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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, October 17, 2002
The Minnesota Twins: A Plan for the Future
Aaron takes a look at the upcoming years of the AL Central champs. Part one of two.
Growing up in Minnesota and having been a Minnesota Twins fan all my life, I am quite used to thinking about "next season." From 1993 to 2000, the Minnesota Twins failed to win more than half their games in any season. During each of those eight seasons, they failed to finish higher than second-to-last place in their division. Throughout the better portion of the 1990s, usually by about the All-Star break, most Twins fans were saying something along the lines of, "Yeah, they stink this year, buy maybe next season?"
Well, this year is a little different. The Twins won 94 games, the American League Central Division title during the regular season, and a first round series in the post-season. Perhaps more importantly, they appear to be in a good position to dominate their (admittedly inferior) division for most of the remaining decade.
However, because of their financial circumstances (Pohlad?s tight wallet), making good on the promise that the franchise currently is showing will be a major challenge. They will be working under tight payroll constraints which means they will have a disadvantage when it comes to signing both their own players and other teams? free agents to long-term contracts. This is obviously a tough situation for a team to be in, but with good management and especially smart planning, it can be done.
Coming off of their first playoff appearance in over a decade, the Minnesota Twins have some crucial decisions to make during this off-season. Torii Hunter, who is still only arbitration eligible, has expressed an interest in signing a long term contract to remain a Minnesota Twin. Several other players who had previously been making very little are now ready for substantial raises in salary. With most teams, these decisions would be relatively easy; if they have a good, young, established player that they like, they negotiate a contract with him and sign him to a long-term contract.
For the Twins, it isn?t so simple. With a payroll that will likely remain in the $40-$50 million range (one of the lowest in baseball) for the foreseeable future, every little increase in salary has a large affect on the team. It has been suggested that Hunter is looking for a deal that would pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $8-$10 million per season. That is certainly a fair amount for a player of his caliber, but on the Twins, $10 million would take up nearly one-fourth of their entire payroll and would have a huge impact of their ability to retain other players.
Fortunately for the Twins, and the reason their situation is unique, they have an extremely well-stocked minor league system, particularly in regard to position players. The key for the Twins and their future will be making the correct decisions on who they sign to long-term contracts and who they let go (or trade) and replace with young, cheap, minor league prospects.
Let?s take a look at their current Major League roster and the various options the Twins have in their minor league system, position-by-position?
Pierzynski is deathly afraid of the walk, but other than that, he is a pretty good hitter and he is definitely consistent. He doesn?t have very much home run power, but he has shown the ability to hit for a high average, he has decent doubles (and even triples this season) power and he showed an improvement against left-handed pitchers this season. Also, he is an above-average defensive catcher. Pierzynski is never going to remind anyone of Mike Piazza, Jorge Posada or Ivan Rodriguez, but he is young, consistent and valuable to a team.
While Pierzynski has already established himself as the Twins starting backstop at the age of 25, he is not the future of the Minnesota Twins behind the plate. That honor belongs to Minnesota native and the #1 pick in the 2001 draft, Joe Mauer.
He already has everything but power. Good batting average, good plate discipline (especially for a 19 year old) and he gets rave reviews for his work defensively.
Baseball America ranks him as the #1 catching prospect in baseball. It looks like the Twins have themselves a future star behind the plate in Mauer. However, he is only 19 and is likely a minimum of 2-3 years from being ready for the big leagues which means that Pierzynski should be able to keep his job as the Twins? starting catcher for at least the next few years.
The catching situation appears to be an almost perfect scenario for the Twins. They have a relatively young, established catcher at the Major League level and a potential stud several years away at the minor league level. With the way catchers age, it is very likely that the Twins would be best served to start looking for a replacement for Pierzynski in a few years anyway as Pierzynski will be nearing 30 and Mauer will hopefully be ready to assume the starting role.
So, the Minnesota Twins? catching plan appears to be pretty simple: Keep Pierzynski as the starter for approximately the next 3 seasons. At that point, assuming Joe Mauer is ready for the Major Leagues, always a big assumption for a kid who just finished A-ball, let Pierzynski go, either as a free agent or through a trade and replace him with Mauer behind the plate. In a different circumstance, it might be nice to allow Pierzynski to "tutor" Mauer at the Major League level for a year, with Mauer serving as his backup. However, with both Pierzynski and Mauer being left-handed hitters, that scenario seems extremely unlikely.
