This week probably feels like Christmas morning for die-hard baseball fans. Many are planning vacations to the south to bask in the sun and watch their favorite teams gear up for the season ahead.
Pitchers and catchers for the Minnesota Twins officially reported to Spring Training on Sunday in Fort Myers, Fla. The rest of the team officially starts working out on Saturday, though many players had already been in Florida for several days before they officially had to report.READ MORE: Minnesota Lawmakers Strike Deals On Most Parts Of The Budget, But More Policing Changes Still Not Sorted
The Twins, coming off an 83-79 season in Paul Molitor’s first season as manager, open the 2016 regular season at Baltimore on Monday, April 4. A lot can happen between now and then, but here are seven things to keep an eye on in Spring Training.
What Will The Starting Pitching Rotation Look Like?
There are a host of Twins pitchers who have the potential to be in the starting rotation this year, but only five can be in place when the regular season opens at Baltimore. The apparent locks to be starters at this point are Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and barring a rough spring, Tyler Duffey. That leaves Tommy Milone and Ricky Nolasco to battle for the final spot, assuming that Trevor May goes back to the bullpen. Injuries happen and often change things in the course of the season. And if it plays out right, prospect Jose Berrios could be starting at some point early this summer. It’s worth keeping an eye on who does well and who struggles in the spring.
Can Miguel Sano Learn To Play Outfield?
Miguel Sano made his MLB debut last year and took off with the Twins. In 80 games, he hit .279 with 18 homers and 52 RBI as largely a designated hitter. The Twins have opted to move him to the outfield this year after signing slugger Byung-Ho Park in the offseason to be the DH. But Sano is listed at 260 pounds. Even for a good athlete like Sano, that’s a lot of weight to carry around in the outfield. He’ll need a lot of work in the spring to be ready to play outfield when the season starts, but they need his bat in the lineup and don’t have much other choice with Trevor Plouffe still in the organization and locked in at third base.
Will Byung Ho Park Succeed At DH?
The Twins are taking another gamble with a foreign player this year, signing Korean slugger Byung Ho Park in the offseason. They spent $12.85 million just to negotiate a contract with him from the Korean Baseball Organization. He was a DH there and last year, he hit .343 with 53 homers, 35 doubles and 146 RBI in 140 games. He’s 29 and spent nine seasons in the KBO, but how long will it take him to adjust to big league pitching? The hope is he adds another big bat to the Twins lineup, but there’s no guarantee for immediate success.READ MORE: Minnesota's Dry Weather Leading To Hay Shortages On Farms, Concerns For Live Stock
Who Will Be The Full-Time Catcher?
It’ll be an interesting battle between Kurt Suzuki and John Ryan Murphy to see who starts at catcher when the Twins open the regular season. Suzuki is an average MLB catcher who struggled throwing base stealers out at times last year. He also didn’t exactly light it up at the plate, hitting .240 with five homers and 50 RBI. Last year with the Yankees, Murphy hit .277 with three homers and 14 RBI in 155 at-bats. One of those homers came off Glen Perkins in New York.
Can Joe Mauer Bounce Back?
Joe Mauer finally seemed healthy playing at first base last year. Between that and DH, he played in 158 games last season. But by his standards, it was a down year offensively. He hit just .265 with 10 homers and 66 RBI. He recently admitted to having some blurred vision at the plate last season, stemming from his previous concussion issues that forced him to stop catching. Being a $23 million player, the Twins need him to stay healthy and be that consistent presence in the lineup if they want to be a playoff team.
Will Byron Buxton Start Opening Day?
He’s one of the fastest players in baseball, and the Twins might need Byron Buxton in center field on opening day at Baltimore. With Aaron Hicks gone, the job is his to lose in Spring Training. And they’ll need his range in center with Sano playing either right or left field. Eddie Rosario will likely get the other outfield spot, unless Oswaldo Arcia opens some eyes in Fort Myers. Buxton played in 46 games last year despite injuries and hit just .209. But seven of his 27 hits were doubles, and he’s a threat to steal whenever on he’s on the bases. If he can continue to adjust to major league pitching, he could give the Twins lineup a big boost this year.
What Will The Twins Bullpen Look Like?
The Twins bullpen will have some changes this year, as do most in the major leagues between seasons. Brian Duensing, Blaine Boyer and Tim Stauffer are among a few of the departed arms. But the core of Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen and Casey Fien are back. Trevor May is an option if he doesn’t crack the starting rotation, and Ricky Nolasco may have to accept bullpen duty if he’s not a starter. The potential is there for the Twins to have a decent bullpen, which bodes will if a starter has an off day or can’t go more than five innings. But staying healthy is the most important.MORE NEWS: Metro Transit Looks To Hire 70 Bus Drivers As Commuters Return
The potential is there for the Twins to have a big year in 2016. The baseball experts aren’t predicting a great year for the Twins, but it all comes down to starting pitching and staying healthy. The Twins share the division with the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals, but the beauty of the spring is that there is hope within every team that this is the year.