I’m sure Alexi Casilla is a nice enough guy, but he sure is terrible as a major league shortstop. The Twins handed Casilla the reins to the starting shortstop gig coming out of Spring Training and he has not shown a single positive baseball trait to this point into the 2011 season.
Despite getting every chance in the world to succeed, Casilla has continually shown that he does not possess the tools to be a major league shortstop. He makes routine plays look like the most difficult task in the world quite often and his rare web gems do not cover for his increasingly frequent terrible baseball. Casilla’s batting slashes are at a putrid .175/.230/.250, good enough for a .480 OPS. Simply put, he’s one of the worst players in the league.
The depth that the Twins have failed to accrue over the past few seasons in the middle infield has left a gaping hole the size of Kevin Love’s rebounding radius. The Twins traded JJ Hardy, who they assumed would not be worth the contract he demanded, to Baltimore for a couple of relievers (including Jim Hoey) after the 2010 season. I don’t think the Twins ever viewed Hardy as a long term option and his injury plagued 2010 season certainly didn’t help his case to be tendered a multi-year deal, but he sure would look nice playing shortstop for the Twins right now. I don’t blame them for moving Hardy but not having a better alternative than Alexi Casilla is another example of Bill Smith’s poor ability to put together a major league baseball team.
The situation on the farm isn’t any better, where the best prospect is probably the light-hitting international free agent Jorge Polanco, who appears to have excellent defensive tools but his batting appears to be a very long ways away — if he ever gets there.
The Twins finally gave up on Casilla on May 4th, calling up former first round pick and overall disappointment Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe had a great game against Tim Wakefield but some may call that flukey as he has amassed a paltry .317 on base percentage over his minor league career. Plouffe has never hit well enough to justify his draft stock and his defense has been a question mark since the day he was drafted.
I think the Twins will give Plouffe every opportunity to succeed in the majors similar to what Danny Valencia went through to start his career. Valencia was not very productive in the minors but steadily rose through the ranks, partly because of the lack of talent at third base, and partly because of injuries and flameouts by other prospects. Valencia, as we know, was excellent for the Twins in 2010 but has not yet gotten it together in 2011. I don’t think Plouffe is as good as Valencia, but he does have talent and the Twins are heading towards the we-have-nothing-to-lose-at-this-point season outlook. I certainly hope Trevor Plouffe succeeds but his minor league track record does not indicate future success.
As far as Tsuyoshi Nishioka at shortstop, I don’t see it as a realistic possibility for the future. If the Twins thought Nishioka was good enough to play shortstop, they would have put him there out of spring training. The talk that Nishioka is going to play shortstop when he comes back from his broken leg is due to necessity more than anything else. His future is at second base.
The always wonderful and insightful Star Tribune comments section has called for the Twins to keep Miguel Sano at shortstop, but that’s just not going to happen. Not only is he way too large for the position, he isn’t even a good fielder to begin with. Sano’s future is likely at third base (where he will be lucky to be average defensively), or at a corner outfield spot. First base is also a possible destination for Sano if his defense REALLY does not progress.
So what can the Twins do to improve their outlook on arguably the most important defensive position? They don’t have a lot of cash to play with as Mauer’s $23M per megadeal has now kicked in, so the most likely form of improvement will have to come via trade or the draft. It would not surprise me at all to see the Twins move one of Kevin Slowey or Francisco Liriano for something resembling a major league shortstop. Whether they go for a guy that’s already in the majors or an AA or AAA shortstop is dependent on the market.
A few names to consider as far as prospects go would be Chase D’Arnaud from Pittsburgh and Mychal Givens from Baltimore. Givens is being blocked by Manny Machado, the Orioles top 5 pick from 2010. Givens was great in 2010 in his first season but has struggled mightily in 2011 thus far. Most scouting reports place Givens in the familiar ‘good on defense, shaky on offense’ mold but his tools are tough to ignore considering the dearth of talent at the position for the Twins. D’Arnaud is a personal favorite of mine because of his plate approach, sporting a career .354 OBP that has been pulled down from the .390-.400 range because of a slow start to 2011. Givens is definitely the better defensive shortstop but D’Arnaud looks like more of a sure bet to be at least an average major leaguer.
With all the misfires the Twins have had in the past at shortstop, it’s funny (or sad) to think about how much Twins and their fans probably long for the days of Cristian Guzman and his complete and total lack of awareness of the strike zone.