Mauer: Possible Kernels “Really Working Hard”

The following article was originally posted late last week at MetroSportsReport.com and is re-posted here with permission.

With local temperatures finally working their way into the 40′s last week in Cedar Rapids, local baseball fans could allow their minds to wander to even warmer days ahead when the Cedar Rapids Kernels open their season April 4 against Beloit.

It’s still a bit chilly for baseball at Veterans Memorial Stadium, but the minor leaguers in the parent Minnesota Twins organization are hard at work in the warm sunshine at the Twins’ spring training site in Fort Myers, Fla.

While there’s plenty of speculation about which young Twins prospects may fill out the Kernels roster, it’s still too early to know with certainty who those players will be.

 BeresfordMauerST11As Kernels Manager Jake Mauer pointed out this week, “It depends on who they keep in Minnesota at a number of positions. Once those decisions are made, the rest takes shape off of that. There’s kind of a trickle down effect.”

While the Major League camp has been humming for about a month, the minor leaguers began official workouts less than two weeks ago and have played only a handful of games. In fact, Mauer himself hasn’t necessarily been working with all the players tentatively earmarked for the Kernels.

With the Major League spring training roster still roughly twice the size it will be during the season, the Twins shift their coaching staffs up a level until more cuts are made by the big league club. As a result, Mauer has spent much of his time working with players likely to spend their season with the Fort Myers Miracle in the Florida State League.

Still, Mauer has had opportunities to work with a number of players widely expected to wear Kernels uniforms this season and he’s well aware that many of those players are among the Twins’ highest rated young prospects. That can certainly lead to some lofty expectations, both for the team and for those players individually.

Mauer’s take on the high expectations is what you might expect from the club’s manager. “It’s the old cliché, you’re not as good as people say and you’re not as bad as people say.

“It’s nice to get recognition, but you’ve got to go out on the field and play. ‘Prospect’ is just a tag,” he remarked.

With the voice of someone who’s seen these things play out first hand, he added, “I played with a lot of guys who were top prospects who never made it. It doesn’t affect how you play. You still have to put in the work.”

JakeMauer2011aMauer believes the players he’s working with are doing just that. He specifically mentioned outfield prospect Max Kepler, the German native who signed with the Twins in 2009 as a 16-year-old.

“Max looks pretty good,” he said. “I saw him down here as a 16-year-old and he has really physically developed.”

Byron Buxton, the Twins’ top draft choice in last June’s amateur draft, also has impressed Mauer. “Buxton looks pretty good. He’s really working hard,” the skipper reported.

Another prospect many Twins fans are anxious to see in action for the Kernels is third baseman Travis Harrison. Harrison’s reputation is one of great offensive potential, with some question concerning his ability to continue playing third base as he progresses up the organizational ladder.

But Mauer likes what he’s seeing so far, pointing out that Harrison is focusing on improving the defensive aspect of his game this spring.

“He came in with a very good attitude,” said Mauer. “He wants to be good on defense and he’s working pretty hard on it.

“He’s not a finished product, without a doubt … We may see some errors, but I think he’ll be OK.”

One top prospect that Mauer hasn’t had an opportunity to see much of thus far is Jose Berrios. Berrios reported with the Major League pitchers and catchers in mid-February to help him prepare to play for his native Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

His team survived the first two rounds of the WBC, so Berrios has yet to work out with his minor league teammates in Fort Myers.

While Berrios has been expected to open the season in the Kernels’ starting rotation, there’s some speculation that his participation in the WBC could change those plans. Berrios has been used sparingly out of the bullpen for Puerto Rico, so as long as the team remains in that tournament Berrios won’t be getting his innings stretched out the way a starting pitcher normally would during spring training.

Could that affect the organization’s plans for Berrios to start the season?

“It could,” Mauer admitted. “Obviously he’s not starting (for Puerto Rico). But he’s getting exposed to some intense situations.”

Mauer doesn’t think it would take Berrios long to get ready for the season, noting he pitched in winter leagues during the offseason. Once the WBC is over, Mauer added, “he will come here in shape and just need a tuneup. He came in to camp before the WBC in pretty good shape.”

