With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Twins squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Despite losing 103 games last season, the Twins' roster isn't expected to look markedly different come Opening Day.
The Twins signed catcher Jason Castro to a three-year deal and inked veteran reliever Matt Belisle to a one-year pact, but otherwise are counting on their young core to improve and take a step forward this season.
So even though Minnesota will have many of the same faces from last year, the Twins believe this is a much better team that will get the franchise back on track.
"We're definitely not a 103-loss team," said second baseman Brian Dozier. "We've got to grow up a little bit. We're going to do that, and I'm very optimistic of us doing that come Spring Training. The talent's there."
Here is a breakdown of the projected Opening Day roster:
Catchers: Castro, John Ryan Murphy
Castro will be the club's primary catcher after signing a three-year, $24.5 million deal this offseason, but there will be a competition for the backup job among Murphy, prospect Mitch Garver and non-roster invite Chris Gimenez. Murphy is coming off a rough year, but offers more experience behind the plate than Garver. Gimenez, known for his defensive skills and leadership, also has a real chance to make the club, but isn't on the 40-man roster.
First base:Joe Mauer
Mauer, 33, remains entrenched at first base with two years and $46 million remaining on his contract. He got off to a strong start in 2016, but dealt with quad injuries that flared up in mid-August and ended his season a week early. He's expected to get more time off this season, especially against lefties.
Second base: Brian Dozier
Dozier is coming off a career year with 42 homers and 99 RBIs, and remains with the Twins despite being the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason. The Twins were looking for pitching help for Dozier, but are happy to see him anchor the lineup with his combination of power and speed. He's also considered a leader in the clubhouse.
Polanco's bat isn't the issue, but questions remain about his defense at shortstop. He hit .282/.332/.424 in 69 games as a rookie last year and is the front-runner to be the club's starting shortstop. He'll have to prove he can handle the position defensively, but the Twins love his offensive upside.
Third base:Miguel Sano
With Trevor Plouffe outrighted off the roster, Sano is finally taking over full-time at third base after serving as a designated hitter as a rookie in 2015 and seeing time in right field and third base in '16. Like Polanco, the questions about Sano are related to his defense, as he has the athleticism and arm to play third, but needs to cut down on the mistakes. But if Sano can stay healthy and stick at third, he could be in store for a breakout season.
Designated hitter:Kennys Vargas
With the surprising decision to designate Byungho Park for assignment, it opens the door for Vargas to be the club's full-time DH. After a down year in '15, Vargas showed some positive signs at the plate last year, increasing both his power and walk rate. The position also will be rotated, as players such as Mauer and Sano are also expected to get occasional time as DH.
Starting outfield:Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler
The Twins are expected to employ a young and athletic outfield this season, but Rosario will have to earn the job in left field over Robbie Grossman. Buxton is coming off an impressive September, and the Twins are hopeful he's turned the corner and will develop into a star this year. Kepler is coming off a solid rookie season, and looks to be the club's long-term answer in right field.
Bench:Eduardo Escobar, Robbie Grossman, Danny Santana
With his strong season offensively last year, Grossman has a solid shot to make the team as an extra outfielder, while Santana will have to compete for a spot on the roster as a backup outfielder. Santana, who is out of options, will compete with non-roster invites such as J.B. Shuck, Drew Stubbs and Ben Paulsen. Escobar also received some competition right before camp, as the Twins claimed defensive wiz Ehire Adrianza from the Brewers. Escobar, though, is out of options and likely to make the team.
Rotation:Ervin Santana, Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, Trevor May
The four veterans atop the rotation are essentially locks, but Hughes has to show he's healthy after coming back from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. Santana remains the club's ace, and the Twins are looking for more consistency from Santiago and Gibson. The fifth starter job is up for grabs with candidates including May, Jose Berrios, Adalberto Mejia and Rule 5 pick Justin Haley. May hasn't started since 2015, but he has the frame and four-pitch mix to be a viable rotation option. This will likely be his final chance to prove he can start.
Bullpen:Glen Perkins, Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly, Taylor Rogers, Matt Belisle, Craig Breslow, Justin Haley
Perkins, coming off labrum surgery, could open the year on the 15-day disabled list, which would open up another spot for a pitcher such as Michael Tonkin or J.T. Chargois. But Kintzler, Pressly, Rogers and Belisle are all expected to make the roster. Breslow, signed to a Minor League deal, will have to earn his spot on the roster, especially with his new delivery that features a lower arm angle. Haley will compete as a starter, but could make the team as a long reliever the way the Twins employed fellow Rule 5 picks in recent years such as Pressly and J.R. Graham.