FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With the Twins set to play their first game of the spring on Thursday night against the University of Minnesota at Hammond Stadium before opening up Grapefruit League play against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park on Friday afternoon, the competition for roster spots is officially
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With the Twins set to play their first game of the spring on Thursday night against the University of Minnesota at Hammond Stadium before opening up Grapefruit League play against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park on Friday afternoon, the competition for roster spots is officially on.
Left-hander Stephen Gonsalves will start the exhibition game on Thursday, and right-hander Aaron Slegers will take the mound against Boston on Friday. But with the Twins acquiring Jake Odorizzi via a trade with the Rays and signing Anibal Sanchez to a one-year deal, neither prospect is expected to make the team, manager Paul Molitor said.
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Instead the competitions will be for the final spot in the rotation, with such candidates as Phil Hughes, Adalberto Mejia and Sanchez; the back end of the bullpen, with likely two spots open; the backup catcher role; and potentially a bench spot.
"There are guys [that] we feel have chances to surprise a little bit," Molitor said. "Maybe some names people aren't expecting. We'll be open-minded about how that goes."
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With that in mind, here's a look at a few dark horses who could make the Twins' Opening Day roster.
Catcher Bobby Wilson
Mitch Garver has the upper hand because he's on the 40-man roster and the Twins would like to see the 27-year-old win the job and prove he can be a quality backup after impressing in the Minors. But Garver's competition this spring will be Wilson, who is considered a strong defensive catcher and a leader. Wilson, who turns 35 on April 8, has played parts of eight seasons in the Majors but spent last year with Triple-A Oklahoma City in the Dodgers organization.
Outfielder Zack Granite
The Twins are expected to open with a four-man bench, with Eduardo Escobar, Robbie Grossman and Ehire Adrianza considered locks to make the club. Kennys Vargas is out of options and will have to earn his way onto the roster as a backup first baseman and designated hitter. But the Twins could go a different direction and go with Granite, who provides speed, defense and strong contact skills. Granite has upside and can play all three outfield positions. He's likely the 26th player on the roster, and his roster chances depend on how Vargas fares this spring, as it's his job to lose.
Left-hander Adalberto Mejia
Mejia surprisingly won a job out of Spring Training last year over Jose Berrios, and could do it again this year, but he would likely need Minnesota to open with a five-man rotation. Molitor has stated that he's leaning toward a four-man rotation to take advantage of early off-days, which would leave only one spot up for grabs. Mejia would compete against Hughes and Sanchez, as Hughes needs to show that he's healthy after rib surgery, while only $500,000 of Sanchez's $2.5 million deal is guaranteed.
Right-hander Tyler Kinley
The Twins will get a long look at Kinley -- a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Marlins -- this spring and give him a chance to make the bullpen. He has impressive stuff and threw 18 consecutive scoreless innings in the Dominican Winter League. Minnesota has bullpen depth after signing Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke and Addison Reed, but if Kinley impresses this spring, he could make the club. If he's not on the active roster, he would need to either be acquired in a trade with Miami or sent back.
Right-hander Jake Reed
Reed was left off the 40-man roster and wasn't selected in the Rule 5 Draft, but he is in camp and has strong Minor League numbers. He's allowed only six homers in 199 innings in the Minors, with 190 strikeouts and 66 walks, but he's dealt with injuries, including a shoulder strain last year that limited him to 38 innings.
Right-hander Michael Kohn
Kohn has a career 3.52 ERA in parts of five big league seasons, but he hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2015 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He tried out for the Twins last year based on a recommendation from his former Angels teammate Torii Hunter and posted a 1.38 ERA in 13 outings. If he's healthy, he could make a surprise bid to make the bullpen as a non-roster invitee.
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and **Facebook**.