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  • Top Stories for 2013: What to expect from the middle infield

    The Twins have long credited themselves with being able to throw strikes and then catch the ball. Itís well known that it is very important to be strong up the middle. In 2012, the Twins middle infield was a mess which didnít help a pitching staff that was already behind the eight ball.

    The Twins addressed their middle infield deficiencies by, well, non-tendering Alexi Casilla. It appears that the Twins are counting on major improvements from the other guys that were there a year ago. Pedro Florimon will begin the season at shortstop. Brian Dozier played 83 games at shortstop last year, but he will move over to second base to start the season. Jamey Carroll is capable of starting at all three infield positions, but he will likely be the backup at all three. Eduardo Escobar will also be a utility infielder, as well as the emergency catcher.

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    Worst Case Scenario


    Itís hard to imagine that both middle infield positions will be any worse than they were last year. Consider the following:


    • In 2012, the Twins shortstops were 29th in baseball with a .580 OPS (.226/.277/.303).
    • In 2012, the Twins shortstops were 21st in baseball with a .969 fielding percentage (with 25 errors)
    • In 2012, the Twins second basemen were 28th in baseball with a .604 OPS (.245/.296/.308).
    • In 2012, the Twins second basemen were 24th in baseball with a .979 fielding percentage.


    It is entirely possible that Pedro Florimon canít replicate the .579 OPS that he had in 43 games with the Twins in 2012. Last year between New Britain and Rochester, he posted a .670 OPS, but he struckout 117 times while walking just 34. With the Twins, he struckout another 30 times with ten walks. Itís possible that he struggles enough to be let go in June or July. Eduardo Escobar could take over at shortstop.

    After being the Twins minor league hitter of the year in 2011, Brian Dozier really struggled in his debut with the Twins in 2012. He posted just a .603 OPS. He posted an uncharacteristic 16 to 58 walk to strikeout rate. He even struggled in the field. Although heís been impressive at second base with the glove so far this spring and he has some playing time at the position in the past, it is a relatively new position for him.

    Jamey Carroll will likely get a lot of playing time regardless of how well Florimon and Dozier do. If he gets 401 plate appearances during the season, his 2014 option will vest, although it will be at just $2 million. Carroll got off to a slow start last year with his batting average. He turned 39 years old last month. At Twins Fest, he acknowledged that his goal is to play in the big leagues as a 40 year old. How much is left in the tank?
    If there are injuries, the likes of Ray Olmedo, Doug Bernier and Jason Christian are the middle infielders in Rochester. James Beresford will be in New Britain with Danny Santana.

    Best Case Scenario


    Much of the Best Case Scenario for the Twins middle infield will come from its defense. Pedro Florimon is known for his glove. He has great range and a very strong arm. If his performance can match the hype and he can play Gold Glove caliber defense a shortstop, there is a lot of value in that even if he posts an OPS below .650. Itís vital for a pitching staff that, aside from Glen Perkins, appears allergic to strikeouts.

    Likewise, all reports from Ft. Myers indicate that Dozier has taken to second base very well and very quickly. He has been making highlight reel plays on a regular basis. In 2011, he played 49 games in Ft. Myers, and as he turned 24, he was promoted to New Britain. Combined, he hit .320/.399/.491 (.890) with 33 doubles, 12 triples, nine homers, 92 runs scored, 56 RBI and 24 stolen bases in his second full minor league season. I donít think that an .890 OPS is very realistic for 2013 for Dozier, but he certainly can be much better than the .603 OPS that he posted in his big league debut.

    Jamey Carroll is so steady, offensively and defensively. He makes all the plays he gets to, and he takes quality at bats. His .660 OPS in 2012 was the lowest heís had since 2007 in Colorado. He was over .700 the last two years in Los Angeles.

    Eduardo Escobar was the late-inning defensive replacement for the White Sox throughout the 2012 season until he was dealt to the Twins. He will likely play a bigger role with the Twins in 2013.

    Signs to look for


    The biggest thing to look for, the most important thing, will be improved defense. Can Pedro Florimon make the routine plays consistently? Will Brian Dozier be able to smoothly make the move to second base?
    Florimon is not going to hit, but can he reduce the strikeouts a little bit? Also, how much offense will Twins fans want to see from Florimon to accept gold-glove caliber defense? How little offense will the manager require to keep him in the lineup if he is hitting ninth?

    As Parker wrote last month, will Brian Dozier be able to stay fundamentally sound with his approach at the plate. In the minors, he had very good plate discipline and walked nearly as often as he struckout. That will be an important number for Dozier. He will likely be batting second for the team, so it will be important for him to get on base and control the plate.

    And, it will be interesting to follow Jamey Carrollís Countdown to 401 plate appearances.

    A strong defensive middle infield is very important to a team, and specifically to a pitching staff. Defense should be a strong factor in determining who plays up the middle. But again, it is the same question that we often ask with Drew Butera. How much offense is required if a player is providing great value with the glove? Brian Dozier has a chance to be a solid hitter, and Jamey Carroll has proven to be just that over the last decade. Florimon and Escobar come with plenty of questions, and until (or if) Eddie Rosario is ready with his glove, there are lot any high-upside middle infield hitters.

