Dark Horse Production Candidates

A couple of days ago, Phil Mackey stole my idea for today's post. Unwittingly, of course, since we don't compare notes, and I suggest you take a look. He's the most intrigued by the second and third players on his list. It's a good read.

But I'll also point you to TwinsGeek's article from yesterday, where he points out that options are going to limit the number of players who will be realistically competing for a roster spot. He points out that, as far as position players go, it's unlikely that there's anything for us to speculate over. John also points out a couple of relievers who would require roster spots to avoid needing to be passed through waivers for assignment to Rochester, although in this case there certainly are other players in the mix (and less to lose by risking certain players to waivers).

With those two posts in mind I'm altering my planned course for today, just slightly, by looking at a few players who could provide the Twins with some much needed support this summer.

Trevor Plouffe

Plouffe was an enigmatic in some ways last season. At times he flashed impressive power, like when he homered in his first plate appearance of the season; then he'd botch a play in the field, sometimes more than once in a game. He was streaky, starting out strong and having an especially strong 20-game stretch that lasted to early September. But eventually those upswings would disappear as he'd expand the strike zone.

Will a move to left field help Plouffe? It might. His arm is strong enough to play there, and accuracy isn't quite as important throw-for-throw. His ability to make contact will go a long way towards his ability to make a difference at the plate, and would allow his plus power to show itself. I'm not sure Plouffe is ready for full-time duty, but I do believe he could be more than capable in 300 plate appearances; .260/.320/.430 with 10-12 home runs isn't outside the realm of reality.

More after the jump.

Terry Doyle

Doyle, as a Rule V pick from the White Sox, needs to stay on the roster in order to avoid being returned to Chicago. Initially I was as unimpressed with him as I was with Matt Maloney, but there's one thing that Doyle can do that Maloney cannot: induce a high percentage of ground balls. Doyle consistently induces grounders at a rate better than 50%, leading to just 27 home runs allowed in 422 innings pitched.

Jeff Gray also induces a high number of ground balls (52% in the Majors over 88.2 innings, much higher in the minors), but I'm picking Doyle over Gray for the simple reason that Doyle is automatically off the roster if he doesn't break camp with the Twins. Gray could pass through waivers and be available in Rochester; a calculated risk, but he's not an obvious target for teams eyeing the wire. Also: here's a very interested read on Doyle from FanGraphs.

While Doyle doesn't have overpowering stuff, if his infield defense can back him up he couple be a solid (if streaky) middle reliever. At times luck would play against him and a few grounders would sneak through, but at the same time he could be the guy that comes in during the fifth and sixth frames to keep a big inning off the board.

Darin Mastroianni

A 16th round draft pick in 2007, Mastroianni is a center fielder who can also play the corners. At 26, and now five years removed from the draft, Mastroianni has flown under the radar due to decent (but not great) batting averages and a lack of power.

Mastroianna does, however, have two tools worth a second look: his speed and his plate discipline. His walk rates have been between 11% and 13% as he's come up through Toronto's farm system, leading to a .370 on-base average in nearly 2400 plate appearances. He's also stolen 200 bases, for an average of 40 per season in the minors, at an 81% rate of success.

He won't go north with the Twins at the end of spring training, but with a good season in Rochester the team could look to him when a need arises in the outfield.

Danny Valencia

It's probably odd for Twins fans to look at Valencia's name and consider him a dark horse, but outside of Minnesota there aren't a lot of expectations for Danny to make strides over his 2011 performance. And in that sense, Valencia could surprise a lot of people. Even if it's only outside of Minnesota.

We've said here on a few occasions that Valencia isn't as good as his triple slash in 2010, nor as bad as he was last season. The reality is somewhere in between, and looking at his underlying indicators of performance there wasn't much different from his rookie season to his sophomore year. Balls in play were similar, walk rates and walk-to-strikeout ratios were similar, his isolated power was identical. The biggest variations came in chasing a few more balls outside of the strike zone, and on batting average on balls in play.

With all of the injuries last season it's certainly possible that Valencia was putting some extra pressure on himself. We know the manager was doing plenty of that for him, too. This season, with a healthy middle of the order, Danny will hit seventh or eighth once again and won't be relied upon as a make-shift middle of the order bat. Another 600 plate appearance season for a healthy Valencia, and a .270/.330/440 season with 20 homers, would help the Twins field a deep offense. At least, deeper than we might expect at first glance.

Brian Duensing

Duensing was able to surprise a few people with how effective he was as a starter for the Twins, until luck balanced out and his inability to retire right-handed batters was too much to risk over five-plus innings. With his move to the bullpen, if he's used correctly he could become one of the most effective LOOGYs in the league.

In his Major League career, Duensing has held left-handed hitters to a .203/.248/.263 line (as opposed to .300/.359/.477 for righties), while posting a 4.8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Against righties, that ratio was less than 2-to-1.

One thing that Gardenhire does well is manage his bullpen. When he has an established hierarchy, and understands the roles his pitchers play, he can get the best out of his guys. In the past, pitchers like Dennys Reyes, Ron Mahay, and Jose Mijares have had success as short appearance relievers. If Gardy can recognize Duensing as that kind of a guy, and not a long reliever like Anthony Swarzak, then the Twins bullpen is already one step further away from the failure it was in 2011.

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