The Opening Day Lineup is Set – Or Is It?
Even though Spring Training has not yet started, we can pretty much guess what the Twins’ Opening Day lineup will be. In fact, we do not even need to guess. As reported by the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand, Ron Gardenhire tentatively announced the lineup while in Iowa on Monday.
- Denard Span, CF
- Jamey Carroll, SS
- Joe Mauer, C
- Justin Morneau, 1B
- Josh Willingham, RF
- Ryan Doumit, DH
- Danny Valencia, 3B
- Alexi Casilla, 2B
- Ben Revere, LF
Looks reasonable to me. You can argue about how good this lineup is compared to the rest of the American League, but given the players on the Twins roster, it’s a pretty logical choice. Span and Carroll are good on-base guys at the top. Mauer, Morneau, and Willingham form a competent middle of the order. And Casilla and Revere can provide some bottom-of-the-order Piranha Power.
Furthermore, there don’t figure to be any hard-fought position battles. So we might as well not even bother with Spring Training, right?
Well, maybe not. Even though this lineup looks very likely to come true, there is a laundry list of possibilities that could change it. Some are major long-shots, while others are more plausible. Such as:
Morneau could be the DH. The man suffered a concussion by diving for a line drive last August. He goes into Spring Training as the starting first baseman, but the Twins are not stupid enough to stick him out on the diamond if they are not 100% convinced that he can handle the physical rigors of the job. If he can’t, look for Doumit or darkhorse Chris Parmelee to take over at first.
Willingham may play left field or DH. Left field has been Willingham’s primary position for years, but if you look at his defensive stats you might get the feeling that DH is his best position. Parmelee can play right field, and so can Joe Benson if Willingham doesn’t work out.
Sean Burroughs could unseat Valencia as the third baseman. I had to mention this even though there’s less than a 5% chance of it actually happening. Burroughs once had superstar potential, so it’s possible he’ll put on a hitting display in Florida. And he does know how to handle a glove. Also, as I noted last month, he was in the movie Terminator 2. That has very little to do with his baseball abilities, but he should get extra points for it anyway.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka could unseat Casilla as the second baseman. This sounds even less likely that the Burroughs situation, but hey, anything is possible. Casilla has never proven he deserves a starting job, despite having opportunities to do so every season since 2008. Nishioka is almost certainly better than the player we saw in 2011; whether he’s good enough to play in the Majors is still an open question.
Brian Dozier could unseat Casilla as the second baseman. If any infielder other than Morneau were to be replaced, this is the scenario I’d bet on. It’s still a long-shot, of course, because Dozier probably needs at least a few months at AAA to prove his hitting line last year wasn’t an aberration.
Trevor Plouffe could platoon with Revere in left. We explored this idea a couple months ago. There is absolutely no evidence that Ron Gardenhire is actually considering this approach, but it makes sense. If the Twins went this route and the Orioles trotted out a lefty on Opening Day, Plouffe would be the starter. The O’s rotation is about as ugly as the Twins were last year, so their Opening Day starter looks like a crapshoot to me. But Zach Britton pitched as well as any Bird hurler in 2011, and he’s a lefty.
Someone could get hurt. This is by far the most likely scenario. Injuries are a normal part of the game. At least five of the players in the lineup above can be considered injury-prone, so it’s well within the realm of possibility that an otherwise Rochester-bound player could earn an emergency promotion.
Last season the Twins broke camp without a single player on the Disabled List, but the season soon descended into a Purgatory of pain. If the Twins are superstitious at all (and baseball players are all superstitious – it’s a known fact), they should make sure to have at least one player on the Disabled List when they face the O’s on April 6th – even if they have to Tonya Harding somebody.
(I hope I didn’t inadvertently give any ideas to the Twins’ bench players)