The Twins haven't decided who will get the ball opening day. Both Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan have cast that decision as something of a competition among the starters.
Opening Day starter is probably a distinction without true significance. The vagaries of schedules and injuries quickly scramble the matchups; the popular notion that Opening Day starters spend the season largely matched up against each other is nonsense. But tradition dictates that you throw your best pitcher on Opening Day, and if the role matters to the player(s), it matters.
In my view, there are six leading candidates for the starting rotation, with the other candidates coming into play only if there are multiple injuries or other factors. The six, alphabetically: Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone, Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana.
For the opening job, let's scratch Nolasco (for two seasons of lousy performance), Duffey (less than half a season in the majors) and Milone (never qualified for the ERA title). Here are the arguments for the other three:
Gibson: Led the 2015 starters in innings and ERA. Boosted his strikeout rate last year, and some see a possible breakout season ahead for him.
Hughes: 2015's opening day hurler, his 2014 is probably the single best season in the field. Said to have reported to camp in better condition than last year.
Santana: The highest-paid pitcher in team history, he finished last season with seven quality starts during which time he put up a 1.62 ERA.
OK, there's no Cy Young favorite in that bunch, but it's a better collection than, say, the year Scott Diamond entered camp as the presumptive Opening Day starter.
My expectation right now is that Santana will be the choice, My preference, since I still harbor some resentment over Santana's PED suspension last year, would be Hughes. But, again, I don't think the choice carries as much significance as will the choice of who fills out the rotation, The Twins expect and need all three to make 30-plus starts. When they come is of lesser importance.