The Twins have struggled to find a decent third baseman ever since Corey Koskie left in 2005, so battles at the position are nothing new. Earlier this week, I compared the middle infield to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, first base to the Battle of Waterloo, and catcher to Fort Sumter. Third base is a fight, too.
Who is in Fort Myers?
Danny Valencia is the only true third baseman on the roster, but Luke Hughes is a utility infielder with adequate experience at the position. Jamey Carroll can play third base as well, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka will probably see some time there in Spring Training. Among the Twins’ multitude of non-roster invitees, Ray Chang and Sean Burroughs can play third.
Valencia led the Twins by far with 154 games played in 2011. He also led the team in RBI (72) and came in second with 15 homers and 28 doubles. Still, he got on base at a wimpy .294 rate, and his fielding left much to be desired. Hughes has some power, though it is certainly not enough to make him a legitimate home run threat. Nishioka is simply trying to improve his versatility and make a case for the Twins to keep him in the Majors after a dismal 2011.
If you are not familiar with Burroughs, you need to read his story, because it’s probably the most interesting personal history of any player on the team. He grew up as a child celebrity, became a superstar prospect, and then he lost it all thanks to some stupid decisions. But the great part of the story is that he’s cleaned up his act and is fighting tooth and nail to earn a Major League job (also, he was an extra in the movie Terminator 2, which is completely awesome). Last year, Burroughs hit .273 in 78 games with Arizona. He is also a solid defensive presence.
Is there a battle?
Yes, but Burroughs is the only significant competition that Valencia will face. It would take quite a big turn of events for Burroughs to unseat Valencia, but in theory it is possible. The other players are competing for roster spots as utility men, and the winner of that battle will be determined as much by their abilities to play second base and shortstop as third base.
How does this battle compare?
Third base is like the Battle of Agincourt for the Twins. The big fight at Agincourt came in year 78 of the Hundred Years War. It sometimes feels like the Twins have gone at least that long without a reliable everyday third baseman.
Tactically, Agincourt was a complete slaughter. The French had far superior numbers, they were fighting on their own soil, and their opponents were on the run, but the British used far better tactics. Their longbowmen obliterated the French knights, as they had done several times before in that war. France repeatedly failed to learn that their slow-moving knights made fat targets for the British bows, and they paid for it time and time again. Likewise, the Twins have failed to learn from their repeated failures to properly man the Hot Corner.
Who will win?
Valencia will probably nail down the job, as long as his limited defensive range does not continue to be as much of a liability as the French lack of long-range archers. The Agincourt comparison would probably work a lot better if Burroughs came in and dominated the competition, since he’s as much of an underdog as the British looked to be at the beginning of the battle, but I do not see that happening. Valencia simply has more firepower at the plate. He should be the starting third baseman for the Twins in 2012.