Thursday, March 10, 2005

Position Analysis: Shortstop

Shortstop is the most unstable position on the Twins coming into this spring. With the loss of underachiever Cristian Guzman, there is no clear replacement. Nothing is sure at this point, so I will just go through the four candidates, in order of who is most likely to grab the starting spot.

1. Juan Castro
I have trouble putting Castro at the top of this list now. The Twins picked him up in the off-season from Cincinatti. He is a career backup who can't hit much but has historically played good defense, and that seems to be what Ron Gardenhire is looking for at the shortstop position this season. However, his defense this spring has been shaky at best. For his sake, I hope it is just some winter rust that needs to be shaken off, but if he doesn't start to reduce his errors, he is going to slide down this list.

2. Jason Bartlett
Bartlett is the young stud. After batting .331 with a whopping seven triples in 269 at-bats in AAA Rochester last season, he reminds some of a certain bearded shortstop who had a penchant for the triple a few years ago. While his minor league success would indicate that Bartlett is a mortal lock for the starting spot, the Twins just don't seem to feel that he quite ready yet for a full-time Major League gig. His defense isn't quite where they want it to be yet. Nonetheless, unless Castro can clean up his act, Bartlett (who is hitting .385 this spring) might find himself the victor in this competition regardless of whether the Twins feel he is ready.

3. Nick Punto
Before players reported to camp, you would've found Punto at the top of this list. The scrubby switch-hitter who came over in the Eric Milton trade with Philadelphia hussles and plays good defense, and swings a decent stick, but his injury problems have gotten to the point where the team is just fed up with him. This year he has reported problems with his lower back, and he is being limited greatly in practice and exhibition play. Since the news isn't really that this is getting better, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that Punto will be ready to go on Opening Day, much less be the starting shortstop.

4. Augie Ojeda
Ojeda is a nice defensive player who doesn't hit much, making him a younger and less experienced version of Castro. Last year, in limited Major League play with the Twins, Ojeda batted .339 and in 59 at-bats and showed some patience in drawing ten walks, so it's hard to completely discount him; but in the most Major League action he's seen, back in 2001 with the Cubs when he put in 144 at-bats, he hit just .201. In 2002 and 2003, he hit below .200 in his Major League stints. He's a nice player, but I just don't see Augie getting a regular gig this year.

Now, another possibility that has been hinted at is that the Twins will simply have a platoon set up at shortstop where they rotate different players through the spot regularly. This is a last option, because Gardenhire would certainly rather send one guy out there on a regular basis, but if no one stands out enough to win the job this spring, it is a very realistic possibility. In the event of a platoon, Bartlett would not be included so that he could get regular at-bats down at the AAA level. Even if he gets healthy, Punto might be more valuable to the Twins as a backup, since he can play most positions on the field and provides a speedy pinch-runner or switch-hitter off the bench.

Look for Castro to be standing on the left side of second base on Opening Day, but don't be surprised to see somebody else.

3 comments:

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