Twins’ second-half roster shuffling brings back Casilla, adds pitcher

After finishing the first half four games behind the Tigers in the AL Central and one game above .500 at 45-44, the Twins did some roster shuffling during the All-Star break, shipping Matt Tolbert and Jose Morales back to Triple-A while calling up Alexi Casilla and Kevin Mulvey. Just two months ago, it was Casilla heading to Rochester with Tolbert going to Minnesota, but the Twins reversed that switch after Tolbert hit .178/.272/.225 to match the .180/.242/.225 line that got Casilla demoted in the first place.

Casilla hit .340 in 40 games at Triple-A to earn what may be his final extended chance with the Twins, but aside from an unsustainably great .389 batting average on balls in play that’s 109 points better than his ball-in-play mark in the majors, his performance at Rochester wasn’t all that impressive. He drew just 11 walks in 171 plate appearances, showed little power with only nine of his 53 hits going for extra bases, made six errors at second base and was gunned down on six of 15 steal attempts.

In other words, it was typical Casilla save for some exceptionally good fortune with singles falling in. Giving him another shot is certainly reasonable when the alternatives are Tolbert and Nick Punto, but Ron Gardenhire will no doubt resume batting Casilla second in the lineup, and he has zero business there. Casilla has hit .248/.299/.318 in 768 plate appearances with the Twins and .278/.352/.350 in 703 plate appearances at Triple-A, which is why I’ve all but given up on him being a starting-caliber player.

Twins second basemen have hit .193 with a .273 on-base percentage and .245 slugging percentage this season, and when Joe Mauer isn’t batting second that spot in the lineup has produced an equally horrendous .191 batting average. Given the Twins’ long-standing lack of middle-infield depth, it may take a trade to improve the production at second base, but fixing the No. 2 spot in the lineup should be as simple as Gardenhire getting over his obsession with putting a light-hitting middle infielder there.

Along with swapping Tolbert for Casilla, the Twins also exchanged a third catcher for a 12th pitcher by calling up Mulvey. Acquired from the Mets as part of the four-player package for Johan Santana, Mulvey ranked 12th on my list of the Twins’ best prospects coming into the season, and my write-up concluded that he “has the potential to be a mid-rotation starter and should be ready for the majors this season” if he “can get back to killing worms” after posting an uncharacteristically high fly-ball rate in 2008.

Mulvey has done exactly that, inducing 51 percent ground balls in 17 starts at Rochester compared with just 40 percent grounders in 27 starts there last year. Unfortunately along with getting back to being a ground-ball pitcher while repeating Triple-A as a 24-year-old, his strikeout rate is down 5 percent and his walk rate is up 15 percent. Add it all up and Mulvey has a 3.75 ERA and 205-to-86 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 257 career innings at Triple-A, which, given the pitcher-friendly environment, isn’t very good.

He still looks capable of being a middle-of-the-rotation starter if things break right, but anything beyond that is probably wishful thinking at this point, and Mulvey may end up in the bullpen long term. Between his ground-ball tendencies and pronounced platoon split, that could be a good fit for Mulvey, although obviously the Twins were hoping for more than a solid middle reliever when they got him from the Mets. For now, he’ll work in long relief and figures to be next in line if another starter is needed.

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