Thursday, March 12, 2009

Position Analysis: Second Base

Likely Starter: Alexi Casilla
2008 Stats: .281/.333/.374, 7 HR, 50 RBI

Casilla has much to prove this season.

Potential Backups: Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert

Alexi Casilla will enter the 2009 season as the Twins' third Opening Day second baseman in as many years. He'll hope to have a little more staying power than did Luis Castillo, who was traded midway through the 2007 season, and Brendan Harris, who lost his starting job at second last year after Ron Gardenhire grew tired of his defensive inadequacy at the position.

In order to hold down the starting job longer than his predecessors, Casilla will have to fend off regression, and that won't be an easy task. He seemed to be playing over his head last season, batting .313/.351/.424 with four homers and 39 RBI in 62 games from his mid-May call-up to the end of July when he went down with an injury. This after hitting just .219/.350/.250 in Rochester prior to his call-up, and .251/.313/.312 between Triple-A and the majors in 2007.

Casilla is a talented player who put himself ont he map with a great minor-league campaign in '06, and the fact that he was able to hit for a high average is not terribly surprising (he holds a .294 career average in the minors) but the power outburst was beyond unexpected. In total, Casilla ripped seven home runs in 385 at-bats with the Twins last year, matching his total in 1,486 career minor-league at-bats. A complete lack of power has always been one of Casilla's major drawbacks, since he doesn't possess elite patience at the plate and thus seemed destined for years of empty batting averages. Adding some legitimate power to his palette could transform Casilla into a quality offensive player, but unfortunately I tend to think his home run parade last year was mostly just a fluke.

Casilla is a solid defender with good speed, and if he can do the things the Twins ask (take patient at-bats, execute sacrifice bunts, swipe a few bases) he should stick in the No. 2 spot, albeit with unexceptional overall production. If he could lift his on-base percentage toward his career minor-league figure of .369, he could become an asset in the two-hole, but unfortunately Casilla has shown no signs of being an above-average on-base threat over the past two seasons.

An injury-dampened final month dragged down Casilla's overall numbers for last season, but since that span balanced out the unsustainable hot streak he experienced after his call-up, I tend to think Casilla's final line last season serves as a pretty good predictor of what he'll do this year, though I doubt he'll show as much power.

In the event that Casilla reverts to 2007 form, the Twins don't have much in the way of reliable fall-back options. Obviously Gardenhire isn't comfortable with Harris at second, and Matt Tolbert would be stretched as a regular. Should someone like Luke Hughes or Steven Tolleson get off to a strong start in Rochester, they could get a shot if Casilla struggles. In my opinion, though, the Twins have less depth at second base than they did at third base prior to the Joe Crede acquisition, which is why I so strongly advocated the signing of Orlando Hudson.

Predicted 2009 Hitting Line for Casilla: .270/.320/.345, 4 HR, 40 RBI

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think your estimate is quite bearish. I say his line will be more like .290/.360/.398 10 HR, 55 RBI

Nick N. said...

Possible, certainly... though I'd say that's an extremely optimistic projection that would call for Casilla to reach his very upside this year. In order to post a line like that, Casilla would have to rediscover the on-base skills that have been missing in his game over the past two years while also proving that his unexpected power outburst last year was legitimate.

I'd love it if he posted a line like that though.

Beau said...

Would Gardy move Punto to second if Casilla falters?

Nick N. said...

Would Gardy move Punto to second if Casilla falters?

And who would play shortstop? The Twins have less depth there than they do at second.

Adam Peterson said...

Considering that Casilla is slated for the #2 spot in our order, my biggest concern is his OBP. If he hits 7-10 HR, that's gravy for me. I think a .340 OBP is a realistic projection. I'd be ecstatic with something around .360.

I'm also hoping he avoids a regression defensively.

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