Four Questions the Twins need to resolve this Spring Training

Pitchers and Catchers are reporting in 3 weeks or so and the 2012 Spring Training is just around the corner. The are a lot of questions at this point for the Twins coming into the 2012 season (like Justin Morneau's and Denard Span's health) but some of them will have to wait until the season to be answered. Here I am focusing on the questions that will be answered during Spring Training:

  • What will be the starting outfield? The Twins fairly certainly will start the season with 4 outfielders in the Twins' 25 man roster: Josh Willingham, Denard Span (I assume that he is healthy), Trevor Plouffe, Ben Revere. Ryan Doumit will see some reps at the outfield as well, but he will probably take over Kubel's old role as well as serve as a back up catcher. The Twins have seem to have pencil in Span at center, Willingham at right and a platoon or Revere/Plouffe at LF. There are a few questions here: of the 5789 innings Josh Willingham player in the OF, only 264.1 (all in 2009 with Washington) or 4.6% were at RF. The rest were at left. From the 995 innings Ben Revere played in OF in the majors only 127.1 (13%) were at LF. 814.1 were at CF. And in the minors, he played only 46 games at left, 301 at center (and 2 at RF.). Trevor Plouffe played 3 games in LF and 11 games at RF in the majors, and 6 games at RF and 1 at LF in the minors. A total of 21 games at the OF (all in 2011) between the majors and the minors. And in those games the ball came his way 11 times in Rochester and 20 in the majors. So Plouffe has defended a grant total of 31 balls in his life at the outfield in game action. Denard Span has played 323 games at CF, 124 at RF and 74 at LF. The Twins in Spring Training will need to make 3 people comfortable in pretty much new positions for them, the way they have things planned. Could it happen? Maybe. It might not, though, and the Twins might end up with a starting lineup that has Revere at CF, Willingham at LF and Span at RF with Plouffe mainly assuming platoon DH duties (he is out of options.)

  • What will be the Bench in 2012? I think that the only sure bet for the 2012 Twins' bench is Trevor Plouffe (I am counting Doumit as the starting DH). Plouffe is out of options, and unless the Twins trade him before the season starts he has to make the 25-man roster. Second likely member is Luke Hughes (who has, btw, killing the ball in the Australian Baseball League at a .344/.500/.656 rate with 4 HRs, 17BB and 4Ks in 19 games this winter.) He is also out of options and will be a serviceable option off the bench at all IF positions but SS and part time DH also, plus provide a RH bat off the bench as a PH in late innings. If he does not make the roster he has to be waived or traded, which I think unlikely. There are 2 additional positions on the bench and the common wisdom has it that one will go to a third catcher (Drew Butera, Rene Rivera, JR Towles) and Nishioka will get the other. I think that Gardenhire want a third catcher, but if someone like Rene Tosoni, Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee, Aaron Bates, or Sean Burroughs has a monster spring, these 2 positions are not set in stone, especially Nishioka's who will have to prove himself or start the season in Rochester.

  • What will the bullpen look like? For the time being, pending a transaction, I consider the rotation set to look something like this: Pavano, Liriano, Baker, Marquis, Blackburn. If Blackburn has a horrible spring and someone like Swarzak, Hendriks, or Doyle step it up, there is an outside possibility that Blackburn will be delagated to the pen, but the Twins have been reluctant to do that in the past (including 2011, when Kevin Slowey clearly beat him out in Spring Training.) Assuming that Zumaya is healthy, Capps, Perkins, Zumaya, Deunsing are locks. This will leave 3 positions open for 14 players in the 40-man roster and for 10-non roster invitees. This includes 7 players who pitched for the Twins in 2011 (Alex Burnett, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks, Jeff Manship, Lester Oliveros, Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Waldrop) and an 8th (Terry Doyle) which is Rule 5 draft pick and has to be in the 25-man roster or returned to the White Sox. As you can see, this is going to be a brutal battle this Sping, which brings me to the last point:

  • Setting the AAA and AA rosters and figuring out who stays and who goes. If you do the math just for the bullpen battle above, there are 24 players battling for 3 MLB positions. This leaves 21, just from the ones invited to the camp or are in the 40-man roster to populate the Rochester and New Britain pitching rosters. Add about 5-10 younger minor leaguers and you have way too many pitchers in the organization. Some of them, most likely the ones who signed Minor League contracts, will have to go, probably a good 5-6. This decision will have to be made during Spring Training and even-though not as critical as the other 3 for the 2012 Twins, will definitely be interested to watch

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