By now you’ve probably heard that the Minnesota Twins have an outfielder who is setting the world on fire down at Triple-A. His name is Zack Granite, and he’s a jack-of-all-trades as far as outfield defense is concerned, and he’s hitting a robust .371/.423/.516 in 54 games between Triple-A Rochester (49 games) and High-A Fort Myers (five games).
He’s not just stellar in the batter’s box, but he’s stolen 119 bases over five season in the Twins system at a success rate of 73.4 percent. The success rate is a little lower than one might like, but he’s gotten increasingly better in recent years, stealing 73 bases over the last season-and-a-half at a success rate of 79.3 percent. Depending on the run environment in the big leagues year-to-year, a good success rate is somewhere in the vicinity of 75 percent, so he checks off that box.
But this year’s offensive outburst is way, way out of character for the 24-year-old outfielder. That’s even more true when considering he was hitting just .259/.303/.339 coming into June. That’s right; in 27 games this month, Granite is hitting an unheard of .486/.541/.697 with 11 doubles, three triples, two home runs and 13 walks against 15 strikeouts. His BABIP for the month is an unconscious .554! He’s got more than one hit in 20 of the 27 games he’s played in this month.
But part of bringing Granite up now is to capitalize on that hot stretch. He’s already on the 40-man roster, basically is who he is and isn’t likely to be ruined by being “rushed” as a player who’ll turn 25 by season’s end.
He can also help the Twins right now.
Kennys Vargas is hitting just .234/.264/.426, and as a bat-first — or perhaps more accurately, bat-only — player with limited access to playing time, he’s really not helping the team that much. His role is even further diminished when considering Eduardo Escobar has been so hot lately that he’s taken more playing time at third base, with Miguel Sano seeing more time at DH. Even if that doesn’t continue, it still probably means more of Escobar at DH or shortstop, and a shuffle which trickles down to less time for Vargas on the field.
Vargas also is an imperfect platoon partner for Joe Mauer — who needs more frequent time off these days — in that Mauer’s weakness at the plate (lefties) is not covered up at all by Vargas, who is hitting just .125/.182/.200 against them this season. Of course, that’s in just 44 plate appearances, but it’s all the more odd when considering Vargas hit an absurd .378/.462/.800 against lefties in a virtually identical sample size (52 PA) last season.
In other words, small sample sizes don’t really tell us too much. But what’s indisputable right now is that Vargas isn’t terribly helpful to this team, and that’s before we even enter Robbie Grossman into the conversation. He’s the team’s best on-base threat, and should be playing nearly every day as well. Between Grossman, Sano and Escobar, there should always be a better option at DH or somewhere else in the lineup that putting Vargas out there, even if it’s unfair to big Kennys.
Here’s where Granite comes into play: he doesn’t exactly project as a future starter in the big leagues, but as an ideal fourth outfielder type who can see as little or as much time as his production dictates. If Eddie Rosario continues to swing at pitches out of the strike zone or make ill-advised throws, Granite can chip into his playing time a bit more. If Byron Buxton continues to struggle making contact, boom. If Max Kepler needs a rest against lefties, Granite has at least proven capable (.323/.353/.415) against them this season. His arm might not handle right field — Granite, that is — but it’s easy enough to move Rosario to right on any given day, or put Grossman out there.
If you expect him to be Jason Tyner II, you won’t be disappointed. If you expect him to make Rosario, Buxton or Kepler obsolete….you’re setting yourself up for a letdown
It also gives manager Paul Molitor the option to let Granite run for some of the slower guys in the lineup late, or take over as a defensive replacement for Grossman late in a game if he still wants the flexibility to use a different bat or glove off the bench later in the game. Ultimately, what it does is gives Molitor a deeper and more flexible bench while also allowing him maximum ability to plug-and-play with his best guys in the starting lineup.
Sure, it’d take away from a natural first base backup for Mauer, but Chris Gimenez has hit lefties well enough (.242/.342/.576) to fill that role capably in the interim.
Just don’t expect a miracle from Granite. This is the first year his iso has been significantly more than .100. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s isolated power, or slugging percentage (minus) batting average. In other words, it tells you what kind of extra-base pop a hitter has. Granite hasn’t shown much in the past, but can hit a bunch of singles and and steal a bunch of bases to be a spark off the bench in limited doses. If you expect him to be Jason Tyner II, you won’t be disappointed. If you expect him to make Rosario, Buxton or Kepler obsolete….you’re setting yourself up for a letdown.
But nevertheless, he can — and should — help this team right now.