Neal: Time for Twins to see what they have

They will use Grapefruit League games to evaluate their many pitchers and also to determine who will be playing up the middle.

FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is tired of reading scouting reports on the new players in camp. He is ready to identify firsthand who can help him win games, a process that begins Saturday when the Twins travel to Sarasota, Fla., to face the Baltimore Orioles in the Grapefruit League opener.

"I'm making my own decisions," Gardenhire said. "I haven't seen these guys enough to sit there and read reports and have somebody tell me this or that. I want to see them. I need to see these guys. I want to make my own decisions."

As Gardenhire begins the task of choosing players to help the Twins rebound from 195 losses over the past two seasons, let's examine some key battles about to begin:

Starting over

Lefthander Scott Diamond, who went 12-9 as a rookie last season, is the most successful returning starter but could miss the first week or two of the season after having December surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow. That makes things interesting in trying to figure out who gets the Opening Day assignment.

Former Mets righthander Mike Pelfrey has looked strong in his comeback from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Look for Pelfrey or righthander Vance Worley, who came in a trade with Philadelphia, to start the April 1 opener vs. Detroit.

Righthander Kevin Correia is expected to stabilize the back end of the rotation. Spring might be the wrong time to evaluate his two-year, $10 million deal because he is going to leave camp after two starts to be present for the birth on his new child, not to mention that he has a career 5.75 ERA in spring training.

That leaves two spots open until Diamond is ready. Righthander Kyle Gibson looks ready for his major league debut. But in addition to his Tommy John surgery in 2011, he only has 275 2/3 innings as a pro, and team officials might want him to spend some more time at Class AAA Rochester.

Besides Gibson, several holdover starters, such as Cole De Vries, Liam Hendriks, Samuel Deduno, P.J. Walters and others, remain to battle for any remaining spots.

Rich Harden, who missed all of last season due to shoulder surgery, is a long-term project and won't be ready for Opening Day.

Center of attention

Darin Mastroianni will start in center Saturday, the first of the three center-field candidates with a chance to impress. He has plenty of speed but has to prove he can be an everyday player after hitting .252 in 77 games last season.

Aaron Hicks is a 2008 first-round draft pick with all the tools. Gardenhire has received assurances from General Manager Terry Ryan that he can take Hicks north if he earns the job, but are the Twins really ready to do that?

Joe Benson is a physical specimen who struggled and was hampered by injuries last season. But he can run and throw and hit the ball a long way when he makes contact.

The Twins could decide to give Hicks some time at Class AAA Rochester and split early duties between Mastroianni and Benson.

Manning the middle

Gardenhire is starting Pedro Florimon at short and Brian Dozier at second Saturday -- suggesting that is his preferred middle-infield pairing. He definitely wants them to get used to playing together. If you consider the middle of the field the spine of a team's defense, the Twins' only sure thing is Joe Mauer behind the plate.

Gardenhire likes Florimon's range and arm at short, but isn't afraid to insert Jamey Carroll or move Dozier over if Florimon has a poor spring. Dozier has some pop in his bat and could thrive as a second baseman, but Carroll could step in if Dozier plays poorly this spring or falters during the regular season.

Bullpen construction

Five spots appear almost set: Glen Perkins as the closer and Jared Burton as the main set-up man comprise the critical late-inning spots. Lefthander Brian Duensing and righthander Alex Burnett are in front of them, and righthander Casey Fien is coming off a solid season. If the Twins go with a seven-man bullpen, that leaves two spots available -- one thanks to Anthony Swarzak cracking two ribs while horsing around in January.

Righthanders Tim Wood and Josh Roenicke are out of options. Wood is a two-time reliever of the year in the International League. Roenicke posted a 3.25 ERA last season with Colorado and logged heavy innings (88 2/3) for a reliever. There's also Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly. Lefthander Tyler Robertson debuted last season, and lefthander Rafael Perez -- who owned the Twins while healthy for Cleveland -- had his shoulder scoped during the offseason.

