Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 Spring Training Preview

Pitchers and catchers have reported to Ft. Myers and spring training is officially underway for the Twins. This year's kickoff carries with it even more excitement than usual, as the Twins had a busy offseason and are preparing to open a brand new stadium when the regular season starts in April. Before we get to meaningful baseball at Target Field, though, we've got five weeks of practice and exhibition play to get through down on Florida. And these weeks should contain plenty of intrigue in their own right.

This year's iteration of spring training will feature a number of high-profile new faces (a rarity for the Twins) as well as a number of key players looking to prove that they're healthy after missing significant time last year. Today, we'll go over a few stories to follow as well as breaking down some of the roster battles that will be taking place.

Worth Keeping an Eye On...

* Justin Morneau's back. Morneau missed the stretch run last year due to a stress fracture in his lower back, and he also had a minor surgery on his hand during the offseason. The official word is that both issues are now behind Morneau, but after seeing Morneau's performance drop off a cliff in the week's preceding his being shut down last year, fans might need to see him comfortably driving balls over the fence again before they can fully regain confidence in them.

* Francisco Liriano's command. We've all heard the stories and seen the numbers from winter ball. Liriano dominated the competition and had scouts raving that he is looking a lot like the stud who took the league by storm back in 2006. But carrying that success back the states will be a major test for Liriano, and if he can't locate his fastball and get ahead in the count he's likely to experience many of the same problems from last year, even if his velocity has almost fully returned.

* Pat Neshek's elbow. He missed much of the 2008 season after injuring his elbow, and missed all of the '09 campaign after that injury ultimately required Tommy John surgery. Now, like all TJ survivors, Neshek must relearn how to throw and get out big-league hitters after a long layoff. The bullpen is fairly crowded, so Neshek will really have to wow the coaching staff in order to earn a spot on the Twins' roster out of spring training. The more likely scenario is that he starts out in Rochester.

* Joe Mauer's contract status. I thought it would be done by the start of spring training. Obviously, that hasn't happened. I still think it will get done before the start of the regular season, but now the clock is ticking on that deadline as well. Undoubtedly, the Twins and Mauer would love for the thing to just get taken care of, as the barrage of media attention focusing on Mauer's contract will only serve as a distraction from what he and the team are seeking to accomplish this year.

* Jose Mijares' baggage. Another year, another set of issues with Mijares, who continues to give the team unwanted headaches. This year, he missed the reporting date for pitchers and catchers because he once again failed to get his visa issues straightened out. A history of other issues, both on and off the field, has to have the organization's patience wearing thin.

Position Battles

Starting Third Baseman
The acquisitions of Hudson and Hardy leave third base as the only infield position that is up for grabs as we head into spring training. Nick Punto enters with an early edge given his strong finish last year and Ron Gardenhire's unabashed affinity for him, but the team made a substantial commitment to Brendan Harris by handing him a two-year contract this winter. The best guess is that these two will split starts at the hot corner, but the performances of Harris and Punto this spring might help decide who gets the Opening Day nod and who gets the lion's share of playing time early in the season.

Favorite: Nick Punto

Fifth Starter
Right-handers Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn are essentially locked into the top four slots in the rotation, leaving southpaws Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins and Liriano to battle for the final spot. Perkins is currently on shaky ground with the organization and trying to battle back from an unproductive and injury-plagued season, so he definitely enters this contest as the long-shot (assuming he doesn't get traded within the next month). Duensing performed very well after joining the rotation, giving him an advantage, but Liriano's excellent work in winter ball gives him some momentum. If Liriano is mowing down hitters in the Grapefruit League like he was in the Dominican Winter League, I don't see how he misses out on a rotation spot.

Favorite: Francisco Liriano

Backup Catcher
Thanks to his strong offensive performance in limited duty with the Twins last year, Jose Morales would be the odds-on favorite if all things were even, but he underwent wrist surgery late last month and still had a cast on when he arrived in Ft. Myers. That cast is scheduled to be removed next week and Morales still could conceivably win the backup job if he gets up to speed quickly, but defensive specialist Drew Butera appears to be the more likely candidate at this point. Wilson Ramos has an outside shot at coming north with the club, but he's 22 and hasn't played above Double-A. Plus, it wouldn't make a ton of sense to start Ramos' big-league service clock just so he can play once a week or so as Mauer's caddy.