The next week or so will go a long way in determining who will be wearing a Kernels uniform on Opening Day.

“We’ll probably start to see our roster take shape with about 10 days left. There are a few pitchers who are a little tender, so that could affect which pitchers start with us,” said Mauer.

- S.D. Buhr, MetroSportsReport.com

The Two Week Warning

You may not have realized it by looking out your window at the new snow this morning, but the Twins’ Opening Day is just two weeks from today. That means it’s probably time to start taking a more serious look at how the team is rounding in to shape in Fort Myers.

Although Spring Training has officially been in gear for about a month, it’s usually pretty pointless to pay a lot of attention to individual performances during the first couple of weeks of Grapefruit League games. Veteran hitters are just shaking the rust off and working on specific things, such as hitting to this or that specific field or hitting particular pitches. Established pitchers use each early outing as an opportunity to refine deliveries or work on specific pitches. Results are of secondary concern.

But as the team gets down to it’s final dozen games or so, the hitters start wanting more plate appearances in the games and the pitchers start using all their pitches as they focus more on getting outs. We should also see with some level of certainty how the starting pitching spots are firming up as the Twins adjust their rotation so that they have pitchers lined up they way they want to open the season. Their final 10 Spring Training games will start this Thursday against the Yankees.

It’s a good thing, too, that we can conveniently discount performances up to this point, because a lot of those performances have been less than awe-inspring thus far. If you were inclined to predict the season’s outcome based on  the first few weeks of Spring Training results, it would be pretty difficult to find cause to believe the 2013 Twins will be much better than last season’s version.

While it’s encouraging to see Justin Morneau looking like his former MVP-level self and Aaron Hicks looking like a legitimate Major League centerfielder in the making, every fan has known all along that it’s the pitching rotation that had to improve significantly if the Twins are to have a chance to show significantly improved results this summer and there hasn’t been too much to get excited about in that area yet.

With Scott Diamond certain to start the season on the Disabled List, there are two rotation spots up for grabs among several of the Twins’ young arms. Kyle Gibson was expected to contend for a spot, but he’s already been sent across the parking lot to minor league camp, so he’ll be starting his season in Rochester. Liam Hendriks is another contender, but he’s struggled in most of his appearances. Hitters have averaged .295 against him and have hit him up four home runs in his 15 innings of work. His WHIP is a lackluster 1.40.

But here’s the kicker… Hendriks arguably has had a better spring, statistically speaking, than any of the three “locks” for Twins rotation spots, Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Those three haven’t been as prone to giving up gopher balls as Hendriks, but through the past weekend, hitters are batting better than .300 against each of them and Worley’s 1.83 WHIP is the best of the trio.

Cole DeVries (Photo: Hannah Foslein - Getty Images

Cole DeVries (Photo: Hannah Foslein – Getty Images

On the other hand, if you want to look for encouraging signs for the Twins among their starting pitching corps, you can take a look in the direction of Cole DeVries. DeVries has only thrown 10 innings in his three starts, but he’s not giving up many hits (.121 batting average against), has not given up any home runs, has a tidy little 0.70 WHIP and, if you’re in to small sample size ERAs, he’s sporting a 0.90 in that category, too. Of course, “small sample size” caveats apply to all stat lines at this point.

Another rotation candidate that’s been at least moderately impressive is a guy who has only thrown one inning for the Twins this spring, Samuel Deduno. While he hasn’t been in camp for the past couple of weeks, Deduno has been getting work in the rotation for the Dominican Republic’s entry in the World Baseball Classic, where he’s had some success. In fact, he was the starting (and winning) pitcher for the Dominicans in their victory over Team USA last week.

Because Deduno is not on the Twins’ 40-man roster at this point, the team would have to make a roster move to keep him when they move north to start the season. Since they hope to have Diamond available by mid-April, it’s quite possible they’ll only need their initial fifth starter for one game before Diamond is activated. That being the case, Hendriks should still be considered the leading candidate for that spot.