Plenty of competition at several spots, and plenty of spring games to play. It's time for Gardenhire to put down the reports and start making his own decisions. Let the battles begin.

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

  • TWINS SPRING TRAINING • First exhibition: 12:05 p.m. today • vs. Baltimore • Sarasota, Fla. • Radio: 96.3-FM

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Atlanta 6 FINAL
Detroit 4
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
Houston 6
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Miami 1
Baltimore 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Chicago Cubs 6 FINAL
San Francisco 8
Los Angeles 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox 1
San Diego 4 FINAL
Seattle 9
Cleveland 9 FINAL
Cincinnati 3
Milwaukee 2 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Texas 4 FINAL
Kansas City 5
Colorado 3 FINAL
Arizona 4
NY Mets 4 FINAL
Washington 5
Boston 8 FINAL
Minnesota 9
Toronto 0 FINAL
Baltimore 5
Oklahoma City 105 FINAL
Chicago 108
Dallas 75 FINAL
Portland 94
Calgary 4 FINAL(SO)
Boston 3
St. Louis 1 FINAL
Philadelphia 3
Minnesota 2 FINAL
Washington 1
Toronto 2 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Dallas 4 FINAL(SO)
Florida 3
NY Islanders 4 FINAL
Nashville 3
Vancouver 2 FINAL(SO)
Arizona 3
Montreal 3 FINAL(SO)
Los Angeles 4
Morgan State 76 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 89
Niagara 54 FINAL
Siena 71
Holy Cross 83 FINAL
Bucknell 90
Western Ky 88 FINAL
Charlotte 84
Navy 62 FINAL
Colgate 72
Temple 70 FINAL
East Carolina 56
UAB 59 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 62
Boston Univ 64 FINAL
Lafayette 89
American Univ 68 FINAL
Lehigh 62
Wisconsin 76 FINAL
Minnesota 63
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Saint Peters 63
Arkansas 78 FINAL
South Carolina 74
Morehead State 76 FINAL
UT Martin 65
USC Upstate 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 62
Lipscomb 57 FINAL
North Florida 71
Southern Ill 55 FINAL
Missouri State 48
Texas State 64 FINAL
Appalachian St 67
SC State 62 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 72
Delaware State 104 FINAL
Coppin State 92
Middle Tennessee 54 FINAL
FIU 59
Texas-Arlington 64 FINAL
Ga Southern 76
Norfolk State 80 FINAL
Hampton 69
NC A&T 58 FINAL
NC Central 69
Savannah State 57 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Southern Miss 61 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 72
Marshall 50 FINAL
Old Dominion 67
Rice 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 74
South Alabama 81 FINAL
Arkansas State 76
Alabama State 78 FINAL
Grambling St 46
Alabama A&M 54 FINAL
Jackson State 72
Sam Houston St 67 FINAL
Lamar 61
Georgia State 58 FINAL
ULM 50
Central Arkansas 70 FINAL
Nicholls 77
Portland State 51 FINAL
Northern Ariz 58
Southern U 77 FINAL
Prairie View 73
Alcorn State 73 FINAL
Texas Southern 94
Houston Baptist 72 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 85
Ark-Little Rock 69 FINAL
Louisiana 75
SE Louisiana 79 FINAL
New Orleans 85
California 60 FINAL
Arizona 99
Memphis 54 FINAL
Connecticut 53
VA Commonwealth 55 FINAL
Davidson 82
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Sacramento St 65 FINAL
Southern Utah 69
Northwestern St 66 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 92
North Texas 60 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 83
Colorado 64 FINAL
Washington 47
Idaho 63 FINAL
Weber State 74
Abilene Christian 52 FINAL
Incarnate Word 64
Eastern Wash 85 FINAL
Idaho State 81
Marist 80 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Eastern Ill 64 FINAL
