Saturday, September 4, 2010

It's All About Depth

Wow, looking at my last posting date it's been QUITE awhile since I've ventured around my own corner of the internet and helped contribute to our blogosphere. My apologies for being so remiss -- I suppose that's what happens when you have to balance a demanding day job on top of your passion but it makes me all the more appreciative of the guys out there who blog about our team nearly every day despite everything else going on in their lives...

At the outset of the season I had one concern about the Twins roster which I voiced several times in podcasts and posts. It was the question of depth. Unlike many years where the Twins were relying on guys from their farm to step into key positions from the outset or bringing in stopgap veterans, the Twins front office aggressively pursued trades and free agents to bolster the 25-man roster for the first year in their new house.

Gold-glove caliber All-Stars were brought in to shore up the SS and 2B positions, Thome filled a long empty power bat off the bench role, and almost every other player on our roster seemed primed for a solid year.

As we all know by now, the opening day roster for the Twins has barely been active together at one time since the first week. This was and always has been my biggest concern: what happens if the pieces we brought in and the pieces we already had ended up dropping out for extended periods?

Going into 2010, the Rochester Red Wings roster was full of unproven, unready, and uninspiring prospects for the most part -- and that demonstrated itself in the dismal season that's played out at Frontier Field. But what fans in Rochester haven't seen on display, the Twins have been fortunate enough to reap the benefits of.

Danny Valencia, one of the top prospects in the Twins system who many were clamoring for to break camp with the team (myself included) has stepped up heads above anyone else. Anchoring the long upheaval of names strolling through the 3B position on the Twins roster, Valencia has shown the Twins solid-if-not-flashy defense and a white-hot bat with a penchant for timely hits.

Trevor Plouffe, a potential middle infielder of the future and former first-round draft pick has survived a constant flux of shuttling back and forth between the big leagues and AAA to always be there when the Twins have needed him. While his learning curve of adapting to Major League pitching hasn't quite been as fast as we'd like, he's conducting himself like a pro and hasn't taken his offensive woes with him onto the field -- allowing one error in 70 innings.

Drew Butera has been quite a surprise. His even-keeled manner behind the plate and maturity and calm have helped keep our ever-changing pitching staff together. While his bat will never be anything to speak of he's still had his share of clutch hits, but it's his glove-work, gun, and ability to call a game that put him light-years above many 2nd string catchers around the league. And with a guy like Mauer in front of him on the depth chart, we don't need another .300 hitting catcher on the roster.

Alex Burnett was one of the more pivotal performers out of the bullpen at the start of the season. Making the quick jump from AA to the Majors when he broke camp, Burnett held hitters over the first half of the season to a .278 BAA. While the hits came more frequently after the first couple of months as hitters began to adjust -- Burnett has shown poise far beyond his years that will certainly help him out as he makes a bid for a bullpen spot next year.

Jason Repko has meant more than we could've expected. While at the beginning of the year I was clamoring for the Twins to add a bench outfielder along the lines of Endy Chavez, Angel Pagan, or Juan Pierre, the Twins never made any such move. Jacque Jones was brought in for some AAA depth (and I'm still hoping we at least see him once this September), but other than Span there was really no true centerfielder on the team. There were musings of Punto and Tolbert filling in as a backup outfielder (and look where that ended up) but eventually the front office made a move for a AAAA guy with spectacular defense and a career that had never really lived up to its potential in Los Angeles. Where would we be without Repko on the team? His dazzling glove in the outfield has made up for the lack of range elsewhere on our team and his brilliant putout on a deep fly Friday night likely saved the first game of this pivotal series against the Rangers.

There are countless examples. Matt Fox's solid last-minute debut. Key pickups like Capps, Fuentes, and Flores to help anchor an exhausted and depleted bullpen. Brian Duensing's light's out performance out of the 'pen translating itself as a starter. Luke Hughes brief but exalting moment in the spotlight with a homerun in his first AB.

Despite the fact that the Red Wings have scuffled and fallen flat all season long, their team has contributed greatly to the success of the Twins and we owe it to the gutsy performance of these players to be seated atop the Central and fighting for the possible position of homefield advantage in the first round.

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