So here’s what the rotation seems to be setting up to look like, to my eyes:

Opening Day starter: Vance Worley (started Sunday, will likely start again Friday and have his last Spring Training Start Wednesday, March 27… five days before Opening Day)

#2 starter: Kevin Correia (starting today, leaving remaining starts March 23 and 28)

#3 starter: Mike Pelfrey

#4 starter Cole DeVries

#5 starter: Liam Hendriks (may only be needed for one start, March 7, before Diamond is activated in mid-April)

That’s all pure speculation on my part, of course. The point is merely that, with two weeks remaining before the scheduled Opening Day, now is when these pitchers need to start showing me something more than they have already… something to make me believe they’ll make up a better rotation than the disaster we saw on the mound last season.

- JC

GameChat – Spring Training: Twins @ Red Sox, 6:05 pm, FSN+

MORE BASEBALL ON TV!! Btw, if you don’t know (I didn’t before the last game), FSN+ is not the same as FSN which will likely be showing hockey tonight. You will likely find the broadcast on either Cable Channel 13 or 694 (HD). At least that is what channels they are in my area, you might have to look around a bit if that isn’t right for you.

Why is it that it’s always the Red Sox though this spring? Still, better than not broadcasting since KTWIN doesn’t actually broadcast to my house in North St. Paul so I’ll take it! (and wow, I’m a little rusty on the gamechat setup)

Minnesota

@

Boston
Hicks, CF Ellsbury, CF
Carroll, 3B Gomes, J, LF
Parmelee, 1B Pedroia, 2B
Doumit, C Napoli, 1B
Arcia, RF Saltalamacchia, C
Benson, DH Middlebrooks, 3B
Dozier, 2B Carp, DH
Escobar, SS Sweeney, RF
Mastroianni, LF Ciriaco, SS
  Hendriks, P   Doubront, P

 

 

 

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

7

0

Boston

1

0

0

2

0

0

0

2

x

5

11

0

Well.. it’s always fun to watch baseball? I sure do prefer when we win but no, it really was great to get to watch baseball again. Maybe next time I will get to see somewhere other than Jet Blue park against the Red Sox.

The End of Anthony Slama

UPDATE: This morning (3/14/2013) Anthony Slama was reassigned to Minor League camp.  

Much has been made of the success enjoyed by Minnesota Twins Minor Leaguer Anthony Slama over the past several years at Triple-A Rochester.  Since 2009, when he first arrived in Rochester, Slama has posted a 2.27 ERA over 154.1 innings and has 191 strike outs to go along with just 74 walks.  Those 191 strike outs came in 635 plate appearances, meaning that Anothny Slama was striking out more than 30% of the batters he faced.  Pretty impressive numbers for a guy that has only two brief Major League auditions, 4.2 innings in 2010 and 2.1 innings in 2011.  Despite everything that Slama did in 2012 (1.24 ERA with 56K and just 18BB) and as bad as the Twins were (66-96), Slama was passed over for a September call-up.  Slama is entering his 7th year in professional baseball, he’s no longer on the Twins’ 40-man roster, and despite being in Big League camp, he has little chance of making the Twins’ 25-man roster to begin the year.

DSC_0558

But he still had a chance entering his March 9 appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.  Slama was making his first road appearance of the Spring and even though he’d walked four batters and struk out only two through his first 3.1 innings (including an exhibition appearance against the Puerto Rican WBC team), he’d given up just a single earned run, and that was back in his first appearance of the Spring.  Slama pitched poorly, facing six hitters, giving up two hits, two walks, and two runs while recording just two outs.

Anthony Slama throws three pitches.  He throws a 4-seam fastball, a curve ball, and a change-up.  A pretty regular assortment for a right-handed pitcher.  Slama throws his 4-seamer almost three-quarters of the time, with most other offerings coming out of his hand as curve balls and an even smaller number of change-ups.  Slama has fringy velocity, sitting in the upper-80s with his fast ball, and throwing both his change and curve about ten miles per hours slower.

