Minnesota Twins: 5 Storylines to Watch in Spring Training
The end of the National Football League season means that the sports calendar is about to give way to Major League Baseball.
This is the time of year when baseball fans' minds start to cut through the clutter of sub-zero temperatures and blowing snow to find green grass, blue skies and warmer climates.
By the time that the last strand of confetti is swept off of the turf of the Super Bowl, optimism springs in the minds of fans across MLB's 30 teams, thinking that their team can be this year's surprise team.
That optimism may be hard to come by for the Minnesota Twins, who are coming off of their second straight season at the bottom of the American League Central standings.
It's been a cold winter under the watch of Terry Ryan, who has sent both Denard Span and Ben Revere packing while restocking a farm system that desperately needed an overhaul.
That's good news for the future of the franchise, but 2013 can be a bumpy ride if there's no help on the horizon.
Despite the doom and gloom that's surrounding the Twins, there are still several storylines to keep an eye on, as the team heads to Fort Myers for the 22nd time to prepare for the season opener against the Detroit Tigers on April 1.
Can Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer Survive the World Baseball Classic?
The Twins will have three players participating in this March's World Baseball Classic. While Glen Perkins will hold an important role as the projected closer, the real focus will be on the health of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.
Mauer and Morneau have had their share of injuries over the past couple of seasons. The result of that has been a downward spiral for the Twins, who have gone from perennial contenders in the American League Central to human doormats.
In a perfect world, the Twins (and their fans) prefer that their two superstars sit this one out and focus their time on getting ready for the season.
However, national pride has taken over, and both will try to capture their respective countries' first World Baseball Classic championship.
If they can survive without catastrophe, the Twins will let out a giant sigh of relief on their way back to Hammond Stadium.
Who Will Be the Starting Center Fielder
Ever since Kirby Puckett made his major league debut in 1984, center field has been one of the most prestigious positions in franchise history.
Puckett handed the torch down to Torii Hunter, and Hunter handed it down to Denard Span. Most people expected Span to hand it to Ben Revere this winter, but baseball has a way of surprising us.
Instead, Terry Ryan decided to trade Revere to help upgrade a struggling rotation and meager minor league system.
The trade with the Phillies may do just that in the long term, but for 2013, there is a gaping hole in center field for the Twins.
Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson have a chance to compete for the job, but the early front-runner seems to be former first-round pick Aaron Hicks.
Much has been made of Hicks' slow development curve since being drafted with the 14th overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft. Yet Hicks may have turned a corner last year.
Hicks hit .286 with 13 home runs and 61 runs batted in at Double-A New Britain and was even able to post a solid .844 OPS in the process.
If Hicks lives up to his potential in March, it will mean a spot in the Opening Day lineup for his major league debut.
What Will the Starting Rotation Look Like?
A big reason for the Twins' collapse over the past two seasons has been the starting pitching.
The Twins have finished toward the bottom of the American League in earned run average during that time, and heading into the offseason, the Twins needed to do something to avoid a three-peat performance.
Terry Ryan made some strides in assembling a legitimate pitching rotation this winter when he acquired Vance Worley from the Philadelphia Phillies. However, Ryan also acquired two prospects in Alex Meyer and Trevor May who probably won't contribute in 2013.
That's where Ryan made some duct-tape signings to hold things together.
The Twins took some low-risk gambles by signing Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey in the hope that one of them provides a boost.
Several players will be battling for spots at the bottom of the rotation, and if the duct tape starts to wear off, the Twins may have to turn to some of the names that they relied on last year, such as Liam Hendriks and Cole DeVries.
Which Prospects Will Turn Heads?
One of the interesting things about spring training is that fans get to take a look at some prospects who will shape the future of the franchise.
For a team like the Twins, a little exposure for their prospects may be a good thing.
2013 seems like a rebuilding year for the Twins, so there is a possibility that some of the young players who we see in March can make an impact in the major leagues come August.
One of the key prospects will be outfielder Oswaldo Arcia.
Arcia hit .320 with 17 home runs and 98 runs batted between Double-A New Britain and High-A Fort Myers in 2012 and figures to start 2013 at Triple-A Rochester.
That can change if he has a hot spring, especially with first baseman Chris Parmelee trying to make the transition to right field.
If Parmelee struggles, Arcia has a chance to be a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster and can solidify right field for many seasons to come.
Other prospects, such as former first-round pick Kyle Gibson, will also have a chance to impress with several players leaving to take part in the World Baseball Classic.
Will the Twins Revamped Coaching Staff Work?
At the end of the 2012 season, many were calling for a complete revamp of the Twins coaching staff. When the smoke cleared, they got exactly what they wanted...kind of.
While the Twins did let go of first base coach Jerry White, most of the changes to the Twins coaching staff involved people who were already in the organization.
There were a lot of people who believed that Rick Anderson should have gotten fired last October, but the ax fell on bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek instead.
Joe Vavra was also expected to relieved of his duties but instead he was reassigned to third base.
Still, there were some important changes, as Bobby Cuellar became the new bullpen coach and Tom Brunansky was hired as the hitting coach.
Cuellar and Brunansky can be wild cards for the Twins throughout the season, as they were able to get the most out of the Twins' young talent at Triple-A Rochester.
With players such as Liam Hendriks and Chris Parmelee becoming forces in the International League under their guidance, it will be interesting to see their effect on other members of the Twins.
If their additions fail, it could cost Ron Gardenhire his job.
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