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Let's Gush About Darin Mastroianni a Little Bit

Darin Mastroianni can apparently jump slightly higher than Denard Span. He's also pretty good at baseball, and can be controlled cheaply for five more seasons. Good work, Terry Ryan. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
Darin Mastroianni can apparently jump slightly higher than Denard Span. He's also pretty good at baseball, and can be controlled cheaply for five more seasons. Good work, Terry Ryan. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Terry Ryan has received an awful lot of praise for his signing of Josh Willingham, given Hammer's monstrous season. The Ryan Doumit signing has received its fair share of praise among Twins fans as well. Jared Burton is oft-discussed and even got some love at the trade deadline as a possible target of the Rangers.

Ryan made his share of good moves this offseason, as well as a forgettable one or two (Jason Marquis, we hardly knew ye). Following Darin Mastroianni's fantastic game last night, however, I just want to take a few hundred words to laud one of the better under-the-radar/Minor League moves made by a general manager this offseason.

For those who didn't see Maestro's game last night, he picked up three hits -- including a solo homer and a two-run single -- and made a nice diving catch in right field. Had he come up short or had to let the ball drop, the Tigers may have found themselves within striking distance. Inconsequential as it may have been in the grand scheme of a lost season, it was a nice moment and a solid exclamation point for a career night by Mastroianni. He got it done at the plate and with the glove.

I'll be the first to admit that two months ago, I never would've thought I'd be writing this post. Entering play on June 5, Mastroianni was batting .115/.233/.115. It had only been 30 plate appearances, but between that line and a few early season miscues in the field, I was thoroughly unimpressed. I unfairly lumped Mastroianni in with the early season failures of fellow pickups such as Marquis, Matt Maloney, and Jeff Gray, and unfairly tweeted the following:

A little more than two months later, I'll gladly eat my words. I typically try not to judge players that quickly, and Mastroianni has reminded me exactly why. He appears to have emerged as a legitimate option to serve as the Twins' fourth outfielder not only in 2012, but for years to come based on his strong play at the plate, on the basepaths, and all over the outfield. Since that tweet, Mastroianni has batted a brilliant .354/.404/.549 and saved plenty of runs with his glove.

I've been so impressed with Mastroianni of late that I decided to peruse Fangraphs' leaderboards last night in search of players who were claimed on waivers within the past year that had provided their teams with more value this season. Here's the cream of the crop (among hitters with > 100 plate appearances and pitchers with > 40 innings pitched):

  1. Lucas Harrell, Astros (from the White Sox): 2.0 WAR (138.1 IP)
  2. Justin Maxwell, Astros (from the Yankees): 1.7 WAR (232 PAs)
  3. Travis Blackley, Athletics (from the Giants): 1.4 WAR (78.2 IP)
  4. Darin Mastroianni, Twins (from the Blue Jays): 1.1 WAR (115 PAs)
  5. Cody Ransom, Brewers (from the Diamondbacks): 0.8 WAR (169 PAs)

Having any waiver claim perform well enough to stick in the Majors is a perk in and of itself. Having one stick for an extended period of time and provide comparable value to some free agents who signed multi-million dollar contracts in the offseason is a move worth celebrating, even if it doesn't immediately propel a team into the playoff hunt.

Mastroianni has walked at a rate well above the league average of 8.1 percent. He's stolen 13 bases and only been caught twice (86.6 percent) He's provided respectable pop at the plate (.148 ISO). He's excelled in an admittedly small sample at all three outfield positions and is even capable of playing second base in a pinch. He's ninth among Twins offensive players in WAR this season despite having only 29 percent as many plate appearances as the average of the eight players in front of him.

Darin Mastroianni has been a terrific find for the Twins that can be controlled for years to come. His power and .338 BABIP are likely to regress, but Mastroianni has long proven at the Minor League level that he has a keen eye and is a smart, efficient base stealer. When combined with his strong defense and versatility, that makes him a valuable commodity that will be controllable long enough to help this team when it's ready to contend again. Mastroianni had one game of Major League experience prior to this year, meaning he won't even be eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season.

Credit Terry Ryan and his staff for identifying Mastroianni as an undervalued asset and fpr being willing to give him a 40-man roster spot. They may have struck out when they did so with Maloney and Gray, but Mastroianni has earned a chance to help this team beyond the short-term.

Steve Adams also writes for, and Fantasy Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve.