Monday, March 19, 2012

Competition for the Twins Bench Spots

There are ten players who are locks to be on the roster, assuming they are healthy, Mauer, Morneau, Casilla, Carroll, Valencia, Willingham, Span, Revere, Doumit and Plouffe. Assuming the Twins carry 12 pitchers, there are three additional bench spots where there might be some competition. As I mentioned earlier, playing time can be a pretty good indicator of how much the staff thinks of players. Here are the positions and the number of official plate appearances each player has this spring:

Utility Infielder (shortstops):
28 - Nishioka
19 - Dozier
15 - Florimon
12 - Chang

Utility player (non-shortstops or very limited at shortstop):
27 - Hughes
24 - Burroughs
19 - Dinkelman
16 - Hollimon

Third catcher:
11 - Butera
9 - Rivera
9 - Towles

My guess is that Dozier is not a candidate for a bench job. Chang has played only 3 innings at shortstop this spring. If Nishioka has any real competition in camp, its likley Florimon. Of course Casilla can play shortstop too, so its possible the Twins could get by without a bench guy who can slide in there. Its also possible they could grab somebody off waivers or make a trade. Right now it looks like Nishioka is the utility guy.

Hughes is out of options, so I think he is going to be given every chance to win a spot. Hughes and Hollimon have played second, first and third this spring. Burroughs has played strictly at third. Dinkelman has one game at second, but has spent most of his time in the outfield. Hollimon has had a hot spring, but I still think this is Hughes spot to lose.

The catcher's plate appearances don't mean a lot. The third catcher is going to be chosen primarily for his defense. The only question is whether they think Butera is as completely over-matched at the plate as he appeared last year. Rivera's defense makes him a potential replacement, but his bat may not be much different. Towles defense is suspect. He needs to be a significant offensive force and he is not getting at bats that would let him demonstrate that.

Right now, it looks like nothing much has changed in spring training. Nishioka, Hughes and Butera are likely to fill out the bench. But going forward, watch to see how many at bats Florimon is getting. If he starts to play a lot that may be an indication they are looking for an alternative to Nishioka.

Playing time alone does not mean a player is in the hunt for a major league job. It is an indicator. But players like Dozier, Parmelee and Benson are getting at bats so the major league staff can figure out how close they are to being ready to help if someone gets hurt. That is also true of many of the minor league veterans in camp. They are showing what they can do if an opportunity opens up during the season. I think the coaching staff is pretty much set on who is going to be on the bench to start the season and Nishioka is the only one in any danger of losing his spot.

UPDATE: Nishioka was optioned to AAA this morning. Shortstops still in camp are Florimon, Chang and Dozier. Watch for Casilla getting some time at shortstop, that would add to the chances of a non-shortstop getting a spot.


Jim H said...

I was surprised the Twins cut Nishioka. It means reporters weren't seeing what they wanted to see and hearing what they wanted to hear. Sometimes you wonder. Now I wonder if Dozier has a real chance to make the team. Despite blogger love, I don't see Holimon making the team. Chang hasn't been used enough lately to make one think the Twins are that excited about him.

You would think to make the team, Dozier would have to be at least a semi-starter, 3 or more times a week. While that is possible, there have also been reports that he has some things to work on.

Somehow, I don't see Castilla as the backup SS. Florimon, Chang or Holimon?

TT said...

I don't think Holimon is a shortstop. I just posted a longer analysis on options to Nishioka.

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