Alexi Casilla’s Remarkable Turnaround

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 28: Alexi Casilla #12 of the Minnesota Twins hits an RBI double against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second inning on June 28, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

At first, it appeared too good to be true.

Through the first seven weeks of the season, Alexi Casilla was a disaster. An absolute disaster. Between April 1 and May 23, Casilla played in 39 games, coming to bat a total of 112 times. In those plate appearances, he posted a horrific .188/.252/.248 batting line, with just four extra-base hits and four runs batted in.

Then something funny happened. Casilla started hitting. In the final week of May, Casilla batted .400 with four extra-base hits in those seven games alone. Casilla would up hitting .288/.351/.424 for the month, though the vast majority of his production came from just his last 30 plate appearances.

Like I said, it initially appeared too good to be true. Near the end of May Jesse wrote a piece entitled "Alexi Casilla is Going Streaking." It was a good column. In it, Jesse cautioned against putting too much weight in Casilla's seven-game hot streak, considering it was immediately preceded by seven weeks of sheer futility. While the column was hopeful - we were all praying Casilla could hold down one of the middle infield positions, especially considering the lack of viable alternatives in the organization - it also contained a justifiable amount of skepticism.

As it turns out, Alexi Casilla's late-May turnaround was just a sign of things to come. From the end of May through the All-Star Break, Casilla has been one of the better offensive middle infielders in the game.

Check out this comparison:

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

XBH

SB

Apr 1 - May 23

112

188

252

248

500

4

3

May 24 - ASB

185

296

359

432

791

16

10

While Casilla's overall numbers on the season - 255/318/361 - are less than inspiring, his post-May 24th numbers make him look like one of the better young talents in baseball. During that time, Casilla has posted a 791 OPS, which is pretty remarkable from a 26-year-old middle infielder. On the season, just 12 middle infielders have an OPS higher than 791, and among those 12 are some of the very best players in baseball (think Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rickie Weeks, etc.)

But, of course, we're cherry-picking a bit here. While Casilla is hitting extremely well, it's hard to believe he's going to continue putting up an 800 OPS going forward. But if we compare what he did last season with what he's done over the past two months, we may have a glimpse at where his true talent currently lies:

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

2010

276

331

395

726

Jun-11

274

349

400

749

Jul-11

286

326

405

731

While not spectacular, those are solid numbers for a middle infielder. Think of it this way: let's say Casilla's "true talent level" is something like a 720 or 730 OPS, and he keeps up that pace for the next few seasons as a full-time middle infielder for the Twins. That, alone, would make him the best hitting middle infielder of the Ron Gardenhire era in Minnesota. Seriously.

Best hitting Twins middle infielders of the Gardenhire era (measured by OPS, 400 PA min.)

PA

OPS

Luis Castillo

1036

720

Orlando Hudson

497

710

Jason Bartlett

1208

703

Luis Rivas

1373

691

That, my friends, is a low bar.

At the end of the day, we're left trying to figure out which of the two very different versions of Alexi Casilla we've seen this season is the real Alexi Casilla. Surely it's not the 500 OPS version we saw in the season's first two months. And it's hard to believe it's the 800 OPS version we've seen over the last two months.

But if Casilla could truly settle in around the 275/330/400 level, he would instantly become a huge asset for the organization, even if questions continue to swirl around his defensive ability. Then again, if he settles in at the 258/320/349 mark currently projected by ZiPS (for the rest of the season), he'll simply join the long list of forgettable players that have manned the Twins middle infield for the past decade.

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