Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Why to Care About Pitchers & Catchers Reporting

Sunday is the big day - the cold, barren winter gives way to the resplendant spring. Or something like that. Actually, a bunch of out-of-shape ballplayers will make their way to Ft. Myers and start tossing medicine balls around . . .

But, just because the first game isn't going to be played until February 28 doesn't mean there is nothing to pay attention to for the next week and a half. Here are a few of the things of interest to watch for as the pitchers and catchers kick off the season.

1.) Are these guys in shape? I'm looking at you, Sidney Ponson. And you, Carlos Silva. And, yes, YOU Matt LeCroy. Some ballplayers take great care of themselves during the off-season - some don't. I don't know whether any of the three guys I just listed will be in shape or not when they report, but you better believe that Ponson and LeCroy's chances of making the team are heavily dependant on their demonstrating quickly what they're capable of - and if they need to spend the first three weeks of spring getting into shape, they're not going to be able to do that.

2.) Will any of the veteran lefty arms run out of gas early? Mike Venafro is 33 and Randy Choate is 31 - neither of them is ancient by baseball standards, but both have been pitching for awhile. The competition for the Twins 7th bullpen slot could be fierce, but if either of these guys break down early on, it will get a bit easier.

3.) Which of the youngsters will go the extra step to get noticed? I believe that the Twins are essentially operating under the assumption that there is one spot available in the rotation. Sidney Ponson (by no means a "youngster") will be battling for that spot with familiar names like Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, and J.D. Durbin. With such a crowded field, it's going to take a lot to get noticed. Reporting to camp in shape, participating hard in all of the drills, nailing your targets in bullpen sessions, and finding the breaking pitches early on could all be key. Whoever shines brightest in the next 10 days will get the primo slots in the early games, and the first chance to prove themselves.

4.) Where will the injury bug crop up? It's almost inevitable that with around 30 pitchers reporting, someone (or two someones) will either report with nagging pain, or will develop soreness from throwing. A couple of years ago, it was Grant Balfour; last year it was Juan Rincon. All you can hope for is that the problem passes by quickly enough to let the player get in shape for the regular season. One of the nice things about having so many guys ready to step into a starting spot, though, is that you have some limited protection against these kinds of freak injuries.

5.) Which youngster will do the most good for his future? Every year, the young guys on the 40-man roster, and a few non-roster invites, get a chance to hang with the major leaguers for a couple of weeks and get the experience of a professional training camp. Sometimes, they shine - I remember watching Joe Mauer's swing during spring training back at his first camp, and thinking how smooth and mature it already was. I remember watching Adam Johnson (remember him?) pump a fastball into the catcher's mitt that clearly meant business. So, who will it be this year? Actually, I'm pretty sure I already know the answer - Kevin Slowey, the new "can't miss prospect" in the Twins system, will almost certainly be the most impressive guy who has no chance to make the team out of Spring Training. By the end of the year, he just might be pulling a Boof Bonser and showing just how good he is with the Twins.



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