My catching plan: Pierzynski in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Mauer in 2006 and beyond.
Mientkiewicz is an absolutely phenomenal defensive first baseman, which I suppose is sort of like being the smartest kid in the dumb class. It means you are good, but, well, how good could you be if you are playing first base for the dumb class?
His hitting leaves a lot to be desired. The on-base percentage is nice and the fact that he drew more walks in significantly less playing time in 2002 is a good thing too. Unfortunately, his power numbers are pretty pathetic for a starting first baseman, particularly in this era.
Mientkiewicz presents what I believe to be the most important decision in regard to a single position (first base) that the Twins will be faced with. He has become a fan favorite because of his great defense, long name, high batting average last season, lack of batting gloves, high socks, pine-tarred helmet and probably several other interesting factors.
As a Twins fan, I am worried that the organization will confuse Mientkiewicz being a likeable player and perfectly good temporary first baseman with someone that should be signed to a long-term contract and made the starter for the rest of his career.
If they make the wrong decision, it could be very costly.
One spot of optimism for the Twins making the correct decision on Mientkiewicz (no long-term deal) is their minor league first base prospect, Justin Morneau. The Twins appear to be extremely high on Morneau, and rightfully so, which gives me some hope that they are planning on having him as their long-term solution at first base.
While the power numbers are certainly less than awe inspiring, the general consensus among scouts and analysts is that Morneau will eventually develop into a big time home run hitter. Baseball America ranked him as the #1 first base prospect in baseball. It appears as though Morneau will eventually be a star in the majors, but the question is, when?
I think he definitely needs a minimum of one full season in Triple-A. Unless he absolutely tears the cover off the ball there next season (which could certainly happen), I would like to see him at least start a second season at Triple-A with the possibility of being called up sometime during the middle of the 2004 season, or at the very latest, when rosters expand in September of 2004.
Under that scenario, Doug Mientkiewicz would have at least one and possibly two full seasons remaining as the starting first baseman. Those two seasons would be Mientkiewicz?s age 29 and 30 years, which would be at the end of the typical peak and would probably be fairly productive seasons.
However, if there are other teams that value Mientkiewicz for the same reasons the Minnesota fans do, the Twins should not hesitate to trade him and cash in his value while they can. They have plenty of internal options for potential first basemen (more on that later) to bridge the gap between now and when Morneau is ready.
My first base plan: Look into trading Mientkiewicz. Otherwise, Mientkiewicz in 2003 and most of 2004. Morneau in 2005 and beyond.
During most of this season and particularly this post-season, I, and I suspect many other Twins fans, generally referred to the Twins? starting second baseman as "[Firetrucking] Rivas."
For most of the 2001 season, Rivas? first full year, I had high hopes for his future.
He was 22 years old, looked athletic, showed some speed, occasional power and generally appeared to have a somewhat bright future. Then he suffered a broken hand after being hit by a pitch during the first week of this season and missed significant time. Somewhere between the time he returned to the lineup and the start of the post-season, I lost all hope for Luis Rivas becoming a quality Major League second baseman.
You see, Rivas is that so-called enigma wrapped in a riddle and after seeing him this season, I am certain that I do not want to spend the time and waste the at-bats trying to solve the riddle.
He is young and athletic, but he is a horrible defensive second baseman. He has trouble on any ball that is hit to his right and he isn?t much better going to his left. In fact, his range is so bad that, among everyday second basemen last season, he ranked 19th out of 20 overall and dead last in the American League in Zone Rating, with a pathetic .781. For reference, Adam Kennedy led MLB 2B last year with a .888 ZR.
This season, Rivas missed too much time to place him among everyday second basemen, but if you take his Zone Rating (.803) over the 93 games he did play and compare them to the actual everyday second basemen, he ranks 15th out of 19 total and, once again, dead last in the American League.
