As spring training games are set to begin for the Minnesota Twins, fans will finally be able to see how the players perform against other teams. As we’ve learned time after time, actual spring training statistics mean very little. Most positions are already accounted for. However, as we have documented the last two weeks at Twins Daily, there are still a few position battles that we will be watching.
Spring performance also is noteworthy for prospects and other players who just want to make an impression on the Twins coaching staff and brass.
It may not mean making the Opening Day roster, but it might mean getting a look when a need arises throughout the season. Today, I’m going to take a look at some of the prospects who are in Ft. Myers looking to make an impression.
THE BIG THREE
There’s no question that the Twins have one of the most highly rated minor league systems in all of baseball. That is largely due to the Twins Big Three. Byron Buxton was rated as baseball’s #1 prospect by every outlet. Miguel Sano is touted as the top third base prospect in large part because he is generally considered the prospect with the most power potential in the game.
For me, Alex Meyer fits into the elite prospect category as well. As great as the potential may be for Buxton and Sano, Meyer is arguably the most important prospect in the Twins farm system. Meyer represents what Twins fans (and coaches and front office personnel) have been waiting for for years, an ace. Not just a #1 starter, but a true ace. Blessed with a fastball that can hit triple-digits, Meyer also has a devastating slider and two other major league pitches.
All three of these prospects are in big league camp. It is the first go ‘round for Buxton and Sano while Meyer was invited last spring after coming to the organization from Washington. All three are non-roster invitees. (Sano and Meyer would need to be added to the 40 man roster following the 2014 season while Buxton would not need to be added until after the 2016 season.) Because they are not on the 40 man roster, it is more likely that the Twins will take a long look at them. It is also possible that all three will surface with the Twins sometime in 2014.
If a player on the 40 man roster happens to get hurt while in major league camp, he would go on the major league disabled list. Because of that, players on the 40 man roster with little (or no) chance of making the Opening Day roster are quickly sent to minor league camp. Minor Leaguers report to Ft. Myers on March 4 and their first full workout is March 6. The Twins first round of cuts will likely be soon after that. There are several players that fit within this category:
Max Kepler – The outfielder/first baseman is young (20) and very raw, but he has the world of talent. He will start the season in Ft. Myers after playing just a half-season at Cedar Rapids last year before his Arizona Fall League stint.
Jorge Polanco – The infielder is just 20 years old and played all of 2013 in Cedar Rapids. He’ll move up to Ft. Myers for 2014. His prospect status has risen quickly the past two years, so he was an easy choice to be added to the 40 man roster. He’ll also be an easy choice to send to minor league camp right away.
Kennys Vargas – If you thought that the 6-5, 250 pound Miguel Sano was a large man, wait until you see Vargas. He is 6-6 and about 275 pounds. He (specifically his batting practice prowess) has made quite an impression this spring. He had a solid season in 2013 in Ft. Myers and will begin the 2014 season in AA New Britain.
Danny Santana – Even with Pedro Florimon’s appendectomy and missed time in spring training, Santana will not be an option for Opening Day. I think he’ll start the 2014 season back in New Britain, and we could see him by season’s end. However, with Eduardo Escobar, Jason Bartlett and James Beresford in camp, I think he’ll be sent down quickly.
Logan Darnell – The left-hander pitched for New Britain and Rochester in 2013. He is likely to spend the season starting in Rochester in 2014. Due to the logjam for the 5th starter spot already, Darnell likely gets sent back to spring training pretty quickly.
There are a few prospects who are on the 40 man roster and will still get a long look this spring. Kyle Gibson, Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks would fall into this category if they still qualified as “prospects.”
Josmil Pinto has a chance to be the Twins starting catcher. That offensive talent made a strong impression last fall in his big league debut. However, he was shut down quickly from winter ball due to a sore shoulder. Upon arriving in Ft. Myers, he was delayed by a back problem too. He’ll get a chance to compete though.
Trevor May, like Darnell, is not going to make the Opening Day roster due to the crunch at the back of the Twins rotation. Also, he has only pitched in one game at AAA. The Twins will want to take a long look at him to get a better feel for whether or not he will be able to start long term.
Michael Tonkin could also be around big league camp for a little while. Though he struggled at AAA and in the big leagues, he still has a big arm and the potential to pitch in the back-end of the Twins bullpen for years.
ORGANIZATION’S NEW ARMS
In the offseason, the Twins added a few pitchers to the organization. They will likely want to see them for a little while in an attempt to see what they have.
Sean Gilmartin is not on the 40 man roster. He came to the Twins from the Atlanta Braves in the Ryan Doumit trade. A first-round pick just three years ago, he was injured in 2013 and hopes to show what he can do again when healthy.
Brooks Raley was claimed by the Twins just two weeks ago. He had appeared in games for the Chicago Cubs each of the last two seasons, but he was removed from their 40 man roster and claimed by the Twins. The left-handers has started, but he also has pitched out of the bullpen. He certainly does fit the mold of soft-tossing lefty.
Kris Johnson came to the Twins in a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Twins sent reliever Duke Welker back to the Pirates in exchange. Recall that the Twins sent Justin Morneau to the Pirates in late August for Alex Presley and a Player to be Named Later. Shortly after the season, the teams announced that the PTBNL was reliever Welker. Then a month or so later, something happened and the Twins decided that they would send Welker back to Pittsburgh for Johnson. Though already 29, Johnson made his big league debut in 2013. He showed that he isn’t just a soft-tosser. He capable of hitting 92 on the radar.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
There are two pitchers at Twins camp who came to the organization in controversial trades. They were both on the 40 man roster at one point, but injury cost them time and a spot on the 40 man roster.
Last spring, Deolis Guerra was ready to pitch for Team Venezuela in the WBC. Unfortunately, a blood clot in his shoulder required surgery and he missed the entire season. He became a free agent following the 2013 season but chose to stay with the Twins.
The same is true of Lester Oliveros. He could have gone elsewhere but stayed with the Twins. In September of 2012, he had Tommy John surgery and rehabbed throughout the 2013 season.
Both pitchers are still 25 or younger. Guerra has a tremendous changeup while Oliveros was a hard-thrower. Both could fit into the Twins bullpen in 2014 if a need arrives.
NON-ROSTER INVITES WHO CAN IMPRESS
James Beresford put together his best offensive season in 2013, hitting over .300 while splitting time between New Britain and Rochester. The second baseman may compete (or should be allowed) for a second utility infield position.
Every spring training, teams need a lot of catchers at big league camp. The Reason? Because there are a ton of pitchers at big league camp. There are four non-roster catchers in Twins camp.
This is the fourth time that Rohlfing has been a non-roster invite to big league camp. Last year, he split his time between New Britain and Rochester. He also is a terrific athlete who split his time between catcher and the outfield. Rohlfing became a free agent after last season but signed back with the Twins.
Kyle Knudson was invited to spring training for the second time. The former Gophers star was healthy for the first time in his career last year and came through with a very solid season between Ft. Myers and New Britain.
Matt Koch spent 2013 in Ft. Myers. He’s more of an offensive catcher, though, showing good power and an ability to hit for average.
Stuart Turner was the Twins 3rd round pick just last year. He was the Johnny Bench Award winner as the nation’s top catcher. He is a guy who could move quickly.
As we’ve learned, all of the Twins home games this spring will be shown on FSN. Now when you see players wearing uniforms with numbers generally worn by Offensive Tackles and Wide Receivers, you’ll know a little bit about them. We are certain to learn even more about them throughout the 2014 season.