In many ways, spring training is the best time of the baseball season because we can let our imaginations wander. Right now, someone thinks Sidney Ponson is going to find that heavy sinking fastball and Rondell White is going to stay healthy all season. And Torii Hunter will sign a long-term deal and Dennys Reyes will just be spectacular instead of surprisingly spectacular.
I mean, in Kansas City right now, someone thinks that signing Gil Meche to that 5-year, $55-million deal is going to be just the thing to boost the Royals into, maybe, 4th place in the AL Central. And someone in Chicago still thinks it’s a good thing that the Cubs have Mark Prior pitching instead of Young Jesus (d/b/a in Minnesota as Joe Mauer) catching, after the Twins made their hometown messiah the No. 1 pick over Prior in the 2001 draft.
Spring training is when you can make a case for just about anything. I remember Rondell smashing a home run during an exhibition game last March and thinking that the Twins had darn sure found their clean-up hitter for ’06. And there was the concept that Tony Batista at third and Juan Castro at short would keep the Twins from relying on guys like Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto, and that it meant we wouldn’t have to see Michael Cuddyer in the lineup every day takin’ bad hacks and fielding like he wanted to be a DH.
The lesson? Expect the unexpected over the next month-and-a-half. I’ll take even money that one of the currently suspect pitchers, young or old, will become a mainstay of the rotation. Give me longer odds and I’ll wager that the opening day left fielder isn’t even in the Twins’ organization right now. How would you have felt envisioning Punto as the regular third baseman at this time a year ago? Terry Tiffee would have seemed a better option. Or Gary Gaetti, even!
So speculate ’til your brain cramps … and don’t feel stupid when those dreams get shattered. It’s part of the game.