The seventh part of the nine-part series breaking down each position for the 2014 Minnesota Twins examines third base. It’s a position that the Twins need improvement from this year if the team is going to make strides offensively.
Trevor Plouffe (.254/.309/.392, 14 HR, 52 RBI in 129 games)
Eduardo Escobar (.236/.282/.345, 3 HR, 10 RBI in 66 games)
After a big year in 2012 in which Plouffe hit 24 home runs and had 55 RBI in his first full season in the majors, his numbers took a step back in 2013. He hit 10 fewer home runs in 10 more games and also struck out 20 more times in that span. His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) dropped from .756 in 2012 to .701 last year. In short, it was not the season the Twins hoped to see from Plouffe, who regressed instead of progressed during his fourth season in the majors.
Plouffe did improve a bit defensively at third base. Originally a shortstop for Minnesota, Plouffe ultimately moved to third base because he was error-prone at short. After committing 17 errors in 95 games at third base in 2012, he cut down that number to 13 in 120 games there in 2013. But it was his bat that proved to be more disappointing than his glove last season in a year in which the Twins were counting on his offense in the lineup.
One positive for Plouffe was that he stayed relatively healthy in 2013, playing in a career-high 129 games. Minnesota used veteran Jamey Carroll as a backup at third base in 29 games, while Escobar made 14 starts there and played a total of 23 games at third. While Escobar spent more time at shortstop last year, he handled third base just fine when he filled in for Plouffe.
Twins fans had their hopes up that this would be the year Miguel Sano, Minnesota’s stud third-base prospect, would finally make his major-league debut. Since he signed as a teenager in the Dominican Republic, Sano has been an intriguing minor-league prospect and he ranked as one of the best prospects in all of baseball. He hit a combined 35 home runs last year between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain. With his defense continuing to progress, it seemed only a matter of time before Sano was in the majors.
But a lingering elbow injury that first occurred back in November was ultimately determined this spring to need Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow. That means Sano will miss the entire 2014 season and will have to wait another year before debuting in the big leagues.
With Sano no longer a possibility as a midseason call-up at third base, the job is Plouffe’s for the time being. Without the pressure of a young prospect waiting in the wings to steal his position, Plouffe should be able to go out and play without worrying about his job security.
Minnesota needs Plouffe to rebound and have a big season. The Twins didn’t make many additions to the line this past winter and are instead hoping that guys like Plouffe can improve their numbers from a year ago. He’ll likely be batting fifth or sixth in the lineup, meaning he’ll need to drive in more than the 52 runs he did a year ago in order to take a step forward.
The Twins don’t have many other options at third right now besides Plouffe, at least not in the majors. Escobar will be bouncing around the infield as a utility infielder, and he’ll likely back up third base when Plouffe needs a day off. Deibinson Romero, who was promoted to Triple-A Rochester last year, is a possible candidate to come up from the minors as a fill-in at third base if needed.
KEY TO SUCCESS
For Plouffe, he needs to get back to being the player he was during his impressive stretch in 2012, not the hitter he was last year. For a time during the 2012 season, there were few hitters more hot than Plouffe. During a two-week stretch in June he hit nine homers and drove in 16 runs in 12 games, but he proceeded to cool off considerably the rest of the year. While no one is expecting Plouffe to hit like that for an entire year, it provided a glimpse of what Plouffe is capable of. The Twins are hoping he’s closer to his 2012 self than the player whose production dropped off in 2013.