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  • Should Luke Hughes Start at 2B for the Twins?

    On Saturday, Luke Hughes went 5-5 with two doubles, a home run and five RBI. On Sunday, he went 2-3 with another home run. That raised his spring training numbers to .385/.429/.795 (1.223) with four doubles, four home runs and 13 RBI.

    When the 2011 season ended, TwinsCentric released its Offseason GM Handbook. In my offseason blueprint, I suggested that Luke Hughes be the Twins second baseman in 2012 with Alexi Casilla moving back to the utility role. I targeted Clint Barmes for shortstop, but the Twins signed Jamey Carroll and Barmes went to the Pirates (and I still really like the Carroll signing).

    Coming into spring training, Hughes was injured. He had a shoulder injury while playing in his hometown, Perth, in the Australian Baseball League. He went from being out of options and a likely bench role to questions about if he could start the season on the DL. Some even asked if he would clear waivers should the Twins decide to remove him from the 40 man roster.

    And now, I have to bring a question back to the Twins Daily readers; Should Luke Hughes be the Twins starting second baseman?

    Do spring training statistics mean anything? Consider that in 2011, Hughes hit .246/.265/.569 with three doubles and six home runs. He was the final cut, but it wasnít long before he was called back up to the Twins where he hit .223/.289/.338 (64-287) with 12 doubles and seven home runs. Spring Training is such a small sample that generally it doesnít offer any suggestion on regular season success. If you are looking for one nugget to believe that his 2012 is different, check out his walk to strikeout rate. Last spring, he walked twice and struck out 17 times. This season, he has three walks and five strikeouts.

    And frankly, if spring training statistics mean something, Casilla is hitting .355/.429/.387.

    When it comes to defense, the assumption is that Casilla is significantly better than Hughes, and for me, it would be hard to argue. Hughes has never been known for his glove, and with Casillaís speed, we assume he has more range. UZR is just one way to look at defense, and frankly, itís probably not the best when comparing a single season. Alexi Casillaís 2011 UZR at 2B was 0.9 and his UZR/150 was 2.2. Luke Hughes 2011 UZR at 2B was 1.3 while his UZR/150 was 4.9.

    When it comes to offense, Casilla and Hughes are like night and day. Casilla is a speedster with little power in his bat. Hughes is not swift-of-foot, but he does have tremendous power. Casilla is a switch-hitter, while Hughes bats right handed. Casilla puts the ball in play 2.5 times more frequently than Hughes.

    Neither has really been a beacon of health in their careers. Because they are such different players, it is not an easy decision.

    So, why would I advocate Luke Hughes as the Twins starting second baseman? Here are a few reasons:

    Casilla has had a lot of opportunities as a starter. Iím not saying that he doesnít deserve to be the starting second baseman in 2012. After a horrible first six weeks to his 2011, he played well the rest of the season. However, Luke Hughes has never been given an opportunity at an every day job. It may prove that he doesnít deserve it, but I would take my chances.

    Secondly, Casillaís best season overall was in 2010 when he was the Twins utility infielder. As the roster sits right now (with Hughes as the utility infielder), there really is not a backup shortstop. In fact, the backup shortstop would probably be Casilla, but that is something Gardy typically does not like to do. Instead of forcing someone like Pedro Florimon onto the roster, Casilla can just be the utility player. From a roster management standpoint, Casilla as utility infielder certainly makes more sense.

    Third, the Twins regular lineup contains Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Chris Parmelee, the switch-hitting Ryan Doumit and occasionally Ben Revere. Casilla is a switch hitter, but I think that adding another powerful right-handed bat could help even up the lineup.

    I donít know how Luke Hughes would perform in an everyday role. Then again, I donít know how Alexi Casilla will perform in an everyday role and weíve seen that four or five times already. The best-case scenario would have him hitting 18-20 home runs in 500 plate appearances. If it doesnít go so well, Brian Dozier is waiting in the wings and could be ready to come up by June and Hughes can return to a reserve role.

    I think the odds of Hughes being the regular starting second baseman is probably very low. Then again, I have already been surprised several times this spring. Chris Parmelee hit his way onto the Opening Day roster. Maybe Luke Hughes can hit his way into a starting job.

    ---

    Bonus Luke Hughes Trivia: Luke Hughes signed with the Twins in July of 2002. Only three players on the Twins 40-man roster have been in the Twins organization longer than Hughes. Who are they?

    This article was originally published in blog: Should Luke Hughes Start at 2B for the Twins? started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 25 Comments
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      It's an interesting point. Really what it comes down to is defense. I put no stock into UZR samples over a partial season and tend to think Casilla is significantly better than Hughes in the field, but if there's a belief that Hughes can hold his own defensively it makes a lot of sense to have Casilla serve as utility infielder & pinch runner.

