FORT MYERS, FLA. – Chris Herrmann is only six positions behind Will Ferrell. But there’s still plenty of time to catch him.
The converted catcher, sometime outfielder, newfound first baseman is trying to carve out a spot on the Twins’ roster by imitating the comedian’s schtick from last week — being a viable option at any spot on the diamond. Then again, he could add goaltender, point guard and linebacker to his résumé, too, and it wouldn’t make any difference if he doesn’t show he can hit major league pitching.
“That’s the big thing. I know I have to open some people’s eyes at the plate this spring, and I think I am,” said the 27-year-old Texan. “I’ve been working hard with [hitting coach Tom] Brunansky on that. I feel like I’m swinging the bat better than I have in previous years.”
That’s not exactly an impossible standard. Herrmann’s versatility has earned him seven call-ups to Minnesota over the past three seasons, but he’s never provided much more than stop-gap defense. His batted .310 in 2011 at Fort Myers, .276 in 2012 at New Britain and .304 last year in Rochester — but his career average in the majors is a measly .196, with four homers in 250 at-bats.
‘Better hitter than he’s shown’
Yet Herrmann has found a new champion in Paul Molitor, who takes over as Twins manager this year after nearly a decade as a minor league instructor.
“Personally, I think he’s a better hitter than he’s shown up here. I’ve seen it in the past,” Molitor said. “He just hasn’t had a nice run at this level. But we’re giving him an opportunity. We’ll keep trying to play him all around and see what kind of impact he makes.”
The biggest impact Herrmann can make is on the roster, which is why former manager Ron Gardenhire gave him so many chances and why Molitor is so intrigued. The math is simple: Molitor can keep no more than four bench players, and he has a handful of good-bat-iffy-glove players who would give the bench players some punch.
There would be less risk to making Josmil Pinto the backup catcher, for instance, if a third catcher was around, too. Or Herrmann could be a defensive replacement for a guy such as Oswaldo Arcia, if the situation dictates. And Kennys Vargas, the designated hitter who might also back up Joe Mauer at first base despite his limited range?
Well, you can see what Molitor is contemplating.
Latest project: first base
The new manager “came to me this year and said he’d like to mix me in at first base. Which is good. I played some first base in high school, so it’s not too foreign,” Herrmann said. “I like to be known as a versatile player, being able to do whatever they tell me to do. If it’s catching, playing first, really anywhere, I just want to help the team win.”
It means plenty of extra defensive work this spring, including near-daily sessions with former Twins manager Tom Kelly or retired first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. That’s in addition to catching in the bullpen, shagging fly balls and extra work in the batting cage with Brunansky.
“I love the work. I’ll take all I can get,” he said. And maybe keeping busy is helping: Herrmann has six hits in 15 at-bats (.400), including a long home run off Rays righthander Steve Geltz. Herrmann, who hit .412 last spring, too, is wary of reading anything into that — or even remembering it. “The home run felt amazing, but I was talking to Rod [Carew], and he reminded me — don’t let home runs get into your head. Stick to your game and know what you do best,” he said. “Gap to gap, that’s the type of hitter I am, trying to hit doubles. Just keep that mindset.”