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Who is Darin Mastroianni? And what happened to Esmerling Vasquez?


Last week the Twins claimed outfielder Darin Mastroianni from the Blue Jays. The 26 year old right-handed hitter immediately fills the void left by Nick Punto in the “guy with an Italian-sounding last name” department. If you’ve never heard of Mastroianni before, don’t worry. Puckett’s Pond is happy to introduce him to you.

Mastroianni immediately earned comparisons to Jason Repko, because he’s a righty utility outfielder type who won’t hit for power but will steal a base. In fact, he’s probably a little more exciting as a player than Repko was. Mastroianni has less MLB experience than Repko, but he is three years younger than Repko was when he signed with the Twins in 2010. And Mastroianni had a couple of great years in the minors. In 2009 he swiped 70 bases between high Class A and AA. During the Class A portion of that season, he hit .325/.426/.390 – no mean feat for the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. The next year Mastroianni schooled AA pitching by hitting .301/.390/.398 with 45 more steals. 2011 was a down year, but Mastroianni still stole 34 bases in 123 games between AA and AAA, and he had a .358 OBP in the AAA portion.

He also made his MLB debut, going 0-3 in one game and then getting sent down again.

For a little biographical info about Mastroianni, I recommend this interesting piece written by a Blue Jays’ website in 2010. While they label him as a likely fourth outfielder, they also mention him in the same breath as Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Brett Gardner; if that was more than wishful thinking, the Twins just got an incredible steal by bringing this guy in. On the lighter side, the bio includes a video of Mastroianni doing the YMCA dance, which I’m sure you were dying to see. Also of note: his defensive stats rank him as an “average” center fielder, which would indicate he could be above average as a corner outfielder. Finally, the site notes that Mastroianni briefly attended Winthrop University, which Twins fans may remember was also the alma mater of noted scholar Kevin Slowey.

So that means that Mastroianni might single-handedly replace Repko, Punto, and Slowey. At this rate, the Twins won’t need a bench or a bullpen. This guy can do it all!

But what about the other guy Mastroianni replaced? The one whose spot he took on the 40 man roster? Esmerling Vasquez was unceremoniously dumped to the waiver wire to make room for him, which could have ended his Twins career before he ever threw a pitch. We learned Monday that Vasquez cleared waivers, and he will be invited to Spring Training as a non-roster player. This means that Puckett’s Pond’s Non-Roster Invitee series is about to get longer, and you can expect a profile of Vasquez later this week.

But the Vasquez decision also provides a little insight into the workings of the Twins front office. The Twins claimed the then 27 year old right-hander off waivers from the Diamondbacks the day before the season ended last September. It looked like the latest move in a growing trend whereby the Twins were stocking up on high-velocity bullpen arms at the expense of the pinpoint control they usually emphasize. Like Vasquez, 2011 acquisitions Jim Hoey and Lester Oliveros can throw fast but often have trouble notching strikes.

Fast forward a couple months. The Twins let Hoey walk via waivers, and they were willing to take the chance that Vasquez would do the same without ever giving him a chance to play. Why the change of heart? This is utter speculation, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Terry Ryan is calling the shots again. Bill Smith brought in all three of the aforementioned power arms, but he is not the GM anymore. Perhaps Ryan feels the team needs to stick to its pitch-to-contact roots.

Just a theory, but it makes sense.