. There wasn’t much opportunity for his shortcomings to show up in his 25 defensive innings, but it’s safe to say that Rooker won’t be making many highlight reel plays.
The Twins outfield depth is impressive at this point, barely taking a hit even after trading away the versatile LaMonte Wade Jr. In Buxton and Kepler the Twins have two everyday starters. In Jake Cave the Twins have a capable left handed outfield option who can play all three spots. At this point star prospect Alex Kirilloff’s Opening Day designation is unknown, but it likely won’t be long until he’s handed the keys to left field. Even further complicating things is Luis Arraez taking reps and being a candidate to start in left field on Opening Day.
All of this to say the Twins have a dilemma. At 26 years old, Brent Rooker is close to a finished product. With what could turn out to be an overpowering bat, Rooker deserves to play fairly regularly. With his defensive shortcomings however, it’s hard to find that playing time in a deep pool of outfielders who can perform offensively in their own right and can better defend their positions. With these considerations, the Twins are left with a few options.
Start Him at AAA
Rooker has little to prove at this point in the minor leagues but his 2020 injury could justify a short stay in AAA to give him the regular at bats he wouldn’t get in Minneapolis and make sure he’s fully back in his groove. The issue here is that Kirilloff will be at the Major League level in short order as well and the openings in the outfield (barring injury) will be even more sparse.
Give Him an MLB Spot
The Twins could simply give Rooker a 26 man spot on Opening Day and mix and match off days for players like Cruz and Kepler with an occasional start in left field. The issue with this opportunistic approach is that the Twins will be doing the same with Luis Arraez (who at least will reportedly get most of his work in the infield). There are only so many at bats to go around. It’s also worth noting that Rooker has the advantage of being right handed but lacks the traditional otherworldly splits against left handers in his minor league career.
Make a Trade
Brent Rooker’s trade value may be at a low point following injury in 2020 and being a slugger who can only play the corners isn’t the rarest skillset in 2021. Still, Rooker’s age and years of control should be valuable on the trade market for AL teams or NL teams who are willing to give him an everyday role for a year in anticipation of the NL DH in 2022. The Twins could also shop Jake Cave whose backup center field ability can be filled by Max Kepler and whose left handed bat won’t be nearly as valuable in a few months assuming Kirilloff and Larnach make their way to Target Field. In the near future it may become apparent that one of these players will offer more value on the trade market than they do playing a day or two per week.
Brent Rooker has a bat that can change games, but his one dimensional skillset puts him in a difficult place on a team that has built itself around depth. 2021 will go a long way in determining Rooker’s career. Will he continue the breakout he showed in 2020? Will he do so wearing a Twins jersey? What do you think?
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