In the game thread earlier tonight I mentioned that I'd be back with some Liriano conversation for us to chew on, but let's be honest: right now you can get that story ten ways from Sunday. As true as it is that I have my own take on it, I'm boring myself by reading about it on blogs and Twitter and everywhere else. So instead let's talk about Luke Hughes. Because he hit another home run today.
Really, it's probably not a fair day to ask this question. Because before he blasted that solo homer in the sixth to give the Twins a 3-1 lead, he'd also struck out twice and then made a throwing error. He played second base this afternoon, and while moving to his right to field a ground ball ended up making contact with Trevor Plouffe (so you can see how far and deep he'd already had to go) and still decided to try and make the throw to first. There was no way he was going to get the runner but he tried anyway, and proceeded to toss the ball into the seats behind first base.
But that home run...
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not "reading too much into one plate appearance in spring training", because I know very well how little good that does. It's too easy to look back to the hot start Juan Portes had in spring training last year, and then to note how he'd done by the time the curtain fell on spring training and it was time to seperate the men from the boys. But it's the home run that makes me ask the question, because when it comes to the talents of Luke Hughes the one thing that really stands out is his offense. He's actually capable of hitting.
And when you look at the projected bench for the Minnesota Twins (Jim Thome, Drew Butera, Jason Repko, Matt Tolbert) none of those guys can hit AND field a position. Gardy's options are either-or, and while this is a scenario we're all familiar with and one he's dealt with more often than not in his tenure as manager, that doesn't mean it's an ideal situation.
So, can Luke Hughes crack the Twins opening day roster? And if so, how? That's after the jump.
While Hughes' home run illustrated what he has working in his favor, his miscue in the field illustrated what he doesn't have going for him. Over the years the Twins have moved him around the field in an endeavor to find a position that works for him. He began at shortstop and was pretty quickly moved to third base and then to second, before spending some time in the outfield (mostly left but a little right and center as well) and then seeing most of his time at third base again. Right now it certainly looks like the Twins view him as a guy who can shift between second and third, and in a pinch could probably back up the corner outfield spots and first base.
But for our purposes we'll just concern ourselves with second and third.
Issue #1: The Twins will carry a 12-man pitching staff, which means a four-man bench.
This means that in order to make the team, Hughes is going to take the place of (from our projected bench) Matt Tolbert. Repko is the only other guy on the roster who can legitimately play center, Butera is the only backup catcher you'd trust to call a game, and nobody puts Thome in a corner. But in removing Tolbert you're removing a guy who doesn't just play second and third, but can play shortstop as well.
Which Hughes doesn't do.
Solution to issue #1: To place Hughes on your four-man bench, you must be comfortable with your backup shortstop being your starting second baseman. In the situation where the shortstop is unable to go, the second baseman slides over and Hughes could step in at second base.
Issue #2: Your off-days for your middle infielders will need to be handled with a bit more care.
With Tolbert in the mix, you (in theory) have three players who can all play the two middle infield postiions: Tolbert, Alexi Casilla and (again, in theory) Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Still, Casilla and Nishioka will have their dedicated role, which means that when one of them has a day off, Tolbert simply slides into their position.
With Hughes in the mix, your starting second baseman now has to be familiar with playing shortstop on a regular basis. Theory doesn't cut it, he'll need to know how to handle the position, because when the shortstop needs a blow the second baseman will have to slide over in order to accomodate Hughes at number four.
Solution to issue #2: Both of your starting middle infielders must take drills at both second and short in order to make them as interchangeable as possible. Again, in theory this doesn't sound terrible, but in practice it gets a bit more tricky.
Issue #3: Gardy likes versatility.
This is more or less where it's game over for the Hughes-makes-the-roster idea. I know that when I spoke to Rob Antony last week he said that both Hughes and Trevor Plouffe may have the best opportunities to take a starting job at one of those two middle infield spots, but barring an injury this just doesn't seem realistic at all. The Twins have paid Nishioka to start, and they have put themselves in a position with Casilla where they need to give him a starting position in order to make the J.J. Hardy move look like they thought it was one that could improve the club. At least on opening day, Hughes nor Plouffe will be prying second or short away from Nishioka or Casilla.
That leaves the one infield spot on the bench available. And because we know how Gardy works, and because he's seen Tolbert play for him the last three seasons (at second, third and short, no less), it becomes really, really difficult to see how Hughes can fit.
Yes, we know he can fit, but sliding that into how we know the organization operates it's like fitting a square peg into a round hole.
At some point this year Hughes will get his opportunities. It's just not likely to be right away.