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    This article was originally published in blog: Top Stories for 2013: What to expect from the middle infield started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 28 Comments
    1. jun's Avatar
      jun -
      Quote Originally Posted by fairweather View Post
      "That is the great, fair opposite question that is also fair to ask. Most Twins fans say that Drew Butera doesn't provide enough offense to make up for his lack of offense. But we rarely hear the opposite."--Not since Delmon left anyway. Something tells me that any sort of extended slump at the plate for Willingham would bring back those same grumblings.
      How about Trevor Plouffe?
    1. jun's Avatar
      jun -
      Quote Originally Posted by fairweather View Post
      I expect good things out of the Twins middle infield this season. I don't expect those things to happen until Florimon and Dozier are replaced by Escobar and Carroll. Am I the only one who thinks Florimon and Dozier aren't ready to be big league starters? I'll take consistency over potential up the middle.
      Let's give Dozier some time to adjust to his new 2B position.
    1. jun's Avatar
      jun -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      Offensively, Florimon's track record looks substandard to the point that he can't be a regular player. However, he has a better chance at developing an acceptable hit tool than Jamie Carroll has of turning back the clock and also developing extra base pop. Of the four MIs mentioned here, I like Dozier the best. I was extremely impressed with his "D" in Florida, including doing a fine job of turning double plays. He has enough pop to turn on a few pitches and get several extra-base hits. I think he will be a regular until Rosario takes over. I have openly asked if Escobar has the speed and range to be a plus defender. In watching him a few games last year on TV and a few more in person in Florida, I can't tell. If his range is only average or adequate, his good glove and strong arm make him only an average middle infielder defensively and no one is expecting him to be a strong hitter.
      Escobar has some speed, he is about 3 years younger than Florimon, he hits better than Florimon, he also plays good defense.
    1. jun's Avatar
      jun -
      Quote Originally Posted by cwzimmerman View Post
      Fingers crossed here. I fully expect that with the relative lack of quality MIs in the minor league system, Dozier and Florimon would have to almost horrific to be yanked from the lineup, and that's not to say that it can't or won't happen with either one. Of the two, I would imagine that Dozier will have a bit longer leash because there is at least some reason to believe he can provide a bit of offense to boot. Harder to say with Florimon vs. Escobar, as neither one is likely able to hit his way out of a wet paper bag for anything resembling a reasonable period of time.

      Kind of makes one long for the days of Christian Guzman and Luis Rivas.
      Escobar is 3 years younger than Florimon, statistically he hits better than Florimon.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Quote Originally Posted by jun View Post
      Escobar has some speed, he is about 3 years younger than Florimon, he hits better than Florimon, he also plays good defense.
      How much is "some speed"? It seems to me that despite a strong arm and a reliable glove, both the Whities and the Twins are reluctant to have Escobar play short. In viewing his SB numbers, he doesn't appear to have SB potential. Connecting the dots tells me that Escobar is just not fast enough or have enough range to be an outstanding defender
      .
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by jun View Post
      How about Trevor Plouffe?
      Even with the defensive struggles last year, Plouffe still put up a positive WAR, so even last year his bat overcame his defense.

      Like you say above regarding giving Dozier some time to adjust to his new position, Plouffe was also playing a new position last year.
      I think he'll be much better there this year.
      He was brought up as a SS, so its not as if he doesnt have defensive talent. He came into last year preparing and expecting to play the OF, then was moved to a position he'd only played a handful of times since 2008 (and didnt play a lot of 3B even before then).
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      How much is "some speed"? It seems to me that despite a strong arm and a reliable glove, both the Whities and the Twins are reluctant to have Escobar play short. In viewing his SB numbers, he doesn't appear to have SB potential. Connecting the dots tells me that Escobar is just not fast enough or have enough range to be an outstanding defender
      .
      I'm not defending Escobar, I really havent seen enough of either of them, but you don't need elite baserunning speed to be a good SS. JJ Hardy is about as slow as they come on the basepaths, but he is a very good defensive SS. You can make up for the lack of speed with good instincts, good footwork, and being in the right alignment.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      How much is "some speed"? It seems to me that despite a strong arm and a reliable glove, both the Whities and the Twins are reluctant to have Escobar play short. In viewing his SB numbers, he doesn't appear to have SB potential. Connecting the dots tells me that Escobar is just not fast enough or have enough range to be an outstanding defender
      .
      Escobar played 518 games at shortstop in the minors...less than 60 at 2B. Escobar didn't play a lot of shortstop for the White Sox because Alexi Ramirez is there.

      Now granted Escobar hasn't played much in the majors so gotta take the next with a grain of salt...but his UZR/150 for shortstop last year for 21.3. His RZR was .870. No starting shortstop was higher on either stat.

      at 3B his UZR/150 was 14.9.

      So, I mean, he seems to have some range in what limited time he's been up.

      As far as 2B goes, he's a negative UZR/150. So maybe he should stay on the 3B side of the diamond...
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