Saturday, July 11, 2015

Contemplating the shortstop situation

Danny Santana turns a double play in Kansas City.
Despite the Twins' issues at shortstop, they are among
the American League leaders at turning two.
Here be uncertainty and doubt.

Paul Molitor has started four different shortstops so far, which by itself doesn't signify much. He's started five different third basemen (Trevor Plouffe, Eduardo Escobar, Eduardo Nunez, Doug Bernier and Miguel Sano), but there's no question that Plouffe is the regular. (The other four have a total of eight starts.)

Short is another matter. Danny Santana made his 56th start there on Friday, but he's also had a brief demotion to Triple A. Escobar, the more-or-less regular last season, got a brief run there (17 starts); of late Nunez has been Molitor's choice if Santana isn't in the lineup. (The fourth shortstop, Jorge Polanco, was a one-day callup.)

Molitor and his bosses seem determined to find a regular shortstop in Santana, and Santana's not really cooperating with the effort. His slash line (.213/.235/.287 entering Friday's game) was second-worst in the AL among players with at least 100 plate appearances, and his 13 errors are the third most in the league at the position.

I don't really understand the reluctance to give Escobar a sustained run there again. He led the league's regular shortstops in OPS last season, and was by all measurements at least a league-average glove at the position. He may not have the athletic gifts of Santana, but he isn't an embarrassment at the position. (I will note, however, that in his limited playing time this year the double plays have been less frequently turned.)

Molitor seems more interested in using Escobar as a multi-position semi-regular, the sort of superutility guy that Ron Gardenhire talked a lot about but never really embraced in practice. As I've said before, that kind of player has to have a decent bat. While Escobar isn't hitting as well this season as last, he does have a better slugging percentage than six of the Twins' nine "regulars" as listed by Baseball Reference.

Nunez has hit impressively this year -- Molitor has picked his spots well, with a focus on pitting Nunez against pitchers with velocity -- but his defensive reputation is exceedingly poor. I can't see him getting everyday duty, particularly at a defense-first position.

As for Polanco: The prospect has moved up to Triple A, and was charged with six errors in his first six games at that level. I think second base is his destination; even if he does have a major league future at short, that does nothing for the Twins present.

Polanco's presence in Rochester may signal a determination to keep Santana in the majors. Putting both of them at Triple A would mean playing one of them at second base, and the Twins probably want to see both of them playing shortstop, partly for developmental reasons and partly because they aren't in need of a second baseman.

1 comment:

  1. I seem to be among the minority of Twins fans, but it makes sense to me that Santana is getting an extended run at shortstop, His tool box is much fuller than the other three guys you mentioned plus most of the tools have been turned into major league skills. Consistency on both sides of the ball is needed, but at times, such as most of last year, he looks like a near elite level shortstop.

    I think Santana has the best chance among Nunez, Escobar and Polanco, to be the answer at shortstop. At least until one of Vielema, Gordon or Javier show they are ready. If he can hold his own, especially defensively, I would prefer that he continue to get the majority of the time at shortstop.