Kurt Suzuki didn’t sign with the Twins to sit on the bench, and he enters camp as the No. 1 catcher following Joe Mauer’s offseason move to first base. Josmil Pinto is the future of catching in the post-Mauer era but must continue to develop his receiving skills and prove he can handle a pitching staff in order to crack the lineup. Eric Fryer or Chris Herrmann could factor in if Pinto starts the season in the minors or if there’s an injury.
First base Joe Mauer has played 56 career games at first base, so there are no concerns about him handling the move from catcher. The great unknown is whether a fresher Mauer, with better-rested hands and legs, will lead to an increase in his power numbers. At the worst, Mauer is an on-base percentage hitting machine in his prime who can be counted on to contend for another batting title.
One of the few sure things in the lineup, Brian Dozier put up a measly .603 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 84 games as a rookie in 2012 but bumped it to .726 in 147 games last season. The Twins want to see another jump this season. Other options at second include Eduardo Escobar, Doug Bernier and, if he has a good camp, Jason Bartlett, who’s attempting a comeback.
Pedro Florimon, a very good defensive player, should head north as the starter. But he batted .221 last season with 115 strikeouts and the Twins want him to be more of a threat at the plate. If Florimon shows more of the same in camp, they might give Escobar or Bartlett a closer look.
The Miguel Sano express should stop at Target Field sometime this season, but Trevor Plouffe could have a say in when that happens. Plouffe, who batted .254 with 14 home runs last season, has arrived in camp with added muscle. Bartlett also will take grounders at third base. And don’t forget about Deibinson Romero, who hit .275 with 13 homers at Class AA and AAA a year ago.
Josh Willingham is fully healthy after needing knee surgery last season. But look for manager Ron Gardenhire to use him as the designated hitter more in 2014. Darin Mastroianni and Alex Presley also are candidates to get some starts if they’re not in center. Not much production there, but Mastroianni and Presley will cover ground.
Aaron Hicks is back and supposedly a year wiser. The Twins really need him to make the team because Ron Gardenhire would have the option of using Presley or Mastroianni in left more often to add some range to the defense. Hicks has all the skills, but he has to throw that on the field more often after batting .192 in 81 games in Minnesota last season.
Oswaldo Arcia showed flashes of being a power-hitting run producer last season, and also showed his inexperience, striking out 117 times in 351 at-bats. Right field should be his. But the Twins signed Jason Kubel to see if he can revisit his 2008-10 seasons, when he averaged 23 homers and 91 RBI for the Twins. Then there are Chris Parmelee and Wilkin Ramirez. No shortage of candidates, but it really should be Arcia’s spot.
Ron Gardenhire has a disdain for having one DH, preferring to use a rotation to give players a break. So throw Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Parmelee, Wilkin Ramirez and Chris Colabello into the mix as options, with Willingham and Kubel looking like the best fits for that role.
Most spots appear to be locks, barring injuries or dismal performances. Lefthander Glen Perkins will close. The righthanders should be Jared Burton, Ryan Pressly, Casey Fien and Anthony Swarzak. Brian Duensing and Caleb Thielbar are the lefthanders. There’s room for one more if the Twins go with 13 pitchers. Hard-throwing Michael Tonkin has a shot. So does Matt Guerrier, who signed as a free agent but is coming off elbow surgery.
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