Why Slama has not been given a real chance with the Twins despite his Minor League success is anyone’s guess, but the general consensus is that the Twins do not think his game will translate well to the Big Leagues.  Specifically, according to 1500 ESPN’s Phil Mackey, that “Slama puts too many runners on base, and his low-90′s fastball lacks the necessary life for late-inning success in the majors.”  With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at Slama’s March 9 appearance.*

Batter 1Matt Hague (RHB) – Slama retired Hague on four pitches.  He started him with three fastballs (all between 87 and 89 mph), and then induced a pop-up  in foul territory along the first base line on a 74 mph curve ball.

Batter 2- Lucay May (RHB) – Slama started off May with the same fastball to the top-right hand corner of the strike zone, but this time failed to get the call from the umpire and fell behind 1-0.  May was taking all the way on Slama’s second offering, another fastball right down the pipe.  Slama then missed the zone with his next two fastballs, bouncing the second one in the dirt.  Now behind 3-1, Slama had to throw a strike and May connect on the belt-high fastball and lined a single between the shortstop and third basemen.  Slama did a good job mixing locations with his fastball, but all five fastballs came in at 87 mph.  Because he was unable to find the edges of the strike zone.

Batter 3Jordy Mercer (RHB) – Once again Anothny Slama begins the at-bat with a fastball.  Mercer takes the pitch right down the center of the strike zone for a called strike one.  Slama then throws back-to-back curve balls that miss down and outside and he’s behind in the count 2-1.  Back to the fastball, again Slama misses outside and he’s in his second three-ball count of the inning.  Slama misses way outside on his next pitch, which he appeared to overthrow, and now there are runners on first and second with just one out.

Batter 4Drew Maggi (RHB) – The game-tying run is now at the plate and Slama again goes to his fastball for an 88 mph called strike that catches the bottom of the zone.  Slama drops a curve low and away that misses but comes back with another fastball right down the plate that Maggie fowls down the left field line, out of play.  Looking at the video, Maggi might have been looking for another off-speed pitch, but he still put a good swing on the ball and lining it down the left field line, despite being well behind the pitch.  Ahead in the count, Slama throws what appears to be a change up and induces another pop-up to foul territory along the first base line.  This was Anthony Slama at his best, mixing speeds and hitting his spots on the edges of the zone.

Batter 5Felix Pie (LHB) – Slama quickly falls behind 3-0, missing the zone on three straight fastballs between 87 and 89 mph.  Pie takes the next two pitches, both strikes, before Slama misses throws wide with his sixth fastball of the at-bat, loading the bases.  This was Slama at his worst.  He struggles to throw strikes with his fastball and because he had been so erratic with his control, the regularly impatient Pie lets Slama give him the free pass.

At no point through these first five batters has Slama looked particularly confident.  He’s managed to get a couple of pop-ups to into foul territory, but he routinely misses the catcher’s target, sometimes by what looks like a foot or more.  He has thrown 24 pitches to this point in the inning and has yet to induce a single swing and miss.

DSC_0562

Batter 6Brad Hawpe (LHB) – First pitch fastball (stop me if you’ve heard this before), high and outside, 1-0.  Hawpe then fouls off (up and away from the third base line) two more Anthony Slama fastballs before watching a fourth  fastball (and the 10th consecutive fastball that Slama has thrown) get away from Slama for a letter-high ball.  Slama throws yet another 88 mph fastball that Hawpe again just misses sending the ball into the seats along the third base line.  Slama’s thirtieth pitch of the inning is another fastball that misses high bringing the count full.  Anthony Slama now has a three-ball count with the fourth of the six batters he faced.  The final pitch of the at-bat is a fastball hit through the gap on the right side of the infield that scores two runs.

Anthony Slama’s appearance ended after that second base hit.  He threw thirty-one pitches: 14 strikes, 17 balls, 26 fastballs, 4 curve balls, and what was most likely 1 change up.  He finished with thirteen consecutive fastballs, everyone of them between 86 and 89 miles per hour.  His fastball looked flat AND he could not locate it.  Because he was frequently behind in the count he was unable to get to his curve ball, and when he did, he could not throw that for strikes either.  All in all, a pretty dreadful appearance from Anthony Slama.

