Friday, July 1, 2011

What are the options in the Nishioka, Plouffe debate?

Plouffe's bat has been lighting up AAA.
This past offseason the Twins put a lot of money down in hopes of striking gold with a player from Japan. Tsuyoshi Nishioka joined the Twins for Spring Training and the hype surrounding him continued to grow as the start of the season approached. Fans were left to wonder what to expect from this star of the Japanese League. He had won Gold Gloves and a batting title in Japan but other Japanese players have struggled with their transition to the United States.

Nishioka's transition has been hard to watch for fans of the Twins this season. Within the first few games of the season, Nishioka had his leg broken on a fairly routine play for a second baseman to make. The hard slide from Nick Swisher took Nishioka out of the line-up for the better chunk of the first half of the season. He has returned from his leg injury and his struggles have been easy to see for Twins fans.

In the batter's box, there have been times that fans have been left cringing at the swings that Nishioka takes at the ball. Every ball hit to Nishioka at the shortstop position seems to be an adventure. Will Nishioka be able to get to the ball? If he does get to the ball, can he make the throw? There have even been some balls hit right at Nishioka that have turned into disasters.

While Nishioka was injured, the Twins turned to Trevor Plouffe to try and win the shortstop role. His offensive numbers were not outstanding during his time at the big league level but he did provide some pop in his bat. The issue the Twins had were the errors he was committing on the defensive side of the ball. In 15 games at SS, he had three errors. By comparison, Nishioka has four errors in 13 games at SS.

The Twins invested $14 million in Nishioka to have him be part of the Twins for the next three seasons and possibly longer. The problem is that Plouffe seems to offer the same type of defense on the field but he has the ability to hit and hit for power. In the month of June, Plouffe is hitting .309 with five doubles and a 1.022 OPS for the Rochester Red Wings.

There are a variety of options that the Twins have at their disposal to deal with the Nishioka vs. Plouffe debate. Here's a look at those options and the positives that come out of selecting each of them:

Option #1: Nishioka SS, Casilla 2B, Plouffe AAA
Nishioka has only played a handful of games since returning from his injury. The Twins can hope that he plays his way out of the slump by continuing to put him out there at SS. If the Twins were to call up Plouffe, that would put extra pressure on Nishioka. He looks like a player that does not need any extra pressure placed upon him.

Option #2: Nishioka 2B, Casilla SS, Plouffe AAA
Casilla has shown that he has the arm and range to play adequately at the SS position for the Twins. Nishioka seemed more comfortable at second base in his limited time playing that position. By flip-flopping these two players, the Twins could see some more offensive production out of Nishioka. He could be thinking less about his defensive play and more about his approach at the plate.

Option #3: Nishioka AAA, Casilla 2B, Plouffe SS
As I mentioned above, there seems to be no reason to keep Plouffe at the minor league level. He has been getting extra-base hits left and right since he was sent back down. The defense might still be an adventure at SS but the offensive production could outweigh the lapses on defense. Nishioka is still a young player and the time at the AAA level could help him transition to the American-style of baseball. If he proves himself at that level, the Twins could make a switch at that time.

Option #4: Nishioka AAA, Casilla SS, Plouffe 2B
Bringing Plouffe up to play a position other than SS could be an option for the Twins. He has played at 2B in parts of the last four seasons of his minor league career. This would allow the Twins to move Casilla back to SS and to take some pressure off of Mr. Plouffe. As part of this option, Nishioka would be given some development time at the AAA level. 

It is also interesting to note that the Red Wings have been using Plouffe in a limited role in the outfield. This could add other options to the debate for the Twins. The organization could have a tough decision to make in the coming weeks.

If you were GM, what option would you pick? Which option is going to help the Twins the most short-term? Which option will be better long-term?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts. 

1 comment:

Maija said...

I'd go with Option #1 (surprise). Nishioka has only played in 20 major league games. We all knew there would be an adjustment period. I'm already seeing his at-bats improve. I also really don't think he needs AAA time--he did fine in spring training and in his rehab stint. Let him just adjust to the majors.

I don't think replacing Nishioka with Plouffe is the answer that propels the Twins to a stunning division championship... Just a case of "the grass is always greener on the other side."

In fact, I'm not so sure Plouffe is a major-league shortstop. The Red Wings have started to play him in RF, which might be more fitting.

I like your approach to laying out the options!