Projected Division Finish
1. Kansas City Royals
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Minnesota Twins
2014 Finish: 70-92 (Fifth Place)
Projected Batting Order
SS Danny Santana
2B Brian Dozier
1B Joe Mauer
RF Torii Hunter
DH Kennys Vargas
3B Trevor Plouffe
LF Oswaldo Arcia
C Kurt Suzuki
CF Jordan Schaffer
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP Ervin Santana/Mike Pelfrey
RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Kyle Gibson
LHP Tommy Milone
CLOSER Glen Perkins
The Twins are in the middle of a re-build, even if they didn’t realize it until after the rest of the sport. The current major league club hasn’t played well in recent years with a surprisingly average offense, bad defense and woeful pitching. The Twins were forced to make some changes and fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 very good years. No one thinks he’s a bad manager, but the youngsters in that clubhouse didn’t mesh with him.
I don’t like this team this season. They are still re-building and will really miss Gardenhire, one of the better managers in the game. Add to that a ballpark that smothers offense and the lack of fans (shockingly no one wants to sit outdoors in Minnesota’s cold spring weather to watch bad baseball) and this will be a long season in the Twin Cities.
This offense was actually better than people realize. Most thought they were going to be among the worst in the league. They were actually fairly average ranking 5th in Runs and 6th in Hits. For most teams, that’s not something to write home about (remember this is 5th out of 15) but it’s a big improvement for the Twins.
This offense is built around Joe Mauer. He is the hometown boy who has won a batting title and signed a big contract to stay in the area. But after the ink dried, the Twins started experiencing buyer’s regret. Mauer has never hit for power, despite his size and has no speed. He is becoming a base clogger. As a catcher, having a 300 hitter was a novelty. As a first baseman, they’d rather see him hit for power. He had one of his worst seasons last year hitting a career low 277 with only 4 HR and 55 RBI. Injury limited him to 120 games last year, so there is additional hope that a fully healthy Mauer will play a little better. Hitting third will give him RBI opportunities. Hitting over 300 in a spot with a lot of RBI opportunities can net you 70 RBI. That’s okay, but if that’s the ceiling for your number 3 hitter, you are in trouble. Additionally, opposing pitchers have little incentive to pitch to Mauer, considering his supporting cast. Mauer is a limited player, paid like a superstar for a team with limited resources. I think he could hit 300 again, but wouldn’t expect more than 10 HR and 80 RBI. I’d really expect 8 HR and 70 RBI. Not bad, but not worth the money he’s paid.
Brian Dozier has turned into a pretty good player at second base. He hit 242 last year, but added 23 HR and 71 RBI. He also added 112 R, good enough for second in the league. If you have a light hitting first baseman, having a power hitting second baseman helps offset the lack of power. Dozier also stole 21 bags so he contributes in multiple ways. Dozier is expected to hit second again with the hope that hitting behind the leadoff man will get him a lot of fastballs to hit. It also helps utilize his speed. I like him better in the cleanup spot, but that’s just my opinion. It depends on where he hits, but I think he can hit 240 again (241 career AVG over 3 seasons) with 20+ HR and SB. If he hits 4th, he can threaten for 100 RBI (likely more like 85). If he hits 2nd, expect closer to 70 RBI and maybe 90-100 R again. His great OBP gets him into scoring position more than someone with his AVG normally would.
Tori Hunter has returned to Minnesota where his career began. He is no longer the Gold Glove center fielder he used to be and he has also struggled to be a decent right fielder over the last few years. But having a proven winner and good clubhouse guy on this team of youngsters was a worthy investment for the Twins. He also steps in as one of the better hitters on this team, even on the downswing of his career. He hit 286 last season with 17 HR, 83 RBI and 71 R hitting second for the superior Detroit offense. The Twins plan to hit him cleanup, which I don’t like only because Dozier has a higher ceiling in that spot. Put him down for 270 with 15 HR, 80 RBI and 60 R. I’d hit him second, in which case you could still see 70+ RBI with over 70 R as well.
Danny Santana emerged as a viable leadoff option for Minnesota last year. After primarily playing CF for the Twins last year, he will be their everyday shortstop and leadoff hitter this season. He hit 319 in 101 games last season with 20 SB, 70 R and 7 HR. His 353 OBP was much better than most rookies and I think he could be their future leadoff man. I would expect growing pains in his second season, but still think he could be a viable leadoff option. I’m thinking 280 with a 330 OBP, 40 SB and 90 R. If the rest of the offense was any good I’d think fewer SBs and more R, but that’s not a bad bottom line for anyone, much less a second year shortstop.