So, he is 23 years old and has played in two full major league seasons in which he showed, at least according to Zone Rating, the worst range of any second baseman in the American League. I don?t have any scientific studies to back this up, but I am going to take a wild guess and say that most second basemen that stink defensively at 22 and 23 don?t start improving as they get older and their speed and athleticism decrease.
So, Rivas stinks on defense, but what about his offense? I?m sorry you asked.
Rivas showed some promise offensively last season. While he didn?t hit for a very good average or much power, he did have a somewhat decent walk rate for a 22 year old rookie and he did pretty good job stealing bases.
This season, Rivas continued to hit for a low average, but he did improve his power slightly. But that slight improvement in power was more than offset by his regression in plate discipline and his lack of stolen bases.
Basically, Luis Rivas has one thing going for him, his age. On the other side of the ledger, you have his wretched defense, a low batting average, regressing plate discipline, tons of strikeouts to go along with very little power, and vanishing stolen base abilities.
Rivas might be young and he might have some talent, but personally, I have seen enough. If this team were in a complete "rebuilding" mode I might be willing to stick with Rivas and see if his defense or plate discipline could be improved or if his power would develop further, but the Twins are contenders right now and they can?t afford a black hole at 2B.
The biggest area of concern and the spot that the Twins need to upgrade the most is without a doubt second base, but the problem is, they have essentially nothing as far as second base prospects go. That being the case, the Twins main concern for this off-season should be locating and acquiring a new starting second baseman. Doing so would not only be an upgrade over their current "situation," but would also allow them to trade Luis Rivas for whatever they could get for him, which I suspect would be something of at least decent value.
Second base is a position that has readily available talent most of the time.
Former shortstops get moved there, former third basemen get moved there, even former catchers get moved there. It is a place for guys who couldn?t hack it defensively at shortstop or couldn?t hack it offensively at another position.
Current quality MLB second basemen like Frank Catalanotto or Junior Spivey or Mark Bellhorn were all minor league veterans and/or major league bench players, and guys like that are always readily available to smart major league teams. One example of a guy who is rotting away on the bench and could probably be had relatively cheaply is Marcus Giles of the Atlanta Braves.
Bobby Cox seems intent on not playing Giles in a full-time role and I would love to see him playing every day in Minnesota. Giles has some pretty good pop with the bat, is willing to draw a walk and he is at least passable defensively.
Another option would be to try to trade for a second base prospect that would be your second baseman for years to come. Some intriguing guys like Joe Thurston (Dodgers) or Bobby Hill (Cubs) would look pretty good in Twins uniforms, but they would probably come at a pretty high price.
Yet another option (albeit one that isn?t likely to happen) would be for the Twins to go out and trade for or sign an established veteran second baseman. Ray Durham will be a free agent this off-season, Jeff Kent too. Kent would likely be way way way out of their price range, but if Durham could be signed to a 3 year deal for about $15-$18 million, I think the Twins would benefit by doing it.
Whatever the choice, the Twins need to do something to solve their problem at second base.
My second base plan: Someone other than Rivas (Giles? Thurston? Hill? Durham? Gleeman?) in 2003 and beyond.
Well, I already used the enigma wrapped in a riddle line for Rivas, so I am not sure how to describe Guzman.
Guzman?s first half of 2001 is the kind of shortstop play that gets grown men feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. He hit .308, got on-base nearly 35% of the time and slugged over .500, including 13 triples, 22 doubles and 7 homers in under 350 at-bats.
Combine that with his age at the time and his position and you had something to really get excited about. Then, he injured his shoulder and missed some time, and when he came back, all the power was gone (he hit .288 in the 2nd half, but his SLG dropped to .404).
And this season, well, this season was just a mess.
Guzman has never been confused with Barry Bonds (or even Bobby Bonds) when it comes to allowing the pitcher to throw four called balls to him in one plate appearance.
But he had been making improvements in that area.
In 1999 (his rookie year) he drew 1 walk per 21 plate appearances.
In 2000 he drew 1 walk per 15 plate appearances.
In 2001 he drew 1 walk per 25 plate appearances.
This year he drew 1 walk per 39(!) plate appearances.
He almost got to the top plate discipline mountain in 2000, but then fell right back down in 2001 and sunk all the way to center of the earth in 2002.
