When a team is successful, deciding on roster spots shouldn’t be much of a chore. The stars have their spots guaranteed, the role players have already been identified, and there’s maybe there’s one player that has a chance at sneaking in.
Last season, the Twins were anything but successful as they lost 99 games. While the departures of Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Joe Nathan were eventually filled by the signings of Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, and Joel Zumaya (who is now out with a torn UCL), just about everyone on the roster struggled, which meant that plenty of roster battles would be brewing this spring. Sure enough, the Twins invited 66 players to spring training this year, showing that the coaching staff wants to get a good look at plenty of players.
Below I’ve highlighted four non-roster invitees that Twins fans are, or should be enamored with this spring. I know it’s early, but I’m willing to bet we already know their likelihood of making the Opening Day roster. Keep in mind that right now, there will be only one 40-man roster spot available once Joel Zumaya is placed on the 60-day DL, unless someone else is removed, *cough* Jeff Gray.
J.R. Towles – B-
Is there really any way that Towles doesn’t make the roster in lieu of Drew Butera? I get the feeling that as long as Towles shows that he’s capable defensively and can hit better than Butera, the third catcher’s spot on the 25-man roster is his. I mean, there are people within the Twins organization that are openly (albeit anonymously) hoping that he does beat out Butera.
It’s too bad because Butera’s a great guy, but baseball is a business and you succeed with players that give you the best chance to win, not with good people that try hard. Even though Towles’ major league career has been only marginally better than Butera’s, at least his minor league numbers suggest he could be an asset if he figures everything out. It really should not be hard to beat out Butera unless the Twins are convinced that his defense is so good that it outweighs the hitters’ difference in potential offensive firepower.
Note: By the way, while typing up this review, I’ve changed Towles’ grade from a B+ to a B to a B-. I think it’s showing that even though he has a good chance of making it, I feel that the Twins are so irrationally in love with Butera’s defense that it will take a good effort to displace him. I guess my optimism of Towles overtaking Butera has waned with each passing minute.
Jared Burton – C+
I’ve been pairing Burton with fellow NRI pitcher Jason Bulger, but the difference between them is that Burton’s actually had success in the majors whereas Bulger has had one decent year.* Burton’s kind of followed the Joel Zumaya track of pitching, where he burst onto the scene as a good setup reliever in his first two seasons, only to have the last couple seasons ruined by injuries.
* The same year Jason Kubel hit a grand slam home run off of him to complete the cycle. Just an odd tidbit I had to share.
Possessing a good cutter and a “split-change,” (his description of the pitch), Burton’s chances of making the Opening Day roster increased when Zumaya was diagnosed with his torn UCL. However, by my count he’s also competing with about 10 other pitchers for two or three bullpen spots.
Here’s who I think is guaranteed of being in the Opening Day ‘pen: Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett
Here’s who I think has a realistic chance for those two remaining spots: Terry Doyle, Jeff Gray, Matt Maloney, Jeff Manship, Lester Oliveros, Kyle Waldrop, Jared Burton, Jason Bulger, Phil Dumatrait, Esmerling Vasquez, Carlos Gutierrez
That’s a lot of guys to compete against, so while I do think Burton has a good chance of making it, I could also easily see some combination of Doyle, Oliveros, and Waldrop winning those last two spots instead.
Sean Burroughs – D-
Look, his comeback story is great, but I just don’t think Burroughs has what it takes to earn a bench spot. There was early talk about him challenging Danny Valencia for the starting third base job, but Valencia has quickly earned positive reviews on his improved defense. Burroughs doesn’t feature much power, and really his only upside would be as a pinch-hitter and backup at third base. But then you have to realize that the bench will already have a catcher, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes (both out of options), and either Tsuyoshi Nishioka or Rene Tosoni. If he accepts a minor league assignment, I could see him being called up at some point this season if/when injuries strike, but I just don’t think he has what it takes to crack the Opening Day roster.
Brian Dozier – F
Dozier is probably the guy most casual Twins fans are familiar with because he was in the Twins system last season and Gardy was calling for him to be promoted, but there’s just not any room for him. Jamey Carroll was signed to be the starting shortstop, and Dozier would only be in the major leagues if he would have regular playing time. Even then, you have to imagine that Alexi Casilla would be ahead of him on the depth chart, especially since Dozier has no experience above Double-A. Barring injury, the BullDozier will be in the majors at some point this year, but it won’t be on April 6th.