Sunday, March 16, 2014

Minnesota Twins 2014 Team Breakdown

MINNESOTA TWINS:  66-96 (4th in the division)

Projected Lineup/Batting Order:

CF        Alex Presley
2B       Brian Dozier
1B       Joe Mauer
LF        Josh Willingham
DH       Jason Kubel
RF        Oswaldo Arcia
3B       Trevor Plouffe
C          Kurt Suzuki
SS        Pedro Florimon

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Ricky Nolasco
SP        Phil Hughes
SP        Samuel Deduno
SP        Kevin Correia
SP        Vance Worley
RP       Glenn Perkins
RP       Anthony Swarzak
RP       Brian Duensing

The Twins are still in the middle of their re-build.  They are one of the smaller market teams in the big leagues, and spend money accordingly.  However, as occasionally happens with smaller teams, they did decide to give one monster contract to one player.  And that was hometown hero Joe Mauer, who is a batting champ and former catcher.  The Twins knew they had to keep him healthy, so the last few years he’s been moonlighting at first and DH.  As of this season however, he is moving to first base full time.  Mauer is great, but he can’t do it alone.  And that’s a problem because he also can’t do all the Twins need him to do.  He makes far too much money, based on what Minnesota can spend.  And because of that contract, the re-build is going slower than expected with patchwork pieces filling in around their one star.

Nowhere is this piecemeal approach clearer than on the offensive side of things.  The lineup is anchored with Joe Mauer playing first and hitting third.  He continued to hit for a great average (324) but not the power you’d expect from a first baseman (11 HR).  However that was only in 113 games as a concussion limited his output.  Assuming he’s healthy he should be a cinch for 320 again.  But the question is will he ever develop into the power threat they need him to be.  His career high in HR is 28 in 2009.  After that year it’s 10 or less and he’s missed quite a few games.  So, in some ways the 11 HR in 113 games was a step forward.  In 2010 he hit 9 HR in 137 games and then in 2012 he hit 10 in 147.  So if he can develop power he can drive in 80+ runs while continuing to hit 320.  But likely, he’ll lose some average points if he swells to 20 HR.  They’d love a 20 HR season at 300.  But it’s more likely we’ll see 12-15 HR with a 310 AVG.  He’s not the problem, but he’s not all they need him to be either.  After Mauer, the drop off is precipitous.  I have Alex Pressley leading off after hitting 275 in 57 games last year.  The former Pirate did drop off in Target field though, falling from 283 with Pittsburgh to 264 in Minnesota.  There’s not a lot of speed or a high ceiling here, but he’s probably the best option.  If Aaron Hicks can learn to hit that’s who they’ll want leading off.  But if he only hits 192 again then he’ll stay the 4th outfielder.  I put their second best offensive player in the number 2 hole for now.  That’s second baseman Brian Dozier.  Dozier hit 244 last year but also popped 18 HR while swiping 14 bags.  The AVG isn’t great, but hitting second they hope he can see some fastballs and turn them into homers.  He may only be a power/speed guy, but that makes him one of manager Ron Gardenhire’s best weapons.  After Dozier, Mauer will hit third.  I have Josh Willingham hitting cleanup.  If any one player can help turn around their fortunes it’s the Twins left fielder.  In 2012 he hit 260 with 35 HR and 110 RBI.  Last year he hit 208 with 14 HR and 48 RBI.  At this point in his career he’s just a slugger, and that’s fine.  But they need him to be closer to his 2012 self, not 2013’s disaster.  Think, 240 with 25 HR.  It’s not great, but it would suffice.  If he struggles again, maybe Gardenhire switches him and Dozier.  Or just drops Willingham in the order, though the options to move up aren’t the most attractive right now.  Jason Kubel was re-signed to try to find the Minnesota magic that marked the beginning of his career.  2 years ago he had 30 HR.  Last year injuries derailed him.  He signed a minor league deal with incentives to make the big league club.  I don’t think he’ll be back to his old self, but I also don’t think there is enough talent in Minnesota to keep him off the big league club.  I’ll put him down for 230 with 15 HR.  And that’s the number 5 hitter.  Things only get worse from here.  Oswaldo Arcia showed some great power in 97 games last year with 14 HR and 43 RBI to go with a 251 AVG.  Ideally, that continues.  But as pitchers become more familiar with Arcia, I think he’ll digress a bit.  Maybe he stays at 250, but I don’t think we’ll see 30+ HR.  I’m putting him down for 240 and 15.  I think that would be a successful season for the Twins.  The bottom of the lineup will be made up of third baseman Trevor Plouffe (254, 14 HR), catcher Kurt Suzuki (232, 5 HR) and shortstop Pedro Florimon (221, 9 HR, 15 SB).  Plouffe is the best hitter of the trio, and could move up if Arcia, Kubel or Willingham struggle.  Then bench is limited with Chris Herman as left fielder/catcher with a 204 AVG in 56 games, Eduardo Escobar (236/3/10) who is best known for breaking up Yu Darvish’s no-hitter to start the season and Jason Bartlett, who the Twins are giving another shot at short.  Bartlett has been a disaster and didn’t even play last year, so him making the team is cloudy, much less him having any real impact.  So that’s the Twins offense.  Or, as most people refer to them, Mauer and some other dudes.  It’s not a potent offense by any means, but they can scrape together some runs here and there.  But that likely won’t be enough most games.

