For the most part, there has not been a ton to complain about this season for Twins fans. By playing .500 baseball, the Minnesota Twins are exceeding expectations in 2013.
Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau look like themselves, Chris Parmelee has shown power at the plate and has a cannon for an arm and even Aaron Hicks appears to have turned a corner.
In terms of pitching, Scott Diamond looks like himself after surgery, and Pedro Hernandez, 23, is making that Francisco Liriano trade look pretty good (so too is Eduardo Escobar, by the way).
There are some players that have to tweak their game a little bit, however. Trevor Plouffe has to be more reliable defensively, Vance Worley can’t give up so many runs in the first inning and Mike Pelfrey has to go longer into games.
If all three players can make these adjustments, the Twins will really be able to shock the baseball world early in the season.
Trevor Plouffe Needs to Be More Aggressive on Defense
By hitting 24 home runs last year, Plouffe has established himself as a power hitter at the major league level. The No. 20 overall pick in 2004, Plouffe raked in the minor leagues, hitting 46 home runs at the Triple-A level, but struggled to acclimate to big league pitching until last season.
Plouffe may never be a .300 hitter, but he has proven that he will stay above the Mendoza line and his power numbers make him a threat late in the lineup.
If he’s going to be an everyday player, however, the converted shortstop must be more reliable at the hot corner. Plouffe can play as a corner outfielder, but both Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia occupy left field right now, Chris Parmelee has right locked down and there is more of a need at third base.
Plouffe committed 17 errors at third last season, and while there has been visible improvement—most notably, he has been more on target with his throws—the Southern Californian has already committed two errors this year.
His most recent gaffe in the field was generously ruled a run. Instead of advancing toward the ball, Plouffe backed up and missed it with his outstretched glove. “A professional player should make that play,” GM Terry Ryan told Phil Mackey of ESPN 1500. “You might give a hit to a high school kid or a college kid, but a professional baseball player should make that.”
“He just didn't attack it," echoed manager Gardenhire. "He stepped back. It took a bad hop after the fact, but basically it was right there and he just took a side step to play the big hop...He's just not attacking enough right now, stepping back a lot.”
Plouffe was given two days off after the incident. Veteran Jamey Carroll and utility man Eduardo Escobar are both capable of playing third base. If Plouffe wants to stay in the lineup, he must be more aggressive with balls hit at him.
Vance Worley Needs to Start Strong
That’s how many runs Vance Worley has given up in the first inning of his six starts. The Vanimal is currently 0-4 and has only gone seven innings once this season in a no-decision outing against the Chicago White Sox on April 20. Worley gave up a run in the first inning, but the team was able to win the contest in 10 innings, giving reliever Casey Fien the win.
Worley did not give up a run in the first inning of his fifth start, which came on May 26 against the Texas Rangers, but saw his team lose despite accruing eight hits.
His worst outing this year was against the New York Mets on April 12. Worley gave up 10 runs in the first two innings and was removed from the game without registering an out in the second frame.
Being the supposed “ace” on a staff that has mostly No. 3-caliber starters is difficult, especially when two AL Central opponents, the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, own two of the better offenses in the league. Worley can hold down the position, however, as long as he gives his team a chance to win every night.
Getting off to a better start is the first step.
Mike Pelfrey Needs to Go Longer into Games
From 2008 to 2011, Pelfrey pitched 180 or more innings for the Mets. The No. 9 overall pick in 2005 was considered a solid, top-of-the-rotation starter capable of pitching 200 innings in a good season.
In 2012 he only made three starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The procedure has become so commonplace in baseball that we forget that, well, there’s no such thing as a routine surgery. While there appears to be an expectation that a pitcher will return to normal the next season, as long as he has a pitch count, that is not always the case.
In fact, Twins fans will remember that former ace Francisco Liriano was never the same after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2006. He had one great season in 2010 when he won 14 games, but otherwise was good ol’ Frustrating Frankie.
Pelfrey is probably a little easier on pitching coach Rick Anderson, who claims that Liriano gave him many a grey hair, but the procedure may be slowing him down a little bit.
Pelfrey has yet to go six innings this season, and while he has picked up two wins, he also only pitched two innings in Kansas City and 4.2 against the hapless Miami Marlins. He maintains that he is feeling fine and it will all come back, but if he is unable to give Minnesota quality starts, the Twins are going to have to make a move sooner or later.
All three of the men listed here are talented and proven at the major league level. All of them are in their prime and will be given ample opportunity to prove themselves. All of them also play a pivotal role in Minnesota’s success this season.
By making the correct adjustment, Plouffe’s errors in the field, Worley’s poor starts and Pelfrey’s short innings will be a distant memory by the end of the season. Hopefully they can make it happen.