Twins GM pleased with revised infield

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2011 - 11:38 PM

Bill Smith believes the Alexi Casilla-Tsuyoshi Nishioka combination will bring much-needed speed to the lineup.

Twins shortstop Alexi Casilla

Photo: Eric Gay, Associated Press

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A year ago in spring training, the Twins were breaking in two new middle infielders. J.J. Hardy, who had been acquired from the Brewers, was set at shortstop. Orlando Hudson, who was signed as a free agent, was locked in at second base.

Both are gone now. Hardy was traded to the Orioles and Hudson signed with the Padres.

But Twins General Manager Bill Smith is confident Hardy's and Hudson's replacements, Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, will be more than adequate replacements.

"Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been tremendous," Smith said. "He has some flair, he's got some personality. He has mixed in very well with his new teammates. We have a translator named Ryo Shinkawa, who has been a great addition to this club. I think everybody is kind of comfortable."

The club wanted to add some speed this year, and Nishioka has that quality.

"Nishioka can run like crazy," Smith said. "He's one of the faster runners in the game. He's got tremendous hands. He can play second or short, but I think [manager Ron Gardenhire] has indicated that he's going to play him at second base and play Casilla at short."

Smith said Nishioka is a strong switch hitter. He's hitting .318 in spring training, with no home runs and three RBI.

"He's driven a few balls. That's been exciting," Smith said. "He tripled here in a game last week. Once he gets going on the bases, it's going to be fun to see. If we can get Casilla and [Denard] Span and Nishioka running around the bases ahead of the big hitters in our lineup, we're going to score a lot of runs."

As for Casilla, Smith said the infielder is "still only 26 years old, and he got up in the big leagues early and maybe wasn't quite ready, maturitywise, to handle some of the things [and] was a little bit inconsistent, but he's done a nice job this spring.

"Gardy gave him a little leadership role. He said it's your responsibility to make sure that Nishioka makes it to all the drills and all the fields. He said you have to get together with him. I think Alexi kind of took a little pride in that and has done a good job with that. He's played well in the field and gotten a few hits."

The big problem about Casilla is you never know which Casilla will show up -- the Casilla who hit .281 in 98 games for the Twins in 2008, or the one that hit .202 in 80 games in 2009, or the one who batted .276 in 69 games last season. Casilla is hitting .200 in 20 at-bats so far this spring.

Jottings

• Julian Welch, the Yuba City, Calif., Community College guard who will sign with the Gophers, was one of the most highly recruited basketball players added to the team by coach Tubby Smith. Welch, who was the Big West freshman of the year while playing for UC Davis a year before moving to Yuba CC, was sought by no fewer than 10 top Division I schools. It's a good bet Welch will start for the Gophers.

• Stony Brook (N.Y.) University, where new University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler was second in command, had a good basketball team that lost to Boston University on two last-second free throws Saturday for the America East tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

• Chris Berenguer, the son of former Twins reliever Juan Berenguer, just finished up a fantastic hockey career for Hamline. The senior defenseman finished the season as the second-leading scorer for the Pipers with 32 points on 13 goals and 19 assists. He also had been instrumental in leading Hamline into the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III hockey tournament, where the Pipers lost to St. Norbert 4-0 Saturday night. Berenguer scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Wisconsin-Superior in their 3-2 first-round victory on Wednesday night. That same day Chris was named the MIAC Player of the Year. He was named an NCAA Division III All-America in his sophomore and junior seasons, becoming the first player in Hamline history with that distinction, and he could make it a third time later this year.

• Wild draft choice Jason Zucker, now playing for the University of Denver, was named WCHA rookie of the year and second-team all-WCHA.

• The word is, because of the way the NBA collective bargaining agreement reads, if there isn't any progress on a new CBA, there won't be any summer league basketball this summer.

• Gophers recruit Ben Marshall of Mahtomedi was chosen the USHL's defensive player of the week, after recording two goals and a plus/minus rating of plus-2 for Omaha. Marshall has seven goals and 15 assists in 43 games this season and ranks fourth overall with a rating of plus-24. ... His teammate, Gophers recruit Seth Ambroz, leads the Lancers in scoring with 20 goals and 19 assists in 47 games. ... Goalie Adam Wilcox of South St. Paul is fifth in the USHL with a 2.27 goals-against average for Green Bay. ... Another Gophers goalie recruit, Joel Vienneau, is having a rough year for the expansion Muskegon Lumberjacks with a 3.83 goals-against average.

• Steven Fogarty of Edina and Kyle Rau of Eden Prairie, two players who starred in the boys' hockey state tournament, are expected to be chosen as high as the second or third round in the NHL draft.

• Logan Storley, a 171-pounder from Webster, S.D., headed for the Gophers, recently became the third wrestler nationally to win six state championships and finished his career with a 262-3 record. He had a 196-match winning streak broken when he lost to Preston Lehman of West Fargo, N.D., on Jan. 30.

• The Metrodome is now open, according to Bill Lester, who runs the Dome. "We got the roller blading going again and the runners and walkers, but nothing on the floor of the stadium," he said.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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