By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN
The Twins improved by three games this season, but nobody would go as far as to consider it progress. A 10-26 start set the table for a second consecutive season where the team never sniffed .500.
To sum it up, the offense was productive at times, but rarely clutch or consistent, the defense was prone to collapses, finishing bottom-third in the majors, and the pitching was… any suggestions? Abysmal? Appalling? Dreadful? The Twins sported a Triple-A pitching staff for most of the season that finished 28th in ERA, 29th in quality starts, and 29th in opponent’s batting average. All told, it was a year of apathy at Target Field in which attendance dropped by around 5,000 fans per game.
In order to put a bow on the 2012 season, we’ll grade out each player in a four-part series. Part one will focus on the infield. Parts two through four will look at the outfield, starting rotation, and bullpen respectively.
*Only players with minimum 100 at-bats were graded.
JOE MAUER---545 at-bats; .319, 10 HR, 85 RBI
The catcher bounced back off his career-worst 2011 and delivered a strong 2012 that was his best season on several fronts. Mauer played a career-high in games (147) with a personal record in plate appearances and at-bats (641/545). Though he finished with the highest strikeout total in his career (88), he also finished with the most walks (90), which bolstered him to the best OBP in the bigs (.416). Mauer’s power numbers will always be criticized if they don’t match his MVP season of 2009, but he did hit double-digit homers for the third time in his career (10).
Mauer answered lots of early-season questions and made his fifth All-Star game with a strong May and June. He stayed in the batting title race until the final weekend, eventually dropping to fourth. Mauer set some minds at ease with a healthy, productive campaign, but did so primarily by playing only 51% of his games at catcher and mixing in 29% at DH and 20% at first base. While he’s still the most feared hitter in the Twins’ lineup, it’s easy to cringe at his gaudy contract that’s tapping deeply into the club’s shrinking payroll.
JUSTIN MORNEAU---505 at-bats; .267, 19 HR, 77 RBI
It’s totally realistic to say that 2006-2009 was the prime of Justin Morneau. His four year average of 30 HR and 118 RBIs is likely a thing of the past, but in comparison to his injury-plagued 2010 and 2011 seasons, this year was a massive success for Morneau.
The first baseman improved as the season went on, peaking with a .314 combined average in July and August. He shook off his terrible April and May woes against lefties to hit a passable .232 against southpaws, and finished with a .290 average against right-handers. Perhaps most importantly, Morneau seemed to improve offensively when he was allowed to play in the field. The 31-year old suffered post-concussion symptoms in 2011 when he dove for ground balls at first base, forcing management to consider making him a full-time DH. Morneau went the entire season without any relapses and played 99 of his 134 games at first base.
After a decade with the Twins, Morneau now enters a pivotal---and expensive---contract season. The veteran is owed $14 million in the final year of his contract, while Chris Parmalee, ostensibly his replacement, is likely due just a six-digit tender. The coming months should reveal what GM Terry Ryan plans on doing this offseason in terms of cutting costs, although it appeared in his post-season debrief on Friday that Ryan was satisfied in using Morneau as a centerpiece to build around.
RYAN DOUMIT---484 at-bats; .275, 18 HR, 75 RBI
Indirectly, Doumit’s consistent year may be the reason for Joe Mauer’s solid season. The back-up catcher took enormous amounts of wear and tear off Mauer by catching 59 games in addition to filling in at the corner-outfield positions. Offensively, Doumit finished top-five in most of the team’s major offensive categories and only finished one month batting below .250 (September). He also set career-highs in RBIs, HRs, and at-bats, prompting Terry Ryan to label Doumit’s season a “career year.”
While Doumit struggled with runners-in-scoring-position (.239) and sometimes made us wish he’d stick to batting left-handed, his versatility---as a fielder and, I suppose, as a hitter---made him invaluable. Doumit turned his one-year contract into a two-year extension that will keep him in Minnesota through 2014. Joe Mauer’s knees are grateful.
JAMEY CARROLL---470 at-bats; .268, 1 HR, 40 RBI
Carroll was a class-act all season. He played intelligent, above-average defense at three infield-positions, legged out every ground ball, and didn’t seem to mind getting jerked around defensively as management experimented with all sorts of different combinations.
Though Carroll hit for his lowest average since 2007, he still drove in a career-high in RBIs at the age of 38, hitting from primarily the eighth and ninth spots in the batting order. You can pin most of that on a .333 average with runners on second and third, a .375 average with a runner on third, and a .400 average with a runner on second.
