Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Final Look at the Roster

I was going to make this post similar to the previous roster posts, but I've decided that isn't really necessary. Instead, I'll take this off-day as an opportunity to make a few comments on the guys who did, in fact, make the roster. They'll be short and sweet to avoid making this post a monster.

#1 - SP - Johan Santana
What's left to say? The guy is amazing, and should be defending 3 straight Cy Young Awards rather than "just" 2 out of 3. This year shouldn't be any different, and may in fact be even better than we're used to -- Santana normally takes a little bit of time to get comfortable with his changeup, but that pitch has been amongst his best so far this spring, and it looks like he's ready to roll. He may not win the Cy again this year (there are a lot of good pitchers in the AL), but he should at least come close.

#2 - SP - Boof Bonser
Bonser rightfully won the 2nd starter job this spring, after being mentioned for awhile as the likely fifth starter. That would have been a travesty, considering that Bonser has been one of the Twins most solid starters since putting it all together last August. There's no reason to think that he isn't here to stay; his mound presence is solid, he gets strikeouts, and he looks like a workhorse.

#3 - SP - Ramon Ortiz
A lot of anger has been directed at the Twins for signing Ortiz, but they did so at the behest of Matt LeCroy, who pointed out that he's a reliable innings-eater. With Rick Anderson's ability to work with pitchers, and with Ortiz's comfort level with the organization, it's not unreasonable to expect Ortiz to have a season in which he puts up a 4.75 ERA and wins 13-14 games. I would take that in a heartbeat.

#4 - SP - Carlos Silva
Fan anger has been directed with particular vehemence at Silva, who was horrible last year and for most of the Spring. Nevertheless, the Twins decision to pick up his option was the right one -- for the price they're paying him this year, there are no sure bets. The Twins know what Silva is capable of, and the decision to give him a chance to recover at the start of the season is sound. Silva proved in his last start of the spring that he still has the ability to throw his sinker with confidence; the question that remains is whether he can do it consistently enough to stay in the rotation. If he posts a sub-5.00 ERA, Rick Anderson will have to be considered something of a genius.

#5 - SP - Sidney Ponson
Pitchers have as many lives as cats, as Ponson proves. After several seasons in which his on -- and off -- the field issues were less than satisfactory, Ponson gets another shot at revitalizing his career with the Twins. For $1 million (plus up to $2 million in performance bonuses), Ponson is a bargain, and while he wasn't great this spring, he was good enough to get a shot during the season. The over-under on his staying in the rotation is 60 days. Let me know in the comments which you take.

#6 - Closer - Joe Nathan
Nathan had a down year last year in saves last year with just 36, after putting up 44 and 43 in his first two years on the job. However, that was largely the fault of the Twins horrid first 6 weeks, in which Nathan rarely got the opportunity to close out ballgames. Don't expect that to happen again this year -- he should make a solid run at 45-50 saves. His 1.58 ERA last season was the best of his career, so it's unlikely he can do it again. There's no reason he can't be under 2.00 for the season, however, and he could very easily make it back to the All-Star game this year.

#7 - Setup - Juan Rincon
Since the 2004 season, Rincon has been lights-out for the Twins. He provides a solid power arm behind Nathan, and usually doesn't make the 8th inning too interesting. He's still two seasons away from becoming a free agent, so if the Twins want to keep him around, he'll stay. However, expect his name to come up in trade discussions this season -- with all of the great arms in this bullpen, a veteran like Rincon could be traded to avoid upcoming arbitration costs. He could fetch a pretty price at the trade deadline for a contending team that needs bullpen depth, so it makes sense to watch this -- but the Twins also might not want to mess with success, so he's just as likely to stick around (unless a serious hole develops in the lineup that needs to be filled).

#8 - Bullpen - Jesse Crain
Crain was just rewarded with a 3-year contract, and if he can pitch like he did in 2005 or the end of the 2006 season, it's well deserved. He's likely to be used mostly in the 7th inning as a bridge to Rincon and Nathan.

#9 - Bullpen - Pat Neshek
In 37 innings last season, Neshek struck out 53 batters, and walked 6. That's an incredible ratio, and demonstrates how completely mystified opposing hitters were when facing him. The big question, however, is how long the novelty will last. Will opposing hitters figure out how to track his pitches? If yes, Neshek could struggle this season while he learns to make adjustments. If not, Neshek could continue to blaze through opposing batters. While he could see some use in the 7th inning, he'll probably be more of a rover who pitches whenever and wherever he's needed.

#10 - Bullpen - Dennys Reyes
Reyes blew away his previous performances by posting a 0.89 ERA last season. Once the Twins called him up at the end of April, it was clear that he was going to be a force in the 'pen, and his ability to get everybody out was amazing. Reyes will continue to be used as a lefty specialist (he had 66 appearances last year and just 50.2 innings), but he'll get his share of full innings as well. Honestly, anything below a 3.00 ERA would be a victory, since his career ERA is 4.45. Whether he'll be closer to his career totals or his dominant numbers last season remains to be seen.

#11 - Bullpen - Matt Guerrier
Guerrier was out of options when the Twins broke camp in 2005, and the Twins didn't want to lose him. As a result, he was handed a spot in the bullpen, and he responded by putting up a 3.39 ERA in 43 games covering 71.2 innings. Last season, he posted a nearly identical 3.36 ERA in 39 games (69.2 innings). Those numbers are pretty darned consistent, and demonstrate that Guerrier fits the long relief role pretty well. He used to be a starter, but he's pretty valuable in the role that he's filling now. There's no reason to think that he won't continue to produce.

