Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Continuing Quandary of the Middle Infield

Nishioka's return from injury could add to the quandary of the middle infield (Photo: Reuters)
The Twins entered the 2011 season with a clear plan in mind, add speed to the line-up. The easiest places for the Twins to add speed was the middle-infield and this would come in a few different forms. The Twins won the bid to negotiate a contract with Tsuyoshi Nishioka. After signing his contract, he was almost guaranteed a spot in one of the middle infield slots. The other front runner for the middle infield was Alexi Casilla. He had the most experience at the big league level and the Twins felt he had the most talent to offer the club.

The Twins have now completed over 20% of their season and the middle infield picture is murky to say the least. Nishioka broke his leg on a hard slide from Nick Swisher in the second series of the year. He never got the chance to start a game at Target Field and to some fans it seems like an eternity since he was on the field. Casilla has continued to show inconsistency at the plate and in the field. He is batting average is below .200 and there have been some shaky defensive plays that have hurt the team.

The Twins have tried to calm the storm that is brewing in the middle infield by turning to some prospects in the organization. To fit into the middle infield, the team has called up Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe. Hughes put up some impressive numbers in this spring, but since being called up he has only managed a .220 BA with one HR and four RBI. Plouffe was called up this weekend and made a splash by knocking a homerun over the Green Monster in his first plate appearance. The most concerning aspect could be some of the defensive plays that Plouffe has missed. He has yet to be charged with an official error but there have been some balls that he should have been able to make a play on.

The Twins are slowly running out of options to calm the middle infield storm. Nishioka will be healthy in a couple weeks and at that point the Twins will have some decisions to make.  Here is a look at all of the players that will be impacted by the future of the middle infield:

Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Possible positions: 2B, SS
The Twins have said that Nishioka is more comfortable at 2B, but the struggles have been to fill the role of SS. As part of his rehab the Twins have asked Nishioka to start taking grounders at SS. The Twins have to hope that one of the below listed players shines in the next couple weeks to make the decision easier. Nishioka's role in the infield continues to be secure.

Alexi Casilla
Possible positions: 2B, Utility, SS
The Twins have given Casilla more than enough opportunities to prove himself at the major league level. The one problem for the Twins could be the fact that Casilla is out of options. He is going to have to show the team his value in the next couple weeks or risk the chance of not being part of the Twins in the future.

Matt Tolbert
Possible Positions: Utility
Tolbert has given the Twins a lot of flexibility during his time in the majors. He has played every infield position and he has even made some appearances in the outfield. These could be skills that the Twins find invaluable when it comes to making their final decision. It could come down to Tolbert or Casilla and right now the more of the eggs are in Tolbert's basket.

Luke Hughes
Possible Positions: 2B, 3B, 1B
Hughes was the first call-up that the Twins made this season because of the performance he showed the Twins this spring. In his 18 games this season, the production has not been outstanding. His ability to play 3B and 1B are intriguing but the Twins are going to look to strengthen the middle infield when it comes to decision time.

Trevor Plouffe
Possible Positions: SS, 2B
The next couple weeks were suppose to be a try-out for Plouffe at the SS position. His recent leg injury could hamper those plans. Ideally, the Twins would like for him to show that he can handle the role as the everyday SS. The problem is that nothing has worked out ideally for the Twins this season.

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