Minneapolis Star Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS — Wes Carroll has read the blogs and seen the skepticism: The Minnesota Twins are turning their shortstop job over to that little guy?
That little guy is his older brother, Jamey Carroll, a journeyman infielder who turns 38 next month and hasn’t hit a home run since 2009.
“It’s amazing,” Wes said in a phone interview over the weekend. “Everywhere he’s gone, if you read the papers and the message boards, they’re talking about his weaknesses. And by the time he leaves, they’re all talking about his strengths.”
Wes, 33, might be biased, but he knows his baseball. He was a minor league infielder for five years, peaking at Class AAA, and is now the coach at the University of Evansville. The oldest Carroll sibling, 39-year-old Jason, was an offensive lineman for two years at Indiana University.
“Our oldest brother is a monster, and I was bigger and pretty athletic,” Wes said. “Jamey was kind of the runt of the family, and he’s the one who’s done the most. What he’s been able to accomplish at 5-9, 170 pounds soaking wet — it’s an unbelievable story.”
It starts in Evansville, Ind., the hometown of Bob Griese, Don Mattingly and Larry Carroll, who worked the midnight shift at an Alcoa aluminum plant so he wouldn’t miss any game one of his three boys played.
Jamey Carroll was an All-America shortstop for Evansville University in 1996. He faced decent competition in the Missouri Valley Conference, but wasn’t drafted until the 14th round by the Montreal Expos and didn’t reach the majors until 2002, at age 28.
“He’s always been a great fielder, always had an accurate arm, always been a great teammate,” said Twins pitcher Carl Pavano, who was with Montreal from 1998 to 2002 and teamed with Carroll again in 2009 for Cleveland. “What separates him now is his experience.”
For the past decade, Carroll has been the quintessential utility player, making 430 career starts at second base, 164 at shortstop, 116 at third base, and 15 in the outfield.
A career highlight came in 2007, when his 13th-inning sacrifice fly scored Colorado’s Matt Holliday — chin first — with the winning run in a Game 163 tiebreaker against San Diego. Carroll had entered that marathon six innings earlier, as a pinch runner.
He spent the next two years in Cleveland, then signed a two-year deal with the Dodgers. Out in Hollywood, it was an Evansville reunion. Mattingly, Carroll’s childhood idol, was the Los Angeles hitting coach in 2010 before taking over as manager last year.
Carroll didn’t hit a home run for the Dodgers, but he became a mainstay in their lineup, playing 133 games the first year and 146 last year. Over the two seasons combined, he batted .290 with a .368 on-base percentage and .344 slugging percentage.
“I’m all right with people ripping my slugging percentage and stuff like that, because my job is to get on base and to make things happen,” said Carroll, who was 10-for-10 in stolen base attempts last year. “Hopefully, that fits into what they want here.”
The Twins signed Carroll in November to a two-year, $6.75 million deal that includes an option for 2014. He’s a potential fit for the No. 2 spot in the batting order, but perhaps more important, the team is counting on him to help stabilize its defense.
Manager Ron Gardenhire said he will enter spring training with Carroll at shortstop, Alexi Casilla at second base and Tsuyoshi Nishioka as a potential replacement in both spots.
“Maybe (Carroll’s) not as quick as he was in his 20s — none of us are — but he makes up for it by knowing where to position himself,” Pavano said. “That comes with 10 years of experience. I think it’s going to be a big advantage for (third baseman Danny Valencia) having Jamey on that side of the infield.”
Carroll, who has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, said he is willing to play anywhere, but he’s aiming to win the starting shortstop job. A weekend at TwinsFest gave him a chance to get acclimated with his new team.
“Any time you start somewhere new, it’s fun,” he said. “But there’s also some anxiety about it, going in and trying to prove to your new teammates and the fans why they came and got you. Coming here helps ease the tension and anxiety a little bit. It’s good to meet the guys and get a feel for the atmosphere here.”
Carroll’s wife and their 3-year-old twins, son Cole and daughter Mackenzie, will be joining him from Florida once the season starts. He said it was important to sign another two-year deal, so the family could feel settled. He also knows this is probably his final contract as a player.
Eventually, he just might join his younger brother in the coaching ranks.
“He’s got a brilliant baseball mind,” Wes said. “I think he’s going to have the opportunity to do whatever he wants to do.”
MY TWO CENTS: After the debacle that was 2011, any player with a pulse has to be considered an upgrade over the perpetually perplexed Nishi (or, to a lesser extent, Trevor Plouffe). Also, Carroll has that hard-to-quantify quality about him — we’ll call it Punto-ness — as evidenced by this line: “… My job is to get on base and to make things happen.” The Twins don’t need an All-Star at shortstop, merely an anchor who doesn’t turn every slow roller into something resembling a carnival ride.