Minnesota Twins preview: Better pitching, similar results
It’s been a difficult couple of years for Minnesota Twins fans. After winning the division in 2010 with 94 wins, they’ve won 63, 66 and 66 games in each of the past three seasons. Injuries to star players like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau certainly added to their recent struggles, but the inability to find a stable core of starting pitching has ultimately led to their fall from contention in the American League Central.
The front office addressed those issues and rebuilt the rotation by signing free agents Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, and by re-signing Mike Pelfrey. They also traded for a top-five prospect from the Atlanta Braves organization in Sean Gilmartin. The left-handed pitcher is a former number-one draft pick who could be ready for the big leagues if he puts on a good show in the spring.
The offense ranked 13th in the American League in runs scored and in batting average last season. They struck out the second most in the American League, trailing only the Houston Astros. They were also 13th in the league in stolen bases.
There weren’t many, or really any, additions to the Twins lineup this offseason, so they are counting on the development of young players like Pedro Florimon, Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks. The one constant in the middle of this lineup will be Mauer. He agreed to make the move from behind the plate to first base, which should allow him to stay healthy and on the field more often. Josh Willingham will most likely protect Mauer and should be a source of power in the middle of the lineup.
The Twins signed Kurt Suzuki for $2.5 million to help young Josmil Pinto transition to the future full-time catcher. Pinto was really good in just 76 at-bats last year, hitting .342 with four home runs. If he continues to develop, he could provide another solid middle-of-the-order bat.
Whether it’s Alex Presley or Hicks, finding a leadoff hitter will be key. Best-case scenario would be for Hicks to have a great spring, grab hold of the center field job and give the Twins the speed they need at the top of the lineup. An even better best-case scenario: Top prospect Byron Buxton makes the squad out of camp and becomes the team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter, but that’s just a dream at this point.
The 2013 staff finished next to last in the American League in ERA, while the starting pitching finished dead last in the American League with an ERA of 5.26. It’s safe to say that whatever the 2014 staff does, it has to be an improvement.
As mentioned, the Twins will field a different rotation in 2014. They spent a lot of money to bring in Nolasco and Hughes to go along with Kevin Correia as the top three in the rotation. Pelfrey, Vance Worley and Scott Diamond will likely compete for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. While the Twins certainly lack an ace, these middle-rotation type of starters certainly give them a chance to win games.
Top pitching prospect Alex Meyer is finally healthy and in spring camp. There is a good chance he could join this rotation some time in 2014. Other pitching prospects, Trevor May and Gilmartin, could make their big league debuts in 2014, too.
The Twins bullpen was one of the few bright spots from 2013. They finished the season with the fifth-best ERA in the American League, while racking up the most innings pitched of any bullpen. The bullpen will be anchored by closer Glen Perkins who saved 36 games last season while posting an ERA of 2.30 and a WHIP of 0.93.
Opening day lineup
1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Brian Dozier, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Josh Willingham, DH
5. Oswaldo Arcia, RF
6. Alex Presley, LF
7. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
8. Kurt Suzuki, C
9. Pedro Florimon, SS
The Twins have developed one of the strongest minor league systems in baseball, putting two players in the top five of the latest set of prospect rankings. Buxton is hands down the best prospect in all of baseball, while Miguel Sano is listed in the top five of most prospect lists. Meyer and 2013 first-round draft pick Kohl Stewart are also top-50 prospects.
Sano finished the 2013 season at double-A where he hit 19 home runs in only 233 at-bats. He brings monster power and could most certainly take over the third base job sometime this season. Buxton is only 20 years old and has yet to play above A-ball, but his talent may force the Twins to bring him to the bigs sooner rather than later.
Meyer probably would have made his major league debut in 2013 had it not been for a shoulder injury. The 24-year-old will most likely start the year a triple-A, but if he shows he’s fully recovered, the Twins will likely bring him up soon. The Twins took Stewart with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft and scouts have raved about him ever since. At 19, he is still years away from joining the Twins rotation.
Unfortunately for Twins fans, 2014 will be another year of disappointment; however, there is much to be excited about going into this season. It will be interesting to watch the development of top prospects Buxton, Sano and Meyer. There is a good chance Sano and Meyer could jump to the big leagues this year, and if Twins fans pray hard enough, there is a slim chance Buxton could be brought up to give fans hope for the future.
Despite their best efforts to revamp the starting rotation, there isn’t enough improvement there to make this team a contender. The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are much better than the Twins right now. It wouldn’t take much for the Cleveland Indians to fall off and the Twins to surpass them, but even the Chicago White Sox made some improvements in the offseason that will make them a tough team to beat.
At best, this team finishes third in the division with 78 wins, but most likely they finish last with somewhere between 65 and 70 wins.