Twins Spring Training quick hits

Twins Spring Training quick hits

2006 record
96-66, first in the AL Central

Projected batting order
1. 2B Luis Castillo:
.296 BA, 3 HR, 49 RBI in 2006
2. 3B Nick Punto:
.290 BA, 1 HR, 45 RBI in 2006
3. C Joe Mauer:
.347 BA, 13 HR, 84 RBI in 2006
4. RF Michael Cuddyer:
.284 BA, 24 HR, 109 RBI in 2006
5. 1B Justin Morneau:
.321 BA, 34 HR, 130 RBI in 2006
6. CF Torii Hunter:
.278 BA, 31 HR, 98 RBI in 2006
7. LF Rondell White:
.246 BA, 7 HR, 38 RBI in 2006
8. DH Jason Kubel:
.248 BA, 8 HR, 26 RBI in 2006
9. SS Jason Bartlett:
.309 BA, 2 HR, 32 RBI in 2006

Projected rotation
1. LHP Johan Santana, 19-6, 2.77 ERA in 2006
2. RHP Boof Bonser, 7-6, 4.22 ERA in 2006
3. RHP Ramon Ortiz, 11-16, 5.57 ERA in 2006
4. RHP Carlos Silva, 11-15, 5.94 ERA in 2006
5. LHP Glen Perkins, 0-0, 1.59 ERA in 2006

Projected bullpen
Closer: Joe Nathan, 36 saves, 1.58 ERA in 2006
RH Setup man: Jesse Crain, 3.52 ERA in 2006
LH Setup man: Dennys Reyes, 0.89 ERA in 2006

The new guys
Jeff Cirillo, INF: One thing that the Twins lacked in '06 was infield depth and it certainly put a lot of extra stress on the players at the end of the season. Cirillo should help relieve that by bringing a veteran glove to spell Nick Punto at third and Justin Morneau at first while also providing a strong bat against left-handers.

Ramon Ortiz, RHP: Adding an innings-eater to the rotation was the Twins' primary goal this offseason and they feel they found that with Ortiz. Despite a few rough seasons, Ortiz has proven to be durable, as he's thrown at least 170 innings in five of his last six seasons. He is expected to be a workhorse near the top of the rotation.

Sidney Ponson, RHP: The Twins signed Ponson to a Minor League deal but he's one of the "X" factors heading into Spring Training. It's been a rough couple of years for the pitcher, with problems both on and off the field, but there is hope that Ponson can turn things around to help give the rotation another experienced arm.

Prospects to watch
Glen Perkins, LHP: The numbers in the Minors last season weren't much to look at for Perkins, but the left-hander showed the club just what he had during a September callup. It was enough to make the playoff roster out of the bullpen and the intrigue of another lefty in the rotation should get Perkins a good look this spring. If his confidence and stuff can hold up, look for him as a strong rotation candidate.

Matt Garza, RHP: The pitcher that gave a new meaning to a blazing start, Garza raced through the Twins' system in '06 as he went all the way from Class A Ft. Myers to the Majors in just his first full professional season. A power arm whose 95-mph fastball wowed those in the Minors, Garza must work on his changeup to be a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter.

Kevin Slowey, RHP: With similar numbers to Garza in the Minors last season, Slowey is another pitcher in the organization on the fast track. More of a command pitcher who has drawn comparisons to Brad Radke, Slowey could have the type of stuff that makes him at the very least a late-season callup in 2007.

J.D. Durbin, RHP: Once considered a top prospect for the Twins, Durbin has seen his chances dwindle in recent years due to injuries and problems on the mound. But now he's without options and will have to make the club out of Spring Training if the organization is to keep him around. If he proves to be healthy, he could even prove to be an option as a long reliever for the club.

Returning from injury
Jason Kubel, OF/DH: Knee troubles limited the outfielder once again in the second half of last season. Kubel had offseason surgery on his right knee to fix a tear in his meniscus that had been missed before and says that he feels better than he has in years. To try to limit the stress on Kubel's legs this season, the Twins have penciled him in as the team's everyday DH, but he could also see time in the outfield, if he's truly healthy.

Lew Ford, OF: Ford was limited in playing time for two months in '06 due to a strained oblique muscle. But it was during offseason workouts that the outfielder tore his left meniscus and had to undergo surgery to fix it. Ford is expected back in time for Spring Training.

