Thursday, February 16, 2017

What To Make Of The Twins Utility Scenario

Going into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, it stands to reason that the Minnesota Twins will more than likely employ a similar 25 man roster construction. That means there'd be places for 12 pitchers and 13 position players. Given in are in the starting lineup, the four vying to fill out the bench provide some questions for Paul Molitor and his club.

Two of those bench spots are immediately claimed by the backup catcher (see Mitch Garver, John Ryan Murphy, or Chris Gimenez) and a fourth outfielder (Robbie Grossman or Eddie Rosario). With just two openings left, the Twins need to incorporate a defensive focus, some sort of base running threat, and realistically cannot ignore offensive production completely. Utility men would be great fits for either of those spots, but unfortunately for Minnesota, they have three players in the mix.

Danny Santana probably comes to mind first. He burst onto the scene thanks in large part to a mirage of a rookie season. His BABIP created unrealistic watermarks, and his career has spiraled since. Although he's played the most positions of the possible options, he occupies no ground on the field while being a positive defensive asset. I took a deeper dive into what Santana brings to the table in this piece, but right now he has to be the odd man out. Although Minnesota obviously appreciates his flexibility, it stands to reason his level of asset is simply the lowest.

That brings us to Eduardo Escobar. From 2014-2015, Escobar played in 260 games for the Twins owning a .737 OPS at the dish. While his OBP (.312) left something to be desired, he showed a little pop with his 18 homers, and was of value offensively. In the field, Escobar spent the majority of his time at shortstop, and went from -6 DRS in 2014 to +2 DRS in 2015. He's never completely sold us on the part that he's an every day player, but as a utility man that profiles at short and can play two other infield spots, it looked to make sense.

Last season however, Escobar through a wrench into his future with what was a significant step backwards. His OPS plummeted to a paltry .618, and he totaled -7 DRS in 579 innings at short. No longer a defensive or offensive asset, Escobar had simply become a below replacement level player. On a new arbitration contract with the Twins this season though, it appears the club is banking on that being an outlier, and it's probably a decent bet.

Rounding out the trio is the recently acquired Ehire Adrianza. Coming over from the San Francisco Giants (and briefly, the Milwaukee Brewers), Adrianza is virtually all glove. Despite the small sample size, he's regarded in the Andrelton Simmons level of leather at shortstop, and that's something that the Twins simply don't have anywhere on their roster. Given the likelihood that Jorge Polanco struggles defensively, Adrianza would stand to look otherworldly in the field.

With the bat, Adrianza owns just a .605 career OPS and is coming off his best season in which he totaled a .679 OPS in 40 games with the Giants. He has just 17 extra base hits in 154 big league games, and gap power is something that will likely always elude him. Down at Triple-A though, Adrianza has compiled an .822 OPS in just over 100 games being virtually the same singles hitter. He has speed, although he doesn't typically steal a ton of bases, and that can probably play on both sides of the ball.

For Molitor and the Twins, the decision likely comes down to whether or not they can handle a glove only bench player. Escobar, despite his poor 2016, should be a lock, and that leaves it a competition between Santana and Adrianza. The former can stand at multiple positions but play none, while the latter plays infield spectacularly but can't hit a lick.

As noted above, with question marks already surrounding Polanco's ability to cope at short, Adrianza seems like an ideal fit. Minnesota was beaten badly around the ballyard a season ago in large part due to poor defense. Having such an asset ready and waiting off the bench seems to make a lot of sense. Expect this to be sorted out as Spring Training draws on down in Fort Myers.

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