After just over five weeks of spring action and competitions, the Twins made final moves to complete their Opening Day roster. Five competitions in all have now come to a close, and the Twins will play three more spring games to prepare for their first test in Los Angeles next week.
|Drew Butera (C)||
||Butera didn’t hit well this spring (.154 in 17 games), and he shouldn’t be expected to hit well during his stay up north. While Gardy seemed to like Wilson Ramos and his bat (.400 in 13 games), experience almost certainly was the deciding factor in brining Butera to the majors until Jose Morales is healthy.|
|Alexi Casilla (IF)||Three players were up for the final bench spot, and Alexi Casilla came away with the spot seemingly by default. Jacque Jones hasn’t played in the majors in over a year, and Matt Tolbert had one option remaining. Despite a poor spring (.128 in 21 games), Casilla makes the team mostly because nobody stepped up to beat him, and partly because he would have been with another organization otherwise.|
|Francisco Liriano (SP)||
||After pitching extremely well this past winter, Liriano seemed to take control in the competition for the final spot in the rotation as spring training began. While his competition for the spot wasn’t the best over the past month, Liriano would have been tough to beat with his performance: 6 games, 20 innings, 6 runs, 5 walks, and 30 strikeouts.|
|Brian Duensing (SP)||
||Brian Duensing played a major role in the team’s success to close out the 2009 season. He struggled early on this spring, but his final outings were better and he’ll be a second left-handed option and long reliever out of the bullpen. Duensing ended his spring with a 4.50 ERA in 16 innings pitched.|
|Pat Neshek (RP)||Pat Neshek hadn’t faced live hitters in over 14 months when spring training began, and it seemed very likely that he’d get some extra work in through either extended spring training or minor league games before joining the Twins in Minnesota. Joe Nathan’s injury, combined with Neshek’s success on the mound (1.86 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 9.2 innings) put him on the Opening Day roster and in line to return from Tommy John surgery officially in April.|
For the past 28 years, the Minnesota Twins have been located under the roof of the Metrodome on the other side of town. In just a few days the month of April will roll around, and the new month will signify the beginning of a new era with the opening of Target Field.
After making the playoffs for the fifth time in eight seasons, and with a new ballpark in the waiting, the Minnesota Twins entered the off-season primed to make some moves. It took less than two days for the front office to get started, and the big moves over the past four-plus months have many fans optimistic about the team’s chances.
The feeling at spring training isn’t quite the same as a day at the ballpark anywhere from April to October. It’s still baseball, but the final score is primarily irrelevant. It’s all about baseball being back in the air, players taking extra grounders and fly balls, young prospects proving their worth, and so forth.
When you first step foot onto the Minnesota Twins complex in Fort Myers, Flordia, you’re welcomed with a parking lot that has parking lanes named after Twin greats. Walking down the cement plaza fans can see the field, Hammond Stadium, off to the right. To the left is where much of the work is completed and progress is made. Practice fields are all around, and everywhere players are tuning their skills for the season ahead.
On Tuesday, I was in attendance as the Twins took on the Baltimore Orioles, and while the team lost, there were several things to take away from the event.
** In the lineup after taking a few games off was catcher Joe Mauer. After his introduction, he was enthusiastically welcomed by the fans. Hitting just like last season, Mauer twice took some pitches and then solidly drove a pitch to the outfield for a hit. Other lineup mainstays played too. Michael Cuddyer especially stood out. Three times he smoked fly balls to the outfield, and all three times he was retired (including a few very good catches).
** Scott Baker looked great on the mound. The first pitch of the game was taken to left field for a base hit, but otherwise Baker had good control and put forth a solid four-inning outing.
** Several prospects took the field in the loss: Juan Portes started, and despite a hitless day, he hit a few balls hard to the outfield and definitely looks like a guy to watch. Ben Revere has some incredible speed. Danny Valencia, although in a short viewing, looked like a capable defender at third base (he made a nice stab on a line drive).
** The first thing to see upon arrival was manager Ron Gardenhire and former manager Tom Kelly behind the plate with their fungo bats and the infielders taking grounders. The spring feel showed again with Gardy joking with the players and everybody pretty relaxed. The day’s session seemed to end with pitcher’s fielding practice. A majority of the pitchers practiced coming off the mound to field grounders and they ended it by lining up between first and third and simultaneously faking throws to the mound from the stretch.
** Jon Rauch is really tall. Everybody knows the righty is 6’11, but Rauch really towered over basically everybody during practice. Carl Pavano (6’5) looked most normal standing next to the team monster.
** Gardy has nicknames for everybody as many know, but it seems as if the trend extends to other coaches too. Rick Anderson was yelling various names out during pitchers fielding practice as he threw baseballs to the grass for pitchers to throw to first base. Two that were clear enough to hear were Frankie for Francisco Liriano (it seemed many people called him this), and Pav for Pavano.
** The atmosphere and general feel of these games is definitely unique. The outcome is far from important, and many fans are there simply to take in America’s pastime on a sunny afternoon. It’s funny to hear fans say to themselves, “Who?” when players wearing the 70s, 80s and 90s on their uniforms enter the game.
