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Minnesota Twins spring training: Bubble battles

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As far as making the Opening Day roster goes, there are a lot of Twins players on the outside looking in. Here's a look at how a few of those with the best chances are getting along so far this spring.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

When we get right down to it, there aren't a great deal of spots open for the Twins' Opening Day roster. There's technically a battle for those fourth and fifth rotation spots, but most of the guys who don't make the grade there could be shunted into the bullpen. As far as the bullpen goes, maybe there's a spot or two available, but there are a whole lot more arms than there are roster spots. As for the position player side of things, the Twins have looked pretty settled for some time.

Unless something drastic changes, here's a pretty good guess at who Minnesota has locked in for Opening Day.

Starting Nine Player Bench Player
C Kurt Suzuki C John Ryan Murphy
1B Joe Mauer OF Oswaldo Arcia
2B Brian Dozier IF Eduardo Nunez
3B Trevor Plouffe UT Danny Santana
SS Eduardo Escobar
LF Eddie Rosario
CF Byron Buxton
RF Miguel Sano
DH Byung Ho Park
Rotation Player Bullpen Player
SP Ervin Santana CL Glen Perkins
SP Phil Hughes SU Kevin Jepsen
SP Kyle Gibson MR Casey Fien
SP Tommy Milone MR Trevor May
SP Tyler Duffey MR
MR
LR

With that in mind, here's a look at a few of the more interesting players with a case to make this spring.

The Fourth/Fifth Starter

Paul Molitor has made it known that his favorites for these spots are Tommy Milone and Tyler Duffey, which is why you see both names penciled in above. Milone has looked pretty sharp this spring, especially yesterday when he threw four very good innings against the Cardinals. He was an effective pitcher in 2015 and, combined with his salary and solid early returns in spring training, has a strong hold on his spot in the rotation. Duffey was manhandled in his start versus the Blue Jays one week ago, yet his performance down the stretch last summer (not to mention how his primary competition has looked this spring) means that this final rotation spot is still his to lose. His work on the minor league side, particularly on his changeup, has been positive.

Ricky Nolasco's agent has made it clear that the pitcher would be very disinterested in a bullpen role. Unfortunately for Nolasco, his performance this spring isn't doing him any favors. While spring numbers don't mean a great deal, it's worth noting that his off-speed stuff isn't yet up to snuff with his fastball. He's hit 94mph with the four-seamer, which is good, but even with a $12 million salary he needs to look sharper across the board if he wants to avoid a spot in relief.

The final name in this discussion is Trevor May, who understands he's barely hanging on. Based on the options already discussed, and the club's need for strikeout arms in relief, he's listed in the bullpen above. Whether that's the best for May long term or not, he does seem destined to at least start 2016 in that role. Paul Molitor has indicated that they may make a decision on this competition as early as today.

We'd be remiss if we didn't at least mention Jose Berrios, who has flashed his stuff at times this spring, but it will be a surprise if he makes the Opening Day roster. He's off to a rough start today as well.

Kennys Vargas

Vargas was a member of the Twins' Opening Day lineup in 2015, having made the roster on the heels of a .274/.316/.456 rookie campaign in 2014 - which included nine home runs (and 20 extra-base hits) in 53 games. He subsequently struggled from the start and was sent down. In all he had three stints with the Major League club but never really got going, hitting just .240/.277/.349 in 184 plate appearances.

With his Major League experience and offensive potential (Vargas is a career .287/.375/.488 hitter in the minors), most teams would want to find a place on the roster for his impressive power potential. Both Oswaldo Arcia and Danny Santana are out of options, however, limiting bench spots. The fact that Vargas is primarily a designated hitter when the club is already flush with options (Byung Ho Park, Miguel Sano, Joe Mauer, Arcia) doesn't help his case either.

