Keep a close eye on these five Twins

Spring training could be particularly important for some players, even if they don’t make the final roster.

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Minor league first baseman Kennys Vargas, left, and top power-hitting prospect Miguel Sano took batting practice Saturday.

Photo: Photos by JERRY HOLT • jerry.holt@startribune.com,

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– The Twins on Saturday held their first full-squad workout of 2014 with what they believe is a roster that will end their three-year run of at least 96-loss seasons.

They have added starting pitching. They have added a few players who have been productive in the past. Rookies from last season have a little experience. Now it’s time to see how it meshes — to see if they can get up off the ground and move up the standings.

“I don’t know if we hit rock bottom [last year],” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I hope that was about as low as you’d want to go. We feel pretty bad about ourselves. We definitely better be better than that. I believe we will be. I’m pretty confident about that. I’m pretty excited about that, to tell the truth.”

Joe Mauer took grounders at first base. Miguel Sano blasted batting practice pitches over the fence. Jason Bartlett rushed from short to third while practicing the wheel play. Kyle Gibson looked sharp during his live batting practice session. How much of an impact they have this year will play out over the coming weeks and months.

Now it’s time to see exactly what the Twins have as they prepare for another season. As full-squad workouts commenced, there are five position players worth watching closely this spring:

1. Aaron Hicks, OF: Hicks, hopefully, is wiser following a rough rookie season. He has the talent to impact the game in many areas but he, and the Twins, have to figure out how to get it out of him. He’s been in the batting cages each morning before the daily workout begins, and he appears to be listening to everything Hall of Famer Rod Carew is telling him. Hicks needs to have a good camp to make the club.

“I’m ready for this level, and I’m ready to compete every day,” Hicks said.

2. Trevor Plouffe, 3B: While plenty of attention will be given to Sano, Trevor Plouffe intends to not go away quietly. Plouffe knows he needs to respond after a 2013 season in which he hit 10 fewer homers and had a slugging percentage 60 points lower than he had in 2012. He looks like he’s taking things seriously. He reported to camp more than a week early, he has added 12 pounds of muscle to his frame and his swing looks as powerful as ever. He’ll open the season as the starting third baseman, but it would help if he dropped hints in camp that this is his breakout season.

3. Josmil Pinto, C: If he is in the lineup, Pinto could add some pop to the Twins offense. But he has to improve defensively in order to break into the starting lineup. But he needs playing time to improve defensively in order to break into the lineup. And that might lead him to Class AAA Rochester to start the season. The presence of veteran Kurt Suzuki enables the Twins to bring Pinto along as quickly or slowly as they wish. A strong spring training will encourage them to bring Pinto north as a part-time starter.

“If we think he’s ready for this, we’ll do it,” Gardenhire said, “but he’s got to make the ballclub.” Pinto was held out of drills Saturday because of a stiff back that’s not considered serious.

4. Miguel Sano, 3B: He has a boyish face but the body of a grown man. And he swung like a man Saturday as several baseballs left the back field at the Lee County Sports Complex.

“We’re not going to have enough baseballs for the second group,” Class AA New Britain coach Jeff Smith said as Sano and Kennys Vargas took turns launching balls. Sano’s chances of going north with the club are very slim, but his chances of debuting sometime this season are much higher. So it will be worth watching the best power-hitting prospect in baseball take part in his first major league camp. He has had no problems with his right elbow, which was sore late last season and into the offseason.

5. Byron Buxton, OF: Buxton didn’t turn heads with power Saturday — he turned them with patience. While facing Scott Diamond, Buxton, considered the top prospect in all of baseball, didn’t swing the bat against Diamond, opting to work on strike zone judgment. In the batting cages before workout, Buxton showed the quick hands and bat speed that have many calling him the next can’t-miss kid. Buxton might be a year away from the majors but the Twins are getting a good look at him in this camp as they size up his potential.

 

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  • Aaron Hicks gave his full attention to Hall of Famer Rod Carew on Saturday. Hicks, a disappointment as a rookie last year, needs a good camp to make the roster.

  • Catcher Josmil Pinto has to improve defensively to break into the starting lineup.

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