Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Two Twins On The Outside Looking In

This offseason, the Minnesota Twins haven't done much to add to a club that lost a franchise worst 103 games a season ago. While a rebuild seems logical, and a new front office has been installed, it's hard to fault the organization for taking a wait and see approach. Offensively this club isn't in a bad place, and while pitching is an issue, it shouldn't be historically bad again. However, looking at the potential 25 man roster, there's two former prospects that could be on the outside looking in.

First as primarily an outfielder, and maybe more egregiously a super utility player, Danny Santana comes to mind. At 26 years old, he's hardly a kid anymore, and the BABIP inflated rookie debut seems like a distant memory. After slashing .319/.353/.472 in 2014, he's combined to slash a paltry .227/.259/.308 over 166 games the past two seasons. What started out as a nice outfield emergence has turned into a player with a ton of question marks.

Arguably the largest feather in Santana's cap is that he's out of options. Minnesota can no longer hope he works on things in Rochester, and any trip to Triple-A would require him to pass through waivers unclaimed (unlikely). At the big league level though, it's hard to find value outside of a guy that can simply occupy space. Defensively, Santana has been nothing short of underwhelming. He was worth -15 DRS at SS in 2015 prior to losing the job, and he cost the Twins -9 DRS in the outfield over 63 games a season ago. With an already suspect pitching staff, poor defense isn't an ideal pairing.

At the plate, Santana's swinging strike rate has increased yearly, and it's been in tandem with a declining contact number. He's a guy that relies on his speed to stretch bases, although he's not much of a base stealer either. Walking less than 4% of the time over the course of his career, his plate approach leaves plenty to be desired and doesn't give him an ideal lineup spot.

In short, Santana is a guy that the Twins could absolutely carry as a 25th man out of fear that he's plucked on waivers. Most organizations have someone similar to Santana, but as a reclamation project in a more defined role on a decent club, he could have value. In keeping Santana however, the Twins would be failing to capitalize on an opportunity to stretch the upside at the back end of their 25 man roster. A player like Santana isn't the difference in contending, but he represents an area where a known commodity can be replaced with higher-ceiling talent.

That brings us to another Twin that had a bit more prospect steam going for him, Kennys Vargas. A year ago, Vargas posted an .833 OPS, but it was almost solely carried by 18 games in the middle of the summer. Joining Minnesota on July 4, Vargas slashed .333/.446/.683 through July 31. In that span he mashed four homers while drawing 13 walks to go with his 18 strikeouts. If Paul Molitor could get anything close to that consistently he'd have to be elated. Vargas then played just 29 more games for Minnesota slashing .163/.252/.380 with six homers and a 39/11 strikeout to walk ratio.

A power guy that has failed to command the zone, Minnesota has demoted Vargas previously for his lack of home run production. He was granted another option year this season, and that stands to weigh heavily in the Twins decision making during roster crunch time.

Things were a bit more encouraging for Vargas a season ago. he hits the ball hard, and his 40% hard hit rate was the best of his career. He also decreased his swinging strike number to just under 12% and posted a rising contact rate. The unfortunate reality though is that Vargas owns a career contact number of just 71.8%. For a guy his size, and making contact less frequently, you'd absolutely expect to see more balls leave the yard.

Defensively, Vargas is far from a black hole. In 32 games he posted just -1 DRS and was serviceable more often than not. He's far from the Gold Glove caliber defense that Joe Mauer has developed at first base, but as a secondary option, he's better than passable. Given that the Twins have a glut of designated hitter types, Vargas will always have to bring his mitt to the yard if he wants to carve out regular playing time.

Quite possibly the biggest deterrent for Vargas' chances to make the Opening Day roster rest on the shoulders of Byungho Park. After being acquired by the previous regime, there's reason to wonder how both Derek Falvey and Thad Levine view the former Korean Baseball Organization slugger. Coming back healthy after a wrist injury, I expect a nice turnaround year for Park, and his second season in the big leagues should overshadow his first. With Vargas able to start at Triple-A, it would make sense to reason that first base alongside Mauer, is Park's job to lose.

I'm not sold on either Danny Santana or Kennys Vargas being everyday big leaguers for the Minnesota Twins or otherwise. Of the two though, it's Santana that strikes me as less of a loss should he be jettisoned from the organization. There's always going to be appeal for power guys in today's game, and while Vargas profiles as such, I'm not sure there's been enough convincing done to suggest he can deliver just yet.

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