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Updated: December 18th, 2011 6:38pm
Notebook: Concussions 'have not been an issue' for Justin Morneau

Notebook: Concussions 'have not been an issue' for Justin Morneau

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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With the additions of veteran free agents Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jamey Carroll and a pitcher-to-be-named sometime in the near future, Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan is not hiding the fact that he wants to build a contending team for 2012.

Whether the Twins are actually capable of contending for a division title is highly debatable, but what's not debatable is this:

If Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau aren't healthy and productive, nothing else really matters.

Mauer spoke at length earlier this month about his offseason changes, and on Sunday, in an interview with 1500 ESPN, Ryan said Morneau's concussions "have not been an issue right now. ...

"I think everything's pointing toward being OK as we go through January and February."

After missing the final three months of the 2010 season with a concussion, Morneau worked his way back during spring training last March and was hoping to play a full, productive season for the first time since 2008. But a bevy of injuries -- including a pinched nerve in his neck, numbness in his left hand, left wrist soreness and eventually more concussion issues -- limited him to only 69 games and a .227/.285/.333 batting line with four home runs.

The re-emergence of concussion issues -- triggered by a dive in late August -- were especially concerning, simply because of the unpredictability of symptoms and recovery.

Morneau also underwent three surgeries in September -- left wrist, right foot (bone spurs) and left knee (cyst) -- and he's kept an extremely low profile this offseason. But the reports Ryan has received so far have been encouraging.

"I'm alright with him right now," Ryan said. "I haven't had any red flags go up right now. You won't know until we get to Fort Myers and get him out there for a number of games and at-bats, and the repetitions and things that are going to need to be done for him to be confident he's going to be able to play 140 games or so. But right now he's OK. His wrist certainly is healing, and he should start being able to swing the bat here in the next couple weeks."

The Twins have not decided whether Morneau will play first base or primarily designated hitter, although manager Ron Gardenhire said it will likely be a mutual decision as the team progresses through spring training.

Compensation for Cuddyer

As compensation for Michael Cuddyer signing with the Colorado Rockies, the Twins will receive a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the 2012 MLB draft, as well as an additional draft pick slotted just ahead of the Rockies' 10th-overall pick in the second round.

If Cuddyer would have signed with a team outside the top-15, the Twins would have received a first round pick instead.

The Twins are also in line for a sandwich pick if Jason Kubel signs elsewhere.

Towles, Burroughs could push incumbents

When the Twins signed former top prospects Sean Burroughs, J.R. Towles and Steve Pearce to minor league contracts, they weren't just looking to bolster a bottom-feeding Rochester team.

They fully expect Burroughs and Towles to make a push for the 25-man roster.

Twins assistant GM Rob Antony said Friday that he envisions Towles pushing Drew Butera for the third catcher slot, and Burroughs possibly pushing Danny Valencia at third base.

Of Burroughs, Antony said, "This guy comes with a lot of energy, he comes to play, and he wants to work. I think he's got a new lease on life. We think Danny's a very good player. He's got some areas where he needs to improve. He knows that. We've discussed that in-depth, and I think he'll come ready to do just that. I'm not saying that Burroughs is a guy that's going to come and take Danny's job away, but he is going to push him."

Towles has thrown out only 23% of base stealers in 1,100 career major league innings, and he is not necessarily known as a great defensive catcher. But he does own a career Triple-A batting line of .286/.389/.443.

Among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances, Butera's .449 OPS -- along with Reid Brignac's .448 mark -- were the lowest marks of any player in Major League Baseball since 1975.

A familiar face

Doumit and Willingham will each see at least one familiar face when they arrive to Fort Myers in February.

Matt Capps and Doumit both came up through the Pittsburgh Pirates system together, and he was teammates with Willingham for the first part of the 2010 season with the Washington Nationals.

"He's a great fella," Capps said of Willingham last week. "Doumit too... Both guys (are) great people, great human beings, great athletes. ...

"Both of them are good clubhouse guys. Neither one of them is very outgoing or very outspoken, but good people and people that guys tend to congregate around and go to for that veteran leadership, that veteran presence."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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