This is a big week for Twins baseball, with the team's Diamond Awards gala Thursday night and TwinsFest running Friday through Sunday at the Metrodome. So it's a good time to recount a recent conversation with manager Ron Gardenhire, who hasn't been available to the media much this offseason.
"Yeah, we've had a couple of tough years [63-99 in 2011 and 66-96 last season] where some injuries got us and the pitching last year, but we really didn't play good baseball," Gardenhire said. "I take a lot of pride in that for our baseball team, and we didn't catch the ball very well and we didn't do a lot of things that we have to do a lot better.
"But we still have to ... get back to playing the way we play, and that's kind of taking it to the other team and getting after them a lot better. That's what I have to instill in spring training, that we're going to be back to aggressive baseball and catching the ball and doing things right."
Gardenhire credited Twins General Manager Terry Ryan for adding some pitching depth and creating competition in an area where the team badly needs improvement.
Gardenhire said he won't know a lot about the ability of the pitching additions, such as Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Rich Harden and Vance Worley, until he sees them in spring training. But he is happy that the Twins already have some established relievers in Glen Perkins and Jared Burton.
"We've got some arms and have signed some people that can come in and get some people out," Gardenhire said. "We like the two guys at the end -- Burton and Perkins threw really well back there -- but you have to protect them and you can't beat them up too much. That means a lot of guys have to help you get to them.
"That means the starters. The more innings the starters take care of, that really saves your bullpen and you can maintain a strong bullpen. But it's going to be up to our starters to get us into the second half of the ballgame and then we can protect the bullpen and use them right."
Gardenhire has to find some replacements for recently traded outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere. They were dealt to Washington and Philadelphia, respectively, for pitching help.
"To get good players you have to make some trades, and unfortunately we had to use some of our center fielders," Gardenhire said.
"Guys like [Aaron] Hicks are going to get their opportunity, [Darin] Mastroianni is out there, [Joe] Benson is out there. We've got some talented, talented people; now we just have to make them find the right fit out there. We're lucky in this organization that we have some depth out there."
Justin Morneau is set at first base, but the rest of the starting infield is a work in progress.
"I think third [base] is going to be Trevor Plouffe," Gardenhire said. "He better take over that job and run with it. He hit some home runs , and I think he had one of those years where now we have to see what he can do for a full year. He has to catch the ball better, and we've talked a lot about that.
" ... We're going to get some competition in there, but I expect him to run with that job. In the middle we have some pretty good players, we just have to find the right combo up the middle to make it work."
Asked to name one young player who might light it up in spring training, make the team and give the Twins something they lacked last season, Gardenhire mentioned 2012 Twins Minor League Player of the Year Oswaldo Arcia. He hit .328 with 10 homers and 67 RBI as an outfielder at Class AA New Britain last season.
"The one guy that I've liked all along is Arcia," Gardenhire said. "I've watched this young man swing the bat, the kid from Venezuela, he can flat out swing it. He grabs the bat. I really like the way he approaches it. I think he's really going to be a good hitter. He's been one of my favorites to watch down there when we bring him over and let him take some swings for us [at spring training]."
U academic prowess
University of Minnesota athletes continue to do great in the classroom. Twenty-two of the 25 men's and women's teams at the university finished with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better in the fall semester.
The football team, for the second consecutive year, reached 3.0, as did the men's and women's hockey teams and the men's and women's track squads. The Gophers baseball team had a 3.11 GPA.
Thirty-one men and women student-athletes at Minnesota achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA or better.
The improvement in grades has been amazing since Lynn Holleran took over the academics for the athletic department. The Gophers rank academically with the best in the Big Ten.
Trent Lockett, the former Hopkins and Arizona State basketball standout, has started 16 of 17 games for Marquette this season. Lockett is averaging 6.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 25.8 minutes per game.
Former Gopher basketball player Colton Iverson continues to play tremendously for Colorado State. The senior forward/center leads the Rams in scoring at 14.5 points per game and is second on the team with 9.3 rebounds per game.
Another Gophers transfer, junior guard Justin Cobbs, is second in scoring for the University of California Golden Bears at 14.8 points per game, and he leads the team in assists at 4.1 per game.
Deephaven native and former Wisconsin Badger Jake Gardiner is close to returning to the Toronto Maple Leafs after suffering a concussion while playing during the NHL lockout. Gardiner was a standout high school player at Minnetonka.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org