The Twins have long credited themselves with being able to throw strikes and then catch the ball. It’s well known that it is very important to be strong up the middle. In 2012, the Twins middle infield was a mess which didn’t help a pitching staff that was already behind the eight ball.

The Twins addressed their middle infield deficiencies by, well, non-tendering Alexi Casilla. It appears that the Twins are counting on major improvements from the other guys that were there a year ago. Pedro Florimon will begin the season at shortstop. Brian Dozier played 83 games at shortstop last year, but he will move over to second base to start the season. Jamey Carroll is capable of starting at all three infield positions, but he will likely be the backup at all three. Eduardo Escobar will also be a utility infielder, as well as the emergency catcher.

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Worst Case Scenario

It’s hard to imagine that both middle infield positions will be any worse than they were last year. Consider the following:

  • In 2012, the Twins shortstops were 29th in baseball with a .580 OPS (.226/.277/.303).
  • In 2012, the Twins shortstops were 21st in baseball with a .969 fielding percentage (with 25 errors)
  • In 2012, the Twins second basemen were 28th in baseball with a .604 OPS (.245/.296/.308).
  • In 2012, the Twins second basemen were 24th in baseball with a .979 fielding percentage.

It is entirely possible that Pedro Florimon can’t replicate the .579 OPS that he had in 43 games with the Twins in 2012. Last year between New Britain and Rochester, he posted a .670 OPS, but he struckout 117 times while walking just 34. With the Twins, he struckout another 30 times with ten walks. It’s possible that he struggles enough to be let go in June or July. Eduardo Escobar could take over at shortstop. 

After being the Twins minor league hitter of the year in 2011, Brian Dozier really struggled in his debut with the Twins in 2012. He posted just a .603 OPS. He posted an uncharacteristic 16 to 58 walk to strikeout rate. He even struggled in the field. Although he’s been impressive at second base with the glove so far this spring and he has some playing time at the position in the past, it is a relatively new position for him. 

Jamey Carroll will likely get a lot of playing time regardless of how well Florimon and Dozier do. If he gets 401 plate appearances during the season, his 2014 option will vest, although it will be at just $2 million. Carroll got off to a slow start last year with his batting average. He turned 39 years old last month. At Twins Fest, he acknowledged that his goal is to play in the big leagues as a 40 year old. How much is left in the tank?
If there are injuries, the likes of Ray Olmedo, Doug Bernier and Jason Christian are the middle infielders in Rochester. James Beresford will be in New Britain with Danny Santana. 

Best Case Scenario

Much of the Best Case Scenario for the Twins middle infield will come from its defense. Pedro Florimon is known for his glove. He has great range and a very strong arm. If his performance can match the hype and he can play Gold Glove caliber defense a shortstop, there is a lot of value in that even if he posts an OPS below .650. It’s vital for a pitching staff that, aside from Glen Perkins, appears allergic to strikeouts. 

Likewise, all reports from Ft. Myers indicate that Dozier has taken to second base very well and very quickly. He has been making highlight reel plays on a regular basis. In 2011, he played 49 games in Ft. Myers, and as he turned 24, he was promoted to New Britain. Combined, he hit .320/.399/.491 (.890) with 33 doubles, 12 triples, nine homers, 92 runs scored, 56 RBI and 24 stolen bases in his second full minor league season. I don’t think that an .890 OPS is very realistic for 2013 for Dozier, but he certainly can be much better than the .603 OPS that he posted in his big league debut. 

Jamey Carroll is so steady, offensively and defensively. He makes all the plays he gets to, and he takes quality at bats. His .660 OPS in 2012 was the lowest he’s had since 2007 in Colorado. He was over .700 the last two years in Los Angeles. 

Eduardo Escobar was the late-inning defensive replacement for the White Sox throughout the 2012 season until he was dealt to the Twins. He will likely play a bigger role with the Twins in 2013. 

Signs to look for

The biggest thing to look for, the most important thing, will be improved defense. Can Pedro Florimon make the routine plays consistently? Will Brian Dozier be able to smoothly make the move to second base?
Florimon is not going to hit, but can he reduce the strikeouts a little bit? Also, how much offense will Twins fans want to see from Florimon to accept gold-glove caliber defense? How little offense will the manager require to keep him in the lineup if he is hitting ninth?

As Parker wrote last month, will Brian Dozier be able to stay fundamentally sound with his approach at the plate. In the minors, he had very good plate discipline and walked nearly as often as he struckout. That will be an important number for Dozier. He will likely be batting second for the team, so it will be important for him to get on base and control the plate. 

And, it will be interesting to follow Jamey Carroll’s Countdown to 401 plate appearances. 

A strong defensive middle infield is very important to a team, and specifically to a pitching staff. Defense should be a strong factor in determining who plays up the middle. But again, it is the same question that we often ask with Drew Butera. How much offense is required if a player is providing great value with the glove? Brian Dozier has a chance to be a solid hitter, and Jamey Carroll has proven to be just that over the last decade. Florimon and Escobar come with plenty of questions, and until (or if) Eddie Rosario is ready with his glove, there are lot any high-upside middle infield hitters.

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