FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While most are ready to hand Aaron Hicks the center-field job on Opening Day, and he's undoubtedly played the best of the trio competing for the spot, general manager Terry Ryan made it clear that declaring a winner now would be a tad premature.
"We're about halfway home," Ryan said. "Just because one guy got off hotter than the others, we're about halfway."
That one guy, of course, is Hicks, who went 1-for-3 with a double and a walk against the Red Sox on Friday night. That gives MLB.com's No. 98 prospect a .341 average in Grapefruit League action. Darin Mastroianni started in left on Friday, going 2-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. He's now hitting .409 over 22 at-bats. After being slowed by a tight hamstring, Mastroianni has played well, an "under the radar" type Ryan warned against forgetting about.
Of the three, Joe Benson's performance has been the least impressive. The Twins' No. 13 prospect was in Friday night's lineup, as well, as the designated hitter, and his 0-for-4 performance brought his average down to .178. But even he has shown signs of life, going 5-for-9 over his three previous games before Friday, including a three-hit performance on Thursday afternoon against the Red Sox.
"He's going to be a little streaky," Ryan said. "He's a streaky guy, as is anybody who swings like he swings. He has a little confidence flowing now. He went through a little tough stretch here. That's not unusual, I don't think. I like that. I like the fact we have a competition going on out there and even though he went through a little bit of a tough stretch, he's regrouping some and he's not just going to go away here."
Deduno's Classic performance resonates
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Dominican Republic is headed to the World Baseball Classic semifinals and Twins right-hander Samuel Deduno is a big reason why.
Deduno kept the United States' lineup at bay on Thursday night in Round 2 action, allowing just one run over four innings in a game the Dominicans eventually won, 3-1, to earn a trip to San Francisco. It was a solid follow-up to his start against Spain in the first round, when he blanked his opponent for four frames, allowing the Dominican Republic to go to 2-0. The team would beat Puerto Rico the next day to bring a perfect 3-0 record into the next round.
"He's done that for us," general manager Terry Ryan said. "That's exactly what we've seen out of him. When he's throwing it over the plate, he isn't going to get hit, because the ball moves so much."
It's the throwing it over the plate part that has caused Deduno trouble over the years. The right-hander has walked 5.1 per nine innings over the course of his Minor League career. In his 15 starts with the Twins in 2012, he walked six per nine. That, in turn, allowed him to average only a bit over five innings per start.
"Unfortunately, you get into the pitch counts and you get into the bullpen," Ryan said. "He had stretches for us last year that were darn good. When he throws it over, there isn't anybody who ever hits him. Unfortunately, he has to throw it over more so he doesn't tax your bullpen."
As effective as Deduno was against the United States, he was far from efficient. Against Spain, he was able to get through four innings by throwing more strikes than usual, with 45 of his 64 pitches coming in the zone. On Thursday, he had hit 80 pitches through four, only 46 for strikes. With a Round 2 pitch limit of 85, his evening was done as a result.
"That's nice in a short stretch like in that championship series," Ryan said. "That doesn't work over the long haul if you expect to give the ball to him 35 times. He needs to throw the ball over the plate. But you could see the look in his eye. He was pretty intense."
That intensity might not be quite so welcome when he's back in a Twins uniform. That's not to say the powers that be don't want him to be competitive. But the histrionics Deduno, and others, have displayed during the World Baseball Classic probably wouldn't fly in Minnesota.
"That's a different environment," Ryan said. "I think it's legal over there. I'm not sure that would be legal in a normal, regular-season game against the Kansas City Royals, you probably wouldn't see that out of Samuel. The next guy that comes up to lead off our inning is probably going to get one. But in that venue, I think that is fine."
Colabello, Butera return after Classic success
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins' Team Italy contingent was back in the fold on Friday.
Catcher Drew Butera and first baseman Chris Colabello were part of the travel roster for the Twins on Friday night against the Red Sox at Jet Blue Park, though neither was in the starting lineup. After helping Italy surprisingly reach the second round of the World Baseball Classic, the pair can get back to making an impression in big league camp.
Colabello pinch-hit and went 0-for-1 with a strikeout.
"It's time for them to get down to business here," general manager Terry Ryan said. "They had a very good experience and now they have a chance here to carry that on."
Butera appeared in four games behind the plate for Italy, but it was Colabello who really took advantage of the opportunity. The 29-year-old trying to blaze the unusual path from independent league veteran to big leaguer hit .333 with a pair of homers and seven RBIs in his five games. In Italy's trouncing of Canada in the first round, Colabello had four hits and four RBIs, including his first homer of the tournament. He also hit a three-run homer in the Round 2 opener against the Dominican Republic, though Italy couldn't hold on to that first-inning lead.
"I was able to put some good swings on balls and it was neat to be able to help the team win some games," said Colabello, whose father, Lou, pitched for Team Italy in the 1984 Olympics. "As a player, my biggest objective is to help my team win baseball games somehow, some way. It happened to be with some big swings there and it was pretty neat."
This is Calabello's first big league camp, having signed out of the independent leagues a year ago and having a strong 2012 season in Double-A. While it could be argued that his World Baseball Classic schedule took him away from opening eyes here, the flip side of that argument might be that excelling in that international setting might have been even more impressive than anything he would've accomplished in Grapefruit League action.
"He made an impression before he left, but we certainly could watch what he did as part of that Italian team and we took notice," Ryan said. "It's not like we didn't encourage him to go. That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him and we encouraged him to take it. Now he's going to come back and see what he can do here as far as this club, but he did a good job for the Italian team. I can tell you one thing, he takes a lot of pride in what he represents there."
Colabello, who speaks fluent Italian, could not thank the Twins enough for affording him the ability to represent Italy in the Classic. Having it help him achieve the dream of making it to the big leagues is almost secondary and there's likely very little the first baseman would have traded for that opportunity.
"To match the energy and excitement that was going on every pitch of that tournament would be very, very hard in a Spring Training environment," Colabello said. "This being my first big league camp, there was a lot of that for me, personally, but to feel that with 27 other guys, to feel it with the fans and the people at the game, it was pretty unbelievable.
"You can't really match the stage. My dad played in the Olympics and I don't think they had quite the following this tournament did, especially because of the participation of all the big leaguers. I'm so thankful to the organization for letting me go there and having that experience. It's something that I'll never forget. If it happens to be something that helps boost me to the next level, then that's great."