By the time you read this, the Twins will be in the midst of their first official workout of spring training. Only pitchers and catchers are required to be in Fort Myers at this point, though several position players, as usual, arrive early to get a jump on the season.
Coming off consecutive seasons of almost 100 losses the Twins have obviously made an effort to bring in some help this offseason, though those efforts are understandably a little half-hearted. The Twins are not going to contend for the playoffs this season, so making a huge push to sign top-level free agents would’ve been misguided.
Spurred in part by the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere, the Twins have quietly rebuilt their farm system into something special — ESPN’s Keith Law recently ranked the Twins farm system as the second-best in all of baseball.
The Twins are in line to be a contender by 2015 (maybe 2014 if they’re lucky), so most of the additions the Twins made heading into this season have the feel of placeholding. They don’t want to be as bad as they have been the last couple years, but they’re not trying to fool anyone into thinking they’re going to win a World Series in 2013 because they added Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey.
Of course, as bad as the Twins record was last year, starting pitching was really the only major culprit. That’s not to say their offense, defense or bullpen were without flaws, but they were anywhere from decent to pretty good in those areas. The rotation, however, was stunningly bad.
To fix it, the Twins acquired a couple young arms in the Span/Revere trades in Alex Meyer and Trevor May who could possibly develop into more than No. 3 or 4 starters, but in the meantime, the Twins solution to improving the rotation appears to be this: Let’s go out and sign a ton of mediocre and low-risk guys, throw them all against the wall, and hope a few of them stick.
It could work, as long as you understand that ‘work’ means merely making the rotation something less than terrible.
The Twins have 18 — yes, 18 — starting pitchers among the 66 players they’ve invited to camp (that includes swingmen like Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak, whom the Twins have told to prepare to compete for a spot in the rotation).
Scott Diamond is injured and may not be ready for Opening Day, but whenever he is, he’ll be in the rotation. Same goes for Pelfrey. Correia is healthy and will step in right away, and Vance Worley looks like the “ace” as of now.
That leaves a dozen or so guys competing for one spot. My guess is that as long as he has a halfway-decent spring it’ll go to Kyle Gibson, who remains the top starting pitching prospect in the organization.
Sam Deduno and Cole De Vries were surprisingly not terrible last year, so they’ll provide some depth (it’s worth mentioning, in fact, that both of them put up arguably better numbers as minimum-salary guys as Correia did in the NL, and the Twins just gave Correia $10 million).
As for the rest of them, well, Liam Hendriks has been very good in the minors but shown little to no ability to carry that over to the big leagues. May and Meyer aren’t ready yet. Walters had a couple nice starts last year, but got hit hard the more chances he got. Duensing belongs in the bullpen where he can be shielded from right-handed hitters. Blackburn’s smoke-and-mirrors act has cleared up.
Shairon Martis, who I’ve literally never heard of, had a few decent starts for the Nationals in 2009 and threw a 7-inning no-hitter in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Basically, the Twins seem to have added to their impressively large stable of fourth and fifth starters. That isn’t necessarily terrible news — if someone goes all Jason Marquis on them and can’t get anybody out at all, someone should be able to step in and at least eat innings in non-desctructive fashion, much like De Vries and Deduno did last year.
Worley and Gibson could be kinda pretty good. Hopefully Diamond can come close to repeating what he did last year.
Worst-case scenario, the Twins have probably brought their rotation from a D- to a C. Unfortunately even at a best case scenario I don’t see it being better than a C+.
Anyway, the rest of the 66 players invited to camp are listed below.
Rich Harden is intriguing as a candidate for the bullpen, and Josh Roenick is coming off a solid season for the Rockies.
As far as position players, the Twins have Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar at shortstop (which reminds me of Michael Jordan’s comment in the late 90s that the three Bulls centers he had to play with amounted to “21 feet of s***”), and Brian Dozier is apparently going to open the year at second base. Jamey Carroll is by far better than all three of those guys, but he’s 39 and in the last year of his contract so I guess I understand wanting to give the other guys a shot. I just don’t think they’re ever going to amount to much anyway.
In the outfield, Chris Parmelee is apparently going to play right field because the Twins need his bat in the lineup (it’s either him or Ryan Doumit, I guess), and centerfield is likely between veteran journeyman Darin Mastroianni and rookies Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson.
Hicks is one of the top prospects in the system, and unless he has a huge spring, I’m against giving him the job. The Twins tried to rush Carlos Gomez into the centerfield job before he was ready and that blew up in their face. Doesn’t mean necessarily the same thing would happen to Hicks, but I’d prefer to either let Mastroianni keep the seat warm for awhile, or give Benson, a lesser prospect coming off a horrible year in the minors, get his shot. If he pans out, he’s trade bait or a candidate for left field if/when the Twins trade Josh Willingham.
So those are your storylines for now. The first exhibition game of the spring is Feb. 23 against Baltimore. Opening Day is April 1 at Target Field against the Tigers. Assuming it doesn’t snow.
Cole De Vries