Unless things change drastically between now and the end of Spring Training, that performance was likely the unofficial end to Anthony Slama’s career with the Minnesota Twins.

-ERolfPleiss

*In addition to being Slama’s most recent appearance, the March 9 game was Slama’s first televised appearance  so I had an opportunity to review the videotape, approximate pitch locations, and record velocity by way of the on-screen radar gun.  Went a little old school to get the pitch data, here is my chart, NotebookFX

Always Leave ‘em Wanting More

It’s an old show business axiom, I know, but it certainly applies to Twins pitching prospect Alex Meyer, as well. “Always leave ‘em wanting more.” Just give the crowd a little taste of what you’ve got, then leave them walking away and talking about how they can’t wait to come back the next time you’re in town.

Alex Meyer (Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP)Twins fans got a taste of Alex Meyer over the weekend and it certainly got folks buzzing. Meyer pitched three innings against the Pirates on Saturday. He faced just two hitters more than the minimum, giving up one hit and hitting a batter. He struck out three and walked nobody. His fastball was consistently clocked between 93 and 96 mph and touched 97 a couple of times. His breaking ball, a “knuckle-curve,” ran about 10 mph slower with good late break.

That’s the kind of stuff Twins fans (not to mention the team’s manager and pitching coach) have been looking for in a starting pitcher ever since Francisco Liriano’s elbow blew up.

Then, just like a Vaudeville veteran, Meyer walked off the stage and over to the minor league side of the Twins’ spring training camp, leaving fans to dream of what they might see when he finally arrives at The Show for real.

His timing… in combination with that of General Manager Terry Ryan, who no doubt made the decision to cut Meyer from the Major League camp on Sunday (before Gardy could see enough to start begging Ryan to let him keep the kid)… was perfect.

So by Monday morning, Meyer was on the back practice fields with his fellow minor league pitchers, working on the things that he’ll need to get right before he can even think of a Target Field debut. Things like pick-off moves and covering first base on a ground ball to his left. Those mundane “little things” that have to become instinctive before he’ll get a shot at a spot in the Twins’ rotation.

Alex Meyer never had a shot at opening the season in that Big League rotation. He was invited to the Twins’ Major League camp when pitchers and catchers reported primarily for one reason. As a newcomer, acquired from the Nationals for outfielder Denard Span, the Twins front office, manager and coaching staff wanted to get a first hand look at what they received in return for one of the best centerfielders in the league.

Now they’ve had that look.

You couldn’t blame Ron Gardenhire if he wanted a little longer look. His job is on the line this season and his future as the Twins manager is going to be determined, in large part, by whether or not his rotation is significantly improved over last year’s mess. From his perspective, if the 6’9″ Meyer is among the best five pitchers in camp at getting hitters out, he’d want him in a Twins uniform come April 1.

You also can’t blame Terry Ryan for taking a more conservative approach. Meyer is yet to pitch an inning above Advanced-Class A (with only has seven starts at that level) and it’s rare, to say the least, that a pitcher with so little professional experience is really ready to pitch successfully in the Major Leagues. And that’s part of Ryan’s job… to make sure that when the time comes for Meyer to take to the Target Field mound, he’s ready to be successful there.

Some projected that Meyer would open the season with the Advanced-A Fort Myers Miracle, given his limited time at that level last season in the Nationals organization. Barring some kind of regression over the next three weeks over on the minor league fields, it would seem likely he’ll get to open the season at AA New Britain.

If he’s as dominant there as his performance Saturday indicated he’s capable of being, he could find himself promoted sooner, rather than later. That’s a pretty big “if” considering much of this optimism is based on a few innings of work in spring training. Fans, as well as decision-makers in the organization, need to remember that it’s folly to get too excited over any player’s statistics even during an entire spring training, much less a few innings early on.

