published Thursday, August 5th - 7:48pm
There have been few position players in Twins history that have hung around as long and gone through as many transformations as Alexi Casilla.


Generally, if a club finds itself puzzled by a player as often as the Twins have been by Casilla, he will get three, four looks before being sent away in one form (trade) or another (release).

Casilla has had a half-dozen of those looks, and we're still counting.

He came into the organization as a minor league infielder but in a significant trade: J.C. Romero, a star reliever from two years earlier that had frustrated the Twins, was sent to the Angels for Casilla on Dec. 9, 2005.

Five years later, Romero remains an important lefthander in the bullpen for Philadelphia, the two-time defending National League champions. And Casilla has been the regular second baseman for a Twins' team that has won 10 of 12.

That's the regular second baseman, for now. It's always for now with Casilla, since when good things are expected from him, the Twins get little, and when nothing is expected, they get quite a bit.

Casilla turned 22 during his first season (2006) in the Twins' organization. He played at Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain - with averages of .331 and .294 - and was named by the Twins as their minor league player of the year.

He also received a September call-up to the Twins. Mostly, he was a pinch-runner and had only six plate appearances.

Casilla split 2007 between Class AAA Rochester and Minnesota. He batted .222 for the Twins, which basically guaranteed he would start the 2008 season at Rochester.

Alexi was an early cut in spring training and went into a pout. He was batting .150 after a month in Rochester. He was pushed so far back in the Twins' doghouse at the point it would've been tough to find him.

The Twins ran into a cluster of infield injuries. It took Nick Punto, Adam Everett and Matt Tolbert to be out of action to have Casilla summoned on May 11.

It appeared as though he was here as a warm body, nothing more, until manager Ron Gardenhire put him in the lineup at second base on May 19.

Casilla hit his first big-league home run, a three-runner in a 7-6 victory over Texas.

He was the every-day second baseman and No. 2 hitter until suffering a torn thumb ligament on July 30. Talk about a change in a player's value. Gardenhire was downcast when telling the media of the severity of Casilla's injury.

Alexi received points from the manager and the organization for returning to the lineup on Aug. 21. His hitting suffered with the sore thumb, but Casilla's ability to fill second was among the reasons the Twins reached a Game 163 against the White Sox.

The Twins were not looking for a second baseman or a No. 2 hitter entering the 2009 season. Alexi Casilla had arrived.

I was in Fort Myers that March and approached Casilla to ask for an interview that would lead to a Star Tribune column. Casilla shook his head at the request and walked away.

Tony Oliva was in the clubhouse. I asked him to find out what was going on. Tony talked to Casilla and relayed this message: "He said reporters haven't paid any attention to him, given him any credit, so he's not talking to them.''

Casilla wound up doing this interview because of Oliva's intervention. That scene was a snapshot of the Alexi puzzle: Not npt wanting to do an interview because reporters weren't paying attention to him.

And the puzzle became unfathomable in April 2009. All his good work from the previous summer disappeared. He was futile. He was back in Rochester by May 6. He was recalled in mid-July and remained unproductive.

Casilla's one moment of 2009 glory was driving in Carlos Gomez with the winning run in the Game 163 victory over Detroit.

Alexi made this year's Opening Day roster for one reason: He was out of options and the front office was unwilling to discard him. He didn't play much over the first two months, and then underwent minor elbow surgery in early June.

He spent a month recovering from the surgery, then played 14 games with three minor league teams on a rehab assignment. He was out of sight and out of mind.

And then arose the Justin Morneau situation. Jeff Manship took his spot on the roster as a 13th pitcher for a few days. Gardenhire wanted to add Tolbert as a position player, but he wasn't ready to go because of a hand injury.

Casilla was brought back from Class AA New Britain. And Orlando Hudson promptly was knocked out of the lineup by injury.

Casilla replaced Hudson late in the game on July 23, and he's started 11 of 12 since then at second base. He's 12 for 46 (.261) with two triples, a home run, 10 runs scored and six RBI.

Somehow, the unsinkable Alexi Casilla has turned the absence of Hudson into an annoyance rather than a serious blow.

In the process, the 26-year-old has left everyone - Twins included - to again ask the question:

"Is this kid a big-league player?''