Whoa, what an offseason they had up in Minnesota!
Trading away the best pitcher in baseball in Johan Santana, losing the face of the team in Torii Hunter and an inning (and everything else) eater in Silva, and trading a young stud pitching prospect in Matt Garza led to a busy winter for the Twins.
With all of this change, many opportunities have been opened in the lineup. There are also a lot of questions surrounding returning players that struggled last year.
With that, here are five things to watch for this Spring Training.
With Torii Hunter leaving via free agency this offseason, a huge hole opened out in the plastic grass of the Metrodome. This will be the most active battle, with four players fighting for the position.
The front-runner right now is Carlos Gomez, one of the players brought in from the Santana trade. He has some MLB experience, playing 58 games last year for the Mets. He possesses incredible speed and is a threat to steal anytime he is on base. He looks to be the centerfielder and lead-off man of the future for the Twins, however, he may benefit from one more year in AAA.
Jason Pridie came to the Twins in the Matt Garza trade and is thought to be the best defensively of the potential centerfielders. He looked very good in AAA ball last year, but only played in 63 games. He will likely spend most of this year in AAA, getting called up for injuries and as a September call-up.
Denard Span was thought to be the future of CF when the Twins drafted him in 2003. He has gone quickly through the minors, though he has never really impressed at any level. He struggled in the first half of last year in AAA before getting hot in the last two months. He will likely split time with Pridie in AAA this year.
Somewhat of a wild card in this whole thing is Craig Monroe. While he has struggled the last couple of years, he has shown that he can hit well at the MLB level. He has some pop in his bat, but he lacks speed. He will get looked at for the CF spot, but will likely platoon the DH spot with Jason Kubel and be a pinch hitter.
2. Second base
When Luis Castillo was traded last year, the Twins turned to Alexi Casilla to take over at second base. When he struggled in the field and at bat, Nick Punto was moved from third to second. Everyone knows how much Punto struggled at the plate last year.
Brendan Harris came in the Garza trade and is the front-runner right now. Last year in Tampa Bay he split time between second and SS. He looks to take the second base spot for the Twins this year. He has some pop in his bat and plays average defense.
Nick Punto will be making a push for playing time this year with the hopes of an improved offensive output. He is probably the best fielder on the team, but last year he was the worst offensive player in the majors. If he can put together some offense in ST, his defense (along with Gardenhire's admiration) will make a strong case for regular playing time.
Alexi Casilla was supposed to be the answer at second base last year, but struggled mightily in his first taste of the majors. If he can put in a lot of work he may be able to sneak his way onto the team out of ST. There are rumors that he may switch back to SS where he feels more comfortable. He will likely spend most of this season in AAA.
3. Fransico Liriano
Liriano was one of the most electric players in baseball in 2006 and was a major part of the incredible comeback that the Twins made to take the division that year. In the late part of the season he injured his elbow and had Tommy John surgery. He sat out all of 2007 recovering from that.
While his innings will be closely monitored, he could take over as the ace of the staff. In his incredible 2006 campaign, some say he was more dominant than Santana.
Early reports out of Florida state that he reached 97 mph on his fastball, while consistently throwing 93-95. He just has to get his stamina back now.
4. The other starters
The Twins lost three of their starters this offseason—Santana and Garza due to trades, and Carlos Silva to free agency. With that, there are a lot of pitchers competing for starting spots this spring.
Scott Baker looks to start the season as the No. 1 pitcher. He has experience and looked good during the second half of last year. While he's not the dominating ace that you traditionally look for at No. 1, he's likely just holding the spot down until Liriano is back at 100 percent.
Boof Bonser had a disappointing sophomore year, but he has worked hard this offseason and dropped 30 pounds. Hopefully his better conditioning is reflected in better pitching. He has the potential to be a top of the rotation pitcher.
Livan Hernandez was brought in to eat up innings. He has pitched 199 innings or more each of the last seven years. While he is not as dominant as he once was, he will still be an adequate back-end starter who can give the bullpen some rest.
Kevin Slowey is a pitcher in the mold of Brad Radke—not overpowering, but great at locating. While he got rocked last year, he showed flashes of what he could be and will probably make the squad out of Spring Training this year.
Glen Perkins is another pitcher who had surgery last year, though he returned at the very end of the season. He was used from the bullpen last year, but he is a starter and will be competing as such. If he doesn't make the rotation he will be a long reliever in the bullpen.
Nick Blackburn will make a push for a spot, but will likely be sent to AAA or the bullpen.
Philip Humber was acquired in the Santana trade, and will start in AAA.
5. The other newcomers
It was a busy offseason with quite a bit of roster changes. Besides the on the field play, it will be interesting to see how the chemistry of the team changes.
While to the public, Torii Hunter was the leader of the team, apparently he wasn't that highly thought of in the clubhouse. But who becomes the public face of the Twins now? Morneau and Mauer don't seem to like being in the spotlight too much.
Delmon Young comes in with questions about his character. You may remember hearing a couple years ago about the minor leaguer who threw his bat at an ump. Yeah, that's Delmon. He wasn't happy in Tampa Bay last year, but has seemed to turn a corner with the Twins. He has been saying all the right things so far, and hopefully that will continue.
Will Everett and Lamb be able to hold onto the left side of the infield? Everett is a great fielder with questionable offense, and Lamb is a good hitter with questionable defense.
This team has a lot of questions going into Spring Training, and it will be very fun to watch. This team doesn't look to make a playoff run this year, but with all of these young players, the future is very bright.
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