Make or Break Time

Baseball America ranked the Minnesota Twins farm system 10th in baseball this year, higher than all four other AL Central teams. Players like Kyle Gibson, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Eddie Rosario, Oswaldo Arcia, Travis Harrison, J.O. Berrios, and Max Kepler are all poised to impact the 25-man roster in the next 2-3 years.  Because of that, it is a make-or-break year for a few Twins players this year.

Here are three players that come to mind that have a little extra pressure on them this year:

Trevor Plouffe: Plouffe enters his first full season as the regular everyday third baseman.  He’s 26 years old, but has bounced around so much in the field that he hasn’t really found his place at the major league level yet.  Drafted by the Twins in the 1st Round of the 2004 draft, he had somewhat of a breakout year at the plate last season (or should we call it a breakout month) hitting 24 homers and hitting 19 doubles.  Besides the power numbers, he mostly struggled at the plate with a .235 BA and .301 OBP. The obvious larger drawback with Plouffe is his defensive struggles. He had a hard time with his throwing both at the shortstop and third base positions, and was one of the worst third basemen in baseball last season.  Even if Plouffe continues to hit and improve at the plate, his improvement or lack thereof with the glove may determine his fate beyond 2013. Sano and Harrison both play third, and Sano especially is considered a future major leaguer. Sano’s own defensive struggles may slow his ascension to the Twins, but if he improves quickly, Plouffe may be looking for a new job by 2014 or 2015.

Joe Benson: Having lost the three-way battle for the starting center field job out of Spring Training to Aaron Hicks, Benson now finds himself back in AAA to try to prove himself and his once-high expectations. He mostly struggled in his one September call-up back in 2011, and played only a half of a season last year before injuries ended it. He’s widely regarded as possibly the best defensive outfielder in the organization right now, but his bat hasn’t made the forward steps his glove has. For his career in the minors, he’s a .258 hitter in 7 seasons. He has shown signs of good pop in his bat hitting 27 home runs in 2010 (23 at AA, 4 at A+), but he’s struck out 646 times in 646 games. If he can become more comfortable in the batter’s box this season, he would look really good next to Aaron Hicks someday in one of the outfield spots. If he doesn’t improve at the plate; Arcia, Buxton, and Kepler may lock those spots up these next few years and leave Benson in the dust.

Anthony Slama: The mystery of Anthony Slama is very intriguing.  Like Benson he hasn’t played in the majors since 2011. At age 29 it’s hard to imagine he has too many better days in front him, but his days behind him really aren’t that bad. He’s pitched only 7 innings at the MLB level in his career, but he’s been borderline dominating at the AAA level since 2009. In fact in four seasons in AAA, he holds a 2.27 ERA, a 1.160 WHIP, and averages 11.1 K/9. Looking at those alarming statistics, it’s still a little strange that he hasn’t been given more of an opportunity at the highest level, in hopes that his success would translate. The only thing that comes up is that his fastball hovers around 90 mph and that just isn’t hard enough for a major league reliever. With how good he has been in the minors, you would have to think that he will get his chance sometime, though. That chance will possibly and hopefully come this year. Although, again he was one of the first players sent to minor league camp this spring; and with the quantity of pitchers the Twins have in the system right now, who knows how many guys will need to get hurt or falter before Slama would get the call. Alex Burnett, Tim Wood, Rafael Perez, and Caleb Thielbar are just some of the names that will be competing at the AAA level to get back up to Minnesota. If he doesn’t pitch well and get his shot this year, at 29, his window of opportunity may just disappear.

With the improvement of the farm system recently, I hope we will begin to see more of the regulars being challenged for roster spots by some of the younger players. This is obviously very healthy for the club and will only make some of these guys who have been teetering on the edge better. If they don’t improve, their time may run out more quickly than they think, and we might see some of the younger wave of players don the TC sooner than later.

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.