Earlier this week Twins GM Bill Smith insinuated his club’s lineup is nearly set for the 2011 season. After Minnesota signs their last two arbitration eligible players—Francisco Liriano and Delmon Young—their payroll will be in the $110-115 million range, an unprecedented amount for the usually frugal Twins. Sure, there may be some waiver pickups or a trade, but the meat of the roster is pretty set. So, let’s take a look at it.
The starting lineup will look something like this:
- CF Span
- 2B Nishioka
- C Mauer
- 1B Morneau
- RF Cuddyer
- DH Kubel
- LF Young
- 3B Valencia
- SS Casilla
These nine will likely be the starters. The 5,6,7 of the order could be shuffled around, depending how manager Ron Gardenhire is feeling. There’s a lot to like about this lineup but there’s also a few questions to be answered.
What’s to like:
3,4,5,6,7: It will be hard to find a better 3-7 lineup in baseball. No matter how it gets shuffled, the Twins have arguably the best lefthanded hitter in the game, Joe Mauer, holding down the three-hole. In addition to Mauer they have two top-notch lefthanded mashers in Morneau and Kubel. If Delmon Young (read more about Young here) can reproduce his 2010 season, Cuddy and Young will provide steady right-handed RBI guys in the middle of the order as compliments to the big-name lefties. This group of hitters hit for power and average. They can do a lot of damage and the variety of handedness can force matchups, depleting an opposition’s bullpen.
Danny Valencia: The smooth, brash 26 year-old definitely gave Twins fan’s something to look forward to after his 2010 campaign. The June call-up held down the hot corner and posted .311/.351/.448 split, severely outplaying the Brendan Harris/ Nick Punto “platoon” the Twins began the season with. Valencia’s deifiniely seems like a cocky guy, but perhaps the right amount of cocky for a young MLB player. With less than a season of Major League experience, it’s possible that Twins fans will be seeing some serious production from both the 8-hole and third base—a luxury they haven’t experienced in a long time.
Options, options, options: With Thome on the bench, Kubel starting as DH and Cuddyer patroling right field, the Twins have options should injury or lack of production plague their lineup. Thome’s 25 bombs in only 276 at-bats can amply fill Kubel’s spot at DH. From there, Jason Kubel can slide into right field where he’s shown proficient work with the glove. This allows every-day right fielder Cuddyer to play one of his many positions. In 2010 Cuddyer showed off his ability to hold down 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base and any outfield position. Should an injury happen to one of the regulars at any of these spots, the Twins can fill the hole without weakening the offensive side of the lineup.
Puntoless: There’s no more Nick Punto! The Twins did not pick up their long-time utility infielder/mascot’s ridiculously large $5 million dollar option. While Twins fans may miss Punto’s highlight reel defense, they certainly won’t miss his .238/.313/.302 line, his rally-killing soft liners to left, and his excessive strikeouts in big situations! Cult Punto lovers can continue following Nick on mlb.tv—he recently signed a one-year/$750,000 dollar contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.
D-Span: When Denard Span came was called up in 2008, he seemed like the perfect leadoff hitter. He was smart, a tough out, played good D, stole bases, and came up with clutch hits—he was the perfect Twin. While Denard’s stellar play carried over to the 2009 season, there was a significant drop off in his production in 2010. His batting average, OBP and slugging percentage all fell at least 55 points. At a minimum, Span needs to get on base more than he did in 2010—there are a lot of guys in the middle of this lineup that can knock in the speedy centerfielder. Like many leadoff hitters, Denard is a huge X-factor for the 2011 squad.
Nishioka: The Twins biggest off-season pickup was Tsuyoshi Nishioka. While some Japenese transplants have found immediate success in the Big Leagues, it may be wishful thinking that a 26 year-old without a big league at bat can amply fill the 2-hole in this powerful lineup. Hitting second in a playoff caliber lineup comes with a lot of responsibility—having quality at bats, moving runners, getting bunts down, getting on base—for someone who’s never seen an MLB pitch. However, the guy apparently handles a bat pretty well and should see a lot of fastballs, considering baby-Jesus is batting behind him. If Span and Nishioka both get off to slow starts, this lineup will have problems getting going. Luckily the Twins have options—Alexi Casilla has held down the 2-hole in the past and if Danny Valencia keeps swinging a hot stick, he could be due for a shot at the top of the lineup.
Thome: While there is no sign that Thome will have an off year, Minnesota sports fans have recent experience with a veteran who had a magical year in 2010 only to turn in a real clunker the next year. Let’s hope Jim Thome doesn’t have the “should’ve retired” Brett Favre syndrome. Even if he does, Twins fans probably don’t have to worry about Jim being sued for sending lewd text messages to a team masseuse.
Alexi Casilla: Alexi already has his fair share of great moments in a Twins uniform but he has also squandered opportunities to seize a starting spot in the past. Will Minnesota get the clutch, fun-loving Casilla or the bumbling pouty version of the 26 year-old? Only time will tell.
Twins fans have a lot to look forward to in 2011. They return the essential pieces of a formidable, AL Central Champion lineup. The middle of the order is stacked, if the top of the lineup can turn in a good year, expect this lineup to put up some big numbers in 2011.
Like this article? Check out my Twins Pitching Preview 2011, coming next week.