But for fans, that’s what spring training is for, right? To renew hope!

So it’s OK for us to dream of a scenario that sees Meyer promoted not just to Rochester by July, but all the way to the Twin Cities.

Just don’t expect Terry Ryan to be too anxious to allow that dream to become reality.

- JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 28

Episode 28 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Eric and Paul are joined this week by not one, but two guests with international flavor. In the first segment the twins are joined by Gary from Italy (@ForzaGemelli) to talk about baseball in Italy and hopes for the Italian team in the WBC (including Drew Butera, the boat anchor). Later in the podcast fellow international traveler Thrylos (@Thrylos98) of tenthinningstretch.blogspot.com to talk about spring training battles and baseball in general. Eric and Paul go on to discuss injury news coming out of spring training, J.T. Chargois, Camile Pascual, the World Baseball Classic in both generalities and specifics before getting sidetracked talking about beer, and other nonsensical things.

Thanks to Mark Smith (@MarkArtSmith) for the new logo!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help the Twins in games).

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

- ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins vs. Red Sox – 6:05pm

We’re back!  Opening Day is just 23 days away and we need to kick off the snow and salt we’ve accumulated on our GameChats all winter.  Tonight marks the first televised Fox Sports North broadcast of the year for the Minnesota Twins (game available locally on FSN+) so that seemed like a pretty good time to pull out the GameChat and get back into the swing of things.  We’re putting the GameChat up an hour early tonight to give folks some time to catch up before the game starts.

If you’re a new reader at Knuckleballs, feel free to stop into the chat and say hello.  We will have a GameChat up for every game of the regular season, so come back often and join us for some Twins chatter.  Many of the regular folks that stop by (and JC and I) live outside of Minnesota’s boarders so the GameChats are an excellent opportunity for us to “talk shop” with other Twins fans.  We’re creating a virtual neighborhood bar, and you can bring your own beverage!

The Twins still have a whole bunch of players off participating in the World Baseball Classic, so we will see some interesting line-ups over the next several days, and tonight is no exception.

 Minnesota Twins

@

 Boston Red Sox
 Hicks, CF  Ellsbury, CF
 Dozier, 2B  Pedroia, 2B
 Willingham, DH  Sweeney, RF
 Doumit, C  Gomes, J, LF
 Plouffe, 3B  Nava, 1B
 Boggs, LF  Middlebrooks, 3B
 Benson, RF  Lavarnway, C
 Clement, 1B  Overbay, DH
 Florimon, SS  Iglesias, SS
    Pelfrey, P     Dempster, P

PLAY BALL!

The first Boyfriend of the Day (BOD, the Knuckleballs version of MVP) award goes to Mike Pelfry for three scoreless inning in which he recorded five strike outs while allowing just two hits and one walk.  The offense did just enough to give the Twins a win and the the boys from Minneapolis escaped with a 2-0 victory over the Red Sox.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 10 0
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0

Do Twins Have Any Answers Yet?

We are about at what could be considered the half-way point of the Twins’ Spring Training, believe it or not. We’re hitting that point a little early this spring because of the way the World Baseball Classic has caused an elongation of the process. But regardless of how we got here, with all of the question marks the Twins had when pitchers and catchers reported to Ft. Myers, it’s as good a time as any to check in to see if any of those questions are any closer to being answered.

Will the Twins rotation be better?

Of course, the smart-ass answer to that is that it could hardly be worse than it was last season, so it almost has to be better. But based on early appearances, the “real” answer is also, “yes, it will be better.” Of course, it’s way too early to predict how much better.

Scott Diamond

Scott Diamond

With Scott Diamond as yet untested in games, all we’ve really been able to see are the newly acquired pitchers (Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia) and the young pitchers trying to translate minor league success in to Major League careers (Liam Hendriks and Kyle Gibson). To be fair, holdovers from last season such as Cole DeVries and Sam Deduno also have to be considered in the mix, but unless those guys show something that makes everyone believe they’ve significantly improved, the fact remains that if they’re part of the Twins rotation for a significant part of the season, it probably means the answer to this question is that the rotation has not improved enough to make a real difference in the Twins short-term fortunes.