      As for the trivia question... Mauer, Morneau and Span?
    1. kirbyelway's Avatar
      kirbyelway -
      I think Casilla needs to be at 2B. Our defense was terrible last year and with our pitch to contact pitchers we need to be strong up the middle. I just think our outfield defense is going to be suspect at best, so we better be stronger in the infield. If its an offense thing then I would be all for Hughes.
    1. twinswon1991's Avatar
      twinswon1991 -
      If Hughes has any major role on this team we can all start speculating on the #1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Hughes, Marquis, Blacky, Carroll, Butera, etc couldn't start for most AAA clubs yet Gardy will play them cuz they are NICE.

      100+ losses appear to be a given!
    1. kirbyelway's Avatar
      kirbyelway -
      I don't think it's that bad twinswon1991. Last year was pretty flukey with all the injuries. If the big guys stay healthy all the complimentary pieces will be fine.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      Yes! As you know Seth, I have been preaching that Hughes should be the starting second baseman since last season ended. Forget UZR, my eyes tell me that Hughes is a solid second baseman. Not flashy, not exceptional, but solid! Does he have Casilla's range, probably not. But then in a lot of games, Casilla doesn't have Casilla's range. He is decent turning the double play and won't hurt the team at second. Offensively, he can hit .265-.280 average with 20+ home runs. Not that he will do it this year, but he will hit like that next year if he starts most of this year.

      I will be surprised if he is the starter on opening day. I expect however, that he will be the starter come August with Dozier at short.

      The answer to your question in Morneau, Mauer and Nick Blackburn.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      I had a chance to watch Casilla and Carroll yesterday afternoon at the AA/AAA game. Night and day. I think that Alexi is going to have a monster season. I would not mind if Carroll is the UT and Lexi and starting SS with Hughes the starting 2B. I think that we will all be (positively) surprised by Casilla this season
    1. Mr. Ed's Avatar
      Mr. Ed -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      I had a chance to watch Casilla and Carroll yesterday afternoon at the AA/AAA game. Night and day. I think that Alexi is going to have a monster season. I would not mind if Carroll is the UT and Lexi and starting SS with Hughes the starting 2B. I think that we will all be (positively) surprised by Casilla this season
      I'm all for Casilla/Hughes. Carroll as the Utility. Hughes has to get the bat going like this in the regular season and not hit in the .230s to warrant such an opp.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      The answer to your question in Morneau, Mauer and Nick Blackburn.
      That is correct!
    1. mnfireman's Avatar
      mnfireman -
      I think this team will be fairly solid, not great, but solid. If Carroll is to remain the starting SS then Casilla should be the utility guy. If they put Casilla at SS, then Carroll should be the utility guy. Hughes gets 2B until he plays himself out of it. Doumit, Morneau & Parmalee can share DH & 1B, with Doumit, Parmalee & Plouffe sharing RF. Mauer has caught too well this spring to not be back there 4 or 5 times a week, though with the day/night rotation of the early schedule Gardy will want to give him days off. Revere is the best 4th OF option right now, though technically the team is carrying Willingham, Span, Plouffe, Parmalee, Doumit & Revere to cover the OF with Benson, Tosoni & Mastroianni at AAA. I guess we'll see if all this versatility is a good or a bad thing. Bad baseball might have this team looking like this in September - C Mauer, 1B Parmalee, 2B Carroll, 3B Valencia, SS Dozier, LF Willingham, CF Span, RF Benson & DH Morneau/Doumit.
    1. jeffk's Avatar
      jeffk -
      I think for a team that has three middle infielders that are mediocre to passable hitters, two of which play shortstop, two of which have fluky or questionable hitting backgrounds, it becomes almost needlessly rigid to demarcate "starter" vs. "bench". Let the three of them play 2/3 of the games for the first couple of months and then adjust from there.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinswon1991 View Post
      If Hughes has any major role on this team we can all start speculating on the #1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Hughes, Marquis, Blacky, Carroll, Butera, etc couldn't start for most AAA clubs yet Gardy will play them cuz they are NICE.

      100+ losses appear to be a given!
      Blackburn is a MLB-calibre pitcher; on most clubs he'd be a 4th-5th starter. Hughes is a player we don't know about yet. He's got nothing left to prove in AAA, but might not be able to make it in MLB. But if he has a major role on this club it'll mean either A) someone got injured or B) he played himself into a starting job. If it's A, that could be bad. If it's B, it's awesome. Marquis is a 5th starter for us and would compete for that role on a lot of other clubs too. Starting pitching is still hard to find and if Marquis is getting ground balls, he can be effective. Carroll got a lot of starts for the Dodgers last year...are they a AAA club? If he comes in with a .380 OBP and solid defense he'd start for a lot of teams too.

      100 losses are hardly a given.

