Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be providing a rundown on who the Twins will have in Spring Training camp at each position, including projected starters and backups, as well as long shots to make the Opening Day roster.
More than half of the Twins positional starters are basically set in stone, but we’ll take a look at the contenders where there is competition; many of the more interesting battles in camp will play out for backup spots as the spring progresses. And while even a strong camp will still mean relegation to the minors for a lot of these guys, they’ll be just an injury away from seeing time with the Twins at some point over the course of the season.
PROJECTED STARTER: Brian Dozier
After being named the Twins Minor League Player of the Year the previous season, there was a lot of hype coming into spring training 2012 for Dozier but, unfortunately, he didn’t live up to it in his first stint in the big leagues. Dozier started the season in AAA, came up as the Twins starting shortstop in early May, struggled at the plate and in the field, and found himself demoted by mid August. Once back down in Rochester, his struggles at the plate continued, as he somehow hit slightly worse in AAA, with a .232 average compared to a .234 average in the Majors. Although Twins brass decided his play didn’t warrant a September call up, they’re preaching confidence that he can take over the starting second base job out of the gate this season.
The Twins appear confident that Dozier can play solid defense at the keystone, and that his bat will project well there. But he was erratic defensively at shortstop in the Majors, and he’s only played 47 of 356 minor league games at second base. Considering his bat did not play well enough to keep him at short for the Twins last season, I think it’s fair to assume that his offensive output will be substandard for a MLB second baseman.
Still, Dozier began 2011 in high-A and ended up in the Majors last season, so there’s definitely still hope that he will develop with time and patience…and perhaps a second stint in Rochester. As much as the Twins want Dozier to take ownership of the starting second base job in spring training and run with it, allowing them to utilize Jamey Carroll and his ability to play three positions off the bench, they might have to go with the cagey veteran to start the season.
Carroll, who will be 39 this season, quickly took over the starting shortstop gig last year and, while his batting average won’t blow you away, he gets on base at a solid clip and plays fundamental defense. A lot of how the competition plays out at second base could depend not just on Dozier’s spring, but how the Aaron Hicks situation plays out, as well. If the Twins decide to take the young center fielder north with the team April 1st and place him at the top of the batting order, they may feel more comfortable with the veteran Carroll hitting behind or in front of Hicks to solidify the lineup, rather than having two young players learning how to hit in the Majors at the top of the batting order. This scenario could be relevant right out of the gate, or a month or so into the season once the Twins have guaranteed themselves an extra year of team control with Hicks.
Escobar came over to the Twins this past summer in the Francisco Liriano trade, and has the potential to be a somewhat better hitter than most local pundits suggest or, rather, not as bad of a hitter. He’s a switch hitter who has batted about fifty points higher from the left side in the minors, but close to two-hundred points higher from the right side in limited action in the Majors. I have no clue what that means, but Escober is less than a year older than Hicks, who finally started to become a well-rounded switch hitter last year in AA. I understand the concerns about Escobar’s bat, and he’ll never hit for power, but he still has the potential to develop into an above-average defensive sub who can play all over the diamond, and hit from either side of the plate without embarrassing himself.
Ray Olmedo, 31, signed on as a minor league free agent from the White Sox this past offseason, and has played for 13 major and minor league teams over the past 13 years. He’s primarily played second, short and third in the majors, but has played all over the diamond in the minors, save for at catcher and center field, and even pitched in a game a few years back. He’s a AAAA player whose solid minor league numbers just haven’t translated to the Majors and, until his 20 games with the Sox last year, hadn’t played in the bigs since 2007. Minor league vet Brian Dinkelman will be in camp, too; he can play second base and in the outfield, and has a slim chance of seeing time again with the Twins this year in a utility role if injuries strike.
There is definitely competition here, and a lot could depend on how the competition at center field plays out. This is undoubtedly a spring training battle to watch as we inch our way towards Opening Day.