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Thoughts on 10 Position Players

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Unless the Twins make a waiver claim, their roster is set for the start of the 2014 season. Several players have been hot topics here on Twins Daily. I will offer my takes on 10 players and hope that they stimulate some conversation.

1) Joe Mauer--Now the Twins regular first baseman and unquestioned best player. Mauer is the biggest certainty on the team. He will hit and he won't say anything controversial. Joe still needs to learn a little about first base, he has struggled some there this spring. I expect that problem to be temporary, and I expect that Mauer will be an excellent defensive 1B by midseason. It does show that even a premium athlete like Mauer can't necessarily be bounced around the diamond. I am a traditionalist, I guess. I have always believed the team's best hitter should hit third. Tony-O, Kirby, Knoblauch, and Molitor to name just a few examples. Mauer is the best hitter--he should bat third and the other guys should fill in the spots around him.

2) Aaron Hicks--After reading the "Put Me in Coach" blog about Hicks, the phrase "fool me once, shame on you--fool me twice, shame on me" comes to mind. The posters are basing Hicks' future performance on his obvious athletic gifts and (gulp) strong second half of spring training. Aaron Hicks fell somewhere between "failure" and "disappointment" in 2013. To expect him to excel is a huge jump. I'm hoping for extreme improvement where most metrics show him to be average. I have posted quite often on Hicks' future. I believe Byron Buxton is the real deal--a future All-Star fixture with a near unlimited ceiling. If that is true, Hicks would have to move to a corner to have a future as a Twin. I remain unconvinced that he will hit enough to ever justify such a move. I believe he will hit and field well enough eventually to be an above-average center fielder, which makes him a valuable trade chip. I like what Hicks brings to the table. I hope he succeeds, but I don't think he will ever hit enough to be a regular left or right fielder. One more cautionary thought: Hicks has to go some to be better than average defensively. Last year he struggled early and settled in and was pretty good. That doesn't make him elite. With more experience, he has the tools to be an elite defender and I would expect he can get there, but that isn't a done deal yet, either.

3) Trevor Plouffe--He actually had a pretty good spring FWIW. Baseball curmudgeon Patrick Reusse had a nice article on "Plouffsie", which captured the ups and downs of a flawed, but serviceable player. Plouffe is perhaps the Twins best hope to hit for power from the right side, he seemed to show a better approach at the plate late last year and this spring. Let's not kid ourselves, unless Plouffe exceeds 20 long balls, the flaws will exceed the improvements as a hitter. Trevor is neither one of the current wave or an aging veteran. He and Dozier and a couple of pitchers are bridges to the next surge for the Twins. Plouffe doesn't seem to have the instincts to ever be a truly good defender or baserunner, but if he can bash the baseball, we can forgive much of his downside. I've never met him, but I've read his tweets and comments in the papers and I like what I've read. It's a huge season for Trevor--if he disappoints, he could be non-tendered and perhaps become a baseball nomad, like his friend Delmon Young. If he steps forward, he could become part of the Twins future (maybe in left field) and probably garner a very nice contract. I'm cautiously optimistic.

4) Josh Willingham--Speaking of RH power, there is the Hammer. Willingham is a bat-first "corner outfielder". Obviously, he needs to hit to be an asset. Last year, he didn't hit. This spring has offered no encouragement that he will hit, but it's only Spring Training. Willingham is 35, making him the oldest Twin and it is possible that his decline has started and was escalated by injury last year. It is also possible that Willingham has a lot of good swings left. Last year was ruined by injuries but this is a contract year, so Willingham will have every incentive to play and produce as much as possible. I think that the most important (and uncertain) man in the lineup is Hammer. If he resembles his Silver Slugger self of 2012, Mauer will get a lot of good pitches to hit and Willingham will have a lot of runners on base to drive in. If he's more like last year, the lineup really crumbles around him. Defensively, Willingham's best postion is DH. I hope the Twins can find three better outfielders that can hit a little so that Hammer can just hit. I have speculated that it is truly unlikely that Willingham remains a Twin. I hope he hits enough to net something by the trading deadline.

5) Eduardo Escobar--He is this year's second-string quarterback. His hitting flaws are minimized because everyone saw that Florimon is a poor hitter. In my book, Escobar is a very nice three-position utility infielder. Besides this, he might play a few innings in the outfield and (shudder) might even find himself behind the plate. Why is Esco a utility guy? He doesn't hit enough to be a regular and he's not a defensive upgrade at the two middle infield positions. Escobar looks to have a better bat than Florimon, and plays better in the field than Plouffe. He has soft hands and a really good arm, but I don't think his has plus range at short and he doesn't have great footwork at second. Escobar is an injury or implosion away from starting at second or short. As a switch hitter, he might get quite a few PAs at third, as well. I don't see Escobar as a regular, but I think he could be a fine utility guy for a long time. If his hitting tools steps forward, he could be more.

Since this post is getting pretty long, I'll continue later with a new blog.

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