Perhaps it's my overactive optimism gland, but it seems like the Twins have more depth than they've had since the 60s. I wasn't so sure about this until this point in Spring Training, but after watching some of the guys who likely will start the year at Rochester, I now feel comfortable with the depth. At every position, the Twins could at least ride out a 15-day DL stint by the starter or back-up and play .500 ball. And in some cases, a sustained injury would not affect the team all that much. What follows is a position-by-position review of the depth the Twins have shown this spring.
C: This is one of the positions where it will hurt if the starter goes down. Not because of the quality of the depth, but because Joe Mauer is not only the best player on the team, he players the most important position on the field. But Chris Heintz would be a capable back-up on a lot of teams and could get the Twins through the crisis reasonably well with Mike Redmond moving into the starting role in Mauer's absence. Heintz was the surprise of September last year. We were surprised he was called up in the first place (over Rob Bowen), and we were even more surprised when he played well when asked. Still, some speculated that Shawn Wooten would be the Twin's third catcher coming out of camp this year, and Heintz's play has put that speculation to rest. He seems to get a hit practically every time he's up there and he's doing the little things that attract my attention more than raw stats.
1B: A lot of people expected Garrett Jones to have a similar season at Rochester in 2005 as he had at New Britain in 2004, when he was awesome. Then again, a lot of people expected Justin Morneau to continue to rake in 2005 like he did in 2004. Well, suffice it to say, they both had disappointing years--comparably disappointing years. But Jones seemed to get his confidence up in the AFL last fall and he's carried that over to spring training. He's made the most of his occasional opportunities at first, driving the ball frequently into the right-center gap. More importantly, he's not striking out as much, and, like Morneau, he's staying on the breaking ball. Could it be Joe Vavra's influence? Anyway, while Morneau's having a great spring, Jones is quietly having a very good spring as well. I think the Twins could weather a stint on the DL by Morneau with Jones filling in.
2B: This could be the Twins deepest position, and good thing, because Luis Castillo has shown that it's hard to run with ice packs strapped to your legs. Luis Rodriguez seems to have multihit games every time he has a chance to play, which makes his long at bats all the more satisfying. And perhaps doing drills next to Castillo has elevated his defense because he looks very good there as well. And Luis Maza has shown this spring what his minor league numbers have always demonstrated: He's a very good hitter with surprising power, and a slick fielder. Both reserve second basemen have had good springs, but will probably end up in Rochester despite that fact, barring further injury to Castillo. They'll be just a phone call away as the likely middle infield tandem in Rochester, with L-Rod moving over to short.
3B: Tony Batista has never been injured, but just in case he does get injured, Terry Tiffee is showing this spring that he has corrected his swing and can drive the ball with regularity and authority. The Twins won't hesitate to call him up in the unlikely event of a Batista injury. Glenn Williams, on the other hand, is having a disappointing spring and will have to climb back over Tiffee if he hopes to get a chance to extend his hitting streak.
SS: The most surprising battle in spring training will not result in either player going to Rochester. Most likely, both Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto will stay on the roster. And both will play a good deal at short. But most analysts assumed that Bartlett would win the everyday job handily. In any other spring, he would have the job by now, but Punto will not surrender the job without a fight. Bartlett is the more gifted player, but Punto has a bit higher intensity. Punto will probably end up on the bench if for no other reason than he is versatile and Bartlett is not. Either way, the Twins have to be happy with the fact that both shortstop candidates have had very good springs, washing away memories of the years when nobody was there to even push Cristian Guzman.
LF: The scariest injury in camp is Shannon Stewart's bad left heal. Considering that he had planter faciitis in his right foot in 2004, and these things usually start as sore heals, the Twins better hope they have enough depth out there. Fortunately, three versatile outfielders are having very good springs. Lew Ford is locked in a battle for right field and has done nothing to hurt his chances over there. Except the fact that Michael Cuddyer is having the best spring of any Twin in camp. But Ford can play all three outfield positions and he is at his best in left. If Stewart goes down, Ford will likely take over with the job of fourth outfielder shifting from Ford to Jason Tyner. Tyner has really picked his game up a notch this spring, not only offensively, but defensively. He's another guy who used his September call-up as a springboard for this season. And Jason Pridie has turned a lot of heads in spring training as well. If Stewart's heal problem escalates into PF, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Twins try to keep the Rule 5 draftee as insurance and return Tyner to Rochester from whence he can be summoned at will.
CF: One of the best stories of the spring is that Torii Hunter seems to be in the best shape and the healthiest he's been in a couple of years. But with Hunter, you never know when he'll pull a Bump Bailey and run through a wall. So it's a good thing that Tyner will be in Rochester waiting for the opportunity.
RF: The aforementioned Cuddyer seems to be playing better now that he doesn't have to practice with five different gloves every day. And I also think he's valued from the advice of Rod Carew and new hitting coach Joe Vavra. For whatever reason, he's putting on a show. But so is Jason Kubel, who's not 100 % back to his August 2004 form, but he's close. And he seems to have put on about 15 pounds of muscle in his upper body while rehabbing his knee. That allows him to drive balls he slapped in his 60 major league at bats in 2004. When Kubel is fully ready and when Cuddyer struggles during the regular year, Kubel can step in to the job for good, with Cuddyer possibly as a solid platoon player. The healthy competition will spur these guys on, much like Dusty Kielmohr of years gone by, making for enviable depth in right field.
Of all the pleasant surprises this spring, the pleasantest is the Twins depth. This is why when the starters are substituted for in Spring Training, the guys who replace them continue to rake. As a result, we've seen a lot of 16-4 games in the Twins favor this spring. That bodes well for the team, when the inevitable injuries take their toll.