5 important storylines to watch during Twins spring training

The games may not count, but there are several things to keep Twins fans occupied.
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Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario

Exhibition baseball has that NFL preseason feel, but the games are meaningful because they'll help answer many questions for the Twins before they throw the first pitch of the 2020 season Mar. 26 in Oakland. 

The biggest Twins spring training storylines... 

Who wins the fifth spot in the starting rotation?

The addition of Kenta Maeda gives the Twins four bonafide starting pitchers to start hte season, as he joins Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Homer Bailey. But while Rich Hill (elbow) and Michael Pineda (suspension) are out to begin the season, who wins the fifth spot in the rotation is arguably the biggest spring talker. 

Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe were all thrust into bigger-than-expected roles last season and while they performed admirably, they might benefit from a little extra time at Triple-A Rochester. That's where a veteran such as non-roster invitee Jhoulys Chacin could come in as the Twins will look to bring him back to his 2018 form where he won 15 games with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Twins didn't get the big name in free agency, but if one of these players can step up, the transition until Hill and Pineda are ready will be much smoother.

Will Byron Buxton be ready for opening day?

Injury prone is the label Buxton carries, but there's no doubt the Twins are a better team when Buxton is on the field. Early in spring training, he's said all of the right things about being more conservative and efficient to be available throughout the entire 2020 season, but he first needs to recover from offseason shoulder surgery.

So far, Buxton has made positive strides in a goal to be ready for opening day and was cleared to take swings and live batting practice last week.

That being said, the Twins are in no hurry to bring Buxton into a spring training game until he's fully ready, and if that means holding him out a little bit into the season, that might be what they have to do.

How will infield defense look?

While many were obsessed with the Twins' pursuit of impact pitching, their infield defense should have earned a lot more attention. With a total of -15 outs above average, the Twins weren't making things easier for their troubled pitching rotation and once the big names were off the free-agent market, Minnesota rightly tried to fix this problem.

With the addition of Josh Donaldson, the Twins pulled a +14 OAA swing at third base, which should help Jorge Polanco, who was -16 in the category. It will also be interesting to see how Luis Arraez adjusts to being an everyday second baseman after recording -6 OAA last year.

If Sano can grasp first base quickly in the departure of C.J. Cron (+1 OAA), the infield defense should be much improved, which should help out the cause on the mound.

Top prospects to watch

This doesn't have as much to do with the major league team as it does the future, but the Twins have three of their four top prospects (per MLB Pipeline) with the team in the opening weeks, meaning fans will get an extended look at what they could bring to the table.

We won't know until the real games start if Royce Lewis' bat can evolve or how close Trevor Larnach or Alex Kiriloff are from the major-league level, but we can read the tea leaves as camp progresses. If any of these players flash, they could be a key part of the Twins' roster down the stretch or even be used as a bargaining chip to give their rotation one more push to compete in October.

How can the Twins handle playing the favorite?

The Twins have played the role of AL Central underdog (or doormat) over the past decade, but after winning the division title and 101 games last season, everyone seems to believe this is a team primed to contend and repeat as division champions.

But another blue banner hanging at Target Field before getting blasted in October isn't going to be good enough for a fan base that expects a big step forward. 

So far, the Twins have said all the right things as they have their eyes set on a World Series championship, but how they represent themselves in Fort Myers could set the tone for the rest of the season.

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