On the rebound
Rondell White, OF/DH: Last season was very uncharacteristic for White as he struggled at the plate, hitting .246, which was his second lowest batting average in his 15 seasons in the Majors. And that's after he was able to turn things around in the second half of the season. Back to an everyday role in the outfield rather than at DH, White is on a mission to prove to the Twins that he's not the player that they saw for most of '06.

Carlos Silva, RHP: Without his trademark sinker, Silva was a big liability for the Twins on the mound in '06. The right-hander struggled to find any sort of consistency and looked like a very different pitcher from the one that had his share of success in 2005. The team is hopeful that Silva will regain his previous form and get back to being a ground ball pitcher.

Long gone
Brad Radke, RHP: Losing one of the best pitchers in the history of the organization is never easy. Radke not only was a consistent starter for the Twins but one of the team's fiercest competitors as well as a true leader in the clubhouse. There is no question that he will be sorely missed.

Willie Eyre, RHP: A long reliever for the Twins for the entire 2006 season, Eyre saw his ups and downs in the role. He was left off the playoff roster and became a free agent after the Twins did not tender him a contract. Eyre signed a Minor League deal, including an invitation to Spring Training, with the Rangers.

Francisco Liriano, LHP: The Twins will be without their talented lefty starter for the 2007 season after he underwent Tommy John surgery in November. Liriano was a big part of the team's turnaround last season and the team had hoped to have him alongside Santana as its 1-2 lefty punch. Now the club will have to wait until '08 to see if Liriano can be the same pitcher he was before the surgery.

2006 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Mauer, .347
OBP: Mauer, .429
SLG: Morneau, .559
Runs: Cuddyer, 102
RBIs: Morneau, 130
Hits: Morneau, 190
2B: Cuddyer, 41
3B: Punto, 7
HR: Morneau, 34
SB: Castillo, 25
2006 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Santana, 233 2/3
W: Santana, 19
L: Silva, 15
Win %: Nathan, 7-0, 1.000
S: Nathan, 36
ERA: Santana, 2.77
K: Santana, 245
K/9: Pat Neshek, 12.89
WHIP: Neshek, 0.78

Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. How will the rotation handle the loss of Radke and Liriano?
Overcoming the loss of two of the team's top starters won't be easy, but there will be plenty of arms to compete for the open spots behind the team's always reliable ace, Santana. By adding an experienced veteran in Ortiz, the Twins gave themselves at least one durable arm with plenty of talented young pitchers waiting to prove their worth in Bonser, Garza, Perkins and Scott Baker. One thing the team needs is for Silva to rebound from his rough '06 season and if the team can get solid starts from its rotation, the bullpen should be able to carry the rest of the load.

2. Can the team's young offensive stars reproduce their breakout seasons or will they suffer a step backward this season?
Usually when a group of players has career years, it's difficult to imagine that they can duplicate them, but this is a special group. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer have long been expected to have years like they did in '06 and considering how young all three players are, there seems to be nothing preventing them from continuing to grow as hitters. The team had a drastic turnaround offensively last season from the year before and it appears that they won't go back to their old ways anytime soon.

3. The DH spot has been an annual trouble spot for the Twins. Will that change in '07?
The team thought it had found its answer to the hole at DH last offseason with White, but that turned out not to be the case. For as good as the offense was as a whole last year, the team still finished with the fewest number of home runs at the spot in the entire American League. Now the club will turn to Kubel this year with hopes of finding a steady bat at the position. If Kubel's knees prove to be healthy and he can remain in the lineup, the team could see a big improvement at the spot.

The bottom line
Sure, the Twins lost a great deal in the rotation with Radke's retirement and Liriano's injury, but they also return a potent young offense with every single position player back for another year. After breakout seasons for Morneau, Mauer, and Cuddyer, there are expectations on the team's "Big Three" that they can all produce even greater numbers this next season. And when you combine that with a bullpen that is arguably the best in all of baseball, it's clear that the Twins should be able to overcome any sort of troubles in the starting staff to be in the thick of the playoff hunt. It won't be an easy battle for the AL Central title as the division has proven to get tougher each year, but Twins general manager Terry Ryan seems to find ways to keep the club in the hunt, and that should be the case again.

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