Personally, I think there is something physically wrong with Guzman?s legs (or knees or feet or whatever). His once jaw dropping speed (34 triples and 53 steals in 2000+2001) is suddenly gone. When Guzman hit a ball into an outfield corner or gap in 2000 and the first half of 2001, he would get a triple, there was no question about it.
Now, when he hits a ball into a gap, he inevitably ends up jogging into second base.
And his stolen base % this season? 48% (12/25), which is just awful. He grounded into 12 double plays this season, which is twice as many as his previous career high.
I fear his top notch speed is probably lost for good, but he still has some valuable skills. Even though he had a horrible offensive season this year, he still managed to hit .273. You have got to think that if a guy can come so close to having a good walk rate in only his second season in the major leagues, he can learn to do so again. All he needs to do is get back to drawing a walk every 15 trips to the plate, like he did in 2000, and along with his fair-to-good batting average, he can be a pretty decent source of OBP.
Of course, there is always the chance that 2000 was a fluke and that he is a full- on hacker, incapable of learning to take even a mediocre amount of walks, in which case you are looking at the possibility of sub .300 OBPs every single year.
He also has shown consistently good extra base power. Even with his ability to hit three-baggers almost gone, he is still a very good gap hitter, capable of hitting 30-40 doubles a season. Eventually, as he ages, some of those gappers should find their way over the fence and then you are looking at a 15 HR, 30 double guy, which is pretty good out of a normal (non-ARod) shortstop.
Like Rivas, Guzman?s defense is pretty bad. He has trouble going up the middle and, although he has a strong arm, he tends to lob the ball to first base, which goes along with his all-around lazy image. But while I have no hope for Rivas, I am surprisingly optimistic with Guzman. He and Rivas are just about the same age but Guzman has shown several skills (hitting for average and extra base power) that Rivas hasn?t even approached yet. Plus, what are the chances of the Twins ditching both of their young middle infielders and finding two replacements? Not very good, so I am putting on my hopes and dreams into them replacing Rivas.
That said, the Twins definitely need to focus on acquiring middle infield depth via the draft or trades. As it stands now, they have no real options, other than Guzman and Rivas, to play 2B and SS on an everyday basis.
My shortstop plan: Guzman in 2003 and beyond. Draft a shortstop (and a second baseman) for the distant future.
Corey Koskie is just a good, solid major league baseball player. He plays good defense, he hits for a decent average, he draws some walks, he steals some bases, he hits with decent power so he is definitely the kind of player that can push a team toward a championship.
But, he is also real close to being on the wrong side of thirty, which means a swift decline is a distinct possibility at any time. At some point in the very near future, Koskie is going to both old and pretty expensive to keep, so the Twins should be planning on having a new third baseman in place by the start of the 2005 season at the latest.
Depending on how bad Michael Cuddyer?s defense at third base really is (I have heard varying reports), I would consider moving him back there within the next year or two, slowly making the shift by playing him at 3B against lefties, with Koskie on the bench and then playing him there occasionally against righties too.
My third base plan: Koskie in 2003, 2004 and possibly 2005. Cuddyer in 2005 and beyond.
Torii was the Twins’ best player in 2002 and is a pretty good bet to be their best player in 2003 and a for few more years after that.
He hits for a good batting average (.289 career). He hits for good power (56 homers and 69 doubles the last two years). He recently started stealing bases (22 career SB through 2001, 23 in 2002). And he does it all while playing perhaps the most important defensive position, particularly on a team with a pitching staff that is as fly ball oriented as the Twins staff is.
The only thing keeping him from being an absolute superstar is his lack of plate discipline. Torii goes up there hackin?, and in his career he has walked a grand total of 110 times in 2,006 plate appearances. For comparison, Jason Giambi walked 109 times in 689 plate appearances this season. But, not all players are the complete package, and Torii can certainly be a very valuable player without drawing walks.
While Torii?s hitting has improved each year of his major league career, his defense, which was simply amazing in 2001, regressed slightly in 2002. Torii had a lot of balls bounce off the end of his glove and even more balls go shooting a foot or two past him and into the gaps. He is still a very good defensive center fielder, capable of making some wonderful plays, but I think he is slightly slower and/or less athletic in the field, possibly because he bulked up a little bit or maybe because of a minor injury or two that is limiting his mobility slightly. In either case, it is a little worrisome when a great defensive player declines noticeably from one year to the next.
