COMMENTARY | The Minnesota Twins came into the 2013 season believing that not only could Aaron Hicks skip Class AAA and play center field every day, but that he also could be their leadoff hitter. They also thought they had a pretty good Plan B in Darin Mastroianni, who is a speedy center fielder and started the season as the fourth outfielder.
Unfortunately, Hicks struggled mightily in April and Mastroianni went on the disabled list with an ankle injury, so the Twins had to come up with Plan C, which turned out to be moving second baseman Brian Dozier into the leadoff spot and moving Hicks down to the bottom of the order. Anyone for Plan D?
Hicks had an on-base percentage of .109 as a leadoff batter, so it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to switch with him and not be seen as an improvement. However, Dozier only has a .280 OBP while batting first in the order, and the AL average is .329.
What's even worse is that Dozier's OBP is only .208 when leading off an inning and it drops to .167 in the first inning. No wonder the Twins have been outscored so badly in the first inning.
Dozier is actually hitting worse than he did last year when he was demoted back to Class AAA Rochester. The Twins took Hicks out of the leadoff spot to take the pressure off him, but they need to seriously consider doing the same for Dozier.
In fact, since the two players have switched spots in the order, Dozier has an OBP of .267 and Hicks has one of .317. The Twins may not want to mess with Hicks now that he's swinging better, but they need to consider an alternative to Dozier.
If Twins Bench or Demote Brian Dozier, Jamey Carroll Could Replace Him
The easiest switch would be to put Jamey Carroll in at second base and bat him leadoff. The Twins did that on Wednesday, May 15, and Carroll had three hits, including a double to lead off the first inning against the Chicago White Sox. The problem with this is that Carroll is the oldest player on the team and not a player to count on for the future -- and the Twins wouldn't want Dozier to just sit on the bench, which would stunt his development.
At the very least, the Twins could start Carroll one day at second, another day at shortstop and have him on the bench the third day. This way, he could bat leadoff two out of three days and still keep his older legs fresh. Meanwhile, Dozier and shortstop Pedro Florimon would both be able to play two out of three days as well.
The Twins should also consider demoting Dozier to the minor leagues. In 466 career at-bats, Dozier has a batting line of .230/.267/.323, which should make Twins fans pine for the days of Alexi Casilla or even Luis Rivas. The Twins don't have any middle-infield prospects ready to come up but with the way their starters have pitched lately, they might want to switch out a position player for a relief pitcher anyways.
Dozier's defense at second base has been very good, so they probably won't go as far as demoting him. So, if they don't bench him or demote him, they need someone to move up in the order to switch spots with him.
Minnesota Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire Uses Poor Logic to Not Bat Joe Mauer Leadoff
With no traditional leadoff hitters on the roster, the Twins need to go the unconventional route and bat catcher Joe Mauer leadoff. He has a career OBP over .400 and led the AL in OBP last year. He's not much of a base-stealing threat, but he's one of the fastest catchers in the major leagues and he has great baserunning instincts.
Manager Ron Gardenhire has already said he doesn't want to move Mauer up. His reasons are that he doesn't have a true No. 2 hitter to replace Mauer, and it is difficult for Mauer to get out of his catching gear and get ready to hit leading off an inning.
This is just poor logic. When Gardenhire moved Mauer from third to second in the order, all he did was move everyone behind him up a spot in the order. This was a great move by Gardenhire and showed he was willing to look outside the traditional box for an actual statistical benefit of getting Mauer more chances to hit over the long season.
Why can't Gardenhire use the same reasoning to move him up in the order again? It's not like Mauer has been asked to hit any differently now that he's batting second instead of third. If Josh Willingham could replace him as the No. 3 hitter, why can't he replace him as the No. 2 hitter?
Other options to bat second would include Trevor Plouffe and Oswaldo Arcia. Both would benefit from seeing more fastballs when batting between Mauer and Willingham. Maybe Hicks could even bat second. In 1991, manager Tom Kelly, Gardenhire's mentor, had rookie Chuck Knoblauch bat second all year after he skipped over Class AAA. He then became the leadoff hitter the following year.
Even worse logic is not wanting to bat Mauer leadoff because he is a catcher. First of all, in every road game the Twins would bat first, so that isn't even an issue. Second of all, if Gardenhire doesn't want Mauer to lead off an inning, why does he bat an out-machine like Dozier ahead of him? He might not lead off the first inning, but he'll sure lead off plenty of other innings after Dozier makes the third out of the previous inning.
Batting Mauer leadoff might not be an ideal solution, but it is the best one for the Twins until Hicks or Mastroianni is ready to take it over.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
- Sports & Recreation
- Brian Dozier
- Joe Mauer
- Ron Gardenhire