Inbox: Will Duffey start 2016 in Triple-A?

Twins beat reporter Rhett Bollinger answers fans' questions

February 17th, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS -- Several teams already have reported to Spring Training, but Twins pitchers and catchers don't report until Sunday, with the first workouts set for Monday at the CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Fla.

The offseason is all but wrapped up, so now it's time for the final Twins Inbox before Spring Training begins:

With the way he pitched late last year, is there really any chance Tyler Duffey starts out at Triple-A Rochester? What else does he need to prove?

-- Dave M., St. Cloud, Minn.

It's going to be one of the more interesting position battles at camp, as Duffey certainly pitched well enough down the stretch to merit a spot in the rotation this year, but he's competing against veterans with larger contracts, such as Ricky Nolasco and Tommy Milone. Nolasco is owed $25 million over the next two years, while Milone is set to earn $4.5 million after his second year of arbitration.

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So when I wrote as part of the Spring Training preview that Nolasco and Milone have a leg up for the last two spots after Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, it's because if they pitch similarly to Duffey in spring they have the advantage because of their contract situations. But it will be a legitimate competition, and if Milone or Nolasco falter, it would definitely open the door for Duffey and potentially even Trevor May. But May still appears more likely to give the back end of the bullpen a much-needed power arm. And top prospect Jose Berrios likely is ticketed for Triple-A Rochester, barring an exceptional spring or an unforeseen injury to a starting pitcher.

After reading the stories about Joe Mauer's vision problems after his concussion, my question is why didn't he tell the coaches or trainers the last two years?

-- Mark S., Detroit Lakes, Minn.

It's a great question and really only one that Mauer can answer. It's hard to say how often Mauer was affected by vision problems during day games the last two years after his season-ending concussion in 2013.

If it really was a consistent problem, Mauer should've told the training staff, especially if he believed it was hurting his production. The numbers have obviously declined the last two years, and this could be a reason why. That's why I'm so curious to see how Mauer does this spring with so many day games and Mauer's plan to wear sunglasses at the plate. It's something to monitor going forward. If it can help Mauer regain some offensive production, it would be a major boost for the Twins.

A lot has been said about the farm system, for obvious reasons. Jorge Polanco had a good year last year. Even though Danny Santana is out of options, what are Polanco's chances of making the team at shortstop?

-- Ross D., Vermillion, S.D.

At this point, Eduardo Escobar will be the starting shortstop after his impressive second half last year, and I don't see a situation where Polanco makes the roster over Santana. Polanco, 22, is's No. 97 overall prospect and needs consistent playing time, so it makes more sense for Santana to be a utility player instead of Polanco.

Polanco has the tools to be an above-average hitter for a middle infielder with plus-speed, but he still needs to work on his defense at shortstop. He's made strides, but there's no guarantee he can stick there, because there are question marks about his arm. He's probably best suited for second base, but with Brian Dozier there, the Twins will have an interesting decision coming up to decide what to do with Polanco going forward.

After watching him struggle with the Twins last year, I worried about Byron Buxton's potential. But after seeing where he's ranked on prospect lists, is it too early to panic after last season?

-- Brian F., Woodbury, Minn.

Despite his low offensive numbers in his first taste of the Majors, Buxton is still ranked as the No. 2 overall prospect by just about every publication, including So it's definitely way too early to panic.

The tools are all there, as he remains one of the fastest players in baseball and is already a plus-defender with a strong arm in center field. The biggest question is how he hits going forward. Based on his Minor League track record, which included a propensity to struggle early on at each level, Buxton should develop into a strong hitter who will grow into some power. Buxton is an incredibly hard worker and is fully dedicated to reaching his potential. But he has to stay healthy, which has been perhaps more of a concern than even his struggles at the plate last year.