Here are his defensive stats from the last 2 years:
Now, the difference between making 3.29 plays per game (which is what Range Factor measures) and 2.70 plays per game might not seem like a lot, but over the course a of 162 game season, that is a difference of nearly 100 outs, which is a huge amount. However, the amount of plays a fielder makes is dependent a lot upon the fly ball-groundball nature of the pitching staff. It is very possible that the 2002 Twins pitchers did not allow as many fly balls to be hit into center field, in which case Hunter would obviously make less plays out there.
However, even if that were true, Zone Rating accounts for the balls that are hit into his zone (center field). If 5 balls are hit into Hunter’s “zone” and he catches all 5, he has a 1.000 ZR, if he catches 4, he has a .800 ZR…it is just like a batting average.
So, not only did Hunter make significantly fewer plays than he did last season, he made less plays on the balls that were hit into his zone than he did last year.
All of that being said, I think the Twins would be best served to lock Hunter up with a long term contract, preferably one that is 4-5 years in length. He is the best player on the team and he is still fairly young. At some point, the team is going to have to make a commitment to retaining some of their key players and I think Hunter is the best possible choice for that. Good hitting center fielders that can hold their own defensively are very hard to find.
On the other hand, the Twins do have a possible CF replacement for Hunter in Jacque Jones?
Like Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones made great strides in improving as a hitter from 2001 to 2002.
Also like Hunter, Jacque is a very good defensive outfielder, capable of playing a good center field and he doesn?t like to walk a whole lot.
However, unlike Hunter, Jacque Jones cannot hit both left handed and right handed pitchers and that becomes a big disadvantage, especially when Ron Gardenhire has shown a complete unwillingness to platoon Jones with someone who can actually hit southpaws.
I believe that the Twins would be best served by trading one of their potential center fielders. They have too many corner outfield types that are in need of playing time and the luxury of having two center fielders in the outfield is not one they can have. Jacque Jones? hitting abilities are very good, but compared to other left fielders, they are not much more than average. If Jones were to be in center field, his hitting numbers, compared to the other players at his position, would be far greater.
As you can see, major league left fielders hit a whole lot better than major league center fielders. As good as Jones? 2002 season was, it was barely better than the average major league left fielder.
By having Jones in left field, they are not only wasting his defensive talents, they are diminishing his overall value by allowing him to play a more "offensive" position. Jacque Jones becomes significantly more valuable to a team as a center fielder, which means the Twins should either move him there (and trade Torii Hunter) or trade Jones to another team (that would likely him their CF).
So, the question becomes, which CF do you want to keep?
One of the main factors in that decision is what each player would bring back in trade value.
I think Hunter would almost certainly fetch more in a trade, although Jones would also likely be able to fetch quite a bit. However, I believe Hunter is and will continue to be the better player. Despite his slight drop in defense this season, Hunter is still an upper level defensive center fielder and while I believe Jones would be a good center fielder, no one is really sure of how good he would be. I think it is unlikely he would be as good as Hunter.
Offensively, on a team that is willing to platoon Jones with a player who hits lefties well, Jones is worth just as much, and possibly more, than Hunter.
Let?s say, for the sake of discussion that Jones had a .325 EqA against righties and a .200 EqA against lefties.
For the record, he hit .333/.372/.580 against righties and .213/.259/.331 against lefties in 2002.
If a manager were to only use Jones against lefties and was able to find a hitter that hit lefties reasonably well to platoon with him?
Jones vs. R (400 PA x .325 EqA) + Player X vs. L (190 PA x .270 EqA) = .307 EqA total
That platoon would be good for about a .307 EqA total, which would be excellent.
However, Gardenhire is unwilling to bench Jones against lefties, which means not only does he play against righties full-time (when he has a .325 EqA), but he also plays against lefties full-time (when he has a .200 EqA).
Jones vs. R (400 PA x .325 EqA) + Jones vs. L (190 PA x .200 EqA) = .285 EqA total
So, the pure Jones "platoon" is about 20 points of EqA worse than the "Jones against righties and someone else against lefties" platoon.
