Patrick Reusse: Youngsters Garza and Casilla have a lot to offer

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2007 - 9:37 PM

The burgeoning professionals could be the answer to two roster spots, but the Twins might have other plans.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - An American League scout was talking with a Minnesota reporter this week and said: "Are you telling me that the Twins are seriously thinking about having Sidney Ponson in the rotation rather than this [Matt] Garza kid? That's crazy."

Luis Castillo, the Twins' veteran second baseman, was asked to assess young infielder Alexi Casilla and said: "I saw him in the Dominican. He's a good player. I like him. I hope he stays on the team."

There's no doubt the Twins would open the season with a more dynamic roster if Garza, 23, with his powerful right arm, would be in the starting rotation, and Casilla, 22, with his speed and glove, would be the backup in the middle of the infield.

But the chances appear less than 50 percent that the Twins will open with Garza, and the chances appear nil that manager Ron Gardenhire will have Casilla on his bench.

These conclusions came after a conversation with General Manager Terry Ryan, who will consider Gardenhire's wishes for the 25-player opening roster and not necessarily accede to them.

Ryan was asked about the need for a power pitcher such as Garza in a rotation that might otherwise include three sinkerball pitchers: Carlos Silva, Ramon Ortiz and Ponson.

"I'm not one to think about that," Ryan said. "All I'm looking for are the pitchers who have the best chance to get out big-league hitters.

"It's not like we have a bunch of soft tossers here. Johan [Santana] throws hard. [Boof] Bonser throws hard. Silva and Ortiz throw hard. If we have two who are alike, it would be Silva and Ortiz.

"Ponson doesn't throw as hard, but I had a scout in Arizona tell me this the other day: He watched two pitchers who are going to be in the Hall of Fame, and neither got past 83 [miles per hour] on the gun."

Ryan let that hang for a moment, then said: "Ponson doesn't have anything locked up. And Garza ... we'll figure that out as we go along here. I have thoughts about it, but I'm not ready to offer them."

The thought Ryan did offer was that all three young starters being looked at in this spring training -- Garza, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey -- have very few innings of experience, particularly in Class AAA.

Memo to AL scout: Yes, it appears the Twins are serious about opening the season with someone other than Garza as the fifth starter, and it could be Ponson.

Gardenhire was asked about Casilla after Tuesday's exhibition and said: "He is very talented. We've talked for years about having a player on the bench who can steal a base, and he can do that.

"He's still a kid. He makes mistakes. But I need a guy who can play shortstop on the bench, and right now he's my best option. If it stays that way down here, I don't think Terry would be against keeping him.

"The most important thing in putting together a roster is that we want to win."

That wasn't the message offered on Casilla a few minutes later by Ryan. Asked if Casilla could open this season as the backup to Castillo and Jason Bartlett, the GM said: "That wouldn't be the ideal situation."

Response: "What if there's no ideal situation?"

Ryan: "We'll find one. Casilla is too young to be sitting around. If we don't have the backup infielder we need here, we'll make some sort of adjustment [trade]."

Response: "Casilla played all winter in the Dominican, with 200 at-bats when you add the playoffs. And, he has a slap-style swing that probably isn't going to change much with another 500 minor league at-bats. Right?"

Ryan: "A player with Casilla's future being a bench player is not what should happen."

Memo to Luis Castillo: The player backing up the middle infielders will not be Casilla, your swift countryman. It sounds as if the alternative might be a player with another club at the moment. And whoever it might be, it's almost certain he won't have as much to offer as Casilla in the effort to win in 2007.

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