Ryan keeping close eye on Twins' young talent
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan has a list of things he's looking forward to watching unfold this spring.
The competition for the Twins' starting center fielder job. How the middle infield will shake out. How the new pitchers adjust to life in the American League.
All of those questions will be answered in a matter of weeks, when Ryan and the Twins head to Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training. While down there, Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire will have plenty of questions to answer and plenty of things to address with Minnesota's roster. After all, the Twins are coming off their second straight 90-loss season.
As for the roster, Ryan seems content with the group of players heading to camp, but he's leaving the door open for possibly adding another new face before spring training starts next month.
"We still could do some things here with this team. There are some opportunities out there, and we're still certainly looking at some of those opportunities. Whether or not we get something done, I don't know. But we're still looking at it," Ryan said Tuesday. "Obviously, we tried to get pitching here. We have a number of pitchers. Some of them people are familiar with, and quite a few that people aren't. Some of them that are ready, some of them that might need some more time. But we certainly have some competition in numbers."
Ryan has preached this offseason the importance of acquiring starting pitching, and the Twins' GM has done just that. He signed veteran free agents Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey and traded for Vance Worley. Left-hander Scott Diamond, Minnesota's best pitcher in 2012, will also be penciled into the rotation. Ryan said Diamond should be "pretty darn close to being ready" for spring training despite having his left elbow scoped in late December.
There's plenty else to watch aside from the new-look rotation. Minnesota will be aiming to solidify spots at shortstop and second base. Ryan said that infielder Brian Dozier, who made his big league debut in 2012, will likely split time between second base and shortstop — much like he did in winter ball this offseason in Venezuela.
"I don't think anybody's a guy that you eliminate at shortstop," Ryan said. "Certainly (Eduardo) Escobar, (Pedro) Florimon, Dozier, (Jamey) Carroll, they've all played there. I'm positive that Gardy and Joe Vavra and the people that deal with infield, Paul Molitor, they're all going to take a look and make sure that whoever is in that spot has won that job."
Speaking of players trying to win infield jobs, Ryan said that's the opportunity Trevor Plouffe has at third base. The 26-year-old Plouffe moved around the diamond in 2012 and eventually played the majority of his games (94) at third base.
Plouffe was one of the hottest hitters in baseball for a period of time early in the season. During the first half of the year, he batted .253 with 19 home runs and 36 RBI in 66 games. In his final 53 games, however, Plouffe hit just .212 with five homers and 19 RBI as he was slowed by a thumb injury.
"The question with Plouffe is whether you're buying into what he looked like in the first half or the second half," Ryan said. "He had a good first half and then he hurt that thumb and he did not respond. … I think I've always got the optimistic look that we know what he looked like in that first half and that was pretty good and we've got something to build on. But it'll also be interesting to see how he responds. This will be his first spring, really, at third base. The opportunity is there for him to take that job if he does so. I'm waiting to see exactly what he does."
Ryan also mentioned the names of several young players — center fielder Aaron Hicks, pitcher B.J. Hermsen and catchers Chris Herrmann and Josmil Pinto — he'll be keeping an eye on this spring. Three of those four were added to the 40-man roster in November, while Herrmann made his major league debut late last year.
"Probably one of the things that anybody that's involved in the club is interested in is how some of the younger kids who come into camp respond," Ryan said. "All of a sudden you're trying to figure out how close and how mature they are. Even (outfielder Joe) Benson. We've got a lot of guys like that that'll be interesting to see how they look."
Minnesota's pitchers and catchers report Feb. 12, with the rest of the squad heading to Fort Myers on Feb. 15. Prior to that, the Twins will wrap up their annual Winter Caravan, culminated by this weekend's TwinsFest at the Metrodome.
For now, Ryan isn't about to put any expectations on what the 2013 season might hold for Minnesota. There's plenty to do this spring before that question can be answered.
"I think we better wait until we get down there," Ryan said. "We don't know exactly what we've got on that mound and how those guys are going to respond. If everything fell together, you'd feel real, real good because I think we've got a decent lineup and we've got decent athletes out there defensively. Everything's going to be dependent on how we pitch, and that's usually the case."
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