La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Seven Twins players worth watching closely in camp

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: February 17, 2012 - 11:11 AM


These are NOT my picks to make the team out of camp. This is a list of players who, for various reasons, are worth keeping an eye on during camp.


1. Justin Morneau. The question is being asked everywhere. La Velle, do you think Morneau can make it all the way back from his concussion? And I have no idea. I've been waiting for camp to open so I can watch him work out, go through drills and hopefully play in a bunch of games. We won't know where Morneau is at until he gets back into the daily grind of camp. It seems as if each concussion is on its own timetable and we have to see how the next several weeks go for him. How will he react, for instance, to pitches thrown close to him? Will he dive for balls and slide into second hard. Will we hear about plans to DH him a lot in 2012?

2. Trevor Plouffe. It took 337 games at Class AAA Rochester and a few dozen in the majors for the Twins to determine that Plouffee is not a shortstop and will try him in the outfield. While I'm still wondering why he didn't play winter ball to work on the transition, I'm not going to get too deep into that now. I'm very interested to see how this move works. There are many cases in which players have switched positions and flourished. I covered Mike Sweeney with the Royals and as soon as they moved him to first, he stopped worrying about defense and started mashing. Carlos Delgado? Former catcher. Craig Biggio? Former catcher. More recently, Alex Gordon has moved from third to the outfield and is starting to hit. Plouffe had a 1.019 OPS in 51 games (15 homers) at Rochester last year. He's gained a few pounds of muscle in anticipation of playing outfield. This could turn out nicely.

3. Jared Burton. This righthander has been severely hampered by shoulder problems the past two seasons. But he, apparently, is healthy now and could be a sleeper in the bullpen battle. His fastball averaged 92.4 miles an hour in 2007 but dipped to 90 and 90.7 the past two seasons. But I was told by scouts at the winter meetings that Burton, when healthy, can throw a little harder than 90 miles an hour, and could be a nice pickup for the Twins. So I want to see what a healthy Jared Burton can do in camp.

4. Tsuyoshi Nishioka. What to do with Nishi? Is he a pinch hitter? No. Is he a late-inning defensive replacement? No. Then how in the heck can he make the team as a utility player? Unless there's an injury, the Twins have to send him to Rochester to start the season, right? The only way I can see Nishi make the team is if there's an injury or he's 10 times the player he was last year. Nishi has reported early and is working out on the back fields here. Will he be more comfortable his second year here? Was the broken leg that massive of a setback? Will he fare better against pitchers he's seen before. It will be very interesting to see Nishi in camp this year - and how much the coaching staff pays attention to him.

5. Jamey Carroll. O.K., I'm not trying to hate on Carroll because he's old-er. But he's going to be 38 years old playing shortstop in the majors. The sad thing: He's probably is an upgrade over last year. The Dodgers didn't think of him as an everyday shortstop, but Gardy apparently has Carroll starting at short, batting second. If Carroll can play short, how come has he played 554 at second and 225 games at third but 224 games at short? The Twins want someone who can make the plays, and Carroll apparently can. In fact, in those 224 career games at short, he's made 10 errors. Not bad. So he's sure-handed. Does he have the range? And does he have Ponce de Leon's cell phone number?

6. Brian Dozier. I saw Brian Dozier play for Class A Fort Myers as a second baseman. Somewhere along the way, he's become a shortstop. I spoke with Class AA New Britain manager Jeff Smith here on Wednesday, and he swears that Dozier is a legitimate shortstop with enough range and arm. That's good. Because, between Fort Myers and New Britain last season, Dozier had 54 extra base hits, 24 stolen bases and a .399 on base percentage. His career OBP in the minors is .382, which means he could be a table-setter type. The Brian Dozier era could begin next season - maybe later this season - so he's worth checking out this spring. He'll be wearing No. 77. And I like the fact that a solid clubhouse guy like Carroll is around to mentor Dozier.

7. Francisco Liriano. Frankie, the future of the rotation rides on your gifted left  arm. You have the stuff to be the ace of this staff and shut down opponents all over the league. But you go from being Frankie Fastball to Frankie Flustered so quickly. Did you find your mojo in winter ball? Will you be sharp in camp and carry it into the regular season? Are you ready to raise your stock in your contract year? A lot is riding on this season Frankie. If you can pitch like you did two years ago, you could set the tone for the rest of the rotation, keep the bullpen out of games in the fifth inning and actually make being more than a .500 team possible. Are you ready to fight for your career, Frankie? What say you, Frankie? What say you?

 Others: Scott Baker (coming back from elbow problems), Danny Valencia (is he older AND wiser?) and Matt Capps (will he prove he can close effectively?)

ADVERTISEMENT

more twins blogs

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT