The performances of Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas in 2014 were fairly transparent. We knew they were playing over their heads, and there were various red flags beneath the flashy traditional numbers, but their slow starts have put the Twins' offense under a lot of pressure.
|Minor league career||1,660||.276||.319||.387||.332||5.1||18.1||13.8|
|Minor league career||1,302||.287||.365||.492||.327||10.4||20.3||14.2|
Santana is back in the lineup and leading off tonight. Paul Molitor named Santana his starting shortstop pretty early in spring training and he's sticking to it. The results have been a bit better over the last week; Santana's 7-for-27 (.259) is much better than the ice cold bat that greeted us to start the year.
What's really worth noting for Santana this year is that, 69 plate appearances into the year, he's yet to take a walk. He's also struck out 21 times (30.4 K%). This has always been the concern about Santana's upside: the value of his decent hit tool is undermined by his apparent allergy to seeing four balls in one trip to the plate.
Vargas has been even worse. He's out of the lineup again today, the third day in a row that he hasn't been starting. Compounding his struggles is the fact that when he doesn't hit he doesn't really have value on the defensive side of the ball. He was in the lineup for 15 of the Twins' first 16 games, 13 at designated hitter and two at first base, but even at 24 putting Vargas at first is a bit like putting a younger David Ortiz at first. Yeah, you can do it. It doesn't mean you want to.
The hits have been few and far between for Kennys. In 61 plate appearances he's tallied two extra-base hits, including just one massive home run. He's also struck out 18 times in 15 games, including four in his last start on Saturday. There seems to be concern that in batting practice Vargas is doing nothing but trying to hit home runs, which is an issue if true. His raw power translates into game power (at least it did last summer), but that can't be the approach that a hitter takes every time he steps up to the dish. If management doesn't have confidence that a player can step into the box and approach the at-bat in a way that's dictated by the circumstances of the game, then he's not going to play very often.
Right now we're seeing Molitor deal with his two young players in very different ways. With Santana he's being patient and still consistently giving him starts, granting the young shortstop the opportunity to fail because that's going to happen with inexperienced players. If a manager benches a young player every time he struggles, nobody would ever be a full-time player until they were 30 years old.
But with Vargas, Molitor's approach is a bit more severe. By holding Vargas out of the lineup, Molitor is foregoing the "if you bench him you could damage his confidence" philosophy in favor of sending a message with a lesson for the long-term.
If the Twins and Molitor didn't have faith in Vargas' abilities, they'd have sent him back to the minors. Holding a player without a good defensive presence out of the lineup limits a manager's options off the bench, so by keeping him around there must be a belief that the young slugger can adjust his game.
With youth will come a good deal of ups and downs this year; in each situation Molitor will need to manage accordingly. We're seeing it now with Santana and Vargas, and we're going to see a lot more of it before the year is over.