Favorite: Drew Butera

Final Bench Spot
Nine starting position players and five starting pitchers leaves 11 remaining roster spots to be divvied up among the bullpen and the bench. Ten of those spots are effectively claimed, leaving one spot available. It's not clear right now whether the Twins will choose to fill that spot with another reliever or an additional bench player. If it's a reliever, it will likely be the loser of the battle for the fifth rotation spot, or perhaps Neshek. If it's a bench player, it would likely be an outfielder who could back up Denard Span in center, with Jacque Jones and Charlton Jimerson standing as the lead candidates. For now, I'll guess that Gardenhire favors additional bullpen flexibility, particularly since none of the current members of the pen seem suited for long relief.

Favorite: Brian Duensing

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With all that in mind, here's my early (and probably not very accurate) guess at how the Twins' 25-man Opening Day roster will shake out:

STARTERS
C: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Orlando Hudson
3B: Nick Punto
SS: J.J. Hardy
LF: Delmon Young
CF: Denard Span
RF: Michael Cuddyer
DH: Jason Kubel

BENCH
C: Drew Butera
IF: Jim Thome
IF: Brendan Harris
IF/OF: Matt Tolbert

ROTATION
SP: Scott Baker
SP: Carl Pavano
SP: Kevin Slowey
SP: Nick Blackburn
SP: Francisco Liriano

BULLPEN
RP: Joe Nathan
RP: Matt Guerrier
RP: Jose Mijares
RP: Jon Rauch
RP: Jesse Crain
RP: Clay Condrey
RP: Brian Duensing

Your own guesses are welcome in the comments section.

23 comments:

Sven the German said...

So do you see the Twins trading away Casilla then?

Jesse said...

That's how my 25 would look today if I had to take a crack at it.

Nick N. said...

So do you see the Twins trading away Casilla then?

Yes, or trying to push him through waivers. I just can't see how he helps this team enough to warrant one of the very limited bench spots.

Jason said...

Does Neshek have options left to be sent down to AAA? I think he would stay up if he is out of options and Duensing would be sent back to AAA.

If Casilla is not traded, I think I would rather have him up to back up SS and 2nd base instead of Tolbert. Casilla to me seems more polished and bigs ready, where Tolbert's always talked about energy tends to lead to mistakes and poor play due to pressing and lack of focus. Both options to me are about the same I would just rather see Casilla up than Tolbert at this point.

Maybe both Casilla and Liriano's excellent play in the Dominican league will translate into solid performances this year. One can hope!

Nick N. said...

Casilla to me seems more polished and bigs ready

I guess I don't really see where that impression would come from. Casilla can't hit and rates terribly on defense. Tolbert has a slick glove and is more versatile. Casilla has been able to fall back on his youth in the past but he'll turn 26 this year.

Maybe both Casilla and Liriano's excellent play in the Dominican league will translate into solid performances this year.

Casilla hit .219/.288/.288 in the DWL this year.

Jon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon said...

Any chance that Ben Revere could steal that last bench spot (over Casilla or Tolbert), providing a more legitimate backup for Span?

Matthew Brock said...

"Tolbert has a slick glove and is more versatile." Thats not an accurate assessment. Tolbert 2b UZR/150 -13.6, 3b uzr/150 -1.1. Both he and casilla (uzr/150 -9.2) have rated terrible defensively at 2b, casilla has been more inconsistent playing stretches of roughly average defense and stretches of very bad defense. Both these guys uzr could be sample size problems I dont really think tolbert is "slick gloved". And the point should be made that there is very little need to have a terrible hitting, below average defensive utility infielder on the roster with both punto and harris already there. I personally believe that casilla will get that slot if they cannot trade him because they think he has some value and dont want to give him away. If they are able to trade him i think that slot should goto a utility outfielder instead of tolbert. What do you get keeping tolbert. What situation are you going to have where playing harris punto and tolbert the same day in necessary?

Alex said...

