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5 Twins spring stars to watch

Minnesota Twins right fielder Max Kepler (26) at bat in the third inning of the spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Ft. Myers, Fla., on March 10, 2019. Jasen Vinlove / USA TODAY Sports

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The tarp has come off at Target Field.

Though there’s plenty of snow that needs to be cleared on the Twins’ home field in Minnesota, the green grass in the infield has been uncovered and snow removal has begun. Baseball, believe it or not, is coming back to town in just more than two weeks. The Twins open the season Thursday, March 28, against the Cleveland Indians.

Down in the Florida sunshine, spring training games have been under way for a couple of weeks. Here are five players putting together strong spring campaigns:

Fernando Romero, RHP

This spring began with the announcement that the talented 24-year-old would be pitching out of the bullpen.

So far, so good.

Romero has given up just one run in seven innings pitched for a 1.29 ERA. He has made five outings, with each of his past two being two innings apiece. Earlier in the spring, Romero said he was working on improving command of his four-seamer and his slider.

He has allowed just three hits in those outings and has struck out six while routinely lighting up the radar gun. And he’s drawn plenty of praise from his manager, who said he was enthusiastic about his “tremendous arm” and “tremendous stuff.”

“I’m hoping that, in time, he’s going to be a very, very important piece we can look to get very important outs during the course of a game,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.

Martin Perez, LHP

Much has been made of Martin Perez’s spring outings — and for good reason.

The lefty has been spending plenty of time hanging around two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana, soaking up all the advice he can get. He also has made an adjustment with his hips and been working on his cutter to successful results.

“I’m happy to do what I’ve been doing, and I’m excited,” he said. “I think the way I’ve thrown the ball is really good for me and my teammates.”

His fastball has touched 97 mph, and though Perez said he’s not focusing on how hard he’s throwing, it’s an impressive number that is hard to ignore. In three outings this spring, Perez has given up two runs in nine innings while striking out seven.

His last time out, he threw four scoreless innings against the Pirates.

“He’s been this guy since he’s shown up to camp,” Baldelli said. “This is kind of what we believe he is and he can be.”

Adam Rosales, INF

The non-roster invitee has made the most of his opportunity, providing versatility around the infield and a good offensive performance to match. Through nine games, Rosales is hitting .429 with a .478 on-base average and 1.000 slugging percentage. His three home runs this spring are tied for the team lead.

The veteran major leaguer played just 13 games in the big leagues last season, spending most of the season in Triple A. Though his odds of cracking the roster are low, he has been impressive in Florida.

“It’s not by chance that Adam Rosales keeps showing up and playing and performing in the big leagues because he does all these things that we’re talking about and he’s done it over time,” Baldelli said after a 4-for-4 day for Rosales. “He hasn’t really slowed down much physically, still looks good, still takes care of his body and puts himself in a good place to make a team.”

Byron Buxton, CF

Byron Buxton’s first two spring training games could not have gone any better.

In his first five at-bats, Buxton went 5 for -5 with two home runs and 10 runs batted in. Through nine games, Buxton is now hitting .364 with a .417 on-base average, .864 slugging percentage, three home runs and 11 RBIs.

“I’m more comfortable with it because the whole offseason, it was just myself,” he said. “So it’s my swing, my thought process, my thinking, everything with my swing now is me. I didn’t go to no hitting coach, I didn’t go work out with nobody. I worked out by myself, I hit by myself, and that’s where it’s going to stay.”

The 25-year-old outfielder spent this offseason focusing on his training, putting on 21 pounds. At the plate, he ditched his leg kick and focused on his swing. This comes after a season in which Buxton dealt with injuries and finished the year in Triple A, playing in just 28 major league games last season.

“I think there’s something to just feeling good and going out on the field and having a good time,” Baldelli said earlier this spring. “I don’t care if these are spring training games, what kind of games they are, he looks like he’s having fun from the time he comes in the dugout pregame until we slap him five and he goes back in.”

Max Kepler, RF

Max Kepler’s spring started with him signing a five-year, $35 million contract extension. Then, in his first two spring training at-bats, Kepler homered.

All in all, not a bad start to spring.

The Twins have been testing out Kepler in the leadoff spot, where he has responded, batting .444 with a .545 on-base average and .833 slugging percentage. It’s an idea Baldelli and the coaching staff discussed during the offseason.

“The way I see him as a hitter, I just think he fits really well at or near the top of the lineup, especially against right-handed pitching. I think it’s a great spot for him,” Baldelli said. “This is a guy who has immense talent, and he’s got a really good head on his shoulders. We could look up and see a player who takes a step or two forward, and that could happen at any time.”

Kepler said a focus of his is being more aggressive at the plate and not looking at pitches that are too hittable.

“It’s frustrating when you get a good pitch to hit and you let it go and you don’t get any more and it’s a tough at-bat,” he said. “I don’t want to miss those anymore.”