All of this is essentially a protracted way of saying that because Ron Gardenhire keeps Jacque Jones in the lineup against lefties and because he can?t hit lefties, his overall offensive value isn?t as high as it could be.
Torii Hunter, on the other hand, hits lefties and righties pretty equally (.860 OPS vs. R, .855 OPS vs. L), so he can be in the lineup everyday and he is not a liability in a quarter of the games like Jones is.
Hunter is the better defensive player and the better offensive player, which is why I would keep him and sign him to a long term contract, while finding a trade for Jacque Jones (anybody with a spare 2B need a good CF?).
The question then becomes, who replaces the departed Jones in left field?
The Twins have several options.
Bobby Kielty, Michael Cuddyer and Michael Restovich are all capable of playing an outfield corner position and putting up very good offensive stats.
I am not sure how else to say this in order to make my point crystal clear, so here goes?
FREE BOBBY KIELTY!
Bobby Kielty deserves 600 plate appearances a year and I think the Twins should be the team to give them to him.
I have been singing the praises of Kielty for quite some time now and people often say things about the "small sample" size of this season, in which he had a .291/.405/.484 line.
I will admit that 289 at bats are not enough to completely judge a player on, but Kielty?s minor league track record more than speaks for itself.
Take those stats and add them in with 2002 performance with the Twins?
? And you have a guy who has put up .390-405 on-base percentages for four consecutive years at every single level of professional baseball, in significant playing time at each level.
He switch hits, he can play any outfield position well, he is fast, he hits for power, he hits for average, he takes tons of walks?what else do you want?
My center field plan: Hunter for 2003 and beyond.
My left field plan: Trade Jacque Jones. Bobby Kielty in 2003 and beyond.
6 different players appeared in at least 1 game in right field for the Twins in 2002. The bulk of the playing time went to Dustan Mohr, Bobby Kielty and Michael Cuddyer (or morphed together, Dustyael Kielmohrdyer). Also making appearances out there were Brian Buchanan, Michael Restovich and Denny Hocking.
Those stats above are the combined numbers of all Twins right fielders in 2002.
I have already talked about the glut of qualified corner outfield types that the Twins have. That glut is the reason why I suggest they trade Jacque Jones and one member of the group, Bobby Kielty could step in and play LF as Jones? replacement.
With Kielty in LF, that leaves three main guys left to find playing time in Michael Cuddyer, Michael Restovich and Dustan Mohr.
Let?s start with the worst of the bunch, Dustan Mohr.
Mohr is what I would consider a very good fifth outfielder and a decent fourth outfielder. He plays pretty good defense in either of the outfield corners, he can play a passable center field, he can hit a little and run a little.
For some reason, the Twins organization and particularly manager Ron Gardenhire became enamored with him during the 2002 season. Some of it probably had to do with Mohr?s hot start, in which he hit .366/.423/.563 in the season?s first month.
After that hot first month, Mohr failed to hit over .300 in any of the remaining 5 months of the season and slumped horribly in the second half, hitting .229/.297/.389 in 157 at bats.
With the outfield talent the Twins have even if they trade Jacque Jones, Dustan Mohr has absolutely no business with a starting job and probably shouldn?t get more than 150-200 at bats in a season.
That leaves us with two candidates from our glut of outfielders to fill right field.
Like Joe Mauer, Restovich is a Minnesota native. A huge man, Restovich is 6-4, 235, and generates some big power to go along with his physical stature. His defense in the minors got mixed reviews - while he is not considered a defensive liability, his average arm and somewhat limited range make him, at best, an average defensive corner outfielder.
Baseball America ranks him as the #3 outfield prospect in baseball, right behind?
Those are Cuddyer?s minor leagues numbers from the last two years, but he was also called up to the big leagues for the final couple months of this season. He struggled a little bit, but still managed to hit .259/.311/.429 with 4 homers and 7 doubles in 112 at bats.
Like Restovich, Cuddyer?s defense is definitely not great. At times in his stint with the Twins during the season and particularly during the playoffs, he looked a little lost in right field and he definitely lacks outfield instincts. But, you have to remember that he was originally drafted as a shortstop and was moved to third base where he played most of his games prior to this season. He appears to have a decent outfield arm and pretty good athleticism, so I would expect his outfield defense to improve.
