5 things learned from Twins spring training

The Minnesota Twins have been practicing and playing exhibition games in Fort Myers, Fla., for just over one month. While we typically stay away from overreacting to spring-training statistics, we’re too excited for the Twins’ season to begin to not take a deep dive into the results from the first few weeks of Grapefruit League play. With just about half of Minnesota’s spring training schedule remaining, here’s what we’ve learned so far:

 

Randy Dobnak has the edge to claim the fifth starting spot

While Michael Pineda serves the remainder of his suspension and veteran Rich Hill rehabs his elbow from surgery in the offseason, the Twins entered camp needing to find a fifth starter in the rotation. Entering camp, it appeared Minnesota had a four-person race for the spot between Dobnak, Jhoulys Chacin, Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe. Dobnak has had himself a marvelous start to spring training, as he’s allowed just three runs and five hits over 10 innings of work (2.70 ERA). He’s been much better than Smeltzer, who’s yielded 18 hits and 12 runs (nine earned) as well as three home runs in 9 1/3 frames. The veteran Chacin has given up a pair of bops and six runs in eight innings himself. And Thorpe has yet to debut for the Twins in spring training after leaving the team for 10 days for personal reasons. Midway through the spring, Minnesota might have its answer: Go with the kid who started Game 2 of the ALDS.

 

It doesn’t look like Nelson Cruz will take a step back

Questions of whether or not Cruz can follow up his incredible 2019 campaign lingered in the offseason. After all, Cruz did smack 41 homers and set career bests in on-base percentage (.392) and slugging percentage (.632) at age 38 last year. Well, it appears Cruz brought the “bombas” with him to spring training. He leads the Twins with nine hits and three homers while also tallying four RBI and four runs scored. In 20 spring at-bats, Cruz has posted a .450/.476/.950 slash line, three strikeouts and one walk. He might never stop hitting.

 

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These young guys can really hit

Speaking of hitters, take a look at how the top Twins prospects are faring. In the words of comedian Larry David, “pretty, pretty good.” Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach, listed by MLB.com as Minnesota’s No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects, have collected eight hits apiece in exhibition play. Larnach has mashed three homers, collected a team-high six RBI and logged three walks, three strikeouts and one stolen base. Kirilloff has two dingers to his name, not to mention four RBI and a .500 batting average (8 of 16). Small sample size, yes, but that’s the whole point of this article, right?

 

The team’s biggest newcomers will fit in just fine

We’ve yet to witness Josh Donaldson’s first homer of spring training, but the third baseman has collected seven hits — four singles and three doubles — in 22 at-bats. The Bringer of Rain is also getting accustomed to playing the hot corner across from Miguel Sano. And Kenta Maeda, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for prospect Brusdar Graterol, arguably has been the Twins’ top pitcher this spring with a team-high 10 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. He’s logged a 2.08 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and .188 opponent batting average as well. Like we said, these guys will fit in just fine.

 

Jhoulys Chacin and Cory Gearrin are struggling on the mound

These two are lumped together because they’re both at the same point of their careers: A pair of aging veterans trying to rediscover relatively recent success. For Chacin, it was 2018 when he registered a 15-8 record, 3.50 ERA and 4.03 FIP while leading Milwaukee to its first division title since 2011. For Gearrin, it was 2017 when he was one of San Francisco’s go-to relievers: 4-3 record, 1.99 ERA and 8.5 K/9 in 68 innings. However, both are having a hard time at camp. Chacin has allowed six runs over eight innings and Gearrin was just lit up for four runs on four hits in one inning Sunday to balloon his spring ERA to 12.60. There’s still time to turn things around for the veterans, but they need to respond quickly.