Friday, December 12, 2008

A Look Ahead to Season 6 for the Minnesota Twins; Part 2 - Position Players

Join us as we preview the position players for the Twins as the try to make it back-to-back-to-back World Series titles. Also, don't forget to check out the preview of the pitching, posted earlier.

Without further ado, here's the position-by-position breakdown for the coming season - at least as things stand right now.

Jesus Alcantra
S5 stats - .348/.414/.719
Career - .285/.349/.551
Contract - $1,730,000, 1 year
Outlook - The Twins are counting on Alcantra to stay healthy this season. He'll be a part-time player due to his 38 Durability and lack of strong pitch-calling (65), but he needs to produce about 200 PA of quality for things to go according to plan.

Brutus Morris
S5 stats - .221/.308/.326
Career - .217/.286/.364
Contract - $1,290,000, 1 year
Outlook - Morris will hopefully log a lot of AB this year, both as a starter and as a defensive/rest replacement in any game started by Alcantra. His splits and contract are poor, but reasonable eye (52) and solid power (76) enable him to have a bit of pop (23 career HR in just over 1 full season of AB). Really though, he fits with the Twins' focus of pitching and defense, and his 92 pitch-calling has helped him post sub-3.75 CERA in each of his 3 MLB seasons.

Overall Rating: C+
The combo of a good bat and good glove make this a slightly above average position, but nothing spectacular. Hopefully the two combine for 15-25 HR and Good D.

First Base
Herbert Lieberthal
S5 stats - .303/.386/.891
Career - .321/.406/.584, 215 HR, 393 XBH, 600 RBI, 597 runs
Contract - $7,650,000, 1 year
Outlook - The Iron Man of the World, Lieberthal hasn't missed a game in 5 seasons. Although Father Time has sapped him of some of his power (now 62), his contact, splits, and eye have remained very strong (all over 80). This may be the first season Twins management gives him some time off, both to keep him fresh for any possible post-season run and to see whether any of the newcomers has the chance to take over in S7.

Overall Rating: B+
In his prime, Lieberthal was an easy A and a consistent MVP candidate. He's coming off an All-Star appearance in S5 and can still rake, but he isn't the long-ball threat he used to be. Thankfully, as the younger Twins have developed, he isn't asked to carry as much of the load and can provide veteran leadership and timely hitting instead.

Second Base
Ed Wheat
S5 - .261/.340/.412
Career - .270/.343/.425
Contract - $360,000, 1 year
Outlook - Wheat has shown flashes of having his bat break through and his career .768 OPS is respectable, but he's really there for his glove. His still-improving 82 Range, 83 Glove, 88 Arm Strength, and 78 Arm Accuracy might be sufficient to play SS, but the Twins focus on D and so have Wheat playing 2B instead. It seems to have paid off, helping the Twins turn the 5th most DP last season despite the pitching staff posting the lowest OAV and WHIP in the league. The Twins are hoping the D holds strong and Wheat takes a modest step forward offensively, perhaps approaching 20 HR in S6.

Overall Rating: B+
Wheat seems unappreciated by the public, having never won an award and being overshadowed by his flashier teammates, but he is the type of glue guy that really does help win championships. His outstanding glove and arm make him among the best fielding 2B in the World, and his bat brings more to the table than people realize.

Third Base
Virgil Mendoza
S5 - .291/.344/.640
Career - .276/.335/.577
Contract - $360,000, 1 year
Outlook - A season 5 All-Star, Mendoza is an absolute force on offense. Another transplanted SS, he's above average on defense too (81-77-86-84 and improving). With 49 HR in only 131 games last season, he may push 60 HR if the Twins end up playing Virgil in 150+ games.

Overall Rating: A
Mendoza will challenge for an MVP in the near future. Offensively he's among the best at any position and defensively he's among the best 3B in the World.

Anthony Haney
S4 - .224/.277/.262 (only 40 AB in S5)
Career - .246/.296/.337
Contract - $1,505,000, 1 year
Outlook - Not particularly effective with the stick, Haney is in the lineup for his glove. 88-86-95-98 translates into gold glove level defense and the Twins are more than willing to sacrifice a little offense for great defense. That said, if he can stay healthy, Haney should be able to produce something positive with the bat, particularly against left-handed pitching (rated 71).

Russell Simpson
S5 - .267/.311/.289
Career - .270/.318/.301
Contract - $378,000, 1 year
Outlook - Simpson is the prototypical super defensive utility man (89-84-92-87) and speedster (98 speed). He filled in admirably at SS when Haney went down last season and also logged innings at 2B, 3B, LF, and CF. More effective versus right-handed pitching (rated 77), he gives the Twins the option of having an effective SS platoon without sacrificing a late-inning defensive replacement.

Overall Rating: C+
Excellent defense more than makes up for average bats, and the combo results in the SS position being slightly above average for the Twins.

