Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What the Hell are the Twins gonna do at Shortstop?

The Twins hit the back stretch of the season, somewhat limping and hovering around .500 and 2.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot.  There are two ways to look at this season.  The first is that the team overachieved and could never have sustained their early season success, but a .500ish year and semi-meaningful games with an outside shot at a surprise playoff appearance a year ahead of schedule (a .500 would clear their Vegas over/under on wins by 12 games) is pretty damn neato.  The second is to say that the Twins were running away with the division and collapsed, and the season is a failure.  Obviously, the first way is correct and the second way is for morons.

The other success of this season is you can see the future starting to take shape.  Not so much the pitching side which has too many questions for even me to try to answer, but the position players?  It's happening.

There's little doubt that the opening day outfield next year will be Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks, and Eddie Rosario (and that should be a damn good fielding unit).  Miguel Sano will have third locked down, and Brian Dozier is going to be at second for a while.  1B/DH is going to be some combination of Joe Mauer, because we're stuck with him, Trevor Plouffe, if they keep him around - he has value and they control him for two more years but he's getting spendy, and Kennys Vargas, if he remembers how to hit.  Ideally Oswaldo Arcia does the same and becomes the fourth outfielder with some DH time as well.  Catcher goes to Kurt Suzuki unfortunately for another year, and then the hope is either Josmil Pinto or Chris Herrmann step up.  It's a nice solid start to team.  But what the hell are they gonna do at shortstop?

They have three current options - Danny Santana, Eduardo Escobar, and Eduardo Nunez.  They're all young and under team control so they'll probably get plenty of chances, but I don't see a full time shortstop here anywhere.  Santana flashed a solid rookie year, finishing 7th in AL Rookie of the Year voting, but had all the warning signs of a fluke which came to fruition this year.  In his 256 plate appearances in the majors this year he OPSed just .541, 3rd worst in all the majors, and rocked a 66-5 strikeout to walk ratio.  I covered Escobar here, coming to the conclusion that his upside, last year, was adequate at best, and his downside, this year, is a crappy utility guy.  Nunez seems to have moved into the starters role by default, but there's nothing there to suggest he's anything other than a replacement level utility guy, which he has been for his six big league seasons.

So what's next?  Look at any Twins' top prospect list and you'll see two names, and only two names - Nick Gordon and Jorge Polanco.  Gordon was picked just last year out of high school so he's probably not going to be ready until 2018 at the earliest, so it's Polanco or bust.  And I'm really not sure how to feel about that.

He's certainly looked good in his limited time in the majors, slashing .313/.450/.500 with 4 walks and 3 strikeouts in 20 plate appearances and Fangraphs has him as a better than average defensive shortstop.  All positive signs.  His career line of .288/.349/.406 in the minors is alright, but more impressive is his 269 strikeouts to 182 walks, which shows that unlike a lot of shortstops he's not a complete hacker up there.

So what's the problem?  No power at all.  Zero.  None.  That .406 slugging over his minor league career would be one of the lower numbers in the majors this year, and if you look at his ISO, which strips out a high average influencing from influencing slugging, he's put up Ben Revere type numbers each of the last two seasons, only without the speed.

I'm not saying he's terrible or can't develop into more of an all around player.  He hit very well in rookie and A ball, with some power, and he's only 21 and already at AAA with two flashes in the big leagues and he's pretty much hit for a high average everywhere.  I'm fully rooting for him, it's just amazing to me that all the eggs have to be in this basket, but there's nobody else.  Levi Michael was supposed to be the shortstop of the future, but he was drafted out of college in 2011 and is still stuck at AA so I don't think we can really count on him any more, especially since he has less power than Polanco.

Considering the free agent market looks pretty bare at the position for the next couple years we should all be huge Jorge Polanco fans and hope he gets to the majors, for good, sooner rather than later.  Help us, Jorge Polanco, you're our only hope.


John R said...

Finally! Thanks for the post!

I am surprised you did not list Max Kepler as one to watch next year, but maybe it's foreshadowing a move I think should be made:

Unfortunately, Mauer is going to be at 1B for the foreseeable future, and we do have a great deal of talent already in the outfield. Kepler (1B/OF) is putting up ridiculously good numbers at AA this season, and while I wish Mauer was not a part of the equation and we could just slip Kepler in at 1B, that's not happening. So I think we should trade Kepler for a legitimate shortstop this offseason. J.P. Crawford comes to mind. Your thoughts?

rghrbek said...

You also did not mention the invariable resigning of Hunter, because...well that's how the Twins role. Hunter has been Putrid since the all star break.

Polonco rates as a minus fielder at Shortstop by all accounts. Are your fan graphs numbers for his time at the MLB level? He's a 2nd baseman playing shortstop because the Twins are hoping (falsely) that he will pan out there. Which makes our need at SS even more dire.

You didn't cover Catcher as well, which is equally as dire.

Twins worse record since June 1st in the AL. Not good.

WWWWWW said...

1. Kepler is definitely on the rise and is getting some attention, but there's no chance the Phillies deal Crawford for him. Or at least I'd be stunned if they did.

2. I would absolutely support trading a young OF for a young SS, as long as it's not Hicks or Rosario (or Buxton, obviously). Maybe Plouffe could get something?

3. Fangraphs has Polanco as an above average SS in both of his stints, though the sample size is so small who knows, really? I haven't noticed anything glaring positive or negative, myself.

4. Catcher there's at least some semblance of a plan. Suzuki is year another year and there are two semi-prospects behind him, either one of which could develop into a legit starter. Plus the FA catcher market is more compelling than SS.

Tyler said...

I think Double E has answered this question.....

WWWWWW said...

Hitting .351/.395/.676 with 5 homers since this post went up. You're welcome, Twins fans.