La Velle E. Neal III's Twins Insider: There are reasons to gripe, but also for optimism

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2014 - 8:06 AM

That woeful rotation has been upgraded. Now as for that lineup …


The Twins are counting on veteran starters Mike Pelfrey (37) and Ricky Nolasco to help stabilize a rotation that was horrendous in 2013.

Photo: Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

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– There’s a right way and a wrong way to gripe about the 2014 Twins roster.

The wrong way is to become violently ill over the addition of Jason Bartlett, a career shortstop recast as a super utility player after a year and a half away from the game. Sure, he’s batting .098 this spring after going 1-for-5 Friday, but most utility players can’t hit. If they could, they would be starters. This is the year you give Bartlett a chance to make a comeback. He’s the 25th player on the roster.

This is also the year that you give someone like Can-Am League veteran Chris Colabello a chance, too. His swing might be geared for the opposite field, but he’s 30 years old and tore up the International League last season. Fire him out there against lefthanded pitching and in late-game situations and see what he does.

For a team that would consider .500 to be quite an achievement this season, bringing back Bartlett and giving Colabello a shot are reasonable moves.

Here are some other observations on the roster as the Twins prepare for their 54th season in Minnesota.

1. The pitching staff should be reliable

It might not challenge for the American League ERA title, but the upgrades in the starting pitching — and the addition of Samuel Deduno to the bullpen — could keep the Twins in more games. The Twins were fifth in the AL and 14th in baseball with a bullpen ERA of 3.50 last season, and that was despite leading all bullpens with 579⅓ innings, 24 more than the next club.

Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Kyle Gibson open the season in the rotation and are an upgrade from last season. Deduno can enter the rotation if needed. Alex Meyer is on simmer at Class AAA Rochester. Not only are they better now, their potential replacements are better than last year’s (Liam Hendriks, Pedro Hernandez). The bullpen won’t be overworked.

“The way guys are going right now,” Hughes said, “we have a chance to be pretty good.”

What you can gripe about: Deduno not being in the rotation. The Twins believed he was a better fit for the bullpen because of his recent shoulder surgery and history for breaking down. But the man has put up a 1.76 ERA this spring and might have been the most talented starter on the team last season. And Michael Tonkin pitched very well this spring — sometimes hitting 96 miles per hour on the radar gun — but he’s starting the season at Class AAA Rochester.

2. There’s definitely good and not-so-good about the defense

They will be strong up the middle. Suzuki is not a star but is a steady catcher. Shortstop Pedro Florimon and second baseman Brian Dozier ranked among the best defensive players at their positions for most of last season. Hicks covers the ground any way you want it in center field. He needs to hit the relay man more, though. You want the spine of your defense to be strong, and the Twins have that.

Florimon got a late start to spring because of appendicitis and is still trying to find his swing at the plate. But he looks smooth in the field.

“When Florimon is out there, our infield looks pretty good,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.

What you can gripe about: Trevor Plouffe will miss the occasional grounder at third, but his glove would look better if he hit more balls over the fence. Josh Willingham doesn’t have a lot of range in left field, but his bat is vital to this offense, so he should start at designated hitter frequently this year.

3. The offense is under construction

The Twins were shut out for the first time this spring in Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Red Sox — but they have been held to one run eight times. They are batting .229 with runners in scoring position. Their 13 homers are tied for last in baseball. They have let rallies die, like twice Friday when they got the first two batters in the fourth and fifth innings on base but failed to score them. Willingham is batting .049, and observers have noted how he looks baffled. Jason Kubel is batting .186 but said he feels good at the plate. Oswaldo Arcia is batting .234 and has struck out a ton, again. Where do you bat Joe Mauer?

Gardenhire is going to be challenged to come up with a consistent lineup.

“Yeah, we’ve tried a lot of different lineups,” he said. “But ultimately it gets down to having a bunch of different guys together all hitting, when they’re doing that, then you’re going to say, ‘Wow, this worked.’ If we get on a hot roll here, which I hope we do right out of the chute, you guys won’t even talk about it, who’s hitting first or second.”

What you can gripe about: That time machines don’t exist, or we could leap forward a year, when Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario are being called up to boost the offense.


La Velle E. Neal III •

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@Ballpark Replay
Preview | Matchup | Lineup | Log | Wrap | Box
W:W.Chen(14-4) L:R.Nolasco(5-10) S:Z.Britton (31)
HR: MIN- T.Plouffe (12), D.Santana (7) BAL- J.Hardy (9), N.Cruz (35), R.Flaherty (6)


NY Yankees - LP: B. McCarthy 3 FINAL
Toronto - WP: J. Happ 4
Philadelphia - LP: A. Burnett 5 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: D. Gee 6
Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: J. Hughes 2
Minnesota - LP: R. Nolasco 8 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: W. Chen 12
Boston - WP: C. Buchholz 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: A. Cobb 0
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Quintana 6
Texas - LP: N. Cotts 2 FINAL
Houston - WP: J. Veras 3
Chicago Cubs - LP: C. Villanueva 6 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: P. Neshek 9
Oakland - LP: S. Kazmir 1 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: M. Shoemaker 8
Milwaukee - LP: K. Lohse 5 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 15
Los Angeles - WP: H. Ryu 7 FINAL
San Diego - LP: E. Stults 1
Washington - LP: T. Roark 3 FINAL
Seattle - WP: H. Iwakuma 5
Colorado - LP: J. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
Arizona - WP: C. Anderson 6
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 0 FINAL
Atlanta - WP: A. Wood 1
Cleveland 4 Suspended
Kansas City 2
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 FINAL
(13) LSU 28
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 13 FINAL
(3) Oregon 62
(25) Washington 17 FINAL
Hawaii 16
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Red Bull New York 0 FINAL
D.C. 2
Los Angeles 3 FINAL
Chivas USA 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 30 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Toronto 12:00 PM
Edmonton 3:30 PM
Phoenix 77 FINAL
Minnesota 82
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