Spring training is a special time in the life of a baseball fan. The return of summer's game signals an unofficial start to spring, green grass, and the promise of the year ahead. It also means that a bunch of guys you may never have heard of will be getting playing time, and not all of them are on the 40-man roster. And so tonight we'll take a run through those non-roster invitees to see what the Twins have. Because you never know--hope springs eternal.
Bazardo - Signed by the Marlins as an amateur free agent in 2000, he's bounced around a little bit with stops in Seattle, Detroit, Philadelphia and Houston in between Florida and Minnesota. His Major League career has been spotty, but he's largely been a serviceable minor league swing man. He hasn't appeared in the Majors since 2009.
Dumatrait - Mentioned by Rob Antony as a guy who could be in play for a bullpen spot, even if it's a longshot, Dumatrait is a former first-round draft pick by the Red Sox from '00. Injuries derailed his career a little bit (he missed all of 2004 and parts of other seasons), and strong early strikeout rates in the minors have deflated over the years. From '07 to '09 he made appearances in the Majors but was unimpressive. But in the minors he has kept the ball on the ground, which is a good thing, and he was relatively effective for Detroit's triple-A affiliate last summer in eight starts. If he made it and had a good season with the Twins, 11 years after being drafted in the first round and subsequently going bust, he would be a great story.
Gibson - He'll see a lot of spring trainings going forward, but he won't see action with the Twins right away this year unless somebody gets hurt.
Waldrop - Had a fantastic season in Rochester last year, followed by a lackluster AFL, be he does some things well. He induces ground balls for one, and he doesn't walk very many batters which helps his mediocre strikeout rates look pretty good. Waldrop is coming off back-to-back solid seasons after missing all of 2008, and in spite of not being protected in the Rule V draft in December he's a guy the Twins like. He may be a dark horse, but he's one of the few guys we'll be talking about who will have a legitimate chance to crack the roster.
Gutierrez - Antony thinks he's not quite ready, but the Twins obviously like him. He's put up some good numbers in terms of ERA, but he can allow a lot of base runners and will need to prove he can be successful for a full season at Rochester before he gets a crack at the bullpen. Besides, he's more of a starter right now anyway, which means he's buried for the time being.
James - This is Antony's dark horse option for the bullpen. He hasn't pitched in the Majors since '08, but he missed all of 2009 and spent all of last season in the minors working his way back into the game. In 66 innings last summer between Washington's double-A and triple-A squads he posted a 2.32 ERA while striking out 69 batters, walking just 11 and allowing less than a base runner per inning. His 9.9 K/9 rate in the minors is impressive, but when he was up with Atlanta for those four seasons from '05 to '08 they didn't translate...and he walked too many guys. Still, he's a southpaw and the Twins have had success with those guys over the last decade coming out of the bullpen, so if he's healthy and can get that 88 mph fastball to work well off his slider and changeup I wouldn't be surprised to see him get 30 innings with the big league club this year.
Catchers, infielders and an outfielder after the jump.
We won't spend a lot of time on the catchers, because a lot of these guys are in camp simply to handle the 29 pitchers. None of these guys are on the 40-man roster, and none of them are likely to be added unless Joe Mauer or Drew Butera get hurt. Antony did mention on Tuesday that, if the Twins did need another catcher, they'd probably lean towards the two veterans on this list: Holm and Rivera.
Holm has 107 career Major League plate appearances, but has demonstrated good strike zone judgement in the minors. Rivera was a second-round draft pick in '01 with Seattle, but has just 156 career Major League plate appearances--none since 2006, when he was just 22. He's never really hit in the minors either, but that just puts him on par with other catchers on this list.
Rams is an interesting option, as he has power but nothing else. He's struck out in more than one third of his minor league plate appearances.
Bailey - One of many minor league depth signings by the Twins over the winter, both Bailey and Huber's best chances would come if Justin Morneau wasn't ready for Opening Day. Even then, they'd both still be long shots. Bailey was a second-round pick by the Marlins way back in '97, but other than 59 good plate appearances for the Red Sox in '08 hasn't done much in the Majors. In the minors he's posted a respectable, but un-slugging-first-baseman-like .270/.372/.458.
Huber - He's back from Japan after a disappointing season and back with the Twins. He slugged 22 homers for Rochester in 2009.
Chang - Another depth signing, Chang has hit well at double-A over the course of his minor league career (.289/.374/.429), but struggles in his opportunities at triple-A. No doubt his versatility (he played all four infield positions last year) will come in handy whether in New Britain or Rochester this summer.
Brown - He collected token plate appearances with the Angels in '07 and '08, but otherwise has been a career minor leaguer. Brown has dealt with some fairly minor injuries the last couple of seasons, but when he's healthy his power makes him an interesting player. His lines at triple-A were actually quite impressive prior to his last couple of frustrating years, as he hit .276/.358/.509 in '07 and .320/.373/.580 in '08. At his age he's not likely to break out, but he'll still be an interesting player to watch this spring.
Dozier - An eighth-round pick for the Twins in '09, and not having played higher than high-A ball in Fort Myers, this invitation tells me two things. First, it tells me the Twins are impressed with what they've seen from him so far. He performed superbly in rookie leagues in 2009, and he was very solid in 2010 as well. Dozier has demonstrated some solid defensive skills, primarily at short, and to this point he's been a decent hitter for average (.299 so far) with a very, very good eye at the dish (.372 on-base percentage, and has actually taken more walks, with 85, than strikeous, 84). Second, it tells us that the Twins don't have a whole lot of middle infielders in their middle levels that they're interested in taking a closer look at.
Hollimon - The Twins tried to draft him in '03, actually lower than when the Dodgers tried to draft him in '01, but it was the Tigers who actually drafted him significantly higher in '05. His offense started strong, until he made it to triple-A in 2007 at which point he hit a wall. In spite of hitting 15 homers in '08 in triple-A he wasn't really productive, and getting sent back to double-A in '09 saw him really struggle not just with production but with his health. He missed all of 2010 and is looking for a new start, but like most of these guys doesn't have a realistic chance of cracking the roster.
Lambin - More depth signing from the Twins, Lambin is a sub-part hitter who can play all over the diamond with the exception of center field, catcher and pitcher. He's one of the players brought in not necessarily to provide Major League depth, but to give the farm system's upper echelons enough depth that younger middle infielders aren't rushed through the system. Guys like Lambin, Hollimon, Brown and Chang allow the Twins to take their time with those younger players to ensure they get the experience they need before stepping up.
Dinkelman joins Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Delmon Young, Jason Repko, Ben Revere, and Rene Tosoni in a talented pool of outfielders. He's a versatile guy who can play infield (mainly second base) as much as he plays the outfield, so it's probably not completely accurate to label him an outfielder, but it's where he's listed. But I would go as far to say that it's a pretty long shot to think he'd get called up to Minnesota to spend time in the outfield, and that he'd have a better chance of getting the call to flesh out the depth in the infield.
We all know that every guy on this list has a battle ahead of him if he's going to leapfrog the depth chart and somehow go north with the club, but it's still always interesting to get a feel for who these guys are and how they'll play a role for the organization in the upcoming year.
Barring injuries there are really only two players with a legitimate chance to make the roster as a dark horse for opening day: Kyle Waldrop and Chuck James. Everyone else has a much more difficult road ahead, and will simply have to make the best of this opportunity to impress scouts and managers, so that if the opportunity comes up at a later point this year then they might be part of the conversation.