The Twins infield will not have a drastically different look personnel-wise from last year, but that isn’t to say there hasn’t been some shuffling of the deck chairs.
Quasi-catcher Ryan Doumit was shipped off to the Braves, and Justin Morneau signed with the Rockies after an August deal sent him to the Pirates. Infield mainstay Joe Mauer is shifting over to first, and the latest reports seem to suggest that newcomer Kurt Suzuki will get the first crack at reps behind the plate catching a largely re-made rotation.
Given this, here’s a peek at the Twins infield situation heading into the 2014 campaign:
1B Joe Mauer (2014 Steamer Projection .297/.388/.439 | .361 wOBA)
Steamer and Oliver both project significant steps back for Mauer, who will be in his first full season as a first baseman in 2014. Each forecasts a .361 wOBA, nearly 20 points off his career mark. The good thing is both forecast nearly 150 games played, and double-digit home run numbers with healthy runs and RBI numbers. Mauer will be a huge value in any leagues that still have him at catcher — pretty much all, to my knowledge — and any added boost from stronger, healthier legs should just be a bonus. Mauer’s stock gets tougher to project when he becomes a 1B only for fantasy purposes, but I’d wager he’ll still be a big factor in linear weights leagues at that point.
2B Brian Dozier (2014 Steamer Projection .244/.304/.376 | .301 wOBA)
The heart of the matter here is whether or not Dozier’s breakout — from late May last year on — is truly for real. If one asks Steamer, the answer is “haha no not really.” Oliver takes a bit more of a diplomatic approach, suggesting Dozier could nearly replicate last year’s .319 wOBA (.246/.311/.405 | .315 wOBA) while being a virtually identical player across the board from last year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, a .244/.312/.414 line doesn’t drive people as crazy as say, Dozier’s hair might. But he’s a good defensive second baseman (real life value only, of course), and for fantasy purposes double digits in steals and home runs from a second sacker is what Mr. Mauer would call a ‘pretty neat deal.’ There’s sleeper potential for you here as a fantasy owner.
On Shaky Ground
C Kurt Suzuki (2014 Steamer Projection .244/.303/.373 | .296 wOBA)
Suzuki has never really hit much in the big leagues (.322 wOBA in 2008 being the high water mark), and that’s unlikely to change in Minnesota in his age 30 season. Suzuki makes for a fine backup, but early rumblings from the Twins brass is that the job is his from the get-go. I’m more skeptical, seeing this instead as a ploy to get Josmil Pinto a bit more seasoning in Triple-A, or maybe for him to just flat out take the job from Suzuki with a phenomenal spring. Regardless, you don’t want anything to do with Suzuki fantasy-wise.
SS Pedro Florimon (2014 Steamer Projection .229/.287/.330 | .274 wOBA)
Florimon is an all-glove, no-hit shortstop who may not even hold his job all season. The 9 home runs were a pleasant surprise last year, but not enough to put him anywhere but the deepest of AL-only leagues.
3B Trevor Plouffe (2014 Steamer Projection .243/.306/.417 | .317 wOBA)
The best compliment that can be paid to Plouffe at this point is that he’s a poor man’s Michael Cuddyer. He isn’t a good fielder — in fact he may end up in the outfield a la Cuddyer — and while his overall line doesn’t look great, he really does pop lefties (.278/.346/.495). Some of the first round luster has no doubt worn off, but he should be able to hang around as a lefty masher for a long time. If that’s going to be with the Twins, he should start moving around the diamond a bit more.
3B Miguel Sano (2014 Steamer Projection .226/.299/.427 | .316 wOBA)
The preeminent slugger in the Twins fam — if not all of the minors — will likely debut at some point this summer. Steamer is very bearish on Sano for this year, while Oliver is more optimistic (.233/.314/.528 | .358 wOBA). That would make Sano a second coming of Pedro Alvarez, more or less. Sano could provide some late season thump in single season leagues, and is an obvious hold in long-term ones.
C Josmil Pinto (2014 Steamer Projection .259/.319/.404 | .318 wOBA)
Pinto was impressive in his cup of coffee last year (.342/.398/.566 in 83 PA), but he’s hardly played above Double-A — just 75 PA in Rochester — and his defense is clearly lagging behind the bat, which neither projection system is all that crazy about. In terms of real-life utility a .318 wOBA is pretty solid from a catcher — this looks like +2.0-2.5ish wins — but fantasy-wise Pinto’s playing time is bound to be inconsistent enough to make owning him frustrating at first. With the word coming out that the Twins would go with Suzuki as the starter, it’s clear the Twins will make Pinto earn the job. What exactly that means is anyone’s guess, however.
If Pinto doesn’t make the team out of spring training, I fully expect Eric Fryer to be the backup catcher. He’s got a good defensive reputation, but has been absolutely dreadful with the stick (.208/.312/.313) in Triple-A the past three years….the next option up behind Fryer is Chris Herrmann, who could make the team as a backup outfielder and catcher. Herrmann has a good arm, and was graded as the organization’s best defensive catcher by Baseball America going into last season. Overall his numbers are ugly in the big leagues, but he’s barely had any time — and no success — at Triple-A yet. He could still be a factor….Eduardo Escobar will be the club’s top utility guy, and could push Florimon for time at short. Since coming over in the Francisco Liriano trade, Escobar has shown flashes that he could be counted on to be more than a utility guy, but all too often those runs are evaporated with a 4 for 40 stretch. Escobar has nice pop for a guy his size, and can play anywhere on the diamond. As far as bench guys go, he’s one who managers will love….Six seasons after the Twins traded him in the Delmon Young deal, Jason Bartlett has returned — on a minor league deal — with a chance to win a bench role. He had a .432 OPS with the Padres in his last big league run (2012), and it probably is never a good thing when Baseball Reference has already listed your “final game.”….Like Bartlett, the Twins brought back Jason Kubel to battle for a roster spot. He’s a non-roster guy, but is probably the prohibitive favorite to be the designated hitter on opening day….those Kubel at bats should probably be going to Chris Parmelee, however. Parmelee will likely be in the mix to back up Mauer at first base, and despite not showing much as a big leaguer to date will still be just 26 on opening day….the shortstop at the end of the season may not be on the roster on Opening Day, as the Twins may possibly look to Danny Santana sooner rather than later to take the position full time. Santana spent all of ‘13 at Double-A New Britain, and has shown good speed and some pop, but also a disdain for the free pass. At his best he still may be a glove-first guy….long lauded as the second baseman of the future, Eddie Rosario’s infielder status is as tedious as ever. Not only is Rosario suspended for the first 50 games of this season for illegal substance use, but Dozier’s play in the infield has him closing in on cementing the keystone for himself. Add to that various reports from non-Twins officials that Rosario would be better suited for the outfield, and that might just be where he winds up.