Friday, July 31, 2009

The Middle Infield Puzzle (w Saturday Update)

The Twins got Orlando Cabrera, but it isn't clear that their middle infield puzzle is solved. We won't know exactly what roster move this leads to until after tonight's game, but it would seem that it means Alexi Casilla will be sent to Rochester.

Could it be a bullpen arm? After all, there are seven guys in that bullpen. I doubt it. With Liriano's health up in the air a little, I can't see them getting rid of Brian Duensing or RA Dickey yet. Bobby Keppel has been good enough that he can't be sent down yet. Jesse Crain just had his best outing.

So how does the infield look then? Well, hard to say after these notes by Ron Gardenhire before the game.
Q: Will [Brendan] Harris get more time at second? Gardy: No. Harry's going to be moving around the infield. He'll probably play right out there at third base when Crede's down, and some at shortstop if I need to give [Cabrera] a break, and we'll move him around.
Q: Will
Nicky [Punto] become your primary second baseman?
Gardy: No. We'll move them all around. I'm going to move them all around as best I can.

I'm assuming Gardy is playing it close to the vest out of respect to Casilla, who is starting tonight. I suppose the other option is to send Brian Buscher down. That would give Casilla a last chance to establish himself at 2B, while Mark Grudzielanek starts doing the same in New Britain. But, that seems unlikely given that he's the only left-handed bat on the bench.

Speaking of Grudzielanek, I asked Bill Smith if this move affects his future role on the team.

Q: You also have Grudzielanek starting at Double-A tonight. Does this change his role or anything? Are they likely to form the core of the middle infield in the future?
Smith: They are completely unrelated. They are completely unrelated. Mark Grudzielanek is again a veteran right-handed bat, who has been a good hitter for a lot of years and hadn't been signed through the winter. We signed him. He's worked out in our rookie club for a week. He's going to start playing with Double-A and we'll see what happens with him over the next month.

It's worth noting that right now, there isn't room for him on this roster. If he comes up, Gardy really will be able to move Harris and Punto all around.


Saturday Morning Update: It's all but official. If Cuddyer's back doesn't open up a space, Brian Buscher will be the odd man out. It seems Gardy was being pretty straight-forward about Nick Punto and Brendan Harris in that both of them are now utility infielders and they'll give Alexi Casilla more chances to show what he can do.

The Twins are often criticized about not being patient enough with prospects, but Casilla is a pretty good counter-example. And for good reason - he really has nothing left to prove at AAA. If your someone who believes that minor league performance means something, this is a pretty good example of where the Twins agree with you.

As for Mark Grudzielanek, I spoke with a member of Twins management yesterday that said that he looked "pretty rusty". I guessed as much when they kept him in rookie ball for a week-and-a-half instead of just a week, and when rumors flew that the Twins were still chasing Freddy Sanchez this week. The guess from this source was that Grudzielanek would need closer to a month than a couple of weeks before he was ready to be recalled. I also heard he only has a 25-day contract, so if he's going to come up, it won't be later than the home series against Baltimore that starts on the 24th.

However, the Twins start also start a series at Kansas City on the 21st. You gotta think that Grudzielanek would be pushing himself pretty hard to play against his old team.

This sets up an interesting side story for the next few weeks. Casilla has his last chance to prove he can play second base regularly for this organization, while simultaneously in New Britain, Grudzielanek has his last chance to prove he can play second base regulary in the majors. If you start seeing large doses of Harris or Punto at second base, and Grudz is putting up decent numbers in AA, expect to see a change in late August.

It also introduces an equally dramatic but uglier story. I blogged earlier about how the Twins likely wouldn't send down Buscher because he's the only left-handed bat on the bench. This move does that. Are the Twins really willing to give that up just to give Casilla yet more rope to hang himself? Maybe, but Kelsie Smith also suggests that the Twins might want to show Justin Morneau that spoken words sometimes have consequences.


TT said...

The Pioneer Press is suggesting it might be Buscher. In some ways that makes sense. He isn't playing much and the Twins need to find out if Casilla is ready now to play second base.

TT said...

I don't think there is anything "ugly" about that story. I don't think there is any implication that Buscher is being sent down for any reason other than they want to keep Cassilla in the lineup and see if he can provide a spark.

It should be obvious that when Morneau said he wants the team to add a player, he was also urging them to replace one of his teammates. I think Gardy was just commenting on this outcome and that it might make Morneau more aware of that reality when the player replaced turned out to be one of his close buddies.

Anonymous said...

If your someone who believes that minor league performance means something, this is a pretty good example of where the Twins agree with you.


Exactly what about Alexi Casilla's minor league record would lead ANYone to believe he's doing much worse than he should be?

Casilla's minor league record has replacement level second baseman written all over it.

And it would be just like to the Twins to intentionally piss off their perennial MVP candidate just to show him who's boss.

Incredibly stupid.

TT said...

"Exactly what about Alexi Casilla's minor league record would lead ANYone to believe he's doing much worse than he should be?"

His .340 batting average at AAA this year? His .311 average in 2005 at age 20? His .318 average in 2006? His .298 career minor league average while one of the younger players on his team?

I don' think there is anyone who doesn't believe minor league performance means something. The question is what it means. The reality is sometimes it means a lot, other times nothing at all. At this point Casilla seems to be in the second group. But he is still young, so he may figure out the major leagues yet.