A winter look at the 2011 Minn. Twins

Published 9:35am Thursday, February 3, 2011

Column: Jon Laging, Talking Sports

It’s the time of year when winter begins to drag and the sun, warm breezes and green grass become more and more appealing. Too bad it costs money to visit Florida and the Twins’ Spring Training Camp. It would be nice to walk out the door, buy a beer and watch a ball game.

Jon Laging

While you’re watching the Twins one question might arise, how does this year’s team compare with the 2010 edition? Well, last year we were not very worried about injuries. Not so this year. The team has two big names recovering from either surgery or injury. Joe Nathan, second only to the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera in closing games is coming off Tommy John surgery. While the procedure has a good track record, the first year back is somewhat iffy. The Twins bought some insurance in case Nathan is not the Nathan of old by signing Matt Capps.

It’s always been amazing to me that baseball has so many injuries for a non-contact sport. Justin Morneau got his concussion from a knee to the head. Morneau’s recovery is paramount to the Twins’ success. Again Bill Smith bought some insurance when he re-signed Jim Thome.

Wouldn’t it be great if Nathan and Morneau recover and are able to perform at their previous level? It’s particularly important for the team’s success that Justin Morneau recovers fully. For while Bill Smith did what he could and put the team in baseballs’ upper level of spending, the Twins do not have the bats they did at the beginning of last year’s spring training. I don’t think that Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla will hit with the authority of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson and while Danny Valencia somewhat unexpectedly had a very good 2010, it is bit much to expect the same production this year. The same holds true for Jim Thome who had a marvelous year in 2010, but he is year older and some of his skills are bound to fade. So given the above, Morneau is the key to this year’s playoff hopes. Having Cuddyer and Span return to their 2009 levels wouldn’t hurt either.

The team has more ifs and buts this year than last. There are many more concerns to be answered. The entire infield excluding Joe Mauer, is questionable. Reading from left to right: Will Valencia be affected by the sophomore jinx? Will Casilla perform well as a regular, at this, his third try at starting? What can we expect from the Japanese batting champ Nishioka? Will Justin Morneau achieve his pre-concussion status? A lot of worrisome questions for the Twins’ infield.

“All these and more” as some radio stations used to say when they broke for commercials. It’s going to take more than a commercial break before we get the answers to these questions. However we are not far from spring training and will get some answers soon, as Manager of the Year Ron Gardenhire and GM Bill Smith sort through the Twins’ future.