Likely Starter: Luis Castillo
2005 stats (w/ Marlins): .301/.391/.374, 4 HR, 30 RBI
Potential Backups: Nick Punto, Luis Rodriguez, Michael Cuddyer
Second base was a disaster for the Twins last year. For the fifth straight season, the Twins entered the season with Luis Rivas as their starter, and for the fifth straight season, he was bad. This time he was unbearably bad though, even to his most enthusiastic supports in the organization. Rivas hit .195 in April last year and managed to collect zero extra-base hits, giving him a slugging percentage identical to his pathetic batting average. In fact, it took Rivas over three months to collect anything beyond a single. Nick Punto took over the spot and played pretty well there up until getting hurt in June, but he was awful when he returned as well. The Twins tried several other guys at second, such as Luis Rodriguez and Michael Cuddyer and Bret Boone, but nothing really worked out.
Therefore, Terry Ryan's big mission in the offseason was to upgrade at second. Maybe he read our blog entry last year when we did our 2005 position analysis on second base, in which Mr. Mosvick wrote, "When will [Rivas] ever learn how to relax and slap the ball, like say Luis Castillo?" Answering our prayers, Ryan went out during the offseason and made a huge upgrade, acquiring Castillo from the Marlins for pitching prospects Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler on December 2.
Castillo comes with a strong pedigree. He is a three-time All Star and a three-time Gold Glover. He has led the league in stolen bases twice. He has walked more than he has struck out in each of the past three seasons, including last year when he posted an astonishing 32:65 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is one of the better table-setters in baseball, which the Twins were strongly lacking in front of Joe Mauer last year.
Castillo hits from both sides of the plate, but it's hard to say why. His three-year line as a right-handed hitter is .343/.402/.522, indicating that he is an excellent hitter from this side with good power. As a left-handed hitter over that same span, his line is .287/.374/.317, indicating that he has almost no power and probably just uses his speed to beat out a lot of infield singles. He's not necessarily bad from the left side (AVG and OBP are still very good), but I'd be interested to see what would happen if he converted to hitting right-handed full-time. With that said, as a number two hitter his ability to hit left-handed could be useful as it is easier to move runners along from that side of the plate.
Castillo is 30 years old and his days of stealing 60 bases are clearly behind him. With that said, his ability at the top of the lineup and his outstanding defense will be invaluable, and should help give the Twins one of the best defenses up the middle (Mauer, Castillo, Torii Hunter) in the league. I predict he'll hit about .290/.375/.380 and he will swipe 15 bags or so while adding three or four home runs (all right-handed).
Behind Castillo, Punto is a solid second-baseman, and Rodriguez is a nice player who can fill in if he's on the Major League roster. Cuddyer is a mediocre second-baseman defensively who probably won't see much time there this year. Castro can play second but he is mainly a backup shortstop/third baseman. Castillo has a pretty good history of staying healthy (120+ games every year since 1999) so hopefully we won't have to worry too much about the backups here.