With an infield full of youth, it was good to be able to pencil in a durable, even-keeled player like Jamey Carroll. He won’t find many gaps, steal a ton of bases, or light up many highlight reels, but what he does do is provide stability to a team in flux. He’ll return under contract next season with a team option for 2014.
TREVOR PLOUFFE---422 at-bats; .235, 24 HR, 55 RBI
The month-by-month batting average splits of Trevor Plouffe: .121, .185, .327, .302, .161, .207. With three (and almost four) months of hitting under the Mendoza line, it’s shocking that Plouffe wasn’t benched or sent down. However, the mid-season months of June and July were tantalizing enough to make us want to see what “The Plouffe” could do for a full season.
If it wasn’t for Plouffe’s historic and unforeseen power surge in early June, there’d be little to say positively about Plouffe’s season. His strike-out to walk ratio was 2.5:1, his OBP was worse than Jamey Carroll’s and Darin Mastroianni’s, and his error total (19) was tops on the team by far.
Nonetheless, his nine home runs in a 12-game span gave us a glimpse of the pop Plouffe had been advertised as having. He also provides flexibility on defense, even though his fielding leaves much to be desired. The 2013 season will be critical in Plouffe’s future as the Twins’ third baseman.
BRIAN DOZIER---316 at-bats; .234, 6 HR, 33 RBI
Too many errors, too many strikeouts, and not enough flash to extend his audition past mid-August. Dozier opened some eyes by making tough plays look routine, but also made routine plays look difficult en route to 15 errors in just 84 games.
At times, Dozier showed surprising power with the bat, including a loud home run over Boston’s “Green Monster,” but never found a consistent swing to sustain a good average. Dozier never received a September call-up, but he didn’t help his cause by hitting .232 for the season in Rochester. He’ll have to wow the club in spring training to get a spot on next year’s roster.
ALEXI CASILLA---299 at-bats; .241, 1 HR, 30 RBI
With no options left and a bevy of middle-infielders gunning for his roster spot, 2012 could be the last we’ll see of Alexi Casilla in a Twins’ uniform. The 28-year old has recorded five walk-off hits in his seven seasons, including the memorable Game 163 winner, but for the third time in his career he’s been unable to play a full year as starter after being given the job out of spring training.
The 2012 campaign was one of his worst seasons for average (.241), OBP (.282), and strikeouts (52). The switch-hitting Casilla also scuffled to hit from the left side of the plate (.224) where he had 76% of his at-bats. Casilla is a classy, hustling, high-character ballplayer that meshes well with Twins’ ideals, but has been given more than three strikes in his proverbial Twins’ “at-bat.” Expect a non-tender on Casilla this November.
CHRIS PARMALEE---192 at-bats; .229, 5 HR, 20 RBI
Take Parmalee’s .229 with a grain of salt. It’s a miracle he put up the kind of minor-league numbers he did with the jet lag the Twins put him through (.338/17/49). Parmalee began the season with the Twins, then got sent down and recalled three separate times. The former first round pick is closing in on 100 home runs in his minor-league career and has to be getting antsy to play every day with the major-league club.
Parmalee struggled mightily---like the rest of the team---in the first month and a half, hitting .179 with 0 HR and 3 RBIs before his demotion. The 24-year old finished with a much better .269 in his final three stints. Unfortunately, with the trio of Morneau, Doumit, and Mauer taking up reps at first base and right field, it’s not going to be easy for Parmalee to find a steady role barring a trade or an injury.
PEDRO FLORIMON---137 at-bats; .219, 1 HR, 10 RBI
The Twins see a lot of potential in Florimon, albeit raw potential. Manager Ron Gardenhire made it known that he liked Florimon at shortstop after he replaced Brian Dozier in mid-August. Florimon, like Dozier, made the typical rookie mistakes (seven errors), but displayed good range and probably a stronger arm.
With a career average of around .250 throughout his minor-league career, Florimon will make or break his MLB future with the glove. He’ll be competing with similar light-hitting prospects Dozier and Eduardo Escobar for a spot next spring.
DREW BUTERA---111 at-bats; .198, 1 HR, 5 RBI
Having been usurped by Ryan Doumit as back-up catcher, it’s hard to fail Butera with only 42 games played. Obviously his batting is bad, but let’s focus on his great arm. Butera had the best caught-stealing percentage of any Twins catcher this season, as well as the best ERA on the pitching staff: 0.00 in one inning pitched! He’ll be one of the Twins playing winter ball.
Conclusion: the mainstays were solid, the free-agent acquisitions came to play, and the prospects have work to do. Next edition will look at the outfielders.