The Minnesota Twins have been flat out bad the last three years, a span in which they have lost at least 96 games each season. Their pitching has been awful, a major league low 477 strikeouts for the staff last year, and their hitting has been anemic, they ranked 25th in runs scored and batting average in 2013.
The Twins plan to address their pitching woes was to bring in two guys that are quality #3 or #4 starters in most rotations. Ricky Nolasco has worn out the potential label almost as much as his fellow new Twins teammate Phil Hughes. The major addition on offense was bringing Jason Kubel back to the Twin Cities.
Alas, there is hope on the horizon for faithful fans of the franchise. The Twins boast two of the top eight players in Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospects. In fact, outfielder Byron Buxton checks in at #1 on that list. Third baseman Miguel Sano ranks 8th. The list is littered with Minnesota prospects and Law ranks the Twins farm system #2 in the majors.
Best case scenario
Let’s get this out of the way first, the Twins won’t be contending for the AL Central crown and they will be an afterthought in the Wildcard hunt. However, as mentioned above, there is reason for hope. The lineup won’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. However, Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham present a formidable 3-4 combo for the Twins. If Oswaldo Arcia can build off his solid 14 homer rookie campaign and Jason Kubel can, in his return to the Twin Cities, become a run producer, the lineup will be serviceable.
Perhaps a move away from the pressure cooker and hitter-friendly confines of New York can rejuvenate Phil Hughes. Ideally he could provide the Twins with a 200 strikeout arm and 15 or so wins. Ricky Nolasco has a live arm and maybe he finds his groove in the pitcher-friendly Target Field. In a perfect world, Mike Pelfrey, now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, can once again become a solid arm for Ron Gardenhire.
An area of strength for Minnesota is the bullpen, where the Twins ranked 5th in the AL in ERA. The anchor of the pen is All-Star closer Glen Perkins who notched 36 saves last season.
If everything goes perfectly, the Twins could avoid another 90-loss season and push themselves up the AL Central standings a little bit, as a third place finish seems like a realistic goal.
Most important Twins
Joe Mauer is the face of the franchise. In the interest of keeping him fresh, hitting, and in the lineup, he is moving to first base. This will undoubtedly lighten the significant load that Mauer has carried for years as the Twins torch-bearer. He could easily top the .324, 11 homer, 47 RBI season he had last year. There will be some growing pains at first base, but he has already played 50 games at the position.
Josh Willingham: After a banner 2012 season, Willingham battled a knee injury and struggled with a paltry .208 average and just 14 home runs or 21 fewer than he belted in 2012. It’s vital that he not only provides protection for Mauer, but he has to be a run producer in a lineup that is lacking in big time bats. Willingham may be the odd man out in a young and promising outfield later in the season, but he will get plenty of at bats as a DH and sometimes starter in the field.
Potential Breakout Players
Oswaldo Arcia had a solid rookie campaign posting a .250/.304/.430 slash line with 17 doubles, 14 home runs and 43 RBI. Arcia, a career .314 hitter in the minors, could push the average up to the .270 range and nudge that homer total closer to 20. However, in order for him to improve his numbers, he’ll have to cut down on his staggering 31% strikeout rate which was the seventh highest of any player with at least 350 plate appearances last year.
Brian Dozier struck out a bit too much last year, but he did quietly have a solid campaign. He belted 18 homers, good for fourth best among second basemen, and he stole 14 bases. His 2.8 WAR was second only to Mauer on the team last year.
Miguel Sano and/or Byron Buxton: Sano projects as a midseason call up and Buxton is most likely a late season addition. However, if one or both of them get off to a hot start, they may force their way to the big leagues sooner. They represent the future of the franchise and all eyes will be on them once they do get the inevitable call-ups.
Worst case scenario
It will be a long season in Minnesota if their $84 million gamble, that’s what they shelled out for Hughes, Nolasco and Pelfrey this offseason, doesn’t pan out. There aren’t any proven options waiting in the wings and this was already one of the worst rotations in baseball last year. The offense, which is going to be chock full of unproven players and light hitting veterans, could end up being one of the worst in the major leagues – again.
Areas of concern
There just isn’t much thump in the batting order. The lineup is also lacking a lead off hitter. Alex Presley is serviceable there, but he’s not a long-term solution. In 2013, the Twins’ 1,430 strikeouts were the second-most in the majors, and their 52 stolen bases ranked 27th. There isn’t a lot of reason to expect a major leap in either category this year.
The Twins revamped their pitching staff, but they still don’t have a true number 1 starter. That spot goes, by default, to Nolasco who is not a typical number one starter. The rest of the rotation consists of Hughes, Pelfrey (5.95 K/9), Kevin Correria (4.9 K/9) and Vance Worley. Not exactly the most fearsome quintet in the league.
Another problem for the Twins is that they have a brutal schedule to open the season. On Apr 18, Minnesota begins particularly grueling stretch in which they will play 25 straight games against teams that either made the playoffs or were in contention last year, including the Red Sox, Tigers, Rays and Dodgers. Getting off to a poor start could demoralize the clubhouse.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2013
Phil Hughes got roughed up pitching at Yankee Stadium last year, 16 starts, 1-10 record, 6.32 ERA, 17 homers. He was better on the road, 13 starts, 3-4 record, 3.88 ERA, seven homers, so a move to a very pitcher-friendly park suits him well. In his best season as pro, 2010, Hughes logged 176.1 innings, posted an 18-8 record with a 4.19 ERA and 146 strikeouts. I think both the Twins and Hughes would gladly take that this year.
Hughes had brutal .324 BABIP last year which was much higher than his career average of .285. It’s reasonable to expect that number to come down in 2014, combine that with the friendly confines of Target Field and there is hope that Hughes could bounce back for his new club in 2014.
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