The AAA roster is really a major league reserve roster. While there are prospects at AAA, players really prove themselves at AA. Players at AAA may still be developing, but the roster is loaded with older "AAAA" players who are waiting for a chance to fill in at the major league level. The Rochester Redwings roster this year is no exception.
The Rochester team has struggled the last few years and there are rumours they are looking to change their affiliation if the Twins don't give them a competitive team. That may be why the Twins have stocked this year's team with a lot of experienced players.
There are only six players without any major league experience, Cole Devries, Carlos Gutierrez, Tyler Robertson, Brendan Wise, Ray Chang and Brian Dozier. Dozier is the only player on the team who has not played above AA in the past.
The starting rotation includes Scott Diamond, Cole Devries, Sam Deduno, PJ Walters and Daryl Thompson. Diamond was the Twins Rule 5 pick last year and made some major league starts. Devries is from Eden Prairie, MN and a former MN Gopher. He started a couple games at Rochester last year, but has been mostly a reliever since reaching AA a couple years ago. The other three were all off-season free agent signings.
The bullpen includes Jeff Manship, Anthony Slama, Tyler Robertson, Carlos Gutierrez, Brendan Wise, Casey Fien and Esmerling Vazquez. Manship pitched for the Twins a couple years ago but spent most of last year in the minor leagues on the DL. Slama has been effective in the past, but again was hurt last year. Carlos Gutierrez is a former Twins first round choice who has a devastating sinker, but lacks other pitches. Tyler Robertson has been a top prospect for the Twins in the past and was added to the 40 player roster last fall. The last three are off-season free agent signings. Fien and Wise were among the last pitchers sent out in the major league bullpen competition.
Catching is crowded with former big league backup Drew Butera, Rene Rivera and JR Towles sharing duties. Towles is the best hitter of the bunch, Butera is the best defensive catcher. If the Twins go to a third catcher at some point, Butera is the one most likely to get the call.
The infield has slugger Aaron Bates at first, former Japanese batting champ Tsyuoshi Nishioka at second, Brian Dozier at short and Ray Chang at third. Mike Hollimon appears to be the utility infielder, but there will be a lot of players moved around during the season to keep them flexible depending on what roles are needed by the big league team. Matt Rizzoti will likely platoon some at first base when he isn't DH'ing.
The outfield has Joe Benson in center, flanked by Rene Tosoni and Matt Carson. Brian Dinkelman will likely get turns at the corner outfield spots, as well as playing some infield and DH'ing.
The starting rotation is worrisome. I am sure the Twins expected Liam Hendricks to be part of the rotation and that may still happen. Otherwise, Diamond is the only one you would call a potential major league starter. If the Twins need starters, there isn't much to choose from there.
The bullpen, by contrast, looks very solid with a number of guys who did well in spring training and appear ready to step in at the major league level. Of course, the same thing was true last year and spring training performances proved an illusion in several cases.
The offense has some questions, but could be very good. But there are also players who are real question marks like Nishioka. If he hits AAA pitching like he did in Japan, he's an offensive threat. If he struggles the way he did last year in the majors he could be real liability. Tosoni was a promising prospect rushed to the big leagues. He could break out this year. Benson needs to cut down his strikeouts, but when he makes contact he is going to hit some home runs. Bates and Rizzoti add power to the lineup.
Its almost opening day and the world always looks hopeful. But this Rochester team looks like it could end the string of losing seasons. Its not loaded with future stars, but it has a lot of solid, experienced players.