Oswaldo Arcia is the most aggressive hitter on this club with 20 HR in only 103 games last year. That came with a 231 AVG, but that’s to be expected from a young player with his makeup. Frankly, the Twins don’t care if he hits 220, as long as he hits for power and can be someone pitchers fear throwing to. A lot of people expect a breakout, but I don’t know. The supporting cast isn’t great and the ballpark kills power. I think he’ll hit 230 again with maybe 25-30 HR, but no more than 75 RBI.
Trevor Plouffe will run back out there for his 6th season playing third for the Twins. He is unexciting and not someone anyone focuses on, but he has had quietly productive seasons the last few years. He had 24 HR in 2012 with a 235 AVG. He’s improved his AVG by about 20 points over the last two seasons, but has seen a drop in HR with 14 each of the last two years. That being said, the Twins are happy with his performance. He hit 258 last year with his 14 HR and a career high 80 RBI. They gave him a look for the cleanup hole, but are likely to hit him hit 5th or 6th. I think he may start the season 5th, but will settle into the 6th hole with Arcia having better power potential. Put him down for 250, 12-15 HR and 70-80 RBI.
The rest of the lineup will be made up of DH Kennys Vargas, catcher Kurt Suzuki and center fielder Jordan Schafer. Vargas will be the DH and play first base on occasion to let Mauer have a break from playing in the field. Vargas hit 274 in 53 games last year with 9 HR and 38 RBI. I have no idea why they want him to bat 5th with his limited experience. Hitting 5th is a lot of responsibility for a guy with less than a third of a season of experience under his belt. While he’s got good power and handles fastballs, he needs to improve on his ability to hit breaking pitches if he’s going to be successful in the big leagues. Hitting 5th will add undue pressure on him, and I think he may struggle to the tune of 220 with maybe 15 HR.
Kurt Suzuki hit a very impressive 288 over 131 games with the Twins last year. He has no power or speed and is only a career 257 hitter, so that AVG was a surprise. They like him for defense and consider any offense a bonus. He is just a placeholder until young Josmil Pinto gets his defense into major league shape. Based on where it was last year, Pinto may spend all year at Triple A.
Jordan Schafer will hold down center field until the arrival of top prospect Byron Buxton. Schafer is a former top prospect that struggled in the majors, served a PED suspension and then settled into a part time role last year. After failing as a starter in Houston, he returned to Atlanta last season, where he began his career and played as a fourth outfielder. He only hit 163 with 15 SB while playing great defense. With B.J. Upton’s struggles, many Braves fans wanted him to take over the starting job. Instead, the Braves let him go to Minnesota, where he was great in 41 games with the Twins. He hit 285 with a 345 OBP stole 15 more bases in 20 fewer games and scored 17 Runs. If Santana struggles in the leadoff spot, Schaffer can be a viable leadoff option. If not, he can hit 9th to get on base for the flipped lineup and maybe steal 20-30 bags. He, too, is only a placeholder for Buxton, who may appear in the majors this year.
This offense isn’t overly potent. They have a first baseman that hits for AVG and a second baseman that hits for power. They have speed in the middle infield and moderate power in the corner outfield spots as well as at third. They could be competitive, but won’t win a lot of games on their own. This offense isn’t as bad as people think it is, but won’t be any better than slightly above average.
The defense has gotten sloppy in Minnesota over recent years. That’s part of the reason they let Gardenhire go. But I don’t think that will do much to help the on-field defensive production. Mauer is still learning first. Dozier is average at best, maybe a bit below average at second. Santana should be good at short despite playing more games in center last year and Plouffe is average or better at third. Hunter has definitely lost a step in right and has very limited range. He hides it well with his experience and good positioning, but he is a below average right fielder. Oswaldo Arcia was bad in right. They are moving him to left, hoping that he’ll play better there, but he has bad reactions and makes bad reads. Eduardo Nunez is more of an offensive bench player who has struggled in the infield defensively and is trying to learn left field. Aaron Hicks is trying to get healthy enough to play some center field and Eduardo Escobar has a nice glove backing up the middle infield. Kurt Suzuki is pretty good behind the plate as is Schafer in center. They are arguably the two best defenders on the team right now. This defense won’t be helping the pitching staff a whole lot.
While this offense could use some work, the pitching staff could use even more. They made significant improvement last season and were still last in the league with a 4.57 ERA. They have had the highest team ERA in the league over the last two years and they weren’t good last year ranking last in both hits allowed and Ks. They don’t have any pitchers who can throw gas and only one of their soft tossers had the command to get hitters out last year (Phil Hughes). While they have been bad across the board, their starters have been particularly atrocious. This team won’t be good this year and with the way their pitching staff is constructed, they may not be good for a while.
