|Brian Dozier, Twins' shortstop of the future?|
I have advocated in the past my belief that the best place for Tsuyoshi Nishioka to start 2012 would be AA New Britain or AAA Rochester. Unlike the front office, I'm not willing to give him a complete mulligan for 2011. I recognize that the broken leg derailed his season, but even prior to that injury -- and also when he came back supposedly healthy -- he was clearly overmatched. It's great that he worked on strength and conditioning in the offseason, but I'm not sure that those things, alone, make him better for the Twins in 2012.
From what I have read, the Twins will use Jamey Carroll as the everyday, starting shortstop (until he is eligible to begin collecting Social Security next season), and all signs point to Alexi Casilla getting the nod at second. The Twins have two more years left on Nishioka's contract, and roughly $6 million; that contract is untradeable right now. On the other hand, Twins shortstop prospect Brian Dozier had a great season at AA in 2011, and also performed very well in the Arizona Fall League. So we have one middle infield prospect, seemingly on the way up, and one major league middle infield player that, in my mind, needs to occupy a spot on some roster, somewhere, for the next two years before he is out of this organization.
Like the Twins' front office, I'm thinking toward the future. I'm not at all confident that we're looking at a playoff team here, so I think it's important to make moves that, although not fantastic or sexy in the short-term, don't handcuff the team in the long-term. By 2014 or 2015, there could be a good new wave of players, including Miguel Sano and Kyle Gibson, and the starting 9 probably will look very, very different.
With that being said, perhaps the best (or least worst) thing to do in 2012 is to have Nishioka be a bench player for the Twins, and give Dozier the starting SS job at Rochester for a full season -- or at least until he demonstrates that he's seen enough of AAA to be promoted. Having both Nishioka and Dozier on the same Rochester team simply doesn't make sense, especially if Dozier is the shortstop of the future for the Twins. I suppose the other option is to send Nishioka to New Britain, but based on Terry Ryan's comments that the team "wouldn't want to see it play out that way," with respect to sending Nishioka to Rochester, I have a feeling that such a New Britain assignment might not even be on the table. At the very least, it's definitely something to think about. I think the Twins' #1 priority with respect to this issue is setting themselves up to have a legitimate shortstop of the future, something they haven't had for a long time.
I'd be happy to hear your comments and ideas -- I'm not at all an expert on the Twins' minor league system, and I know that some of you will have more insight.