I will be reviewing the likely rosters for the four full season Clubs over the next month, beginning with the AAA Red Wings. Each review will include around thirty players who are prime candidates to begin the season with each club.
The Twins are taking a different approach with their AAA franchise this season. In recent years they have signed several minor league free agents to fill key spots in the Rochester lineup and starting rotation. Although there is still more than a month until minor league players report for spring training, the Twins have signed only one relief prospect. So the 2010 Rochester Red Wings will be a team comprised of mostly players that have been developed by the Twins.
There will be several battles for a few spots on the Twins roster that will determine exactly who ends up in Rochester. No battle is bigger than who will be the Twins fifth starter. Based on everything we have heard from the Dominican Republic this winter, it is likely this spot may go to Francisco Liriano. That means that Brian Duensing, who certainly earned a spot in the Twins rotation last season, Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak will all begin their seasons in up state New York. Duensing may find a spot as a long reliever with the Twins, but he has options and likely will join the Red Wing starting rotation to start the season.
The remaining two spots could go to two veteran starters from last year's New Britain playoff team, Matt Fox (9-9, 3.58 ERA) and Ryan Mullins (11-11, 4.03 ERA). Another potential starter is a 2008 Rule V pick up, Jason Jones (5-11, 5.75 ERA), who alternated between the starting rotation and bullpen in 2009. Mark McLemore (5-10, 4.87 ERA in Pacific Coast League) is the lone minor league veteran signed this winter. The former Houston Astro was a starter last season in AAA and could again be a starter for the Wings. The Twins must be looking at him as a potential lefty/long relief option which is the role they may want him in at Rochester. This group of starters should be the strength of the Red Wings team as they begin their first season under their new manager, Tom Nieto.
Two of the brightest stars in the organization these past two years were Rob Delaney and Anthony Slama. Both appear to have the ability to become quality major league short relievers. Both have been as successful as any short reliever in minor league baseball the past two seasons. Tim Lahey remains on the roster as a converted catcher who had a lot of success until he reached AAA last season. Jose Lugo is a former Rule V pick who is a very effective left handed specialist. Kyle Waldrop should move up from New Britain where he was as successful as any middle reliever in the Eastern League last summer. Should the Twins decide to move him back to a starter, he would likely remain in New Britain. Chirs Province was picked up by the Twins in the Boof Bonser trade and should move up to AAA. Mark McLemore is another bullpen option, however, players in his situation often have an option to demand a release if not with the Twins by early summer.
Most fans and likely Twins management expected Jose Morales to be their backup catcher in 2010. Recent wrist surgery makes it likely that he won't be given the green light to begin spring training until late March. That means he either begins the season in EST or Rochester. Wilson Ramos is a future major league catcher and should be the starting catcher in Rochester this season. Defensive specialist Drew Butera will likely fill the backup role on the Twins roster at the start of the season. Ramos should catch about two-thirds of the games and be the Red Wing DH when not catching. Drew Butera will share the catching spot once Jose Morales is ready to join the Twins.
Shortstop: Trevor Plouffe
Third Base: Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes
Brock Peterson ended last season as the Red Wings top hitter (.304/.376/.468). Peterson returns as the Wings starting first baseman. Either Erik Lis (.283/.353/.462) or Whit Robbins (.278/.348/.405) will move up from New Britain as the Wings back up who will also see a lot of time as a designated hitter when Ramos is behind the plate.
One of the battles on the Twins will be at second and third base. Last year, Matt Tolbert was the odd man out and began his season with the Red Wings. Considering that Tolbert has an option remaining and Alexi Casilla does not, Tolbert may again begin his year in Rochester. Steve Tolleson going to the Athletics appears to have opened the second base job for Brian Dinkelman unless Tolbert begins his season with the Wings, keeping Dinkelman in New Britain. Trevor Plouffe returns as the Wings regular shortstop with versatile Matt Macri as a back up at all four infield positions. Unless Danny Valencia somehow wins the Twins thrid base job in spring training, he will be the Wings regular third baseman. Luke Hughes poses a problem as the Twins won't want to send him back to New Britian for a third year, yet, they will want Valencia to play third base every day. That leaves Hughes as a part-time DH with some time in left field and third base.
Considering that Dustin Martin hasn't been invited to spring training, Jason Pridie appears to be the leading candidate to be the Twins fourth outfielder. Martin is capable of playing all three outfield positions. Brandon Roberts was healthy last year and quietly had one of the best seasons (.287/.352/.365 with 21 stolen bases) of anyone on the Rock Cat roster. Look for Roberts to move up and be the Wings regular center fielder. Juan Portes hit .297/.366/.434 for the Cats and should also move up to the Wings. The other player who may move up as the Wings regular right fielder is Rene Tosoni. The Twins pushed Tosoni last year when he moved up to AA after only 40 some games above rookie ball. How Tosoni does in spring training with the Twins will determine whether he begins the season as the Red Wing right fielder or returns to New Britain for more seasoning.