The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

June 15, 2014

Thoma column: If at short you don't succeed, try, try again

In the drafting and signing of first-round pick Nick Gordon this month, the Twins are bucking a half-century of organizational inertia.

The Twins arrived in Minnesota in 1961 with Zoilo Versalles as their shortstop. The best truly homegrown shortstop they've had since was the thoroughly mediocre Pat Meares.

Minnesota has had some quality shortstops — Leo Cardenas, Roy Smalley, Greg Gagne, Cristian Guzman, Jason Bartlett, J.J. Hardy — but they all came from other organizations. The two men who've played the most short this year, Eduardo Escobar (White Sox) and Pedro Florimon (Orioles), are no exception.

It doesn't really matter where the shortstop comes from, of course. If Escobar continues to hit .300 with plenty of doubles while playing competent defense, he can stick there for years.

But the Twins have other plans, and those plans are homegrown.

Alternative one is Danny Santana, who has been pressed into service as a center fielder. The Twins hold Santana in higher regard than do outside prospect evaluators. The Twins see a toolsy athlete — fast, strong of arm, able to hit for average as he's made his way up the system. The outsiders see a mistake-prone infielder with poor strike-zone judgment.

The Santana I saw in spring training gave away too many outs in the field to be a major league shortstop. The Santana we've seen in the majors through almost 100 at-bats is a productive leadoff hitter. He's 23 years old. There's time for his career to take its shape.

Alternative two, and years away from playing for the major league team, is Gordon. Son of long-time pitcher Tom Gordon, brother of Dodgers second baseman Dee, Nick Gordon is a left-handed hitter who scouts expect will both hit and remain at shortstop. (Major league infields are filled with players who were drafted as shortstops and switched positions; Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier of the Twins are just two examples).

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