April 2, 2010
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."