Minnesota Twins: Putting Together Their Best Defensive Lineup
For many years, the Minnesota Twins have prided themselves as being one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the field.
But like many things for the Twins in the past two seasons, that reputation has been escaping them.
In 2011, the Twins ranked 13th in the American League by committing 119 errors. Things didn't get better in 2012, as the Twins finished 11th but committed 107 errors.
Things will need to change if the Twins want to climb out of the basement of the American League Central.
For that to happen, manager Ron Gardenhire needs to find the best defensive combination to help out a pitching staff that has also been slaughtered over the past two seasons.
With a philosophy known as pitch to contact, this lineup can help the Twins win a couple more games and maybe surprise the American League Central in 2012.
Catcher: Joe Mauer
Health is a major question mark when it comes to Joe Mauer's prospects as a catcher.
When the five-time All-Star is healthy, Mauer is one of the best catchers in the game. The problem the Twins have had is finding a way to keep him behind the plate without wearing him out.
Mauer spent a majority of the 2011 season with multiple injuries and illnesses, and the Twins defense struggled mightily.
While Mauer's return to health didn't mean a full-time return to catcher duties, he remained the team's best backstop defensively ahead of Ryan Doumit and Drew Butera.
Mauer's work has been done as a catcher, and with three Gold Glove awards, he has proved that the Twins need him behind the plate in order to succeed.
First Base: Justin Morneau
Where health is a major concern with having Joe Mauer behind the plate, Justin Morneau has the same issues at first base.
Just like Mauer, Morneau is by far and away the Twins best first baseman.
Morneau has not won a Gold Glove award in his career, but that can be attributed to the plethora of talented first basemen in the American League.
When Morneau is healthy, he's able to make highlight-reel picks and dives and force his way into the conversation to win his first Gold Glove.
However, that's where Morneau's lengthy history of concussions comes into play. If Morneau bangs his head one more time, it could be a career-ending injury.
It's a risk the Twins have to take as the heir apparent to first base, Chris Parmelee, has some work to do if he wants to ascend to Morneau's level defensively.
Second Base: Jamey Carroll
Jamey Carroll will not make the hair on the necks of Twins fans stand on end, but he's a solid utility player that can play solid defense throughout the infield.
In the 2012 season, Carroll played second base, shortstop and third base. For all three positions, Carroll posted a range factor above the league average, giving the Twins defense a major boost.
So if Carroll can get it done all over the diamond, why should the Twins play him at second base?
Basically, Carroll is the last man standing.
Alexi Casilla has moved onto Baltimore, and Brian Dozier is more comfortable playing at shortstop, which is his natural position.
With Carroll able to solidify the middle of the diamond, he can execute the routine plays and fortify the middle of the diamond.
Shortstop: Brian Dozier
2012 will be an important season for Brian Dozier as he tries to lock down the starting shortstop job for years to come.
One of the advantages that Dozier has heading into year two is that he's able to field well at shortstop.
Dozier is an above-average shortstop according to his 4.89 range factor per nine innings, which crushes the American League average of 4.43.
His arm needs work, as he committed 15 errors in 83 games, but Dozier has learned a lot from the tutelage of Jamey Carroll and can take the next step with a solid defensive season.
Third Base: Trevor Plouffe
How on earth can a player that tied for the American League lead with 19 errors at third base be in the Twins' best defensive lineup?
Because there's nobody else that's anywhere near ready to provide an improvement.
Trevor Plouffe was one of the worst defenders in the American League in 2012, but the Twins didn't have any choice with their top prospect Miguel Sano several years away from making an impact on the major league roster and Danny Valencia being sent packing after an abysmal start.
Plouffe was seen as the team's last resort and will likely be in the same situation as the team heads to Fort Myers next week.
The only other option is the young utility man Eduardo Escobar, who was acquired in the Francisco Liriano trade. However, he's more of a middle infield prospect than a third base prospect.
The Twins have a conundrum with Plouffe, and the hope has to be that he will improve to give the Twins a sufficient stopgap until Sano is ready to contribute.
Left Field: Darin Mastroianni
If you ask a Twins fan for the team's best players, they'll likely respond with Josh Willingham within the first three names. However, The Hammer's defense is something that leaves a lot to be desired.
That's why replacing Willingham with Darin Mastroianni makes sense.
Mastroianni's best position in 2012 was right field, but he's shown an ability to get to many balls with his blazing speed and has a decent arm that can help keep runners honest heading toward the plate.
Nobody will be calling for Willingham's head because of his defense, but the Twins are best suited by putting the Silver Slugger winner at designated hitter and putting Mastroianni in his place.
Center Field: Aaron Hicks
The Twins left a gaping hole in center field after the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere, but Aaron Hicks is the one major league-ready center fielder that can help fill that void.
For a long time, people have raved about Hicks' five-tool ability as a center fielder. His development has taken a while, but the door is open for the 2007 first-round pick to claim a major league roster spot this spring.
Hicks doesn't have the speed that Span and Revere possessed, but he's able to get to most balls and has a strong arm that can help keep runners honest.
There's hope among Twins fans that the light bulb for Hicks clicked on during a career year at Double-A New Britain in 2012, and if he has a strong spring, he can begin the season with the big league club.
Right Field: Oswaldo Arcia
The selection of Oswaldo Arcia is not a slam on current right fielder Chris Parmelee, but it's more that we don't know exactly what the former first-round pick is capable of in the outfield.
Meanwhile, Arcia has shown that he can not only hit (.328 average at Double-A New Britain), but he can play spectacular defense as well.
Arcia's range factor for 2012 while playing right field was 2.31, which is well over the league average of 1.99. His arm also played a major part in his rising prospect status as he recorded 15 outfield assists between New Britain and High-A Fort Myers.
The rise of Arcia may be another reason why the Twins can send Justin Morneau packing in July in order to clear a roster spot for the 21-year-old phenom.