Twins tab Bartlett as backup, clubhouse attitude chemist

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 2014 - 10:27 AM

The Twins waived Alex Presley, leaving a career infielder and good clubhouse guy as the presumptive backup in center.

– The Twins completed their Opening Day team on Thursday by awarding roster spots to a pitcher, a hitter and a chemist.

Kyle Gibson officially became Minnesota’s fifth starter, Chris Colabello was rewarded for batting .350 this spring with a bench spot, and Jason Bartlett was hired to make over the atmosphere in the clubhouse. Yes, he’ll back up five or six positions, too, but “we’re trying to maybe change that clubhouse environment a little bit,” said assistant general manager Rob Antony, “and I think he can be part of doing that.”

That unusual admission about team chemistry came shortly after lefthander Scott Diamond and first baseman Chris Parmelee cleared waivers and were outrighted to Class AAA Rochester and outfielder Alex Presley was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros.

The moves (and the upcoming formality of assigning of extra catcher Dan Rohlfing to the minors) complete the Twins’ Opening Day roster — though Antony and manager Ron Gardenhire made it clear that more changes are possible.

“We can claim people, just like everybody else,” Gardenhire said. “There are people out there we know [might be] let go who we like. So there are possibilities out there for us to change this.”

Change is definitely the goal, considering the Twins have lost 96 or more games for three consecutive seasons. And in keeping Bartlett, who was out of baseball last season and has gone 3-for-36 this spring, the Twins revealed an uncomfortable truth about the damage all the losing has done: The team needs a dose of professional seasoning.

“Jason’s a winner,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He knows how to play, he knows what it takes. We need some of that. We’re a little lost out there right now. We’re trying to figure it out.”

Bartlett said he believes he can help. It’s a skill he says he learned from Torii Hunter during his first stint with the Twins.

“I’ve been on some good teams, and I’ve been in some good clubhouses. It’s about being approachable, being a veteran, keeping the clubhouse loose,” the 34-year-old ex-Twins shortstop said. “Showing guys not only how to play the game the right way, but how to deal with the day-in-day-out grind. If you have a bad game, let it go. You’ll have another day. I’ve heard last year guys were struggling and it took a toll. I can try to help get through the tough times.”

By waiving Presley and keeping Bartlett, the Twins have ostensibly made him the backup center fielder, a position he never has played at any level. Bartlett said he has worked hard to get comfortable at the position, and Gardenhire said he expects Aaron Hicks to play almost every day anyway.

“I don’t need a backup center fielder,” Gardenhire said. “But we can move [Bartlett] around anyplace. I want interchangeable parts.”

Especially if they hit. Bartlett believes his bat might be coming around, too.

“Obviously I didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball, but I thought I did have good at-bats,” Bartlett said. “I feel like I’m just one good day away, and I’ll be right back there.”

Colabello, now the backup first baseman and righthanded DH, has been right there all spring, and being righthanded gave him an advantage over Parmelee, too.

“Bottom line, he’s killing the ball. He’s just been killing it all spring,” Gardenhire said of the International League’s 2013 MVP. “He came in to make the team, and he did that.”

Diamond, Parmelee and, perhaps most surprising, Presley did not. Acquired from Pittsburgh in the Justin Morneau trade last August, Presley made a good first impression last season but didn’t do much to ignite the offense this spring.

“I was a little surprised that his speed didn’t play better, in the outfield and on the bases,” Antony said. “Coming into spring training, I didn’t see how he wasn’t going to be on the team.”

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