FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - There are seven catchers in the Minnesota Twins' clubhouse again this spring. The difference this time around is that one of them, A.J. Pierzynski, knows the starting job is his to lose.
"We're going to go with A.J. unless something unforeseen happens," Twins manager Tom Kelly said following Wednesday's workout at the Lee County Sports Complex.
"Hopefully, there are no injuries to anybody, but that's our plan right now. And Tom Prince will be behind him. Right now, if we had to start tomorrow that's how we would go."
Prince, 36, was brought in and signed as a free agent in December because of experience. He's expected to help with the young group of catchers currently in uniform. The other five looking to find a place on the depth chart are Danny Ardoin, Matt LeCroy, Brandon Marsters, Chad Moeller and Jeff Smith.
"It's definitely a confidence boost," Pierzynski said of being penciled in as the starter. "Instead of coming in hoping for a chance, I actually believe I have a chance, and it kind of relaxes you. I'm still going to have to go out and perform in these games and in the drills we have every day and prove that I deserve the chance."
Pierzynski split his time last season among Double-A New Britain, Triple-A Salt Lake City and finally the Twins, performing well at each stop, particularly at the plate. In 33 games with Minnesota, he batted .307 with two home runs and 11 RBI. But he credits his move to Fort Myers during last offseason as the biggest contributor to his success.
"That was one of the biggest steps last year, when I moved down here in the offseason," he said. "It helps tremendously. You have a good place to work out, you have the strength coach down here and a couple of other coaches are down here. So if there's something you need to work on they'll help you.
"Now I live down here year round, and there's another 8-10 guys that live down here - Eric Milton, Jeff Smith, Bobby Kielty, Brian Buchanan, Michael Restovich, Michael Cuddyer. It's a great thing knowing you can call somebody and see if they want to go throw, or go hit or go to the gym."
Beginning the first week of January, Pierzynski and a handful of other Twins players living nearby got together at the team's minor league training complex every day to work out. He said by the end of last week, a couple of days before pitchers and catchers were to officially report, the number was up to about 35, enough to hold a full intrasquad game.
"I've felt different already because I've been catching bullpens, Milton's been throwing, there's been pitchers out here throwing," Pierzynski said. "It's just an advantage because my legs are already in shape from catching and my hands seem ready to go to hitting drills, and I just feel ready."
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