The biggest issue in Minnesota last year was the rotation.  And GM Terry Ryan fixed it.  They added Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to the top of the rotation to augment Vance Worley, Samuel Deduno and Kevin Correia.  Worley, their opening day starter, was a mess in 10 games before being sent to the minors.  He had a 1-5 record to go with a 7.21 ERA.  He’ll have a shot to be the 5th starter, but he’ll have to improve.  Correia will be their number 4 man after going 9-13 with a 4.18 ERA in 31 starts last year.  That’s not good by any means, but at least he’s the 4th starter.   This isn’t a championship team, but to have a number 4 starter with his experience and ability to keep the team in games (for about 5 innings generally) is a real help.  Samuel Deduno had a strong season in his 18 starts.  I put him down to be their number 3 man.  He went 8-8 with a 3.83 ERA.  He won’t win a Cy Young, but a sub 4 ERA from a number 3 starter on a re-building team is almost a luxury.  And with his youth, you like his upside and potential.  So the Twins clearly have some back end depth.  They needed top of the rotation men.  But they couldn’t justify spending that much on a team that won’t be contending for anything.  So they compromised a bit, bringing in better guys with experience, but not breaking the bank.  They added Ricky Nolasco to be their de facto ace but only gave him 4 years for $49 million.  He went 13-11 between Miami and Los Angles last year with a 3.70 ERA.  He wasn’t as good with the Dodgers as Miami is a better pitching park.  But Target Field is a good place to pitch.  I’m thinking he could win 15 and turn in a 3.50 ERA.  But that’s probably his ceiling.  A more realistic expectation may be 12 Wins and a 3.75 ERA.  He may pitch well enough to win 15, but this team won’t do him any favors.  After Nolasco, Phil Hughes steps into the number 2 hole after signing a 3 year $24 million dollar deal.   He’s a bit more of a wildcard and struggled last year going 4-14 with an ERA over 5.  I don’t think he’ll completely return to his All Star form, but getting out of Yankee stadium should be every pitcher’s dream.  I suspect an ERA around 4.25 and maybe 10 Wins.  That could come with 10 losses, but I could see him get to 200 IP.  It’s not ideal for a number 2 man, but for Minnesota it’s a tremendous upgrade.  And if any of those guys struggle, perhaps Mike Pelfrey fills the void.  The starters only have to give them 6-7 good innings before the bullpen can bail them out.  Brian Duensing, Jared Burton and Casey Fien all turned in sub 4 ERAs in a fair number of innings and look like great bullpen pieces.  Anthony Swarzak pitched to a 2.91 ERA.  And Glenn Perkins had a 2.30 to go with 36 Saves, a sub 1 WHIP and a sub 200 BAA.  Those numbers are All Star worthy.  It’s rare that a re-building team has a strong bullpen, but this team does and will use it a lot to keep them in games.


The long-term outlook for this team is better than the short-term outlook.  They have the best prospect in the game in Byron Buxton who is a star centerfielder in the minors for them.  They also have a star in 3B Miguel Sano (though he’s gone for the year due to Tommy John) and 2B Eddie Rosario.  Plouffe and Dozier had good years last season, so perhaps they are trade bait.  Or maybe the youngsters can play other positions.  Who knows?  But the Twins have a ton of talent in the minors on its way.  The pitching is a little thin, but there are some solid stopgap options.  With Mauer, Dozier and Plouffe, this team has a solid infield.  Perhaps having Buxton in center with Willingham and maybe Arcia gives them a competitive outfield.  And with some veteran innings eaters starting for a talented bullpen, this team could get better soon.  Maybe approach 500.  But that is likely next year.  This year will be a struggle.  Maybe they trade Plouffe or Willingham for pitching help.  Maybe these starters sort themselves out and play well in Minnesota this year.  But everything will not go right at the same time.  They won’t rush Buxton or Sano and they won’t be a contender either with this offense.  I’m thinking a good season is 70 wins, but this team likely finishes in the 60s.  And I’m putting them down for a last place finish in the AL Central.

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