Monday, February 7, 2011

Twins Likely 25-Man Roster



With the Super Bowl taking place last night* and putting an end to the NFL season, most sports fans will turn their attention to baseball in the next few weeks. Pitchers and catchers report in 11 days, which for anyone outside of Wisconsin is great news because the NFL season could not have ended sooner.

*For those of you who think I'm not capable of congratulating the Packers and their fans, you're right. Screw the Packers.


The Twins off-season wasn't a great one, but the roster did have considerable turnover. That should make Spring Training at least a little bit more interesting than usual, although there really won't be many battles for roster spots. It will be interesting to see how Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka fares, and if he'll play shortstop or second base, but it's clear he's going to be starting up the middle. As of now, here are the players that are guaranteed to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training barring injury:

C: Joe Mauer, Drew Butera
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Alexi Casilla
SS: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
3B: Danny Valencia
OF: Delmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jason Repko
DH: Jim Thome
SP: Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing
MR: Matt Capps, Jose Mijares
CL: Joe Nathan

By my count, 21 of the 25 roster spots are already taken care of. The remaining four spots are likely going to be taken by a utility infielder and three relievers, so even those 'battles' aren't going to be all that interesting.

Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert are going to be battling for the utility role, and because both Casilla and Yoshi can play shortstop, Luke Hughes is a darkhorse candidate to win the job. Hughes has been described as a liability defensively, though, so it's much more likely that Plouffe or Tolbert wins the job. My money is on Tolbert, although both are pretty poor options.

In three seasons in AAA, Tolbert is a career .289/.342/.418 hitter, which really isn't a bad line for a potential utility infielder in the bigs. Offensive numbers tend to decline between 10 and 15% when someone goes from AAA to MLB, so a .260/.318/.376 line would seem to be an optimistic line as that would represent a 10% decrease from his AAA numbers. Tolbert is a career .246/.306/.347 hitter in the big leagues over three seasons, though, so it appears to be closer to 15%. Basically, I think Tolbert's floor (the absolute worst he could do) would be about a .235/.295/.330 line, while his ceiling is the aforementioned .260/.318/.376 line.

Plouffe on the other hand is a career .253/.303/.419 hitter in 3 AAA seasons, which is clearly inferior to Tolbert's AAA numbers. That would put an optimistic view of Plouffe's 2011 MLB projections at about .230/.270/.375 which sadly isn't much better than Tolbert's floor, and Plouffe's floor is probably close to .215/.255/.350 which is obviously absolutely atrocious.

Tolbert has more major league experience, seems more comfortable playing multiple positions, and is a better offensive option than Plouffe, so it seems likely he'll be the utility guy to start the season. Basically, as Twins fans we really need to hope that the infield stays healthy for the majority of the season, or that Ron Gardenhire moves Michael Cuddyer back to second base.

That leaves three roster spots available, although all three will likely go to relievers because the Twins feel a need to carry 12 pitchers at all times.

Those three spots will be up for grabs in the spring among the following pitchers:

Jim Hoey, Anthony Slama, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Scott Diamond, Dusty Hughes and Alex Burnett.

Kyle Gibson is likely a better pitcher than all of those players listed, but the Twins will undoubtedly want him to be making a start every fifth day so he has zero chance of winning a bullpen spot. Carlos Gutierrez is another intriguing pitcher, but since he's not even on the 40-man roster yet he seems unlikely to win a spot. Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak are longshots, and likely will be starting the year in AAA Rochester's starting rotation.

Hoey was acquired from the Orioles this off-season in the JJ Hardy trade, Scott Diamond was acquired in the Rule V draft from the Braves organization, the team just recently claimed Dusty Hughes and waived Rob Delaney to do so. Slama, Neshek, Perkins and Burnett were all already in the Twins organization.

Neshek would appear to offer the most upside, as he's now another year removed from Tommy John surgery and prior to getting hurt in 2008 he was among the elite relievers in baseball. Neshek has a career 3.05 ERA, striking out over 10 batters per 9 innings and has allowed just 6 hits per 9 innings. If Neshek returns to even 80% of what he was, he should be a very good and reliable reliever out of the pen in 2011.

For no reason other than a feeling, I think the three spots will eventually go to Neshek, Hoey and Hughes. Gardenhire has always liked having at least two left-handed relievers available out of the bullpen, and with Mijares likely to be used in high-leverage, late-inning situations, I think it's safe to say one of Hughes or Perkins will make the team. I don't think the Twins would have gotten rid of Delaney to claim Hughes unless they planned on giving him a spot in the bullpen, although if Brian Duensing doesn't win a starting spot he would be another lefty in the bullpen, so we'll see what happens.

Hoey is a hard-throwing righty who has been dominant at times in AAA, and if Rick Anderson can work his strike-throwing magic without Hoey losing too much of his plus stuff, he could be a great find. However, his control is a major issue, as he walked over 7 batters per 9 innings in AAA last year. The good news is if Hoey is unable to find the strike zone, the team will have plenty of options to replace him with in AAA.

That would give the Twins the following opening day roster:


C: Joe Mauer, Drew Butera
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert
SS: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
3B: Danny Valencia
OF: Delmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jason Repko
DH: Jim Thome
SP: Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing
MR: Matt Capps, Jose Mijares, Pat Neshek, Dusty Hughes, Jim Hoey
CL: Joe Nathan
We'll check back on this guess in about two months and see how close I was. Either way, it's great news that pitchers and catchers report in just 11 days.