Minnesota Twins' Spring Training Report: Week Four
Another up-and-down week for the Minnesota Twins finished better than it started.
Consecutive wins over the Blue Jays and Phillies brought the Twins to 3-3 on the week, and over .500 for the Spring.
Wins and losses only tell so much though, since the Twins' win on Sunday was as pyrrhic as a spring training victory can get: Scott Baker struggled again and Jose Mijares not only looked poor, but also got injured.
One of the bright spots of the week was Joe Crede, who went 5-for-11 with his first home run as well as a double. Crede told the Twins early on that he would need a lot of Spring Training ABs to get back into shape and the Twins have obliged.
After struggling early, it looks like Crede is getting the feel for the game back again, which is good news for the Twins.
Another Twin having a strong spring, albeit quietly, is Alexi Casilla. Casilla provided a massive spark to the Twins when he was called up last season and caused no small drop in form when he went down with a thumb injury in midseason.
There is no question that his hand and wrist were still bothering him when he came back, as he strung together his two worst months of the season as the Twins were making their late surge.
Because of his terrible call-up in 2007 and his poor form at the end of 2008, Casilla isn't on many radars as a key contributor for the Twins, but he could be a big piece of the puzzle, especially if Denard Span continues his unfortunate spring into the regular season.
Casilla is hitting .405 in 42 ABs, the second most of any Twins hitter and has stolen four bases.
With cuts happening every few days, the positional battles are starting to clear up.
Luke Hughes didn't lose out on his chance at making the team by playing in the WBC, and may have boosted his chances by showing good power against good competition. Danny Valencia has already returned to the minor league camp, though it remains to be seen if he'll start the year in AA or AAA.
A lot probably depends on where players like Hughes, Matt Tolbert, Brian Buscher and Matt Macri end up.
Wilson Ramos was sent down midweek, leaving the Twins with Mike Redmond, Drew Butera, Jose Morales, and Jeffy Christy as the catchers in camp to replace the injured oe Mauer.
Butera has shown good defensive skill and went 2-for-3 this week at the plate.
Morales went 0-for-4 and had an error, but the only player to see consistent time so far has been Redmond.
Both Morales and Butera will see substantial time in the upcoming two weeks with the loser finding out at the very end of camp, a la Denard Span last spring. Sources point to Butera getting the nod since the Twins want their catcher to be defensively minded, with offensive output as a secondary trait.
Butera is certainly the better of the two behind the plate, but his .219 average in AA doesn't bode well for his offensive success in the majors. Even if he can maintain that average up two levels, it will be as though the Twins are letting the pitcher hit.
This is not to say Morales should get the job, but if he shows that he, too, can block balls in the dirt and call a good game, the Twins would be better off with his output.
On the other end of the battery, the Twins have serious questions.
Scott Baker has struggled all spring and gave up eight more runs in just 7.2 innings. He's no longer giving up home runs to every other hitter, but it is clear that his control has not totally arrived in camp yet.
If this is still an issue this time next week, then it will be time to worry. However, Baker is on the right track and still has every chance to be in form once the season kicks off.
On the other side of things, Kevin Slowey didn't pitch for the Twins this week, but worked out with the minor leaguers instead. The Twins must feel he's ready for the season and are more concerned with his workload than with getting him ready to go.
Still, expect to see him at some point this week. Too much time away from major league hitters is bad for any pitcher, but especially one as young as Slowey.
The bullpen remains a mystery, though the picture is clearing a bit at a time.
The Twins clearly like both Philip Humber and R.A. Dickey. Both had strong starts this week and will certainly see more hitters as the Twins decide which should start the year in long relief. My hunch here is that unless Dickey starts blowing Gardy's mind, he'll be the one in AAA come April.
Humber is out of options and Dickey is currently signed to a minor-league deal, which forbids him to seek a trade until June. The Twins could plausibly extend the audition period for both players till mid-May, though they won't want the 'pen to be unsettled for long.
Jose Mijares got a huge boost of confidence from his manager when Gardy told the media that the second lefty spot in the 'pen was Mijares' to lose. Mijares rewarded his manager by throwing in three games and giving up runs in all of them.
The other candidate to take the left-handed short relief role is Brian Duensing, a converted starter. Duensing didn't give up a run in either appearance he had this week and threw more innings than Mijares did.
While Jose's ankle injury is not suspected to be serious, he'll probably get a couple games off to rest it. If he wants to keep his job, Mijares simply must take those days to get his head right. Duensing has been consistently better than he has, and will get the ball in those games that Mijares is sitting out.
The last battle, the outfield, has reached a stalemate. None of the players looked especially good this week. Carlos Gomez had the worst week with a 1-12 offensive performance, but he still looks better than Denard Span who simply cannot seem to put bat to ball.
The strangest performance of the week goes to Delmon Young.
Young had a number of rough games this week, but none was worse than Wednesday the 18th's game against the Pirates. Young went 1-for-5 with a home run, but all four outs he recorded were double plays. The Twins hit into six for the day, but four by one player would have been a team record had it occurred during the regular season.
All four outfielders will make the team, of that there is no question. Playing time is still hanging in the balance, and it will be interesting to see how Gardy allocates it this week after poor performances from all three of the Twins' young outfielders last week.
After this week there is just one more week before the regular season. Hopefully, players like Scott Baker and Denard Span can get their issues mended this week, giving them one full week of games to solidify good habits in the place of the bad one's plaguing them now.
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