Every season, a horde of players makes their way up to big league rosters from the minor leagues. The Twins system is no exception, as we’ve seen the debuts of catchers Drew Butera and (briefly) Wilson Ramos, shortstop Trevor Plouffe, pitchers Anthony Slama and Alex Burnett, and third baseman Danny Valencia this year. However, while I’m working at Target Field, I seem to get questions about one guy more than anyone else, even though prior to this year, he had accumulated more major league service time than all of these guys combined. His name is Jason Repko.
My theory on why many Twins fans know nothing about Repko is quite simple. Before signing with the Twins as a minor league free agent on the second day of the season (April 6th), the 29-year old had spent his entire 4-year career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, accumulating nearly 500 plate appearances. However, all but 27 of those plate appearances came in 2007 and 2008. Since he spent so much time in the minor leagues over the past two seasons, and he was in the National League when he was in the majors, it’s understandable that many Twins fans didn’t know much about him.
During the offseason, it was appearing that Jason Pridie would finally be given a chance to stick on the major league roster as the backup outfielder. However, Pridie was claimed off waivers by the Mets in February, which left the Twins with only 4 outfielders (Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, and Jason Kubel) on their 40-man roster. When the Twins signed Jacque Jones, many people, including myself, viewed him as being first in line for the true 4th outfielder role with Jason Kubel being the full-time designated hitter. As it turned out, there was no line for this role, and despite showcasing Jones in both exhibition games at Target Field prior to the season and to my chagrin, the Twins kicked off the season in Los Angeles without adding a fifth outfielder.
Gradually, the need for another outfielder became more apparent as the season wore on. The Repko signing on the second day of the season was known by some people, but to the casual fan it went completely unnoticed. The lack of a true backup center fielder for Denard Span, combined with Repko hitting well in Triple-A and Brendan Harris not hitting in the majors eventually caused the Twins to swap Harris and Repko on the major league roster.
Quickly (well, as quickly as a player in a part-time role can do so), Repko made his presence known in his first Twins game by making a jumping catch of a Ruben Tejada line drive in right field, then immediately firing to 3rd base to throw out Jeff Francoeur. As the season has passed, Repko has continued to make spectacular defensive plays to the point where some of my fellow Twins bloggers are arguing that Repko should be replacing not Jason Kubel, not Delmon Young, but Denard Span in the outfield.
We’ve seen him for a while now, but for those that still don’t know him that well, what should we expect from him? Well, as I just said, Repko is heralded for his defense. In nearly one full season, he has rated very well in the outfield with a 8.2 UZR. His defense hasn’t ranked as well in left field (-5.7), but when you compare that with his right field (2.4) and especially his center field UZR (11.5), it appears as though the poor rating in left is just an anomaly.
Compared to his defense, Repko’s offense needs some improvement. A career .229/.300/.385 hitter, he also strikes out more often (roughly 1/4 of all at-bats) than all MLB hitters (about 19.5% during the 5 seasons Repko has been in the majors) and walks less often (6.7%) than everyone else (about 8.5%). However, he also has good speed (evidenced by his good defense and 17 for 22 in stolen base attempts) and about league-average power, in terms of ISO. When talking to a man at Target Field, I optimistically predicted that over a full season, Repko could hit .260 with about 12-16 home runs, but a more realistic prediction would be something in the .230-.250 range with double digit home runs over a full season. This may become moot though, as Repko has never received a full season’s share of at-bats and might never will.
Looking to the future, I really like Jason Repko and I would certainly like to see him stay with the Twins. His defense is refreshing to watch, especially when he demonstrates that he’s not as shy about hitting the wall as Delmon Young, or can catch up to a slicing line drive much better than Jason Kubel. I’d prefer that his offense would improve, but the occasional power and his speed certainly keeps me interested. Unless he suffers a career-threatening injury, I’m very sure that Repko will earn at the very worst a minor league contract for the 2011 season from a MLB team. As I already said, I would like him to stay in Minnesota. Even if he moves on to a different team next year, at least you now know just about everything you need to know about Jason Repko.