The first major move of the off-season was the signing of Jamey Carroll to shore up the weak infield. All indications are he will be the opening day shortstop, although most of his major league career he has been at second base. Defensively that should be an improvement over the parade of failures in 2011. If he holds true to form, he will be a good number two hitter in the batting order and he should help solidify a decent top of the order.
It appears Alexi Casilla is going to get the nod at second base. This will be the third time he has been penciled in for that slot and let’s hope that he has matured enough to make it stick this time. Until his hamstring injury put him on the DL, he was showing real signs of being a good defensive player and productive at the plate as well. It remains to be seen if he will play a full year, let alone be productive all year, but that is the Twins’ and my hope.
Danny Valencia will be at third base again unless some other deal is made before the season begins. After a sophomore slump, he is due to rebound with a good year. Following him on Twitter (@dannyvalencia19) has been revealing for a number of reasons, but it is encouraging to see he is self-reporting working out hard – including two-a-days. He may be showing some signs that he understands he needs to step it up.
Most tentative is the Justin Morneau situation. We will not know until spring training how his post-concussion symptoms are still affecting him. It is difficult to be optimistic, but for now he is the starting first baseman.
If Morneau is unable to go, Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit will be the one’s to fill in. A long shot to fill the role would be Luke Hughes. It is also possible the Twins make a trade or sign a free agent if it is clear early in the spring that Morneau is not going to be able to function.
In utility roles I have included both Hughes and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, although I think it is not beyond the realm of possibility for Nishioka to begin the season in Rochester with Sean Burroughs making the roster as a utility player.
As currently projected, this infield is not going to be much for power production. The defense should be adequate if not stellar, but only a healthy Morneau projects to hit enough home runs to qualify as a power hitter. Danny Valencia may hit between 15-20 home runs again, but if he continues to try to just pull the ball at Target Field, as he appeared to do in 2011, his average will suffer and he may end up less productive again and vulnerable to being replaced by Hughes or Burroughs.
I’m having trouble seeing Nishioka as a utility player. He is only adequate at best defensively at shortstop and showed that he is not ready to place second base at the major league level. I understand the fact that he is being paid $3 million and so the Twins want to get some production out of him, but he will not be an option as a defensive replacement late in games as most utility guys are used. The best hope is that he progresses well in spring training and earns a starting job at SS moving Carroll to second base unless Casilla has an outstanding spring and earns his way into the starting lineup ahead of him.
Luke Hughes has no more options left so he either is on the opening day roster or the Twins run the risk of losing him on waivers. I can’t see the Twins taking that chance, so unless he is part of a trade package, he will be in a backup role.
This infield, if all remain healthy, will be better than last year’s. Even so, I can’t help but think some of them are more or less place holders for soon to arrive younger players.
I’m looking forward to spring to see how this all plays out.