The Battles Of Spring

While most fans have been focusing on who will be in this year's starting rotation, there are several other key battles for roster spots this spring. As their young stars mature, the Twins need to strengthen their bench so players such as Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett won't get worn down as they did last season when they played nearly every day.

With Mauer behind the plate, Morneau, Castillo, Bartlett and Punto set in the infield, Hunter and Cuddyer set in the outfield with White and Kubel (if his knees are ready) likely sharing left field and designated hitter, the Twins have a starting nine that is capable of going to the World Series. The key to actually getting there may be their bench which must be upgraded if they are going to win the tough Central Division and move on into October.

It won't be known until late this spring training whether they will carry eleven or twelve pitchers, therefore, the 2007 Twins will have either four or five bench positions on the roster. With Mike Redmond set as the backup catcher and Jeff Cirillo inked in as a reserve for first, second, third and designated hitter, only two or three spots remain. One will go to the fifth outfielder and must be a player who is capable of playing center field. Lew Ford is an excellent defensive player at all three outfield spots while Jason Tyner is the better hitter who can also play center. This may be one of the more interesting battles this spring as it is questionable that both will be on their opening day roster.

They will also carry at least one reserve middle infielder. Luis Rodriguez has been on their roster much of the past two seasons, however, is limited defensively at shortstop. The Twins selected Alejandro Machado in this season's Rule 5 draft and must be returned should he not make their 25-man roster. Machado, who won't turn 25 until after this season begins, has played the past two seasons at Pawtuckett of the AAA International League. Machado, who is considered an excellent defensive player, stole 21 bases in each of the past two seasons while hitting for a .260 Average in 2006 and .300 Average in 2005. Rodriguez is a solid hitter who has major league experience while Machado may have the defensive skills that the Twins are looking for as their sixth infielder. Although Alexi Casilla may be better than either Rodriguez or Machado, it is likely he will begin the season playing every day at Rochester and be available mid-season should a need develop. Should neither Rodriguez or Machado provide what they are looking for this spring, could Mr. Ryan trade the loser of the outfield battle for a better middle infielder?

If they go with eleven pitchers, a fifth bench position would open up with the likely candidates being the loser of the infield or outfield battles and Matt LeCroy or Ken Harvey. Should this spot open up, either LeCroy or Harvey could win the spot with their bats. Although both will likely begin the season at Rochester, both have the potential to force the team to carry five bench players with a fantastic performance at the plate this spring.

The pitchers and catchers report in two weeks with the rest of the squad reporting a few days later. It will be exciting to watch the battles for these important final two or three spots on the roster of a team that wants to get that World Series appearance that eluded them last fall.

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