The countdown to baseball officially ended yesterday for the Minnesota Twins, as pitchers and catchers reported for duty. Some of the young players have been in Fort Myers for a few days, and while position players are not required to be in camp quite yet a number of them are starting to arrive as well. Today begins the club's first official spring workouts, and suffice it to say that the players are probably even more excited than the fans.
We'll be baseballing tomorrow— Phil Hughes (@PJHughes45) February 21, 2016
It's actually RSW https://t.co/8RdJC4Y8wv— Glen Perkins (@glenperkins) February 21, 2016
It's about that time! #springtraining#mntwinsbaseball https://t.co/uC0N8UEcUJ— Byron Buxton (@OfficialBuck103) February 19, 2016
It's go time!!! pic.twitter.com/CS29INitdW— Casey Fien (@CaseyFien) February 22, 2016
First day of school— John Ryan Murphy (@JRMurphy513) February 22, 2016
Beat writers on the first day of Spring Training pic.twitter.com/K6DEkvcdGB— Phil Hughes (@PJHughes45) February 21, 2016
With players, fans and the game itself ready to hit the ground running, here's what you need to know about the Twins and spring training in 2016.
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The Twins' spring training facility is Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, and has been the club's spring training home since 1991. Yes, the Twins won the '91 World Series following their first spring at the brand new Hammond Stadium. So it has a spectre of good luck to it.
Minnesota plays in the Grapefruit League during spring training, joining 14 other clubs including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Houston, both New York clubs, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Washington. The Twins play the Red Sox quite regularly during spring training and it's no wonder, since Boston's facility (JetBlue Park) is also located in Fort Myers.
If you're already there, here's a list of ten things to do while you're waiting for baseball to happen during the day. If you get tired of watching drills and want to head to a game or two, tickets are available through the Twins' website.
We like to talk about important off-season dates, but here are the dates you need to know now that spring training is under way.
February 22: First official workouts for pitchers and catchers
February 26: Reporting date for position players
February 27: First official full-squad workouts
March 2: First official Twins spring training game (versus Red Sox)
March 16: Last day to release player and pay 30 days termination pay (1/6th salary) instead of 45 days
March 30: Last day to release a player without having to pay his full 2016 salary
April 2: Final spring training game (versus Nationals)
April 4: Opening Day, Twins at Orioles
April 11: Twins home opener, versus White Sox
Depending on who you speak to, this "position battle" may be little more than a conversation. Kurt Suzuki is the incumbent, but at 32 and coming off of a down year the club may not be terribly shy about giving extra early opportunities to John Ryan Murphy.
Murphy, who turns 25 in May, is seen as the club's possible future starter. With five years of team control remaining, Minnesota will probably give him enough plate appearances to hold off Suzuki's vesting option - which enables a $6 million salary for 2017 if he hits 485 plate appearances this year.
While Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano are penciled in to start in the outfield, Byron Buxton is the lynchpin of Paul Molitor's options in center field. If Buxton does what the club hopes he'll do and earns the job in center, it sounds like Rosario will shift into left field full time and Sano will play in right. But things get interesting if the Twins decide that Buxton needs a few weeks in Triple-A.
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In that scenario the Twins could move Rosario into center field and put Oswaldo Arcia in a corner spot. Arcia, who is out of options, is likely to make the roster one way or another. Less popular options might include Danny Santana getting more time in center field (with Rosario and Sano in the corners and Arcia on the bench), or even less desirable solutions such as Ryan Sweeney, Darin Mastroianni, or Joe Benson playing the position in the short term.
Max Kepler and Adam Brett Walker, barring injuries, will not be in serious contention to make the roster out of spring training; nor should they be in contention. Both players remain underdeveloped and will greatly benefit from a few more months in the minor leagues.
The Twins typically carry a four-man bench. Their options are limited, particularly this year with at least half of the anticipated bench players out of options. Murphy will be the club's backup catcher, Eduardo Nunez isn't in any danger of losing his position as a utility player, and both Arcia and Santana are out of options. Both players are too talented to lose for nothing, so Minnesota will take them north barring injury or trade.
If Buxton isn't ready for center field, an option could open up depending on how the club wants to fill center field in the short term. Should Santana move into center, or should Rosario move to center and Arcia into a corner, the Twins could turn to another player for that fourth bench spot.
John Hicks, the third catcher on the 40-man roster, would be one player under consideration. Kennys Vargas seems like he would be the obvious choice, but even if he's on the active roster his challenges remain the same: there are too many players splitting time between first base and designated hitter to guarantee him more than a pinch hitting appearance or two per week. Jorge Polanco would be a popular option, giving the club speed and a solid defensive option off the bench.
Alternatively, the team could - for a while - run with a three-man bench. We've seen it in the past. It's not ideal, but considering the state of the bullpen it's quite easy to see Molitor deciding to give himself an extra arm.
Fourth and fifth starter
Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson have guaranteed spots in the rotation. The pitchers with a legitimate shot to take the final two spots are Tommy Milone, Tyler Duffey, Ricky Nolasco, Trevor May, and Jose Berrios.
Paul Molitor seems to have tipped his hand a little bit here, in the past referring to both Milone and Duffey as players deserving of a real opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation. Berrios is likely to get a few more weeks in Triple-A before making his Major League debut, since the Twins have the luxury of being patient and giving him time to continue to develop. May, meanwhile, seems destined for the bullpen since the front office didn't do much to address that situation.
Nolasco is a bit of a wild card. His $12 million salary in 2016 and 2017 forces the club to give him as many looks as possible. While Minnesota may not be maximizing Trevor May's skill set by keeping him in the bullpen, they could be exposing Nolasco if they try him as a starting pitcher. Nolasco's best chance for redemption could come out of the bullpen, but that decision is going to depend a great deal on Milone and Duffey.
Minnesota's rotation is still a middle-of-the-road affair, even if Hughes returns to his 2014 form. The club needs higher-ceiling arms sooner rather than later, and that means pitchers like Berrios - and, yes, Trevor May and perhaps Alex Meyer. For now, however, the club is happy with their depth and quality of options.
If the Twins take a four-man bench north, their bullpen will hold a typical seven-man roster. Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen, Casey Fien, and the aforementioned May all appear to be locks. The final three spots will be up for grabs.
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Minnesota's best acquisition for dealing with a lack of a quality lefty behind Perkins was the signing of Fernando Abad. He's the most likely left-handed candidate to make the roster. Behind him is a hodge-podge of options, including 2015 bullpen arm Ryan O'Rourke (6.14 ERA), Logan Darnell (not on the 40-man roster), Mike Strong (claimed off of waivers from Miami), and new 40-man roster additions Pat Dean, Mason Melotakis, and Taylor Rogers. Randy Rosario is also a lefty on the roster, but he seems too raw to contend for a roster spot.
The club's right-handed options are a bit better. J.T. Chargois and Alex Meyer bring velocity and great strikeout potential. Michael Tonkin has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. Ryan Pressly and J.R. Graham were members of the Twins' bullpen in 2015.
While the Twins continue to be tied to Milwaukee's Will Smith, it's doubtful that the front office will bring in additional competition at this juncture. It seems likely that those last three bullpen spots will go to a mixture of those seven lefties and five righties. Abad seems a safe bet, and since Tonkin is out of options he could have a leg up on the competition as well. That final spot could very well go to one of the pitchers losing out on a rotation spot, be it Duffey, Milone, or - my preference - Nolasco.