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Minnesota Twins infielder Alexi Casilla performs a fielding drill at spring training last Saturday in Fort Meyers, Fla. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Casilla hopes to stay on with Twins

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Bemidji Pioneer
Casilla hopes to stay on with Twins
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -- Alexi Casilla lost his job as Minnesota's starting second baseman last season.

When the Twins signed Jim Thome in January, Casilla even lost his No. 25 jersey.


This spring, Casilla is simply trying to hang onto his spot on the team.

Casilla says he can't imagine himself playing for any club other than the Twins, but his future with the team is unclear. Casilla is out of minor league options, which means he must make the 25-man opening day roster or else clear waivers to remain in the organization and be sent to the minors.

"Out of options is key. You definitely don't want to lose a player of his talent and his caliber," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We'll look at all of that at the end and see what we decide."

It doesn't sound as though the Twins are willing to take a risk with a player possessing so many natural talents. The 25-year-old Casilla fell out of the lineup, out of favor and out of the majors last year while fighting a bad slump at the plate that spilled over into the field.

"He has to make our team, or we have to trade him," general manager Bill Smith said. "He's got a lot of value. This is a big year for him. He's going to have to be a little versatile."

And so around the diamond -- and the field -- he will go this spring.

"He can be a great pinch-runner off the bench," Gardenhire said. "He can be a spot starter at just about anywhere you put him, first, second or third. He can go out in the outfield and run the ball down. He's a talented young guy."

With new additions Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy set at second base and shortstop, and Nick Punto competing with Brendan Harris for time at third base, Casilla will likely be vying with the Harris-Punto odd man out and fellow utility man Matt Tolbert for a spot on the bench.

"He needs to fight to make the ballclub," Gardenhire said.

Casilla came to the Twins in a trade with the Angels for reliever J.C. Romero before the 2006 season. He hit .281 with seven homers, 50 RBIs and seven steals in 385 at-bats in 2008, taking over as the regular season baseman.

But last year, his average slumped to .202 and he spent parts of the summer in Triple-A trying to rediscover his rhythm. Casilla appeared in 80 games and got 228 at-bats.

"All I have in my mind is Minnesota," said Casilla, now wearing No. 12. "But it's not my decision. It's their decision. They wanted to go and get somebody else and play every day. That's not my decision. But if I'm here or if I'm with another team, this is what I want to do: play hard, no matter where it is."

Casilla hit the winning RBI single in the bottom of the 12th inning last Oct. 6, giving the Twins the victory in their tiebreaker game for the AL Central title with the Detroit Tigers.

He hopes that big hit will not be his last with Minnesota.

NOTES: Nick Blackburn will start the exhibition opener on Thursday night against the Red Sox, with Kevin Slowey following after two innings. ... Gardenhire said he plans to play Denard Span every day this spring in CF, without Carlos Gomez behind him anymore. Punto, Casilla and Tolbert can play there in a pinch, as can starting RF Michael Cuddyer. "We don't have a backup center-fielder," Gardenhire said. "But you can't have a backup at every position. You've got to have some players who can do it all."

Pioneer staff reports