Finding a non-temporary answer at the shortstop position has been a long-standing issue for the Minnesota Twins, dating back about a decade.
In late April, we looked ahead to the upcoming crop of free agent shortstops, suggesting that this might be the best (only) method for finding a palatable starter at the position in the remotely near future. However, since then, two players have emerged in a big way, to the point where we may now actually have a legitimate competition that doesn't amount to "which option is least terrible?"
Eduardo Escobar has been drawing the lion's share of time at short, and he has performed fairly well. His .273/.319/.393 hitting line is above-average for the position, and his 32 doubles tie him for the team lead. I have always been a believer that Escobar's upside healthily outweighed his past production, and wrote back in March about his momentum toward overtaking the inadequate SS incumbent Pedro Florimon.
Of course, the fact that Escobar has proven to be a superior option to Florimon isn't saying much, and while the 25-year-old has been solid both offensively and defensively this season, I think it's a stretch to argue that he should be counted on as the starter going forward. Escobar is a nice piece to have around, but I think he's best suited as a utility man and backup option at short.
It's Danny Santana that has made the strongest case to claim shortstop duties in 2015 and beyond, even if he hasn't been playing there a whole lot. Santana's initial success upon being called up in May was surprising, in light of his .692 OPS in Triple-A prior to that promotion and his .708 career OPS in the minors, but what's more surprising is that he never really cooled off. His OPS has been at or above .773 in every month, and so far in August he's hitting .319/.364/.458.
Santana's production with the Twins this year has been strong enough to be an asset at any position, and jibes with the idea that his relatively unimpressive numbers in the minors were shaded by rawness and youth. Still, even if his abilities to spray line drives and run like crazy should keep his offensive game afloat, I'm not ready to tab him as an .800-plus OPS guy. His bat is much more likely to play at shortstop in the big picture, and I'm confident he'll ultimately bring more to the table there than Escobar.
Of course, Santana is considered to be somewhat rough at shortstop, so it would help if he could play there and refine his defensive game. The Twins might view it the same way, as they gave him consecutive starts at short over the weekend -- his first infield exposure since June. Hopefully in September (or sooner), Aaron Hicks or someone else will take over center field and Santana can spend the final weeks solidifying his case to lock up the shortstop position, while Escobar moves around the diamond.
Assuming both players stay on track and Santana can flash some fielding chops in a more extended audition, the Twins will finish the season with a multiple legitimate internal options that have proven they have what it takes to play shortstop in the majors on a regular basis.
That's something we haven't been able to say for a long time, and it means that the club can finally go into this offseason without a clear need at that position.
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