Tagged: Spring Training

Making the Team: Final Week

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.

Gone from the competition and the list this week is catcher Wilson Ramos, infielder Matt Tolbert, outfielder Jacque Jones, and pitchers Glen Perkins, Mike Maroth and Anthony Slama.

Opening Day 2010 is days away, and a new era in Twins baseball is coming right with it.

Player Chance Notes
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) Lock.png 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) Lock.png 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. 

Making the Team: Week 4

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?

Player Chance Notes
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.
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. 

From the Fort

Hammond StadiumThe 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.
Game Notes:
** 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). 
General Notes:
** 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.
From the Park

Making the Team: Week 1

It’s always an interesting discussion as the roster begins to come together each year. With the first games of the spring comes the start of many competitions for positions and roster spots. This year the competitions are more minor, and the roster spots currently up for grabs include a fifth starting pitcher, a final relief pitcher, a backup catcher, and a final bench player. 

The battles are seemingly even in week one, but as games begin, players will begin to establish their opportunities to be with the big league club when they begin the season in Los Angeles, and open Target Field one week later.
Who do you think might jump into the mix? Who will take over the different battles? 

Player Chance Notes
Wilson Ramos (C) With backup catcher Jose Morales expected to miss at least the first part of April, Ramos has suddenly earned a chance to crack the Opening Day roster. His hitting is superior to his competition, but only time will tell if that’s enough for Gardy to take him north with the club.
Drew Butera (C) Butera will also earn a chance to crack the Opening Day roster, and while Ramos is all about offense, Butera is all about defense. A great glove and Triple-A experience could help Butera take the job.
Danny Valencia (3B) While Valencia is viewed by many as the future at third base, he isn’t young by any means. Valencia is 25-years old, and hasn’t yet been called to The Bigs. It’s a long shot that he’ll snatch the job in the next month, but this is his time to show off his skills for a chance in the near future. 
Alexi Casilla (IF) Casilla has no more options remaining, and if he doesn’t make the club out of spring training, he’ll almost certainly be with another organization. His option status may actually help him, but he’ll still need to be productive in the next month to secure a roster spot.
Matt Tolbert (IF) Matt Tolbert can play all around the infield, and if he can play centerfield, it’ll make him even more valuable. With one option remaining, the Twins could eventually opt to send him to Triple-A and go with Casilla if spring production is similar or neither blow the team away.
Jacque Jones (OF) When the Twins first brought back Jacque Jones, it seemed to simply be a kind gesture to their former starting outfielder. Jones has an uphill battle to climb, but if he can play extraordinary defense, hit well, and have Tolbert and Casilla falter in their outfield attempts, he has an outside chance to rejoin the organization in Minneapolis.  

Francisco Liriano (SP) If Francisco Liriano produces anywhere near the way he did this winter, he’ll likely take the final spot in the rotation easily. It likely won’t be easy with at least two other competitors, but with his contract structured for appearances in the bullpen too, he’s likely to make the team in some capacity. 
Brian Duensing (SP) Brian Duensing will have a difficult time knocking Liriano out of the rotation battle if ‘The Franchise’ pitches the way he did in Venezuelan ball, but he seems to also have a shot at the bullpen if he can’t get into the starting five. 
Glen Perkins (SP) The general consensus amongst many is that Glen Perkins will be traded. While that may be the case, if he performs well this spring and the offerings aren’t to the team’s liking, Perkins could be kept around as a left-handed option out of the ‘pen.
Pat Neshek (RP) Everybody hopes that Pat Neshek will return to his pre-injury form and put the team’s bullpen over the top. With one bullpen spot open and the extra starters in the mix for the spot as well, it’s possible that Neshek, who hasn’t pitched in a game in 14 months, could pitch for a week or so in extended spring training before joining the team at Target Field. 
Mike Maroth (RP) Mike Maroth doesn’t seem to have much of a chance to make the big league roster. Instead, a good spring performance could give him a job at Triple-A Rochester and give him a shot down the line in the event that injuries occur. 

They’ve Arrived

Pitchers and catchers have finally kick-started spring training with their arrival in the Minnesota Twins’ spring home of Fort Myers, Florida. Joe Mauer is present and already answering questions about his contract status, and newcomers J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson are in town a week early.

The Associated Press is on the scene, and you can find more photos at the team gallery
Spring Mauer.jpg
Spring Hardy.jpg
Spring Hudson.jpg

Transactions Complete, Competition Ensues

It was quite the off-season for the Minnesota Twins’ front office. After a first-round exit from the playoffs, the organization began work on a roster with three openings in the infield, two in the rotation, and uncertainty on the bench. Now over three months since the team last took the field in Minneapolis, the roster has been reshaped.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy was added two days after the conclusion of the World Series, starting pitcher Carl Pavano was retained through arbitration, the Twins allowed Bobby Keppel to leave to Japan, but added reliever Clay Condrey to take his spot, Jim Thome was brought in via free agency to add power to the bench, and the off-season all but came to a close with the signing of All-Star second basemen Orlando Hudson last week. 
From an Opening Day payroll of $65 million in 2009 to an expected Opening Day payroll of $96 million in the inaugural season at Target Field, the roster has been drastically reshaped in the short time since the franchise said goodbye to the Metrodome and packed and moved across town. 
The additions are almost certainly complete, and the uncertainty is at a minimum. Transactions will still be made up until spring training comes to a close, but Bill Smith, Rob Antony and company have done their damage and the core of the 2010 roster is in place. 
When pitchers and catchers workout in two weeks in sunny Florida, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Carl Pavano will makeup the starting rotation. The final spot will be decided in a month-long competition between Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins. 
Later that week the full squad will begin play, and the entire lineup will be set with the exception of third base. Brendan Harris and Nick Punto will likely compete for that spot. Meanwhile, Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert may be fighting to remain on the roster as backup infielders, and Wilson Ramos and Drew Butera will compete to backup Joe Mauer to begin the season while Jose Morales finishes healing from his off-season wrist surgery. 
All in all, the roster transition is complete. Competition will ensue when players arrive in Fort Myers, and the stakes will be high as pitchers compete for the final bullpen and rotation spots and position players compete for third base, the final bench spot, and the chance to backup the league’s most valuable player.