Mackey: Seven non-roster players to keep an eye on in Fort Myers
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With spring workouts set to begin this weekend in Fort Myers, the Minnesota Twins are set to have a jam-packed clubhouse at Hammond Stadium.
Including Esmerling Vasquez, who was outrighted to Rochester after passing through waivers, the Twins will welcome 66 players to spring training, including 26 non-roster invites.
Based on conversations with Twins front office people, these are -- in no particular order -- the non-roster guys to keep an eye on when spring training opens next weekend:
• SS/2B Brian Dozier -- With all of the recent buzz surrounding Dozer -- the Twins' minor league position player of the year -- it's easy to forget he hasn't yet been placed on the 40-man roster. No need to get worked up about that -- it's merely procedural. The Twins aren't forced to place Dozier on the 40-man roster until after the 2012 season, so it makes sense to wait until he's ready to join the big league club to make the move, otherwise the team could lose one of his minor league options.
Dozier has the hands to play both middle infield positions, but people within the organization, and scouts outside the organization too, are torn as to whether he has the range to play shortstop every day in the bigs. His bat has few questions, as evidenced by the .320/.399/.491 line he put up between High-A and Double-A last season. Dozier is unlikely to start the season with the Twins, but he could be one of the first players called up from Rochester.
• 3B Sean Burroughs -- Considering the circumstances, Burroughs is easily the most intriguing non-roster storyline in Fort Myers. After being ranked as high as No. 4 on Baseball America's top prospects list in 2002, Burroughs showed promise in the majors but never fully lived up to expectations. He eventually wound up out of baseball, battling a drug problem. But Burroughs, now 31, seems to have his life back together after a solid comeback with the Diamondbacks last season, and the Twins are hoping he can -- at the very least -- give Danny Valencia a nudge at the hot corner.
• C J.R. Towles -- If the Twins elect to carry three catchers, people in the organization believe Towles could give Drew Butera a run for his money. Butera is a solid defensive catcher, but he was one of the worst hitters in baseball last season. Towles, 28, was rated as Baseball America's 53rd-best prospect in 2008, and he owns a .389 career on-base percentage at Triple-A. But in 484 major league plate appearances, he owns a measly .187/.267/.315 batting line. Towles isn't likely to be as reliable behind the plate as Butera, but if he can translate his Triple-A success to the majors, he could be a valuable asset.
• C Chris Herrmann -- Herrmann followed up an impressive minor league season (.269/.385/.399 between High-A and Double-A) by hitting .380/.456/.620 in 50 fall league at-bats, and he's still young enough (25) to improve more. The presence of Towles clogs the depth chart, but Herrmann could still find himself in the big leagues before the end of the season.
• RHP Jason Bulger -- A 33-year-old former first-round pick who has bounced up and down from the minor leagues since 2005 wouldn't seem to deserve much attention. But the Twins bullpen struggled mightily to induce whiffs in 2011, and Bulger -- with a 92-mph fastball and an effective slider -- has struck out 12.2 batters per nine innings in 233 1/3 career Triple-A innings. If he can find a way to limit walks, Bulger has an outside shot to claim the Twins' last bullpen spot.
• RHP Jared Burton -- After missing most of last season due to shoulder surgery, Burton pitched only 21 2/3 innings between the minors and majors in 2011. In his career with the Reds the former eighth-round pick owns a 3.41 ERA with 143 strikeouts and 60 unintentional walks in 169 innings. Burton's average fastball clocked in at 91 mph pre- and post-surgery. Perhaps most importantly, Burton's numbers against left-handed batters (.665 OPS against) are better than his numbers against right-handed bats (.705). One Twins executive said Burton has an outside shot to claim one of the final bullpen spots.
• IF/OF Steve Pearce -- In 2007, across three minor league levels, Pearce posted a .333/.394/.622 batting line with 31 homers and 40 doubles in 551 plate appearances as a 24-year-old in the Pirates' organization. This performance vaulted him into Baseball America's top 100 prospects list, but he never lived up to those newfound expectations. Pearce has bounced up and down from Triple-A and the big leagues since 2007, and over that stretch his minor league numbers have regressed and his major league numbers have lacked punch (9 HR in 521 trips). The Twins actually drafted Pearce out of high school in the 45th round in 2003, but he elected to play college ball for South Carolina. The Twins are hoping he can rediscover the power stroke he showed five years ago.
Others to monitor... SS Pedro Florimon, RHP Esmerling Vasquez, LHP Phil Dumatrait