Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The stories of spring

It may appear that an inordinate number of posts here during the past month have concerned obscure middle relief candidates. The Twins had numerous bullpen departures during the free-agency season, they raked up a large field of candidates, and arguably the Twins story of the month has been the winnowing of that field.

There has been a bit more to spring training than the bullpen, of course, but those stories have gotten less play here than the bullpen. Let's do a quick rundown:

Michael Cuddyer has
been out of action
until very recently.
Injuries: Joe Nathan's elbow and Justin Morneau's head were the highest-profile rehab cases entering camp, but there were a couple of starters coming off non-radical elbow surgeries (Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn) and a couple of lineup fixtures coming off knee "cleanups" (Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer), Add in Cuddyer's infamous foot wart and Delmon Young's turf toe, and the health issues were fairly prominent early on.

Things appear to be coming together, and there were hints Monday that the Wednesday game (which is to be on FSN) will feature the regular lineup, together again for the first time.

Middle infield: It didn't take long for Ron Gardenhire to ratify the expected alignment of Tsuyoshi Nishioka at second and Alexi Casilla at short. Nishioka has drawn raves for his defensive skills, and while it's too soon to say with certainty how he'll hit, I'm not worried that pitchers stateside will knock the bat out of his hands.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be
the second baseman.
The infield reserve job is still undecided, although I expect it will go to Matt Tolbert.

Starting rotation: Six starters, five jobs. They entered with two locks, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, and Gardenhire swiftly made Brian Duensing a third. Once Blackburn established that his elbow was sound, he was made a fourth. That leaves Baker and Kevin Slowey and trade speculation.

My current take: Baker in the rotation, Slowey in long relief, no immediate trade. Baker is said to need a longer warmup before pitching than usual; this is both a reason to keep him out of the bullpen and a reason to fear reinjury.

Lining up the minor league depth: Other than the bullpen and the utility infield spot, there were no roster spots obviously available this spring. The usual raft of prospects in camp were largely jockeying for position for later call-ups.

I haven't a real handle on the "no. 3 catcher" competition, which is to be the guy who gets called up if either Mauer or Drew Butera goes on the shelf. My guess is that Steve Holm is the guy, but Danny Lehmann is probably the better defensively. Rene Rivera (like Holm, a minor-league free-agent import) is third on my list, but he could be first on the Twins'. All three remain in camp.

Of the guys lopped already, Trevor Plouffe fell in my eyes, Joe Benson rose and Ben Revere remains the same. Benson and Revere aren't likely to matter much in the majors in 2011, but either could well be a starter for the Twins in 2012.

On the pitching side, Kyle Gibson's showing may embolden the Twins to make a trade involving Slowey, as he's a viable replacement if/when Baker or another rotation member gets hurt.

Opening Day is a week from Friday.


  1. Just a prediction:

    Twins trade Slowey to Cardinals for Jason Motte and minor lg catcher Bryan Anderson.

    Twins need a C in the system and once highly regarded, Anderson will fill a hole in the org. and is the major league insurance this season for Mauer if he ever goes down or has continued knee issues.

  2. they acquitted wally the beer man today!!