|Two concussions in, Morneau (right) is on the cusp of his once-promising career ending. (Getty Images)|
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Minnesota Twins.
• The Twins are healthy -- for now. That starts with former MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, who combined to play in only 151 games last year -- most of them after the 99-loss season already was wrecked. All told, 16 different Twins landed on the disabled list as assorted players lost more than 1,000 days to injuries. Mauer, Morneau, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Denard Span, Alexi Casilla ... the list reads like a morning roll call. Joe Nathan was coming back from Tommy John surgery. One of the season's most amazing statistics: Only three Twins played as many as 100 games: Michael Cuddyer, Danny Valencia and Ben Revere. There were many reasons why a team that won the AL Central in 2010 fell so dramtically and spectacularly, and yes, injuries can be an excuse. But here, it was no excuse. It was reality.
Aiming to regain respectability, Terry Ryan's approach is what the Twins needs. Camp report >>
• Mauer looks like Mauer. He never was right a year ago following offseason knee surgery, then he was sick, and things got away. He's already spent more time behind the plate this spring than practically all of last, and he's spraying the ball all over the place from the plate. "He looks fluid and strong, and he's hitting the ball all over the diamond," starter Carl Pavano says.
• Happy New Year. The whole clean slate stuff might be cliché, but for a team that went into the season last year expecting to contend for another AL Central title and was stunningly awful, the new attitude a new year brings was desperately needed. "It was tough," says Matt Capps, who will replace long-time closer Nathan. "The expectations to win around here are pretty high. Everybody expects that out of themselves and out of the organization. It wasn't fun. The expectations are back. We're going to find a way to win, one way or another."
• Last year's ugliness didn't sully beautiful Target Field. And you know what? Ryan will get to know it a lot better this summer. Despite working as a special assistant to deposed GM Bill Smith the past few years, Ryan estimates he watched only about 15 games live in Target Field. That's how much he was on the road scouting -- amateurs, free agents and internationally. Ask him to list the biggest change from his tenure as GM from 1994-2007 to now, and it's watching games in Target Field instead of in his old Metrodome "suite" (read: bunker).
• Morneau's fragility. A once-promising, sky-is-the-limit career now has a much-lowered ceiling and an ever-present worry that the next time he's involved in a physical play could be the end of the line. The 2006 MVP admitted as much at the beginning of camp when he addressed the question of what happens if he receives another concussion. He's had two, the last one in July, 2010, and his path forward since has been vague and fuzzy. Here's to good health, because one of the saddest phrases in sports is "what might have been."
• Defensively, the Twins were atrocious last season. Opponents regularly were given more than 27 outs. A big problem was, Blackburn and Baker are ground-ball pitchers and last year's infield wasn't exactly adept at gobbling those up. I'm not sure this infield is going to take away many hits this summer. I do know it will be much better as long as a healthy Casilla is playing second. While Valencia is fine at third, he's not going to win a bunch of Gold Gloves. Veteran journeyman Jamey Carroll as the everyday shortstop? He'll help plug that hole and be adequate defensively. But it's hard to see a division title with him as your everyday shortstop.
• Tsuyoshi Nishioka is a bust. The Twins are resigned to that. He broke his leg right out of the chute last year, and when he came back he was mostly overmatched. In 68 games, he batted .226 with 43 strikeouts in 221 at-bats. Shows you what a batting title can be worth in Japan (yes, he won one in 2010). No guarantees. The Twins still owe him $6.25 million over the next two seasons.
• The rotation isn't going to scare anybody. All credit to Carl Pavano, who has resurrected himself post-Yankees and now thrown 200 or more innings in three consecutive seasons (OK, so it was 199 1/3 in 2009) but, he's still Carl Pavano. Liriano just isn't the once-dominant pitcher he was. He shows flashes of that guy, but not consistently. Baker and Blackburn throw strikes but are not overpowering. And while Jason Marquis will eat some innings, do you view him as a key contributor on a contending team? Me, neither. The Twins struck out fewer hitters than anybody else in the AL last season (940). A staff that allows balls put in play when the defense is shoddy behind it is a disaster. With spots open in the bullpen, the Twins brought 33 pitchers to camp this spring (including Joel Zumaya). They like some of the arms but still have some sorting out to do for key roles. One bright spot: Former starter Glen Perkins adapted quite well to the bullpen last year, compiling a 2.48 ERA over 65 appearances. "I thought he emerged as one of the top left-handed guys in baseball last year," pitching coach Rick Anderson says. "I thought he was that good."