Twins' questions come down to position competition
Battles in the rotation, at short and in center field will be settled at camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Spring Training is finally here, as Twins pitchers and catchers are ready to descend upon the club's renovated CenturyLink Sports Complex on Sunday, with the first workouts set for Monday.
Just like renovated Hammond Stadium, it'll be a blend of old and new at camp, as St. Paul native and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor is the new manager. He leads a coaching staff that includes some familiar names, such as hitting coach Tom Brunansky, bench coach Joe Vavra and bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, but also includes some new to the organization, such as pitching coach Neil Allen and first-base coach Butch Davis.
It's also a homecoming for Torii Hunter, who joined the club this offseason on a one-year deal worth $10.5 million and is reunited with Molitor, who was his former teammate in Minnesota. But Hunter wasn't the only big signing for the Twins this offseason, as they inked right-hander Ervin Santana to a four-year deal worth $55 million to bolster the rotation.
Hunter and Santana will be counted on as veterans to help a young roster that saw players such as Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas break into the Majors with great success last year. Minnesota believes it is heading in the right direction with more top prospects on the way, but the division has gotten tougher this year.
So the Twins have plenty to resolve this Spring Training before Opening Day in Detroit on April 6, and here's a look at three questions that must be answered this camp:
1. Who will win the competition for the final spot in the rotation?
The first four spots in the rotation seem set with Phil Hughes, Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Kyle Gibson, leaving one spot open for veterans such as Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey and Tim Stauffer, as well as top prospects such as Trevor May, Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios. Milone is the favorite and the lone left-hander in that group, but the Twins want to get a look at all their options, as it's the first time Allen will get a chance to look at the staff in his new role as pitching coach.
2. Who will be the starting shortstop come Opening Day?
One of the first decisions Molitor made this offseason was to move Santana back to his natural position of shortstop after his breakout rookie year that saw him play mostly out of position in center field. It creates a competition at shortstop, as Eduardo Escobar was solid last season, but he now could be looking at a utility role if Santana wins the job. Santana is the front-runner, but both will get their chances this spring.
3. How will the situation in center field be resolved?
With Santana moving back to shortstop, it leaves a hole in center field, and the Twins decided not to go after a center fielder via free agency or trade this offseason. Instead, Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer will compete for the starting job in center field, along with non-roster invitee Shane Robinson. Hicks is the favorite, but Minnesota could decide to employ a platoon of sorts to allow the left-handed-hitting Schafer to start against select right-handers. Byron Buxton, ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect by MLB.com, is also in camp, but he is likely to start the year at Double-A Chattanooga after his injury-plagued 2014 campaign.