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Minnesota Twins: Five Intriguing Storylines for Spring Training

To Young Kids Cracking the Roster and a Familiar Face in a New Place, the Twins Have Enough to Pique the Interest of a Freezing Fan Base This Spring

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COMMENTARY | The temperature in Minnesota has hovered around single digits for the winter, but that's not stopping baseball fans from getting a little warmer when they hear that pitchers and catchers are close to reporting.


When that day happens for the Minnesota Twins on February 16, they'll unveil a team that will hopefully end a string of three consecutive 90-loss seasons.

While hope doesn't seem to be anywhere near Target Field at the moment, there's plenty to follow as the team prepares for the 2014 season.

Can Any of the Super Prospects Crack the Roster?

For the past couple of seasons, Twins fans have heard that the struggles at the major league level are worth what the team is building in the lower levels of the minor league system. It makes sense from a baseball perspective, but when it comes to fan relations, their patience is being tested.

The good news is that the Twins have extended spring training invites to several of their top prospects. While Byron Buxton and Alex Meyer are likely attending to get a cup of coffee before another year of seasoning, there's a possibility that Miguel Sano could be the first super prospect to debut in Terry Ryan's second stint as general manager.

The third baseman was a force in the minor leagues last season as he crushed 35 home runs between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain in 2013. He struggled a little bit when getting his promotion last summer, but it could have been due to an elbow injury that's expected to avoid Tommy John surgery.

As the third-ranked prospect in MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, Sano will have a lot of fans pining for his debut to come sooner than later. If he's able to duplicate Aaron Hicks' spring training performance from a season ago, there's a great chance that they'll get their wish.

Will Any of the Former Twins Make a Comeback?

Many times during the Twins' last run of success, the team has seen several pieces in their prime walk away for greener pastures. Unfortunately, these players haven't enjoyed the success that they saw wearing a Twins uniform once arriving at their new destination.

Matt Guerrier, Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel are all returning to the Twins after their free-agent deals didn't pan out. While Guerrier has a tough task breaking into a bullpen that was pretty strong in 2012, the prospects of Bartlett and Kubel seem a little brighter.

Bartlett will try and crack a thin middle infield while Kubel will be looking to beat out Chris Colabello to become the starting designated hitter. If either Twin can find his previous form, the risk of a non-roster invite will be more than worth it when the weather heats up.

Will the Young Players Improve?

Spring training isn't an indication of how a player will perform that following season, but with the Twins having so many young pieces at the major league level, it's nearly impossible not to want to see some signs of improvement in Fort Myers.

Perhaps the player with the biggest spotlight will be outfielder Aaron Hicks. His job isn't on the line yet as Buxton makes his way through the lower levels of the Twins' system, but he'll need to flash the potential that won him the starting job out of camp a season ago rather than the massive April slump that cost him once the team broke camp.

Also under the microscope this spring will be Oswaldo Arcia and Kyle Gibson. Both players had high expectations upon their debuts last summer, but Gibson struggled and Arcia had an inconsistent performance.

If these three players can put it all together, the Twins could go from doormats to surprise contenders.

Will Joe Mauer Have a Seamless Transition to First Base?

Mauer has been one of the best catchers in major league history, but with the Twins wanting to get the most out of their $23 million investment, he'll make the switch to first base in 2014

He'll fill the shoes of Justin Morneau, who became one of the best first basemen in Twins history during his time in Minnesota. With the ability to drive in runs while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in the field, it puts immense pressure on Mauer to be great at the plate and out in the field.

In a perfect world, Mauer uses his calm demeanor to become one of the league's top first basemen in the field and is able to drive the ball with more authority to improve the middle of the order. In a worst-case scenario, he presses and sees his performance on both ends regress considerably.

The Twins need Mauer to step up and be the star that he's been behind the plate at first base. If he's unable to do that, they'll be in serious trouble long-term as the team will face the difficult task of trading a high-salary player.

Will Paul Molitor's Presence Affect Ron Gardenhire?

At the end of last season, it wouldn't have been a surprise if the Twins had given Gardenhire his walking papers. Instead, Minnesota gave him a two-year extension while also adding Molitor to his staff in an undefined role.

Maybe they should just call it "Official Hot Seat Warmer."

The Twins have allowed Gardenhire to hang his hat on the 2000s for three years now. Every year since 2010, the team has regressed and it seems like the message he's sending isn't getting through to his newer generation of players.

By adding Molitor, the Twins have added a watchful eye to the clubhouse that could cause Gardenhire to regain the edge that fueled the team to six division championships during his tenure or cause him to concede that the end has finally arrived.

Spring training will be the first test to see which way this scenario will play out. If players flock to Molitor, there could be a quick hook if Gardenhire stumbles out of the gate. If he can get through to his new crop if players, it may be Molitor who will be the one looking for a new job.

Chris Schad is a lifelong Twins follower that has spent a majority of his life cheering the Twins on through the dark '90s and success of five American League Central championships in the 2000s. His work has also been published on Bleacher Report and Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter @crishad.

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