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Having a little fun with the pitching staff

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Position Battles: The Hitters

Here we are, less than a week into full Twins spring training workouts. Games don’t even start for a couple of days. It’s time to start talking position battles, right? It appears to me that there are actually very few positions that are up for grabs at this stage of camp. Of course, as injuries mount through spring training, more position battles can spring up, but for now, there are a lot of givens on the roster.

Hitters: Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, Jamey Carroll, Ben Revere, Denard Span, Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe (10 out of 13 positions are accounted for).

Pitchers: Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Jason Marquis, Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing (9 out of 12 positions accounted for).

The biggest debate the last couple of days has been about the bullpen where one more job opened up with the loss of Joel Zumaya for the season. Let’s discuss that tomorrow. Let’s start today with the offensive (as in hitting!) side of the ball.

3rd Catcher

The favorite at this point for the third catcher spot has to be Drew Butera. What does he have going for him? Two years of experience catching Twins pitchers in front of the Twins coaching staff, good catch and throw guy and he’s still a pre-arbitration eligible guy meaning he will basically make league minimum.

The competition for the role comes from a couple of places, 28 year olds JR Towles and Rene Rivera. Towles was a big prospect in baseball and then hit .375 in 44 plate appearances in 2007. In 141 games spread over the past four years in Houston, he has hit .168/.251/.289. Of course, those numbers are better than Butera’s the last two years, but still not confidence-inducing. We got to see some of Rivera last year and realized that he is in the same category. No offense, solid defense guy.

Prediction: I think that Butera ‘wins’ that third catcher job because, frankly, there isn’t an option that is much better, if at all better. Also, he’s on the 40 man roster and the other two are not. Frankly, Danny Lehmann’s name should be in this mix because he is just as good as any of these guys, knows the Twins pitchers, and has the respect of all pitchers in the organization. Chris Herrmann is certainly the top prospect in the group, and he should begin the year in AA New Britain.

Attached Image: Butera.jpg

The Final TWO bench spots

The starting lineup for the Twins is pretty much set. There will be a third catcher, and Trevor Plouffe will be the fourth outfielder. That leaves two spots.

The favorites at this point are guys we saw in 2011. Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s debut season in the big leagues was pretty much a complete disaster. However, looking at the options for who could fill a utility role, he is the one that can play shortstop. He will have to play it (and 2B) better and also learn some 3B. He’ll also have to show an ability to hit. Although he’s a favorite, I don’t get the sense that he’s guaranteed a roster spot. If not for his shoulder injury, suffered while playing in the Australia Winter League, Luke Hughes would likely fit into the ‘given’ category. If he is healthy, I think he is a given. If he is not healthy, I think he goes on the Disabled List. I don’t think that the Twins should try to get Hughes through waivers because I think that he would be claimed and lost.

The Competition for those two roster spots come from a couple of different angles. Sean Burroughs is the guy most are talking about now. His story is quite well known. He spent most of the 2011 season pinch-hitting with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He can play the corner spots solidly but would likely not have the range to play up the middle. His left-handed bat also matters as other bench options in the infield bat right handed. Steve Pearce can also play both corner infield spots and maybe be serviceable in the corner outfield. With Trevor Plouffe being the fourth outfielder, it may not be a horrible idea for the Twins to have a more proven defensive outfielder as a late-inning option. The Twins would likely prefer to have Rene Tosoni get every day playing time in Rochester, but he is an option. Recently acquired Darin Mastroianni is also a possibility as a true backup outfielder.

Prediction: I believe that the Twins are likely to go with Nishioka and Hughes as the backups. Brian Dozier is probably the best infielder vying for a spot, but he hasn’t played above a half-season in AA and he’s got too much potential to waste on the bench. (That said, if he wins a starting spot, Jamey Carroll or Alexi Casilla could certainly move to the bench.) The same is true with Joe Benson in the outfield. He needs every day at bats. Chris Parmelee certainly enters the equation for a roster spot if Justin Morneau suffers any setbacks. I also believe that we will see plenty of Sean Burroughs on the Twins roster throughout the 2012 season.

We’ll be back tomorrow with much more on the bullpen options, of which there are plenty.

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