The final two weeks of spring training have arrived, and the races are heating up. All around, there seem to be deadlocks. At catcher, there is still no favorite to be Joe Mauer’s backup, the infielders fighting for the final bench spot are struggling, and there seems to be uncertainty in the team’s plans for the bullpen.
Can guys like Mike Maroth or Anthony Slama sneak into the race down the stretch? Who might have the slight advantages in the seemingly deadlocked competitions? Who might pull away before the team breaks for two exhibition games at Target Field next weekend?
Wilson Ramos (C)
Through nine games and 22 total at-bats, Ramos has excelled. He’s seemed to be serviceable behind the plate with a strong arm, and the youngster is currently hitting .364 on the spring. Despite a lack of experience in the highest minor league level, Ramos seems to be getting a real shot from manager Ron Gardenhire to make the roster.
Drew Butera (C)
Butera has played in 12 games, but has fewer at-bats than Ramos nonetheless. In 18 at-bats this spring, the defensive-minded Butera has only a .167 batting average. It’ll be interesting to see if Butera’s experience help put him on the plane to Minneapolis next weekend.
Alexi Casilla (IF)
With even a decent spring, Alexi Casilla would be running away with the final bench spot. Instead, in 13 games and 18 at-bats, Casilla is hitting just .143 with six strikeouts. The one thing that may help him make the team and remain with the organization is his lack of options remaining.
Matt Tolbert (IF)
Since Matt Tolbert is struggling both at the plate and at times in the field, and since he has one more option, a deadlock in the final bench spot competition would almost certainly go to Tolbert’s competitor, Alexi Casilla. Unless he has an outstanding final two weeks, Tolbert seems to be headed to Triple-A Rochester to start the season.
Jacque Jones (OF)
Jacque Jones is getting ample playing time, and he’s taking advantage. In nine games this spring and a total of 22 at-bats, Jones is hitting .318 with decent plate discipline. It’s still a long shot for Jones to make the club, but it seems as though he’ll secure a spot at Triple-A Rochester.
Francisco Liriano (SP)
As spring training kicked off, the general feeling was that if Francisco Liriano pitched anywhere near the way he did this winter, he’d run away with the final rotation spot. Liriano is doing just that. In 10 innings, the lefty has allowed just three runs (2.70 ERA) and struck out 16 hitters. With almost complete certainty, Liriano will begin the 2010 season as the team’s fifth starter.
Brian Duensing (SP)
Despite some struggles and Liriano’s strong outings, lefty Brian Duensing still has a great shot at cracking the Opening Day roster. There are now two spots open in the bullpen with closer Joe Nathan’s injury, and Duensing could be the team’s second lefty if he can beat out Glen Perkins. Their numbers are nearly identical, so heading into the final weeks there is still time to shine and capture a roster spot.
Glen Perkins (SP)
Perkins has run into a minor injury and will miss a few days on the mound. Those days are potentially precious as he’s currently locked into a race with Brian Duensing. So far, along with Duensing, Perkins has a 9.00 ERA in seven innings.
Pat Neshek (RP)
At the start of spring training, it seemed as if Pat Neshek was primed for a start in either extended spring training or the minor leagues. He hadn’t pitched to hitters in over 14 months and needed to work back into game condition. Joe Nathan’s injury has opened another spot in the bullpen, and strong outings may give Neshek a better opportunity (although it’s still very possible he starts somewhere other than Minnesota). In six outings and six innings, Neshek has allowed one run (1.50 ERA) and struck out seven.
Mike Maroth (RP)
It’s very hard to see Mike Maroth making the team out of spring training, but with decent outings, combined with the struggles of both Duensing and Perkins, he may have a small chance to sneak into the race down the stretch. In five games, Maroth has thrown seven innings, allowed three runs (3.86 ERA), and struck out one hitter.
Anthony Slama (RP)
Anthony Slama has shown fans why there is excitement surrounding his name. Through four innings, the young righty has been nothing short of dominant. He’s allowed no hits or runs and struck out eight. He’s not on the 40-man roster (though he could take Nathan’s place when he heads to the 60-day disabled list) and has thrown mostly to non major league players with his late-game appearances, so he appears to be a long shot despite his success. Nonetheless, he should debut sometime in 2010.