Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Spring Training Competitions

There are several position competitions people are watching. As is typical in spring training, some of those competitions are real. Others are invented by enthusiastic media looking for stories. Here is may take on the competition for this year's Twins:

Third Catcher: I think this is really a non-issue. Drew Butera is going to be the third catcher, assuming there is a third catcher. Butera is a top flight defensive catcher who can't hit a lick. Butera's lack of offense is what makes people believe there is a competition here.

The purported competion for the third catching spot are Rene Rivera and JR Towles. Like Butera, Rivera is a solid defensive catcher who can't hit. Rivera was the AAA backup last year and there is little reason to think that anything has changed.

Towles is interesting to the media because he actually appeared on some top prospect lists a few years ago. He projects as a better hitter than the other two, but he hasn't actually hit much better in his big league career with Houston. His experience with hitters is in the National League and he has never been considered a great defender. In short, he can't hit nearly as well as Doumit nor defend nearly as well as Butera. That makes him a AAA backup.

Middle Infield: The default here is for Tsyoshi Nishioka to be the backup. That is largely based on his big contract and the hope of getting some return on the investment. While his contract will be a factor, he is going to have to show he has some major league skills. The most important issue as a utility guy will be his defense. If Gardy is satisfied he can hold his own at shortstop and second, he will get the job. If not, the contract won't keep him in the big leagues.

The key issue here is a backup at shortstop. Its possible the Twins would have Alexi Casilla move over to spell Carroll at shortstop, but I think it is unlikely they will go into the season with that as the plan. That means that guys like Luke Hughes and Sean Burroughs are not really competing for this spot. They might open another spot for those guys by relying on Trevor Plouffe as the backup at shortstop. But, since they have decided Plouffe's future is in the outfield, its unlikely they will assign him a regular role elsewhere.

That means the potential shortstops in camp are Ray Chang, Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier. Any of these three have some tools that make them potential candidates as the utility guy. Chang has the most experience, but the least upside. Florimon and Dozier are both prospects with almost no experience above AA. Strangely, the more highly they think of Dozier, I think the less likely he is to win a utility job. If they see him as a potential future major league shortstop they are going to want him playing every day, not sitting on the major league bench. Florimon is supposed to be a top defender and he projects as a utility guy in the major leagues. He could win the job, but the most likely alternative to Nishioka would appear to be Chang.

Third Base: Sean Burroughs is a great story, but I think the idea he is serious competition for Danny Valencia is media hype. Valencia would have to lose the job in spring training by showing further decline on both defense and offense. It doesn't sound like that is going to happen. For all of Sean Burroughs decline into drug and alcohol abuse, he had a lot of opportunities in the big leagues before that. He never showed he had any plus major league skills. He's a solid AAA backup, but no more.

Bullpen: This competition is wide open. I think Capps, Perkins and Swarzak are pretty much set. Although its possible Swarzak could pitch his way off the team in spring training, I don't think that is likely. Duensing is almost certain to be in the bullpen, absent a meltdown in the rotation. That makes four spots that are taken, there is a long list of players in competition for the remaining three spots. Alex Burnett experience may give him a leg up on the others. Terry Doyles status as a rule 5 guy may make it tempting to keep him over someone they can option to AAA. But basically the Twins are going to take the three guys who show the best in spring training. Almost anyone in camp has a shot at one of those spots. My count is there are 22-23 options, depending on whether you include Liam Hendriks. Its likely they will want Hendriks starting at AAA, rather than sitting in the bullpen.

13th Position Player: With the questions in the bullpen, it is almost a given the Twins will keep 12 pitchers. The roster looks like it will include 3 catchers, Morneau, Casilla, Carroll, Valencia, Willinghutam, Span, Revere, Plouffe and a middle infielder. That leaves one more spot for a backup player. The competition appears to be Luke Hughes, Sean Burroughs, Chris Parmelee and Rene Tosoni. Hughes is out of options, can backup three infield positions and has a decent bat. The job is likely his to lose unless Morneau's health is in question. In that case there may be an opening for Parmelee. Tosoni would give the Twins a fifth outfielder. His chances probably depend on how well Plouffe makes the transition to the outfield. But with Doumit also able to play the outfield, there does not appear to be much need for another outfielder. Burroughs could win a job with an outstanding spring, but his past experience doesn't really suggest that is going to happen.


Jim H said...

This is the most realistic look I have seen on this year's spring competion. If there is a 3rd catcher Butera will be it. I think Burroughs could have a chance to beat out Hughes. While Hughes can play 3 infield positions, Burroughs is probably better at both 3B and 1B.

I agree with your thoughts on the middle infield backup. I thought Nishioka could compete to start at SS, but now it looks like he may have to beat out Chang for middle infield backup. Dozier will be playing everyday in the minors, probably AAA. Floriman may be a future utility man in the majors, but I doubt if he is ready.

I think Mastroianni has as much chance as Tosoni to start the year in the majors, which isn't much.

The real competition is in the bullpen. I think you correctly identified the "locks". Just about anyone in camp has some chance of making the bullpen. Henriks will be starting at AAA. He is the likely 6th starter. I wouldn't be surprised if Burnett begins in AAA, as long as he has an option left. I also think the Twins will start with 12 pitchers.

TT said...

Jim -

I think Mastroianni's value is primarily as a center fielder and pinch runner. They already have Revere as a backup to Span. They will likely have Nishioka on the bench as a pinch runner.

They have two right handed bench bats in Plouffe and Butera. Tosoni would give them a left handed bat on the bench. I agree either one is a long shot.

Jim H said...

I think Mastroianni and Tosoni's chances hinge on whether Butera makes the team. That probably depends on other factors such as Mauer's continued good health and whether Doumit is really going to see that much action at DH. That depends on Morneau.

Those factors might have a lot to do with whether the Twins decide to keep Hughes or Burroughs. Keeping Burroughs could make Mastroianni a better fit than Tosoni.

A guy could play with the possibilities all day. Still, the most likely possibility is a 3rd catcher, which limits most of the other possibilities.

Anonymous said...

No brainer on 5th spot in OF in there is one.

Mastroianni is the far superior player to Tosoni. He can run real well - has a strong and accurate arm - has a great batting eye - and isnt a slap hitter like Revere. Not a HR guy - more like a gap to gap guy - and a terror on the basepaths.

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