Left Field
Michael Gordon
S5 - .260/.362/.540
Career - .277/.358/.537
Contract - $378,000, 1 year
Outlook - Gordon is one of the real sluggers on the Twins. His Power/Eye combo of 93/97 and his ability to switch-hit results in a high frequency of home runs - 15 HR in 79 games in S3; 32 HR in 119 games in S4; 35 HR in 126 games in S5. While his D is slightly below league averages, the Twins think it's worth it to get his bat into the lineup, and he is generally replaced by a better defensive player late in the game.

Overall Rating: B-
His bat strikes fear into opposing pitchers - particularly those with a penchant for giving up the long ball - but his sub-par D keeps Gordon from being a truly exceptional LF option.

Center Field
Jesus Morales
S5 - .253/.290/.427
Career - .251/.288/.437
Contract - $378,000, 1 year
Outlook - Consistent with the Twins M.O., Morales offers defensive first, bat second. While his batting average and on-base percentage leaves something to be desired, he does have some pop (75 power) and is good for about 20 HR per 130 games. His real value, however, is his (Gold) glove. After winning the 2B Gold Glove in S3 and th CF Gold Glove in S4, Morales was beat out in S5. In each of the last three seasons, he's recorded 14 plus (+) plays. Like others on the Twins, his defensive ratings (91-93-87-81 and improving) might make him a SS on other teams, but on the Twins he's a top-flight defensive CF.

Overall Rating: B
The combo of Gold Glove defense and ~20 HR per season is tough to find at the CF position and, despite the low BA/OBP, Morales is well above average.

Right Field
Hiram Bang
S5 - .304/.380/.594
Career - .289/.369/.547
Contract - $6,500,000, 4 years
Outlook - The switch-hitting Bang was rewarded with a lucrative contract extension following S5, and he had more than earned it. Bang has recorded a .975+ OPS since arriving in Minnesota, and seems poised to play a central role in the future of the Twins. His defense is slightly below average for a RF but not terribly so, and his big bat forces itself into the lineup.

Sydney White
S5 - .300/.355/.508
Career - .284/.342/.463
Contract - $5,140,000, 1 year
Outlook - As previewed in the prior Trade Spotlight, the Twins are looking to move White in order to play Mendoza full-time at 3B and Bang full-time at RF. White pushed his way into the lineup last season, starting games at both 3B and RF and coming in as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement. While he can certainly produce, especially against right-handed pitching (rated 85), with Bang locked up long term White's future with the Twins seems limited.

Overall Rating: A-
Bang is an excellent RF option that most teams would love to have. Likewise, White would start for many teams and he is almost certainly the best backup 3B/RF guy in the World. If he isn't traded, he'll likely force his way into the lineup against right-handed pitchers again this season.

Designated Hitter
Curt Falk
S5 - .340/.401/.675
Career - .290/.382/.613
Contract - $4,600,000, 1 year
Outlook - As a S5 All-Star and MVP candidate, Falk really made the Twins offense go last season. His 1.076 OPS led the team (amongst players with 100+ AB). He has the potential to see some time at 1B/LF, but is more well-suited to DH, so the Twins plan on using him primarily in that role.

Overall Rating: A
Falk is on par with the very best of the World's designated hitters. He should play a big role in the center of the Twins lineup in S6.

There are a few other Twins competing for positions with the major league team. While it is unlikely that more than one or two of the following guys stick to begin the season, they are worth keeping an eye on should a trade go through or the injury bug strike the team.

Moe Larkin
S5 - (AAA) .346/.416/.685
Career - (minor league) .313/.403/.644
Contract - $343,000, 1 year
Outlook - Rookie Larkin is particularly effective against left-handed pitching (rated 73) and his Power/Eye combo (82/85) should make him worthy of at least a modified platoon. His defensive allows him to play part-time at RF/LF/1B/DH, so he has a good chance of sticking with the big league club.

Blade LaRue
S5 stats - (AAA) .271/.347/.606
Career - (minor league) .293/.391/.622
Contract - $343,000, 1 year
Outlook - Sub-par splits and the presence of Lieberthal have kept LaRue from capitalizing on his spectacular Power/Eye combo (93/92). After years of dominating the minor leagues, it's time to see whether LaRue can make the leap up in competition and contribute to the ML club.

Carson Parrish
S5 - .243/.302/.262
Career - .245/.318/.300
Contract - $378,000, 1 year
Outlook - Parrish is reasonably effective against right-handed pitching (54 rated) but isn't really much of a threat offensively. While his defense (86-83-97-89) is excellent, it may be tough for him to stick behind both Simpson and Haney.

Julian Ross
S5 - (AAA) .324/.395/.698
Career - (minor league) .311/.401/.695
Contract - $343,000, 1 year
Outlook - Ross is something of a duplicate of LaRue and it may be tough for both of them to make the team. While Ross does have the benefit of being a switch hitter with the excellent Power/Eye combo (95/88), his defense is weak even for 1B and management seems to have a preference for LaRue.

There are likely better offensive lineups than the Twins - indeed 4 teams scored more runs in S5 - but it is tough to find a better defensive team. While 3 teams had a better fielding percentage and 4 teams had more DP, the Twins tied for the league lead in plus (+) plays and had the fewest minus (-) plays in the World in S5. The combo of above average offense and great defense gives the Twins one of the best all-around group of position players in the World.

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