Friday, May 28, 2004

Enigma Up the Middle

The past week, there has been almost nothing but bad news emanating from our Minnesota Twins, including Thursday’s 5-4 loss at the hands of the hapless Deviled Hams. However, we did get a nice little boost today; a “ray of sunshine poking through on a cloudy day,” if you will. This ray (not of the deviled variety, fortunately) was none other than Corey Koskie. It was great to see him go to the opposite field in his first AB for a homer. Hopefully his presence will help solidify the lineup. One thing this move does mean is that Michael Cuddyer is now free to resume his super-utility role. With Louie still out that means we will probably be seeing a lot more of Cuddy over at second base. The following is from today’s Star Tribune:

Third base coach Al Newman, who drills the infielders, said Cuddyer can be a better second baseman than a third baseman.
"We didn't spend hours upon hours at 7:30 in the morning on field number six [in spring training] taking ground balls and working on double plays for me not to feel like he's comfortable enough over there," Newman said.
When Cuddyer is playing third, the Twins coaching staff believes he tends to stand up when balls are hit toward him, instead of making his first move toward the ball. Second base doesn't demand the reflexes third base does.
"If you watch his body language, he's definitely more comfortable over there," Newman said. "More than he is at third. I don't think he doesn't like third, but I look at body language and he's more comfortable [at second] than at third base."

I began writing today with the thought that I would once again state my opinion that Cuddyer could not be the Twins everyday second baseman. These few quotes by Al Newman aren’t going to sway me entirely, but they are very interesting nonetheless. Watching Cuddyer play second a handful of times early in the season, I was extremely unimpressed with his defense. He was not getting good reads on groundballs, and he was not displaying the soft hands that are so crucial for a middle infielder.

I could not believe that the Twins organization, the same one that had benched Todd Walker for his defense, would put such a poor fielder at a crucial position on the infield. Now, I’m not crazy about Rivas, but you can’t say he doesn’t turn the double play as well as anyone in the league. Louie’s range isn’t spectacular by any means, but he makes Cuddyer look almost like Jose Offerman out there (notice I said almost).

To me, the epitome of Twins Baseball™ is good defense and pitchers that throw strikes. When it all comes down to it, I’m a firm believer that it is those two things more than anything else that helps you win ballgames. That’s what TK always says, and I’m a huge TK guy (come on, how can you not be?). As much as I love their bats, starting guys like Matthew LeCroy and Cuddyer in the field directly contradicts this basic principle.

But Newmie’s quotes here are interesting. When Koskie went down, I thought it was finally Michael Cuddyer’s time to shine. He had the chance to play his normal position, third base, every single day. But Cuddy performed well below expectations at the plate and especially in the field. I can recall at least a few instances where Cuddyer didn’t even come close to fielding balls that Corey vacuums up handily, simply because Cuddyer doesn’t seem to react quickly enough. Whereas Koskie does a great job of staying low and just reacting to the ball, Cuddyer does have a tendency to come up before deciding how to approach it. How many balls did we see go through the hole between short and third in Tampa Bay, just out of Cuddyer’s reach? How many at Metrodome against the ChiSox?

Perhaps Cuddyer can make some in-season adjustments and become an adequate second baseman. No one is in a position to say anything definitively just yet. All I know is that he still has a ways to go before he gets to that point. But if Al Newman sees some potential, then I suppose I can hold off on any final judgment for at least a little while. Unfortunately for Cuddyer and the Twins, however, the clock is ticking.

Twins fans may be seeing a whole lot more of this unless Michael Cuddyer makes some serious improvements in the field