Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be providing a rundown on who the Twins will have in Spring Training camp at each position, including projected starters and backups, as well as long shots to make the Opening Day roster.
More than half of the Twins positional starters are basically set in stone, but we’ll take a look at the contenders where there is competition; many of the more interesting battles in camp will play out for backup spots as the spring progresses. And while even a strong camp will still mean relegation to the minors for a lot of these guys, they’ll be just an injury away from seeing time with the Twins at some point over the course of the season.
Last week, we ran down the catchers and first basemen in camp, and we took a look at second base on Monday. Today, we’ll look at the competition at third base as we move our way around the diamond over the course of Spring Training.
PROJECTED STARTER: Trevor Plouffe
Plouffe went on a slugging spree after taking over the third base job from Danny Valencia in mid May of last season, hitting 13 home runs in his first month on the job. He never really hit much for average in the minors, but had a consistently high slugging percentage and the doubles have started turning into homer runs in the past few years. So while Plouffe’s epic month-long power surge may never be repeated, there’s every reason to believe that last season’s late-summer struggles were due to injury and that he will continue to develop into a legitimate right-handed slugger in 2013.
Until Plouffe played 95 games at third base last season, he hadn’t played at the hot corner with any sort of regularity since he logged 43 games there between two minor league levels in 2008. In fact, since being called up to the Majors for the first time in 2010, Plouffe had started at five other positions and DH before getting his first Major League experience at third base in a May 2nd start of last year. Considering the circumstances, it’s not surprising that Plouffe was erratic defensively last season.
Still, he was drafted as a shortstop and came up to the Twins as one, so Plouffe is naturally athletic enough to make the plays at third. His arm is strong enough to make the throws across the diamond, too, but being consistently accurate with those throws has been an issue for Plouffe. After being thrust into the starting third base role last season, Plouffe’s defensive footwork could and should be much improved after an offseason of preparation.
Carroll started 30 games at the hot corner in 2013, and Escobar played the first 42 games of his career at third base last season. Both players are solid defensively at the position, and are discussed in more detail in my second base preview.
Although Terry Ryan stated early on in the offseason that acquiring competition at third base was a priority going into 2013, the strongest contender brought in from outside of the organization is AAA Rule 5 draftee Mark Sobolewski. Sobolewski is reportedly a sure-handed defender with power, hitting 20 home runs and 21 doubles between AA and AAA last season, although he is only a .263 career hitter in the minors. Deibinson Romero was a middling prospect early on in his career, but fell off the radar for the most part until belting 19 homer runs at AA New Britain last year at age 25. Ray Olmedo, who signed this offseason as a minor league free agent from the White Sox, is also discussed in my second base preview.
Although Terry Ryan stated a desire to bring in competition at third base this offseason, the job is Plouffe’s to lose. The Twins would like some consistency moving forward at a position that has been in flux going back to Corey Koskie, and Plouffe would surely like to stop changing positions from year to year, or even month to month. If his defense improves and his power continues to develop, Plouffe could wrap up the starting job for the next few years.