Friday, July 24, 2015

The Twins Most Overlooked Cornerstone

In a season where the Minnesota Twins have outperformed expectations at a rather surprising rate, there's been plenty to get excited about. Outside of the results on the diamond, Minnesota has watched top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano make their big league debuts. Brian Dozier continues to be the best second basemen in all of baseball, and Paul Molitor has the home nine looking like a contender again.

In the midst of all of that, the Twins have another cornerstone piece that has flown under the radar while on the verge of stardom.

Currently holding down the hot corner, Trevor Plouffe has entered into the next tier for Minnesota. Rather than being seen as just a guy on the 25 man roster, it's time to give Plouffe his due. Consistently producing now, and developing over the last three seasons, Minnesota has a legitimate star in the making at third.

After being a failed shortstop, Plouffe made the transition to his new position. With 2012 being his first full time season at third, Plouffe took his lumps owning a -8 DRS (defensive runs saved) mark. Year by year, the results have improved. In 2013, Plouffe pushed his DRS to 0, in 2014 it was 6, and this season he's on pace for 7 defensive runs saved. On top of making plays, his UZR (ultimate zone rating) has seen substantial improvement as well. Starting at -10.8 in 2012, it was pushed to -7.4 in 2013, 6.7 last season, and is on pace for a 7.9 mark this year.

It was always his fielding that was the more apparent as an issue, but Plouffe's stick has been impressive as he's aged as well. A torrid stretch in the 2012 summer allowed Plouffe to hit a career high 24 home runs, but his 55 RBI and .235/.301/.455 slash line left something to be desired. Since that point, he's made consistent improvements at the dish.

Staying steady in both 2013 and 2014 with 14 home runs, Plouffe pushed his RBI career high to 80 last season. An increase in walks (53 in 2014 as opposed to 34 in 2013) pushed his OBP to a career high .328 a season ago. As a whole however, it's in 2015 that Plouffe is putting it together. Thanks to a .312/.381/.570 stretch through the month May, Plouffe owns a .253/.315/.451 line on the season. He's on pace for 23 HR along with 94 RBI (a new career high) and 41 doubles (also would be a new career high).

After being worth just 0.5 fWAR in 2012, a season in which he was a home run or bust threat, and 0.3 fWAR in 2013, his arrow has trended straight up. Last season, Plouffe owned a 3.6 fWAR mark, which was good enough for fourth in the American league amongst third basemen. Trailing just Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, and Kyle Seager in 2015, Plouffe's 2.5 fWAR has him on pace for a final tally of 4.5 fWAR (a new career high).

Signed to a one-year $4.8 million arbitration deal this season, Plouffe is under team control until 2018. While I'm ok either way with how the Twins handle his contract situation, extending and paying Trevor Plouffe is something you'd be hard pressed not to get behind. As it stands, Plouffe is knocking on the door of stardom, and is one of the best third basemen in the big leagues.

At the end of the day, the Twins are going to need more than a piece here and there to return to the times of being perennial division champs. Having exciting young pieces is a great thing, but Trevor Plouffe should no longer be overlooked, he's the real deal.

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