Minnesota Twins Spring Training Preview: First Base
By Ben Noble
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.
Aug 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (33) during the game against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark. The Rangers won 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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.
Earlier this week, we ran down the catchers in camp. Today, we’ll look at the options at first base as we move our way around the diamond over the course of Spring Training.
PROJECTED STARTER: Justin Morneau
After injury-plagued campaigns in 2010 and 2011, Morneau returned to a semblance of respectability at the plate last year, finishing the season with a slash line of .267/.333/.440. His overall numbers were boosted by a strong stretch after the All-Star break–following a slow start to the season–and it’s Morneau’s second half numbers that give the Twins and their fans reason to hope for improved production from the former MVP going into 2013.
PROJECTED BACKUPS: Joe Mauer, Chris Parmelee
September 16, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) during the game against the Chicago White Sox at Target Field. The White Sox defeated the Twins 9-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
We discussed Mauer a couple of days ago with the catchers, and we’ll take a closer look at Parmelee when we get to right field, but both of these players will see time at first base this spring and into the season. As 2012 showed, Mauer is a respectable defensive first baseman, and cutting down his games behind the plate allowed him to stay in the lineup for a career-high 641 plate appearances last year. Morneau is in the last year of his contract and there are a number of high-upside outfielders in the Twins organization on the brink of the Majors, so Parmelee will almost assuredly move from right field back to his natural position of first base as early as the All-Star break.
Chris Colabello is a great human-interest story for the club, signing last year out of independent ball, and raked in both AA New Britain and the Mexican League. At 29, he’s an older prospect with a relatively low ceiling and moderate floor, so he makes sense as a potential bat off the bench this season. Still, while it may not be the sexiest spot on the 25-man roster, solid, reliable, effective and cost-controlled pinch hitters aren’t the easiest thing to find, so it stands to reason that the Twins will look for Colabello to continue his development in AAA this season with an eye on 2014 and beyond. Injuries, trades or a lack of development by stud outfielders in the minors could still give Colabello a shot as a stop-gap starter in the Majors at some point in 2013. Jeff Clement is a converted catcher and former top prospect in the Seattle organization who signed on as a minor-league free agent over the winter.
There’s no real competition here, but the Twins will be looking ahead to moving Parmelee to first base full time after Morneau’s situation is resolved. How will it be resolved? If the team can get anything decent for Morneau before the trade deadline, I think he’s gone. If not, I think they let him walk at the end of the season: facing a rebuilding year, moving Morneau for scraps during the season could alienate the fan base and precipitate a PR nightmare. On the flip side, having Colabello in a Twins uniform could be a PR boost for the club, and I fully expect to see him up for a cup of coffee in September, if not sooner.
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