Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Twins Shortstops, Or Lack Thereof

In the dead of the night, the Colorado Rockies sent their All Star shortstop, and their face of the franchise, Troy Tulowitzki to the Toronto Blue Jays. The deal involved another high profile shortstop, Jose Reyes, heading back to the Rockies. While the Twins were linked to Tulo at different points leading up to the trade, passing on him was always the best move. Reyes will likely become available now as well, and the Twins should once again look the other way. Despite neither of those names being fits, the Twins need to find something, and it may not come from within.

Right now, the Twins have allowed a grouping of Danny Santana, Eduardo Escobar, and Eduardo Nunez to hold down what is arguably the most important position in the infield. Santana was the Twins Opening Day starter and he had the uphill battle of substantiating a smoke and mirrors offensive 2014. The .405 BABIP had Santana stacked against regression, and it has hit hard. He's batted just .219/.243/.300 in 72 games, still doesn't take walks (66/5 K/BB) and has yet to hit a home run (after having seven last season).

On the defensive side, Santana hasn't been any good either. He's made 16 errors and is 6th in the majors in that category despite playing significantly less games. He's been worth -14 DRS (defensive runs saved) to this point and owns a -4.8 UZR (ultimate zone rating). To put it simply, it hasn't been pretty and a second demotion should come soon.

Probably most deserving of being the Twins current shortstop, comes in the form of a Band-Aid. Eduardo Escobar flashed promise a season ago, but remains best suited as a utility type. He owns a .246/.280/.389 slash line on the season, and that's right about what his career averages look like. He's started 19 games at short, made two errors, been worth -1 DRS, and owns a -1.6 UZR.

Rounding out the 25 man roster options is former Derek Jeter replacement, Edaurdo Nunez. His .277/.31`5/.445 slash line is buoyed by a lack of at bats, and a very strong start. He's played 14 games at shortstop for the Twins, making no errors, being worth 0 DRS, and owning a 1.2 UZR. As a replacement player, you could probably do worse. However, the 14 game sample size also hides a guy that was worth -28 DRS in just 75 games at short for the Yankees in 2013.

So if the answer isn't on the active roster, it has to be on the farm right? That answer is somewhat difficult to come up with. Most ready would appear to be Triple-A shortstop Jorge Polanco. His bat appears major league ready, but his fielding has some significant issues. Slashing .284/.309/.352 for Rochester, Polanco's bat has cooled since his initial promotion. His 26 extra base hits on the season are nice to see however. In the field Polanco faces the demons holding him back. He's made eight errors in 19 games at the Triple-A level, and he has another 16 in 64 Double-A games this season. He probably would hit right away for the Twins, but there's little doubt he'd be a defensive liability.

Down another level, and taking Polanco's place for the Lookouts, is Niko Goodrum. In 464 minor league games, Goodrum owns a .242/.336/.352 slash line, and he's below all of those marks this season. The Twins took Goodrum out of high school in the second round of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. He's played all over the place in the Twins system, but the infield seems to be his best fit. He too has struggled with errors, and the upside has yet to rear it's head.

Fort Myers, the Twins High-A affiliate has rotated through the shortstop position as well. Goodrum spent time there prior to his promotion, and now Engelb Vielma and Ryan Walker have taken over. Vielma is a 21 year old who has gotten better as he's risen through the Twins farm (.266/.309/.308 in 2015), and Walker was an 18th round pick in 2013 by the Twins (.272/.310/.293 in 2015). Neither posses the peripherals of a major league quality shortstop at this point.

The next level down is where things get interesting. At Low-A Cedar Rapids, the Twins 1st round pick in 2014 resides. Gordon is looked at as a potential Gold Glove level defender and a lacking bat. He's hit just .267/.334/.334 this season, but he owned a 17 game hit streak and has been on fire since the end of June (.316/.358/.429). Just 19 years old, Gordon doesn't figure to factor into the Twins plans for at least the next three years. He has a slight frame (6'0" 160lbs) and needs to fill out yet, as well as needing the seasoning that comes with rising through the system.

Then there's Wander Javier, the 16-year-old dominican shortstop the Twins just signed to a $4 million bonus. Javier is also looked upon favorably, but won't be ready for the big leagues for at least six years. He's got plenty of projectability, but it's also on the twins to help him develop into the player they spent big money on.

Looking through the options, it's the combined $8 million the Twins spent (Gordon got a $4 million draft bonus) that seem to be future fits at shortstop. Unfortunately that money is invested in teenagers a long ways from helping at the highest level. Both Gordon and Javier could work out, and both could fail, right now though neither help the Twins.

For a team looking to compete in the upcoming season, addressing the hole at shortstop seems necessary. Escobar should probably have already taken over for Santana, and the Twins should be determining if Polanco can stick at the spot. After determining what they have in those two scenarios, Minnesota would find itself in position to make a move. Going out and getting a big fish before making those decisions would be short-sighted, but there's no denying that it's very likely the Twins don't have a shortstop that can help them in the immediate future within the organization.

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