Minnesota Twins Waiting for Alexi Casilla to Find Consistency

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 07: Scott Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees safely slides into second base under Alexi Casilla #12 of the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on April 7, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Alexi Casilla has long been one of the best middle infielders in the system, while also being one of the more frustrating players to watch. He needs to find some level of consistency in his performance.

Enigmatic is a term you could use to describe a few Twins players. Delmon Young was an enigma, so was Pat Neshek, and Francisco Liriano certainly is. Alexi Casilla is another one, and he seems to be the one to watch right now. After his three-hit performance in New York last night, Casilla's batting average is now up to .290 on the season.

Batting .290 doesn't mean much when you've only taken one walk (.313 on base percentage), but we're talking very small sample sizes so far. Which should also mean we don't need to put too much stock into Casilla's rising batting average quite yet, either.

What makes this such an interesting thing to note is how he's managed to get his hits. In his career, Casilla's balls in play have been line drives just 14.2% of the time. For the uninitiated, the Major League average is generally somewhere between 18% and 20%. Line drives are a great indicator of performance because they mean that balls are being hit harder and flying through the air faster, making them harder to catch and, as a result, being more likely to fall for a hit. Basically, the more line drives you hit the better your batting average will be (barring some serious bad luck).

So far in 2012, Casilla's line drive percentage is 21.4%. Essentially he's been cracking liners at roughly the same rate as Josh Willingham.

The problem is, of course, that we've seen streaks of production from Casilla before. When you combine those streaks with the continuing impressions that he's a "toolsy" kind of player, those hot streaks flood the fan base with hope and, as quickly as you can snap your fingers, the player becomes an enigma. Because the performance can't be sustained with any kind of consistency.

When Casilla received his very first callup with the Twins, back in September of 2006, he left double-A New Britain hitting .305 with a .380 on base percentage. In his minor league career, Casilla has hit .296 with a .370 on base percentage. There was never any power, but calling up the 21-year old speedster from double-A brings with it some implications. This was a kid who had talent. We saw his first hit. By April of 2007 we (and PECOTA) were expecting big things.

We know how that went. Over the last few years we've gone back and forth.

Casilla's out: Sent to Rochester (September 2009).
Casilla's in: He's out of options (March 2010).
Casilla's out: We've seen enough (April 2011).
Casilla's in: What a remarkable turnaround (July 2011).

That's not even half of what's been a very up-and-down tale for Casilla in his Twins career. He's a player who is given continual chances by a front office because they believe in him (and partially because there really has been nobody better in the system), only to see those chances wasted due to offensive ineptitude, defensive mental lapses, injuries, or some unfortunate combination of all three.

When Beau talked about Casilla's turnaround in July of 2011 ("What a remarkable turnaround" link above), he hit the nail on the head when summarizing the enigmatic nature of our talented middle infielder:

At the end of the day, we're left trying to figure out which of the two very different versions of Alexi Casilla we've seen this season is the real Alexi Casilla. Surely it's not the 500 OPS version we saw in the season's first two months. And it's hard to believe it's the 800 OPS version we've seen over the last two months.

But if Casilla could truly settle in around the 275/330/400 level, he would instantly become a huge asset for the organization, even if questions continue to swirl around his defensive ability. Then again, if he settles in at the 258/320/349 mark currently projected by ZiPS (for the rest of the season), he'll simply join the long list of forgettable players that have manned the Twins middle infield for the past decade.

Twins fans, and the Twins themselves, have been trying to determine which version of Casilla is the real one because neither version seems to stick around for too long. Baseball is full of ups and down, so there's always the possibility that we already know who Casilla is but are having trouble reconciling that fact simply because he's so frustratingly inconsistent.

For now we ride the wave and see where it takes us. Of course we'd all love to see him figure it all out and put everything together, and nobody wants Casilla to succeed as much as Casilla wants himself to succeed.

The Twins need Casilla now more than ever. A good season means the front office will believe they've finally found their answer at second base, an answer they can believe in. If Casilla can find that elusive consistency then he'll be rewarded. But if not, then money or his own talent or somebody else's talent will make a decision for the Twins.

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