1. Molitor’s mark
This will be a season of change. Cosmetically, the $48.5 million renovation to CenturyLink Sports Complex is almost complete, giving it an entirely different look. On the field, Paul Molitor takes over for Ron Gardenhire as manager, and this camp will be Molitor’s time to change the look of a team that has lost at least 92 games four straight seasons. The biggest challenge will be to prove that a great player can become a great manager.
2. Fifth starter
The addition of free agent Ervin Santana has seemingly locked up four sports in the starting rotation — Phil Hughes, Santana, Kyle Gibson and Ricky Nolasco — and created a battle royale for the fifth spot. Trevor May got his feet wet last season. Tommy Milone is lefthanded and had off-season surgery on his neck. Mike Pelfrey is back after recovering from elbow surgery. Alex Meyer might have the most talent of the group but has no major league experience. Tim Stauffer is getting a chance to start although he’s had a better run as a reliever. Should be an interesting battle.
3. Aaron Hicks
It’s Year 3 of the when-will-Aaron Hicks-turn-it-on watch. And it might be his last chance to hold down center field before Lord Byron Buxton arrives. Hicks has the talent to be an above-average player, but the 25-year-old former first-round pick has failed to put it all together. If he can unlock his talent it would be a huge boost to a team needing stability in center field. If not, get ready for Jordan Schafer … or even Eddie Rosario because he’s on the depth chart, too. Hicks and Torii Hunter have practically been joined at the hip during informal workouts this week.
This is an area that needs improvement, so it will be worth watching how Molitor addresses the issue. Part of the problem stemmed from instability at shortstop, so Danny Santana needs to put his skills into action there. Too many balls fell in against the corner outfielders last season. Oswaldo Arcia, who is moving from right field to left, needs to focus on making the plays he should make. Hunter has to prove he’s better than the stats suggest, because they suggest he was the worst in the league in right field last season. They should, at least, be strong up the middle.
5. The kids are coming
The spring training roster includes perhaps the best collection of prospects the Twins have ever brought to Fort Myers. Buxton and Miguel Sano are potentially franchise-changing players. Righthanders Meyer and Jose Berrios could anchor the rotation of the near future. Eddie Rosario has a somewhat unorthodox swing but gets results. Can they push for jobs in this camp or, at least, show that an in-season call-up is not far-fetched? We’ll get better idea of what the timetable will be for these prospects in this camp.
La VELLE E. NEAL III