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Monday, April 2, 2012

One Thing the Twins' Roster is Missing

As I scanned down the list of position players on the Twins' 25 man roster, and saw names like Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Denard Span as starters, and guys like Luke Hughes and Sean Burroughs off the bench, something came to mind: there shouldn't be an awful hitter on this team in 2012.

If you've followed the Twins for the past several seasons, there is always at least one hitter that can barely hit his weight, yet makes his way onto the 25 man roster, and eventually onto the field, to the chagrin of most fans. Last year, it was Drew Butera, who batted .167. Tsuyoshi Nishioka wasn't much better, hitting .226. Much to my pleasure, neither player made the Twins' roster to begin 2012. Perhaps there is hope for each. Nishioka has been playing pretty well in the AAA games, and maybe coach Tom Brunansky can help Butera at the plate?

It seems like there is no room on the
Twins' roster for the Matt Tolberts
of the world.
 Even going back to past seasons, there is always at least one guy that struggles mightily at the plate -- that we knew full well would struggle -- and yet he made the team. Matt Tolbert, for instance, batted .232, .240 and .198 in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. His "value" was that he could play many positions, but it certainly didn't outweigh his shortcomings at the plate. How about Jason Repko, our former fourth outfielder? He hit .228 and .226 in 2010 and 2011 with the Twins. A good defensive player, yes, but I'd much rather have Ben Revere's skill set as a backup outfielder. And let's not forget Nick Punto. In fairness, he compiled a couple decent offensive seasons in Minnesota (batting .290 in 2006 and .284 in 2008). Those seasons, however, were sandwiched between seasons like 2007, where he played in 150 games and batted .210, or 2010, his final season in Minnesota, where he hit .239. Punto, however, played great defense at a few different positions, so he didn't have to hit .300 to have value. Going back a little further, there was Brian Buscher. He had one decent season (2008) in a part-time role, but hit .235 in 2009, his last year as a Twin.

The 2012 roster just feels a little different. Sure, it's possible that any one of the position players could have a Tolbert-esque season. That's the nature of baseball, and that's why the Yankees or Red Sox or Phillies don't win the World Series every season. But if I was a gambler, I'd bet that our offense will be pretty decent. Trevor Plouffe might be the biggest risk. He hit .238/.305/.392 in 81 games last season, but has looked pretty good this spring. It's a make or break year for him, as he is out of options, so I expect that he will want to produce well this season. Ben Revere may never become a great player, but it's tough to imagine him not improving at all from last season, where he compiled a .267/.310/.309 line in what was really his rookie campaign. Australian Luke Hughes, who hit .223 last season, has had a monster spring. As of a few days ago, he was leading the team in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. Some might think Spring Training stats are meaningless, but I don't. He was hitting the cover off the ball, and I bet it's going to translate into more success in 2012. Like Revere, it's tough to imagine Hughes not improving those 2011 stats.

Perhaps the largest unknown quantity on this roster is Sean Burroughs. The fact that he made this team as a non-roster invitee -- especially when you factor in his personal story -- is pretty impressive. Burroughs played last year in 78 games -- his first MLB action since 2006 -- and is a .273 lifetime hitter in just over 1,800 plate appearances. He'll be in a bench role in Minnesota, and I'm sure that's fine with him. Burroughs is hitting .324 this spring. Perhaps it's doubtful he could compile that kind of average off the bench in his first season in the big leagues since 2006, but I'm guessing that he will be better than the .225 hitters that we are accustomed to seeing as off-the-bench infield help.

In the end, at least from the offensive standpoint, I think the Twins are primed to have 13 decent hitters. Some will progress, some will regress and some will have typical seasons. It's nice to think, though, that there is no "guaranteed out" in the lineup or on the bench. Perhaps the concern, then, is to what extent the Twins sacrificed defense in favor of offense. Though we laughed at Punto sometimes when he batted, he was excellent defensively. Can Burroughs or Hughes turn into a great defensive specialist? Or, at the very least, can the Twins' position players make the routine plays this season to keep the team in games?

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