Ah, the sounds of spring -- the crack of a well struck wooden bat, the thwack of a ball hitting a glove, and most importantly, the hum of the words ... "Play ball!"
It's difficult, however, to gauge the excitement level up North. The questions have been dwindling a bit in the past few weeks, so hopefully the start of games in Florida will once again revive Twins fans' enthusiasm. Grapefruit League games begin in three days and we'll finally get a look at what the Twins can do on the field.
Let's get to a few of the questions out there this week.
Justin Morneau has been groomed to be our first baseman of the future. If Morneau does not produce like he is supposed to, what are the chances of promoting Garrett Jones? He proved himself as a power hitter in the Minors and may add the big bat the team is looking for.
-- Ann B., Apple Valley, Minn.
Ann, don't be so quick to get down on Morneau. While he struggled last season, it was his first full year in the Majors. Often times players have to go through some development periods, and that seemed to be what happened to Morneau in 2005. He looks like a different player in Fort Myers, appearing strong and armed with a hard work ethic. From arriving at the field every day by 7:30 a.m. to do early work in the cages, Morneau seems like he's on a mission to prove that he can be one of the power hitters the Twins have been seeking.
As for Jones, he is in Major League camp this spring but he doesn't appear to fit in the club's plans just yet. Jones had a great 2005 season at Triple-A Rochester and impressed during the Arizona Fall League, as well. But there are few openings on the team and the Twins have other options to back up first base. Don't look for Jones to emerge with the team at the start of the season, but he may be used as a replacement pending an injury or as as callup at the end of the season. The one thing that appears very unlikely is that Morneau would be pushed aside for Jones.
Toward the end of the last season, when we brought up Luis Rodriguez, I noticed that he seems like a great player, both defensively and offensively. You haven't heard much about his name this offseason. Don't you think he should be in the running for a possible spot on the team, like utility?
-- Marisa B., Eagan, Minn.
Marisa, the Twins' roster appears to be looking like it may be full at the utility spot. Two spots will be going to the top two finishers in the shortstop race, which is between Jason Bartlett, Nick Punto and Juan Castro. Ruben Sierra will likely get a look at another spot due, and then the last one will be reserved for a platoon outfielder.
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But that's not to say that Rodriguez isn't on the Twins' radar. Many were impressed by his hitting in critical situations, like his .375 average with runners in scoring position and his more than adequate defense. The problem with Rodriguez is that he doesn't have the spectacular skills that make someone say "Wow." However, he does get the job done and could be in the running for a spot if he performs well in some of the spring games.
When talking about Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano and who is going to get the next starting position, when will anyone mention Boof Bonser and what his role will be? I'm not saying Baker and Liriano do not deserve it, but I still feel Bonser is among their caliber.
-- Keith B., Pinellas Park, Minn.
Baker and Liriano have gotten the most attention for the fifth spot due to their emergence at the big league level toward the end of last season. Both earned status as the Minor League pitchers of the year for the Twins over the past two seasons, so it's clear that each has talent to pitch in the Majors. That's not to say that other pitchers don't have a shot, but they will have to make a pretty strong impression during Spring Training to do so.
This year may be the best time to accomplish such a feat with the absence of many of the Twins pitchers to the World Baseball Classic. Bonser will get his fair share of time on the mound. He had good numbers at Triple-A Rochester last season, going 11-9 with a 3.99 ERA in 28 starts, and in one of his early throwing sessions at Spring Training, Bonser displayed that he can confuse batters. But with his lack of experience in the Majors, it's quite unlikely that Bonser will get the role right now.
How many relief pitchers do the Twins take into the season? I know we have a lot of talented pitchers, and I was just wondering how many actually will be on the final roster.
-- Blake E., Ashland, Wisc.
The number is not always a set one, but from years past it appears that the Twins will carry 11 pitchers total on their 25-man roster. Five starters and six bullpen pitchers should give them plenty of arms to start the season.
As to who will earn the 11 spots, these names appear to be a lock: starters Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse, relievers Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon and closer Nathan.
That leaves one opening in the starting rotation and two in the bullpen. Much has been made of the fifth spot battle between Baker and Liriano and the opening for a lefty, but there has been little talk of the other bullpen spot. It still remains to be seen who will come out of the group for that spot, but one player to keep an eye on is Willie Eyre. Eyre pitched lights out in Venezuela this winter and has the respect of a lot of guys on the team.
There should be high interest in the World Baseball Classic in Twins Territory. With Joe Nathan on the USA team and others players for their respective countries, will these games be on national TV?
-- Tim, Milbank, S.D.
Yes, Tim, there will be a televised broadcast of each and every game. MLB.TV will carry live streaming audio for fans to watch right on their own computers.
Now whether you can see these games on your television depends on what cable channels you are able to get. Every game will be broadcast on the ESPN Deportes channel, some live and some on tape delay. ESPN 2 will feature most of the games, including live telecasts for every Team USA game.
To get the full television schedule of games, click here.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.