It's almost here. We just had our fantasy baseball draft this past Monday and that's usually my signal that the regular season is getting close. Naturally I reached for Joe Mauer in the 3rd round of the draft...I have to have him on my team, I don't know why, but the world wouldn't feel right if Mauer wasn't on my fantasy team. I also have D-Span, a late-round pickup, so now I'm really hoping he has a bounce back year. On the pitching side I had Liriano as a keeper and picked up Nathan as well, so the Twins are fairly well-represented on my team. It's a very competitive league which includes Domedog and former TBS writer SR, and though it's only 8 teams, draft-day really decides much of your fortune for the season. All that to say, I'm getting more and more excited for Opening Day, which for the Twins is only 15 days away.
The roster is starting to look more and more defined as the Spring progresses. Mauer played in his first game of the Spring yesterday, Morneau has been playing on and off, the rotation looks a little better with each start and the bullpen is slowly sorting itself out. I'd like to highlight a couple of bright spots for the Twins so far this Spring.
Carl Pavano - SP
Pavano's looked to be in mid-season form so far this spring throwing 13 innings of 0ER ball with 7Ks against 1BB. Buster Olney even heard a scout say that Pavano was, "best pitcher I've seen in Florida this spring." I hope Carl's success continues into the regular season, the Twins need Pavano to pitch like last year again this season.
Luke Hughes - 3B/Utility
With 4HRs and 13 RBIs in 13 games so far this Spring, Hughes has easily been one of the Twins most impressive offensive players. At the very least, he's making a case for himself as a strong backup candidate. The thing that concerns me is that he has 10Ks and only 2BB so far. That suggests to me that some of his success has been somewhat lucky because those numbers look an awful lot like his Minor League K/BB ratios. I look for Hughes to make the team out of ST as a utility infielder.
Danny Valencia - 3B
This kid is out there looking to prove all of us naysayers wrong. So far this Spring in 28 at-bats he's hitting .393/.452/.643, he's showing good plate discipline (5Ks, 3BB), and he hit a HR a couple of days ago. I've been banging the regression drum since the end of last season, but I'll be happy to eat my words if Valencia has another production season in 2011.
Jason Kubel - RF/DH
Koobs has been ridic so far at the plate this Spring hitting .469/.500/.750 with 8RBIs, 4 doubles, a triple and a HR. The Twins could really use a big year from Koobs who had quite a disappointing season in 2010. He looks comfortable at the plate this Spring.
Denard Span - CF
It's hard to get that excited for D-Span just yet, last year he had a good Spring only to go on and have a mediocre season. I think Span is motivated to perform better this season and he looks more focused so far. His 5Ks to 3BB is encouraging from a plate discipline standpoint. Perhaps his 2nd year at Target Field will prove better than the first.
Dusty Hughes - RP
The move the Twins made to claim Hughes from the Royals wasn't very well-received by Twins bloggers, but the Twins have to be liking what they're seeing so far. In 6 appearances, Hughes has thrown 6 innings allowing only 2 hits while striking out 4 and walking none. I'm not sure those numbers mean a whole lot, it depends a lot on who he's been pitching to, but so far he looks like a decent bullpen option.
Brian Duensing - SP
There has been a lot of debate as to whether the decision to move Duensing into the rotation full time is a good one, but for Duensing's part, he's done nothing to cast any doubts. So far this spring he's thrown 12 innings, given up 14 hits, struck out 10 and walked only 2. The high WHIP is a little concerning, but Duensing has limited the damage.
Those are a few of the Spring performances I wanted to highlight. Like most, I don't believe much in Spring numbers, except that I feel they indicate a player's preparedness for the season. I think a good Spring can give a player like D-Span or Kubel a good mindset going into the year which could lead to a hot start. As far as pitchers go, I think the innings they get over these final two weeks of ST will give us the best indication of where they're at. Liriano will be of particular interest to me, as will Blackburn. I want to see Liriano looking more and more like the guy we saw last year and I want to see if Blackburn can continue to be deceptive enough to keep hitters off-balance. The first 7 games of the season won't be a cakewalk for the Twins (3 at Toronto and 4 at the Yankees) so they need to be ready to go right out of the gate.