May 9, 2011
Catching up on the Twins' recent roster moves ...
• Alexi Casilla's ill-conceived reign as the Twins' starting shortstop lasted all of a month, as he played his way out of the job by hitting just .190/.257/.286 with predictably spotty defense at a position where he lacked both the skills and experience to succeed. Trevor Plouffe has now taken over at shortstop, earning a call-up by shaking off a dreadful spring training to start well at Triple-A. That leaves Casilla as the primary second baseman, with Ron Gardenhire saying:
I talked with Alexi about it. I asked him about second base and he said it's easier. We'll see if it's easier. I know he's always more comfortable over there too. I think he's trying to do a whole heck of a lot. At second base maybe he'll be able to relax a little bit more and not rush things.
Casilla needing to relax and get comfortable has been repeated like a manta since his debut in 2006, along with talk of supposed upside. At this point, however, it might be time to conclude that Casilla just isn't very good. He'll be 27 years old in July and has 1,200 plate appearances in the majors, so Casilla is neither young nor inexperienced. Defensively he's overmatched at shortstop and merely decent at second base, and he's a career .244/.301/.321 hitter.
Even his best raw tools more often than not go to waste. Casilla has a strong arm, but the big windup and shaky accuracy mean he can't be counted on to make routine plays. He has great speed and is a remarkably efficient base-stealer, yet has a grand total of just 37 steals in 338 games. Casilla is out of minor-league options and can't be sent to Triple-A without first passing through waivers, but the risk of losing him should no longer be part of the decision-making.
• There's no immediate reason to cut bait on Casilla, but if Plouffe is performing well enough to keep a starting job by the time Tsuyoshi Nishioka is ready to return from his fractured fibula in a couple weeks keeping Casilla around would likely mean demoting Matt Tolbert to Triple-A or reducing the pitching staff from 12 to 11. It's difficult to imagine Ron Gardenhire being in favor of either option, so Casilla may truly be playing for his Twins future right now.
Of course, Plouffe having a strong grip on the job in 2-3 weeks is hardly assured. According to Gardenhire the coaching staff at Rochester praised Plouffe's defense and he hit .282/.344/.590 in 21 games there, but that brings his career mark at Triple-A up to just .255/.306/.430 in 307 games and his shortstop defense received mixed reviews long before the error-filled showing this spring. He ranked 32nd on my list of the Twins' top prospects coming into the season.
Plouffe's flaws may be different and less familiar than Casilla's flaws, but aren't necessarily any less abundant and a 25-year-old with a non-elite glove and .306 on-base percentage in 1,300 plate appearances at Triple-A isn't significantly more likely to impress as an everyday shortstop than Casilla or Tolbert. Plouffe is worth a look at shortstop and so is Nishioka once he returns, but this may not be a problem that can be solved by shuffling a deck full of the same cards.
• On the other hand, injuries to Delmon Young and Jim Thome forced the Twins to call up Ben Revere and Rene Tosoni, both of whom project as more likely long-term starters than Plouffe. Tosoni got the nod with Young out by virtue of his better start at Triple-A, but then Revere was called up anyway once Thome and Jason Repko went on the shelf last week and now they're splitting time in left field despite the two left-handed hitters not forming a natural platoon.
Thome, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer are impending free agents, so it's possible Revere and Tosoni will be two-thirds of the starting outfield next season along with Denard Span. For now they're just keeping the roster spots warm with Young seemingly close to returning and both Thome and Repko also due back before the end of the month. Revere seems more likely to stick once Young returns because he fills Repko's role as the backup center fielder.
• When the Twins claimed Dusty Hughes off waivers from the Royals in January they talked up his nice-looking ERA and the fact that left-handed hitters like Mauer and Span raved about his stuff after facing him. Ignored in all that were mediocre secondary numbers last season and an underwhelming track record in the minors, and sure enough Hughes was demoted to Triple-A after posting a 10.13 ERA in 12 appearances while opponents batted .356/.434/.622 off him.
Meanwhile, the player dropped from the 40-man roster to make room for Hughes three months ago, Rob Delaney, was called up by the Rays yesterday after posting a 1.50 ERA and 19-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 innings at Triple-A. Delaney won't necessarily stick in Tampa Bay and Hughes might thrive if given another shot in Minnesota, but so far the reliever swap based on ERA and hitter reviews rather than secondary stats and track records looks like a mistake.
• Last month when Joe Mauer was placed on the disabled list the Twins called up Steve Holm from Triple-A to serve as Drew Butera's backup and Gardenhire said things like "he can swing it" and "we liked him in spring training." Holm's track record said otherwise, as the 31-year-old career minor leaguer had hit just .250/.334/.379 at Triple-A. Holm predictably struggled, going 2-for-17 at the plate and 0-for-5 throwing out runners before being demoted back to Triple-A.
Holm is the definition of a replacement-level catcher, so there's no reason to fault the Twins for dropping him, but the process by which he so quickly fell out of favor is curious given that the Rochester call-up taking his job, Rene Rivera, is every bit as much a replacement-level catcher with a decade in the minors and an even less impressive track record. Why make that switch just weeks after calling up Holm over Rivera in the first place? Here's what Gardenhire said:
Just trying to mix it up. Don't want to sit here and get complacent. I hope these guys understand we're not afraid to move people around. It's just a change. Holm hadn't been swinging great. They told me Rivera was hitting balls right on the button. Terry Ryan had been watching him the last few days. He can run into a ball, and we need somebody who can run into the ball.
Presumably the Twins scouted both players before signing them as free agents this winter and then formed further opinions about them during spring training. Last month that meant calling up Holm over Rivera, yet three weeks and just 18 plate appearances later they reversed that decision because Holm "hadn't been swinging great" and Gardenhire got a report that Rivera "was hitting balls right on the button." Sounds a lot like his quotes about Holm last month.
Terry Ryan must have watched Rivera on a rare good day, because he hit just .200/.250/.333 at Rochester before the call-up. Beyond that, the notion that Rivera "can run into a ball and we need somebody who can run into the ball" is being awfully kind to a career .245 hitter with a .405 slugging percentage in parts of seven years at Triple-A. Decisions don't get less important than "Holm or Rivera?" but the decision-making process in this case fascinates me.
• As if that wasn't already too much talk about replacement-level backup catchers ... When the Holm-for-Rivera swap was announced quite a few people e-mailed and tweeted me wondering why 2007 eighth-round pick Danny Lehmann didn't get the nod instead. My assumption is that those people looked at his .325 batting average in a dozen games this season rather than his ugly .239/.318/.312 career line in five seasons. Lehmann is homegrown, but that's about it.
• Francisco Liriano's no-hitter obviously quieted Gardenhire's talk of Kevin Slowey coming off the disabled list to replace him in the rotation, so instead Slowey rejoined the bullpen with a start-length relief outing after Saturday's rain delay. Slowey began the season in a secondary setup role, but with the bullpen hierarchy changing dramatically in the month he missed it'll be interesting to see if he reclaims the high-leverage role that he's capable of thriving in.