FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The back fields at the Lee County Sports Complex have been busy in recent days with early arriving Twins players, who were taking part in informal workouts. But on Thursday, Spring Training officially kicked off with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp. The home clubhouse inside Hammond Stadium was an active place on Thursday morning with players dropping off equipment and beginning the process of unpacking their lockers. There was a lot of energy and excitement as the players caught up with each other and joked about some changes, such as the goatee that Carl Pavano is now sporting instead of his mustache from last season.
The two-time defending American League Central champions return to Fort Myers this spring with a roster that features much of the same talent that helped the club win a division title last year. But that doesn't mean over the six weeks of camp this spring, which will kick off with Friday's first workout for pitchers and catchers, there won't be plenty of questions for the Twins that will need to be answered. The team currently has six starters for five spots in the rotation and the exact look of their middle infield is still unsettled with manager Ron Gardenhire waiting to see new Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka on the field this spring, before deciding whether to have him play second base or shortstop. There should be plenty of intrigue surrounding the competition to fill the club's holes in the bullpen as well.
And the Twins are excited to see how things all come together over the next few weeks of camp."You go into every year with great optimism," Twins catcher Joe Mauer said. "I think every camp is excited for the season and excited to see what moves were made and what you're going to look like as a team. We added some speed and we lost some good guys, but we also brought some good ones in." The Twins' pitchers and catchers will be joined on Tuesday by the rest of their teammates, although several of them reported a few days early to get a jump start on 2011. Among the notable position player arrivals on Thursday were outfielder Michael Cuddyer and third baseman Danny Valencia, who joined other position players that have been working out at the complex in recent days, such as Nishioka and Alexi Casilla. And the Twins' first full squad workout will take place on Wednesday. There are a lot of things that fans will be watching this spring as the Twins take their new team out on the fields in Fort Myers and health is likely going to be a big topic of discussion during camp. The club is expected to get two of its stars back with Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau returning from injuries. Nathan missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last March and Morneau missed the second half of the season due to a concussion he suffered on July 7 in Toronto. Nathan has already been on the mound in Fort Myers, throwing a bullpen session on Wednesday in front of pitching coach Rick Anderson who labeled it "outstanding." Morneau, who is scheduled to arrive to camp early next week, has also made progress this winter in his recovery. And the club is optimistic that both Morneau and Nathan will be ready to break camp with the team at the end of March. "That's two All-Stars," Gardenhire said. "If you can get them back on the field, it means everything. We all know what they've done and their track record. That's two All-Stars added back to your team. That can be massive." Two other familiar faces are back with the Twins again for 2011. The club re-signed Pavano to a two-year, $16.5 million contract and brought back veteran slugger Jim Thome, who will be chasing career home run No. 600. He currently sits 11 homers away from the mark. The Twins also said goodbye to a number of players through free agency this winter including relievers Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch, who all played key roles in the bullpen last season. Shortstop J.J Hardy was traded to the Orioles, while second baseman Orlando Hudson signed with the Padres as a free agent. With so many departures from the relief staff, the Twins' bullpen is set to look quite different this season. While Matt Capps and Jose Mijares are back to help anchor the last few innings along with Nathan, there are a number of spots up for grabs and the Twins have brought in a number of pitchers to compete for those jobs throughout Grapefruit League action this spring. Certainly, there are question marks surrounding this team that will have to be answered before they open the season on April 1 against the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. But there will be plenty of time to settle those issues during camp as the team prepares to try to clinch their third straight AL Central title. "I think the best thing for me is, when we get down to Fort Myers, we're able to see everything in place and try to piece it together," Gardenhire said. "I like what we have. I like the pieces, but I want to see how they work out together down on the field and make sure everyone is healthy."