Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Twins Spring Narratives Worth Watching

With the offseason officially behind us, and the first pitches of Spring Training already having been thrown, the Twins will kick off their slate of games down in Fort Myers. As the club embarks on a turnaround in 2017, there's plenty of things to keep an eye on in the first year of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine being at the helm.

Although the front office isn't visible on the field of play, their decisions should be apparent to those that have become accustomed to how things used to run. For Molitor, he'll have some decisions that are put in front of him requiring better execution and results from the 103 losses suffered a season ago.

Over the course of the next month or so though, there's a handful of key situations worth monitoring.

The Battle To Hit

This offseason, Byungho Park was DFA'd and had to pass through waivers. He went unclaimed and was outrighted to Triple-A Rochester. Still invited to big league camp, he's battling with Kennys Vargas for the designated hitter role, and he's got a massive hill to climb. Vargas is going to be given every opportunity to head north, and Park is no longer on the 40 man roster.

I'd be shocked if Park doesn't get some run at the big league level this season, and I expect him to have a strong second season in the big leagues. Vargas has a lot of supporters, and given his numbers, it seems a bit over-zealous to me. Regardless, Minnesota needs to get production out of the DH spot, and the responsibility will fall on one of these two.

Rounding Out the Rotation

Four of the five starting pitchers seem to be locked in at this point. Ervin Santana is going to get the ball on Opening Day, while some order of Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson, and Hector Santiago follow him. From there, it's a toss up between the likes of Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Jose Berrios, Ryan Vogelsong, Nick Tepesch, Adalberto Mejia, and maybe even Justin Haley. While Minnesota was the worst pitching team last season, they have no shortage of options in 2017.

Going north, I'd expect May to get the nod. He's going to make the club, and given his injury issues due to bullpen usage, I can't see any reason not to give him another crack at starting. Berrios has nothing to prove at the Triple-A level, but giving an arbitration deal to Hector Santiago took up a rotation spot with a questionable ceiling. I'd love to see Duffey transition to the pen, and outside of Mejia, the only other name I'm really intrigued by is Haley.

Playing Out The Pen

With the bullpen needing a boost, the Twins also have a large contingent of relief options. Only Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Pressly should be considered locks at this point. Glen Perkins probably isn't a good bet to count on, and the other five arms could come from a group of about 10-12 players.

This season, the Twins need more strikeout pitchers and a better usage plan to utilize pitchers strengths. Creating a group with higher ceilings in general is a good look, and Minnesota should be well positioned to do that.

Learning The Ropes

The left side of the infield could be a disaster, or it may end up being overblown speculation. Either way, we know Jorge Polanco wasn't good at all a season ago when playing shortstop. There's always been concerns about him sticking there, and we need proof that he and Brian Dozier can coexist. Next to him, Miguel Sano will be attempting to prove he can handle the hot corner. A big boy that's already been bumped from two positions in his professional career, a full time DH role would be unfortunate.

There's glove first options for the Twins that can take over, but the reality is that Molitor's lineup is best when both of these two are in it. They need to provide defensive value along with bringing their bat to the park.

A Surprise On The 25

Down in Fort Myers this year, the Twins have a few bigger name non-roster guys. Both from within the organization, and joining it for the first time, will any of them make a surprise jump to the 25 man? Can Park work his way back? Does Vogelsong or Tepesch have value? Where does Drew Stubbs fit?

Over the course of the spring slate, the Twins will have to sort out who they want to protect, and who may have a future. Carlos Quentin was the lone ranger a season ago, and there's more than a few guys just looking for a chance. I'm not sure any of them can separate themselves far enough, but if there's one thing that's certain, it's that Minnesota could use to improve the bottom of their active roster.

For a team coming off 103 losses, there's no place for this group to go but up. They have significantly more talent than the 2016 record displayed, and there's plenty to keep an eye on over the next month. Buckle up and let's get going.

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