The Twins started their spring training games as well as possible, going four-for-February and taking the lead in the Mayor's Cup with a 5-2 win over the Boston Red Sox in their first spring training game.
March saw the Twins lose their first game and fall back to even footing with the Sox in the battle for Ft. Myers supremacy. Even so, the Twins are positioned at the top of the Grapefruit League and have a lot to build on as they get into the meat of their spring training schedule.
Here are a few things that have caught my eye in the last week that will be worth keeping track of as March progresses.
Four Outfielders, Three Spots
One of the most intriguing story lines heading into this season is the Twins outfield logjam. One week into camp only one person looks interested in securing a full-time job: Delmon Young.
It's far too early to say that Young has earned one of the starting spots, but he has been substantially better than the competition so far. Young went 6-7 this week with a double. Denard Span is 1-9, Michael Cuddyer is 1-7, and Carlos Gomez is 2-9 with a home run, and a stolen base.
I'm really pulling for Young to lock in this season and to excel as a Twin, but the rest of the crew has to do a lot better than a collective 4-25 if the Twins are going to succeed.
Third Base Battle
Unlike the outfielders, the Twins' third basemen have been outstanding. Players playing third base went 11-21 this week, and recent addition Joe Crede has yet to play an inning in the field.
If Luke Hughes isn't regretting his decision to play in the World Baseball Classic yet, he will be soon. Hughes has been one of the weakest members of the massive third base platoon, with rival Danny Valencia hot on his heels. Hughes went 2-6 and looked rough in the field while Valencia showed his AFL defensive improvements are sustainable and went 4-5.
Valencia will get at least a week's worth of reps in front of the coaching staff that Hughes won't get. Granted, Hughes will be facing better competition, so if he succeeds, it looks even better.
Realistically, neither player is going to break camp with the team, but if Valencia continues to play well, he could displace Hughes at third in AAA and force him to fight for an outfield spot.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Brian "Joe Who?" Buscher. Reports as camp opened were that he had added mass, and it didn't take long for it to show.
Buscher hit .600 this week with two doubles and a home run while splitting time between first and third, which ought to give fans a clue how the Twins are looking at Buscher now that the future and present of third base are secure.
The Juan Cruz "Fiasco"
The armchair GMs went nuts when Cruz signed for division-rival Kansas City for the paltry sum of $6 million over the next two years, plus an option year. I can buy the "The Twins' bullpen has to be upgraded, and Cruz was decent and cheap" argument, but not the vitriol that went with it.
Here's why the Twins didn't sign Cruz, and it has nothing to do with the costs: Rule No. 1 of the Twins pitching staff from rookie ball to the majors is "Throw Strikes."
Juan Cruz doesn't; he's the definition of "effectively wild", with a control ranking of 28 on a 100 point scale. Maybe if the Twins were worried about the quality of their other choices, then they compromise and sign Cruz.
R.A. Dickey and Jose Mijares looked especially good this week, as did Luis Ayala. Time will tell if these players can continue to miss bats and induce weak grounders, but between these three, Jason Jones, Sean Henn, and the myriad of other young relievers, chances are very good the Twins will be able to find the person or people to patch the hole.
Twins relievers gave up just eight earned runs in 35 innings of work this week, and four of those were charged to one person in one bad inning. For the rest of the staff, four runs over 34 innings is quite good. The loss of Boof Bonser leaves the Twins looking for a long relief man, but they have more than enough time to watch other teams' cast-offs as the spring goes on, so that, too, is an overblown concern.
- Trevor Plouffe has been less than inspiring in his first major stint in the big league camp, rekindling ideas hatched in 2007 about Plouffe becoming a pitcher rather than an everyday player. While he may never be Jose Reyes, Plouffe has a much better future if he stays in the field, rather than becoming the 12th best pitcher the Twins have under the age of 30.
- Steven Tolleson strained an oblique before his first game, which is too bad, but Matt Tolbert hasn't exactly won the day just yet. I'm sticking to my guns that Tolleson beats out Tolbert when everything settles down, though if he misses another week of games, this goes from being a long shot to a par five.
- Each Twins starter threw two innings, Slowey and Blackburn were the best with Baker and Liriano bringing up the rear. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this is the best possible state for the Twins to be in right now. Baker and Liriano will come around as the season gets going, but last year's rookies have yet to establish themselves, meaning its impossible to know if last year's successes were aberrations or the norm. Strong starts from these two would bode especially well for their continued improvement.