Friday, March 10, 2017

The WBC and job competition

The Twins minor league camp opened earlier this week, yet there have been no cuts from major league camp.

Blame (or credit) the World Baseball Classic, in two ways. First, the numbers in camp have already been reduced a bit by players leaving to join their national teams -- most prominently the quartet of Puerto Ricans (Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, Hector Santiago and Kennys Vargas). Second, the now-concluded pair of exhibitions against Team USA and Team Colombia, for which the Twins supplied their rivals with a handful of players to supplement their rosters. Those games required extra bodies in camp.

With those games behind them, the decision makers may feel free to start making decisions.

Rosario's absence is interesting because he's expected to be the regular in left field, and now there's more playing time for the guys trying for the fourth outfielder role. Somewhat tied into that, too, is the DH job, for which Vargas is one of three primary candidates.

What connects the two is Robbie Grossman, who had a fine 2016 with the bat and a terrible one with the glove. He has, apparently, been a primary project for Jake Pickler, the new outfield coach, who has been working with Grossman on such basics as how to position his glove. This sounds more like something to teach Little Leaguers than a guy with more than 250 major league games on his resume, but ...

Anyway, the Twins would probably like their fourth outfielder to hit right-handed, as both Rosario and right fielder Max Kepler are left-handed and have shown some platoon difficulties in the past. Grossman is a switch-hitter but better from the right side. He might be the primary DH; he might be the primary reserve outfielder, especially if he can catch the darn ball. (He's not under any circumstances a likely center fielder, but both Rosario and Kepler can play there when Byron Buxton gets/needs time off.)

Then there's Drew Stubbs. The word Thursday was that, with the Twins slated to see a couple of left-handed starters today and Saturday, Stubbs was to be in the lineup to give Paul Molitor a chance to see him in a potential platoon role.

Stubbs, a non-roster invitee, has been a center fielder in the past, and it's possible that even at age 32  he's better there than Rosario or Kepler. But that's less relevant to his chances of making this team than how he looks at the plate against left-handed pitching. His bat, and specifically his tendency to strike out, has turned him from a young regular of promise to a veteran journeyman looking for a role. Some good at-bats today would help his cause. And with Rosario and Vargas off WBC-ing, he's going to get the chance.

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