In the past, with the lighter schedule in April, the Twins have occassionally skipped the 5th starter's spot in the rotation, so it seems possible that they could keep an extra position player and use the 5th starter as a part time bullpen pitcher.

CA said...

This is pretty close to what I'd predict the roster to be, except that I expect the Twins to pick up a backup CF when teams start trying to sneak players through waivers.

I just don't see the value in having Casilla/Tolbert as the 25th man when they're one Denard-Span-running-into-the-wall incident away from potentially having a Young-Cuddyer-Kubel outfield. Even if Span can stay healthy for 160 games, I would rather have a late-game defensive replacement for Young/Kubel than having Tolbert play twice a week.

chalk said...

They shouldnt use the last bench spot for an contingency ie denard hurting himself. If that did happen theyd have to shift the defense for one game and would be pretty insignificant in the grand scheme. I think they should pick the player that gives their bench the most versatility, which i believe happens to be an extra OF just so they can get delmon/cuddy out of the game for an inning or so in a lot of games. I wouldnt be surprised if they keep casilla because he is unlikely to clear waivers, I think Tolbert still has an option.

Nick N. said...

Both he and casilla (uzr/150 -9.2) have rated terrible defensively at 2b,

I'm a lot more confident in Casilla's sample size at second (about 1800 innings) than Tolbert's (less than 400 innings), especially since Tolbert has a pretty decent rating at third base (which Casilla has never even played). I didn't mean to insinuate that Tolbert is a gifted defender in Punto's class, but rather that he's probably about average at several different positions and could be slotted in the outfield in a pinch.

I don't disagree that the Twins could live without both of them. I guess my opinion that Tolbert will make the club is mostly based on Gardenhire's noted affinity for him. The manager makes the final decision here.

ziggywilf said...

Nick,what about pat neshek? You think that he will start in AAA then?

Nick N. said...

Nick,what about pat neshek? You think that he will start in AAA then?

Yep.

eddie shore said...

Couple Questions:

• Where does this leave Perkins?

• Say Liriano gets that 5th spot, does Duensing have options? If they ever project him as a starter do you really think they'd keep him up for relief work?

Your thoughts?

Nick N. said...

Where does this leave Perkins?

He still has an option left, so I'd guess he starts in the minors. Though I still think there's a pretty strong chance he's gone by Opening Day.

Say Liriano gets that 5th spot, does Duensing have options? If they ever project him as a starter do you really think they'd keep him up for relief work?

Duensing does have options so he could very well start in the minors. He did spend a good chunk of last season pitching from the bullpen though, so it's not like the Twins have proven totally opposed to this.

Dave said...

I hear that Delmon looks great this year, can you confirm that Nick? If he is in better shape, how do you think that will impact his play on the field?

I have a sour outlook on Delmon for his defense, and physical improvements usually help range in the outfield. I know agility can't help you read a fly off the bat, but it can help mitigate mental mistakes. Is a leap in defensive ability a pipe dream or something to look for?

In a similar vien, can more agility help him significantly offensively? He doesn't get on base enough to be a real threat to run, especially considering his likely place in the order. Even without stealing though, baserunning agility can sometimes add 5-10 bases a year. At any rate, it is encouraging to hear Delmon has taken an interest in offseason training, maybe that will translate into more coachability through the year.

Nick N. said...

Dave,

I too have heard reports that Young thinned down quite a bit during the offseason. I'll have a better idea of how drastic the changes look after I head down to Florida to catch a little spring training action next weekend.

As far as how these changes will affect his game, I could certainly see added spryness helping prop up his dismal range in the outfield. When it comes to improving at the plate, though, the changes need to be mental. He simply must improve his plate approach and stop swinging at so many bad pitches if he wants to take his game to the next level.

Dave said...

I'm going to be down in Florida next week myself. I have tickets for the Friday game at city of palms park (red sox). Any idea of who I can expect to see in the lineup? Also, any suggestions for twins friendly bars in the area?

Leslie said...

I have zero faith in Joe Nathan. I am disappointed he is here. Watch him blow many saves. It was a mistake to keep him. He should have been traded this offseason.

I don't think his arm is good enough anymore. His blown saves speak for itself.

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