Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Twins Spring Story Lines: Pitchers and Catchers

It might have seemed like it would never come (especially with the recent snow storm that hit a chunk of Twins Territory) but Twins pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers today. The first workout is tomorrow morning and there are plenty of questions to be answered before the start of the year.

For the rest of the position players, the reporting date is on Friday with the first full squad workout taking place on Saturday. It sure doesn't feel like it is close to the start of baseball season but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

On Friday, I will go over five story lines to watch for the players that will report on that day. For now, here is a look at some of the top stories to follow as pitchers and catchers begin their trek to Opening Day.

Who will make the starting staff?

At the beginning of the offseason, it was clear that Scott Diamond was the lone player that looked to be a lock for one of the five starting spots. There have been plenty of moves since that point to bring in a variety of arms with big league experience.

Vance Worley was added to the club from Philadelphia in the Ben Revere trade. He will slide into the rotation behind Diamond. Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey were added on free agent deals and they are both expected to be in the starting rotation for a bulk of the year.

This leaves the fifth spot open for a few different arms. Former first round pick Kyle Gibson is coming off Tommy John surgery and he could have the upper hand at winning the spot. Other options of players on the 40-man roster are Liam Hendriks and Cole De Vries.

How much will Joe Mauer catch?

Word out of TwinsFest was that Joe Mauer wants to spend more time at catcher in 2013. This comes a year after Mauer played a career high 147 games but only 74 of those games were behind the plate. From 2005-2010, Mauer caught over 110 games and getting back to that mark could be a goal for him this year.

Mauer will also have to be ready earlier in spring training to catch a full game since he will be one of Team USA's catchers in the World Baseball Classic. It will be interesting to see how USA Manager Joe Torre uses Mauer and if the Twins will try to control how many innings he logs.

As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, the right formula for Mauer could be finding the best time for him to catch. Manager Ron Gardenhire and Mauer seem to have a good relationship when it comes to his playing time. They will try and work out a plan that will be best for Mauer and the Twins.

What will the role be of Kyle Gibson?

As mentioned before, the Twins are going to need someone to fit into that fifth spot in the rotation. The hope is that Gibson can be part of the rotation for the foreseeable future. That being said, the team isn't sure of where he will begin the season.

If the team wants him to start games from the beginning of the year, the best spot for him might be in the rotation of the Rochester Red Wings. This way the club can have an easier time controlling his innings while not put strain on the big league bullpen. It might also be nice to get some starts under his belt before making his debut.

The club has also talked about using him in a relief role to start the year. This will keep his innings lower at the beginning of the year so he is available for the majority of the season. He will likely have an innings limit for 2013 so the organization has to be careful with how he is used.

How can Scott Diamond avoid the sophomore slump?

Diamond is looking to improve upon what was a good rookie campaign in which he led Twins starters in almost every statistical category. His hot first half start was tough to duplicate in the second half. He posted a 2.62 ERA in the first half with a 1.18 WHIP. Those numbers jumped to a 4.31 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP.

The Twins hope they can see more of the Diamond from before the break when he was one of the best pitchers in the American League. Other teams and hitters might be coming more familiar with Diamond so it will be even more important for him to locate his pitches in his second full season.

With other experienced pitchers around Diamond, there might not be as much pressure on the 26-year old Canadian. He has a chance to be the Opening Day starter versus Justin Verlander and the Tigers. From there, it is about making his pitches and hoping the defense holds up behind him.

Can Glen Perkins and Jared Burton continue to find success?

One of the biggest strengths for the Twins last season was the bullpen. There were strong performances from multiple members of the relief core but two men stood out above the crowd. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton are two of the key pieces that will look to find continued success in 2013.

Perkins will officially enter the season as the team's closer for the first time. He has put together back-to-back strong seasons after he found his place as a relief pitcher. His velocity has increased and he has become a major threat in the late innings of games.

Burton had a marvelous season after struggling to find his place in Cincinnati. He was one of the best set-up men in the game last year so the Twins signed him to a multi-year contract. It helps that he is right-handed and Perkins is left-handed so there are two different options for the club.

Their continued success could go a long way in helping this club get back to .500 this year.

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