The Minnesota Infield: Brian Dozier and a Bunch of Question Marks by Scott Strandberg January 30, 2015 It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here. The Minnesota Twins have a whole lot of boom-or-bust potential in their infield for 2015. Brian Dozier is the one relatively sure thing, having put up a solid year-and-a-half of excellent production, following his June 2013 breakout. Aside from him…well, there’s a reason I titled this column the way I did. Let’s start things off at first base and work our way around the diamond up in Minneapolis, shall we? FIRST BASE Joe Mauer Kennys Vargas While Mauer’s power had been stuck in the 10-homer range, he was still a highly productive hitter from 2010-2013, with the exception of his injury-riddled 2011 campaign. Last year was so bad, in so many ways, that it didn’t even remotely resemble a Joe Mauer season — even as we’ve known him in the post-Metrodome days. I think last year was below Mauer’s reasonably projectable floor for 2015. Mauer was coming off an offseason in which he dealt with concussion issues, and he suffered an oblique injury in July that cost him over a month. He hit much better after returning from the disabled list, with an OPS hovering at or above .800. I was discussing Mauer with my friend Matt earlier today, and he commented that Mauer’s reasonable ceiling these days is an average John Olerud season. The more I think about it, the more I really like that comp. An average John Olerud season was .295/.398/.465. Olerud was a better power hitter than most people remember him as, albeit in a more hitter-friendly period in baseball history. Still, he only surpassed 20 homers in five of his 15+ major-league seasons. He also never hit 28 homers — like Mauer did in 2009 — so from a fantasy perspective, it’s not a bad comp at all. We’re obviously never going to see another 2009 season from Mauer, but I think his true talent these days looks like his 2012 and 2013 seasons. Weighted offense around 40% above league-average, high batting average, ~10 homers, etc. Still…I’m really not sure why I just wrote so much about Joe Mauer in this fantasy baseball article. I’ve got plenty of other players to get to. Even if Mauer stays healthy, and goes full Olerud, how valuable is that in today’s fantasy first-base landscape? Especially if you’re not in an OBP league, does Mauer going full Olerud even push him beyond the borderline-starter role at first in a 12-team mixer? Why am I still writing about him? Vargas, yes, let us speak of Kennys Vargas. His .274/.316/.456 performance in the majors last year was very impressive for a guy who had never played an inning above High-A going into the year. His power ceiling is pretty darn high — it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he has a few 30-homer seasons in his career. However, I do have concerns about his ability to maintain a fantasy-worthy batting average. He only hit .267 in High-A in 2013, then .281 in Double-A last year. In short, don’t expect him to repeat his .274 AVG from last year. He’s got a good deal of swing-and-miss in his bat, but not enough that I think he’ll ever sink below the .230ish mark at the plate. Vargas is an interesting guy for 2015. He’ll definitely be a popular sleeper in AL-only leagues, as well as mixed leagues with a corner infield spot. I’ll put it this way: I’ll probably roll the dice on him in a couple leagues this year. In many formats, his upside is worth the minimal investment necessary to roster him. SECOND BASE Brian Dozier I wrote about Dozier in October, and my feelings about him haven’t changed. I view him as a clear-cut top-five fantasy second baseman for 2015. He’s been a stud for nearly two years now. He’s for real. SHORTSTOP Danny Santana Eduardo Escobar Eduardo Nunez There’s not a whole lot of reason to be optimistic that Santana could possibly live up to his spectacular rookie season. The guy had a .405 BABIP. Not gonna happen again. Furthermore, his poor plate discipline stats (4.4% BB-rate, 22.8% K-rate) don’t paint a rosy picture concerning his ability to get on base without an inflated BABIP. Still, he’s going to have fantasy value. Even if his 2014 power was a mirage — and I’m not entirely convinced that it was — he certainly has the speed to swipe a healthy amount of bases. The problem with Santana is that I view him as a borderline top-12 fantasy shortstop, and because of that, I guarantee you I will not own him in 2015. In just 101 games, he was the No. 7 fantasy shortstop in 2014. Someone in every league will be willing to pay more than I’d be comfortable with for his services. THIRD BASE Trevor Plouffe Miguel Sano On Plouffe, I’m going to defer to my fellow RotoGrapher Brandon Warne, whose offseason writeup I pretty much entirely agree with. I think he’s a sneaky fantasy option, but third base looks like it’s going to be a pretty deep position this year, and I question whether he’s going to be consistently relevant in mixed leagues. Part of my concern there is tied to… …Sano, who will most likely make his major-league debut at some point in 2015, though I highly doubt the unlikely-to-contend Twins will be in any rush. I wonder what happens when Sano is deemed ready; the Twins already have Mauer and Vargas splitting time between 1B and DH. Sano has never played an inning in the outfield, though he’s not exactly Brooks Robinson with the glove at third to begin with. Plouffe has at least some experience in the outfield. Something tells me that if they’re both hitting, they’ll both be in the lineup somehow. Still. Third base. Pretty deep this year. CATCHER Kurt Suzuki Josmil Pinto Both Suzuki and Pinto will be worth a fringey look in AL-only or two-catcher leagues. Even with a full-time role, Suzuki doesn’t do enough with the stick to be more than a deep option in fantasy. Pinto isn’t a good enough defensive catcher to ever be a major-league regular at the position, which is a shame, because his bat does have considerable upside.