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.|
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.
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.
|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.|
Players line up each spring and smile for their yearly photos. Right as games near a start, the complete roster took their pictures for the 2010 season. For the first time, J.J. Hardy and Jim Thome put on Twins’ uniforms, and the rest of the roster got back into the swing of things too.
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.
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.