The good news is that, on balance, the leading candidates for rotation spots have not looked too bad in their first few outings. Worley looks like what we expected him to be, a legitimate mid-rotation arm. Pelfrey isn’t yet hitting his normal pre-Tommy John surgery velocity, but he hasn’t had any sort of medical setback that we feared he might have given his accelerated rehab schedule. Corriea missed a little time to be with his wife for the birth of their new son and showed some rust in his first game back on Thursday, but he hasn’t been getting rocked the way you might have expected if you believed all the harpoons directed toward him by writers and fans since signing with the Twins. Finally, both Hendriks and Gibson have had ups and downs but have generally demonstrated why they’re considered legitimate rotation options to start the season with the Twins.

Scott Diamond is scheduled to get his first Spring Training start on March 18 so we may not know until the final week of camp whether he’ll be ready for the Opening Day roster. That said, if the Twins had to open the season with a rotation of Worley, Pelfrey, Correia, Hendriks and Gibson, I could live with that and feel somewhat confident that said rotation would lead to better results than we saw in 2012, despite the obvious shortcoming of being without a lefty until Diamond returns.

Who’s going to be the centerfielder?

The Twins entered Spring Training telling us that three players would compete for the CF job… their 4th outfielder from 2012, Darin Mastroianni, and two young outfield prospects trying to make the Opening Day roster for the first time, Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson. 

Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks

The competition going in seemed set up in a way that made job Hicks’ to lose. He’s definitely the player with the highest ceiling and it was just a matter of whether he would prove to the decision-makers that he’s ready for prime time, despite never playing an inning of AAA baseball. If he failed to impress, Mastroanni was likely to get the job, by default. Benson’s only real shot to win the job would be if Hicks and Mastroianni both failed miserably and/or don’t survive Spring Training healthy.

Thus far, it’s been all about Aaron Hicks. He already has three home runs after leading off both Wednesday’s game against Puerto Rico’s WBC team and Thursday’s game against the Phillies with home runs. The former wasn’t “official,” of course, since it came in an exhibition game, but the latter came against Cliff Lee.

UPDATE: Almost before I could get this article posted, Hicks hit ANOTHER home run in that Phillies game Thursday afternoon. At this rate, he’s going to screw up his chances to open the season as the Twins’ leadoff hitter by showing too much power. That said, two words of caution for Twins fans who might be tempted to read too much in to Spring Training power displays: “Luke Hughes”.

UPDATED UPDATE: Hicks has hit a THIRD home run in that Phillies game. Just… wow.

There’s still a lot of games to play before Opening Day and it wouldn’t be unheard of for a rookie to start hot and then begin tightening up at the end of the spring as the pressure of knowing he’s really playing for a spot in a Major League starting line up hits him. Still, you definitely have to say that Hicks has grabbed hold of this opportunity with both hands.

Who’s going to get the middle infield jobs?

It was generally assumed that three of the four infielders competing for middle infield spots would move north with the Twins, while one headed for Rochester. However, while Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon appear to be the early leaders in the race for starting positions at 2B and SS, respectively, it is now looking like both Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar could stick, as well. Carroll brings a veteran presence along with the versatility to play multiple positions. Escobar, though, has been impressing coaches with his glove and, it turns out, could serve as an “emergency” catcher. His bat, frankly, may not be much more of a threat than Drew Butera’s, but he would provide much greater utility around the field than Butera would. This decision could come down to the wire in late March, so stay tuned.

In the end, none of the questions have truly been answered yet, but we can definitely see the roster starting to take shape. The first round of roster cuts could be announced almost any time, now that the minor league camp has opened up and pitchers are starting to get stretched out to four innings or so. Still, with several players still participating in WBC games, there will continue to be plenty of opportunities for young players to impress someone.

For now, the two most important things Twins fans need to hope for are (1) that the potential rotation members continue to improve as Spring Training rolls on, and (2) that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau return from the WBC healthy.

- JC