Farm fresh: Injuries force Twins to rely on minor-leaguers

Categories: Baseball

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Tony Nelson
What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago this column was devoted to the notion that the Twins had too many outfielders, and that someone, particularly Josh Willingham, had to go.

Well, Willingham is still out, the Twins are still waiting for Oswaldo Arcia, and while Aaron Hicks came back after concussion-like symptoms, Sam Fuld went on the DL for the same reason. By mid-week, the club was making a series of roster moves, shuffling players just to plug holes in the outfield.

See also:
Odd man out? The Twins suddenly have a glut of outfielders

First the good news: The patchwork actually worked in Detroit over the weekend, where the Twins took two of three. No matter the lineup, taking two of three in the Motor City is a sure way to build on a successful season, as the Tigers are leading the AL Central by five-and-a-half games and are six up on the last-place Twins.

Second, that phrase "last-place Twins" is a bit too familiar around here lately, but the team is 17-19 and seems more determined to compete in games now than in any time over the last three seasons. The series win in Detroit displayed some guts.

The rub is that the Twins played Eduardo Nunez, Danny Santana and Eduardo Escobar -- all three nominally shortstops -- on Saturday. Nunez played left field and Santana spelled Hicks in center.

Can they continue to win this way? By Thursday, in Cleveland for a day game, it looked like the wheels had come off on the 2014 Twins. Fuld showed up at the park with a massive headache and was an immediate scratch - the Twins called up Nunez from AAA Rochester, but because of the early start time, couldn't make the game.

Afterward, a smoldering manager Ron Gardenhire tersely announced that Chris Herrmann, who had been playing mostly right field, and struggling shortstop Pedro Florimon would be sent down to Rochester. Gardy told the assembled media that he would entertain no questions on the subject. It seemed as though the skipper was going through a bit of a panic that gave way to obvious frustration.

Sending Florimon down seemed especially difficult for Gardenhire, even though Florimon is only hitting .108. The manager said he's still a good shortstop - in fact, Florimon's fielding is some of the best in the game right now - but he needed to start hitting about two weeks ago for this team to be successful.

Then again, Nunez, Escobar and especially Santana have shown some encouraging signs.

Escobar is hitting .333 with nine doubles in 63 at bats. On Sunday in Detroit, he went 2-for-4. And while he may not be as quick to the ball as Folrimon, the guy is no slouch in the field -- he has just one error this season.

Nunez is best known for subbing for Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees. The most he played for that club was 112 games in 2011, hitting .265 with little power, but he moved around from third to second and mostly short. He's a bit error-prone, committing 20 that season. But he has played the outfield well.

Santana is the most exciting of the group, at just 23 years old. He batted .297 at Class AA New Britain last season with 22 doubles, 10 triples and 30 stolen bases. And his speed is what got him here, and made him the natural choice for center field. The Twins have speed on this team when they're healthy - Fuld, Hicks and Florimon in particular - but Santana is likely their fastest player, a skill he has already displayed at center. He seems to have adjusted to the major-league level quickly at the plate: Santana is 8-for-19 with three doubles and three RBI since being called up May 3. And he played 23 games in center during his minor league career.

But the Twins are already concerned about his fielding, with Gardenhire chastising him after the Thursday game in Cleveland for not getting the ball to first quickly enough. And while at short, Santana has a tendency to drop throws coming in from the outfield.

The Twins as an organization have had the reputation for decades of having a great farm system. That belief was badly shaken the last three years. The club has said the farm system is back in shape. Because of injuries, we may be seeing the first test of that claim.


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