Twins to approach '17 with renewed optimism

Twins to approach '17 with renewed optimism

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: Spring Training is here.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While Twins manager Paul Molitor is ready to close the door on a disappointing 2016 season and look toward a better '17 campaign, he's also not one to completely forget what happened last year.

Molitor believes his young club can learn from the 103-loss season, but his message to his players when they arrive to Spring Training will be one of optimism because he said that's the way he's always operated.

"I try to envision how this thing will potentially go if we do things right and we put the work in, and hopefully people step up and get the job done," Molitor said. "That's how I think, and I think it leads to optimism."

It'll be the first Spring Training with the Twins for chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine. They'll also be joined by special assistants Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins, who will each make trips to Fort Myers to serve as instructors and to help the front office with decision-making.

It's all part of the collaborative effort put forth by the front office, as they try to get the Twins back on the right track. Much of that success, however, will be dictated by how the young core of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Jose Berrios performs. But the Twins also have veteran leaders such as Brian Dozier, Ervin Santana, Jason Castro and Joe Mauer who are ready to win now, and believe they're much more talented than their record indicated last year.

"You can't really dwell on youth anymore, and I think that's going to be a huge factor moving forward," Dozier said. "You've got to recognize you're playing with the big boys up here and you can't make the same mistakes you made last year that cost you ballgames. And we've got to do a better job, especially as leaders, to instill that in a lot of the guys in Spring Training moving forward."

Bollinger on Twins' spring home

What follows is a glance at the Spring Training picture as camp opens.

Pitchers and catchers report: Tuesday

Position players report: Saturday

First Grapefruit League game: Home vs. Rays on Feb. 24 at 6:05 p.m. CT

New faces: The Twins signed Castro to a three-year, $24.5 million deal to be their primary catcher and signed reliever Matt Belisle to a one-year, $2.05 million pact. Castro was brought in because of his work behind the plate, as he's considered an excellent game-caller and is among the best pitch-framers. He also helped guide young pitchers during his time with the Astros, so the Twins are counting on him to help with the development of pitchers such as Berrios. Belisle, who had a 1.76 ERA in 46 innings with the Nationals last year, gives the Twins a veteran arm in their bullpen who can also mentor their inexperienced relievers.

Twins' vision for 2017

Interesting non-roster invitees: The Twins signed veteran lefty reliever Craig Breslow to a Minor League deal in the week leading up to Spring Training, and he'll have a good shot to make the roster if he proves his new arm angle is effective. Fellow lefty Ryan Vogelsong will compete for a spot in the rotation, but is more likely to make the club as a long reliever. Catcher Chris Gimenez, a strong defensive backstop who hits lefties well, will also compete for the backup role along with John Ryan Murphy and Mitch Garver. The Twins also have several non-roster outfielders competing for a bench spot such as J.B. Shuck, Drew Stubbs and Ben Paulsen. Byungho Park was designated for assignment, but he cleared waivers, so he'll compete for the everyday designated hitter role with Kennys Vargas.

Prospects to watch: Shortstop Nick Gordon, ranked as the No. 50 overall prospect by MLBPipeline.com, is the club's No. 2 prospect and he'll be in big league camp for the first time. He's widely viewed as the organization's shortstop of the future, but he is likely to open the year at Double-A Chattanooga. Left-hander Stephen Gonsalves, ranked No. 92 overall by MLBPipeline.com, will also be in Major League camp for the first time. He could make his debut at some point this season, as he reached Double-A in the second half of last year. Other notable prospects include relievers J.T. Chargois, Mason Melotakis, Nick Burdi, Jake Reed and Rule 5 Draft pick Justin Haley. Among position players, shortstop Engelb Vielma and outfielders Zack Granite and Daniel Palka will also be in camp.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.