5 Spring Training keys to watch for the Twins pitching staff

Will the Twins pitching staff be any better in 2017?
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The Minnesota Twins pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training Tuesday. Nothing will determine how successful the Twins are or aren't in 2017 like the team's pitching.

It was a big problem area in 2016 as the group finished dead last in the American League with a 5.08 team ERA. Minnesota used 11 different starters and the bullpen was in a constant state of flux.

So here is a look at what to watch for:

1. Health of key members of the staff

Both Glen Perkins and Phil Hughes were key members of the Twins' pitching staff in 2015 and both missed a ton of time with injuries in 2016.

Perkins only made two appearances shoulder surgery ultimately ended his season. He threw off a mound Tuesday for the first time since last April.

Hughes' season came to an end thanks to a shoulder injury. He had a rib removed with hopes that it will allow him to return to form.

2. May moves back to starting

Trevor May has flashed brilliance in the bullpen, but he had just as many rocky outings. The plan for the 27-year-old righty is to return to starting this spring and compete for a spot in the rotation.

3. Open spots on the rotation

There are some spots to be had in the Twins starting rotation, but there will be a lot of competition for them.

Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson figure to have two of the rotation spots locked up.

Hughes, if he's able to return to form, would seem an odds-on favorite for the third spot. Everything else could be wide open.

Hector Santiago, May, invitees Ryan Vogelsong and Nick Tepesch and youngsters Jose Berrios and Tyler Duffey will all be competing for the final two spots.

4. Youth needs to step up

Berrios is Minnesota's best chance at having a front-line starter.

J.T. Chargois was with Minnesota for stretches last year and Justin Haley will need to be in the bullpen. He was a Rule 5 draftee – meaning if he doesn't make the squad he would need to return to his original team.

5. The bullpen battle

Spots won't be easy to come by in the Twins bullpen. Assuming Perkins starts the season on the disabled list, Brandon Kintzler will open up the season as the closer.

Matt Belisle figures to have a spot in the bullpen locked up. Beyond that there are few guarantees, but Taylor Rogers, Michael Tonkin, Ryan Pressly, Haley, Chargois, Buddy Boshers, Ryan O'Rourke and Adalberto Mejia could all be in the running.

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