Friday, March 28, 2014

Washed up on the bench

This catch (on March 18) near the
center field fence apparently convinced
Ron Gardenhire that career shortstop
Jason Bartlett can handle center field.
The Twins made three serious cuts Thursday. There's still one more to come — extra catcher Dan Rohlfing remains in camp — and the very real possibility that they'll pick up somebody on waivers, but they've essentially pared down to the Opening Day roster.

And what an odd bench this figures to be.

The Twins lost outfielder Alex Presley on waivers to the Houston Astros. They also saw first baseman-outfielder Chris Parmelee and left-handed pitcher Scott Diamond clear waivers.

The resulting bench: catcher Josmil Pinto; first baseman Chris Colabello; infielder Eduardo Escobar; and infielder Jason Bartlett.

There is no true fourth outfielder there. There are two shortstops, in Escobar and Bartlett, who are supposed to be "super utility men," although there's no real reason to believe either can hit enough to play. There are two right-handed bats of limited defensive value in Pinto and Colabello.

Is there a purpose to having a bench player who fits the traditional fourth outfielder role? Considering the extreme defensive limitations of the trio who figure to get the bulk of the playing time in the outfield corners (Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia and Jason Kubel), having somebody who can pinch run and then track down a fly ball late in games might be handy.

The idea seems to be that Bartlett and Escobar can handle those chores. I know that Bartlett made a catch in center (photo above) earlier this month that drew a lot of comment at the time, with manager Ron Gardenhire sounding impressed, but I'm less than completely sold.

What I call The Cuddyer Principle holds that any right-handed major leaguer can at least pass at any non-battery position for a while without it being painfully obvious that he doesn't belong there. Gardenhire, I think, is proposing The Bartlett Corollary to The Cuddyer Principle: If you can play shortstop in the majors, you can play any position well. We'll see if Gardy actually uses one of those extra shortstops as a defensive sub in left or right.

Another thing to watch for is if Colabello has a role other than pinch-hitting. Gardenhire is platoon-adverse, but Kubel has never really hit left-handed pitching and is hardly likely to start now. Colabello makes the most sense on the roster as a DH against lefties.

The Twins will face one of the league's tougher lefties, Chris Sale, in the opener Monday in Chicago. Colabello should be in the lineup — and Kubel on the bench — against Sale. But that's exactly the kind of matchup move Gardenhire has habitually avoided.

Benches are, of course, made up of flawed players. Nobody's so deep that a Willie Mays winds up as the fourth outfielder or Derek Jeter as a utility infielder. I didn't expect the Twins to cut Presley or Parmelee, much less both, but in the abstract, I don't quarrel with either move; neither player figures to be a great loss.

The real issue is that the regular lineup figures to be so flawed, that there's plenty of room for aggressive bench use. Is this a bench Gardenhire will use? Given Gardenhire's established preferences, I'm not sure there IS a bench he'll use.

1 comment:

  1. This spring has confirmed to me why Gardy, as much success as he has had, should have been let go last fall. Look, I get it. The Twins aren't going to be very good this year. Heck, they're not going to even be "good," but I'm really disappointed in how this team is constructed. It's like the Twins moved into Target Field four years ago and immediately began constructing a team that is totally opposite of its home park. This is going to be a bad defensive outfield, even with Hicks in center, and the amount of hits the corner outfielders are going to give up is going to frustrate the heck out of pitchers.