They announced that Scott Baker will be the 5th starter, joining Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing. Kevin Slowey will begin the season in the bullpen in a RH version of Duensing's role to begin last season. This is how it should be for the first couple months. Baker has more starter upside than Slowey. Slowey has more upside than Blackburn, but Nick has been a very effective back-end pitcher in 2 of 3 Major League seasons. At the very least, he's shown himself to be durable, which Slowey has not, so using a 'pen assignment to limit Slowey's mileage isn't a bad strategy.
While trade rumors involving Slowey will persist, the Twins would be wise to hold him until they're confident that Kyle Gibson is MLB-ready. In 2008, the rotation they broke camp with didn't hold together for a week. In 2009, they needed about a dozen different starters to get through the season. If they're patient, Slowey will get opportunities to start, and see whether the uptempo approach he began using late last season will translate into greater effectiveness and value in a starting role.
Slowey joins Joe Nathan, Matt Capps and Jose Mijares as locks to make the bullpen. The Twins elected to place Pat Neshek on waivers, from which he was claimed by San Diego. Though he was inexpensive and had an option remaining, they obviously felt that his stuff wasn't progressing enough in the 2nd season following his TJS to make him an effective option, even in their very unsettled bullpen. There was always some question as to whether or not the Twins would want to have Neshek and Anthony Slama in the same bullpen, since they bring similar skills to the table. If Neshek has anything left, he couldn't find a more hospitable environment in which to find it than the best pitcher's park in the weaker league. Good luck to him.
A slew of other cuts brings the candidates for the 3 remaining bullpen spots down to these 5 guys: LHPs Dusty Hughes, Glen Perkins and Scott Diamond and RHPs Jim Hoey and Jeff Manship. By all accounts, Hughes will make the team - the FO loves him and he's pitched effectively this spring. Perkins probably makes it, too - he's out of options and would have to suck pretty hard not to get a chance to stick around, and he's actually been rather good in Grapefruit League games. That's already 3 lefties, so Rule 5 pick Diamond probably misses out. I'm sure the Twins will try to swing a trade with Atlanta in order to keep him in the organization.
Between Hoey and Manship, I think Hoey gets the nod. He struggled early, but has looked solid in his last few appearances. His high-velocity fastball is a unique asset among the Twins' potential middle relievers. Manship is just another strike-thrower with fringy stuff. Like Slowey, but not as good. Slama is also technically still in camp, but his balky shoulder has taken him out of serious consideration. The Twins will probably start him on the DL, delaying any decisions about whether or not to use one of his options until the end of his rehab assignment.
Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert are still battling it out for the final bench spot. Hughes picked a most inopportune time to go into an 0 for 16 slump, though he finally broke out of it this afternoon with yet another HR, his team-leading 6th. I hope the decision-makers will look at the power potential and see the strategic value it holds as a way to keep Jason Kubel and Jim Thome from having to face too many lefties. I would expect that decision to come by the end of the weekend.
- Good thing Nathan isn't going to have to face the Phillies this season!
- Kubel has officially entered "Save something for the regular season already!" territory.
- In 25 years of following baseball, I have never seen such a fascist line as Liriano's from last night: 3 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, HR, 3 BB, 9 K, 76 pitches. Though he wasn't terribly efficient in the first 2 innings, the only baserunners he allowed were on singles and a full count walk. But he was keeping his pitches down and locating pretty well. I think the loooong bottom of the 2nd threw him off. He came out for the 3rd and suddenly was up in the zone and wild. A good one to get out of the way in spring training.
- Forbes came out with its annual valuations of the MLB franchises this week. The opening of Target Field sent the Twins rocketing up 21% to #12 overall at $490M. While putting a consistent winner on the field, the franchise has experienced year-over-year growth in revenue and value in each of the last 10 years. I bet the Pohlads are glad contraction never went down!