Monday, February 3, 2014

Eye on 2014: Third base

Trevor Plouffe
hit 14 homers in
2013, a notable
dropoff from
2012's surge.
This is a critical, career-shaping season for Trevor Plouffe, the incumbent third baseman.

The Twins are waiting on Miguel Sano, and the Dominican's arrival will be on his own timetable. Nothing Plouffe does is going to delay Sano. Sano's elbow is probably the biggest question mark, but if it's as sound as the Twins seem to think it to be, Sano will be in Minnesota by midseason if not sooner.

And then what for Plouffe?

He played his way out of the middle infield in 2011. He was supposed to shift to the outfield in 2012, but Danny Valencia had a career crisis of his own and Plouffe stepped in at third base and enjoyed a brief but remarkable power surge that ended with a hand injury. His bat regressed in 2013 even as his shaky defense at the hot corner improved.

Plouffe is, today, a 27-year-old with 1,351 major league plate appearances and a career .240/.300/.411 slashline. His OPS+ is five percent below league average. And with arbitration having kicked in, he's not exactly low-priced either. There's not much there to recommend him.

When Sano is deemed ready, Sano will be the third baseman. Plouffe is not good enough to block the prospect.

Plouffe's track record says he not productive enough a hitter to be a regular corner outfielder. The same is true of first base, which is blocked by Joe Mauer anyway. We do know Plouffe's defense in the middle infield won't work in anything other than an emergency role.

One can imagine him as a corner outfielder, at least after Josh Willingham and/or Jason Kubel are gone (both are signed for 2014 only), but he's got to hit better than he has. One can imagine him in a super-utility role -- filling in at third base, corner outfield and first base while the regular gets a semi-day-off as the DH, and doing some DHing himself. Or maybe a team with a hole of its own at third base would be interested in trading for Plouffe.

The ideal use of Plouffe may well be as a platoon player. His career OPS against lefties is about 180 points higher than against righties. He and Kubel (as a DH/outfielder) would be a pairing out of an Earl Weaver dream. But the Twins, or at least Ron Gardenhire, actively resist such leveraging of strengths vs. weakness, so that's not likely to happen.

1 comment:

  1. I hear about this attitude of Gardy being against platoons, but I don't understand why. Now that I think about it I seem to remember the Twins having them in the past. It makes sense to me that if you don't have front line talent at a position, but could with two players with complimentary splits why wouldn't you do it? The only thing I can come up with is you are conceding a short coming and giving up on trying to develop a playe'rs weak side. What about wins?