Minnesota Twins: 7 Things to Watch for During Spring Training

Tim Arcand@@TArcandCorrespondent IFebruary 29, 2012

Minnesota Twins: 7 Things to Watch for During Spring Training

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    So far the general manager Terry Ryan and the Twins have not done much to generate a lot of hype or hope that the 2012 baseball season will be a whole lot better than 2011. By doing no more, and probably less, than replacing what the Twins have lost the team should be improved—after all it cannot get much worse. 

    While the Twins success took an unprecedented drop in 2011, winning 31 fewer games than in 2010, it's not likely they will rebound to 94 wins again in 2012.

    Surely 2011 was some sort of penance from the baseball gods for Twins fans. It's the only explanation for all of the bad luck bestowed upon the Minnesota nine.  

    Last year was the perfect storm of disasters for Minnesota. With previously unheard of maladies such as bilateral leg weakness, and the surprisingly high propensity of concussions and the numerous relapses.

    Still, it's one of the greatest times of the year, when the prospects of every team are looking up, and there's always a chance that some unexpected rookie makes the most of his opportunity and gets the call to go North with the start of the regular season. 

    For some players, it's another year of experience at the major league level and the chance to improve, while for some aging veterans, it's another year past their prime and the opportunity to contribute for at least one more year.

    Here are seven things to watch for during the Twins' Spring Training. 

Bullpen: Who Will Emerge from the Bunch

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    The Twins opened spring training with 33 pitchers invited to camp. That number has already been reduced to 32 with Joel Zumaya injuring his pitching elbow after only 13 pitches. 

    If the Twins go with a 12-man pitching staff, and if you assume that Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak are locks, that means there are 23 pitchers vying for three roster spots. 

    Pitching coach Rick Anderson is going to have his work cut out for him. Not only does he need to ensure that the pitchers who will be heading North get enough work in order to be ready when the season begins, but also at the same time he needs to give every pitcher some turns in the games to ensure he puts together the strongest bullpen.

    The locks to make the team are Matt Capps as the closer, Glen Perkins as the left-handed setup man, Brian Duensing as the long inning reliever.

    Right-handers Anthony Swarzak and Alex Burnett will most likely make the team because of they have experience with the Twins. That leaves two spots available for the remainder of the 22 pitchers.  

The Health of the M&M Boys

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    The Twins can boast two MVP's on their roster—Justin Morneau in 2006, and Joe Mauer in 2009.

    In Mauer's MVP season the M&M boys combined to play in 273 games, with a combined batting average of .320 with 58 home runs and 196 RBIs.

    Those numbers dropped in 2010 when Morneau suffered his concussion to 218 games with a .324 average, 27 home runs and 131 RBIs.

    Last season it bottomed out when they only played in 151 games. Their combined average dipped to a miserable .259 with only seven home runs and 60 RBIs. 

    As spring training progresses, Mauer is at 100 percent, and Morneau is close.

    If the Twins are going to have any chance to have a successful season, these two need to play like they did in 2009.  

The Comeback Kids

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    For many of the Twins, 2011 was a season lost to injuries. For Japanese import, Tsuyoshi Nishioka it only took six games and a hard take-out slide by Nick Swisher to put him on the disabled list with a broken fibula.

    Currently slated to be the Twins utility infielder, this will be a crucial year for the 27-year-old Nishioka to prove he can play at the major league level.

    Looking to the outfield, it will also be a crucial year for Denard Span. Limited to only 70 games because of a concussion, Span saw Ben Revere shine defensively as the Twins center fielder.

    As I have written frequently, this could be a blessing as Span has performed better when faced with competition. In 2009 when he split time with Carlos Gomez in center, he hit a career best .311 in 145 games. 

Battle for the Bench

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    Because of all the injuries suffered by the Twins last season they led the major leagues using the disabled list 27 times.

    This allowed manager Ron Gardenhire the opportunity to evaluate some future talent, perhaps a little earlier than anticipated with three players making their major league debut.

    Catcher Rene Rivera was called up after Joe Mauer was unable to play and got a 45-game audition, the most he's ever played in a season. He will be battling with Drew Butera to make the roster, if the Twins decide to have three catchers on the roster. 

    Trevor Plouffe, who played in 22 games in 2010, got an extended opportunity to play in 81 games. He was so horrid at short stop that the Twins tried him in the outfield.

    Luke Hughes, who led the Twins with six home runs last spring, did not make the opening day roster, but did get the call and played 96 games playing at first, second and third. Unfortunately, he is slowed with a sore shoulder this spring.

    Outfielder Rene Tosoni saw action in 60 games last season. Unfortunately he will have to prove he is better than his .203 batting average from last season. 

    The trio of Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson and Brian Dinkleman all got just over 20 games last season to make an impression.

    Parmelee, who's never played above Double-A, may have the inside track to make the team if first baseman Justin Morneau suffers any setbacks from his concussion. He hit four home runs in only 76 at-bats.

    It should be an interesting battle since there is only room for two of the six field players.

How Much Presence with the Veterans Have?

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    The Minnesota Twins lost some key veterans from last season in Jim Thome, Micheal Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan.

    In their places the Twins have added Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit, Josh Willingham and Jason Marquis.

    What difference this makes, if any, will be interesting to observe.

    After the Twins lost 99 games last season with long time Twins Cuddyer and Nathan in the clubhouse, it doesn't seem to make that much of a difference.

Where Will the Power Come From?

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    This has pretty much been a question every year for the Minnesota Twins who are consistently in the lower half of baseball when it comes to hitting the long ball. 

    In 1987 the Twins had three players hit over 30 home runs—Kent Hrbek (34), Tom Brunansky (32) and Gary Gaetti (31). Kirby Puckett was fourth that year with 28.

    Since then the Twins have only had one season with two players hitting at least 30 home runs in a season—2009 when Micheal Cuddyer hit 32 and Justin Morneau hit 30. Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel tied for third with 28 home runs each.

    The Twins have focused on pitching to contact, playing solid defense and situational hitting. The three-run homer is something that just hasn't been a part of Twins baseball. 

    Last season the Twins only had one player hit 20 home runs. This year Michael Cuddyer will be hitting at Coors Field in the thin air of Colorado.

    So don't expect to see much power this spring.

With No Power There Could Be Plenty of Speed

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    Denard Span had led the Twins in stolen bases the two previous seasons to 2011. 

    After suffering the concussion that limited him to 70 games, he only stole six bases.

    It opened the door for Ben Revere to steal 34 bases in 117 games—the most since 39-year-old Otis Nixon stole 37 bases for the Twins in 1998.

    Since their first World Series Title in 1987, a Minnesota player has only stolen more than 30 bases in a season nine times—Chuck Knoblauch did it five times. In 1997 he stole 62, the most in Twins history.

    With Revere in the lineup everyday he could challenge Knoblauch's mark. Add a healthy Span and Alexi Casilla, and the Twins could have three players with 20 or more stolen bases.

    If that happens it will be the first time since 2001. That season Luis Rivas led the team with 31, Corey Koskie stole 27 and Cristian Guzman had 25.

    Look for the Twins to hone their base-stealing skills this spring.