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Bartlett on comeback trail with Twins

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Coming into spring training, the position battle for Minnesota Twins starting shortstop may have flown under the radar with celebrated rookies Miguel Sano (third base) and Byron Buxton (outfield) in camp.

But when incumbent Pedro Florimon underwent laparoscopic surgery to remove an inflamed appendix on Feb. 17, the battle for the position just got more interesting.

The team signed former Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett in the offseason, and minor leaguer Danny Santana was planning to make a push for a roster spot, as well. But in the wake of the news on Florimon, manager Ron Gardenhire tried to smolder the flames of a suddenly intensifying brushfire.

"(Florimon's) our shortstop," Gardenhire told ESPN. "(Jason) Bartlett is here to try and make the club, but Florimon is our shortstop."

Florimon, 27, who hit .221 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 134 games with the Twins last season, had successful surgery and left the hospital on Feb. 18. He was expected to miss two weeks in recovery and then will have to play some catch up during the rest of spring training. And that creates an opportunity for the veteran Bartlett.

Bartlett was brought in to compete for a utility infielder job. After a year off from baseball due to a knee injury, Bartlett is back, refreshed and ready to try to make the Twins' roster. He will battle Eduardo Escobar for the utility job, but depending on Florimon's situation, there could be more in store.

"He brings some veteran presence and some leadership to the table," assistant general manager Rob Antony told the Star Tribune. "We will have to see what he looks like in spring training. It's an opportunity for him. If it works out, it will give us an experienced guy who knows what he's doing and with the ability to play shortstop."

In Bartlett's last season on the field (2011), he had a batting line of .245/.308/.307 in 554 at-bats in 139 games. The Twins will likely hope for something closer to the .271 he hit in four seasons with the Twins (2004-07) before inserting him into the starting position. While those numbers came a while ago for the 34-year-old, Bartlett appears ready to try pro ball again after spending 1 1/2 years watching kids.

"I haven't seen a pitch in a year and a half, but that should come naturally in spring training," he said. "I feel good, man. I had lost that athleticism and that's why I wasn't having fun anymore. I'm now running around, doing jump throws."

Bartlett will have his work cut out for him, and plenty of competition. Santana has been in the Twins minors since 2008 and last season recorded numbers of .297/.333/.386 at New Britain in the Class AA Eastern League. With the Twins on a youth movement, Santana will have every opportunity to show what he can do in spring training.

Bartlett took some fly balls in the outfield on Wednesday, as Gardenhire said he needs some versatility in his utility players (Escobar was scheduled to take some flies as well).

"I have never played the outfield, on any level," Bartlett told the Star Tribune.

With Florimon out, Bartlett got the start at shortstop in the Twins' opening game of spring training and went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Santana came in for Bartlett and went 1-for-2 with an RBI in the Twins' 8-2 win.

But Bartlett wants another shot at the big leagues, so he is willing to give outfield a shot. Making the team is his first goal. Then, he can worry about where and how much he plays.

NOTES, QUOTES

--LF Josh Willingham is slated to start in left field this season (as he did in 2013), but the aging veteran's status in somewhat in flux. Talk has arisen that he could become the team's designated hitter. Last season, Willingham missed a chunk of the schedule due to injury, and at 35 years old, DH may become more of a possibility. Willingham has one year on his contract and has stated his desire to remain in Minnesota. Although he would rather play left, he is also reportedly willing to fill the role of DH.

--2B Brian Dozier is not likely to qualify for salary arbitration until after the 2015 season, but he has made his feelings known that he would like to remain with the Twins organization.

"Man, I love it here," Dozier told the Pioneer Press. "I want to stay here forever."

When Dozier's agent, Damon Lapa, comes to Fort Myers next Friday, it is possible that talks of an extension could begin. But at this time there has been no indication by the Twins that an extension is in the works.

--1B Kennys Vargas has put on a power display thus far in spring training. A Class A player who had a .468 slugging percentage last season and led the Florida League with 93 RBIs, Vargas has demonstrated power from both sides of the plate.

"He's a work in progress around the bag and has things to learn," manager Ron Gardenhire told the Pioneer Press. "But he's so strong he and can hit the ball a mile. He has a lot of talent."

--1B Joe Mauer could see more action on the basepaths now that he is playing first base. The wear and tear catching taken on his legs may have held him back. Gardenhire was asked if he would give Mauer the green light to steal. "If I give it to him, he's not afraid to try," Gardenhire said. "He'll run and he'll pick out his pitch. I think being out from behind the plate will help his legs and his body."

--1B Jack Barrie agreed to terms with the Twins, a contract in the $250,000 range, according to reports. The 18-year-old Australian is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds had a strong showing in the Under-18 national championships in Canberra in January.

"He can hit," Mike Radcliffe, Twins VP of player personnel told the Pioneer Press. "He just crushed the ball. That was somewhat of a surprise. That was what stirred everybody up."

--RHP Alex Meyer has turned several heads in camp this spring. His stuff has been nasty at times, and certainly the players have noticed. Meyer has a ways to go, but his future in the Twins rotation may not be far off.

--The Twins announced Friday they agreed to terms with their remaining 27 players to contracts for the season. That includes projected starters RHP Samuel Deduno, 2B Brian Dozier, SS Pedro Florimon and OF Alex Presley. The team's entire 40-man roster is under contract.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"I threw a lot of sliders last year. I'm hoping to get away from that a little bit. I feel like my curveball can be a better pitch than the slider was. I decided before I came to camp that I needed to get my curveball back to what it was. I got away from it last year, obviously struggling with what I was doing. So I talked to (pitching coach Rick Anderson) a couple of times this winter about what I wanted to do, and getting my curveball back was a big thing." -- Right-handed pitcher Phil Hughes told the Star Tribune about his plans for the season after having a down year (4-14, 5.19 ERA) last season with the New York Yankees.

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