In a position where he needed to literally hit himself onto the Opening Day roster, Vargas has turned in a disappointing spring. Spring training performances, as we've mentioned, shouldn't be judged too harshly, but smashing the living daylights out of the baseball was his only path to heading north at the end of the month; instead he has just a pair of singles in 23 at-bats. He knocked one off the wall a couple of days ago, but wasn't able to turn it into extra bases.

Random Outfielders

In a world where Byron Buxton is expected to own the center field job from Opening Day and a combination of Santana and Arcia will be the primary backup outfielders, there isn't room to roster anyone else. But the Twins do have a couple of players worth mentioning, because in case of an injury or should the club suddenly decide that, no, Buxton needs to go back to Triple-A, these guys could be in play.

Carlos Quentin is the first man up, because he just missed a couple of home runs in a game last week where the wind knocked balls down in the outfield. He's clearly making an effort to show not just the Twins, but anyone who might be casting an occasional eye in his direction, that his bat speed is back and that he can still hit Major League pitching. He's 5-for-16 (.313) with a home run and a pair of doubles, five runs driven in, three walks and three strikeouts. He's highly unlikely to make the Twins' Opening Day roster, but with the way he's hitting the ball it wouldn't be a big surprise to see the Twins pull off a low-level trade with an outfield/offense-starved club at the end of the month.

While Quentin can technically be given credit for playing in 2015, Ryan Sweeney is attempting a comeback after taking all of last year off. He's played well enough this spring, going 6-for-21 (.286) with five walks, a pair of strikeouts, and two doubles. Versatile and athletic enough to play all three outfield positions, Sweeney was never able to turn his status as a Top 100 prospect into any kind of a consistent job, appearing in more than 100 games just three times since 2006 and averaging just 219 plate appearances a season from 2012 through 2014. He's a classic fourth outfielder, but it would require injuries or Buxton in Triple-A for a roster spot to be viable. Only Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, and Buxton have logged more outfield innings this spring.

Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson have made plenty of appearances this spring, but neither player seems to be on the outfield radar at this point with just one start combined between them.

Jorge Polanco

While Polanco profiles much differently than Vargas, he finds himself on the outside looking in for some of the same reasons. Players out of options reduce bench options, and with Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar slated to start at second and short respectively there's no reason to bury a young and talented guy like Polanco on the bench. He'll need to bide his time in Triple-A, but at 22 there's no rush to force him onto the roster.

Still, the Twins are giving him every opportunity this spring. He leads all position players in innings in the field (50.0), leading Kepler and Santana by four frames. Minnesota clearly wants to give Polanco an extended look to see where he's at, and it makes sense. If something should happen to one of their starting middle infielders, or if Escobar can't match the solid performance he's put forward the last two seasons, Polanco should be the first player to get those starts.

Bullpen

The discussion surrounding relief help from the left side has been an ongoing conversation since the 2015 season came to a close, and right now the Twins have a small handful of options to line up in the bullpen behind southpaw Glen Perkins: Fernando Abad, Ryan O'Rourke, Taylor Rogers, Buddy Boshers, Dan Runzler, Logan Darnell, and Aaron Thompson. Only O'Rourke and Rogers are currently on the 40-man roster, and between those two and Abad they make up the trio with the best chances to head north.

The Twins have been spreading innings pretty evenly this spring, not tipping their hand. Each of those three lefties have logged between 4.0 and 4.2 frames. Similarly, on the right side the club has been consistent in handing appearances to J.R. Graham, Ryan Pressly, and Michael Tonkin. It's worth noting that this is all pretty standard at this point in the process since most pitching matchups are scheduled and announced before the game, and as such I'd expect Alex Meyer to get his fourth appearance of the spring imminently.

Minnesota has an assortment of stud relievers coming up through the system. J.T. Chargois, who was arguably the club's best reliever so far this spring, was optioned yesterday. Nick Burdi, who isn't on the 40-man roster, is someone that Paul Molitor and the front office wanted to see a bit more of, but he's expected to be assigned to minor league camp at some point.

Until the Twins start thinning the heard a bit more, the outlook for the club's bullpen options - even those on the bubble - will remain murky.