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Early stars of spring training

Brian Duensing appears ready to pick up where he left off last season (except for his start against the Yankees...)
Brian Duensing appears ready to pick up where he left off last season (except for his start against the Yankees...)
Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

The Twins are 6-2 this spring, the best record amongst American League teams and tied with the lowly Kansas City Royals for the almighty reigns...The Royals are always the best spring training team, but where do they usually sit when all is said and done?

That should tell you how much a team’s record in spring training really matters. I mean the bottom four teams in the standings are the Red Sox, White Sox, Yankees and Rays...

Spring training is not about records and winning, it's about position battles and players getting warmed up after a long winter. It's also a chance for Minnesota fans to escape the cold and flex to Ft. Myers to see their favorite Twins get primed for the season.

But with notable players such as Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano all yet to play this spring, and a completely new bullpen in the works, other guys have stepped under the spotlight this spring. So far, so good, at least through the early part of spring training for the Twins.

It’s hard to predict much based on a player’s performance during spring training and most of the time how a player performs tells us nothing about how the regular season will turn out for them. Remember Juan Porte's electric spring last year? We see players look like All-Stars every spring, but then do null during the regular season.

Nonetheless, it gives us thirsty baseball writers who have had to endure a long off-season something to finally analyze and base our opinions and bold predictions on.

Here's a few early headliners from Ft. Myers:

Three hitters: Jason Kubel, Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes have really impressed at the plate while three pitchers: Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, and Nick Blackburn have really excelled on the mound.

Kubel leads the team with a .538 average. He has three doubles, one homer and 5 RBI in just 13 at-bats. His bat looks primed and ready this season following a subpar 2010 campaign that saw his batting average dip to .249 after hitting .300 in 2009.

Valencia has used this spring to show he’s once again up for the job after his stellar rookie season in 2010. He’s batting .500 with a team-leading four doubles. The third base job is his, no doubt.

Hughes, an infielder, has shown some serious pop in his bat this spring and just may put himself in consideration for a bench position if he keeps it up. He is hitting .375 with two homers and a team-leading 6 RBI.

We all know the Twins need a right-handed bat off the pine that can potentially hit for some power. Predictably the Twins bench will be Jim Thome, Drew Butera, Jason Repko and Matt Tolbert when the season starts. Besides Thome, it lacks a ton of offense.

The problem with Hughes is that he really doesn’t shine in the field and Ron Gardenhire will demand that from his utility infielder. And don’t forget he’s battling Matt Tolbert for the one utility infielder post if the Twins go with a 12-man pitching staff, and we all know Gardy loves Tolbert.

Ben Revere has shown what he’s capable of too with four stolen bases in seven games played. If Repko or Denard Span struggle or get hurt he’s next in line.

Pavano, Duensing and Blackburn have each pitched five innings of shutout baseball in their two starts and all appear to have all locked down a spot in the rotation, along with Liriano.

Blackburn has been the most impressive after his uninspiring 2010 season that saw him finish with a 10-12 record and a 5.42 ERA. He’s appears healthy, hungry and focused and pitching very well so far in his fifth season with the Twins.

Bringing back Pavano was a great decision by the Twins management and he is really throwing the ball well this spring.

I really believe Duensing is going to elevate his game another notch and be a major key to the Twins season. He is 2-0 with no walks and three strikeouts while not giving up a run so far this spring. Last season he was 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA in 53 games (13 starts.) and practically saved the Twins season when the other starters struggled.

The Twins have needed another lefty in their rotation and they've finally found him.

Fading starters Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey better pick up the pace, because one of the two will either be on another team or pitching out of the bullpen when the regular season starts with the way the other guys are throwing.

In my next post I’ll take a long look at the Twins bullpen, which has been lights out this spring and has a plethora of heated battles taking place for jobs.


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