Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Do the Twins need a pinch-hit specialist?

Chris Colabello
hit .284/.358/.478
in his first season
in the affiliated
minors last year.
For most of 2012, the Twins carried three catchers, two of whom were generally in the starting lineup. Joe Mauer had about half his playing time behind the dish (72 starts) and split the rest between first base (30 starts) and designated hitter (42 starts); Ryan Doumit started 56 games at catcher, 48 at DH, 16 in left field and six in right field; Drew Butera started 32 games at catcher; and Chris Herrmann picked up the other two catcher starts.

The primary reason for carrying the third catcher was the 90 games — a bit more than half the season — of DH duties for Mauer and Doumit. Catcher is a highly specialized defensive position, and managers are loathe to be without one on the bench in case of injury. While a DH can take the field, the result is that the pitchers would have to hit for the remainder of the game.

Mauer, at least in theory, is to catch more this year, and if that does occur, Doumit is likely to get a heavier share of the DH duties. In which case the basic motivation for granting a roster spot to Butera remains intact, even though the playing time would diminish.

But Ron Gardenhire said last week that he's not committed to carrying three catchers, and that he wants to have a pinch-hitting threat on his bench this year — probably thinking in terms of hitting for Pedro Florimon, the front runner for the shortstop job.

This line of thought, coupled with Jim Thome's public appeal for a job, has a goodly portion of the Twins twitterverse hoping for Thome's return. I'm not in favor; I think Thome's about done, and even if he isn't, he's not a particularly good fit for the Twins roster.

Thome's tried being a pinch-hit specialist a couple of times for National League teams, and has found he needs a steady dose of at-bats. Using him as a DH would necessarily take at-bats away from one of the Doumit-Chris Parmelee-Mauer-Justin Morneau-Josh Willingham collection of catchers/first basemen/corner outfielders. While it's not a bad idea to spell Doumit (and perhaps Parmelee) against left-handed pitchers, Thome is not the guy to do that with.

If the Twins do forego a third catcher in order to carry a bench bat, better that it be a right-handed hitter. I don't know that they have that guy in camp — maybe non-roster invitee Chris Colabello, a 29-year-old refugee from an independent league who had a big season with the Twins Double A club last year. Colabello will be leaving camp soon to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, but he's gotten a couple of notable hits in the early exhibition games.

If Colabello, or someone of his right-handed ilk, wins the roster spot, he could get his "stay-sharp" at-bats against lefties and, at least in theory, improve the lineup by limiting Doumit's right-handed at-bats.

Gardenhire has shown little concern over the years about maximizing the platoon advantage with his hitters, and would probably prefer Thome to Colabello (or any right-handed hitter). That scenario appears to me a case in which the front office — meaning general manager Terry Ryan — needs to protect Gardenhire from himself.


  1. I don't think that a bat on the bench and a third catcher are mutually exclusive. The Twins will need a 4th outfielder who can play center field. And they will need a utility infielder. But even with a third catcher, that leaves one more spot for a player.

    But, I agree with you on Thome. As you point out, the Twins have four left handed batters that guy might give a day off to and only one right handed batter. If you are going to give Mauer or Morneau a day off, you want to do that against a tough left handed pitcher.

    It would be nice of Florimon, or whoever is at shortstop, was the only candidate in the lineup for a pinch hitting. But that isn't likely. Second base and center field are also likely to be filled by somewhat weak offensive players. And Plouffe and Parmelee could also be guys you want to pinch hit for occasionally in certain situations.

    I agree Thome isn't the answer. But he does offer some clubhouse benefits in addition to his power off the bench. Since he can't play in the field, adding him would probably require that they not carry a third catcher.

    Colabello had a couple nice games, but I doubt he is going to win a roster spot. If they are looking at adding a bench bat, the Twins will probably watch the waiver wire for someone as we get closer to opening day.

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