Intrigue at the end of the bench

Posted on March 20th, 2007 – 10:30 PM
By Howard

Let’s say the Twins carry 11 pitchers, which seems to be the prevailing wisdom. Let’s not talk about who they are in this space. (Been there, done that, will probably do it again.) Instead, let’s look at the position players and play along with Gardy and Terry Ryan about who’ll end up where.

Morneau, Castillo, Bartlett, Punto, White, Hunter, Cuddyer, Mauer, Redmond, Cirillo, Kubel, Tyner and a middle-infield reserve appear to be certainties.

That’s 24.

No. 25?

With each passing at-bat, it looks more and more like there won’t be a third catcher. Matthew LeCroy had another dismal game Tuesday, striking out in both of his at-bats in the later innings of the Boston loss. The Twins have given him lots of at-bats and he’s shown very little, and there hasn’t been anything that looks like an improvement curve.

Josh Rabe is the prototypical extra outfielder and the Twins have him figured out well enough that he hasn’t been in the regular mix for exhibition playing time. I suspect the Twins feel comfortable knowing that can call him up if Rondell goes DL again, or any of the other outfielders get hurt.

Luis Rodriguez is 3d on the team in spring training at-bats, meaning that he’s getting a goooooood longggggggggg looooooook. His bat has picked up lately and the interesting stat that’s hiding hiding among his numbers is that he’s struck out only once in 44 plate appearances. He can be a nasty pinch-hitter, even if he’s not a power threat. I’m not counting L-Roddy as a middle-infield reserve because he’s just about as useful at shortstop as a statue would be. Put him in that role, as basically Gardy would be asking him to back-up at third base with Punto spelling Bartlett at shortstop.

Garrett Jones is the wild card. Look at most of the numbers and there’s no reason to keep him. In the minors, he’s been a slugger who doesn’t hit for average or walk much, a classic Triple-A guy with a shot at playing in Japan. On the surface, he seems to be overmatched at the major-league level (a. 171 average this spring). But then someone needs to explain why he’s 2d on the team in at-bats this spring. The fact that he’s moved from first base to the outfield is a pragmatic response to the fact that the Twins already have a left-handed hitting first baseman who’s pretty good. But the at-bats thing? That would mean the braintrust is hoping to see a glimmer of improvement, enough that Jones could wield a nasty bat off the bench. Maybe not now, maybe down the road a couple of months.

A guess? L-Roddy gets the seat at the end of the bench. But if he fills the middle-infield spot, the Twins are going to watch Jones right down to the end of the exhbition schedule … and Rabe is going to win that final spot. Don’t be surprised if the Twins give Jones a shot sometime during 2007. They’ve spent too much energy on him this spring not to be taking him seriously — for reasons more obvious to them right now than to us.



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