Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Twins Reality Behind The Dish

There was a time when the Minnesota Twins could consider catcher as one of the least concerning positions on their roster. That time period ended when Joe Mauer suffered a traumatic brain injury that forced him to switch positions. Now, as the organization looks to solidify their backstop, more questions than answers are currently present.

In 2016, Kurt Suzuki has re-emerged as a viable option. After a 2014 season in which Suzuki was named to his first All Star Game, the Twins rewarded their free agent acquisition with a contract extension. It went as expected for the most part, poorly, until recently. prematurely rewarded, Suzuki has begun to make good on his long term deal with the Twins. Now through around 90 games in 2016, Suzuki is slashing .288/.326/.428, which puts him at the offensive ceiling of his career.

This story and narrative isn't about Suzuki though, instead, it's a cautionary tale of what's next. Suzuki is likely going to be traded by the Twins prior to August 1st, and if he isn't he becomes a free agent following this season.

Behind Suzuki is where things get murky. At the big league level, the Twins have Juan Centeno. He's a 26 year old that was drafted in the 32nd round of the 2007 MLB draft by the Mets. He's played in just 51 games at the big league level, and his .233/.275/.360 slash line for the Twins this season is probably the best that can ever be expected. He's got poor receiving skills and has looked overmatched at times behind the dish this season. He's caught just 11% of would be base stealers, which is terrible, and only compounds the problem.

That brings us to John Ryan Murphy, who the Twins grabbed in return for Aaron Hicks this last offseason. The trade hasn't gone well for either party. Hicks is batting below the Mendoza Line through 79 games for the Yankees and Murphy is at Triple-A for the Twins. Outside of a brief stint that looked like things were coming together, Murphy hasn't hit in Rochester either. He owns a .202/.264/.287 slash line through 55 Triple-A games and he's caught just 18% of base stealers.

We've made it through the two top rungs of the organization, and a realistic catching answer for the Twins is completely non existent. When things were going well for Minnesota behind the plate, the position was producing offensively as well as throwing out would be base stealers at right around a 30% clip (leading the league twice from 2007-13). Trying to replace what Joe Mauer was is never going to happen, but finding some sort of stability is an absolute must.

Further down the line, the Twins have a few prospect options. Stuart Turner has long been considered the defensive-ready option. He's thrown out 36% of base stealers this season, but he hasn't hit a lick. Batting just .229/.329/.361 this year, and owning a career .239/.327/.350, it's hard to imagine he'll be ready to be leaned on any time soon. His battery mate, Mitch Garver, has actually emerged even more so this season. He owns a .797 OPS and has thrown out 51% of would be base stealers. Garver is a guy that probably deserves a chance sooner rather than later.

If there's a frustration at the position, it's still the way in which Minnesota handled John Hicks. After being nabbed off of waivers from the Mariners, the Twins released him so they could add David Murphy to the 40 man roster. Murphy instead chose to retire. Since joining the Tigers organization, Hicks has hit .289/.344/.452 at Triple-A. He's caught over 40% of would be base stealers, and would be an immensely better option at the MLB level than Centeno has proved to be. I don't know that he's a big league starter, but Minnesota would have been hard pressed to scoff at the idea of finding out.

Over the offseason, the Twins will absolutely have to figure some things out. Suzuki won't be around, and that means the questions will get louder. I've opined that former prospect Wilson Ramos may be worth spending on over the winter, but it won't be cheap with the incredible season he's had for the Washington Nationals.

Suggesting a drastic step may not be the best idea, but pieces will begin to move once the Suzuki era ends. If that is prior to the trade deadline as it should be, Garver may be best suited to take his place. If you want to leave Centeno in the picture, I can understand why. Murphy hasn't earned a promotion, but the role is likely going to be between himself and Garver for in house options a year from now.

Regardless of how things shake out, there's significantly more questions than answers right now for the Twins behind the dish. Minnesota is going to have to come up with some plans, and in a relative hurry.