FORT MYERS, Fla. – There's a difference between reporting to camp after an 85-win season and reporting after losing 103 games.
Brian Dozier can attest to that.
"It's a different feeling, coming into spring training and expecting to be one of the best teams in baseball," the Twins second baseman said. "That's a good feeling. I hadn't felt that."
Manager Paul Molitor understands why his players feel that way. His job is to guard against them getting too comfortable as they attempt to sustain success.
As the Twins opened Grapefruit League play with a 4-3 loss to Boston on Friday, they began evaluating candidates for available spots on a roster that can help get them back to the postseason.
The Twins opened eyes in 2015 by going 83-79 and staying in the wild-card picture until the final weekend of the regular season. But their confidence going into 2016 got them 59 victories and a club-record 103 losses for the season.
Molitor hasn't forgotten that as he approaches this camp.
"You can at least feel some of that [confidence] coming in here as opposed to last spring," Molitor said. "There's a little difference to that, which is fine to me. But I'm always a little bit cautious on letting it get to where it is too comfortable too. So I think you have to keep your edge."
Friday, Molitor spent most of the morning at the CenturyLink Sports Complex while the Twins traveling squad headed across town to Boston's JetBlue Park to play the Red Sox. Molitor made sure drills were explained and executed properly before heading to JetBlue to catch the final round of pregame batting practice.
Now that the games have started, Molitor and the coaching staff will look to keep the team in line while monitoring several position battles and other issues, including:
On Thursday night, lefthander Stephen Gonsalves was shaky for two innings against the Gophers. On Friday, righthander Aaron Slegers tossed two scoreless innings with one walk and two strikeouts against Boston but wished he had better control.
"I'm just trying to grow and get better every single time out," Slegers said. "In the long run, that'll hopefully work out."
Both pitchers are looking to open eyes in camp but are long shots to make the rotation.
The Twins need a fifth starter only once through April 23, so they can get by with four starters. But All-Star Ervin Santana is recovering from finger surgery. Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson should be locks for the rotation, with fellow righthanders Phil Hughes and Anibal Sanchez, lefthander Adalberto Mejia plus the youngsters in contention.
When Santana returns, and the Twins need a fifth starter, everyone slides back a spot in the order.
There's not a lot of room at the inn. Fernando Rodney will close. Addison Reed will be the primary setup man, with help from lefthander Taylor Rogers and righthander Trevor Hildenberger. Veteran lefty Zach Duke will help with matchups and righthander Ryan Pressly is back for his sixth season.
Tyler Duffey is being stretched out to start but could land in the bullpen as a long reliever. Tyler Kinley is a Rule 5 pick who must stay on the major league roster all season or be offered back to the Miami Marlins.
That's eight relievers. If the Twins open with four starters, that fills out a 12-man staff. Righthander John Curtiss or lefthander Gabriel Moya could get a chance if someone falters or the Twins decide to open the season with 13 pitchers.
"There are guys we feel we have chances to surprise a little bit," Molitor said. "Maybe some names people aren't expecting. We'll be open-minded about that."
Major League Baseball continues to investigate an allegation that Miguel Sano assaulted a female photographer in 2015, and the Twins All-Star third baseman has yet to be interviewed. There are no indications as to when MLB will interview Sano or announce any punishment. Until then, the Twins continue to brace for an announcement.
Also, Sano was unable to get in shape during the offseason because of surgery to treat a stress reaction in his left shin. He looks as heavy as he did before he was injured, and he will be held out of games early on to work on his conditioning.
The Twins have set things up for prospect Mitch Garver to take over backup catching duties this season. Garver has a decent bat and has worked on his defense as he's risen through the farm system. If Garver, 27, is unable to prove that he can handle the role, look for someone such as Bobby Wilson, a minor league invite to camp who caught Santana's no-hitter with the Angels in 2011.
Molitor, his staff and the front office will monitor these and other developments as spring training heads into its first weekend of games. Molitor's other task is to make sure his team is prepared and sharp when they open the season at Baltimore on March 29.
"I'm not going to have any false rage or anything," Molitor said, "but I have tried to watch really, really closely with purpose when we do stuff."