Maza making his mark this spring

Maza making his mark this spring

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- For a non-roster invitee, Spring Training is one of the best places to try to make an impression.

That's exactly what Luis Maza has done this spring.

Utility infielders aren't something that the Twins are lacking, but with a few extra chances to get time this spring, Maza has taken the opportunity to turn some heads. Maza has played second base in the majority of his 11 appearances this spring and has shown some ability with the bat.

"We've liked him for a couple years now," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's quick out there and knows how to play the game."

Maza, 25, has spent the past two seasons splitting time between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester. His .291 batting average at Rochester demonstrated that Maza can deliver on the offensive side of the ball in addition to his more-than-adequate defense.

Perhaps Maza's biggest fan in the Twins organization has been first-base coach Jerry White. White noticed the player's ability to do the little things last year in camp when he came to the plate in the late innings of a Spring Training game.

"One of the premier left-handed closers in the game was pitching, and there was a runner at second," White said. "Maza was trying to get the guy over to third, nobody out. First time I've seen this guy, and he's trying to hit the ball to the right side. Usually, you have to tell someone to do it, but you hope they have that knowledge to try to get someone over there and that's what he was doing. With what the guy was allowing him to do, he was doing a hell of a job."

He may have caught White's eye that day, but it's been his improvement over the course of the past year that has placed him on the Twins' radar. Gardenhire has seen the adjustments that the young infielder has made, and they have paid off.

"The story has always been with him that he's a sloppy practice guy, but a good game guy," Gardenhire said. "He's gotten better at his practice now, and a lot of people talked to him about that, working on some drills. He's grown up a little bit and made his presence known this year in camp."

On the move: One of the players who has seemed to continually move down the Twins' list of prospects is pitcher J.D. Durbin. After spending most of his career being talked about as a likely future starter, Durbin was among the players involved in the first round of cuts this spring. Durbin has had injury problems, and it seems that his mental makeup has kept him from being able to make the next leap. The right-hander will likely be a starter at Rochester once again, or he could even be sent to the bullpen there.

On the pine: Left-handed pitcher Dave Gassner has been suffering from inflammation in his throwing elbow. The cause of the tenderness is unknown, but it will keep the pitcher off the mound indefinitely.

Names in the game: Ask any player in Twins camp, and they will tell you that when Paul Molitor starts to talk about hitting, everyone stops to listen. Having a Hall of Famer in camp to give hitting tips isn't a rarity for the Twins, with Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew also in camp. However, Molitor has taken to helping out on the Minor League side of things as well, assisting some of the younger hitters with their swings.

They're No. 1: It may seem like ages ago, but Michael Cuddyer was the Twins' first pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft. Cuddyer hasn't dropped far from the radar since then, as he is once again in the headlines, this time as he battles for the right-field spot. If he earns the nod, it will be the third opportunity Cuddyer has had to start.

Class of '05: Pitcher Matt Garza, last year's first-round pick, made his first start of the spring this past Wednesday before heading back to Minor League camp. Garza threw two scoreless innings while allowing three hits and two walks. The pitcher finished with a 1.23 ERA in four appearances and will likely start the year at Class A Fort Myers.

What they're saying: "That second base hit he got with a man on third, I said right away, 'This young man is going to really, really make it interesting as we go along in spring.' He's swinging pretty good, and he's moving good in the outfield. And let me tell you, if he's the best player out there, that's who will be playing out there." -- Gardenhire, on Kubel's prospects for starting in right field

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.