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Twins looking to find solid middle ground

Open competition expected at second base and shortstop

Twins looking to find solid middle ground
MINNEAPOLIS -- The good news for the Twins is that they are long on middle-infield options in 2013.

But the bad news is that, outside of veteran infielder Jamey Carroll, Minnesota's options aren't long on experience.

The Twins are expected to hold tryouts at both second base and shortstop in Spring Training, with Carroll in the mix along with Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar.

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"It's going to be a competition there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I'm going to try to figure out the best possible combinations and go from there -- who gets it done."

Carroll has the most experience by a sizeable margin, as the 11-year veteran has more than 1,200 big league games under his belt and can capably handle shortstop, second base and third base.

He started last season as the club's Opening Day shortstop, but ended up as the club's primary utility player, as Dozier and Florimon took over at shortstop.

Carroll doesn't provide much power, but his value lies in his ability to get on base, as he posted a .343 on-base percentage in 138 games last year and has a career .354 on-base percentage.

Carroll, who will be 39 in February, will get the opportunity to compete for a starting job in the middle infield again this season, but the Twins would prefer to use him in a utility role given his experience and ability to backup so many positions, including third base behind Trevor Plouffe.

"We know Jamey Carroll can play anywhere. No matter where I put him, you plug him in and he does just fine," Gardenhire said. "He's that great role guy, he can start for you every day if you have to have it that way. I think a better situation with him would be spot playing here and there and not beat him up. But he's also a gamer. He likes to be out there."

Carroll served as the club's everyday shortstop last season until Dozier was called up in early May. Dozier, who was the club's Minor League player of the year in 2011, showed flashes of his ability but was inconsistent, as evidenced by his .234 batting average and 15 errors in 84 games.

He ended up getting optioned to Triple-A Rochester in mid-August and didn't return, as Florimon got his chance.

Dozier, 25, will again compete for the shortstop job, but is considered a frontrunner at second base with Florimon the favorite at short.

"Hopefully he'll get in there in the second base mix and kind of take that over," Gardenhire said. "That's kind of what you'd like to see and go from there."

Florimon, 26, impressed with his glove in 43 games at shortstop, but still needs to prove he can hit, as he batted just .219 with eight extra-base hits in 43 games.

But Florimon, who was picked up off waivers from the Orioles before last season, was solid enough defensively to be considered the favorite at shortstop heading into next season.

But Gardenhire said that nothing is guaranteed, and that Dozier could still remain at shortstop ahead of Florimon if he fares better during Spring Training.

"No one is set," Gardenhire said. "[Dozier] will get a look at both sides of it. I know he can play both sides of it, and hopefully he'll come in and do some damage in Spring Training, get off to a good start and go from there."

Escobar, meanwhile, remains a wild card, as he didn't see much action with the Twins after being acquired in the trade that sent Francisco Liriano to the White Sox.

Escobar -- who like Carroll can play short, second or third -- played in just 14 games with the Twins, hitting .227 after batting .207 in 36 games with the White Sox.

The 23-year-old could get more seasoning at Triple-A Rochester, or settle in as a utility infielder if he doesn't win a starting spot in Spring Training.

He'll get his opportunity just like the other middle infield options in Spring Training, as it doesn't appear the club is looking for any outside help.

"I'm not going to tell you that's our main priority," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "We're looking for pitching. The dollars we set aside for free agents is for pitching. We can always improve, but we're looking for pitching. There's no use in spending money on a shortstop if we can't throw the ball."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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