FORT MYERS, FLA.
There are 11 games left before the Twins jet to Chicago for Opening Day, and the club still hasn’t reached a staff consensus on many of the roster issues it faced when camp started.
“We’ve had good discussions,” assistant general manager Rob Antony said, “Everyone voices their opinion and everyone understands that we’ve got some time.”
Well, time is starting to become an issue. Most teams like to have the bulk of their roster figured out with a few games to spare. With several decisions left for the Twins to make, the discussions are bound to take place more frequently — and more passionately — as the games dwindle. The players battling for spots will make some decisions for them. At least Twins officials are hoping that’s the case.
Here are some of the biggest decisions facing the club as it enters the final phase of spring training:
Who gets the final rotation spot?
The word “filthy” has been used more than once to describe the quality if Samuel Deduno’s pitches this spring — and that is a compliment. Deduno has given up one run over 9⅔ innings in Grapefruit League play, and he has convinced Gardenhire that he should be somewhere on the pitching staff heading north.
“I like the kid,” Gardenhire said. “I love the way he goes about his business. People just don’t like facing him. We’ll figure it out.”
Vance Worley, Scott Diamond and Kyle Gibson are the other contenders. Worley, Diamond and Deduno are all out of options, meaning they would have to be exposed to other teams if the Twins wanted to send them to the minors. Worley has had three bad outings, including Tuesday night against Tampa Bay. Diamond has given up a run in every outing. Gibson has pitched fairly well, but he could be sent to Class AAA Rochester because the best players don’t always make a team. Sometimes it’s the ones out of options who head north.
Who starts in center field?
With Darin Mastroianni cut from camp, it’s likely the Twins will open the regular season with both Aaron Hicks and Alex Presley on the roster. The question is who will start. Hicks is batting .269 after tearing up spring training last year to go north with the club. The Twins want to see more fire from Hicks and a willingness to make adjustments at the plate, something that didn’t happen last season when he batted .192 in 81 games.
Presley, who is out of options, is batting .167 and looms as a threat to get starts when the club sits Hicks down. The Twins claim Hicks has to make the team as a starter only, but it’s highly unlikely they will open the season with just one player who can play center field.
Who’s the backup catcher?
The Twins are faced with an interesting decision here. Is the backup catcher best served by playing 100 games in the minors, where he could develop on a daily basis? Or can he benefit from playing twice a week or so in the majors while being around the major league staff? Kurt Suzuki is expected to start. Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann and Dan Rohlfing remain in camp. Pinto’s bat is a plus, Herrmann’s versatility is a plus.
If Pinto makes the team, as seems likely, the club understands that he will need to play more than twice a week.
Who lands in the bullpen?
This one could get messy. We will operate under assumption that the Twins will take 12 pitchers north. Taking 13 makes no sense, especially since there are five off days in April and there’s not even a need for a fifth starter until the end of the month.
Glen Perkins will close. Jared Burton has struggled some this spring but should return as the setup man. Caleb Thielbar has pitched well in recent outings. Casey Fien gave up a homer during his first outing and has been fine since. Brian Duensing, Ryan Pressly and Anthony Swarzak made up the rest of the relief corps last season.
But Michael Tonkin has thrown six shutout innings, and Gardenhire wants some heat in his bullpen. And one of the starters out of options could be kept as a reliever if the Twins are worried about losing him on waivers. Someone who was a member of last year’s bullpen could be bumped out this year.
How about the bench?
Hicks is expected to start in center, so Presley would be the backup outfielder. Whoever backs up Suzuki will take the second bench spot. That leaves two spots. Eduardo Escobar is out of options and has played fairly well this spring. People are pulling for veteran Jason Bartlett for chemistry reasons, but he is 0-for-24 this spring. They could take the final two bench spots, if the coaching staff thinks they can fill in in the outfield once in a while.
But Herrmann is batting .500 (7-for-14) this spring. Chris Colabello is batting .393. They have deserved consideration. Chris Parmelee got off to a good start but is now down to .172. All three can play the outfield and first base.
The Twins brass is just starting to roll up their sleeves and figure out who gets the final handful of spots on the Opening Day roster. With 1½ weeks left in spring training, there’s plenty of time and plenty of work left to arrive at that consensus.
La Velle E. Neal III • firstname.lastname@example.org