We should learn a decent amount about the Twins over the final two months, even if they are not in contention. Watching players like Kennys Vargas, Danny Santana and (hopefully) Trevor May and Alex Meyer will at least make things somewhat interesting.
Those players are auditioning for the future, having given the Twins a small taste of what they can do either in the majors or at high levels in the minors. But these final two months of the season are not important for them in the same way they are important for these five players, who seem to be at critical junctures with the organization:
1) Trevor Plouffe: He’s basically been a slightly above league average hitter this year, with a .728 OPS (MLB average is .719 for third basemen) and 103 OPS+ (again, just above the generally accepted average of 100). He looks like a more polished hitter at the plate than in previous seasons, but his overall numbers — even the advanced ones — look pretty similar to 2012 and 2013. Is he an everyday player? Probably not on a good team. Is he a useful utility player and a good bat to start a few times a week and pinch hit? Quite possibly. By the end of the year, barring injury, he will have had about 2,000 MLB plate appearances. That’s enough for the Twins to decide what he is, and the impression he makes over the final 50 games will be the freshest sample size they see.
2) Chris Parmelee: Very similar to Plouffe this season with a 103 OPS+ and a .731 OPS. Just when we’re ready to give up on Parmelee, he shows signs of life. And as soon as we concede he could be a useful player, he goes in a funk. For his career, he actually hits righties and lefties about the same, a rarity for a left-handed batter. He has a decent glove at first base and isn’t completely lost in the outfield. But he’ll be closing in on 1,000 career PAs by season’s end. Does he have a role on a better team, particularly if Vargas sticks and Joe Mauer is healthy? Again, that’s a big question for the Twins and therefore a meaningful stretch coming up for Parmelee.
3) Eduardo Escobar: He’s been a pleasant surprise holding down shortstop since Pedro Florimon lost the job. But this is Danny Santana’s spot long-term, just as Santana is holding down Byron Buxton’s spot in center field. What Escobar has at least done this season is shown he could be a very useful utility infielder and spot-starter/injury replacement. But he will need to sustain his good work over the final stretch to make the Twins more confident in his long-term value.
4) Oswaldo Arcia: He has so much potential, and though it seems like he’s been here for a while (more than 600 PAs between 2013 and 2014), it’s important to remember he just turned 23. There is time for him to go from a tantalizing streak hitter to a more consistent threat. We had high hopes for Arcia, and while his numbers right now aren’t really that far off from his encouraging rookie season, he has arrived here in fits and starts that make it feel like a disappointment. We believe he has the talent to be in the lineup many days a week on a good team. August and September, though, will be meaningful in that evaluation and his development.
5) Joe Mauer: Let’s be honest in saying this has been a brutal year for Joe. He’s been at his career-worst at the plate, and as soon as he’s shown signs of life, he’s gotten hurt. All of this, too, has come after a position switch that in theory was supposed to make him more durable and able to produce at the plate because of the reduced wear-and-tear of catching. Joe will turn 32 early next season. He has four years left after this one on his massive contract. Unless he wants to waive his no-trade clause, which we can’t imagine he does, the Twins and Mauer are in this for the long haul. If he can come back from his injury soon and at least finish this season strong, it would provide some hope that he can get close to being the Mauer of old in 2015. If not, there will be a nagging concern that old Mauer is gone and instead Mauer is just old.