• Building a Bench

    A year ago, the Twins went into the regular season with a bench consisting of Drew Butera, Jason Repko, Matt Tolbert and Jim Thome. In other words: three guys who possessed only defensive value, and one who possessed only offensive value. It was a pretty limiting group, and the lack of flexibility caused headaches for Ron Gardenhire with starters shuttling in and out of the lineup all summer.

    Repko, Tolbert and Thome won't be back this year, and that's probably no coincidence. Nor is it coincidence that catcher J.R. Towles was signed during the offseason to give Butera some competition for the third catcher spot. The Twins will be hoping to boast a more well rounded bench this year, and that's definitely the right idea.

    The two candidates who could be considered locks, presuming they're healthy, would be Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes. Neither is a stand-out defender at any spot, but both can play multiple positions and have the potential to provide legitimate value with the bat. That's what you look for in a solid backup.

    If all goes to plan, Plouffe will draw occasion starts in the outfield and perhaps at DH, while Hughes will fill a Brendan Harris type role, subbing in against left-handers at various infield positions.

    Butera is probably close to a lock, as the Twins are almost guaranteed to carry a third catcher and they're familiar with him, but team officials have been reluctant to anoint him. It would seem that the door is open for Towles to swoop in with a big spring, and while he's been a Butera-esque hitter in his big-league career up to this point, he's certainly got more offensive potential.

    The end of the bench will be dictated by how many pitchers Gardenhire wants to carry, and by how comfortable he is with using Plouffe or Hughes at shortstop in a pinch.

    My assumption is that 12 pitchers will come north, since that's how they Twins have generally operated in the past and they've got a whopping 33 hurlers in camp this year (several of whom are out of options and one of whom is a Rule 5 draftee). If that's indeed the route they go, there's only room for one more bench player beyond the three mentioned above.

    Who will it be? That brings us to the matter of shortstop security. Jamey Carroll will need days off and could obviously get hurt, but I'd argue that the presence of Alexi Casilla along with Plouffe and Hughes who both can play the position in an emergency should be enough to offset any concerns. With that said, if Gardy is committed to having a true backup shortstop on his roster, he'll likely insist on carrying Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who started 59 games there as a rookie last year.

    Does it really make sense to carry Nishioka as a utility man, though? He's not an asset as a pinch hitter, or pinch runner, or defensive replacement. And relegating him to a bench spot would seemingly indicate that the Twins have given up on developing him into a starter despite their $15 million investment.

    Unless he shows significant advancement in his skills this spring, I think the Twins would be wise to start Nishioka in Rochester. That would leave an opening for the final bench slot, which could be used in a number of different ways. Sean Burroughs looks interesting as a potential platoon partner for Danny Valencia at third base and occasion fill-in at first and DH. Darin Mastroianni could fill the same fifth outfielder/pinch runner role that Jason Repko has in the past. Guys like Steven Pearce and Aaron Bates have the potential to provide some right-handed pop off the bench while serving as Justin Morneau insurance.

    The composition of the bench may seem like an afterthought, but those four players that opened the season there last year wound up totaling 866 plate appearances. It's important to round out the roster with players that can be assets in a variety of ways. Fortunately, there are a number of candidates to do so this time around.

    This article was originally published in blog: Building a Bench started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. TwinsArmChairGM_Jon's Avatar
      TwinsArmChairGM_Jon -
      Also signed to push Butera for the third catcher spot: one of those bounce back nets.
    1. TwinsMusings's Avatar
      TwinsMusings -
      For the most part I agree with you on your bench projections. I think Nishioka should start in AAA or maybe even AA so he doesn't hold Dozier back, but I do not expect the Twins to do that. He is not of much value as a utility guy, but that is what is most likely.

      By the way, I think you might have meant 12 pitchers going north, not 13, unless the roster max. is now 26 for opening day.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      "My assumption is that 13 pitchers will come north, since that's how they Twins have generally operated in the past and they've got a whopping 33 hurlers in camp this year (several of whom are out of options and one of whom is a Rule 5 draftee). If that's indeed the route they go, there's only room for one more bench player beyond the three mentioned above."

