I will discuss a variety of these story lines during the coming week, so keep checking in all week for the latest stories from the beaches of Fort Myers.
The Twins enter Spring Training knowing that their middle infield will have a much different look to start the 2011 campaign. The Twins have committed to adding more speed and have parted ways with JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson. One of the players that is guaranteed a spot in the middle infield is the Twins new Japanese import, Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
For most of the offseason the assumption has been that Alexi Casilla would be the natural choice to fill the position opposite Nishikoka. In an interview last week Ron Gardenhire said that it is not a guarantee for Casilla to be an Opening Day starter. Gardy went on to say that there are other players that the Twins want to examine for a middle infield role. Players like Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe will get their shot to vie for a starting spot in the Bigs.
Casilla has been an interesting case for the Twins in past seasons. He has shown glimpses of great assets but he has never been able to compile an entire season of consistent play at the major league level. His best season by far was in 2008 where he batted .281, 7 HR, and 50 RBI. The next season he saw his batting average plummet to barley .200 with many of his other numbers taking sharp drops as well.
Spring Training is going to offer Casilla the chance to show the Twins that he is mature enough to be an everyday major league player. Otherwise the club may have other options in some of their younger, less known players. You can be guaranteed that Hughes and Plouffe will be challenging Casilla every step of the way to prove that they belong.
Whatever player wins the starting job as the team comes north will definitely have to be watching over their shoulder. A few bad at-bats combined with some defensive lapses on the field and that player could end up watching someone else take over his starting spot. The Twins are ready for someone to show the maturity and consistency that it takes to be an everyday player at the highest level.
The Twins sent Casilla to the Dominican Winter League this offseason. In his 40 games there, he hit .303 with seven extra-base hits and seven steals. He even showed the ability to drive in runs by amassing 18 RBI. This output over the winter showed glimpses of the Casilla that the Twins want to see in 2011.
Gardenhire thinks that Casilla is taking the right steps to be the player that the Twins need him to be. He hasn't been putting as much pressure on himself and that can lead to better results on the field. The most important thing for Casilla to do is not to try and do "too much." Twins fans are hoping that Casilla has found this magical point in his career where his maturity and natural baseball ability can metamorphosize him into a middle infielder the club can rely on. The next few weeks will tell the club if his metamorphosis is complete.