Friday, June 12, 2015

Who's On First, And What's Coming Next?


It's 2015, Joe Mauer is 32 years old, and maybe for the first time in his career, the red flags should be popping up all over the place. Not only is he having arguably the worst season of his career, but it also appears that there may be no end in sight. Whether it's the lingering effects from a concussion, or the wrong side of 30 catching up to him, Twins fans are left wondering what happened to the hometown kid. With that wonderment, the a stark reality presents itself, what happens next?

Through the first 58 games in 2015, Mauer has remained healthy, which is a good sign considering ailments of recent seasons. However, in that time, he has batted just .260/.321/.356 (all significantly ranking as career worsts). On top of the poor batting line, any semblance of power has left him as he has put just two balls over the fence (and six in the last two seasons). If it were not for what he was doing with men in scoring position (.397/.486/.517 30 RBI) you'd be hard pressed to find a value at all.

So when the un-quantifiable value that is "clutch" hitting evens out, what is next for Mauer and the Twins?

I'd argue that depth at catcher may be one of the most problematic positions for the Twins looking through the farm system. Of course, having a sure-fire Hall of Famer move on from the position early didn't help, but there hasn't been much development in the role either. Not far behind however, is the question as to who can play first base.

As it stands currently, Mauer is holding onto the position in large part, because the hope is things will get better. Whether they do or not, what stands waiting in the wings holds little promise as well. On the major league roster, Kennys Vargas is the only true first basemen. Although he possesses the power bat that profiles for the position, in limited action last season (107 innings) he owned a -1 DRS (defensive runs saved) rating and a -2.1 UZR (ultimate zone rating). Vargas lacks ideal reactions and just doesn't look like a long term fit in the field.

Looking past the top tier of the organization, there may be more questions than answers. Reynaldo Rodriguez has played first base for Triple-A Rochester of late, and he profiles as little more than a career minor leaguer or replacement level player.  The Lookouts probably have the most respectable organizational fit in Max Kepler, but there's no doubt questions there as well.

Kepler has dealt with his fair share of injuries and has never played more than 102 games in a season (2014). On the flip side, his 2015 at Chattanooga has provided some serious weight to the promise he has carried through the system since signing as a 17 year old. Batting .299/.352/.488 with two home runs and 21 runs batted in, Kepler has put himself front an center as a consideration for the Twins immediate future.

A converted outfielder, Kepler is no doubt going to take some time to settle into the role at the big league level. Looking through an organization void of many options however, he is a bright spot. The Twins could turn either Trevor Plouffe of Miguel Sano into a first basemen, despite neither of them being there currently. In either case, a learning curve would come into effect as well.

Most importantly, the Twins and what they expected for Joe Mauer has panned out. Looking at what he was as a catcher, and what he has become as a first basemen, we have watched a worst-case scenario unfold. Whether concussion induced, or a multitude of other factors, how the Twins handle who is on first is becoming something needing consideration sooner rather than later.

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