Why did the Twins claim Darin Mastroianni?

Today the Twins announced via their official twitter that the have claimed outfielder Darin Mastroianni off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. As a first reaction, this move might not make much sense: Three of the Twins' top 5 prospects, Arcia, Hicks and Benson, are outfielders, and there are seven outfielders counting Trevor Plouffe on the Twins' 40-man roster at the moment. Mastroianni has to be added to the 40-man roster, which is full, so expect a corresponding move (waiving Jeff Gray or Matt Maloney? a trade?) to happen soon. (Update: The Twins cut Esmerling Vasquez to open a spot on the 40-man roster) At first sight it does not make much sense, but lets examine what the Twins gain by this move:

  • Speed on the Bench (if he makes the Twins). Ron Garderhire has suggested that his starting OF will be Revere, Span and Willingham (L to R.) This leaves Plouffe, Luke Hughes (both out of options) and Nishioka on the bench; all of them have some speed, but not to match Mastroianni's. In five seasons in the Minors he stole 282 bases, including 70 in 2009 for Dunedin (A+, Florida State League) and New Hampshire (AA, Eastern League.)

  • A scrappy Gardy-type of bench player. The only Ron Gardenhire Twins' team that did not have a diminutive (Mastoianni is listed at 5'11") outfielder on their bench (Revere does not count because he was a starter) was the 2011 team. And we all know what happen last season. Not to say that it is because the lack of that type of player (preferably named "Jason",) a role that was filled by Repko, Pridie and Tyner in the past, but certainly Gardenhire has an affinity for these players. Mastoianni has a MiLB career slash line of .279/.370/.742, a 62/78 BB/K ratio in 2011 and can lay a bunt, either for a sacrifice or for a hit.

  • No Butera in the majors (if he makes the Twins.) There is only space for 4 bench players. Plouffe and Hughes are locks (no options left.) If Mastroianni makes the teams, this means that one of Nishioka and Butera will be in Rochester. Pick your poison. Could it be the handlebar mustache? Could it be that he looks like Mike Pagliarulo (the lucky charm of 1991?) Who knows?

  • A centerfielder for Rochester(if he does not make the team). The conventional wisdom is that Benson will be the centerfielder in Rochester, but the Twins might think that he is better suited to be a corner outfielder with Aaron Hicks coming up soon and Span and Revere already in the organization. Mastroianni is a bona fide centerfielder. Also Rochester needs a lead off hitter and Mastroianni will fit the role well...

  • Less likely, but I have to mention it: a second baseman of the future. Mastroianni came up as a second baseman, and played the position until 2008. Could the Twins think about converting him back (they do not have much prospect depth in that position)? Who knows?

An interesting factoid: Darin Mastroianni played a single game (started at CF and went hitless) for Toronto last season and the reason he was because the newly acquired by the Jays Kelly Johnson had forgotten his passport and had to return to Arizona to get it. Mastoianni is 26 this season and his minor league career compares well with that of Rajai Davis (other than having more walks and fewer strikeouts than Davis). I would probably say that this is Mastroianni's ceiling with higher OBP. Also of note is that Mastroianni led the Blue Jays system in hits, runs and stolen bases each of the past 2 seasons.

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