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Spring Training Dish: Twins Camp
By Chris Kline
Editor's note: Assistant editor Chris Kline is spending three weeks covering spring training in Florida's Grapefruit League. Today's stop: Twins camp. Tomorrow's stop: Red Sox camp.
FORT MYERS, Fla.--One of the major weaknesses in the Twins' system is the lack of impact bats, but looking beyond the missing pop, there appear to be questions in the middle infield as well.
That's one of the reasons the club brought in second baseman Luis Castillo during the offseason for righthanders Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler and dealt lefthander J.C. Romero to the Angels for shortstop Alexi Casilla.
And they aren't entirely sold on Jason Bartlett filling the shortstop hole in the long term, especially with 2004 first-rounder Trevor Plouffe and 2005 second-rounder Paul Kelly in the system.
"We still don't have one shortstop that's really cemented himself (in the major leagues)," director of minor league operations Jim Rantz said. "It's been a heck of a battle over there and we feel like we have some guys who could fill that role. But obviously those guys are a little ways away."
Plouffe is the frontrunner, and will likely begin the year at high Class A Fort Myers. While many clubs liked him better on the mound as an amateur--where he flashed a four-pitch mix and could command a 91-92 mph fastball--Minnesota saw him as a shortstop. They still see him in the center of the diamond after struggling through his first full season at low Class A Beloit where he finished up batting .223/.300/.345 in 466 at-bats.
"His numbers didn't show that he had an outstanding year with the bat, but he put the ball in play, he made improvements," Rantz said. "He showed that he has some pop in his bat and in the long run I think he's going to be an everyday shortstop. This will be his third year out and he's still working at it.
"He obviously has enough arm to play any position on the diamond, but his footwork and the overall smoothness of the game has to be ironed out a little bit."
Behind Plouffe is Kelly, and scouts continue to rave about the Flower Mound (Texas) High product's arm--which grades out as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale--as well as his leadership skills and presence on the field.
"He just goes about his business as a young player," a scout from an American League club said. "The arm makes you gasp a little bit, but there are a lot of things to like. He controls the strike zone pretty good and I think he's going to hit for some power down the road. The thing you like about him is his defense at this point though. But for me, he's a guy who could move quickly."
Kelly hit .281/.360/.392 between the Gulf Coast League and low Class A Beloit last season in his pro debut.
The X-factor is Casilla, who brings career .297/.375/.367 numbers to the Twins. Casilla wows scouts and Twins officials alike with his range, soft hands and fearlessness on the double play. Though Casilla will never hit for as much power as either of the other candidates, his speed on the bases and his ability to get on base give the Twins three legitimate shortstops at three levels heading into the 2006 season.
"This young man could be an exciting player for us in a very short time," Rantz said. "He moves well, has arm strength and range. But right now, we're looking at how much his bat is going to play into what he's going to be able to do. We know he can bunt, and we know he's going to leg out a lot of ground balls, but we'd like to see a little more consistency offensively. Right now, he could be a .260 hitter with those wheels.
"We're just hoping he can handle New Britain right now."
• The Twins have been encouraged by outfielder Jason Kubel's big league camp. Kubel, who had reconstructive knee surgery after a collision with Tigers infielder Ryan Rabun during the Arizona Fall League two years ago, fought hard for a major league job this spring but is more likely to start the year at Triple-A Rochester. "He's made a lot of strides; really made up for a lot of lost time," Rantz said. "We're certainly going to be cautious with Jason, but at this point he's still across the street (at big league camp)."
• Lefthander Glen Perkins was all the rage among scouts in the AFL last year, and is fighting for a starting job at Triple-A Rochester this season. "We still might start him in New Britain," Rantz said. "He made that jump (from high Class A to Double-A) last year and was a little tentative. But his confidence grew after his first couple outings there and that carried over into the Fall League. When he was initially in Double-A last year, he didn't really go after hitters and that wasn't him. He needs to attack, and I think he learned that in the AFL."
• While the Twins lack power bats in the system, 2005 first-rounder Henry Sanchez has garnered a lot of attention this spring. "This is a guy who we feel like could be our next big bat," Rantz said. "He has huge raw power and has shown that all spring. We like him to start out in Beloit."
• Moving up a level this season, the high Class A Fort Myers rotation shapes up as the most prospect-laden in the system with righthanders Anthony Swarzak, Matt Garza, Jay Rainville, Kyle Waldrop and Kevin Slowey all slated to start the year with the Miracle.
"That's really the situation where you'd want to start six," Rantz said. "(Righthander) Kyle Astelton has also had a very good spring, but that's the level where we have some of our best pitchers."
• The Twins have the tallest man in baseball in 7-foot-1 righthander Loek Van Mil. Van Mil, a 21-year-old signed out of the Netherlands, features a 91-92 mph fastball and is still harnessing his secondary pitches. "With a guy like that, you really need to work on body awareness and him being able to consistently repeat his delivery," Rantz said. "But when I saw him, I couldn't believe it. He stands head and shoulders above the rest of the guys. And yes, you can use that line."