By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
It’s been a long time since the days of Luis Rivas and Cristian Guzman.
Since the successful middle-infield tandem broke up in 2005, the Twins have had a revolving door on both sides of second base, but most notably at shortstop. Eighteen different Twins have played the position since Guzman left in the 2004 offseason.
Over the past nine seasons, the Twins’ leader in appearances at shortstop is Jason Bartlett with 305 games.
To compare, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter has spent 1,170 games at shortstop since the start of 2005.
Talk about two opposite ends of the spectrum.
But for the first time since the 2010 fly-by of J.J. Hardy, the Twins have been steady at shortstop with Pedro Florimon playing in 84 percent of games this year.
In what appears to be a throwaway season, it’s good the front office is getting an extended look at what they’ve got in the 26-year-old. The question at season’s end will be: Can Florimon last long-term, or is he just another section of the bridge that will, eventually, lead to the franchise’s next permanent shortstop?
Florimon demonstrated the best and the worst he had to offer in Wednesday evening’s 4-3 loss to Kansas City.
In the top of the fourth inning, he moved quickly to his left to field a Miguel Tejada ground ball, spun around, and threw Tejada out by a step.
One inning later, he launched a Jeremy Guthrie fastball 400 feet over the high wall in right-center field for his seventh home run of the season – just one fewer than Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
Then came the sixth and seventh innings.
With a man on first in the bottom of the sixth, Florimon struck out swinging to end the inning.
In the top of the seventh – maybe taking his struggles at the plate with him into the field – Florimon botched a relay throw that could have pegged Alex Gordon for the third out. The inning continued, and Florimon fumbled a grounder up the middle that led to two unearned runs.
“Just too quick,” said Florimon, referring not to the ground ball itself, but the way he tried to field it behind the second-base bag. “I have to make that play.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire pulled Florimon in the eighth inning for a pinch-hitter. The switch-hitting Florimon struck out twice in the game, bringing his total to 71 for the year.
“Flory just kind of got blown away again,” said Gardenhire.
Again is the operative word. Florimon’s 71 strikeouts have come in 269 at-bats, which equates to a .264 strikeout average. His batting average is a full 34 points worse at .230.
“We’re leaving a lot of men out there with a lot of strikeouts,” said Gardenhire after Wednesday’s loss. He was talking about the team as a whole, but Florimon serves as a perfect microcosm. He is hitting just .148 in high-leverage situations.
Florimon’s offense is a major work in progress – especially his right-handed hitting (.136). But in spite of the crucial error on Wednesday, Florimon makes his money with the glove.
The Dominican native has the top range factor amongst shortstops and the third-best UZR (ultimate zone rating). He has terrific range moving to both the backhand and glove sides and also possesses a strong arm.
"I love having him out there at shortstop," said Gardenhire last offseason. "He can pick it. He's got a great set of hands."
Florimon has already established himself as a highlight-reel fixture at short. But can the Twins afford to wait and see if his batting skills catch up to his defense?
Florimon’s offensive ceiling isn’t considered to be very high with just a .249 career average in the minor leagues and a .225 average in three major-league seasons.
If the Twins move forward with Florimon as their shortstop – and they don’t have any prospects pressing him – they’ll have to stomach his shortcomings at the plate if they want to enjoy his slick glovework.
It’s a dilemma, no doubt. On the bright side, anything is an upgrade from Tsuysoshi Nishioka.