As acting Twins general manager during Terry Ryan’s absence while being treated for cancer, Rob Antony said he believes the big thing the team is looking for this spring is which position players are going to step up.
“Because we’re going to need some guys to take a step forward and improve offensively if we’re going to score some runs. We didn’t do a lot on the offensive side of things [during the offseason],” he said. “We tried to do some things that didn’t work out. We were able to address the starting pitching and a few other things.
“We brought back Jason Kubel, he’s going to come into camp and compete for a job. We think he has a chance to help us offensively if he can return to form, like he had when he was here.”
Antony said the team will miss Ryan Doumit, who was traded to Atlanta.
“He provided some offense and some stability for us the last two years,” Antony said. “He was a veteran guy. But we like [catcher] Kurt Suzuki, who we brought in, he’s probably a little bit more of a defensive guy than an offensive guy right now, but we think he’ll help with the pitchers as well.”
Addressing some of the position battles, Antony said: “There’s going to be some interesting battles in center field, [Aaron] Hicks and [Alex] Presley. You’re going to have a battle with Jason Bartlett in camp with [Eduardo] Escobar for the utility job. Some other guys are going to have to battle to make this club that are out of options, but they have to do some things to make this club.”
Does Antony believe Twins star prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano have a chance to make the club this year?
“We’re excited to see what Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano do in action,” Antony said. “Whether they break camp with us, that remains to be seen. But I think it’s going to be exciting for Twins fans and for us as well to see them in spring training action out on the major league field. They both have a world of potential and I think they’re both going to be tremendous players. … It will be good to get them out there and it will be fun for the fans, as well.”
Asked who would decide if either player breaks camp with the Twins, Antony said: “I guess if Sano came in and had a monster spring, it would be a situation where Terry and I and Mike Radcliff and Wayne Krivsky and Jack Goin and Ron Gardenhire and our staff would all weigh in. We’d have conversations and meetings and talk about it and figure out if we could push this guy and give him a shot to try and start out. Trevor Plouffe is going to have a lot to say about that as well. I think that if Trevor comes in and has a good spring, I think that just allows us to send Sano back and get a little more time.”
Not giving up on Hicks
A year ago, Hicks had a fantastic spring but struggled in his rookie season with the Twins and then wasn’t recalled after being sent to the minor leagues.
“I still believe he’s going to be a very good major league player for us,” Antony said. “You have to remember that everyone from Justin Morneau to Michael Cuddyer to Torii Hunter didn’t make it their first time, they all struggled and had to go back down to the minors and bounce back and forth before establishing themselves as solid major league players.
“I think that same thing will happen with Aaron Hicks, and you’d love for somebody to break with the club, make it, have a great year and go on and never look back, but that rarely happens. … You have to remain patient.”
Super Bowl future
One big reason the Metrodome was the site of the 1992 Super Bowl was the influence Saints GM Jim Finks and Vikings President Max Winter had on NFL team owners back in the 1980s.
Finks was so well-respected that he was one of the leading candidates to succeed Paul Tagliabue as NFL commissioner. Winter had great friends in the league including owners such as Wellington Mara of the New York Giants and Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns.
However, the current group of Super Bowl co-chairs — Richard Davis of U.S. Bancorp, Doug Baker of Ecolab and Marilyn Carlson Nelson of Carlson Companies — won’t have the help of NFL officials such as Winter and Finks because of changes in league officials over the past 25 years.
Currently the co-chairs and the Vikings are in the process of putting a great package together to take to the NFL. A vote is expected May 19-21 in Atlanta.
Minnesota has the new stadium to help sell a Super Bowl here, but Indianapolis has had one and did a fantastic job, while New Orleans has had many and is a favored site by many owners.
• Former Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams has shown some improvement with increased playing time with the Sacramento Kings. He averaged 14.7 minutes with the Wolves in his 11 games here this season and has averaged 26.5 in 40 games with the Kings going into Saturday. His points per game have gone from 4.9 to 9.8, his rebounds from 2.4 to 4.7 and his shooting percentage from 35.2 to 45.8 percent.
• Gophers track and field coach Steve Plasencia announced three more recruits for the spring season. They are Bloomington Jefferson’s Matt Rosen, the Minnesota state champion in the 800 meters; Brookfield (Wis.) East’s Glen Harold, the top pole vaulter in Wisconsin at 15 feet, 9 inches; and Pequot Lakes’ Tyler Tappe, the Minnesota state champion in the pole vault.
• Former Vikings quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson has once again signed with the San Francisco 49ers, this time to their 90-man roster for 2014. Thompson was claimed by the 49ers last season after the Vikings picked up Josh Freeman.
• Brooks Bollinger, the former Wisconsin and Vikings quarterback and Hill-Murray High School football coach, has resigned from the University of Pittsburgh coaching staff, where he was working under former Badgers assistant Paul Chryst for the past two seasons. Bollinger resigned to “pursue non-coaching opportunities,” and Chryst will take over QB coaching duties.
• When Rutgers joins the Big Ten for football next season, there will be some familiar names on the coaching staff. Norries Wilson, who was a two-year starter for the Gophers in football and also wrestled here and worked as a graduate assistant in 1989, is the team’s running backs coach. And Mitch Browning, the team’s offensive line coach, was here as a co-offensive coordinator, tight ends and offensive line coach from 1997 to 2006.