Monday, July 8, 2013

What Do The Twins Have In Plouffe?

At this point in the season, I'm just looking for any small positives. Mostly, those have been generated by the minor league system. However, there are a few minor bright spots on the major league roster as well. Ironic that the major leaguers are more minor reasons for optimism, but I digress. Oswaldo Arcia has been just what we expected, Aaron Hicks has shown flashes of excellence and continues to improve, Mauer has stayed healthy and Sam Deduno and Brian Dozier have developed into serviceable major leaguers. The player who interests me today, however, is Trevor Plouffe.

I've talked about Plouffe before, but he's been a mystery for most of his career. A mystery to me, at least. He came up through the minors as a  light hitting shortstop -- I expected a good defensive utility guy. In 2011 he crushed AAA pitching -- I thought he could be a four corner (1B, 3B, RF and LF) right handed bat off the bench. Then between 2012 and 2013 he grabbed a hold of third base. Perhaps that language is a bit strong as he hasn't had much competition to fend off, coming in the form of Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar.

But here we are with Trevor Plouffe having a firm grip on third base and as the top right-handed bat in the lineup (with Willingham hitting the DL this past weekend). In fact, he's been the third best hitter on the Twins according to wOBA (a fairly complete measure of offensive contribution) behind just Mauer and Arcia. He's cut his strikeout rate to an above average  16.3% clip which bodes well for his batting average. I wouldn't be overly surprised if he ended the season at or above .270, which for the record, is actually very good (league average is .254). Unfortunately Plouffe still doesn't walk much at all but makes up for it with above average power. His power has dropped off since his thumb contusion in July of 2012. However, he still boasts 25 double and 20 homer power.

His offensive game is pretty clearly Plouffe's strength with his third base defense lagging behind. He just doesn't have a quick first step and his arm is erratic. Then again, JJ Hardy didn't necessarily have a great first step and still played a mean defensive shortstop. And maybe he can learn to make the throw across the diamond more consistently. The tools are there to become a decent third baseman but as of now he's below average at the position.

Combined, his above average offensive profile and below average defensive profile grades Trevor out to be a solid-average third baseman with the potential to improve from there. Unfortunately, he won't have much time to make these improvements as Miguel Sano is flying up the minor leagues with a 2014 ETA and will almost certainly supplant Plouffe at third, leaving him to either find a new position or multiple as a super-utility, power-hitting, right-handed bat. Regardless of exactly where he ends up, he'll be a valuable piece for the Twins until he reaches free agency 2018.

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