A preliminary apology is in order for the muddled depth chart. No, not necessarily from me, but just in general. I offer my sincerest apologies if you derive nothing out of this depth chart discussion, but this is just how I see it.
The Twins infield — much like the rest of the team — is a bit of a messy situation.
Behind the dish, the Twins remain committed — for better or worse — to getting Joe Mauer back there for ~130 games this season. It’s clear Mauer is no longer a defensive force behind the plate; his pop times have slowed and that’s at least part of why he’s nabbing fewer potential base thieves than ever. He’s still a great offensive player — while not necessarily one whose bat would play great elsewhere — but it’s fair to wonder if a move is or should be on the horizon. For now, he’s a catcher who may make an occasional start at first or DH. He’s a very useful fantasy player with 1B and C eligibility.
I put Ryan Doumit as the primary backup because there’s a non-zero chance the team doesn’t carry Drew Butera out of spring training. Ron Gardenhire is managing for his job this season, and may pull no punches in an attempt to have some more punch off the bench. The real issue there would be if Doumit is DH’ing and has to come into the game in the event of a Mauer injury, thereby forfeiting the DH. The question would then be if rostering Butera is worth it solely on this basis. Additionally, there have been rumblings about Eduardo Escobar as an emergency catcher, for what it’s worth. With Doumit, if you get him to qualify as a 1B or OF, you get some added versatility. And if he puts together his typical .330-.340 wOBA season, he’s not a bad body to stash as a catcher. Butera is a defensive wiz with no bat to speak of. Chris Herrmann is the real dark horse here; he can hit a bit, and also plays outfield to boot. Still, he’s unlikely to make the club and will have no fantasy value.
For my money, Justin Morneau’s fantasy stock should be rising. He adeptly handled righties last season (.378 wOBA), and started to show more life against southpaws late in the season than his .252 wOBA would suggest. He’s in a make-or-break season as a free agent to-be, and should be a pretty good bargain in fantasy leagues this season. As long as he’s healthy, he should render backups Mauer, Doumit, and Chris Parmelee relatively unused. This is fine, since each of those players has a starting role elsewhere.
The middle infield is a vast wasteland. Brian Dozier will likely start at second, but after an uninspiring season at short, his flame is flickering just a bit. He should be much better defensively at second, and while it isn’t plainly obvious right now, I think he could develop into a league-average second sacker offensively, with the potential for decent walk rates and a little extra base pop. He’s not a fantasy option, however.
At short the Twins will roll with Pedro Florimon, the flashy but at times erratic defender who is a downright thoroughbred physically. Florimon is tall and lean, and moves across the infield deftly and smoothly, making shortstop defense look like a work of art. But it all comes crashing down when he gets into the batter’s box, where he might be lucky to post a .300 wOBA on his best day. If the Twins like their offense enough otherwise, rolling with Florimon at short and in the nine-hole works. It’s just going to be up to guys like Trevor Plouffe, Doumit and Parmelee to pick up where Mauer, Morneau, and Josh Willingham leave off.
Escobar and Jamey Carroll appear likely to serve as utility guys. Escobar can pick it wherever he plays in the infield, but like Florimon the bat is iffy. Carroll has a steady glove and has proven adept at taking a walk, but entering his age-39 season won’t likely be a huge factor as the Twins will look to the future in the middle infield. He makes for a very nice fallback option, though.
Trevor Plouffe gets the reins at third base, with virtually no competition. Plouffe was red hot for a stretch last season, but tailed off considerably down the stretch. As a result, his .301 OBP and .327 wOBA don’t look all that impressive, but the tools are there for a possibly passable third baseman. His defense will need considerable work, but the Twins are no strangers to a third baseman working hard to improve his defense, a la Corey Koskie. Now Plouffe may never be a borderline Gold Glove candidate like Koskie was, but even getting to break-even would be a huge boon for Plouffe’s value. I would say it’s not out of the realm of possible that Plouffe could be a two-win third baseman. He’ll probably have more fantasy-world utility anyway, as a full season should result in 25 homers and with any luck, more runs batted in than last year’s 55. I don’t know if there’s any hype to worry about here, but if someone can nab Plouffe just outside of the upper echelon of third basemen, there should be some fantasy value to be had.
At DH will be Doumit, and there’s not much else to say there. There have been rumblings about bringing back Jim Thome, but it’s likely they’ll stay just as rumblings. He could be a decent bench bat on a team which could desperately use one, but it also seems like this team is searching for a new identity, and that’s one where Thome might not fit. In a way, it’s a shame. But nonetheless, there would be no fantasy implications either way.
EARLY DEPTH CHART
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Drew Butera, Chris Herrmann
First Base: Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Chris Parmelee, Ryan Doumit
Second Base: Brian Dozier, Jamey Carroll, Eduardo Escobar
Shortstop: Pedro Florimon, Jamey Carroll, Eduardo Escobar
Third Base: Trevor Plouffe, (crickets chirping)
Designated Hitter: Ryan Doumit, Justin Morneau
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