Okay, let's get this out of the way. The timing feels right.
- Hitting for contact. Tuiasosopo has obviously had a strikeout problem in the bigs, but then, he's received only occasional playing time, and anyone who's ever played baseball will tell you that playing infrequently can mess with your rhythm. However, Tui hasn't demonstrated an ability to hit for a lot of contact with Tacoma, either, posting a contact rate in the mid-70s these last three years, which is a little below average. He shouldn't be thought of as a strikeout machine, but he isn't David Eckstein, either.
- Hitting for power. Tui has 29 home runs and 84 extra-base hits over 945 trips to the plate in AAA. He definitely does have the ability to hit the ball out of the park, and he can do it to all fields. But he is not a power hitter, at least not in the classic sense. He can't hit the ball 475 feet, and he's not a guy who goes up there swinging from the heels. He's more of the line drive/gap-hitting sort, which shouldn't make people cringe as much as it does. Damn you, Jeff Cirillo.
Hitting with discipline. After drawing one walk per 10.6 trips to the plate his first year in AAA, Tui's jumped to one walk per 6.6 trips to the plate the last two years combined. Clearly, there's been some improvement, and though Tui's never going to turn into some kind of discipline monster like Bobby Abreu, he does have an idea of the strike zone. He's not a hacker.
- Footspeed. Tui could beat an oven in a 100-yard dash, but for a guy with such an athletic reputation, he's not much for sprinting.
- Defense. A lot of different components go into being a competent big league defender, so it might not be right of me to lump them all together, but the bottom line is that, while Tui's a hard worker, he doesn't provide much of a glove anywhere. He is in no way, shape, or form a possibility in the middle infield, and it's all he can do to not be a complete mess at third base. He's started to see some time in left field this year, but because of his footspeed, he'll forever be limited.
So that about covers his skillset. What do you have when you put it all together? I know I'm not the first person to say this, but Matt Tuiasosopo and Mike Morse could practically be MLB twinsies. While Morse is a little taller, the build is along the same lines, and the assortments of tools are nearly identical. Neither can do very much in the field, but they both hit the ball the same. They hit the ball hard, and they hit it on a line. The ball looks the same when it comes off the bat, which is one of those things that's easy for me to visualize but difficult for me to convey. Of note is that Tui appears a bit more selective than Morse. Morse is a fairly aggressive hitter.
And Morse, of course, isn't a big league-quality regular, as he doesn't hit well enough to make up for his lack of a true defensive position. That's something a lot of the anti-Tui folk will point to. If Morse can't find a steady gig with the Mariners or the Nationals, what hope does Tui have?
The hope that Tui has comes from the fact that he's only 24 years old. No, he isn't special now. No, he isn't likely to ever quite blossom. He has, however, shown some development in his power, and he has shown some development in his patience, and it isn't completely impossible that he could put some things together. What if he keeps getting stronger? What if he builds on the 32/35 BB/K ratio he's posted this year with Tacoma? What if he starts making a little more contact?
Matt Tuiasosopo is still a prospect, and he's a prospect who's gathered very little playing time at the highest stage. He's a prospect with a low ceiling, but he's a prospect who could continue to develop, and for that reason I just don't understand the responses I see whenever he finds his way into a game. I know he's not much, but he isn't some total pile of crap, and it's worth giving him some kind of opportunity. What else are the Mariners supposed to do? As much as it pains me to say it, the team probably has more to gain by playing Tui than by playing Ryan Langerhans.
It's one thing to be skeptical of Tui's future career. I'm right there with you. It's quite another to rip on him at every chance, and accuse the manager of incompetence whenever he plays. Even if Tui tops out as a bat-first utility player, teams can use bat-first utility players. All I'm saying is, he has a chance. Until or unless his window here closes, we might as well hope for success.