Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Board is Set and the Pieces are Moving: Part One

Well it’s great to finally be back and talking about everybody’s favorite hometown nine, the Minnesota Twins. Since we last had a substantial post (which was right after the arbitration deadline), almost nothing has happened in the Twins world (okay, perhaps next to nothing). No more free agent signings, no more contract talk, no more trade rumors. For better or for worse, that’s the way it’s gonna be until spring training. The players currently on the Twins’ roster are the same players that will be taking the field on April 4 in Seattle.

But just who are these guys? Are they similar to the team that should have beaten the Yankees last October? Do they resemble the group that took the league by storm in 2002? Are they the same ones that lead the Twins out of obscurity in 2001?

The answers to those questions? Kinda, No, and Not Even Close. We’ve got a bunch of new names to learn this spring, and even more if you weren’t paying close attention late last year. Today I’ll take a quick look at the Twins’ potential position players and highlight the ones I think will most likely make the Opening Day 25-man roster. Tomorrow (or possibly Friday) it will be the pitchers’ turn, so be sure and stop by then. In the meantime feel free to agree/disagree with my thoughts in the comments section below.

1. Joe Mauer- This pick is obviously a no-brainer. Hopefully Joe will be at least moderately healthy this year, and if so, he will probably be one of the better all-around catchers in the league. An All-Star appearance is definitely not out of the question.
2. Mike Redmond- Many Twins fans questioned Terry Ryan’s judgment when he gave almost $2 million to a backup catcher for two years, but money aside for a moment, Redmond will be an excellent backup and an adequate fill-in should (knock on wood) Joe be injured.

First Basemen:
3. Justin Morneau- I’m extremely excited to see what Morneau can do in a full season at the major league level. He’s going to have his ups and downs (although he’s starting to recognize and correct his weaknesses) but 2005 could be the start of a very special career for this young man.

Second Basemen:
4. Luis Rivas- It’s just eating me up inside that Luis Rivas will be starting at second base AGAIN this year. He’ll soon break the team record for most undeserved second chances given (a record currently held by LaTroy Hawkins). Rivas is terrible, and hopefully it won’t take Gardy and the Twins 500 at-bats to realize it this year.
5. Nick Punto- Barring some unforeseen injury/collapse, Little Nicky Punto will probably make the team again this year as a utility infielder (I’ve put him at second base because that’s where he’ll probably see the most action early on). Not a bad guy to have around, especially since he’s cheap and plays hard (sometimes even too hard).

6. Juan Castro- Entering Spring Training, Castro is the odds-on favorite to win the starting shortstop job. Not because he’s a superior player, not because he’s a veteran, and not because he’s making too much money (which he is), but simply because he’s the quintessential “Twins player”. Castro is a whiz with the leather and usually put the ball in play, which makes him a much safer pick than the next guy on this list. Even though the Twins don’t always follow the “safety first” rule, I believe they probably will in this instance.
7. Jason Bartlett- Yep, you heard it right here at Twins Chatter: Jason Bartlett will make the Opening Day roster, but not as the starting shortstop. I know I’m going out on a limb here, as this isn’t usually the path the Twins take with their prospects, but hear me out. My prediction is that Bartlett has a decent spring (especially with the bat) but not a good enough one for Gardy to give him a full vote of confidence. He’ll open the season as Castro’s platoon partner/pseudo backup, and if he plays well early on, he’ll be given the job while Castro moves into a utility role (spelling Rivas and Cuddyer).

Third Base:
8. Michael Cuddyer- I’ve often expressed doubt that Cuddyer can play third base defensively at the major league level, but it appears the Twins have enough faith in his abilities to pretty much hand him the job. Make no mistake: Cuddyer will hit if he’s given an everyday job. He might strike out 120 times in 500+ at-bats, but he’ll also hit 20-25 homers and drive in his fair share. But on defense? I’ll believe it when I see it.

9. Torii Hunter- Now we’re finally coming to the easy ones. Torii, whether he likes it or not, is stuck here for a few more years. In the meantime, how about developing a smidge better plate discipline? Just a thought.
10. Jacque Jones- The second half of the Twins’ dynamic duo will be sticking around for another year it seems (a trade is not going to happen). JJ will put up solid numbers and will man the baggie once again in ’05.
11. Shannon Stewart- A healthy Stewart in 2005 could go a long ways towards correcting the ills that face the Twins’ offense. This guy hasn’t stopped hitting ever since we stole him from the Jays that fateful day a year and a half ago.
12. Lew Ford- I keep hoping that Gardy will come to his senses and put Sweet Lew in left and just leave him there, but I’m afraid Lew and his superior defensive abilities will only see limited action in the field again this year. At least his bat will show up in the lineup every day.
13. Micheal Restovich- With Ford DHing most days, the Twins will need to carry at least 5 outfielders to deal with emergencies (especially considering that Cuddyer will be in the infield somewhere). Resto is out of options and unless he has an absolutely terrible spring, is likely to make the team.

Designated Hitter
14. Matt LeCroy- Here we are at last: the man without a position. LeCroy won’t see much action in the DH spot this year (most of that will go to Ford or Stewart) but he’s still going to make the team as a right-handed bat off the bench. He’ll also be Morneau’s backup at first base, which is startlingly un-reassuring. But even though he’s no longer seen as an everyday player, the big man can still swing the stick pretty well, which is good enough for me.

Well there you have it. My preliminary predictions for the position players of the 2005 Twins. Most of these picks are pretty well locked-in, with the exception of that 25th spot (which I gave to Bartlett in this case). Tomorrow or Friday (whenever I have time) I’ll be back with a brief analysis of the team’s pitching rotation. In the meantime, just keep repeating this phrase over and over: only 45 more days until pitchers and catchers report, only 45 more days until pitchers and catchers report, only 45 more days.....