"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Five-Hole

Spring (Training) has sprung, and the Twins need a fifth starter. (TBL was really hoping they'd need a fourth starter as well. Oh, the cursing in Casa de TBL when they offered arbitration to Kyle "I Meant To Do That" Lohse... Suffice it to say, the air was as blue as a Twins jersey.)

Yesterday I listed all the spring training invitees. Today, let's take a closer look at that open starting spot.

The Front-Runner
Scott Baker is a righty with a level of control that borders on freakish for someone his age (24). He pitched very well for the Twins in 6 starts last season, reportedly impressing not just with his control, but also with his grace under fire. The combination of control, poise and ML experience set him far ahead of the pack in this contest.

The Contenders
Francisco Liriano is probably tired of being compared to Johan Santana, but it's impossible not to make the comparison--a lean, hard-throwing young lefty who displays both utter brilliance and intermittent wildness. His talent is unmistakable (not to mention awe-inspiring) but TBL expects the Twins to handle him much like they handled Santana: by using him out of the bullpen until his bursts of wildness become very infrequent and his brilliance has been supplemented with experience. More on him when I peruse the relief candidates.

Boof Bonser (don't you just love that name?) is a dependable righty who won more games with AAA Rochester last season than any other starter. His walk rate was rather high, however, indicating that he still has some work to do before he's ready to start at the next level. Look for Bonser to return to AAA but be high on the list to replace any injured relievers.

The Outlier
Dave Gassner had a cup of coffee with the Twins last season and showed some promise in two starts, one of which was very good and one of which...was not. His 4.95 AAA ERA is cause for concern, but a good spring training showing along with that very good start last season could keep him on the coaching staff's radar.

The fifth spot in the rotation, as things stand, is Scott Baker's to lose. However, there are five weeks of spring training, and anything can happen. Baker seems durable, so I'd be surprised to see him injured by anything other than a freak accident. If he can pitch as well as he did last year through the next few weeks, the others won't have a chance.

On deck: the bullpen.

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