Greetings from Fort Myers, Fla. Yes, it's beautiful here.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has hinted at a willingness to take 13 pitchers north when spring training camp breaks. Here's an early look at the possibilities, if all of the key figures remain healthy:
Starting rotation: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey are locks. Sam Deduno and Kyle Gibson are the leading candidates for the fifth spot. Deduno may have the edge because of his raw stuff and occasional games in which he looks unhittable, and because Gibson may benefit from another stint at Triple A. If both fail to earn the job, the next contenders would be Vance Worley and Scott Diamond. Worley is pitching to keep his career alive. Diamond would give the Twins a lefthander in the rotation. The most interesting aspect of this competition is that Diamond, Worley and Deduno are out of options. What happens if Worley fails to impress but the front office doesn't want to cut him for fear he'll resurface later as a success elsehwere, or for fear that cutting him will make the Ben Revere-for-Worley and Trevor May trade look bad? The easy way out might be to keep Deduno as the fifth starter, send Gibson to Triple A temporarily, and keep Diamond and Worley in the bullpen.
Bullpen: Glen Perkins will close. Casey Fien, Jared Burton, Caleb Thielbar and Brian Duensing are close to being locks. Anthony Swarzak has been a bullpen-saver the last two years and deserves to stick, but may face competition for the long role from starters without options who fail to make the rotation.
Kris Johnson is a lefty with good stuff. Michael Tonkin has the stuff to handle late-game roles once he cracks the big-league roster, and the field staff will likely want him on the team. There are a handful of other invitees with good stuff, but the last couple of bullpen spots could be used to protect pitchers who are out of options.
For all of their struggles the last three years, the bullpen is a point of strength. The Twins may be in a position to trade someone - Swarzak? - for a bat or young starting pitching if their key pitchers remain healthy.
This is a much stronger group than last year's, thanks to the addition of Nolasco and Hughes. And I didn't even mention top prospect Alex Meyer, who should be pushing for a spot in the rotation by midseason, if not sooner.
I'll be on the air weekdays in St. Cloud on WJON at 7:15 am, and on 1500ESPN at 12:15 with Mackey & Judd. You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.