Following a winning season, excitement about the Minnesota Twins' 2016 campaign is running high – and it's just days away, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Ft. Myers, Florida, next week.
While national expectations aren't on point with local optimism, the Twins have high goals following their 83-79 finish last season. So do the fans, who are anxious to forget about four straight 90-loss seasons and might be hoping for 90 wins this season.
Ninety wins would certainly have the Twins in contention for their first playoff spot in six years, but for that to happen the Twins pitching staff will have to take another big step.
"You look at the rotation, we have depth there," manager Paul Molitor told MLB.com Twins blogger Rhett Bollinger this week. "We can argue how they are going to be slotted in terms of not only who the five will be, but how they will go one through five. But we have some competition, as well as depth."
The back end of the Twins' rotation figures to be one of the most interesting position battles coming into the season. The top three spots in the rotation are set with Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson, but what happens after that is anyone's guess.
Vying for the final two spots are veterans Tommy Milone and Ricky Nolasco, while Tyler Duffey, Trevor May and Jose Berrios are all hoping for a chance to win a spot. Bollinger thinks the veterans could have an early leg up.
"Milone has a solid case to be in the rotation, as he's coming off a strong year, posting a 3.92 ERA in 24 outings. He also doesn't project well as a potential bullpen option as a soft-tossing lefty-hander."
That would leave the final spots to be battled out between the oft-injured Nolasco, May and youngsters Duffey and Berrios. But one advantage for Nolasco might be his contract.
If the Twins put Nolasco in the bullpen, the Associated Press notes that he'd become a $12 million per year long reliever.
If Nolasco gets the spot, May would likely be counted on in key late inning situations again this year, while the youngsters Duffey and Berrios could find themselves waiting for their chance in the minors.