The Minnesota Twins will open up their 2007 season on Monday night, as 2006 Cy Young winner Johan Santana will make his first start of the season. Santana is arguably the best starting pitcher in baseball, and will anchor a very shaky starting rotation in 2007. If the Twins are to repeat as American League Central champions, then they will need some of their new faces to step up this season.
Aside from Santana, the Twins rotation is full of starters who are under the microscope. Carlos Silva has struggled for some time now, and will be on a short leash to start the season. If he falters, look for top prospect Matt Garza to be inserted into the rotation early.
Sidney Ponson, Boof Bonser, and Ramon Ortiz will round out the rotation, with Bonser being the only one who started a game for the Twins in 2006. Ortiz had a very good Spring Training, and if Ponson can stay healthy, he could be a huge pick-up for the Twins. Glen Perkins is waiting in the wings down in Rochester, and will be another option for Manager Ron Gardenhire if Ponson or Ortiz cannot get the job done.
The Twins once again will have a very good bullpen, which is highlighted by top closer Joe Nathan. Nathan is one of the best closers in baseball, and will be counted on heavily in 2007. Some argue that he is now the best closer in baseball, and the Twins will need to get him the ball in save opportunities early and often.
Jesse Crain and Pat Neshek are two righties who can be lights out coming out of the bullpen. Neshek is a sidewinder who really attacks righties, though he is going to have to learn how to get lefties out in 2007. Crain is a workhorse, who could possibly appear in 70-plus games this year.
Juan Rincon and Matt Guerrier are also right-handed relief pitchers who will eat innings for the Twins this season, and the Twins are hoping that they can get the job done. Guerrier is a guy who can make a few starts during the course of a season, and Rincon is nearly unhittable when he is on. Lefty Dennys Reyes is the only left-hander in the Twins bullpen, so expect to see him early and often in 2007. He is coming off a great 2006 season.
Offensively, the Twins have two of the best young lefty sticks in Major League Baseball. Catcher Joe Mauer led the American League in batting average during the 2006 season, and First Baseman Justin Morneau is coming off of his first American League Most Valuable Player season. They will be in the middle of the Twins lineup, and the Twins are banking on the two to have another monster season.
Shortstop Jason Bartlett and Third Baseman Nick Punto return to the left side of the infield, and the Twins are hoping Bartlett shows the kind of promise he did to end the 2006 season. Bartlett batted over .300 after being recalled from Rochester, and he will be called upon to do more damage on the basepaths in 2007. Punto is coming off a career year, and now has the confidence of an everyday player.
Second Baseman Luis Castillo rounds out the infield, and will need to stay healthy for the Twins this season. When healthy, Castillo has put up All-Star caliber numbers, but his health has been an issue for the past couple of seasons. If Castillo, or Bartlett get bit by the injury bug, look for top middle infield prospect Alexi Casilla to be summoned from Rochester.
The Twins outfield will consist of Leftfielder Rondell White, Centerfielder Torii Hunter, and Rightfielder Michael Cuddyer, giving the Twins some solid veterans in the outfield. Hunter is a perennial Gold Glove winner, and White is coming off a solid second half to the 2006 season. Cuddyer has been an RBI machine for the Twins as of late, and will be counted on to be a middle of the order type hitter once again in 2007.
The bench is very solid for the Twins, who boast one of the top backup catchers in the Major Leagues. Mike Redmond is great with the stick, and seems to always have a good game when he is giving Mauer a day off. Chris Heintz will be the third catcher on the team, but will also serve as a backup to Morneau and Punto at the corner infield spots.
Joining Redmond and Heintz on the bench are outfielders Jason Tyner and Jason Kubel, as well as infielder Luis Rodriguez. Rodriguez will be used in all infield positions, and Kubel will join designated hitter Jeff Cirillo in platoon DH roles, as well as spelling White and Cuddyer in the outfield. Tyner is an electric player, who will spell all three outfield spots, as well as serving as a good sub at the top of the batting order due to his plus speed.
The Twins play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, and the AL Central is definitely up for grabs once again in 2007. The Tigers went to the World Series in 2006, and the White Sox won it all in 2005. The Indians have been ranked as one of the top young teams in the game, and the Royals have been known to steal a few games here and there. If the Twins want to repeat, it is going to take a complete team effort.
Here is a look at the Twins 2007 Opening Day 25-man roster.
Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Carlos Silva
Joe Nathan (Closer), Dennys Reyes, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, Juan Rincon, Matt Guerrier
Starting Lineup:C- Joe Mauer, 1B- Justin Morneau, 2B- Luis Castillo, SS- Jason Bartlett, 3B- Nick Punto, LF- Rondell White, CF-Torii Hunter, RF- Michael Cuddyer, DH- Jeff Cirillo, Jason Kubel
Bench:Luis Rodriguez, Jason Tyner, Mike Redmond, Chris Heintz