If you haven't had a chance to listen to Jack Steal's special Friday podcast you should check it out. I made it on about 10 minutes into the show, and we were also lucky to be joined by Seth Stohs. In addition to the great discussion, the show got me thinking about how many tough roster decisions the Twins are going to have ahead of them.
People talk about Perkins and Casilla being on the trading block, and that's very likely, but the most interesting decision I'm looking at now is the outfield.
Currently, the Twins have Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, and Denard Span slated for the outfield, with Jason Kubel as the go-to sub at the corners when he's not DHing. I think everyone still acknowledges that there's no apparent backup center fielder on the Twins roster -- no one, that is, except the mysterious Jason Pridie.
Pridie is in an interesting situation. The Twins seemed to take a shine to him when he was in the Rays' minor league system (but the Twins always seem to take a shine to slap-hitting rangy outfielders...), and after taking him -- and losing him back -- in the Rule 5 draft, the Twins finally got their man as a throw-in in the Garza-Young blockbuster a couple years ago.
Since then, Pridie has been the primary center fielder for the Rochester Red Wings, playing center in over 200 games in 2 seasons, and usually finding himself pencilled into the leadoff spot in the order. He's hit an uninspiring (but not awful) .270/.305/.435 in '08 and .265/.295/.382 in '09, which aren't far off from his career minor league numbers. He's got a little bit of speed (25 stolen bases each year), and Brendan Harris-like pop in his bat.
In the field, Pridie has pretty decent range and supposedly not too much of an arm. He can hold his own though, and other than him, there aren't many immediate options on our roster to fill Span's shoes if some sort of an injury were to occur and lead to prolonged absence. Pridie's Rochester teammate, Dustin Martin, could possibly step in, but he wasn't even shown the courtesy of a major-league invite in Spring Training, so I think Pridie has the upper hand.
Unless the front office goes out and gets someone like an Endy Chavez, it seems as if the 5th outfielder position is essentially going to be handed to Pridie on a silver platter. It's not as if his numbers or his performance indicate that he's banging on the door for this promotion, but they aren't particularly indicating that he couldn't handle the 5th outfielder role either. He's a cusper -- the fates have aligned and fortune has smiled on him.
When I was at Twins Fest, someone actually brought up this issue to Bill Smith -- "Who is our backup center fielder?" Quick on his feet, Smith replied that it was ultimately Gardy's decision, but that the way the Twins organization is constructed, we're built to stress versatility. That Punto and Tolbert are both capable of playing in the outfield if need be because they've taken reps there in the minors. (Don't balk, this was his answer.)
It is true, when I was in Rochester watching some games this past year, Tolbert played some left field (and made an amazing diving catch to essentially save the game once), but I think playing some corner outfield in AAA due to an infield logjam is a little different than being a backup center fielder in the majors. Sure Tolbert played center all of once in the minors, but to think that he's going to step in there except in an emergency pinch indicates someone is wearing rose-tinted glasses.
But at the same time, would it have been very inspiring for Bill Smith to say unequivocally that their backup center fielder is Jason Pridie? I think most fans would release a collective yawn, and others would probably cringe -- his first taste of the bigs came in the post-season drive of '08 when he miffed a simple fly ball as a late inning defensive replacement in Toronto, which ultimately led to us losing the game (and ending up in a one-game playoff with the White Sox, and you remember how that turned out...). In fact, after that miffed ball Pridie really only got pinch running experience because nobody wanted to see him in the field.
Ok, this entry is coming off as much more Pridie-bashing than originally intended. I would love to see him thrive and make it as our backup outfielder. In fact, I think he could do very well -- certainly better than some of our backup outfielders -- that fielding error in Toronto was surely a case of the jitters which has more than likely worn off, and his batting numbers certainly aren't bad for a last option outfielder off the bench. And his speed? Well, we'll need someone pinch running a lot next year.
Let's think of this article as simply venting out all the negativity against Pridie and hoping that he makes the roster out of camp and succeeds. That would be a heartwarming story for a guy who has been so close on the cusp of getting a major league position for a couple years now.
In fact, this could really be a good break for him. When the Twins break camp without any other options backing up Span, well, that day, he might just consider himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth...