Joe Mauer enters his second year as a full-time first baseman after his move from catcher.
Tony Gutierrez/Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
With two weeks to go until Opening Day, the Minnesota Twins still have some questions to answer in spring training as several positions remain unsettled. That includes one spot in the rotation, several spots in the bullpen, and a few position players. Things could certainly change in the next two weeks, but here is a prediction of what the Twins’ 25-man roster will look like when they open the season against Detroit on April 6.
Even at this late date in camp, the starting shortstop job is by no means set in stone. Santana entered spring training as the perceived front-runner, but Escobar has been swinging perhaps the hottest bat of any Twins player this spring. As of Monday, Escobar has driven in a team-high 11 runs in 10 games and is batting .375. Santana, though, has had a solid spring as well and is hitting .394 with three doubles as of Sunday. Both Escobar and Nunez have some versatility and can play multiple infield spots — and, in Nunez’s case, some outfield as well — which makes them strong candidates for utility players.
The rest of the infield was essentially a lock before players even reported to camp. Mauer enters his second year as a full-time first baseman after his move from catcher. Though he’s struggled a bit at the plate this spring by his standards (.261 average in eight games), he’ll be just fine when the season starts. Dozier is coming off a breakout year and has a first hold on the second base job. Meanwhile, Plouffe is just 7-for-35 (.200) this spring, but made strides both offensively and defensively last season at third base.
Arcia makes the move from right field to left field, where the Twins are hoping he’ll have an easier time defensively — especially at Target Field, where the limestone overhang in right field can make things tricky for outfielders. That right field spot is where Hunter will play in his return to the Twins after spending the last seven seasons with the Angels and Tigers. Defensive metrics indicate the 39-year-old Hunter’s range has dropped off in recent years, but Minnesota remains confident in his ability to play right field on an everyday basis.
The starting center field job is still up for grabs between Hicks and Schafer, but both should be on the 25-man roster to start the season. Neither player has done anything offensively to particularly separate himself from the other; Hicks is batting just .222 with a .313 on-base percentage in 10 games, while Schafer has hit .286 and gotten on base at a .394 clip in nine games. Defense isn’t a question for either player, so having a leg up offensively could give one of them the edge. However, with two weeks remaining in camp, they’re not that far apart in that category.
Suzuki earned his first All-Star appearance last season in his first year with the Twins. He posted a career-high .288 average and had an on-base percentage of .345 in 2014 as he appeared in 131 games with Minnesota. Pitchers also raved about Suzuki’s ability to call games and work with the pitching staff. He’ll be the Twins’ everyday catcher once again in 2015.
There was some competition for the role of Suzuki’s backup this spring, with Josmil Pinto, Eric Fryer and Herrmann all battling for that job. Though Pinto was thriving at the plate (.353 average in seven games), he suffered a concussion when he was hit in the head by the bat of Baltimore’s Adam Jones. Reports out of Fort Myers on Sunday say that Pinto will be held out at least four to five days. That news, coupled by the fact that Herrmann has been swinging a hot bat (8-for-20 in 12 games), may very well lead to Herrman breaking camp as the backup catcher. It doesn’t hurt that Herrmann can also play outfield, too. Plus, Pinto’s defense remains a work in progress. Starting the year at Triple A will allow him to work on that part of his game by getting regular playing time.
After the year he had last year in his first season with the Twins, Hughes entered the spring as Minnesota’s top starter. Though he said he doesn’t necessarily consider himself an ace, that’s essentially what he is with this staff. Minnesota signed Santana this offseason to a four-year, $55 million contract, the largest deal ever given by the Twins to a free agent. In three Grapefruit League starts, Santana has a 3.38 ERA with eight strikeouts in eight innings. Throughout his career, Santana has been a pitcher who throws around 200 innings each season. The Twins certainly hope he can give Minnesota that type of production in 2015 and beyond.
Nolasco had a disappointing 2014 season after signing with the Twins prior to last year. He and Minnesota both remain hopeful he’ll bounce back in 2015 in the middle of the Twins’ rotation. Gibson now has two big league seasons under his belt and took strides in the right direction last year when he went 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA in 31 starts. With a 3.29 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts, Gibson has done nothing to put his spot in the rotation in jeopardy.
The No. 5 spot in the rotation was perhaps the biggest question mark on the entire roster heading into camp. With two weeks to go, that picture still isn’t a whole lot clearer. What we do know is that prospect Alex Meyer won’t be in the rotation to start the year, as he was optioned to Triple-A Rochester. It was also announced that Tim Stauffer was no longer in the running for a spot in the rotation and will instead pitch out of the bullpen. Both Pelfrey and Tommy Milone, along with right-hander Trevor May, are still in the running. May seems to be the longshot of those three. Pelfrey has pitched well this spring (1.00 ERA, 5 K, 0 BB in 9 IP) after missing most of last season with an injury. He gets the nod in this projection, especially since he’s never pitched out of the bullpen before in his career. Milone would give the Twins a left-hander in the rotation, but Minnesota doesn’t seem too concerned about have an all-righty group of starting pitchers.
New Twins manager Paul Molitor said earlier in camp that he intends to carry 12 pitchers, meaning Minnesota’s bullpen will likely be a seven-man unit to start the season. Only a few of these pitchers were already in ink before camp, and that includes closer Glen Perkins. Even though Perkins has been hampered in camp by an oblique injury, he should be ready to go by Opening Day. Fien should slide into the role as the set-up man, while Duensing and Thompson join Perkins as the other lefties in the pen.
There are several new faces in the bullpen this year. Stauffer was signed as a free agent this offseason after spending his entire career with the Padres. He was a starter at one point in his career and came into camp trying to earn a spot in the Twins’ rotation, but it was ultimately decided to move him back to the bullpen. Graham was Minnesota’s Rule 5 pick from Atlanta this past offseason, meaning he has to stay on the Twins’ 25-man roster all year or he’ll be returned to the Braves. And Boyer is a 33-year-old right-hander who is now with his sixth big league team. After taking time off from the game, he returned to action last year with the Padres and had a 3.57 ERA in 32 relief appearances. Boyer has a 2.45 ERA this spring in 7 1/3 innings.
If Milone edges Pelfrey out for the last spot in the rotation, there’s a chance Pelfrey could wind up in the bullpen despite having never pitched in relief in his career. For now, Thompson makes the cut. He appeared in seven games with the Twins in 2014.