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Twins Insider: Bartlett looking a lot like long-term answer at short

  • Article by: La Velle E. Neal III
  • Star Tribune
  • September 2, 2007 - 1:17 AM

We interrupt the deterioration of the Twins' season for an update on Jason Bartlett, whose recent surge has provided more evidence that he could be a mainstay at shortstop.

Bartlett batted .349 in August and hit .464 with a homer and three doubles during the recently completed road trip. He has sprayed the ball around the field and has thrived in his new role as the No. 2 hitter, boosting his average to .278 with five home runs and 40 RBI following Saturday's 6-4 victory over Kansas City.

He has a team-high 21 stolen bases and is fourth on the club in total bases.

As the Twins figure out who will handle leadoff duties next season, Bartlett is showing he can help set up things for the middle of the order. He's walked only 40 times this season (.348 on-base percentage), but he's fourth on the team in pitches per plate appearance, at 3.76. That shows he's somewhat able to keep at-bats alive and work pitchers.

Bartlett seems to be better off batting either leadoff or second. He hit leadoff throughout the minors and says he is comfortable there. And the numbers in the second spot suggest so: He entered Friday hitting .318 as a No. 2 hitter as opposed to .231 when he was batting ninth.

It looks more and more obvious that Alexi Casilla (.230) isn't ready to handle leadoff duties, so the Twins should consider Bartlett as a table-setting option for next season. Buying or trading for a leadoff hitter during the offseason seems pointless when all resources should go into keeping the good players they have and upgrading at third base and DH.

Now about Bartlett's errors. He has 23, tying him for the major league lead.

Bartlett, 27, fielded well last week during the Twins' four-game sweep of Baltimore, showing range and agility. But Saturday against the Royals he committed two errors — one a throwing error, the other one he probably didn't deserve on a ball that should have been caught by Jason Kubel.

Bartlett has had his share of wild throws and bobbles in the field, which is a little concerning a year after making 13 errors in 99 games. Injuries likely have affected him more than he's let on.

He had a sore neck in spring training that eventually moved down to his shoulder and lingered throughout the first half of the season, leading to a cortisone shot over the All-Star break. Bartlett admitted that the injury forced him to change his throwing motion, which could explain some errors.

He also had sore legs early in the season and looked clumsy while going after some grounders.

Now he's healthy, he's hitting and he's feeling as good about his game as he has all season. His fielding shouldn't be an issue.

"It's all about experience, too," Bartlett said. "I got some experience last year. Towards the end, I felt like I belonged here. That's the way I came into spring training this year, trying to make a name for myself and try to be here for a long time."

That's good news for the Twins, who have few other options at shortstop. They seem to prefer Casilla at second. Former first-round pick Trevor Plouffe, 21, is batting .274 with 32 errors — many of them throws — at Class AA New Britain. Plouffe, however, is just 21 years old, and error totals usually are higher in the minors. People in the organization feel Plouffe, who is hitting 30 points above his career average before the season, is New Britain's best player.

He has hit nine homers, and his 37 doubles are second most in the Eastern League, suggesting he can drive the ball.

Good. Move him to third.

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

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