Today marks the third part in a series on the bench players who could play a role on the Twins team for the coming season. During the last two seasons, the Twins have gotten a boost off of the bench from Jim Thome, Matt Tolbert, and Jason Repko but now those players are no longer in the plans for the organization. This means a different crop of players is going to have to find their niche on a team that had plenty of struggles in 2011.
On Tuesday I looked at former first round pick Trevor Plouffe and how his role is adjusting for the 2011 campaign. Yesterday I wrote about the horrible year put together by Tsuyoshi Nishioka and the way the Twins might be forced to change their approach with the middle infielder. The next profile in this series will delve into the Twins back-up catcher who got a lot more playing time than expected in 2011. By already adding Ryan Doumit to the mix for next season, the Twins have made a conscious effort to remedy this weak spot in their batting order.
2011 stat summary: .167/.210/.239, 2 HR, 9 DBL, 23 RBI, 19 R, 93 G
2011 season story-line: Before pitchers and catchers reported to Fort Myers last spring, the Twins brought a lot of veteran options to look at for a catcher's role with the team. Rene Rivera and Steve Holm would play a small role with the Twins in 2011 but the Twins continued to show faith in Drew Butera. Following a rookie campaign in which Butera batted .197/.237/.296, the Twins were not looking for him to become a threat at the plate. The coaching staff liked the way Butera handled the pitching staff and the relationship between Carl Pavano and Butera seemed to develop throughout the 2010 campaign. Overall, the Twins weren't looking for Butera to explode in 2011 but they needed him to be an option to fill-in at catcher on Joe Mauer's days off from behind the plate.
The organization could not anticipate how much time Mauer would miss in 2011. After playing in the first handful of games, Mauer would sit out two months and this meant Butera was going to be getting more playing time. This was a role that Butera was not meant to perform and his output on the field suffered because of this shift. He would hit under .180 in every month of the season except for June. After Mauer returned to action, Butera was able to revert back to his back-up role and in June he found success at the plate. Out of the 12 games he played in June, he hit .360/.393/.600 with four extra-base hits and seven RBI. Those numbers are an aberration when compared to the rest of his season but when Butera is used in small doses he can be an adequate fill-in player.
2012 role and expectations: Looking back on the 2011 season, the front office for the Twins knew they needed to make some adjustments to the available catchers on the bench. The team needed to add some offensive insurance for the possibility of Mauer getting hurt again. Many see free agent signee Ryan Doumit as the opposite of Butera because he provides offensive output but struggles on the defensive side of the ball. The addition of Doumit to the Twins roster results in most people believing the Twins will carry three catchers for next season. Doumit's flexibility could see him in the line-up at multiple positions such as catcher, first base, and even outfield. If Doumit is in the line-up already and Mauer is behind the plate, Butera would still be used as the emergency catcher off of the bench.
One interesting aspect to watch with the role of Butera in 2012 will be how much time he spends catching for Pavano. During the 2010 season, the Twins saw a resurgent Pavano lead the pitching staff of the Twins to a division title. Along the way Pavano adopted Butera as his personal catcher and some of this relationship continued into the 2011 season. Out of the 222 innings pitched by Pavano last year, Butera was behind the plate for 187.2 of those innings. By looking at the numbers, Pavano seems to pitch at about the same level with Mauer or Butera as his catcher. If Mauer is healthy and Pavano is pitching well, it will be intriguing to see how Gardenhire approaches the role of Pavano's catcher.
There are also going to be situations where Butera is going to be needed as a defensive replacement late in the game. If the Twins want to preserve a win in the late innings, the use of Doumit behind the plate could be a liability. Much like in 2011 Mauer could find himself spending some time at other defensive positions to alleviate some of the grind of catching on his large frame. There are multiple scenarios in which Butera will get playing time but the 93 games he played in 2011 were too much. For the Twins to find more success on the field, he needs to be around the 50 game mark from his rookie campaign with 150 plate appearances or less.