Position Battle: Designated Hitter
by, 02-23-2014 at 09:57 PM (265 Views)
In Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia and Jason Kubel, the Twins have three players who are projected to be on the 25-man roster and are all probably best suited for designated hitter duty.
Each is likely to see some time in that role, but determining which player should be the true "designated DH" is essentially a matter of judging who provides the least defensive value.
Of course, the go-to designated hitter also has to hit enough to justify playing a position that puts sole emphasis on offense. That was a problem last year, when Ryan Doumit batted .220/.273/.351 as a DH while leading the club in at-bats there.
It's no wonder the Twins shook things up during the offseason and shipped Doumit out.
Kubel, whose signing paved the way for Doumit's exit, will largely serve the same function in the lineup -- a potent bat against righties that can be slotted in the middle of the order if he's going good. But Kubel doesn't strike me as the most logical choice to take over as DH.
That would be Willingham. He turned 35 a month ago, his last season was ruined by knee problems, and he wasn't particularly good in left field before all that.
Admittedly, I haven't seen Kubel play a whole lot since he left Minnesota in 2011, but he's three years younger than Willingham and -- despite lacking great mobility -- he struck me as a surprisingly decent outfielder when he was here.
Arcia was already bulky and cumbersome as a 22-year-old rookie and that's only likely to worsen as he gets older and grows, but hopefully he'll smooth out some of his rough edges with experience.
Neither Kubel nor Arcia is ideal as a regular outfielder, but I think both make more sense than Willingham, who is likely the worst defensive option of the three even before taking into account the protection of his aging knees.
On the offensive side, all three are going to strike out a lot. Last year both Kubel and Arcia fanned in more than 30 percent of their plate appearances, placing them among the most K-prone hitters in the majors. Willingham, at 27 percent, was not far behind.
A high volume of whiffs isn't too unusual for power hitters, but when you strike out in nearly a third of your trips to the plate, production tends to be stifled.
Then again, while each has his dangers, I see solid offensive upside in all three players being discussed. Willingham has a long track record of success, Arcia possesses the strength to become dominant if his approach improves, and Kubel will be more motivated than ever knowing his career (along with several million bucks) is on the line.
There's going to be a lot of mixing and matching involved with the designated hitter position this year. Ron Gardenhire will be put to the test strategically by juggling numerous considerations, such as keeping Willingham's legs rested, giving Arcia the occasional mental break, preventing Kubel from matching up against any southpaws, and above all fielding a competent defense.
In that respect, it's easy to see why the Twins chose to maintain flexibility at DH rather than signing a bopper to plug in there. That doesn't mean they're not expecting plenty of bop from the position.