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  • Position Battles: The Hitters

    Here we are, less than a week into full Twins spring training workouts. Games donít even start for a couple of days. Itís time to start talking position battles, right? It appears to me that there are actually very few positions that are up for grabs at this stage of camp. Of course, as injuries mount through spring training, more position battles can spring up, but for now, there are a lot of givens on the roster.
    Hitters: Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, Jamey Carroll, Ben Revere, Denard Span, Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe (10 out of 13 positions are accounted for).

    Pitchers: Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Jason Marquis, Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing (9 out of 12 positions accounted for).

    The biggest debate the last couple of days has been about the bullpen where one more job opened up with the loss of Joel Zumaya for the season. Letís discuss that tomorrow. Letís start today with the offensive (as in hitting!) side of the ball.

    3rd Catcher

    The favorite at this point for the third catcher spot has to be Drew Butera. What does he have going for him? Two years of experience catching Twins pitchers in front of the Twins coaching staff, good catch and throw guy and heís still a pre-arbitration eligible guy meaning he will basically make league minimum.

    The competition for the role comes from a couple of places, 28 year olds JR Towles and Rene Rivera. Towles was a big prospect in baseball and then hit .375 in 44 plate appearances in 2007. In 141 games spread over the past four years in Houston, he has hit .168/.251/.289. Of course, those numbers are better than Buteraís the last two years, but still not confidence-inducing. We got to see some of Rivera last year and realized that he is in the same category. No offense, solid defense guy.

    Prediction: I think that Butera Ďwinsí that third catcher job because, frankly, there isnít an option that is much better, if at all better. Also, heís on the 40 man roster and the other two are not. Frankly, Danny Lehmannís name should be in this mix because he is just as good as any of these guys, knows the Twins pitchers, and has the respect of all pitchers in the organization. Chris Herrmann is certainly the top prospect in the group, and he should begin the year in AA New Britain.

    The Final TWO bench spots

    The starting lineup for the Twins is pretty much set. There will be a third catcher, and Trevor Plouffe will be the fourth outfielder. That leaves two spots.

    The favorites at this point are guys we saw in 2011. Tsuyoshi Nishiokaís debut season in the big leagues was pretty much a complete disaster. However, looking at the options for who could fill a utility role, he is the one that can play shortstop. He will have to play it (and 2B) better and also learn some 3B. Heíll also have to show an ability to hit. Although heís a favorite, I donít get the sense that heís guaranteed a roster spot. If not for his shoulder injury, suffered while playing in the Australia Winter League, Luke Hughes would likely fit into the Ďgivení category. If he is healthy, I think he is a given. If he is not healthy, I think he goes on the Disabled List. I donít think that the Twins should try to get Hughes through waivers because I think that he would be claimed and lost.

    The Competition for those two roster spots come from a couple of different angles. Sean Burroughs is the guy most are talking about now. His story is quite well known. He spent most of the 2011 season pinch-hitting with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He can play the corner spots solidly but would likely not have the range to play up the middle. His left-handed bat also matters as other bench options in the infield bat right handed. Steve Pearce can also play both corner infield spots and maybe be serviceable in the corner outfield. With Trevor Plouffe being the fourth outfielder, it may not be a horrible idea for the Twins to have a more proven defensive outfielder as a late-inning option. The Twins would likely prefer to have Rene Tosoni get every day playing time in Rochester, but he is an option. Recently acquired Darin Mastroianni is also a possibility as a true backup outfielder.

    Prediction: I believe that the Twins are likely to go with Nishioka and Hughes as the backups. Brian Dozier is probably the best infielder vying for a spot, but he hasnít played above a half-season in AA and heís got too much potential to waste on the bench. (That said, if he wins a starting spot, Jamey Carroll or Alexi Casilla could certainly move to the bench.) The same is true with Joe Benson in the outfield. He needs every day at bats. Chris Parmelee certainly enters the equation for a roster spot if Justin Morneau suffers any setbacks. I also believe that we will see plenty of Sean Burroughs on the Twins roster throughout the 2012 season.

    Weíll be back tomorrow with much more on the bullpen options, of which there are plenty.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Battles: The Hitters started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. Mr. Ed's Avatar
      Mr. Ed -
      Pitchers like to throw to Dru. Allegedly. Pavano's blankie etc.

      And then there was Drew being mentioned along w/Valencia as guys not taking the L's more seriously.

      And then you have the lack of offense.

      Have a real competition and take the winner. So few jobs are truly open for competition on this team,which is funny, given how terrible they were last year.

      I just don't understand the fascination with Drew as the backup backup, which makes him the #2 catcher in my perception, given how he got into games so much last year. The guy can't hit. If so, then he'd better block low pitches better and throw more runners out. In other words, better than last year.
    1. jeffk's Avatar
      jeffk -
      Your prediction on Butera may be correct, but that doesn't make it the right decision. At least Towles has an upside. Butera has none. An organization that is looking for bright spots would be well served to give the guy who has a strong minor-league track record a shot. Worst case, he can't hit? So what, we *know* Butera can't.
    1. twinsfan's Avatar
      twinsfan -
      Nobody takes losing harder than Danny and he certainly takes it seriously. In fact all players at this level do not enjoy losing. Why wouldn't they care? They are paid to perform. That is their job!
    1. Mr. Ed's Avatar
      Mr. Ed -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfan View Post
      Nobody takes losing harder than Danny and he certainly takes it seriously. In fact all players at this level do not enjoy losing. Why wouldn't they care? They are paid to perform. That is their job!
      All I'm saying is that several youngsters got singled out late in the season for 'their attitude' after a bunch of losses in the media.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      My predictions aren't necessarily what I would do, but what I would guess/predict will happen.

