Inbox: What will be spring's biggest battles?
Beat reporter Rhett Bollinger answers questions from Twins fans
Spring Training is only a few days away, as Twins pitchers and catchers are set to report to the club's complex in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday, with the first workouts set for Monday. Position players report on Feb. 21, with the first full workouts slated for the following day before Grapefruit League play opens on Feb. 28 against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park.
This means that the offseason is just about over, and it was a busy one for the Twins early with the signings of Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kurt Suzuki and Mike Pelfrey, but the club didn't make any major moves after the new year.
So here's the final Inbox of the offseason. Look for more during Spring Training and the season.
What do you see as the biggest position battles in Spring Training?
-- John L., Roseville, Minn.
The competition for the fifth spot in the rotation should be very interesting, with Samuel Deduno, Vance Worley and Scott Diamond all in the mix. All three are out of Minor League options, which makes the decision even trickier.
Deduno is the front-runner because he had the most success last season, but he is also coming off the shoulder surgery he underwent in late September and has to prove that he's healthy. If he claims that final spot, the Twins will have to decide what to do with Diamond and Worley, as one or both could be shifted to the bullpen to avoid having to be placed on waivers before being sent to the Minors.
Center field is also up for grabs, with Alex Presley the leading candidate to be the Opening Day starter, but Presley will be pushed by Aaron Hicks, who struggled as a rookie last season but had an incredible showing in Spring Training.
Presley, acquired from Pittsburgh in the Justin Morneau trade, is also out of options, so he's likely to make the roster even if Hicks has another impressive showing in camp and wins the center-field job. But Hicks is more likely to get more seasoning at Triple-A Rochester considering his offensive woes last season.
How do you see the catcher situation working out? Will Josmil Pinto break camp with the Twins, or will he start in Triple-A?
-- Thomas O., Edina, Minn.
The Twins have a tough decision to make, as it's evident that Pinto still needs work defensively, but he is also the best option offensively.
The veteran Suzuki, who was signed to a one-year deal this offseason, will be the primary catcher, but his backup is up in the air.
The Twins could use the 24-year-old Pinto as the backup, but he needs as many reps as possible defensively, so in some ways it makes more sense for him to play every day at Rochester, even if his bat is Major League-ready. So there's a good chance the Twins could send him to Rochester to work on his defense while using Chris Herrmann or Eric Fryer as Suzuki's backup.
Either way, Pinto is considered the club's catcher of the future, but it'll be interesting to see how the Twins handle the situation.
I see that Miguel Sano reported to camp a couple weeks early and is looking in great shape and ready to go. It isn't expected that he will make the Opening Day roster, but when he does reach the Majors, is there any consideration given to having Trevor Plouffe move to his natural shortstop position, with Sano taking over at third base? That would give the Twins a little more pop and run-production potential in their lineup while admittedly giving up some defensive skill that Pedro Florimon provides.
-- Dave M., Rochester, Minn.
Once Sano is ready for the big leagues, which is likely to be this summer if his sprained elbow holds up and he proves he can handle Triple-A pitching, the Twins will have to decide what to do with Plouffe.
But I don't think that Plouffe will move back to shortstop, because of his struggles there defensively in the past, and the fact that he's added about 10 pounds to his frame this offseason. It's much more likely Plouffe would be used in a super-utility role, the way he was at the start of 2012, with time in the outfield and both corner infield positions, and as designated hitter.
It will be a big year for Plouffe, who has shown flashes of potential, especially with his power, but still hasn't fully put it together.
Florimon, though, has a lot to prove, too, as he's clearly a strong defender at shortstop but needs to add more with his bat. Plouffe has Sano to push him, but right now Florimon's main competition is Eduardo Escobar, who has had his fair share of struggles offensively as well, and the veteran Jason Bartlett, who hasn't played in a big league game since May 2012.
Why do the Twins consistently keep their best prospects in the Minors when they are tearing it up all year? Whatever happened to great players playing in the Majors when they were 18, 20 years old? I just am frustrated when you see Byron Buxton and Sano in the Minors when they could get great experience playing in the Majors, especially when they are better than what we have now.
-- Jason J., Buffalo, Minn.
The Twins have been known to be conservative with their prospects, making sure they get ample time in the Minors before they get the call to the Majors.
But in this case, the Twins are doing the right thing by not rushing Buxton and Sano to the Majors, as neither is quite ready yet.
Buxton, 20 and baseball's top prospect as ranked by MLB.com, dominated in the Minors last season but has yet to even reach Double-A, and he didn't exactly light the Arizona Fall League on fire, hitting .212/.288/.404 against better pitching. So although he projects to be a superstar, he needs at least another year in the Minors.
Sano, who is also 20, still needs work defensively, as he made 42 errors in 2012 but cut that number to 23 in 2013. He did reach Double-A, but he also hit .236/.344/.571 there and struck out 81 times in just 233 at-bats.
So although it's easy to understand why fans want to see these top prospects in the Majors, it's rare for a player to make an impact as a 20-year-old, as only a few as young superstars, such as Mike Trout and Manny Machado, are outliers.
Who is going to coach first and third base this season?
-- Mike B., Sioux Falls, S.D.
That will remain unchanged from 2013, with Scott Ullger the first-base coach and Joe Vavra at third. The big change is the addition of Paul Molitor to the staff; he'll work with the infielders and with baserunning.
Molitor is also working with the club's advanced stats and video department to get information for implementing more infield shifts this season. It's a change for the Twins, who have been reluctant to use shifts in the past, but many clubs are starting to implement them more and more, so the Twins are joining that movement.