** It seems to be quite the spring for attendance at the team’s spring home. After breaking the single-game attendance record against the St. Louis Cardinals one week earlier, Hammond Stadium saw another record crowd for their matchup with the Orioles. That record apparently didn’t last long either though, a new record was set on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
** It’s hard to judge without going to other games at different parks around Florida, but based on seeing the Blue Jays ballpark from the street and the Twins’ complex in person, it seems as if Hammond Stadium and the surrounding fields have to be one of the better spring training complexes. It’s easy to get close to the action on the practice fields, and it’s a pretty nice place to watch a game too.
Spring training without a doubt has a different feel. Watching the players take grounders and practice like any high school or college team would is interesting, and it’s great knowing baseball is right around the corner.
[Hat Tip: Ballpark Magic]
In the second week of Making the Team, a twist has altered some of the chances of cracking the Opening Day roster for several players. With Joe Nathan potentially out for the season, there are now seemingly two bullpen spots available rather than just one.
|Wilson Ramos (C)||Ramos is doing an extraordinary job at the plate this spring going 3-for-8 thus far with four walks in three games. His defense has seemingly been alright too. The big question is how much of a chance the staff is giving Ramos with his competitor Drew Butera having more experience.|
|Drew Butera (C)||Experience at Triple-A may give Butera the upper hand, but if the Twins are looking for offense in their backup catcher, Butera doesn’t seem to be the guy. Everybody knows he’s much more geared toward defense, and his early .167 average (with three strikeouts in six at-bats) continues to confirm that.|
|Danny Valencia (3B)||It seems likely that Danny Valencia will make his major league debut at some point during the 2010 season. Nonetheless, it continues to be an uphill battle for the 25-year old to crack the Opening Day roster. He’s 3-for-7 thus far with a homerun, but he’ll need to really stick out in the next three weeks to grab a spot.|
|Alexi Casilla (IF)||Alexi Casilla is just 2-for-10 thus far in four games, but equally poor plate production by his competitor is keeping Casilla in the battle. With no more options it’s either make the team or move to a new organization, so Casilla may currently have the upper hand.|
|Matt Tolbert (IF)||While Casilla is batting just .200 after four games, Matt Tolbert has yet to collect a hit in eight at-bats. It’ll be interesting to see how the Twins handle the situation.|
|Jacque Jones (OF)||Jacque Jones’ chances of making the team seem to be decent, especially with the poor production from both Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert. He hasn’t played in the majors since 2008 however, so he still has a lot of impressing to do to make his return to Minneapolis a reality.|
|Francisco Liriano (SP)||In his first outing of the spring, Liriano pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three hitters. It’ll take more than two innings to convince the organization and fans that the winter reports are accurate, but it seems like the final spot in the rotation may be his to lose.|
|Brian Duensing (SP)||Duensing struggled in his first trip to the mound, but his chances to make the bullpen may have gone up anyways. If the Twins go with an in-house candidate to take Nathan’s spot, there are now two spots open in the bullpen, and only one lefty is currently a lock.|
|Glen Perkins (SP)||Glen Perkins’ first spring outing didn’t go quite as planned, and his second was only decent. Out of options, Perkins could eventually be traded if he can’t earn a spot in the rotation or bullpen. He very well could be pitching to show off for other teams.|
|Pat Neshek (RP)||Two solid outings to begin camp, combined with the Joe Nathan injury, have heightened Neshek’s chances of making the team out of camp. Coming off Tommy John Surgery, Neshek could still begin in extended spring training, but there is another bullpen spot seemingly available if his good performances continue through March.|
|Mike Maroth (RP)||So far this spring, Mike Maroth has had one less-than-stellar outing, and one scoreless outing. His chance to make the team is very slim, and the veteran lefty is almost certainly headed for Triple-A Rochester where good performances could make him an option if injuries arise.|
|With closer Joe Nathan most likely out for the season, another bullpen spot is now open. With a solid spring, in which Slama would need to blow the coaching staff away, the young righty may have an opportunity to crack a spot in the bullpen.|
It hasn’t even been a full day since the organization and fans learned that their All-Star closer might possibly miss the entire 2010 season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. It’s been a day full of updates and hope, and we’re now entering the time of aftershock.
If Joe is unable to come back from this in 2010 we do have several internal candidates and we will begin looking at them as we move forward. As Gardy said, “Until we hear differently, Joe Nathan is our closer.” That said, it would be irresponsible for us not to begin evaluating our other options in the event that he needs surgery.
We hope so. It is so early in the process to speculate on 2011. We want to first see how it feels in a week or two.
We will explore all options and make decisions when opportunities or candidates present themselves. I don’t believe we would make any decisions before it is necessary and will be open to internal candidates and potentially other avenues.
The hope remains that one of the best closers in all of baseball will be on the mound in 2010. It’ll take some things falling in place and some pain tolerance by Nathan, but that’s why it’s called hope.