Saturday, February 21, 2015

Twins by position: Designated hitter

Josmil Pinto: A DH
trying to be a catcher.
The Twins have long been reluctant to have a full-time designated hitter. The preference has been to rotate several players through the job, giving regulars a break from defensive chores while keeping their bats in the lineup. Jason Kubel came close in some seasons, but he generally got steady doses of outfield time.

The rotation system was particularly useful when Joe Mauer was the regular catcher. Catcher is a brutal position, and few last long catching 140 games and up a year. Having a rotation system at DH allowed Ron Gardenhire to give Mauer a weekly break behind the plate while keeping his bat in the lineup.

Last year, with Mauer now a first baseman, the Twins dabbled in a full-time DH for the first time since they dumped David Ortiz -- first with Kendrys Morales, and after dumping the veteran on Seattle, with Kennys Vargas.

Vargas enters camp as the presumptive favorite for the job. But he faded rather sharply in September -- August batting average .308, September-October batting average .228 -- as he displayed a rather surprising lack of command of his strike zone.

That was a point of emphasis for him in winter ball, and we'll see if his focus on patience carries over this spring.

If Vargas fails -- and there are those in the scouting community who doubt he can hit enough for the job -- the Twins have another option in Josmil Pinto, a "catcher" whose defensive chops are a genuine handicap. Vargas had, in his two months with the Twins, an OPS+ of 115 in 234 plate appearances; Pinto's OPS+ in 280 major league PAs over two seasons is 118.

Pinto may indeed be a better hitter than Vargas. But the lure of a good-hitting catcher is strong, and the Twins are less likely to let Pinto simply slot into a bat-only slot simply on that basis. Vargas will get the first crack at the job. But if he looks like the Vargas of September, the Twins shouldn't be reluctant to try Pinto in the DH role. They certainly don't seem inclined to trust him behind the plate.

And if they both fail, there's also Oswaldo Arcia, who seems better suited to DH than the outfield.

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