Monday, July 24, 2017

Twins Bench Provides Room For Growth

Whether looking at the 25 man roster as it sits currently, or how it will be constructed a year from now, the Minnesota Twins have opportunity through their bench. In winning more games against other big league clubs, the goal needs to be raising the water level of your weakest link. For Paul Molitor's club, there's some ample opportunity for growth.

On July 24, the Twins employ a bench of three players. Due to the extra (and frankly unnecessary) bullpen arm, the reserves rotate between a group of Eduardo Escobar, Chris Gimenez, Ehire Adrianza, Robbie Grossman, and Jorge Polanco. While none of those players are a black hole, the group itself has plenty that can be worked on.

Looking at the starting roster, there's probable cause for each player to be a relative mainstay for the immediate future. Save for the shortstop and DH roles which are aided by the rotating bench, Minnesota virtually has their lineup claimed. In working towards a better overall talent level, a new bench construction could be a strong place to start.

Of the four aforementioned players, Polanco is the one that sticks out. He's a guy that hasn't owned an OPS south of .600 since he was 16 in the Dominican Summer League. His bat was his calling card for the majors, and while his defense was above-average to start the year, that's regressed to more expected results. Now with a .578 OPS and out of options, the Twins are forced to stash him and allow the 23 year old to work through his problems at the highest level. Ideally you'd like him to go back to Triple-A and iron things out, but his spot isn't necessarily an egregious bench usage.

As a fourth outfielder and designated hitter, Robbie Grossman drew rave reviews through the early part of the season. He's a patient hitter that forces a pitcher to throw strikes, and he simply gets on base. Over the past 33 games however, he owns just a .218/.321/.286 slash line. The .607 OPS is bolstered by no power, and he's contributed just eight extra base hits. Not being able to play an average level of outfield defense, there's plenty more to ask from a designated hitter. Grossman was a great story in 2016 owning an .828 OPS in 99 G, but the regression has set in and he's slipped well off that mark.

Maybe most valuable of the group is Eduardo Escobar. Experiencing somewhat of a breakout in 2015, Escobar owns a career best .768 OPS this season. He's not a great defender, but being average at three positions around the diamond makes him an asset. His nine homers are the second most in his career (12 in 2015), and he's become a much more significant on-base threat (as witnessed by the career best .328 OBP). If you're filling out a bench, Escobar is the ideal candidate to take a spot.

I had questions early on in 2017 as to whether or not Ehire Adrianza and Escobar could coexist. They offer virtually the same thing, with Adrianza being a whiz with the glove despite not hitting at all. Getting into 32 games for Minnesota, Adrianza has a career best .766 OPS. He doesn't generate any power, but he's been good for a timely single when needed. On a three man bench however, a backup catcher and Adrianza taking up two of the spots can be costly. Even in a four man rotation, having near identical players in Escobar and Adrianza seems to drop the ball a bit.

That takes us to the backup catcher in Chris Gimenez. A natural clubhouse leader, Gimenez has posted a .689 OPS on the year. It's his best mark since 2015, and second highest total of his career. While that's great for him, the offensive production in that role is virtually non-existent. Gimenez has been average at best behind the dish, and that may warrant Minnesota looking elsewhere.

Whether or not the Twins make any significant moves in 2017 or not, there's positions to be had on the big club. Mitch Garver seems an immediate boost over Gimenez giving the club plenty in terms of flexibility as well. There isn't a great argument to be made internally when looking at replacing Adrianza, but it stands to reason that a trio of middling infielders all rotating may be wasting a spot. Maybe Zack Granite can chip into Grossman's necessity, but that remains a slow play at best.

Going into 2018, there's room for Minnesota to add offensively. While the bulk of the lineup may be set, and for quite a while, outside help could grab a few extra wins. Having additional firepower in reserve, and knowing it's more than just a placeholder, puts a club in a very good spot. While the 2017 Twins have surprised, the core of a solid team is there, with areas of improvement to take things to the next level.

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