Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Twins Preview: Bench

Jim Thome, DH
Signed to be a bench bat and occasional DH, Thome was forced into regular duty after Justin Morneau went down last year, and responded with his best season since 2002. That was a godsend, providing numerous memorable moments and helping lift the Twins to the division title. With everybody healthy in 2011, he will once again be asked to be a bench bat and occasional DH. He'll normally PH for Alexi Casilla, then be immediately pinch run for. I think he'll do a good job in that role, but nothing like the herculean production he provided last year.
Expected line: .245/.370/.480, 15 2B, 20 HR

At this time last year the Twins had some enviable organizational depth at catcher. Jose Morales and Wilson Ramos were both on the 40-man roster. Each had the potential to hit. Because Ramos was green and Morales was injured, the opening day backup C job fell to Butera. I figured he'd play his way out of it by early summer, but the other guys didn't hit at Rochester, and Butera became best pals with Carl Pavano, so the Twins stuck with him all year. He gave them 44 starts, 155 PA, and hit .197/.237/.296. For some reason, the front office found that satisfactory, because they traded away Ramos and Morales, leaving the upper levels utterly bereft of competent catchers. We're stuck with Butera, who will start at least every 4 games.
Expected line: .190/.230/.285, 7 2B, HR

He's not much of a hitter, but with Jason Kubel capable of playing either OF corner, I doubt he'll get many starts apart from the 2 days a month Denard Span needs off. His real job is as a PR/defensive upgrade over Kubel or Delmon Young, and he can do that rather well. I like his glove and arm at all 3 OF spots, he's been a high percentage base stealer in his career, he knows how to take a walk, and he shows some occasional pop. A fairly decent 5th OF, all in all.
Expected line: .225/.315/.365, 10 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 5/7 SB

The Twins let Nick Punto walk this offseason, but couldn't resist bringing back a lesser (though younger and less injury-prone) version of him instead. Tolbert has a good glove and runs the bases well, but his bat is pretty limp, so it'll be a step down anytime he replaces one of the regulars at the plate. Well, maybe not Casilla, but we'll see. He hasn't shown anything in the minors that suggests he's better than what he's given in his limited MLB PA, so I have no hopes that he'll do any more than he has in previous years. Watch out for him on that day in Chicago when the wind's blowing out, though.
Expected line: .240/.300/.340, 5 2B, 2 3B, HR, 4/6 SB

This is a terrible bench. Thome is a great, but he doesn't run or play the field. Repko is useful as a late-inning sub, but he wouldn't be too hard to improve upon. Tolbert is replacement level, and Butera might not even be that. None of these guys is an asset with both the bat and the glove. In the days of 7-man bullpens, that kind of bench specialization isn't feasible. There is no one here who can protect Kubel and Thome from LHP. Every time Span, Danny Valencia or Tsuyoshi Nishioka need a day off, there will be a big drop-off in potency from the lineup, to say nothing of the massive drop that happens whenever Butera is in there for Joe Mauer. This is an area of the roster that needs in-season upgrades in the worst way. I'll try to keep track of how many wins these guys cost us over the season.

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