Twins’ rookies have outside shot at record books

Chances are, it won’t happen. Too much has to break right. But as the Minnesota Twins head toward September chasing a post-season berth, it’s worth putting out there.

Since Major League Baseball established rookie qualification standards in 1957, no team has ever had three rookies with at least 150 at-bats finish a season batting .300 or better, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Twins have a shot at being the first.

Brian Buscher (.310) and Denard Span (.308) both passed the 150 at-bat threshold this month. Randy Ruiz, the minor-league lifer who is off to a .320 start in his first taste of the major leagues, must accumulate 100 at-bats over the final 28 games of the season to reach 150. That’s about 3.5 at-bats per game, which might be doable if he bats fifth every game the rest of the way and draws few walks.

This, of course, presumes all these guys can keep their averages up, which might be a reach. (Alexi Casilla, by the way, does not qualify as a rookie because he exceeded the at-bats limit last season. If you had more than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in a previous season, or spent more than 45 days on the active roster prior to Sept. 1, you’re not a rookie, according to Major League Baseball guidelines. Casilla had 189 at-bats last season.)

That the Twins are even in this conversation is stunning, but this is one of those years where it seems almost every kid who puts on a Twins uniform acts like he’s Rod Carew. Consider this: Another call-up you’ll probably see again in September, Matt Macri, batted .367 in 30 at-bats before heading back to Class AAA Rochester.

There’s plenty of praise to pass around here, starting with batting coach Joe Vavra, who supervises the early hitting sessions frequented by kids and veterans. When you see Twins hitters using the whole field and taking outside pitches the other way, like Ruiz did on his home run Tuesday night, that’s from Vavra. But the bulk of the credit goes to the players themselves. Because all of them had something to prove, they all turned into willing students and diligent workers.

The Twins signed Mike Lamb because they didn’t trust third base to Buscher, a shaky fielder whose minor league numbers before last season were nothing special for a corner infielder. (Can’t fault their reasoning, though Lamb, at best a part-time player, never hit like they hoped and was designated for assignment this week.)

This spring, Span lost the center field job to Carlos Gomez, whose speed and potential proved too captivating for the Twins to keep at Rochester, especially since they had to have something to show for the Johan Santana trade. Torii Hunter thought the Twins screwed over his protege, and he might have been right. But Span answered the right way, by being ready when his chance came. The debate over what to do with Span and Gomez next year ought to keep the hot stove fires stoked this winter.
And Ruiz … well, when you’ve been released eight times and traded once since 2003, served two suspensions in 2005 for violating the minor leagues’ substance abuse policy, and spent nine years in the minors without a single call-up, you’ve got a lengthy list of people to prove wrong.

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