Middle Infield – A Comedy of Errors
This was perhaps the most dishearteningly consistent and dismal failure of a team that lost 99 games in 2011. The Twins beleaguered and incompetent middle infield became a laughing stock, both offensively and defensively, with the trio of Trevor Plouffe, Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka committing 35 errors in 242 games between them and combining for an average batting line of 241/302/336 – yikes!
Both Casilla and Nishioka, the Japanese batting champ import struggled to stay on the field, Casilla missing more than a month mid-season with a hamstring strain he could not shake and Nishioka breaking his leg on a Nick Swisher slide at Yankee stadium just 6 games into the 2011 campaign. While Casilla showed flashes of improvement from his poor 2010 season he has frustrated Twins fans by consistently showing just enough at just the right time for the Twins brass to give him a further season to show he can make a more meaningful on base contribution to the team and not merely function as a base stealing threat.
By contrast ‘Yoshi’ floundered throughout his first season in the big leagues. Poor range, a weak arm and a slew of errors made him a defensive liability and a RAR (Runs Above Replacement Level – which measures the number of runs a player is better than a hypothetical replacement player that plays for a team with a .320 winning %) was -18! Wow. Yoshi proved to be a meaningless offensive contributor to a middle infield that was in constant flux and needed a stabilizing force so desperately. Who knows if he will be given a second shot?
While the bat of Trevor Plouffe provided some desperately needed pop, ranking ahead of 3B kid-stud Miguel Sano and fellow Elizabethtown prospect Ed Rosario in the organization in HR, his glove was alarmingly bad. In 2011 at SS alone he was good for a fielding % of .944, almost 30 points below the .972 positional league average. Spring training will be huge for Plouffe, who is out of options and while he is almost guaranteed to figure in the Twins early season plans has yet to prove he can consistently field his position at any level he has played at. In 6 minor league seasons Plouffe has struggled with his fielding in a similar fashion to his first two seasons with the big league club. The logical option moving forward would be to use Plouffe as an outfield option.
Within the first 10 days of his second stint as Twins general manager Terry Ryan took steps to address one of the Twins most glaring on field weaknesses. Ryan signed veteran infielder Jamie Carroll to a two year $6.5 million contract. Carroll is a stop gap solution to a organizational problem area for the Twins, with their best middle infield prospects being Brian Dozier at SS and a little further off Yangervis Solarte at 2B. Carroll does bring defensive consistency to the heart of the Twins infield, having committed only 4 errors in 2011 and having a fielding % of .984 over the last 10 seasons. He also brings a consistent OBP, averaging .364 in his last 3 seasons with the Dodgers. He is however, 38 in February and the price tag certainly seems like a stretch from a Twins team in desperate need of immediate infield help.