April 2, 2010

Twins Set Opening Day Roster

Barring any last-minute changes, here's what the Twins' roster will look like on Opening Day:

   LINEUP              BENCH               ROTATION            BULLPEN
C  Joe Mauer        C  Drew Butera      SP Scott Baker      RH Matt Guerrier
1B Justin Morneau   IF Brendan Harris   SP Nick Blackburn   RH Jon Rauch
2B Orlando Hudson   IF Alexi Casilla    SP Carl Pavano      RH Pat Neshek
SS J.J. Hardy       DH Jim Thome        SP Kevin Slowey     RH Jesse Crain
3B Nick Punto                           SP Fran Liriano     RH Clay Condrey
LF Delmon Young                                             LH Jose Mijares
CF Denard Span                                              LH Brian Duensing
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel

Ron Gardenhire revealed yesterday that Nick Punto will be the Opening Day third baseman, which should come as no surprise to anyone who's paid any attention to the Gardenhire/Punto relationship over the years. Brendan Harris hit .303/.360/.425 against left-handers during the past three seasons (compared to .233/.295/.303 from Punto), so hopefully Gardenhire will at least give him some starts versus southpaws and keep Punto from being an everyday player.

Beyond a potential quasi-platoon between Punto and Harris, the other lineup decision to keep tabs on is how often Jim Thome starts over Delmon Young against right-handers. That switch requires Jason Kubel moving from designated hitter to left field, but he's no worse defensively than Young out there and Thome projects as a much better option than Young versus righties. I'll be interested to see if Gardenhire is more willing to sit Punto for Harris or Young for Thome.

Drew Butera begins the year as Joe Mauer's backup after the front office vetoed Gardenhire's attempt to keep 22-year-old No. 3 prospect Wilson Ramos around. Butera projects as one of MLB's worst hitters and may struggle just to crack a .200 batting average or .600 OPS, but the hope is that Jose Morales will be ready to return from wrist surgery by the end of the month, in which case it makes little sense to alter Ramos' development and start his service time clock.

Scott Baker will draw his first Opening Day assignment after bouncing back from a horrendous start last year to go 15-5 with a 3.81 ERA and 146-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 179 innings over his final 29 outings. And last year's Opening Day starter, Francisco Liriano, secured the final rotation spot following a dominant winter ball performance in the Dominican Republic and equally impressive spring training in Fort Myers.

Brian Duensing lost the fifth-starter battle to Liriano, so he'll begin the year as the bullpen's second left-hander. Jose Mijares will be in the setup/closer mix, which leaves Duensing either soaking up innings as a long man or making brief appearances as a left-handed specialist. Ron Mahay is also waiting in the wings as another left-handed bullpen option if Duensing moves to the rotation or heads back to Triple-A.

After sitting out most of 2008 and all of 2009 with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery Pat Neshek showed up to camp looking very much like his old self and reclaimed his spot in the bullpen. In an odd twist of fate Joe Nathan going under the knife for Tommy John surgery of his own made it far easier roster-wise for Neshek to avoid a season-opening rehab assignment in the minors, although like most of the bullpen his exact role is unclear for now.

I'll be back first thing Monday with my usual Opening Day preview and predictions.

UPDATE: Gardenhire has already changed his mind about the closer-by-committee approach, naming Jon Rauch closer this afternoon. Odd timing, for sure, but Rauch always struck me as the heavy favorite for the gig and Gardenhire was never going to employ a true "committee."

  • Jeff

    It’s really got to suck to be Harris, to consistently outplay Punto from every angle this spring (not to mention the past two years) and still not get the opening day nod.

  • Will

    Aaron, what do you think about Slama – it seems like he should have been a real option for the final bullpen spot over Condrey or Mahay, but no one really seems to take him seriously. As a fan who’s never seen him pitch and can only see his incredible minor league statistics (even considering his advanced age), I’m curious why he is not taken seriously by anyone in the Twins front office or even by anyone in the media. It’s as if there is something obviously wrong him that only the insiders know about.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    What the heck is Clay Condrey doing on this roster?

    I mean – I’m not shocked – since they gave him a contract. However, didn’t he pretty much pitch batting practicing during spring training? Who actually thinks he can get major league hitters out during the regular season? Yikes.

    I hope they won’t wait too long to pull the plug on that one. Then we’ll probably see Mahay or Slama at that point. Either is a better alternative. I just hope too many games aren’t lost figuring this out.

  • Awake At The Wheel

    “It’s really got to suck to be Harris, to consistently outplay Punto from every angle this spring (not to mention the past two years) and still not get the opening day nod.”

    Yeah, Harris has really out played him posting UZR/150’s of -5.9 and -26.3.

    Get real, Punto is superior defensively and should get plenty of opportunities to play in the field. The Twins have enough offense at this point that Harris’ offensive edge isn’t that great except against left handers.

  • Awake At The Wheel

    Punto was no great shakes at the plate either with a .627 OPS, but for “outplaying” Punto, I would expect better than a .672 OPS.

  • Jeff

    Ok let’s eliminate the last two years then. This spring there was supposed to be a competition for the 3rd base spot. Punto posted an OPS of .598 vs Harris’ .748. Punto also committed 3 errors at 3rd while Harris had none (in fact he had no errors at any position this spring). I realize fielding percentage is an outdated statistic but there really aren’t any more advanced statistics available for ST games. Of course I’m completely leaving out the fact that Gardenhire gave Punto nearly twice as much playing time at 3rd as Harris. I’m sick of his man crush on Punto.

