Who starts at SS for Twins in 2013? For now, Gardenhire likes Florimon
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Looking to solidify one of the most important positions on the diamond, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire plans to give shortstop Pedro Florimon every chance to prove himself as a viable every-day player over the last two weeks of the season.
"I love having him out there at shortstop," Gardenhire said in an interview with 1500 ESPN on Sunday morning.
"The one thing I do like, he pays attention, he looks in the dugout. ... And he can pick it. He's got a great set of hands."
The Twins acquired Florimon, 25, via waivers in December from the Baltimore Orioles. Since being called up from Rochester on Aug. 17, he has started at shortstop in all but one game for the Twins. Prior to Florimon's arrival, Brian Dozier was the starting shortstop for more than three months, but he hit just .234/.271/.332 with an inconsistent glove.
Defensively, Florimon looks the part. His movement is quick and smooth, he has a strong arm, and he has shown exceptional range, particularly on plays to his right in the hole.
The only real knock on Florimon's defense so far is that he has booted some routine plays by being "too quick" and "trying to rush some things," as Gardenhire puts it.
"I've seen him try to fight a couple relays and stuff like that, rather that stepping back. I think that's honestly trying to be too quick and trying to do too much. ... I saw him dive for a relay, as a smatter a fact. And I've never seen that before."
The biggest question is whether Florimon -- a switch-hitter -- can hit enough to be an every-day player. Heading into Sunday, Florimon was hitting just .233/.289/.333 in 99 plate appearances, which isn't far off from his Triple-A line of .251/.308/.344, or his Double-A line of .250/.323/.355.
That's some pretty weak offense, and the only four shortstops with similarly meager bats who have been good enough with their gloves to provide positive value, according to WAR (Wins Above Replacement) this season are Brendan Ryan, Clint Barmes, Cliff Pennington and Jamey Carroll.
"He's put some good swings on it. He's got some big hits for us," Gardenhire said. "There's going to be some pitchers who will eat you up in this league. ...
"I don't think if you're going to expect this kid to come up and probably be a .300 guy, I don't think he's ready to do anything like that. Whether he's going to get strong enough or better, that always remains to be seen."
The plan is for Florimon to play winter ball, where he'll have a chance to face some major league-caliber pitching. The Twins also want him to work on improving his English so he can better communicate with teammates in the field.
Shortstop has mostly been a revolving door for the Twins during the Gardenhire era.
Since Cristian Guzman left as a free agent after the 2004 season, only once have the Twins had a player play more than 100 games at shortstop in a season (Jason Barlett, 138 games in 2007).
Over that stretch, 17 players have played at least one game at shortstop for the Twins -- Florimon, Dozier, Carroll, Escobar, Trevor Plouffe, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert, J.J. Hardy, Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Orlando Cabrera, Adam Everett, Tommy Watkins, Juan Castro, Luis Rodriguez and Luis Rivas.
Not since Bartlett in 2007 has a Twins player played at least 60 games at shortstop in back-to-back seasons.
There's a good chance Florimon, Dozier, Escobar and Carroll will all compete for the two middle infield positions next spring, barring an offseason acquisition, but Florimon clearly has the inside edge right now.