Terry Ryan On Twins' Middle Infield

This morning on ESPN 1500am, Twins GM Terry Ryan spoke candidly about a few points of focus for the team going forward. It was Ryan as we're used to hearing him: dry, candid, and at times evasive when he felt it was prudent. Here are a few of the highlights.

  • Ryan noted that the signing of Jamey Carroll is not yet complete, likely because the physical is still pending. Barring something off the wall, Carroll will be a member of the Twins in the next day or two. Officially.
  • In spite of the addition of Carroll, Ryan stated that they weren't necessarily finished upgrading in the middle infield. "We're pursuing many players who are capable of playing in the middle of the diamond." I'm still hoping that the Twins pursue Clint Barmes and/or Martin Prado, but that doesn't seem likely.
  • Part of the reason that Ryan is happy to continue adding to the middle infield is because they now have a spot to play with. Carroll, Alexi Casilla, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka would take up three of the four Major League middle infield roster spots, while Trevor Plouffe, surprisingly, would be moved into right field. "He's probably gonna be best suited for the outfield and DH. His bat's going to play," Ryan said while discussing how Plouffe would be utilized. "Unfortunately, I think that the defensive side of the game effects him some when he does go to the plate. So I think the best suite would be to move him out to the outfield some, and maybe to the DH role if it's open."
  • On Nishioka, it doesn't sound like Rochester is in the plans at all. "We've got to clean the slate on Nishioka," Ryan said, and he actually used the world "mulligan". He did make it clear that Nishioka is far more aware of the team's expectations for him, and also far more aware of what it will take to be successful playing professional American baseball.
  • Finally, on Casilla, Ryan said he concurred with Ron Gardenhire in that Alexi is more than capable of being a starter in the middle infield. "Casilla should be an everyday player. He's certainly capable of playing second base." He did add, at the end, "We just need to see it."

On Plouffe - I don't agree that Plouffe's bat will play in the corner outfield spots, and it certainly won't play at designated hitter, either. At one point in the interview, Ryan admitted that the people Bill Smith relied on to help him make decisions (Ryan, Rob Antony, Mike Radcliff) let him down last season. Specifically in regards to roster construction, as the Twins were clearly caught with their pants down in terms of depth and vision. Believing that Plouffe's bat could play in right or as a DH displays that same lack of vision.

Plouffe needs his opportunities, but the only way his bat "plays" is as a middle infielder, where his power becomes a plus tool. Phil Mackey gave us four comps not too long ago this evening, in terms of the production Plouffe could be expected to provide, and none of them "play" anywhere other than the middle infield: Ben Francisco, Jhonny Peralta, Cody Ross, and John Buck.

On Nishioka - No surprises here, although I think there will be an added level of expectation for Tsuyoshi next summer. He's going to be familiar with the speed of the game, how it's played, and how he has to be prepared physically and mentally. All that's left for him to do is play and, hopefully, produce. I'm not terribly optimistic here, and still believe Nishioka would be better served playing everyday in Rochester for a month or two.

On Casilla - Alexi is out of options and has the faith of the manager and his front office. Barring any additional moves, I'm guessing that Casilla pairs with Carroll on opening day up the middle. Unlike Ryan (or at least, unlike Ryan publicly), I'm much more dubious about Casilla's ability to contribute positively on a daily basis. I think he has the tools to be a plus runner and plus defender, but his bat is league average at second base (at best) which means those two tools need to be reliable.

And we all know that Casilla has been anything but reliable over the course of his career. Unless we're talking about reliably frustrating.

In Closing

Ryan admitted that this team is going to be pushed for offense this season, so his belief that Pouffe can be that impact bat was something of a surprise. I appreciate giving upcoming players a vote of confidence, particularly when it sounds like you're going to be asking them to do something completely different to what they've been working on for years in the minor leagues, but it's a very hard line to buy into. If you insist on giving a player confidence, I'd rather see them just hand Plouffe the starting shortstop job and then let him know that it's his. That way he knows that if he screws up he's not going to get benched like he did last year. There's your vote of confidence, and there's where the bat could "play".

Still, it was good hearing a Twins GM speak candidly about the team. When I heard Bill Smith speak about the Twins, it was always paint-by-numbers and, in an effort to give nothing away, said nothing interesting. Hearing Ryan speak, however, reminds me of when I speak to Rob Antony. Both men are forthright when they can be, and they understand what they can (and should) be forthright about.

The Twins have some interesting decisions to make in the coming weeks and months. Even though I wasn't crazy about Ryan's confidence in Plouffe in the outfield, I'm still much happier with him at the helm of my favorite team.

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