FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Randy Dobnak knew that he didn't have the best command as he came off the mound in the fourth inning of Monday's 3-0 loss to the Cardinals at Hammond Stadium.
All the same, he almost certainly finished the day with a better shot of cracking the Opening Day roster than he did when he woke up, because left-hander Lewis Thorpe was a surprising inclusion among the Twins' first round of cuts from Spring Training, as announced by the club after Monday’s game.
Along with Thorpe, the Twins also optioned infielders Nick Gordon and Travis Blankenhorn; outfielder Gilberto Celestino; and pitchers Jorge Alcala, Dakota Chalmers and Jhoan Duran to Minor League camp in a big exodus of top talent. All seven prospects are on the 40-man roster and listed among MLB Pipeline's top 30 in the organization.
There are 55 active players remaining on the Major League side, including all 24 non-roster invitees.
"Schedule-wise, this is the time when those guys are going to go to the Minor League side," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "These are the types of moves that are foreseen on our end, and we couldn’t have asked for more from those guys. They handled their camp very well."
That move for Thorpe, though, likely wasn't foreseen until recently, as the left-hander required a personal leave of absence from camp for more than a week, which put him behind schedule and likely unable to properly ramp up before Opening Day.
A matter of months ago, it would have been difficult to imagine Thorpe, the club's No. 10 prospect, not being in camp until the end as he was one of the presumed favorites to claim the temporary opening in the starting rotation, which will exist until Michael Pineda is eligible to return from suspension in mid-May. But now, that door appears to be closed, and his exit from the competition leaves only Devin Smeltzer, Jhoulys Chacín and Dobnak to vie for the opening.
Thorpe's relatively complete arsenal and offspeed options have propped up his prospect pedigree throughout his Minor League career, and despite his 6.18 ERA in 27 2/3 innings with the big league club last season, the quality of the left-hander's stuff could make him the most projectable prospect among the Twins' current crop of young options.
That future just won't begin immediately.
"I can't say he was excited about it, but I think he was understanding," Baldelli said. "What we are asking him to do has been very well laid out for him, and now he has to go and follow through and do it. We know the ability that he has. We know that he's not [just] close to being a big leaguer -- he's a guy that can pitch in the big leagues and do it well. He just has to prepare for his season and make sure he's ready once the bell rings."
That could leave a tight battle in camp for the final rotation spot between Dobnak and Chacín as Smeltzer continues to improve the new slider that he first introduced to his arsenal earlier this spring, which has led to 18 hits and 12 runs (nine earned) off the southpaw in 9 1/3 innings in Grapefruit League play.
The spring stats pointed to Dobnak being a possible front-runner due to his dominant spring, and even as he struggled a bit for the first time Monday, he still escaped with only two runs allowed on three hits, giving him three runs allowed in 10 innings of Grapefruit League action.
But breaking camp with Chacín (six runs allowed in eight innings) could be the only way for the Twins to keep the veteran and his playoff experience in the organization and tap into any possible upside, especially since Dobnak has all three remaining Minor League options, which could leave the younger righty fighting an uphill battle -- something he has done quite well so far.
As much as this battle has dominated roster talk all spring, it could very well be a short-term assignment, anyway -- and the young pitchers do understand that.
"There are different ways we can use our guys," Baldelli said. "Our guys seemingly understand the fact that we will use guys in different ways. We are going to try to take advantage of different guys' strengths, and that could mean different things depending on where we are in the season or depending on who we are playing."
"I think we'll all help out at some point in the season," Dobnak added. "Whoever wins that spot obviously deserves it. I'm competing for a spot, but I'm not, like, stressing over it. I'm not the one that makes the decision, so I'm just going to get out there and do what I do, and if they like me, they'll take me. If they don't, I'll see them sometime during the year, probably. Hopefully."