Friday, April 3, 2009

2009 Twins Preview: Bench

At last, the Twins finalized their roster after today's tie with the Pirates. Matt Tolbert was the last guy to make the team in 2008, and he was the last guy cut this year. Though he had a pretty nice spring, it wasn't as nice as these guys:

IF - Brian Buscher
If you look at Buscher's minor league stats, you'll notice a slow progression from bad starts at each level to mediocre finishes once he got comfortable - until 2007, when he came to the Twins in the minor league Rule 5 draft. His power numbers exploded, corresponding with a staggering improvement in his K/BB ratio. It obviously clicked for him which pitches he should be swinging at. Buscher wasn't impressive in his time with Twins in 2007 and he had a rough spring training in 2008, earning him a trip back to Rochester, where he was even more dominant than the previous year. As down as many were on his performance with the Twins last year, it was still a .078 improvement in OPS over his first stint. He's had a monster spring, .382/.462/.545 with 2 HR and a 7/9 K/BB ratio in 55 AB, while playing errorless defense at the corner infield spots. With nothing left to prove at AAA, and with Morneau's balky back, there was no question he'd make the team. I hope he'll get plenty of opportunities to hit this year - I think he's ready to contribute at this level, particularly if he hardly ever faces lefties.
Expected line: .280/.350/.450, 250 AB, 9 HR, 18 2B, 25 BB, 35 K

IF - Brendan Harris
I was down on Harris for the first half of last year, thanks to his inadequate defensive range at 2B and SS and a plethora of called 3rd strikes. But he really grew on me in the 2nd half, shrinking his K/BB rate from about 3/1 to 5/3 and raising his OPS nearly a hundred points in the process. He's played everywhere in the infield this spring, making every play he should and a few he shouldn't, while hitting .317/.423/.417 with a 9/9 K/BB rate in 60 AB. His speed isn't much of an asset off the bench, so I look for him to PH in situations where a slappy single from Punto or Casilla won't quite get the job done, particularly vs. LHP. With Luke Hughes offering a similar skill set at Rochester with perhaps more power upside, I wouldn't be surprised to see Harris dealt at some point during the season.
Expected line: .275/.335/.415, 250 AB, 5 HR, 15 2B, 20 BB, 45 K

LF - Delmon Young
The Twins gave up a lot to get Young last offseason, and he didn't deliver anything close to the expectations many had lain on him. This offseason, Gardy let it slip that Young was not guaranteed a starting job this spring, perhaps as a ploy to keep him motivated. Has it worked? Young came to Fort Myers in great shape, made a concerted effort to pull the ball more often, and has a fine .302/.323/.508 line with 3 HR in 63 AB to show for it. He's looked better in the field, too. My concern is that he hasn't drawn a walk all spring - he'll need to get the OBP into the .350s before he can really be dangerous. Still, he seems to be making strides, and he's only 23. My guess is he'll start no fewer than 2 of 3 games this season.
Expected line: .300/.340/.450, 500 AB, 15 HR, 25 2B, 30 BB, 90 K

C - Jose Morales
When it became clear that Joe Mauer wouldn't be able to start the season with the Twins, they had to decide whether they wanted Mike Redmond's backup to be Drew Butera, a good defender who barely hit .250 at AA, or Morales, a so-so backstop who's hit over .300 in 2 seasons at Rochester. They wisely went with Morales, a switch-hitter who may be able to contribute enough to the offense to make up for his defensive shortcomings. Depending on Mauer's condition when he returns, it may make sense to keep Morales around for awhile as insurance, and he wouldn't be a bad bat to have off the bench late in games. I wish him the best of luck, but I hope the Twins don't need him for long.
Expected line: .280/.310/.370, 100 AB, 1 HR, 6 2B, 4 BB, 15 K

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