Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/18/12
After spending 12 days watching the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, I can tell you this: This team will not lose 99 games again this season. That may not exactly be going out on a limb, since the only other time the Twins lost that many games was in 1982 when they finished 60-102. But after an injury-plagued season a year ago, Minnesota will certainly be improved from last year's forgettable season. Staying healthy will be key. Nearly every player I talked to during spring training reiterated that point when I asked them what has to happen for them to turn the page on 2011. Last year, 16 different Twins players went on the disabled list a combined 27 times. As a result of their decimated lineup, they had to call up players seemingly every day from Triple-A Rochester. The injuries happened to some of the team's best players, too. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, two former MVPs, combined to play less than a full season -- just 151 total games. Mauer missed two months early on with bilateral leg weakness and later was shut down with pneumonia. Morneau had several setbacks along the way, including another concussion and neck surgery. So far this spring, both have managed to stay on the field. Mauer's offseason knee surgery following the 2010 season limited him during camp last spring. This year, he's been behind the plate often and, when not catching, getting his swings as a designated hitter. During a meeting with reporters in early December, Mauer told us that he's healthy and ready to go in 2012. After watching him take his swings down in Fort Myers, I believe him. I don't think health will be an issue with the Twins' star catcher. Morneau was struggling offensively while I was down at spring training, but the important thing was that he was playing plenty. The veteran first baseman even volunteered to ride the team bus to Clearwater -- more than two hours from Fort Myers -- just to get extra swings in. While he went 0-for-5 that day, Morneau didn't seem too concerned, reiterating that it was still early in spring. He's a nine-year veteran and knows he still has three weeks to find his timing before the regular season. One perceived weakness of the Twins this season was their bullpen. While the five-man starting rotation seems set, the reliever corps appeared up in the air. Now, it turns out Minnesota will have tough choices to make in deciding which pitchers will make the roster as relievers. It should be a good problem to have, as several arms have emerged as legitimate candidates for the bullpen. Left-hander Glen Perkins -- who signed a three-year contract extension while I was down there -- has his bullpen spot secured. He'll set up for closer Matt Capps, while Brian Duensing will likely have a spot as a left-hander in the pen. Other than those three, however, the remaining relievers will be battling for spots. I was impressed with what I saw out of right-hander Jared Burton (1 ER, 2 H in 5.0 innings prior to Sunday), left-hander Matt Maloney (four hits in 7 13 scoreless innings), righty Kyle Waldrop (four scoreless innings) and the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year, Liam Hendriks (seven scoreless innings). All four have major league experience, although Waldrop (seven games) and Hendriks (four) saw limited action in their debut seasons last year. Having seen the relievers this spring, I think the Twins' bullpen could surprise some people this year -- in a good way. Being down in Fort Myers gave me my first chance to see new additions Ryan Doumit, Josh Willingham and Jamey Carroll up close. While Carroll has struggled offensively -- just 1-for-23 in Grapefruit League action prior to Sunday -- he's been solid defensively at shortstop, which is what Minnesota hoped for when it signed him this offseason. The 38-year-old Carroll has also served as a mentor to the team's younger players, including shortstop Brian Dozier. Willingham was signed with the hope that he'd provide some pop from the right side of the plate. He did just that in the Twins' game against Philadelphia earlier this week, launching a homer to left of Phillies ace Roy Halladay. It was his first homer of the spring, and Minnesota is hoping it's a sign of things to come. Doumit, meanwhile, moved around the diamond quite a bit while I was down there. A catcher by trade, he also spent time in the outfield and as the designated hitter. Given his versatility, he'll be a valued addition to the Twins. Manager Ron Gardenhire loves guys that can play multiple positions, and Doumit fits the bill. He seems to be meshing well in the clubhouse, too, and said he felt like family since he first signed with the Twins this winter. One noticeable difference in the clubhouse this spring was the absence of former Twins Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan and Jason Kubel. Those three had been fixtures with Minnesota for many years, but all three signed elsewhere as free agents this offseason. From a media perspective, Cuddyer's presence will be sorely missed. Win or lose, he'd be there at his locker after the game to answer questions. There was a reason he won the Mike Augustin Award as the "Media Good Guy" the past two seasons. The Twins will miss his bat and his versatility, but he also leaves a void in the clubhouse. Even with the losses of Cuddyer, Kubel and Nathan, the Twins should be improved from last year. Just how improved remains to be seen, but the attitude in the clubhouse is much different than it was last year. Now that they're back on the field, the Twins have turned the page on 2011. There seems to be new life, a new sense of hope and optimism for both players and fans alike. After all, that's what spring training is all about. Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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