      JeffK- my only disagreement with you is that none of the three have any upside, including Towles.
    1. Apostle43's Avatar
      Apostle43 -
      If there are few injuries in Minnesota, then AAA Rochester is going to be fielding an exciting and competitive team this year, at least with the day-to-day players. Keep those players healthy for once. From reading your past posts on pitching in the Twin's organization, it appears that Rochester's stable of pitchers will be the weakest of all the levels.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      Couldn't agree more Seth, although I have this knawing in my gut that tells me Burroughs is going to be the spring training surprise. Although I really like Hughes and am amongst the believers that he can be our starting second baseman, I think he may begin the season on the dl. Then when Casilla has his normal injury, Hughes can replace him and win the starting 2B job.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      I don't things are quite as set as Seth makes it sound. Players seldom win jobs in spring training but it is possible to lose one. I think a lot depends on Morneau. If he can play in field all the time, part of the time or not at all. Who makes the team could well be influenced by that. Some depends on Mauer. If he is healthy, the Twins might decide a 3rd catcher is unnecessary.

      Another factor is Plouffe. Everyone assumes he will be fine in the outfield, which is likely. But he also has to show he can hit. If he can, he could take some AB's in RF with Willingham getting some at DH. Again Morneau is a factor there. The Twins might not want to risk losing Plouffe, but if he isn't an outfielder and doesn't hit this spring, who would want him?

      I don't think anything is set in stone. Although Seth probably has it about right, there are reasons to have slightly different bench players.
    1. jeffk's Avatar
      jeffk -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      JeffK- my only disagreement with you is that none of the three have any upside, including Towles.
      J.R. Towles, 152 games at AAA: .286/.389/.443
      Drew Butera, 99 games at AAA: .211/.268/.292

      I dunno, for a backup catcher, that sounds like upside to me. I mean, even if he hit .220/.280/.300 in the majors he would be WAY, WAY better than Drew Butera. And that doesn't seem like an unreasonable projection. Except, of course, he hasn't performed in the majors. Certainly we don't know why that is, and maybe he never will. But there must be a reason that he's much, much less successful in the Majors than AAA, and if he or coaches can figure it out, he could drastically improve. A 10% chance? Perhaps, but that's the definition of "upside": there's some non-neglibale chance. I think that's different than the chance of Butera performing in the majors, which is actually zero.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Little known fact:
      even if Butera/Towles/Rivera do not make the team, the Twins have 3 players who can catch and are locks to make it up North. We all know about Mauer and Doumit. So the only reason that the Twins might need a third catcher is if one of them is the DH and the catcher gets hurt and they do not want to lose the DH for that game.

      Enter Josh Willingham. He played multiple positions including catcher in the Florida organization even at the MLB level. He could probably put the armor on and finish a game. Might be interesting to see whether the Twins have him crouch behind the plate in practice a bit during ST...
    1. Fanatic Jack's Avatar
      Fanatic Jack -
      Luke Hughes needs to make the roster because he is out of options. I like the potential and he is pretty solid at 2B. If they try to send him back to Rochester another team will scoop him up. I like Hughes more than Nishioka, Casilla, and Carroll.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      If Luke Hughes is healthy, he makes the team. Some people are undervaluing his, albeit surprising, defensive Ok-ness. Towles is certainly a better option than Butera offensively. I wouldn't call it "upside" but, my lord, he might have an OPS of .600+! And OPS difference of .100 over 100 plate appearances might be meaningful this year. Ideally, Drew Butera would be paid a nice salary to play at Rochester and work with the pitchers coming through the system. And Rene Rivera would be gone. We know what those two offer, which is not major league performance. Let Towles have a chance with the Twins, and CERTAINLY, give Danny Lehmann a chance. At least you might get something from him that can lead to an adequate future. Or maybe he shows some potential and can end up being packaged in some trade down the line (plenty of organizations might like a defensive catcher in their systems). Nishioka needs an excellent spring and to demonstrate that he can be a utility infielder, or else it seems clear that he belongs at Rochester. Burroughs is a nice option at the corners and maybe at second.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      "And OPS difference of .100 over 100 plate appearances might be meaningful this year"

      Shane, I suppose anything is possible, but if the 3rd catcher only gets 100 plate appearances this year, I doubt the extra 100 points of OPS has much impact. What 100 plate appearances works out to is less than 4 appearances a week. It means your more productive catcher(if he really is that much more productive) provides you a little over one extra hit or walk a month. This is the reason the Twins are more concerned about defense at the back up catcher position than offense.
    1. ssmart's Avatar
      ssmart -
      We need Butera on the team to catch all those in the dirt sliders that Frankie throws ( 5 innings at the most ) and then bring in Mauer or Doumit.
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