I think that the best bet for the Twins right now would be to set up the 3-way platoon that I hinted at earlier, at right field and third base.
Against left handed starters, I would suggest playing Restovich in right field and Cuddyer at third, with Corey Koskie (who struggles a bit with lefties) on the bench.
Against right handed starters I think they should start Cuddyer in right field, Koskie at third base and have Restovich either on the bench or at designated hitter.
Getting Koskie out of the lineup and two good right handed bats into the lineup against lefties should help the Twins improve upon their horrible hitting stats against lefties this season.
That is my short term suggestion.
Long term, as I talked about with Koskie, I would suggest gradually shifting Cuddyer to the full-time third baseman.
My right field plan: Restovich/Cuddyer in 2003 and 2004. Restovich, all by himself in 2005 and beyond.
David Ortiz has been frustrating Twins fans for several years now. He will hit a monstrous home run in his first at bat of a game and then look absolutely lost in his next 3 at bats. He?ll be dreadful at the plate for months at a time (.240/.310/.410 in the 1st half of 2002) and then crush the ball for prolonged stretches (.297/.363/.572 in the 2002 2nd half). As much promise as he has shown off and on through the years, I think, quite simply, that it is time to let him go and try to live up to the promise on another team?s roster.
As was the case with the corner outfield spots, the Twins have a good, cheap, young player ready to step in and be the full-time designated hitter.
I am showing more than just a couple of LeCroy?s minor league seasons for one reason: Matthew LeCroy has been hitting the snot out of the ball for about 5 straight years now.
In 1999, after hitting 20 homers and 20 doubles in 333 Single-A at bats, the Twins skipped LeCroy past Double-A and gave him one hundred and some odd Triple-A at bats to finish the 1999 minor league season. He adjusted pretty damn well to Triple-A, slugging over .600. The Twins then decided that, with less than 150 at bats above Single-A, Matthew LeCroy was ready to be in the major leagues.
He started the 2000 season with the Twins as a catcher (his original position) and (predictably) struggled. The Twins gave him 167 at bats and decided they had seen enough, sending him back down to the minors, where he picked up right where he had left off, slugging .508 in AA and then .615 in AAA in 2000.
Despite his continued crushing of pitched baseballs in minor league parks across America, the Twins decided that the same guy who they thought was ready for the majors with under 150 at bats above A-ball the year before, was now not ready for the Majors and gave him a grand total of 40 Major League at bats at the end of last season, in which he hit .425/.429/.775(!).
Back in 2000 the Twins were so unimpressed by LeCroy?s first 167 at bats in the Major Leagues that they sent him back down to the minors, where he continued to hit like crazy. Then, a year later, the same team that judged him on those 167 at bats saw him kill the ball in 40 ML at bats and didn?t really care.
He started the season in Triple-A once again, but even bad planning and short-sightedness can’t keep a good man down forever. LeCroy hit .351/.412/.609 in Triple-A this year, was called back up to the Majors and has finally won a job (or so it would seem) with the big league club.
If ever there was a baseball player suited to be a designated hitter, it is Matthew LeCroy. He is big, he is "husky," he is fairly un-athletic and he can flat out hit. The Twins, having already wasted a couple of productive LeCroy seasons (he is already 26 years old) would be best served to let go of David Ortiz and install LeCroy at the everyday DH, effective immediately. They would also be smart to use LeCroy as A.J. Pierzynski?s platoon mate at catcher, allowing LeCroy (who has caught throughout his career) to catch against tough left handed starting pitchers. When LeCroy is catching, the Twins can use the DH spot to give some extra at bats to the members of my proposed right field/third base quasi-platoon.
My designated hitter plan: LeCroy in 2003 and beyond, with a little Cuddyer and Restovich mixed in.
There you have it, my complete blueprint for the Minnesota Twins lineup, both present and future.
Now, someone just needs to kidnap Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire and make them read this?
Coming soon: Part 2 of my look at the Twins future…The Pitching Staff.
Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim
for his generous support.
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