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With Molitor at the helm, Twins begin new era

Optimism surrounds club, which brings young roster into camp

MINNEAPOLIS -- With Hall of Famer Paul Molitor hired as manager, along with one of the game's youngest rosters and more top prospects on the way, the Twins are ready to start a new era in 2015.

After four straight years with at least 92 losses, the Twins aren't expected to compete for the American League Central crown just yet, but things are starting to trend in the right direction for the organization. The Twins had a productive offseason, hiring Molitor to replace Ron Gardenhire, while also filling out the rest of the coaching staff and adding veterans Torii Hunter, Ervin Santana and Tim Stauffer via free agency.

There's more optimism surrounding the club than in recent years, but the rest of the AL Central also got tougher, as it figures to be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball. But Twins general manager Terry Ryan is satisfied with the current roster and noted the club has no major health concerns heading into the season.

"We're optimistic," Ryan said. "We're in good shape around the diamond and have some choices on the mound. I think we have the ability to generate runs and we have good speed. And I think we're going to improve defensively. Now it's just a matter of sorting it all out. We're in a decent place heading into camp."

One of the club's major goals this offseason was to bolster the rotation after Twins starters finished with the worst ERA in the Majors last season. It did just that by signing Santana to a four-year, $55 million deal, which also gives the club some depth in its rotation, as the Twins have several candidates for the fifth-starter's spot, including Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey, Trevor May, Alex Meyer and Stauffer.

"I think that was one of the main objectives we tried to accomplish: to create competition for openings," Ryan said. "Now it's just about who is going to step up. We have numbers."

Other open competitions this spring will be at shortstop, center field and at backup catcher. Danny Santana, who impressed as a rookie, will be moving from center field back to his native shortstop position to compete with Eduardo Escobar. It leaves Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer to compete for the job in center field. The Twins also have to find someone to back up catcher Kurt Suzuki, but Josmil Pinto remains the heavy favorite.

"I don't think there's any questions those are the main areas we're looking at," Ryan said. "Center field, first and foremost, we need to settle. And then shortstop we'll get a good look as well."

Offense doesn't figure to be as much of a worry for the Twins after they finished seventh in the Majors in runs scored last year despite a down year from Joe Mauer in his first season at first base. But Ryan was quick to caution that despite having a young roster, it's hard to predict everyone will continue to make strides offensively and improve this year, even if the offense still figures to be one of the club's strong suits moving forward.

"I think you have to be careful, because not everybody is going to take a step forward," Ryan said. "[Danny] Santana and [Kennys] Vargas had good starts to their careers. But you're looking for guys to take another step forward, like [Oswaldo] Arcia, [Trevor] Plouffe and [Brian] Dozier. And obviously, we're looking for Torii Hunter to do what he's done. But you can't fall into that trap that everyone is going to improve. But most of these guys are at the point in their career where they should be moving forward and getting better and getting experience."

Video: Bollinger on biggest questions going into spring

Pitchers and catchers report

Full squad reports
Feb. 27

First Spring Training game
Home vs. Red Sox, March 5, 6:05 p.m. CT

Opening Day
Away vs. Tigers, April 6, 12:08 p.m. CT

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.
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