Look, it’s important not to overreact to the first series of the season. Just last year, two teams (Milwaukee, Tampa) got swept in the season’s first series and went on to make the playoffs. As such, I won’t read too much into last weekend’s results, at least in terms of what they mean for the Twins’ fortunes over the rest of the season. However, the starting lineup was still very much in question this spring, and a couple of guys might be on the hot seat if they don’t produce in April. I’m going to take a peak at a few guys who might find themselves riding pine or stuck in triple-A Rochester if they don’t get off to a good start.
Danny Valencia: Valencia struggled last year as his BABIP came back down to earth (.345 vs. .275) and his defense at third was less than stellar. Normally seen as a players’ coach, Ron Gardenhire seemed particularly hard on Valencia, calling him out publicly on a number of occasions. Valencia, by all accounts, dedicated himself to defense this offseason, but the early returns haven’t been great — he missed two playable balls over the weekend — and he found himself on the bench Sunday. He’s hit just .091 in his first three games.
Valencia is the first player on this list mostly because I’m having trouble figuring out why Sean Burroughs is on the roster if not to give Valencia some competition. Burroughs had a couple of solid years with the Padres, compiling 5.5 WAR over the 2003-4 campaigns before struggles with substance abuse derailed his career. Generally, he’s a well-regarded defender (he sure flashed the leather in his one start this weekend), but can’t really play a middle infield spot. With a glut of 1B/DH types on the roster, it would seem that Burroughs’ only chance at playing time is to eat into Valencia’s reps at third. I don’t think the organization is too high on Valencia (he’s mostly a placeholder until Miguel Sano is ready), and I don’t think they’d hesitate to give him the boot if he throws up numbers like last season.
Chris Parmelee: Parmelee, more than anybody else, benefitted from a good spring training, essentially playing himself into a job despite an iffy minor league track record. Parmelee went 1-for-8 against the Orioles in two starts and a pinch-hitting appearance on Sunday. He sat again Monday against tough lefty C.J. Wilson.
There are a number of scenarios that could play out with Parmelee. First, if he doesn’t hit, the organization could decide he’s not quite ready and send him to Rochester. The front office also could decide they have so many options at first that Parmelee isn’t a lock for regular playing time with the big club. In that case, they’d probably rather see him get at-bats every day with Rochester. Some of this could hinge on Ryan Doumit. He didn’t look comfortable in the outfield in Baltimore, and it’s possible the front office could decide they’d rather use him as a 1B/C/DH and play a Plouffe/Revere platoon in right. Another possible scenario is Justin Morneau deciding that he’d be better suited playing the field, which, although unlikely, would also seemingly leave Parmelee as the odd man out. The final scenario (and the least probable) is that Joe Benson just rakes in triple-A and proves himself to be the best option in right field. That could push Doumit into the aforementioned 1B/C/DH role and would likely send Parmelee or Revere down to Rochester.
Jamey Carroll/Alexi Casilla: The double-play tandem has looked solid defensively thus far, but Carroll is still hitless as a Twin, and Casilla has only one hit in his first eight at-bats. Meanwhile, Brian Dozier is killing it in Rochester — he was 2-for-4 with a double and game-winning homer Monday and is now hitting .474/.545/.789 — and he impressed everybody in spring training.
I doubt Dozier forces his way up as a starting shortstop since the Twins invested good money in Carroll, but a) the organization could decide once and for all that Casilla is not the answer at second or b) decide Carroll is best utilized in the super-utility role he’s filled the last several seasons. He could get starts all over the infield (also maybe eating into Valencia’s reps at third) and still get a solid 350-400 at-bats while Dozier plays every day.
The bullpen: I think we can safely say Matt Capps, Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins have locked down spots in the bullpen. Other than that, I expect the relief corps to be a work in progress. Kyle Waldrop appeared to have clinched a spot before arm trouble and you’d have to expect him to be in the mix when he’s healthy. Rochester’s roster includes Jeff Manship, Casey Fien, Tyler Robertson and Anthony Slama, all of whom could be candidates for a call-up if they perform well or current members of the Minnesota pen struggle. Carlos Gutierrez and a couple of double-A prospects could also be in for some time. It’s tough to predict how this will play out, but I fully expect a decent amount of turnover in the bullpen throughout the season.
It hasn’t been pretty for the Twins thus far, and the future doesn’t look all that bright either. For the time being, I’m going to avoid going all apocalyptic, but truthfully, that sort of reaction might not be all that far off. With the Twins’ upcoming schedule, it could get a lot worse before it gets any better.