  • ernie

    I agree, it does have to suck to be Harris. I wonder what Punto has over Gardy to continue to warrant this. You have to wonder what would have happened if the Twins were able to pick up a 3rd baseman over the winter as well. I expect Gardy would have put Punto as the new closer…

  • Adam S.

    as much as it sucks you gotta have ramos start the year at AAA. i mean he has only played at AA so some AAA seasoning will do him good.

    as far as starting young over thome vs rhp….wtf?!?!? what an awful decision. does gardy really think that young is that much better than kubs in the field? or does he think young can hit vs rhp better than thome??? whatever….

  • pk

    Organizations don’t put good prospects in AAA because they don’t need some bitter old prospect taking an exception to him and trying something stupid. AAA is filled with can’t make, barely made it, and won’t ever make it, not “will be a star” type player.

  • I know that we paid Condrey this offseason, but by the looks of things he appears to not be the best option heading into the season. I realize that spring training is a small sample size, and his “sore arm” might be just fine, but how long do you think it is before Anthony Slama is called up to take his spot in the bullpen?

  • Ted

    Watches some of yesterday’s spring training game and felt like I was watching a microcosm of what will surely be a running storyline this season: Thome vs. Delmon. Batting fourth, Thome worked the count full, fouled off a couple pitches and then took Lackey deep. Delmon young followed with a first-pitch swing that resulted in a weak ground ball to third where Adrian Beltre made a nice play to record the out. Delmon’s second plate appearance was similar except that his first-pitch swing resulted in a kind-of sort-of sharply hit ground ball up the middle for a hit. It never gets old.

    Yep, that feels about right.

  • Ted

    I also went to the Target Field opening and watched some college ball. Not certain whether it was the fielders, but both teams were having trouble with balls hit to second base. Looked like the balls were taking some odd hops. Again, could have been the fielders, but there might be some early season hijinks at second if the field plays poorly. Makes me wonder how difficult it has been for the field crew to adjust to outdoor baseball.

  • AndyW

    We have no backup CF? Maybe Alexi could play there in a pinch, but I don’t remember that being the case.

  • scott

    “Get real, Punto is superior defensively and should get plenty of opportunities to play in the field”. LOL you’re kidding me right? I’ll give you that he used to be a really good defensively, and right now he’s just good. I watched many of the games last year and Punto clearly has lost his range to play 3B. Honestly, I thought Harris looked better at 3B when he got regular playing time there.

  • James M.

    Not sure what games you were watching, Scott. Punto hasn’t had any meaningful PT at 3B since 2007. If you were talking about SS, I’d agree with you. He doesn’t have the range to play there any more. But 3B is very different. Quick reactions, not range, are required there.

    As far as hitting goes, Harris does have a big edge — against LHP. There’s very little difference between them against RHP. Harris has more power, but Punto has a better OBP. They cancel out.
    I do hope Gardy plays Harris against most lefties. But if he doesn’t, it won’t matter much since they see only 2 or 3 of them per week. Getting Thome as many AB’s as possible against righties (instead of DY) is far more important.

  • So I know Bert Blyleven is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he has his moments.

    Like on the Friday night exhibition game when the twins were down 4 in the 9th it is broadcasters “garbage time”.

    Bremer started talking about how imposing Dave Winfield was in the batters box back in the day and Blyleven replies:

    “I can remember Winfield hitting a home run off of me in the Metrodome that Gary Gaetti jumped for. It broke a seat in left field.”

    Now I know Bert is the king of exaggeration, but if this is true that is unbelievably funny.

  • Kurt E.

    The biggest issue here is whether Gardy plays Thome instead of Young vs righties. I am far more interested in that then if he plays Harris instead of Punto. We can all survive watching Punto bat 9th and hopefully grinding out at-bats and taking walks. Thome, however, is a power bat who hits in the middle of the line-up, so hopefully Gardy favors Thome over Young more often than not, he would be wise too.

  • Ted

    I want to see Thome get as many bats as possible (and want to see Delmon as little as possible), but I am concerned that Kubel might not be able to survive the grind of playing LF every day. Maybe it isn’t a concern, especially now that real grass is involved, but doesn’t playing in the field aggravate his knee soreness?

  • Awake At The Wheel

    In 237 games, Punto has put up UZR of 25.4 with an UZR/150 of 19.9.

    In 93 games at 3rd, Harris has put up an UZR of -9.2 and -19.6.

    Harris is garbage defensively.

    Fan Graphs had a good piece on Nick Punto in October last year:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/nick-punto-and-the-little-things

  • Nate P.

    Still a lot of talk elsewhere about what a blow it is losing Nathan and how that sabotages the Twins’ chances of going deep in the playoffs or even winning the division. Let’s look at it this way: if you were searching for a closer and you had the choice between two pitchers, which one of these would you choose?

    PITCHER 1: 266 IP; 4.12 ERA; 1.378 WHIP; 104 ERA+; 1.41 K/BB
    PITCHER 2: 350 IP; 3.65 ERA; 1.207 WHIP; 119 ERA+; 2.76 K/BB

    Pitcher 2 seems like a safe bet, right? Well, here’s the punchline: Pitcher 2 is Jon Rauch from 2005 through 2009. Pitcher 1? Joe Nathan in his time with the Giants before he became a regular closer for the first time with the Twins. And while Nathan’s 2003 is better than Rauch’s 2009, slotting Rauch in at closer might not be the gigantic dropoff people think. (Of course, my optimism for the season’s got me in conventional wisdom refutation mode, and I need something else to think about when I’m not rolling my eyes at East Coast sportswriters who think a roofless ballpark is a disaster because it’s going to be 30 degrees in May here.)