What's There to Say About Ehire?
Image courtesy of © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsAmong Minnesota's 10 arbitration-eligible players for 2019, only two looked like legitimate candidates to be non-tendered. One, Robbie Grossman, was sent on his way last week. The other (less likely) was Adrianza, who the Twins were quick to lock up with a one-year, $1.3 million contract.
So that’s it, open and close, he's going to be on the Twins in 2019, right? Well, not necessarily.
Arbitration contracts are not guaranteed until a player breaks camp with the team. If a player is released during the first 16 days of spring training they’re only obligated to pay them 30 days’ worth of wages. If they’re let go sometime after that, but still before Opening Day, that jumps to 45 days’ worth of pay. There’s some more info at MLB.com on guaranteed contracts.
It appears at this current time that the Twins are expecting Adrianza to fill a utility role again in 2019, but they have plenty of time to change course. Should they?
Adrianza has proven a very useful pickup for the Twins. He’s appeared in the ninth-most games among Twins position players, and has played almost everywhere: first, second, third, short, left. Let's take a closer look at the versatile infielder, quietly becoming a relative mainstay on the Twins roster.
The biggest asset Adrianza provides is the ability to play shortstop. It’s really the only thing that’s kept him in the majors this long, but how is he over there?
There are 39 players who logged at least 700 innings at shortstop over the past two seasons. Adrianza ranks 33rd in Defensive Runs Above Average, per FanGraphs. That’s one spot ahead of Jorge Polanco. If we switch the focus over to UZR/150, Adrianza gets a slight bump up to 29th.
No, that’s not especially inspiring, but I would argue he is a capable major league shortstop. The main reason why he ranks so low among his peers is mainly because guys who simply cannot play the position don’t get that many opportunities to do so at the highest level.
Let’s zoom out a bit. If you change the criteria to all players who have a minimum of 500 innings at shortstop over the last four seasons combined, suddenly Adrianza ranks 34th among that sample of 68 players in Defensive Runs Above Average.
Of the 298 players to amass at least 500 plate appearances over the past two seasons, Adrianza’s .689 OPS ranks 247th. Well that’s pretty bad, right? In the context of middle infielders, it’s actually not all that terrible.
Ehire still has a higher OPS the past two seasons than Addison Russell, Freddy Galvis, Tim Anderson, Jose Reyes, Jose Iglesias, Amed Rosario, Orlando Arcia, Dansby Swanson … you get the point. Quite a few of those guys were starting shortstops for their teams in 2018.
Being a switch-hitter, Adrianza also doesn’t see a big hit from the platoon advantage, though he has been a little better against lefties over his career (.266/.318/.381). That’s something that can come in handy for a bench player.
Something that surprised me about last season’s numbers was that Adrianza’s hard hit rate (the frequency in which he hit a ball in play 95 mph or harder) was actually higher than Eduardo Escobar last season. Ehire was at 30.5 percent while Eduardo was at 27.2 percent.
So is Adrianza’s bat an asset? No, I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but the bar is set pretty low for a shortstop. He’s better than a good number of the alternatives.
Adrianza is right around average in terms of sprint speed, which means he’s pretty slow for a middle infielder. Among the players on the Twins last season, Robbie Grossman, Logan Forsythe and Tyler Austin all registered faster sprint speeds than Ehire. But, at the same time, Adrianza is 13-for-15 in stolen base attempts as a Twin and has rated out as a slightly above average base runner by FanGraphs.
When you take a look at the overall package Adrianza presents, yes, it’s pretty blah. Still, given how he stacks up against a lot of other shortstops, I actually think that he’d have a decent chance of beating that $1.3 million deal he agreed to with the Twins if he was on the open market.
Taking a look back at his history, I also think it’s reasonable to think he’s more likely to improve than he is to regress.
Since he’s already 29-years-old and hasn’t ever really shown any flashes of becoming a better offensive player, the assumption is Adrianza is without upside. That’s completely fair, but I’m not 100 percent certain it’s true.
The climb up the ladder of the minor leagues is especially difficult for guys like Ehire who make their professional debuts at 16-years-old. They always get pushed eventually. Their developmental timetables are so different than, say, a guy drafted out of college.
Adrianza reached Double A for the first time in his age 22 season. It did not go well. He hit .220/.289/.310 in 512 plate appearances. He repeated the level in 2013 and fared a little better, hitting .240/.331/.312. That slight improvement earned him a jump up to Triple A in mid July of 2014 and he busted out in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. After hitting .310/.409/.441 in 45 games, Adrianza was headed to San Francisco as a September callup.
Was he ready? Probably not, but he was already on the 40-man roster, so it was time.
In 2014, Adrianza played just six games in the minors and had 106 plate appearances with the Giants. Not a lot of room for development there. This would be a theme over his last few seasons with the Giants.
Adrianza opened 2015 with another impressive run in Triple A, hitting .316/.384/.415 over 44 games. That earned him another shot with the Giants, but again he only logged 134 plate appearances with San Francisco. In 2016, his final season with the Giants, Ehire really struggled to stay on the field. He played a grand total of 17 games in the minors and got just 41 plate appearances in the bigs.
Add it all up and you had a guy entering his age 27 season with 105 career games at Triple A, never more than 45 in one season. In the Majors, he’d accrued just 331 plate appearances stretched across four seasons.
It can’t be easy to work on anything when you’re seeing so little playing time. It’s sad to say, but the best thing for Adrianza probably would have been if he cleared waivers, became a free agent and signed a minor league deal that allowed him to get regular at-bats.
Of course, that’s not what happened. The Brewers claimed him from the Giants, then when Milwaukee tried to sneak him through the Twins claimed him. Ehire had yet another fairly inactive season in 2017.
For the four seasons from 2014-17, Adrianza averaged a grand total of just 211 plate appearances per season. Just to put that into perspective, Twins prospect Ryan Jeffers managed to get 284 plate appearances in the minors this season and he was just drafted in June. Trade deadline acquisition Logan Forsythe got 205 plate appearances with the Twins last season. That lack of seeing competitive pitching could not have helped Adrianza’s swing or approach at the plate.
Thanks to the Jorge Polanco suspension and then the Eduardo Escobar trade, Adrianza managed to log 366 plate appearances with the Twins in 2018. He had one 10-day stay on the DL in early July due to a hamstring injury, other than that he was on the roster all season.
When Minnesota acquired Adrianza he had a .220/.292/.313 slash line in 331 MLB PA; since then he's at .256/.309/.380 in 552 PA. The "all glove, no bat" label doesn't quite apply, as his 23 doubles in 2018 ranked sixth on the Twins. His offense teeters between adequate and intriguing (again, in the context of a guy who can play shortstop).
I’d love to go out on a limb and say that somebody maybe more exciting such as Nick Gordon, who is now on the 40-man roster, would be a better option to fill the utility role. I can’t. Gordon is still at the point in his career where more time in Triple A might be key. Some players (like Adrianza) have suffered from not having that extra development in the high minors. Also, Ehire may not be a guy who’s going to win you any games, but he’s also not going to hurt you. That’s probably not true of Gordon.
Throughout a season, major-league teams always have extra players a phone call (and a day) away at Triple-A. But on a game-to-game basis, you need players with flexibility to fill multiple roles. Adrianza can capably handle virtually every position.
Ehire Adrianza isn’t going to be a guy the Twins promote on their banners outside of Target Field, but he does provide value to the roster. He remains a logical piece to the 25-man roster. In today’s age of three-man benches, having a player reserve capable of playing shortstop is a must.
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