The vibe down here in Ft. Myers is that the pitching will definitely improve this year. Although Vance Worley's ugly outing on Tuesday may still be fresh in your mind, various coaches and media types have commented on how sharp guys like Phil Hughes, Mike Pelfrey and Ricky Nolasco have looked. Kyle Gibson and Samuel Deduno have both been cruising.
There's less confidence that this club is going to score enough runs.
Last year, the Twins tallied 614 runs to rank 13th in the American League. While they made large investments in the pitching staff during the offseason, their moves to address the offense amounted to getting rid of Justin Morneau ad Ryan Doumit -- who ranked second and third on the team in homers with 17 and 14 -- and bringing in a few rebound candidates on minor-league deals, along with light-hitting catcher Kurt Suzuki.
Losing the possibility of a midseason impact from Miguel Sano hurts.
In order to field a decent lineup, the Twins are counting on several players to either bounce back from down years (Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, Aaron Hicks) or take the next step (Trevor Plouffe, Oswaldo Arcia, Josmil Pinto).
That's not necessarily a reliable recipe for success. So let's get creative and take a look at some things the Twins could do to boost their offensive potential.
Dozier Back to Short?
It's been discussed before but can't be ignored. Brian Dozier played shortstop almost exclusively while coming up through the minors, and after a brief stint there in the majors in 2012, he was moved over to second base, where he has excelled.
Yet, the Twins have some second basemen coming up through the minors who can hit. Eddie Rosario will be back from his suspension in a couple months, and Jorge Polanco figures to start this season in High-A.
At shortstop, there's less to be enthused about going forward. Projected starter Pedro Florimon is essentially a lock to turn in an OPS around .600, and despite all the spring hype surrounding Danny Santana, he has a .712 career OPS in the minors and is erratic defensively.
How nice would it be to slide Dozier -- who led the club in homers with 18 last year -- over to short, and finally have an offensive threat at the position for the first time since J.J. Hardy's departure?
I asked Dozier about that possibility on Wednesday, and he insisted he's "extremely comfortable at second." However, he didn't say he'd rule out such an idea.
"Obviously if they (Gardenhire and Terry Ryan) came to me and wanted me to play another position I'd be all ears," he said. "But for now I'm strictly second."
Clearly Dozier would be a defensive downgrade from Florimon, and until Rosario is ready there's not even an obvious replacement available at second base. But it's a lot easier to find guys who can hit there than at shortstop, and from my view Dozier didn't look terrible defensively at short when he first came up.
Ultimately, the Twins might have to make some hard choices and figure out what they're willing to sacrifice to improve the offense.
Initially my thought was that if Josmil Pinto wasn't going to be the regular starter at catcher, the Twins would be best served sending him to Triple-A so he can get regular at-bats. Now, I'm starting to think that they'd be better off keeping him in the majors and finding a way to get his potent bat into the lineup as much as possible.
The best approach might be having Pinto start at catcher a couple times a week -- something like a 40/60 time share with Kurt Suzuki -- and having him fill in at DH against righties.
This would help out with another key objective:
Shielding Kubel From Lefties
Asked about how he's felt facing lefties this spring, Jason Kubel said it's "coming along." But you can't ignore the numbers; the 31-year-old has had a rough go against southpaws over the course of his career and it's been especially bad lately
The Twins will be best off maximizing Kubel's greatest strength -- hitting righties -- and minimizing his greatest weakness. Whether that means platooning him with Pinto or someone like Chris Colabello, it'd be nice to see Gardenhire find a workable solution.
Finding a Backup Infielder With a Stick
After starting his spring with a mind-boggling 0-for-26 slump, Jason Bartlett finally got his first hit on Wednesday. Clearly the veteran's inability to so much as sneak a grounder through the infield or drop in a bloop single over so many plate appearances was a bit of a fluke, but there's not much reason to believe his offensive struggles in general have been a mirage. This is a guy who sat out last year after hitting .241/.310/.317 from 2010 through 2012.
I didn't really expect the Twins to make any big offensive additions during the offseason but was disappointed that they didn't add an established bat to the infield mix. There will surely be some intriguing names hitting the waiver wire here as spring training winds down, and it won't be hard to find a guy with more punch than Bartlett.
As things stand, the Twins are heavily relying on Dozier and Plouffe to provide production in the infield, and if one should fail or get injured, there's not much to fall back on.
Signing Kendrys Morales
Over the last two seasons, Morales has hit 45 homers and driven in 153 runs. Willingham is the only player on the Twins roster who can match either of those numbers, and it's solely because of his big 2012 campaign.
I'm not convinced that Morales is worth giving up a draft pick to sign, but he's still sitting in free agency and would probably come pretty cheap.
What are your ideas to deliver a jolt to this lineup? Share in the comments section.