Twins' challenge: Find right mix for the middle

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 17, 2012 - 1:27 AM

There are many options at short and second, but no one is locked in as a starter.

Most of the attention this season has been focused on the state of the Twins' starting rotation, and understandably so.

But, on a day when shortstop Pedro Florimon committed an error that led to three unearned runs in a 9-2 loss to the White Sox, the Twins' issues up the middle might be item No. 2 on their offseason agenda.

The Twins really don't know what their middle infield combination for 2013 will be. They have plenty of bodies but they are unsure how they will be arranged.

But they revealed some of their thinking Sunday when assistant general manager Rob Antony acknowledged that the club wants Brian Dozier to play plenty of second base when he heads to Venezuela for winter ball.

"I believe we would like him to play a lot of second base this winter if we can," Antony said. "But, in winter ball, [the teams] are going to dictate that. If they need him at short he's going to play short. We would like him to play some second, even some third. Any time you have utility value and the ability to play around, especially with our manager, it gives him a lot more flexibility."

Dozier is familiar with the position, having played 47 games there while moving through the farm system. Florimon has made several excellent plays during his 29-game audition, so it's not surprising that they want to make second base as an option for Dozier. Dozier hit .234 with six home runs and 33 RBI in 84 games before being sent down to Class AAA Rochester, but they believe he can be a threat at the plate.

"It's a matter of where he's going to fit better," Antony said. "Florimon has kind of made the plays and shown the range and done some of the things you really like from a shortstop that Dozier didn't necessarily do. So it might be a situation where we still think Dozier can still be a good player, but he might end up playing second base instead of shortstop."

Florimon, who was claimed off waivers from Baltimore last December, has shown flashes of being an excellent glove man but has been careless at times, like when he mishandled a routine grounder in the sixth inning Sunday that became part of Chicago's six-run explosion that put the game away.

In the previous inning, Florimon struck out with a runner on second and nobody out. He was frustrated coming off the field, and the coaching staff believes Florimon was thinking about his at-bat instead of focused on defense when he made the error. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled Florimon aside and reminded him to separate offense from defense.

Florimon has committed six errors since being called up. Offensively, might become a good hitter one day, but he's batting .237 now. But he's done enough with the glove to catch Gardenhire's eye.

"I'm not going to name [a 2013] starting lineup now, but I really like him out there," Gardenhire said. "I think there's things that he can get better at. Some of the relay things. I like the way he moves. I like the way he watches and pays attention."

Eduardo Escobar, one of two players the Twins received from the White Sox in exchange for Francisco Liriano on July 28, also has started a game at short. Jamey Carroll was the Opening Day shortstop but moved to second when the Twins called up Dozier on May 7.

And what about Alexi Casilla? He lost his starting second base job, is making $1.38 million and is arbitration-eligible during the offseason. Looks like the Twins have cheaper options.

And they will sort through these options during the offseason and spring training.

"I like our infield situation, our middle guys," Gardenhire said. "I think we can make those work. We've got some pretty talented middle infielders. I think we can figure out a few combinations here."

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

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