Belmont 97
Bradley 52 FINAL
Drake 50
Cal State Fullerton 62 FINAL
UC Irvine 68
CS-Northridge 58 FINAL
Long Beach State 69
UC Riverside 59 FINAL
UC Davis 61
Stanford 62 FINAL
Arizona State 67
Utah 67 FINAL
Washington St 59
Monmouth 68 FINAL
Canisius 56
Wake Forest 85 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 79
Saint Louis 65 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 58
Saint Peters 62 FINAL
Rider 54
UNC-Asheville 51 FINAL
Liberty 59
UNC Greensboro 44 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 78
Michigan State 69 FINAL
Michigan 49
Arkansas 72 FINAL
Ole Miss 61
Manhattan 51 FINAL
Niagara 57
Massachusetts 63 FINAL
Richmond 67
Virginia 52 FINAL
Miami-Florida 62
Jacksonville St 45 FINAL
Belmont 55
Morgan State 65 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 50
Campbell 65 FINAL
Winthrop 52
Furman 65 FINAL
Samford 54
Oregon 64 FINAL
Washington St 66
Indiana 52 FINAL
(23) Rutgers 63
Pepperdine 67 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 68
Auburn 47 FINAL
(18) Texas A&M 57
Morehead St 66 FINAL
Tennessee St 81
George Mason 43 FINAL
Saint Josephs 71
Western Carolina 53 FINAL
East Tenn St 73
Arizona 62 FINAL
UCLA 80
FIU 30 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Texas State 55 FINAL
Appalachian St 61
TX-Arlington 66 FINAL
Georgia Southern 41
SC State 57 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 56
Delaware State 51 FINAL
Coppin State 80
Portland 58 FINAL
Santa Clara 66
Norfolk State 49 FINAL
Hampton 64
Florida Atlantic 56 FINAL
UAB 59
NC A&T 67 FINAL
NC Central 46
Savannah State 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 51
Virginia Tech 51 FINAL
Pittsburgh 45
Central Arkansas 43 FINAL
Nicholls 53
Houston Baptist 48 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 73
Gardner-Webb 70 FINAL
Radford 56
Georgia 75 FINAL
Missouri 64
Old Dominion 67 FINAL
Marshall 55
Ark-Little Rock 68 FINAL
Louisiana 66
South Alabama 60 FINAL
Arkansas State 70
Georgia State 66 FINAL
ULM 61
Sam Houston St 73 FINAL
Lamar 92
SE Louisiana 75 FINAL
New Orleans 84
Northwestern St 45 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 56
Alabama A&M 58 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Alabama State 68 FINAL
Grambling 62
Southern U 78 FINAL
Prairie View 50
Alcorn State 55 FINAL
Texas Southern 73
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Wofford 54 FINAL
Mercer 75
Abilene Christian 72 FINAL
Incarnate Word 62
La Salle 60 FINAL
Rhode Island 65
Illinois 71 FINAL
Nebraska 86
TX-San Antonio 60 FINAL
Rice 49
Valparaiso 55 FINAL
Oakland 70
Missouri State 65 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Georgia Tech 64 FINAL
(15) North Carolina 84
Charlotte 72 FINAL
Western Ky 80
Texas-El Paso 69 FINAL
North Texas 61
Wichita State 77 FINAL
Evansville 63
Loyola-Chicago 64 FINAL
Northern Iowa 69
Bradley 70 FINAL
Drake 86
Presbyterian 62 FINAL
High Point 75
Vanderbilt 61 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 67
Colorado 75 FINAL
USC 63
San Francisco 74 FINAL
Pacific 64
Idaho State 58 FINAL
Eastern Washington 62
Weber State 42 FINAL
Idaho 71
Purdue 78 FINAL
Minnesota 82
Cal-Irvine 54 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 66
Long Beach St 60 FINAL
CS-Northridge 77
Hawaii 60 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 36
UC Davis 56 FINAL
UC-Riverside 61
Northern Ariz 79 FINAL
Portland State 62
Southern Utah 73 FINAL
Sacramento St 107
Utah 64 FINAL
Washington 75
BYU 65 FINAL
St Marys-CA 64

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close