• What can Alexi Casilla provide in 2012?

    In spring training last year, New York Mets manager Terry Collins said that second base has become “an enormous offensive position. Some of the guys that have been playing there have been putting up huge numbers at second. It’s become an offensive position, so to me that’s a big piece of the puzzle.”

    In the American League, this has become exceedingly true. Players like Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano have packed a wallop for their respective teams. The Twins meanwhile have fielded a group of players last year at second who posted a 610 OPS, well below the league’s average of 721.

    Clearly, the Twins are in need of some offensive contribution from the evolving position. Perhaps the team has recognized the way the trend is leaning as a reason why they moved prospect Eddie Rosario and his potent bat into the keystone position. But, while that may play out well in the long run, here in the present, the Twins need some stick.

    Recently, Twins Daily’s Nick Nelson continued his Position Analysis series by tackling the team’s second base spot, naming Alexi Casilla as the likely starter. In short, Nelson pointing out that Casilla has both the talent but at the same time the lack of consistency to hold down the job. Wrote Nelson:

    “Most would agree that Casilla has the tools to be a starting middle infielder in the big leagues. He's got the athleticism, quickness and arm strength to hold his own defensively, and he's shown flashes of competence at the plate. Putting it all together for extended periods of time has been a challenge, but the Twins are giving him another chance this year. In all likelihood, it'll be his last chance.

    After struggling through a putrid first month last year, Casilla hit .281/.344/.407 the rest of the way. The Twins are hoping he can approach that sort of production this time around, and with a modest a price tag of $1.4 million, he's worth the gamble. He can't be relied upon to stay in the lineup all year though, given that he's never even made it to the 100-game mark before, so depth at this position will be key.”
    On both accounts, Nelson is spot on.

    Casilla’s track record in the minor leagues is fairly impressive. In a little under 2,000 plate appearances, the switch-hitting middle infielder posted a very good .296/.370/.371 batting line. While in the farm system, he demonstrated a strong strike zone recognition (walking in nine percent of his plate appearances) and an equally outstanding contact rate (striking out just 11 percent of his plate appearances). He lacked the power to be fawned over by prospect farmers but he contributed with his speed when possible, swiping 164 bags at a 75% success clip.

    On the other hand, when at the major league level, Casilla has shown just flashes of that talent – if only in small and disappointing doses. Early on, his position was secured in Ron Gardenhire’s doghouse as Casilla failed to show the stability in the field that has become so instilled as “the Twins way.” Handed the second base job in 2009, he went out and promptly hit .202/.280/.259 and pushed the team into starting Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto over him.

    Still, for all his faults, the Twins have hung on to him only to witness small bursts of his promising talent. For instance, in 2010, limited to just 69 games, he hit .276/.331/.395 and avoided the chopping block for one more season. When he was off to a horrendous start in 2011, hitting .167/.227/.200 through the first twenty games, it was widely believed that he had probably earned his way out of the organization and needed a change of scenery. Instead, Casilla made some mechanical adjustments and rebounded to the tune of .281/.344/.408 over his next 74 games before a hamstring injury knocked him out for the year.

    Considering the rollercoaster that has Casilla’s career, it’s hard to peg him down for 2012. While the rest of the Twins Daily community isn’t sold on his skill I (for some reason) remain optimistic that we are going to see a much improved Casilla this coming year.

    While never being one to rely on off-season league and spring training stats for any indication of future performance, Casilla has been impressive in both nevertheless. In his Dominican League stint, he produced a .336 batting average – which was the second-highest in the league – in addition to a .419 on-base percentage. Yes, the counterargument to this is that the island league is littered with wash-out major leaguers and clinging-to-life minor leaguers but it is reassuring that Casilla has managed to carry the adjustments he made in 2011 into the off-season. Likewise, Casilla’s current .438 spring average in the Grapefruit League in 17 plate appearances is a continuation of his winter league performance. And, yes, much like the winter league stats, the numbers posted in Florida mean little – but it is leaps and bounds better than his two prior spring performances in which in hit .200 (10-for-50) in 2011 and .135 (7-for-53) in 2010.

    Admittedly, in terms of optimism, that’s not a strong foundation to build a projection on. I’d rather be able to compare a high line drive rate and a suppressed batting average on balls in play from the previous season, similar to Danny Valencia’s 2011, in an effort to push positivity – something more concrete and substantial than basing it on that he has done well when it has not mattered. However, if we are looking for a sign or indication that Casilla is ready to marry his potential to his actual performance, this is a step in the right direction.
    This article was originally published in blog: What can Alexi Casilla provide in 2012? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. dave_dw's Avatar
      dave_dw -
      Great article! It takes some work to make people excited for Alexi Casilla, and now I'm excited to see how he does.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      As long as he stays healthy, I think that Casilla will have a break-through season. He is really playing with a chip on his shoulder. I suspect that he was not that happy about the length of the negotiations prior to arbitration, so that might be an extra incentive to him...
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      Great take, I thought this was a much more balanced view of Casilla in light of what other teams are doing at that position...

      People say "the Twins never have power guys", but of course, it isn't true...they've developed or acquired a fair amount of them, but they're all outfielders and 1st basemen. They haven't even tried to use 2B or SS as a legitimate source of run production for several decades. Well, J.J. Hardy would be a lone exception to that rule - they HAD it right with him, but bailed absurdly quick on that experiment and headed back to slap hitters.

      I like Casilla just fine. He isn't among the biggest problems on this club. But sometimes you can have a "passable" options at several positions, and then you put it altogether and realize: "Crap! We don't have enough offense on this team". In other words, my fear is that the "whole" of the Twins is less than the sum of Casilla, Carroll, Span, and Revere added together. None of those guys are "terrible" at what they do, but that doesn't make the Twins a good "team".
    1. twinsfiend's Avatar
      twinsfiend -
      I like the optimism! I have always like but been frustrated with Alexi.

      Other than his obvious inconsistent work with the bat, his base running is another frustration I have. I see him run out a double or triple and he is fast (maybe not Revere fast, but still easily above average) but it has never translated into stolen base numbers that I have always hoped we could get from Alexi.

      Having said that, even without stolen bases, if he achieves an OBP of .350 and plays solid defense at 2B I'll be happy with that, and I'm sure Gardy will too.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      but it has never translated into stolen base numbers that I have always hoped we could get from Alexi.
      I think that is more of a product of not being on the field rather than not stealing bases. In the past three years he has swiped 32 bases in 37 attempts. That's a pretty good rate. Now, if he is able to maintain over the course of a season and post a .350 on-base percentage, I can see him adding more stolen bases in 2012.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      Parker, when I read your headline I asked should you have used 'will' rather than 'can?' That has always been the problem with Alexi. Will this finally be the year when will and can will merge into he does? I hope so and to be honest, have a gut feeling that he will...provided he is healthy enough to play over 120 games.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I think the right answer is, we have no idea. But if I had to bet, he'll get injured again at some point. He'll mostly be below average, despite what appears to be above average talent. That said, I think he has a real shot to be effective, I just don't trust him to be so. Not like Span, for example, who I trust totally.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      "if he achieves an OBP of .350 and plays solid defense at 2B "

      One of those things is actually somewhat possible.
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