      If they carry 13 pitchers (i.e. 8 in the pen) that's it. No room (need 12 position players and 9 are starting). But they will carry max 12 pitchers (been talking about even 11) so there is room
    1. nick5253's Avatar
      nick5253 -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      "If they carry 13 pitchers (i.e. 8 in the pen) that's it. No room (need 12 position players and 9 are starting). But they will carry max 12 pitchers (been talking about even 11) so there is room"
      I think they should go with 11 pitchers. The guys they have fighting for those last bullpen spots are all of the 2 inning variety anyway. And without Zumaya, you don't have that 1 IP every 3 days guy to protect. The bullpen should be pretty flexible to have nearly every guy (except Capps & Perkins) throw 2-3 innings if needed.

      And going with 11 pitchers means you can carry the 3rd catcher & have Nishi backing up SS. The bench then would be something like:
      Butera/Towles
      Hughes
      Plouffe
      Nishi
      Burroughs
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      "My assumption is that 13 pitchers will come north, since that's how they Twins have generally operated in the past and they've got a whopping 33 hurlers in camp this year (several of whom are out of options and one of whom is a Rule 5 draftee). If that's indeed the route they go, there's only room for one more bench player beyond the three mentioned above."

      If they carry 13 pitchers (i.e. 8 in the pen) that's it. No room (need 12 position players and 9 are starting). But they will carry max 12 pitchers (been talking about even 11) so there is room
      Yeah, I meant 12 pitchers. Sorry about that. Fixed.
    1. Andrew Bryz-Gornia's Avatar
      Andrew Bryz-Gornia -
      This is something that has driven me nuts for the past couple years. The Twins had only one good hitter that came off the bench (Thome) and that was short-lived as Morneau's injuries pushed Thome into the lineup as the starting DH. The Twins have definitely focused on having capable defenders at each position group (catcher, infield, outfield, and one extra at any of these three) but they haven't really carried any good hitters.

      Right now, I'd predict it's Butera, Hughes, Plouffe, and Nishioka/Tosoni for the bench. You've got some decent hitters in Hughes, Plouffe, and Tosoni, but they're not going to strike fear in many hitters.

      I keep hoping the Twins will sign Eric Hinske some day, but that's probably never going to happen. Or they'll just do the same thing as they did with Carroll and sign Hinske when he's 37.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      The bench flexibility is going to be drastically reduced by the Twins (read:Gardy's) insistence on carrying 3 catchers and 12 pitchers. Both are on the iffy side in and of themselves, but combined they put the team in a significant hole regarding the bench.

      A 3rd catcher isn't a horrible idea...if they can hit a little and be of use as a PH. Butera has no value there. Towles might, but hasn't proven it in MLB. Makes the 3rd catcher a luxury that's unaffordable with 12 pitchers. That leaves a 4 man bench, and while I think Plouffe & Hughes are close to locks, and are potentially nice options off the bench, that only leaves one spot left. I'd like it to be for a hitter, and unless Nishioka shows something more than what we've seen, he might be better off starting the year in Rochester. I suspect Gardy will want him on the big club , though as an additional option at SS. Plouffe will not be there, absent catastrophe, his career at SS is done.

      My preference would be for the Twins to no either not waste a roster spot on a 3rd catcher or a 12th pitcher (I have no hope it'll be both) and keep either Tosoni or Burroughs as the LH bench bat. (If a miracle occurs, give me both) Neither has much left to prove in the minors and both have potential to be good LH bats in MLB, with some positional flexibility. My proposed bench:

      Hughes
      Plouffe
      Tosoni
      Burroughs
      Nishioka

      No 3rd catcher. If Gardy demands there be one, send Nishioka to AAA and keep Towles if he shows he can hit anything in spring training. I want black hole Butera GONE. I don't want Gardy to have the option of deciding it's a good idea to let Butera be Pavano's personal catcher again and get 50% of the starts when Mauer is resting or DHing over Doumit because "he can really pick it" and "sets a good target" or whatever BS gets trotted out. Butera cannot hit enough to be a MLB player. His D is very good, but not so elite that it can make up for the horrendous hitting.

      Part of winning baseball is putting yourself in position to win. Part of that is avoiding situations where you lose. Making sure the manager can't start Drew Butera 50-60 games is part of avoiding a situation where you lose.
    1. spoofbonser's Avatar
      spoofbonser -
      if only toby g was still on the team......
    1. glanzer's Avatar
      glanzer -
      I'm sure that injuries will play a role early and whatever bench leaves Fort Myers will change within two weeks. I love the idea of having a Thome-like veteran bat off the bench. I think if Bill Smith were still in charge, the Twins would have a Derrek Lee or Vlad Guerrero type in camp. As it is, I tend to think that Sean Burroughs has the lead for the final bench spot.
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