I mentioned Phil Hughes as the staff ace. He lacks overpowering stuff and gets by with great command. He led the Twins with 16 Wins, a 3.52 ERA and 186 Ks. While that number of Ks doesn’t look bad, he had to throw 209 innings to get there. And while he had the best walk rate in a single season last year en route to a 1.13 WHIP, he still uses smoke and mirrors to keep runs off the board, as evidenced by his 268 BAA. Long story short, guys will get hits off of him. But if he can continue to strand runners and avoid walks, he should have another okay season. He was very lucky last year and it only led to a 3.52 ERA. I think he’ll be the Twins most competitive pitcher again, but we are only looking at 10-12 wins with an ERA under 4, but likely north of 3.75.
Ricky Nolasco was added last offseason and was supposed to help settle this starting rotation. It didn’t work out. Nolasco went 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA. Hitters crushed him to the tune of a 316 BAA. He put a ton of runners on base and didn’t have the stuff to get out of trouble. He is another guy with average stuff, but doesn’t have the control Hughes has. I don’t think he’ll be much better this year, likely with another losing record, about 5 wins and an ERA north of 4.50. 200 IP would be a win, no matter how he gets there.
Ervin Santana was supposed to be the new number 2 starter after his good season with the Braves last year, but a second PED violation has gotten him suspended for almost half the season (80 games). Before coming back he will likely need some minor league rehab games, so the Twins can’t expect him back until after the All Star Break. With that much time off who knows how sharp he’ll be.
With Santana gone, Mike Pelfrey has returned to the starting rotation, a place he thought he never should have left. He only made 5 starts last year before going down with another injury. He was terrible in those starts, pitching to a 7.99 ERA. The year before it was a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts with the Twins. I don’t expect much from him, likely another ERA around 5 in his starts. I’m honestly confused as to why he thought he deserved to be starting in the first place.
The rest of the rotation is made up of Tommy Milone and Kyle Gibson. Gison was passable in 31 starts last year with a 13-12 recocrd and 4.47 ERA. He made improvements from his first season and that’s really all that matters. Not much is expected of him, likely another season north of 4 in the ERA department. Milone is a former highly touted prospect that is now just looking to succeed as the 5th starter on a last place team. He only made 5 starts and 1 relief appearance last year and struggled with a 7.06 ERA. He’s got a decent body of work and has pitched to a 3.98 ERA in his 5 limited seasons. Injuries been a major issue with him and he is likely not the pitcher he used to be in Oakland. But he had a good year in 2013 (6-3 in 16 starts with a 3.55 ERA) so maybe he can be a quality starter if healthy. I’m expecting a losing record with an ERA around 4.50.
The bullpen is actually a better group of arms than the starters, but that’s not saying much. Closer Glen Perkins earned 34 saves last year despite a subpar 3.65 ERA last season. He struck out 66 in 61 IP, but saw hitters hit 258 off him, not good at all. He’ll be acceptable again this year, but not one of the best. 30 Saves and an ERA between 3 and 3.50.
The rest of the arms are unremarkable. Blaine Boyer is a reclamation project that struggled in relief for the Braves years ago and Tim Stauffer is a failed starter trying to make a go of it in relief. Brian Duensing is another failed starter trying to make it as a reliever. They aren’t a good group, but aren’t the worst in the league either.
This pitching staff is one of the worst in baseball. While the bullpen is only near the bottom, the starters might actually be ranked at the bottom. Even if they aren’t that bad and improve some, they are a far cry from competitive, much less good. Minnesota has a lot of holes, but the men on the mound make up the most gaping one.
Look out Twin Cities, this is going to sting. The Twins are bad. They have a future ahead of them, but frankly I don’t think it’s as close as they do. In addition, they will miss Ron Gardenhire, miss Ervin Santana and really miss their fans, which continue to stay away. The Twins built an outdoor stadium in one of the coldest parts of the country for a team that plays games at least 6 months out of the year. April is cold there. May isn’t warm. And if the Twins ever make the postseason (a silly, ridiculous notion at this point) it will be cold in October and November. People don’t like to sit outdoors in cold weather for 3-hour baseball games. They really don’t like it when the on-field product resembles a dumpster fire. I don’t see any of that changing this year.
Spoiler alert: the Twins will finish in last place. They may win 70 games. They may only win 65. Gonna be a long year in Minnesota.