We happened to have the Twins game on the radio as we drove home from an important event Tuesday night. It was the fourth inning of a fairly uneventful game against the Padres, with Cory Provus and Dan Gladden doing the call as per usual.
In the midst of describing the action, though, we were struck by some commentary from Gladden and quickly snagged a recording of it. Josh Willingham, Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia were the batters due up, and Gladden was describing a conversation he had pregame with Willingham about why so many of his home runs go to left field. Willingham, per Gladden, said it has to do with his top hand — that his swing style made him a pull hitter — and Gladden concluded that part by telling Willingham to keep doing what he is doing and not worry about going to right field. That led into this exchange between Gladden and Provus:
Provus: “I wonder for a young hitter coming up in today’s game, if they’re labeled as a dead pull hitter, if that’s a label they are eager to change as their careers kind of blossom?”
Gladden: “You know what, here’s one thing I hope can kind of get rooted or maybe even changed to an extent, and that is the philosophy of the Twins. … You’ve heard it: ‘You’ve got to hit the ball the other way.’ It’s almost like everybody who puts a Twins uniform on, they’re taught to go the other way. … A guy like Arcia right here, what are we hearing? ‘He’s trying to pull the ball. He’s trying to pull the ball. We need to have him go the other way.’ Arcia to me is a dead-red pull guy, so let’s teach him to pull the ball rather than try to teach him to go the other way and hit doubles and singles — which he can do, but that’s not his game. … We had Jim Thome here, kind of a one-dimensional, one-field type guy. David Ortiz, when we heard after he left, they told him to pull the ball and that’s what he’s done. I think the philosophy — you need to be able to evaluate the player. Vargas is a guy that should have opposite-field power.”
While we’ve certainly heard Twins radio broadcasters critique bad pitches or poor at bats, we couldn’t recall hearing such a strong commentary on a general philosophy. While it’s not particularly controversial — and to be honest, it’s refreshing — it did catch our attention.
But truth be told, we don’t listen to the Twins on the radio often — usually just if we have some errands to run at night, or if we happen to have a long drive within the region during a game.
In that regard, maybe folks who more regularly listen to the Twins on the radio can help us out: Was that in character with what Gladden might typically say, or did it branch into different territory?
We should learn a decent amount about the Twins over the final two months, even if they are not in contention. Watching players like Kennys Vargas, Danny Santana and (hopefully) Trevor May and Alex Meyer will at least make things somewhat interesting.
Those players are auditioning for the future, having given the Twins a small taste of what they can do either in the majors or at high levels in the minors. But these final two months of the season are not important for them in the same way they are important for these five players, who seem to be at critical junctures with the organization:
1) Trevor Plouffe: He’s basically been a slightly above league average hitter this year, with a .728 OPS (MLB average is .719 for third basemen) and 103 OPS+ (again, just above the generally accepted average of 100). He looks like a more polished hitter at the plate than in previous seasons, but his overall numbers — even the advanced ones — look pretty similar to 2012 and 2013. Is he an everyday player? Probably not on a good team. Is he a useful utility player and a good bat to start a few times a week and pinch hit? Quite possibly. By the end of the year, barring injury, he will have had about 2,000 MLB plate appearances. That’s enough for the Twins to decide what he is, and the impression he makes over the final 50 games will be the freshest sample size they see.
2) Chris Parmelee: Very similar to Plouffe this season with a 103 OPS+ and a .731 OPS. Just when we’re ready to give up on Parmelee, he shows signs of life. And as soon as we concede he could be a useful player, he goes in a funk. For his career, he actually hits righties and lefties about the same, a rarity for a left-handed batter. He has a decent glove at first base and isn’t completely lost in the outfield. But he’ll be closing in on 1,000 career PAs by season’s end. Does he have a role on a better team, particularly if Vargas sticks and Joe Mauer is healthy? Again, that’s a big question for the Twins and therefore a meaningful stretch coming up for Parmelee.
3) Eduardo Escobar: He’s been a pleasant surprise holding down shortstop since Pedro Florimon lost the job. But this is Danny Santana’s spot long-term, just as Santana is holding down Byron Buxton’s spot in center field. What Escobar has at least done this season is shown he could be a very useful utility infielder and spot-starter/injury replacement. But he will need to sustain his good work over the final stretch to make the Twins more confident in his long-term value.
4) Oswaldo Arcia: He has so much potential, and though it seems like he’s been here for a while (more than 600 PAs between 2013 and 2014), it’s important to remember he just turned 23. There is time for him to go from a tantalizing streak hitter to a more consistent threat. We had high hopes for Arcia, and while his numbers right now aren’t really that far off from his encouraging rookie season, he has arrived here in fits and starts that make it feel like a disappointment. We believe he has the talent to be in the lineup many days a week on a good team. August and September, though, will be meaningful in that evaluation and his development.
5) Joe Mauer: Let’s be honest in saying this has been a brutal year for Joe. He’s been at his career-worst at the plate, and as soon as he’s shown signs of life, he’s gotten hurt. All of this, too, has come after a position switch that in theory was supposed to make him more durable and able to produce at the plate because of the reduced wear-and-tear of catching. Joe will turn 32 early next season. He has four years left after this one on his massive contract. Unless he wants to waive his no-trade clause, which we can’t imagine he does, the Twins and Mauer are in this for the long haul. If he can come back from his injury soon and at least finish this season strong, it would provide some hope that he can get close to being the Mauer of old in 2015. If not, there will be a nagging concern that old Mauer is gone and instead Mauer is just old.