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Updated: April 21st, 2014 9:36am
Wetmore: Sam Fuld is a glove guy, not a leadoff hitter

Wetmore: Sam Fuld is a glove guy, not a leadoff hitter

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by Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com

The Twins added recently DFA'd Sam Fuld to their outfield mix on Sunday ostensibly as a fourth outfielder to back up all three outfield spots defensively.

With as poorly as Aaron Hicks has played since he made the club out of spring training a season ago, it could also be a signal the Twins are growing impatient with the 2008 first-round draft choice.

Hicks is a switch-hitter who hasn't hit well from either side of the plate in 385 MLB plate appearances, but he's been worse swinging left-handed. This has caused some Twins fans and observers to suggest Hicks should become strictly a right-handed hitter, and it's fair to wonder if the lefty Fuld will take away plate appearances from Hicks against righthanded pitchers.

To make room for Fuld, the Twins designated for assignment Darin Mastroianni. They'll now have 10 days to trade him, release him, or send him to the minors. Mastroianni, though, will have the choice of becoming a free agent if the Twins try to outright him to the minors, because it would be his second time through the process.

I wrote about Fuld in Sunday's '5 thoughts' column under the premise that he's a backup on this team, and not much of an upgrade over Darin Mastroianni. In such limited playing time, a marginal upgrade doesn't make a big difference over the course of a season.

But reading the quotes from Ron Gardenhire in media reports make one wonder if Fuld will get extensive playing time. That would be a mistake.

Since the Twins won't be in the race at the end of the season, it makes more sense to treat this season as a proving ground. Are there any players who could potentially help the Twins that they might not yet be sure about? If so, those players should get plenty of plate appearances, to treat it like an extended tryout for the 2015 team.

Aaron Hicks is one of those players. Oswaldo Arcia, Josmil Pinto, Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier all are as well. Each of those players should get plenty of plate appearances this season, unless the Twins already have decided that the player won't be in the mix beyond this year.

The Twins have discussed using a Hicks-Fuld platoon in centerfield, Rob Antony told the traveling media Sunday. (For full quotes, check out MLB.com, the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune.)

"I think Aaron is more comfortable from the right side, get him more at-bats where he is comfortable and get him going," Antony said, according to the Pioneer Press.

"I wouldn't say he's gotten off to a great start," Antony continued. "I don't think he's inked in as our center fielder every day for the rest of the season. I think he needs to improve his game and become more consistent."

Each observation from Antony is fair and accurate.

The addition of Fuld, when deployed as a defensive replacement and reserve outfielder, isn't in itself a bad move. It doesn't sound like Antony has unrealistic expectations for the recently DFA'd career journeyman.

If the Twins use him the way Gardenhire seems to be suggesting, that would be misguided.

Let's fisk the quotes Gardenhire provided on Fuld to the traveling media:

"He can play anywhere in the outfield, he's a leadoff-type guy, ..."

Fuld can play anywhere in the outfielder, that much is true. He had a strong defensive season in left field in 2011 for the Rays. In just more than 1,000 innings for his career in left field, Fuld has racked up 16 Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs. In roughly 500 innings in center, he has a -6 DRS, and in right he's a -6 DRS in just about 300 defensive innings. That makes him a passable defensive outfielder, but outside that 2011 season (+11 DRS), he's never done anything extraordinary.

He certainly is not a "leadoff-type" guy, however.

Fuld is a career .233/.312/.334 hitter, including .199/.270/.267 in 200 plate appearances last season. He has more career plate appearances batting leadoff than any other spot in the order, but outside of 115 plate appearances in 2009, he's never gotten on base at a respectable clip, which is a requirement of a leadoff hitter. Not that this matters, but his OBP from the leadoff spot in 297 plate appearances is .307.

Let's move on to the next part of the quote.

"...he can fly, he can steal bases," Gardenhire said.

Fuld might be fast, but he's swiped just 38 bags in his career, and that includes 20 in 2011, by far his best season in the Majors. Those 38 steals have come in 51 attempts, which is a decent success rate but doesn't constitute all that many tries.   

Moving on.

"He's one of those little guys who's a tough out and plays hard."

As noted, his career OBP of .312 (and .270 OBP last season) makes him anything but a "tough out."  Outfielders collectively got on base at a .323 clip last season, so he's actually a considerably easy out compared to his peers.

Next quote.

"Can't have too many 'hundreds' in there with batting average," Gardenhire said. "Can't have them in your lineup. Too many. So we're trying to get some .300s."

This part I agree with, but it's unfair to expect Sam Fuld or Eduardo Nunez to add some .300 (batting averages) to the lineup.

Finally, the quote that might cause some Twins fans to cringe:

"We've always liked him going against us and we saw him earlier this year going against us (for Oakland). Now we've got him over with us and we're very excited about it. He's our type of player."

With that statement, it's hard to argue. Fuld does seem like he's the Twins' type of player.

Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore
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