Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/28/13
By DAVID DORSEY Special to FOXSportsNorth.com FORT MYERS, Fla. The Minnesota Twins will begin the regular season with perhaps all of their goals but one accomplished. A group of mostly young players has been built around the trio of franchise cornerstones catcher Joe Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau and left fielder Josh Wilingham. The pitching, however, continues to remain a big question mark. Opening Day starter Vance Worley finished spring training strong, but he also finished with a 5.73 ERA. Fellow projected starters Mike Pelfrey (5.52 ERA, coming off Tommy John surgery), Kevin Correia (6.30 ERA) and Liam Hendriks (4.15 ERA) fared worse or not much better. Scott Diamond, the team's most consistent pitcher last season, will start the regular season late, having not pitched in Grapefruit League action while recovering from offseason surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. On offense, however, the Twins have reason to be pleased. Aaron Hicks seized hold of the starting center field and leadoff roles, succeeding the homegrown talents who preceded him in that role: Denard Span (traded during the offseason to the Washington Nationals) and Torii Hunter (now with the Detroit Tigers). "It made me feel great," said Hicks, who hit .379 with a team-best four home runs and 18 RBI this spring. Hitting three home runs in one game, as he did March 7 against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., didn't hurt either. "I don't think anybody can plan that. That was big. I was very excited. I was excited just to face Cliff Lee. That was just an amazing feeling." Backup first baseman Chris Parmelee and starting third baseman Trevor Plouffe had mild setbacks during their six-week stay in the Sunshine State, but neither one endangered his Opening Day roster spot. "I'm pretty excited about it when you look at the middle of our lineup," Plouffe said. "For the guys who don't have that track record, we're hungry for it. I have confidence. I think this whole year is going to depend on guys stepping up and playing their roles, myself included. We're up for the challenge." Second baseman Brian Dozier and shortstop Pedro Florimon each demonstrated their knack for picking balls off the dirt from all angles. Dozier spent the month of November in Venezuela. A shortstop for most of his young life, he took some extra balls at second base at the urging of manager Ron Gardenhire. "He talked to me about making the team, being one of the nine," Dozier said. "Don't worry about trying to be either this position or this position. Your goal is to be one of the nine. Up the middle is up the middle. You've still got to hit. You've still got to play defense. It was a good thing." Correia said he had little to worry about with the defense behind him. "They're unbelievable players," the offseason acquisition said of Dozier and Florimon. "Every outing I've had so far this spring, they've been out there. The more I get to play with them, the better they are defensively. My last start, they made three or four excellent plays. It's huge for me, being more of a contact pitcher." As a whole, the young offensive players met or exceeded spring training expectations, and that has optimism running high as the team gets ready for Monday's Target Field opener against the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers. "We hope to get back to where we were a couple of years ago, winning the division," Mauer said. "We're looking forward to it." Of course, it's the veterans who will still drive Minnesota's offense. Mauer, Willingham and Morneau usually hit in that order in the middle of the lineup, and the grouping paid major dividends last season for Willingham, who slugged a career-best 35 home runs in his first season with the team. "Josh had a fantastic year last year," Mauer said. "He has that right-handed power bat we were looking for. It's pretty good to have those guys behind him. It sets our lineup up top." Morneau, who played sparingly last year at this time because of post-concussion issues, lobbied to play in extra games this spring when he wasn't with Team Canada in the World Baseball classic. Morneau hit .267 with three home runs and 11 RBI in his first 15 spring training games. "It's a different camp for him, for sure," Mauer said of Morneau. "At this point last year, we were thinking he was going to be the DH the whole year. Then he went out there and figured some things out. He had a great year last year, so it's good to see him back." The Twins also have found a pleasant surprise in Wilkin Ramirez, who will make the team's bench as an extra outfielder and pinch hitter and could push for regular playing time, having hit .444 with five RBI in 15 spring games. "He's played really well all the time," Gardenhire said. "He's hitting the ball really well all the time. He's coming off the bench in the middle of the game and still getting hits. He can go out in center if I needed him to do that, too. I'm pretty excited for the young man. He's a guy who means a lot to the organization. He means a lot to some of our young Latin players. He's very influential to them. He's a positive reinforcement for them. He can help you in a lot of ways, but he's also playing very well. He's done very well for us. Good kid."
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: At least four teams looking to trade out of top 10

Patrick Beverley fined $25K for altercation with fan

Bill Parcells on Tony Romo: ‘I was glad he retired’

Report: Garoppolo remains 'long shot' to be traded

Report: Packers coaches upset with GM Ted Thompson

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Rondo fined $25K for attempting to trip Crowder

Logan Morrison curses out umpire CB Bucknor mid at-bat

Raptors jab Bucks on Twitter after Game 4 victory

Report: NBA GMs not hesitant to draft Lonzo Ball due to father LaVar

DeShone Kizer changes course, stands by Tom Brady-Cam Newton quote

Nick Saban doesn't offer much praise of team for 'adequate' spring game

The 'It's not good to play the King' quiz

Best of Yardbarker: David Fizdale and the Grizzlies won't go down quietly

Three Up, Three Down: Home run hitters are heating up

The 'Even the Browns can't mess this one up' quiz

25 times Mother Nature disrupted sports

In some ways, Dan Rooney was just another NFL owner

Box Score 4/20: When Westbrook isn't enough

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

The '♫Happy Birthday Simpsons. Simpsons, it's your birthday♫' quiz

White House championship visits over the years

Biggest needs in the draft for every NFL team

The 'Baseball has been very, very good to its players' quiz

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The 'It's not good to play the King' quiz

Three Up, Three Down: Home run hitters are heating up

The 'Even the Browns can't mess this one up' quiz

In some ways, Dan Rooney was just another NFL owner

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

The '♫Happy Birthday Simpsons. Simpsons, it's your birthday♫' quiz

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: David Fizdale calls B.S.

Kris Bryant can become the next Derek Jeter — and more

The 'Baseball has been very, very good to its players' quiz

NHL youth movement: How the 2016-17 rookie class fared

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker