2014 Minnesota Twins Spring Training Preview - Bring Me The News

2014 Minnesota Twins Spring Training Preview

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If you're reading this in Minnesota, you're probably confused.

Hey, we understand. Your commute is going to be/was snowy and horrible, as recently as last week wind chills were in the negative-20s, and your kids have been at home more than they've been at school in 2014.

So when you see the word spring in this headline, you're calling schenanigans, unless the context is "let's spring into action and get out of this wretchedly cold state."

But Minnesotans, we're not pulling your chain, spring training is here.

For the Minnesota Twins, this offseason has been about adding arms, giving some old faces a new shot, and giving fans renewed hope.

Can they follow up their busy offseason with a few more wins than the last few years? Well, with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp Sunday, it looks like we're about to find out.

Here's a few things to watch for during spring training with the full team due in Fort Myers Feb. 21.

HIRED GUNS: RICKY NOLASCO AND PHIL HUGHES

The stats have been pounded into our heads over and over this offseason when it comes to the 2013 pitching staff.

A 4.55 ERA, worst in the American League, second-worst in baseball. 985 strikeouts, fewest in baseball. 62 quality starts, fewest in baseball. No pitcher with double-digit wins.

The list goes on, but not a whole lot of the stats are approaching serviceable, let alone giving Minnesota a chance to win.

This offseason though, after wracking up poor pitching stats the past three seasons, the Twins did something about that, going out and getting two arms they paid handsomely for.

The first was Ricky Nolasco, a 31-year-old, eight-year veteran that spent the first seven-and-a-half years of his career with the Florida Marlins.

Nolasco posted a 13-11 record last year between the Marlins and Dodgers, wracking up 165 strikeouts and a 3.70 ERA. The strikeout number is 64 more than any Twin last season.

Minnesota paid $49 million for the right-hander over four years, and he's won double-digit games each of the last six seasons. Not necessarily a shutdown pitcher, but a guy that can slide in and be an instant improvement over anything on the roster last year.

The second is Phil Hughes, a 28-year-old righty that spent the first seven seasons of his career with the hated New York Yankees.

Once considered a top prospect in the New York organization, his 56-50 career record and 4.54 ERA tell a story of a starter that has been relatively disappointing considering his original ceiling.

His fastball is straight, which can get pitchers in trouble against Major League hitters, and he has never developed an effective second pitch, another issue the Twins will likely work on with the newcomer in spring training.

His price tag was $24 million over three years, with the club banking on better performances than years past.

The rest of the rotation appears as if it will include Kevin Correia, the only Twins pitcher that threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title last year, and Mike Pelfrey, who was re-signed on a two-year, $11 million deal after a disappointing first year with Minnesota.

According to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com, the final spot in the rotation could go to any number of slingers, including Vance Worley and Kyle Gibson, who are both coming off extremely disappointing seasons. Worley vows this year will be different.

Sam Deduno is another possibility in the starting rotation, though it may be tough for him to make the cut coming off a down second half of the season and September surgery on his throwing shoulder.

A NEW DISH: KURT SUZUKI

After 10 years behind the plate for the Minnesota Twins, Joe Mauer is moving to first base.

His replacement? A 30-year-old that has plenty of experience starting behind the dish for Oakland, Kurt Suzuki.

Suzuki has never been the most proficient hitter in the league, amassing a .253 career average, but his one-year deal suggests he is a transition piece for Minnesota to either develop a young catcher, or make a big name move next offseason.

Knowing the Twins, it's likely the latter, and the man expected to be that young catcher is Josmil Pinto, a 24-year-old that performed well in 21 games last season, hitting .342.

He had his deficiencies behind the plate, but that comes with the territory when trying to quickly adjust to a new level of competition, and it was expected he'd get a chance to work on his defense and overall game this offseason.

But after being plagued by a sore throwing shoulder for nearly a month, he was taken off his winter league roster and shut down to get the shoulder better in December.

According to a Pioneer Press video, things are looking up for Pinto's shoulder, though his chances of making the Major League roster remain in doubt.

THE HOT CORNER: TREVOR PLOUFFE AND MIGUEL SANO

Incumbent third baseman Trevor Plouffe arrived in Fort Myers last week to workout on his own, and according to Lavelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune, has added 10 or so pounds of muscle.

That's good, because a power-hitting top prospect is breathing down his neck for the starting job at the hot corner.

Plouffe hit .254 last season, but clubbed 10 fewer home runs than 2012, despite playing in 10 more games.

Miguel Sano, the aforementioned top prospect, said this offseason that he expects to hit 45-55 home runs in a full season at the major league level. To give you an idea of how impressive that would be, no one in the national league last year hit more than 36.

Despite Sano's billing as the No. 3 prospect in baseball and the percolating confidence he brings with the hype, Neal III doesn't seem to think he'll make the Major League roster out of camp, and that it's Plouffe's job, at least for now.

COVERING GROUND: AARON HICKS AND ALEX PRESLEY (BUT NOT BYRON BUXTON)

The center field spot is going to be up for grabs in spring training, with no clear favorite holding the reigns.

Aaron Hicks won the job out of camp last year, but promptly went 2-for-48 in his first 13 games as a pro. He was sent down to Rochester in August, then battled injuries, and wouldn't see a Major League field the rest of the season.

Taking over for Hicks was Clete Thomas, though he is no longer with the team, leaving Alex Presley as Hicks main competition for the starting job.

Presley was acquired in the Justin Morneau trade on August 31, and ended up playing in 28 games for the Twins in September, posting a .283 batting average.

Presley doesn't bring the flash or five-tool potential that Hicks does, but his consistency on a team that had nothing to play for at the end of last year turned a few heads, and it likely will again when spring training games begin at the end of February.

Sidebar on a man that Twins fans want to see: Byron Buxton won't be with the club out of camp, if at all this year, so the dreams of seeing the No. 1 prospect in baseball are on hold.

Camp begins Monday at 7:30 a.m. with a catcher's meeting. It's here folks, baseball is back.

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