Monday, July 11, 2011

The return of Trevor Plouffe

The Twins entered the All-Star break with a flurry of in-house moves: Delmon Young was activated from the disabled list, Trevor Plouffe was recalled after about a month in Triple A, and the Renes (Tosoni and Rivera) were returned to Triple A.

Trevor Plouffe hit 15
homers last season
for Rochester; he
has 15 this year in
less than half the
at-bats.
It's fairly obvious what's ahead for Young, at least in the short term: He returns to the starting lineup as the left fielder. Tosoni, who pretty clearly has a future of some sort with the Twins, will get regular at-bats in Rochester. What happens with Young when Denard Span and Jason Kubel return from their DL stints is less obvious, but that's for the future.

Plouffe's role, short or long term, is less certain. He forced his return to the majors with his bat, but he had more than 3,000 minor league at-bats that say he's a mediocre hitter at best. He HAS this year sharply increased his walk rate at Triple A, which suggests that at least some of the power improvement is real.

Be that as it may, I cannot imagine that he's going to get another shot at playing shortstop. He may be the most brutal defensive shortstop I've ever seen the Twins use, and the Twins need their shortstop to help keep the starting pitcher in the game.

The Twins right now, with Justin Morneau accompanying Span and Kubel on the disabled list and Jim Thome obvious limited to extremely limited part-time play, have Michael Cuddyer and Young to fill four power positions (left field, right field, first base, DH). The demotion of Rivera coupled with Joe Mauer's clean play in his debut at first base suggest that Mauer, on his non-catching days, is more likely to be deployed at first than at DH.

OK, let's sort out the active position players:

REGULARS

Mauer (c, 1b)
Tsuyoshi Nishioka (ss)
Alexi Casilla (2b)
Danny Valencia (3b)
Michael Cuddyer (rf, 1b)
Ben Revere (cf)
Young (lf)

PART-TIME

Jason Repko (of)
Luke Hughes (1b, 2b, 3b, theoretically of)
Matt Tolbert (3b, 2b, ss)
Thome (dh)
Plouffe (ss, 2b, 1b, of, 3b)
Drew Butera (c)

And that draws a clearer picture for Plouffe's immediate role. He's competing for playing time with Repko, Thome and Hughes (and indirectly with Butera) in the first base-dh-corner outfield nexus.

It brings to mind a Bill James comment about the 1986 Twins and their use of Roy Smalley as a shortstop/DH that year: "This is a new role on a major league roster." It didn't work well in '86, and I expect it won't last long in 2011 either.

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