Spring Postcard: Veteran Twins have AL Central title aspirations
The Twins should probably be viewed as a favorite in the AL Central Division
They return with almost the same ballclub that finished second last season
One addition, Joe Crede, should provide added power if he can stay healthy
1. Underdogs no more.
In fact, the Twins should probably be viewed as a favorite within the division -- but that doesn't make any difference to them, says right fielder Michael Cuddyer. "It's not going to change anything, because we don't really worry about anything outside of this clubhouse," Cuddyer says. "Regardless of if people think we're going to win or don't think we're going to win, we believe in ourselves, and that's half the battle."
2. Consistency rules
Smith points out that the team's only major roster move was replacing a Mexican left-handed reliever, the departed free agent Dennys Reyes, with a Mexican right-handed reliever, Luis Ayala. That one, and the addition of ...
3. The X-factor
Delmon Young. "Delmon is whacking the crap out of it," manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters last week, and the crap has continued to be whacked. Through seven spring training games, the 23-year-old former No. 1 overall pick is hitting .526 with one home run and five RBIs. He's performing like the player the Twins thought they were getting when they traded Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett -- both of whom proved to be instrumental in the Rays' World Series run -- to acquire him in November 2007. Young wasn't bad last season (.290, 10 homers, 69 RBI), but he didn't appreciably improve from his rookie season in Tampa and had some difficulty becoming comfortable in his new surroundings. That might all be behind him.
Prospect creating a buzz
Jose Mijares. The Twins promoted the left-handed Mijares, 24, directly into their bullpen from Class AA New Britain last September, choosing him over three Triple-A lefties, and that gamble paid off: He posted a 0.87 ERA in 10 appearances and threw 1.1 perfect innings in Game 163, the 1-0 loss to the White Sox that cost Minnesota a playoff berth. Mijares might begin 2009 with Class AAA Rochester, but if he does, he won't be there long.
"I think he's going to pleasantly surprise the national audience," says Cuddyer, before slightly reconsidering. "Well, I know the national audience really doesn't watch the Twins. But I think even the casual baseball fan is going to take notice of what this guy is going to do. He just has electrifying stuff."
Mijares could become the Twins' regular eighth inning man before long.
Not done yet
Mike Redwood -- I mean, Redmond. He's not quite that old. But the stalwart Twins backup catcher will turn 38 on May 5, making him by far the elder statesman on this young club (closer Joe Nathan is next, at 34). The well-liked Redmond, who is embarking upon his fifth season in Minnesota, could see the field frequently this year, particularly early on, as starter and two-time AL batting champion Joe Mauer is still recovering from a Dec. 22 surgery to repair a kidney blockage. "I think Joe's doing good. He's getting better. I think he's getting close to getting out there on the field," says Redmond. "[But] it's nice, as a backup, to go out there every other day in spring training and get to play, and kind of get in a little bit of a rhythm. The more you play, obviously, the better you feel."
Not only is Kevin Slowey -- a 24-year-old control artist who had a strong second half in '08 (6-5, 3.69 ERA) -- a prime sleeper candidate in fantasy baseball circles, but he's also a likeable guy with a wide range of interests, for what that's worth, including the works of the graffiti artist Banksy and of the writer Malcolm Gladwell. ... Count Denard Span as the latest member of the outstanding 2002 draft class to make an impact at the big league level. Span was the 20th pick in a first round that has produced a veritable All-Star team, one that includes B.J. Upton (2nd overall), Zack Greinke (6th), Prince Fielder (7th), Joe Saunders (12th), Scott Kazmir (15th), Cole Hamels (17th), Jeff Francoeur (23rd) and Matt Cain (25th), among others. ... Sidewinding reliever Pat Neshek won't pitch this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but if you wish you can follow his recovery (he includes photos of his scars) at his regularly-updated 'On The Road with Pat Neshek,' which surely sets the standard for blogs by pro athletes.
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