Likely Starter: Justin Morneau
2011 Stats: .227/.285/.333, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 19 R, 0/0 SB
Potential Backups: Joe Mauer, Luke Hughes, Ryan Doumit, Chris Parmelee, Sean Burroughs, Steve Pearce, Aaron Bates
Through a couple weeks of camp, this much can be said for Justin Morneau: he hasn't raised any warning flags yet. He's been able to get through all his workouts, he's participated in a few exhibition contests and he laced a hard double in yesterday's 'B' game that impressed spectators.
But we've been through this song and dance before. A year ago Morneau made it through spring training without issue, then endured a nightmare season that was marred by numerous injuries and cut short in August by persisting concussion complications, the effects of which lingered deep into the offseason.
All of this has fans wondering: will we soon reach a point where Morneau can play no more?
The first baseman has come to terms with the reality of his situation, and candidly admitted to reporters recently that if concussion symptoms are a problem again this year, he'll probably have to call it quits. He's not going to be doing himself or the team any favors by going through a repeat of that 2011 campaign.
In a best-case scenario, Morneau will shrug off his multitude of ailments and begin to once again resemble the elite slugger that anchored the middle of the Twins' lineup prior to his 2010 concussion. From 2006 to 2009, Morneau averaged 30 homers, 118 RBI and an .880 OPS. He was on pace for a career year in 2010 prior to the incident in Toronto. It really wasn't that long ago that he was among the best hitters in the league and a perennial MVP candidate.
If Morneau could hold down first base and provide even league-average production at the position (last year that equated to .271/.340/.452), it would be a huge relief. Given his various maladies, though, it's tough to envision him playing 140-plus games, and even if he does there's a good chance that he'll spend a good chunk of time at designated hitter.
So who fills in at first base? If Morneau's able to play there a majority of the time, Ron Gardenhire will probably be able to fill in the gaps with Joe Mauer, who will hopefully
see an alleviated workload at catcher this year, and Luke Hughes, who has the advantage of being a righty that can be plugged in situationally.
If Morneau moves to DH full-time or simply can't play, the situation becomes more complicated. Chris Parmelee has shown some promising signs
recently and currently looks like the organization's best long-term option at first, but he still hasn't had a single at-bat in Triple-A yet.
If the Twins need a regular first baseman and want to give Parmelee more time to develop, they'll probably look to one of the several minor-league veterans they have on hand. Newcomers Sean Burroughs and Steve Pearce have reasonably strong track records in the minors, as does Aaron Bates, who posted an .847 OPS in Rochester last season. Chances are that someone from this group could emerge as a palatable, if not ideal, option in Morneau's absence.
Whatever happens, the focus should be on getting reasonably solid offensive production from first base this season. Last year the Twins got 18 homers and .809 OPS from the position, thanks largely to Michael Cuddyer playing there frequently and hitting extremely well when he did, but with him gone they'll need to develop a new fallback plan behind Morneau.
Fortunately, like with catcher, there's enough depth to inspire some confidence.
Predicted 2012 Hitting Line for Morneau: .270/.325/.425, 10 HR, 50 RBI