      But to Seth's question...I would give Hughes a shot at the starting 2B job. If his defense can hold up I think he'd bring a little power and balance to the lineup. Casilla is probably best suited as a utility guy, and it would make it easy for him to come in as a late-game replacement for Carroll to give him a few more innings off. Casilla is a better option as a pinch runner, which gives him more value on the bench than some other options. The question is: is his defense reliable enough at 2B? The range might be an issue, with Carroll's strength being his ability to make the play cleanly, not ranging far and wide. But I think it's worth seriously considering.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      I think Hughes should be given a shot at 2B and Casilla at SS. Carroll at UT. Dozier in Rochester. Revisit on June 1--if Dozier ready bring him up and play him at SS and see who is better at 2B Casilla or Hughes. (Advance June 1 date if injuries require).
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I think people tend to forget that Hughes was pretty good up until his break out season in NB a few years back and has been injured ever since. The org has been very high on his athletic ability, but that health thing is a big deal. I know you cannot put a ton of stock in ST numbers, but what he's done this spring is certainly enough to gain consideration. Given that they have 3 middle infielders, of which 2 can play SS and all can play 2B, I think you can setup a nice 3 way platton giving hughes a good number of starts at 2nd and 1 or 2 a week at 3rd to give Valencia an occasional day off.

      If he continues hitting, Gardy will have no problems finding a place for him to play every day. Otherwise, he's a nice bench bat with some decent pop. If one of Carol or Casilla flops (and I think both are possible), you still aren't hurt that bad and can be looking at average production out of the other position. If both flop, Dozier is waiting on a callup.

      The problem, as I see it, is that none of these guys have been a token of health over their career. While I think the odds are low of all 3 seeing significant DL time, I do think it's probably higher than we'd like, and I'd say that there's a decent chance that 2 go down for a while. Hopefully though, it's at separate times.

      There's some decent reason for optimism here. Hughes (if he hits the potential he showed a while back) could be a dark horse that has a significant impact on the course of the season.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Ed View Post
      I'm all for Casilla/Hughes. Carroll as the Utility. Hughes has to get the bat going like this in the regular season and not hit in the .230s to warrant such an opp.
      Agreed, and I also agree that it probably won't start out that way this year. Pitchers on this team will start the season with the best fielding infield behind them. After they see who's pitching well (a month?), Gardenhire may start Hughes at 2B and slide Casilla to SS when Baker pitches, because he's a fly ball guy. That's when they might go with a speedier outfield, too, like Plouffe LF, Span CF, Revere RF. After that (another month?), if Hughes plays nice, steady 2B and hits well, Gardenhire may relax and let Carroll be the utility guy.

      What I like in this situation is the flexibility they can tap into. Lots of young talent and role players are available this season. Gardenhire typically lets the season starting lineup have a good, long look before he starts tinkering, and it's hard to argue with that approach.
    1. BHAERTZEN's Avatar
      BHAERTZEN -
      Putting Nick Blackburn on that list is ridiculous.

      Quote Originally Posted by twinswon1991 View Post
      If Hughes has any major role on this team we can all start speculating on the #1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Hughes, Marquis, Blacky, Carroll, Butera, etc couldn't start for most AAA clubs yet Gardy will play them cuz they are NICE.

      100+ losses appear to be a given!
    1. LRGAMBLE's Avatar
      LRGAMBLE -
      My impression of Alexi is that he can make some very impressive flashy plays with the leather. But the routine ground ball seems so mundane to him that he ends up bobbling it or adding more drama to the play than there should be. I think his base running is suspect too. Not that I have access to these stats but I think he leads the Twins in "picked off first base". He seems to nap over there. However if he can keep his head in the game and bat the way he was before his injury last fall he can be very good. I guess it really comes down to the question of which Casilla are we going to get?
    1. twinswon1991's Avatar
      twinswon1991 -
      Quote Originally Posted by BHAERTZEN View Post
      Putting Nick Blackburn on that list is ridiculous.
      Blacky couldnt crack the rotation on any other AL team. No team would give a bag of balls for him unless the Twins ate his entire contract. You must not watch regular season games if you think Blacky belongs in the Bigs.
    1. bteichr's Avatar
      bteichr -
      I don't think any of Carroll, Casilla, and Hughes has done enough to earn a full time starting spot. I'd like to see the playing time split equally between them. There are generally 6 games per week and two positions to fill, so let them each start 4 games per week or so. I'd have Hughes play 2B, Casilla play SS, and Carroll switch between SS and 2B depending on the other starter. Then if one (or hopefully two) of them get hot, they can get more PT. If the Twins did this, they'd benefit from the strengths of each player while limiting their exposure to each guys weaknesses.
    1. spideyo's Avatar
      spideyo -
      If Parmalee gets significant time in RF, I wouldn't be surprised to see Hughes get some starts at 1b too
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      I'd love to see Hughes get a shot to start. Solves the backup SS problem with Casilla as the utility man, and perhaps Hughes burst through with reliable and desperately needed production on this club. Why not take a chance? We did with Casilla.... well, we keep taking that chance with Casilla, hoping he can put it together. Unless Hughes' defense is a real liability at 2B, give him a shot to start and keep starting. If he blows it, then put Casilla back in... this seems like a great bet.
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