Minnesota Twins Spring Training Report: 3 Major Position Battles
As the season inches closer and closer, the battle for roster positions is heating up in Fort Myers.
This past week saw the Twins make their first roster cuts. The competition has gotten more intense as everyone fights to stay with the major league squad.
Only the best will survive to head to Minneapolis at the end of the month. Who is most likely to make it?
The Bullpen Battle
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Between the departure of longtime closer Joe Nathan and Tommy John surgery taking out Joel Zumaya for the season, the Twins bullpen is going to look very different than previously anticipated. With Matt Capps, Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing the only virtual locks in the bullpen, there are four spots just waiting to be earned by a handful of candidates.
Jeff Manship has begun to separate himself from the pack of candidates as he is having a spectacular spring. After having a less than ideal 2011 season as a result of a persistent shoulder injury, everything is finally starting to fall into place for the right-handed hurler. He has allowed only a single earned run in his spring outings, along with eight strikeouts, no walks and three total hits.
According to Phil Mackey at 1500ESPN, Manship stated this is the best his arm has felt in consecutive days in years. If Manship keeps this up, he should find himself heading to the land of 10,000 lakes at the end of the month.
Another right-handed reliever that is expected to find himself on the 25-roster on Opening Day is right-hander Kyle Waldrop. The 6'5" pitcher has a heavy sinker that hits at an average of two feet, two inches high — a pitch that is very difficult to put in the air. During his time with Rochester over the past two seasons, 63 percent of balls put into play against him were hit on the ground. He also put up a 3.19 ERA, striking out 104 batters while walking only 31 unintentionally.
Through his first three outings this spring, Waldrop has yet to walk a batter or allow a run.
Another name consistently mentioned in the battle for the bullpen is Anthony Swarzak. He had a decent year with the Twins last year, pitching largely in long-relief positions. He is also out of options, so despite seeing limited time this spring (and having mediocre results), his spot on the Opening Day roster should be safe.
Rule 5 draft pick Terry Doyle also has a good shot at heading north with the major league ball club. As a Rule 5 draft pick, the Twins must place Doyle on the 25-man roster, offer him back to the White Sox or work out some kind of trade with Chicago that allows the team to keep Doyle and send him to the minors.
Doyle certainly has potential. He put up a 1.98 ERA to go with his 4-0 record in the Arizona Fall League. Reports say he works fast and pitches to contact — something highly valued in the Twins organization. So far, he has not lived up to that potential in Fort Myers. Last week, he pitched two thirds of an inning as the Pirates tagged him for seven unearned runs.
Other potentials who still have a shot to make the roster are Alex Burnett, Phil Dumatrait Luis Perdomo, Jason Bulger and Jared Burton. Burnett has put up a 4.50 ERA thus far this spring, but pitching coach Rick Anderson believes if he ever gets control of his stuff, he can be one of the better pitchers around.
Jason Bulger and Jared Burton are decent veterans with absolute potential to fill out the bullpen. Phil Dumatrait spent some time with the Twins in 2011, and despite some middle of the road performances, it seems like he was coming into camp with some serious zip on the ball. It is estimated he can hit between 97 and 100 MPH with his fastball.
There may be a lot of holes to fill in the Minnesota bullpen, but it looks like this crop of talent might be able to plug them just fine.
Filling Up the Outfield
The Twins' outfield may soon be the speediest one around. While all signs point to Denard Span in center, Josh Willingham in right and a Ben Revere/Trevor Plouffe platoon in left, there is a new exciting prospect making waves in Florida this spring.
Joe Benson, who according to Ben Goessling's Twitter feed once ran a 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds, has been turning heads the last month.This past Friday, Benson showed his speedy defensive prowess when he made what some are considering the Twins' catch of the spring.
David Ortiz crushed a ball deep into the outfield. Benson covered an impressive amount of ground to rob Big Papi of the hit with an over-the-shoulder catch. It's easy to see why some people think he is ready to play defense in the majors.
Lavelle Neal of the Star Tribune believes if Benson can cut down on the strikeout ratio, he will be the Twins' center fielder for the next decade. With the other four outfielders nearly guaranteed their spots, it might not be Benson's time just yet. If he keeps up the good work though, it may be hard to justify not bringing him back to Target Field.
The rest of the Twins' outfield situation looks pretty straight-forward:
Denard Span should be all set to go. He has reportedly been feeling healthy and having no major residual concussion issues.
Josh Willingham's defense seems questionable at the moment, despite having no issues during spring training games yet.
Plouffe and Revere both have been performing solidly while new acquisition Ryan Doumit could also find himself in the outfield mix.
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The battle for the Twins' utility player/shortstop could be Tsuyoshi Nishoka's to lose. Newly-acquired veteran Jamey Carroll is set to be the Twins' Opening Day shortstop, but he will most certainly need a backup. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka is pitted largely against Brian Dozier, the Twins' 2011 Minor League Player of the Year. Trevor Plouffe, who would have been in this conversation a year ago, has been converted to an outfielder.
Carroll has seen some struggles this spring, batting only .115. Despite this rocky start, there is nearly zero chance that Carroll loses his job as the Twins' starting shortstop. But at the age of 38, he is expected to need a few days off.
Alexi Casilla, the projected starting second baseman, has not yet played 100 games in a season, so the utility player will likely see more than a handful of starts throughout the season.
Nishioka has looked a little lost on the field according to Buster Olney's Twitter feed. Nishioka is also coming off a less than stellar 2011, a large portion of which was spent rehabbing a broken leg. He seems to still be adjusting to the style of baseball played in America, which has important differences from the style of his native Japan.
He will certainly need to make the proper adjustments to his game in order to make the roster as the utility player. He will have to step it up fast as Brian Dozier has looked impressive in his attempts to make it to the show.
Dozier has been hitting well this spring, putting up a .300 average with one home run (and one Ron Gardenhire thought was a home run) in 20 at bats. Dozier is good, racing through the Twins' minor league system at a rapid pace. He is a tough player who can hit, field and run. He's so good in fact, that Ron Gardenhire lobbied hard to call him up last summer from Class AA after he started the year in Class A.
If Dozier continues to improve while Nishioka flounders, he may get his call-up to the bigs sooner than anticipated.