With Justin Morneau Gone, Who Should Play First Base for the Minnesota Twins?
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While there is a sentimental camp that believes the Twins are giving Morneau a taste of what it is like to contend—knowing that Minnesota was a contender not so long ago—and will bring him back on a $20-30 million deal next season, it’s hard to see him being signed in the offseason…even as a person that really liked him.
He may not play for Pittsburgh next season, of course, the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers might throw Monopoly money at him and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim might give him cash just to add another high-risk player since that seems to be their M.O, but he is unlikely to play another game for the Twins.
Who knows? Maybe the Pirates retain him. Maybe the Detroit Tigers or Cleveland Indians pick him up just to mess with the Twins. Maybe he goes and plays for Hanshin Tigers because he misses Tsuyoshi Nishioka so much.
He could come back, of course, but from a practical standpoint it makes sense to part ways with the first baseman. I’m not going to go all Baseball-is-a-Business Guy on you, I realize that it is ultimately a game, but when you look at it pragmatically, Minnesota will not contend for another year, therefore they should not sink a lot of money into an aging player with a history of head injuries when they have a lot of options at first base.
At age 30, Joe Mauer may be in his prime, but with his recent concussion, the Twins best player needs to be weaned off of the plate.
Chris Parmelee needs to get his bat going and should spend most of his time in right field where he plays the ball off of the wall exceptionally well, but he is also an option at first.
Chris Colabello, 29, is old for a rookie, but his 31 home runs between the minors and majors are more than any player in Minnesota’s system except for Miguel Sano.
Speaking of Sano, the Dominican phenom may take Trevor Plouffe’s place at third base. A sub-par defensive player to begin with, Plouffe’s bat lit up last year and he is likely to continue to produce when healthy. Using him at first base would keep his bat in the lineup while freeing up a designated hitter spot.
In truth, Minnesota would be well served to platoon first base. Mauer wants to be a catcher, Parmelee is a good right fielder, Colabello is still a wild card and Plouffe can play third and in the outfield as well.
Options are a good thing in baseball and when you look at each player more in depth, there is a reason, beyond the fact that his contract is up, that the aging Morneau was shipped out of Minnesota as the team continues to rebuild.
Mauer is not going to like this, but we all know he is going to end up at first base, or at least spend more time there, in the near future.
By no means should he be forced to play a position he does not want to, but an eventual move to first is in his best interest.
His bat is still good enough to justify putting him at first and as a former basketball and football player in college, he is more than athletic enough to field the position (or third base…which is a topic for another time).
Nobody wants to see the hometown hero suffer an injury in his prime, even those Mauer haters, and he is more likely to get hurt behind the plate than he is at first base.
Mauer is the best player on the Twins. He is one of the best hitters in the league and Minnesota needs him healthy when the next wave of prospects reaches the big leagues.
Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia and Kyle Gibson have already had a taste. Byron Buxton, Sano and Alex Meyer are on their way. Mauer needs to be playing at 100 percent when they truly “arrive” and are capable major league players.
Moving to first base will greatly help the cause.
Right field is where Parmelee belongs. He’s unlikely to make highlight reel grabs, but it is the everyday stuff that makes him a great fielder.
Nobody turns on ESPN’s Top 10 expecting to see somebody field a ball exceptionally well off the wall. Even if a great throw is made that beats a runner trying to stretch a double, it’s more likely to show up on the MLB Network or FOX Sports North than it is on ESPN or Fox Sports 1.
Still, there are many players in the league that can make ridiculous catches, but few that play the ball off the wall as well as Parmelee. His ability to read a hard hit ball is especially important in Target Field where the walls are high and there are about 10 different surfaces that a ball can bounce off of.
I’m elaborating on that only because it is that ability which will allow Parmelee to get another look next season.
He possesses a powerful bat and raising his average would do the 25-year-old wonders, but it is his play in the field that will get him at-bats. There is plenty of power in Minnesota—Plouffe, Arcia, Colabello, et cetera—and for Parmelee to get time in the majors, especially at first, his fielding needs to remain solid.
The Twins should also have a glut of outfielders in the future, however, with Clete Thomas, Darin Mastroianni, Hicks and eventually Buxton patrolling centerfield and Josh Willingham, Arcia and possibly Plouffe taking up room in the corners.
There is no real need to make Parmelee an everyday right fielder or make him DH when first base is going to be open.
He may be a right fielder most of the time, but he definitely should be considered at first.
It’s really hard to know what to make of Colabello.
He spent the first seven years of his career in the Canadian-American Independent league playing for his hometown (and now defunct) Worcester Tornadoes before getting his shot with the Twins organization at age 28.
He raked in the minors, hitting .352/.427/.639 with 24 home runs in Triple-A Rochester this season and has displayed some power against major league hitting this season.
He’s been so-so so far as a big leaguer, to be honest, but good enough to be considered at first—his natural position.
While his age, 29, may deter some people from believing in him, remember that the Twins are now a young team and with Willingham presumably leaving next season, the team cannot expect Mauer to take care of all the kiddies all by himself.
Colabello is a weird rookie-veteran who has had very little time in the major leagues, but has been playing baseball professionally since age 21.
He’s not going to have Morneau pull in the locker room, but all signs point to him being a good influence on the team even though he is relatively new to major league baseball.
I don’t care what your rational argument for letting Plouffe go is—he’s not a great defensive player, he has suffered nagging injuries to his calf and thumb or he had an awful second half at the plate—he’s the resident cool kid and you don’t let the cool kid go as long as he hits above the Mendoza Line.
He plays hacky sack and Frisbee in his free time, he comes from Castaic Lake out in Southern California, the same place the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were filmed, and has facial hair down pat.
His beard is trimmed to perfection: long enough to be visible on the television screen, but short enough to look youthful. Robin Thicke once called him asking for his razor back.
Sure, if Plouffe hits .150 with no power at the beginning of next season, he’ll have to learn how to make money kicking around a foot bag, but the 24 homers he hit last season and his .321/.351/.528 line in June indicate that his bat is worth keeping around.
He has improved at third base, but he still has committed 11 errors this season and eventually the hot corner will become Sano’s to lose.
Bleacher Report’s Mike Rosenbaum recently reported that the Dominican slugger looked solid at third base in his recent trip to New Britain. “I was particularly impressed with his body control at third base,” he wrote. “Despite his size, he’s more athletic than people seem to realize.”
To keep Plouffe in the lineup without using the DH spot, the Twins will have to use him in the outfield and at first base. It is definitely something worth considering if his bat heats up in September.
Minnesota will be best served platooning first base. It is an easy defensive position and guys like Mauer and Parmelee are best served playing another position (catcher, right field) primarily and guys like Colabello and Plouffe still have something to prove at the plate despite all the promise they have shown.
Morneau will always be welcomed back, but at this point it looks like that will manifest itself in applause from the audience rather than a spot as the team’s future first baseman.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.
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