#12 - Catcher - Joe Mauer
I don't know if he's going to hit .347 again in his career, let alone this season. However, there's no reason to think he's not going to continue to be the best hitting catcher in the game. He should be an All-Star again this season, and if his power develops, he could end up hitting 20 homeruns this year.

#13 - First Base - Justin Morneau
Morneau was great last season, but he was great in spurts -- he went long stretches without hitting a homerun, and he needs to be a little more consistent this season. Nonetheless, he should actually still be improving -- he's capable of hitting 35-40 homeruns this season, and knocking in 130 runs. If he does, he'll make a solid run at defending his MVP crown. Most encouraging: his defense also seems to be improving dramatically, as he's working hard to get better.

#14 - Second Base - Luis Castillo
This is almost certainly Castillo's swan song with the Twins what with Alexi Casilla waiting in the wings, and if Spring Training is any indication of how he'll play this season, the Twins should be in good shape with their leadoff hitter. Castillo should get on base a lot, and if he does, the big guys hitting behind him will find ways to get him home. If Alexi Casilla is playing well by mid-July, Castillo could find himself on the trading block.

#15 - Third Base - Nick Punto
A significant number of fans think that Punto won't be the third baseman for long, with Jeff Cirillo on the team. I disagree -- Punto may regress a bit offensively, but his defense is fantastic and the Twins value that. Unless Punto falls apart completely (possible, but not likely), he'll stay there this season. A more interesting question may be what happens next year, if Matt Moses has a solid 2007 season in Rochester. The Twins insistence on not playing Punto anywhere other than 3B should also be tempered with common sense -- why not use the guy wherever he can help the team? He can be the starting third baseman and still backup elsewhere on occasion.

#16 - Shortstop - Jason Bartlett
Bartlett finally grabbed the job last year after starting the season in Rochester. His .309 batting average was great, but he wore down a bit at the end of the season because the Twins couldn't afford to give him a day off. This season should be a breakthrough year for Bartlett as he settles in for a full season at the Major League level.

#17 - Left Field - Rondell White
Rondell's struggles last season have been well-documented, but let me just say that I think bringing him back was the right move. White showed how valuable he could be over the last two months last season, and he's ready to go this year. He's now swinging with both hands on the bat, and he's playing in the field where he's comfortable. This should be a solid season for Rondell.

#18 - Center Field - Torii Hunter
This will be Torii's last season as a Twin, and that should actually be good news for the Twins -- with Torii playing for a new contract, he'll want to prove himself offensively (and defensively) this season. A .290/30/115 is not out of the question. More interesting is whether the Twins will keep him around all year, or trade him away from value at the deadline. It would be awfully hard to trade him if the team is in contention, because it would be impossible to replace his power. Denard Span, Hunter's heir apparent in Center, is a slap-hitting speedster. Look for the Twins, then, to have to let Hunter go for nothing in order to make a run to the playoffs this year.

#19 - Right Field - Michael Cuddyer
The man with the best outfield arm in baseball (there are those who would dispute that, but man, is he good) put things together offensively last season and found a home in right. Cuddyer could easily improve on his .284/24/109 numbers from last season, and wouldn't .290/30/120 look nice?

#20 - Designated Hitter - Jason Kubel
Kubel really struggled at times last year, as his knees kept him from doing what he was capable of. This season should be a different story, as Kubel feels that his knees are fully healed. He'll likely start off the season in a platoon at DH (in fact, he's not even in the opening day lineup for the Twins), but he should win that job outright by midseason. If healthy, he could easily hit .280-.290 with 20+ homers this season. If he doesn't, the Twins could part ways with him in the off-season.

#21 - Backup Catcher - Mike Redmond
What's not to like? Redmond has given the Twins a chance to rest Joe Mauer without worrying about shuffling the lineup and losing significant offense. He keeps the clubhouse loose. He works well with pitchers. In other words, he's a perfect backup for Mauer, and the Twins have him locked up for a couple more seasons with an option for a third.

#22 - Backup Corner Infielder - Jeff Cirillo
One of the Twins few free agent pickups, Cirillo should get a chance to DH against lefties (at least early in the season) while also playing some 1B and 3B if needed. The opportunities at first will (hopefully) be extremely limited, but many fans think he could take over at 3B. If he hits well early on, the Twins will find places to play him.

#23 - Backup Middle Infielder - Luis Rodriguez
It didn't look good for Rodriguez entering camp, as the Twins had drafted Alejandro Machado in the Rule 5 Draft to take this role. Machado, however, was unable to get healthy, and recently underwent surgery that will keep him out until at least September when the rosters expand. As a result, Rodriguez is pretty much safe for the season. His role will change a little bit this year, as the Twins will be asking him to play some SS as well as the 3B and 2B he's more familiar with.

#24 - Backup Outfielder - Jason Tyner
Until this year, Tyner hadn't broken camp with a team at the Major League level since 2002. He earned this spot by solid play and good offense last season, however, and there's no reason to think he won't spend the entire season with the Twins. He's capable of playing anywhere in the outfield, but his weak arm makes left field his most natural position.

#25 - Utility - Chris Heintz
Heintz is unlikely to get a lot of playing time, but he gives the Twins a 3rd catcher and should make Ron Gardenhire more comfortable about DH'ing Joe Mauer. The nice thing about Heintz is that he's also experienced at 3B, and has said that he's capable of playing "anywhere but SS." That makes him a suitable utility man, and in order to get him playing time, Gardy may need to get creative. Don't expect Heintz to be at the Major League level for long, however -- this roster spot will likely belong to Lew Ford as soon as he gets healthy in mid- to late-April.



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