The Twins opened the season in Detroit on April 6 with three current 24-year-olds in the lineup: Danny Santana at shortstop and batting first, Kennys Vargas DHing and batting fifth and Oswaldo Arcia playing left and batting seventh.
Santana had played 101 games, the majority in center field, as a standout rookie in 2014. Vargas was called up for the last two months of the season and showed power in 53 games. Arcia played in 190 games over two seasons and also showed power, including 20 home runs in 372 at-bats in 2014.
The Twins entered Sunday’s game at Target Field at 21-16, and with 20 victories in their previous 30 games. Any suggestion the Twins could be above water after six weeks of play with a negative contribution from the younger third of the lineup would’ve seemed preposterous.
Santana has started 34 games (33 at shortstop). He has been no better than adequate in the field, showing range but also committing nine errors. He’s been better lately at the plate, although not what he was as a rookie.
He also has been a standout in comparison to Arcia and Vargas.
Arcia did wake up in late April and had a six-game hitting streak where he stopped flailing way. Then, on May 4, he went on the disabled list with what was diagnosed as a hip flexor strain.
To this point in the big leagues, Arcia has been a bad outfielder whether in right or left, and he has given away too many at-bats with wild swings. Yet, his biggest problem has been not being available.
It has been my contention the Twins set a bad precedent with Arcia at the end of first season in 2013. He bumped into the right-field wall during batting practice at the start of the season’s final week.
He was the DH in one of the last six games. Beyond that, he sat. Rather than send Arcia the message, “If you can play, you play,’’ it was, “If you’re not 100 percent, what difference does it make if you play at the end of a lost season?’’
The following spring, Arcia missed too much time in exhibition play with a minor malady. Then, he went on the disabled list April 9 with a wrist strain and didn’t come back until May 14.
This spring, he went through the same stomach ailment that afflicted numerous Twins, and missed more time than the others. Now, he’s on the DL with the hip flexor and it’s unlikely he will be back before June.
General Manager Terry Ryan was asked his view on Arcia missing extra-long periods of time with injuries and ailments. The question wasn’t asked that diplomatically, but that was the gist.
Ryan gave the traditional answer – that only a player knows for certain how his body feels – and that he trusts what the doctors tell him. He also said:
“Arcia’s still a young player and you’re hoping you can keep him on the field. It doesn’t help when he’s on the disabled list.’’
For sure, if Arcia is going to become a more professional hitter and competent outfielder, he’s going to have to be ready on a daily basis and not sporadically.
A couple of years ago, Arcia looked like a young hitter who was a sure-fire, middle-of-order power threat. Now, if the Twins were candid, they would say they don’t know what they have in Oswaldo … if he’s going to get what it takes to be a big leaguer and take advantage of the thunder in his wrists and forearms.
Vargas is huge and powerful and actually has fairly quick hands when he gets his pitch, but recognizing that pitch … that’s the problem. He breaks his back on far too many breaking balls. He has 30 strikeouts in 104 at-bats and manager Paul Molitor has been spotting Vargas in the lineup lately.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a move involving Vargas on the Twins’ road trip that starts in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
The Twins started 1-6 and have followed with five weeks of competitiveness. The fact they have done that with so-so play from Santana and with zilch from Arcia and Vargas changes that competitiveness from a surprise to a puzzle.
UPDATE: This blog was filed during the middle of Sunday's 11-3 loss to Tampa Bay. Vargas was optioned to Class AAA Rochester after the game.