By: Sam Ekstrom
When the Twins entered spring training last year, there were still whispers of optimism that they could shake off the 99-loss disaster of the previous season if everything fell into place.
This season, there are no such whispers.
After a grueling 96 losses in 2012, Minnesota went into full “rebuild mode” this offseason, leaving plenty of openings on their 25-man roster.
Over the next several days, AJ Mansour and I will preview the Twins’ roster position-by-position (infield, outfield, starting pitching, bullpen) and attempt to sort out who will be playing where on Opening Day.
Today’s edition: INFIELD
Alexi Casilla: A seven-year veteran, Casilla was given ample opportunity to be an everyday infielder for the Twins, but injuries and ineffectiveness kept him from reaching his full potential. Casilla was non-tendered by the Twins and signed with Baltimore in November.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka: The Twins pulled the plug on their international experiment after two below-average seasons, releasing Nishioka at his own request.
2012 first basemen: Justin Morneau (99 games), Chris Parmalee (38 games), Joe Mauer (30 games)
With Justin Morneau healthy for the first time in several offseasons, it’s safe to pencil the former MVP in as the starting first baseman. However, Morneau’s future will be a major talker as the season moves toward the July 31st trade deadline.
Entering the final year of his contract, Morneau is due to make $14 million in 2013—a scary number for possible suitors. But if Morneau plays like his pre-concussion self and the Twins are out of contention, the team would be likely to pull the trigger on a trade if it means acquiring more rebuilding pieces.
The first baseman hit .267 with 19 HRs and 77 RBIs in 134 games last year; still below-average for the four-time All-Star, but a big step forward after an injury-laden 2011.
If Minnesota does deal Morneau, it appears like they already have a logical replacement in 24-year-old Chris Parmalee. Parmalee has played 58 MLB games at first base and looks to be a full-timer on this year’s 25-man roster after spending multiple stints in the minors last season.
In fact, Parmalee is the leading candidate to begin the year in right field. Fans are eager to see the left-handed hitter get at-bats every game after witnessing several impressive stretches the past couple of seasons.
Parmalee hit just .229 at the major-league level in 2012, but posted a .338/.457/.645 at Triple-A Rochester, as well as a .355/.443/.592 in his 21 games with the Twins in 2011. His $480,000 salary is also very team-friendly.
Joe Mauer, like last season, also looks to get reps at first base, but remains adamant that he wants to catch as often as possible.
2012 second basemen: Alexi Casilla (96 games), Jamey Carroll (66 games)
With Casilla’s departure, the Twins will be leaning on the veteran presence of Jamey Carroll and the youthfulness of Brian Dozier.
Minnesota knows they’ll get steady play from the 39-year-old Carroll, but with the veteran in the final year of his contract, the team would love to develop former-shortstop Dozier at a new position.
The rookie struggled mightily in his first season. In 84 games, Dozier hit just .234 at the plate and made 15 errors in the field (tenth worst amongst shortstops).
The Twins’ 2011 Minor League Player of the Year made spectacular plays look routine at times during his first major-league stint, but also made routine plays look difficult. The Twins sent Dozier down in mid-August in favor of Pedro Florimon.
Dozier spent the offseason working hard to learn the tricks of the trade at second base, specifically seeking help from Paul Molitor and spending some additional time in Venezuela. The 25-year-old has very limited experience at the position.
Though Carroll might be the more consistent option—at the plate and in the field—the Twins would like to see Dozier earn the second-base job and solidify his role as an infielder of the future.
2012 shortstops: Brian Dozier (84 games), Pedro Florimon (43 games), Jamey Carroll (37 games)
With Dozier transitioning to second base, the Twins fully intend on having Pedro Florimon take the reins at shortstop.
After a month of watching Florimon last August and September, manager Ron Gardenhire gave the 26-year-old’s defense a glowing review. Ostensibly, Florimon’s late-season “audition” left enough of an impression to make him the front-runner for the shortstop job.
But will Gardenhire’s instinct prove to be correct?
Florimon, through seven minor-league seasons, has averaged 26 errors per season as a shortstop, though that number dropped to 12 last year. With the Twins, Florimon committed seven errors in 43 games, but did appear more comfortable in his position than Dozier.
Offensively, the Dominican Republic native brings little to the table. Florimon holds career-averages of .249/.321/.354 in the minors and has equal or more strikeouts than hits in four of his seven seasons.
2012 third basemen: Trevor Plouffe (95 games), Jamey Carroll (44 games), Danny Valencia (34 games)
Remember when Danny Valencia was receiving Rookie of the Year votes? Well, the honeymoon stage with Valencia passed very quickly.
The team went through a messy “divorce” with their young third baseman and traded him to the Boston Red Sox last summer, leaving Trevor Plouffe as his clear successor.
Plouffe was enigmatic in 2012, hitting .327 and .302 in June and July, respectively, but batting a combined .186 in April, May, August, and September. His OBP was barely a touch over .300, his strikeout-to-walk ratio sat at an unattractive 2.5:1, and his 17 errors were fifth-worst among third basemen. But his power is what earned him a longer look.
Plouffe went on a mid-summer tear, at one point hitting nine home runs in a 12-game span. He finished the season with 24 home runs, a career high at any level.
The Twins have committed to Plouffe for the time being. The hope is that his offense doesn’t lag and his defense—mostly his throwing accuracy—gets polished. However, if things go downhill, Jamey Carroll or Eduardo Escobar (from the Francisco Liriano trade) could get a look.
Escobar hit .214 in 2012 (50 games played) and made just two errors while playing three infield positions.
2012 catchers: Joe Mauer (74 games), Ryan Doumit (59 games), Drew Butera (41 games)
After a bounce-back 2012, Joe Mauer is ready to take another step toward justifying his $23 million yearly salary. The catcher played in a career-high 147 games last season, but only caught half of them. He’ll look to increase his workload this year after a healthy offseason.
That being said, it’s nice to have Ryan Doumit as an insurance policy on Mauer. The former Pirate caught about every third game for the Twins last season, providing some pop while giving Mauer’s knees the rest they needed.
Doumit earned a two-year extension by posting career highs in HRs and RBIs.
Ron Gardenhire has always been partial to keeping three catchers on the roster, so expect Drew Butera to return as the third-string backstop. Butera signed a $700,000 tender last month.
On paper, the Twins seem to have the catching situation figured out. It shouldn’t be unrealistic to expect Mauer to catch 100 or more games, and while Doumit may not catch more than 50, the Twins will find a way to get him in the lineup as a DH or utility outfielder.
Projected starting infield: Justin Morneau (first base), Brian Dozier (second base), Pedro Florimon (shortstop), Trevor Plouffe (third base), Joe Mauer (catcher)
Projected bench: Jamey Carroll (utility), Ryan Doumit (catcher) Drew Butera (catcher), Eduardo Escobar (utility)
Next edition will preview the Twins’ outfield alignment.