MINNEAPOLIS — Many aspects of the 1985 Minnesota Twins are new. But are they new and improved?
Twins Manager Billy Gardner and his players think so.
"We have new confidence, new management and some good new players," says Gardner, who will be entering his fourth full season as the Twins' field general when they open their season Tuesday night against the Angels at Anaheim.
"Last year we were happy with a .500 record," second baseman Tim Teufel says, referring to the Twins' surprising 81-81 showing in 1984. "We know we have a contender this year. We won't be happy with .500."
In 1984, the Twins were in first place in the American League West as late as Sept. 23. However, they dropped their last six games to fall three games behind the Kansas City Royals.
With a fine young pitching staff and solid everyday lineup, the Twins again figure to challenge for the title in the AL West, which is considered baseball's weakest division.
"We think we've helped ourselves nine games worth," Gardner says. "And 90 wins should be enough to take our division."
"Being close and not quite getting there was a big letdown last year," relief pitcher Rick Lysander says. "We're a year older and a year smarter and I can't see it happening again."
The most notable newcomers to the Metrodome are shortstop Roy Smalley, designated hitter Mike Stenhouse, pitchers Rich Yett, Tom Klawitter and Curt Wardle and, perhaps most importantly, owner Carl Pohlad.
Smalley played for the Twins from 1976-1981 and enjoyed his best season in 1979 with 24 home runs and 95 runs batted in. But he was platooned by the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox the last three years.
"I'm back at shortstop and I'm back in a city where I feel comfortable," Smalley says.
Stenhouse, whom the Twins acquired from the Montreal Expos, has produced consistently in the minor leagues but has never really been given a chance at a major league job.
Yett, a right-handed starter, and Wardle, a hard-throwing lefty reliever, were minor league standouts for the Twins and were expected to crack the lineup this spring. The same could not be said for the left-handed Klawitter, who came to camp as a non-roster player.
But with a good curve ball and good control, Klawitter quickly became one of Gardner's favorites. The manager likes to call Klawitter into games by making a "Klaw" sign with his left hand.
Pohlad, a Minneapolis banker, purchased the Twins from Calvin Griffith last September. He immediately loosened the purse strings, giving several players substantial raises.
"Mr. Pohlad has given every indication that he plans to compete financially for good players," high-priced reliever Ron Davis says.
While the Twins have several new wrinkles, most of their talented young players from last year return.
Here's a position-by-position look at the 1985 Minnesota Twins:
FIRST BASE -- If the Twins are to ride into the Promised Land of the American League playoffs, first baseman Kent Hrbek will have to be their Moses. Nineteen-eighty-four was a great year for the 24-year-old lefty slugger, who finished second in voting for the AL most valuable player award. Hrbek batted .311 with 27 homers and 107 RBIs and, after the season, he was rewarded with a 5-year, $5.9 million contract. His backup will be Stenhouse.
SECOND BASE -- Teufel came to the Twins with impressive minor league stats and, with his .262 average, 14 homers and 61 RBIs, he showed some major league pop his rookie year. He also led AL second basemen in assists. Versatile Ron Washington is his backup.
SHORTSTOP -- The switch-hitting Smalley feels a little pressure because Gardner is batting him cleanup. In addition, Smalley has not been a fulltime shortstop for three years. But Gardner says he has never seen Smalley move better. His backups will be Washington and rookie Greg Gagne.
THIRD BASE -- The "G-Men," Gary Gaetti and Greg Gagne, have battled all spring. Gaetti is still recovering from a bone bruise he suffered near the end of spring training, but despite that injury and Gagne's hot spring bat, the veteran Gaetti should start at third base come April 9. Gaetti, a solid fielder, lifted his average to a career-high .262 last season, but his homer production dropped dramatically. If Gaetti isn't ready for the opener, Gardner has given Gagne a vote of confidence and says he won't hesitate to use Gagne to spell Smalley at shortstop, either.
LEFT FIELD -- Mickey Hatcher is one of the Twins' steadiest players. A .302 hitter last year with 69 RBIs, he is also valuable for his ability to keep things loose in the clubhouse.
CENTER FIELD -- Having Kirby Puckett roaming center field from the start of the season also should make the Twins a better team in 1985. A non-roster player who cracked Minnesota's lineup last May, Puckett went on to finish third in the AL rookie of the year balloting. He batted .296 from the leadoff position and sparked the team's defense.