Hard to believe that there are still 48 long winter days until Twins pitchers and catchers report to sunny Ft. Meyers for Spring Training on February 18, 2012. The only other team reporting that early is the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals, so the Twins are in pretty good company.
If Terry Ryan and the Twins do not make any additional moves leading up to Spring Training, the starting roster should look something like this:
C – Joe Mauer
1B – Justin Morneau
2B – Alexi Casilla
SS – Jamey Carroll
3B – Danny Valencia
LF – Ben Revere
CF – Denard Span
RF – Josh Willingham
DH – Trevor Plouffe
With Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, and Ryan Doumit on the bench. That leaves room for an extra positional player, such as Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee, Drew Butera or Rene Tosoni to make the team. With questions about Morneau’s health and ability to play 1B on a regular basis, Parmelee could have the inside track after a strong showing at the end of last season that led to a 1.035 OPS in 88 plate appearances. With Doumit serving as a potential 3rd catcher, the team will be able to give Mauer’s knees some rest playing 1B, and moving Morneau to DH, leaving Revere and Plouffe to platoon in Left Field. However, Butera has been with the team each of the last two seasons, pitchers have apparently enjoyed his low catching target, and Ron Gardenhire seems enamored with the light hitting catcher, so it will be an interesting Spring Training for fringe bench guys.
While there is really only one spot open for a positional player heading into Spring Training, things are much more uncertain among the 12 man pitching staff. The Twins’ projected starters are:
Carl Pavano – RHP
Scott Baker – RHP
Francisco Liriano – LHP
Jason Marquis – RHP
Nick Blackburn – RHP
Blackburn is arguably the weakest of the five starters, but if he can stay healthy he is not a terrible option as a #5. Marquis pitched well in the first half of last season before breaking his leg, and if he can return to that form and eat up innings 200+ innings in 2012 then he will earn every penny of his $3 million dollar 1 year contract. Liriano comes into 2012 with huge question marks. After a successful 2010 campaign Liriano was unable to find the strike zone consistently with his fastball, and was pitching from behind in counts, allowing opposing hitters to lay off of his slider. Liriano didn’t pitch winterball this year, instead working out at the Twins’ Dominican facility. Carl Pavano needs to continue to avoid injuries and eat innings. He should benefit from an improved defense behind him, but his inability to strike hitters out could come back to haunt him if either Jamey Carroll or Alexi Casilla can’t hold down their starting spots.
That leaves 7 more spots in the bullpen. Glen Perkins (LHP), will return as a 7th/8th inning set up guy, Brian Duensing comes back to the bullpen as a reliable lefty, and Matt Capps (RHP) is to be the Twins’ closer when the team breaks camp. For now, Rule 5 draftee, Terry Doyle (RHP) is on the team, as he must stay on the 25 man roster, and Anthony Swarzak (RHP)is probably a safe bet as a long reliever. The remaining two spots in the bullpen will be pretty wide open. If the Twins are looking for another left-hander in the pen to go along with Perkins and Duensing the cupboard is pretty bare. Scott Diamond has been used almost exclusively as a starter and may struggle to transition to the bullpen. Other 40-man roster options for left-handed pitching include Tyler Robertson and Matt Maloney. Maloney pitched around 20 innings each of the past two seasons for the Cincinnati Reds, but his ERA has been over 8 each season. He’s the prototypical Quadruple-A player, has solid results at AAA but he has not yet been able to translate to the major league game. Robertson, on the other hand, has yet to crack the Major League roster, and spent all of 2011 in AA. He’s a long shot, at best.
The Twins have no shortage of right-handed relievers to choose from to fill their bullpen. Their best strategy for Spring Training might be to just throw them all out their and ride the hot hands. Alex Burnett has plenty of experience pitching for the Twins, but he hasn’t had the kind if success that makes him a lock for the bullpen. Jeff Gray has spent parts of each season between 2008 and 2011 on a Major League roster, accumulating just over 1 year of Major League Service Time, but again, hasn’t shown a lot of success outside of AAA. Deolis Guerra is an interesting candidate with a lot of upside, but probably needs more Minor League seasoning after only transitioning into a relievers’ role in 2011. Carlos Gutierrez is another candidate who probably needs some additional time in the Minor Leagues to solidify himself as a dependable option out of the bullpen. Liam Hendriks is projected to come up late in the year and could make a couple of spot starts, but it is hard to see the Twins using him out of the bullpen with so many other options. Jeff Manship is a name Twins fans should be familiar with, but after throwing just 3.1 innings in 2011, he may need to make a big splash in Spring Training to have a shot at coming north with the rest of the team. Esmerling Vasquez has pitched fairly well out of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bullpen the past three years and his experience could be a big reason the Twins add him to the 25 man roster. Kyle Waldrop is 26 years old, and after making his Major League Debut in 2011, has an opportunity to find a home in the Twins’ bullpen. Waldrop has pitched 79.0 and 87.2 innings in Triple-A the past two season, so the Twins pretty much know who he is as a reliever, that familiarity could land him a spot on the 25 man roster as well. Finally, there is Lester Oliveros, the PTBNL in the trade that sent Delmon Young to Detroit. I liked what I saw out of Oliveros’ brief 2011 season, pitching 13.1 innings for the Twins, despite giving up 13 hits and 7 walks, but if Twins’ pitching coach Rick Anderson can help Oliveros stay in the zone, he has a real opportunity to earn playing time in 2012.
There is still more than a month and a half before the Twins report to Ft. Meyers, and they may still make a move for a proven commodity out of the bullpen, but if things remain as they are, the Twins will be sending a lot of different guys out to compete for spots in the bullpen.