Thursday, March 20, 2014

Minnesota Twins Fan Previews the 2014 Minnesota Twins

As a Twins fan, I am exhausted.  The baseball season is a lengthy commitment for a fan.  Getting up every morning and putting on all that face paint and gluing on that rainbow wig can become tedious, especially when your favorite team is losing.  The Twins haven't had a competitive season since 2010 and 2014 doesn't look super promising on paper.  However, the Twins have worked hard to improve the on-field product and they seem committed to building a winning team.  The farm system is loaded and the new-look rotation is intriguing.  Unlike 2012 and 2013 where the team looked brutal from the jump, you can squint and see a .500 team in 2014.  I'm not sure how likely that is, but that glimmer of hope is enough to keep me buying massive quantities of face paint and foam fingers every week. 

Key Acquisitions

"Key" Acquisitions

Sean Gilmartin, Kris Johnson, Brooks Raley, Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett and Matt Guerrier

Notable Losses

Liam Hendriks, Clete Thomas, Ryan Doumit, Pedro Hernandez, Cole De Vries, and Andrew Albers

My favorite offseason move?

Phil Hughes and I outlined exactly why in the number 4 spot in my March 17 Power Rankings.  I won't repeat myself, I'll just link myself.  There are more links within the link.  It's a link party!

More importantly, are they better than last year?

It's hard to argue that they aren't.  The Twins had to mine deep to find starting pitching last year.  The number of different AAA starters on the MLB roster was outrageous.  10 different starters made 8 or more starts for the Twins in 2013, including the following immortals:  Pedro Hernandez, Liam Hendriks and P.J. Walters.  You can debate the quality of the guys the Twins signed, but both Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco should be capable of making 27 or more starts, which will limit the amount of starts made by dregs like I listed earlier. 

The offense is mostly the same, but young players often get better, not worse.  The Twins have a lot of young players. 

Awesome Name from the Organization

Engelb Vielma

Former Twin Alert!

Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett and Matt Guerrier are all vying to become former former Twins. 

Depth Chart

Kurt Suzuki
Ricky Nolasco
Phil Hughes
Mike Pelfrey
Pedro Florimon
Vance Worley
Jared Burton
Alex Presley
Samuel Deduno
Jason Kubel


I would say the lineup is emerging.  You look at the names and it's not very exciting.  Joe Mauer is fantastic, Brian Dozier was pretty good last year and Oswaldo Arcia was above-average.  That said, among the likely 9-man lineup, only Mauer managed an OPS+ of 103 or better.  Arica posted a 102 OPS+ and Dozier had a 100 OPS+, both just hovering at league-average.  It looks bleak, as Justin Morneau is ostensibly replaced with Kurt Suzuki and Alex Presley will be in the lineup for the full year.  Other than those downgrades, it looks very similar to the lineup that scored just 614 runs, third worst in the AL. 

There are some potential bright spots though.  Whoever plays center will almost certainly perform better than Aaron Hicks did in 2013 and that includes Hicks himself, should he win the job.  Josh Willingham was awful last year, but had a 143 OPS+ in 2012.  Trevor Plouffe went from a 106 OPS+ in 2012 to a 94 OPS+ in 2013, so he could rebound a bit.  Arcia and Dozier could keep trending positively.  Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello could form a decent DH platoon.  Josmil Pinto could replace Kurt Suzuki.  The lineup is not a strength of this team, but it could get to a point where it is no longer a weakness. 


This really depends on who wins jobs.  If Alex Presley beats out Aaron Hicks, the outfield defense could be really bad.  I know that Hicks did not rate as a good defender last year, but he is a good defender and he has a massive arm.  Presley can get the job done, but he doesn't have Hicks' arm or range.  Arica and Willingham on the corners is really suspect.  The infield defense should be fine as Pedro Florimon is great and Eduardo Escobar would be about 80% of Florimon.  Brian Dozier looked good at second and Joe Mauer is a natural.  Trevor Plouffe isn't great, but he does make up for some of his lack of range with a really strong arm.  Kurt Suzuki is on the roster specifically for his defense.    

All that said, center field is the key to everything.  The Twins will catch a lot of fly balls if Hicks is in center and a lot fewer if Presley is out there. 


Regardless of how you feel about Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes as pitchers, you have to admit that the Twins were able to upgrade their rotation pretty significantly this offseason.  Last year, the Twins were forced to use this quintet of starters 48 times:  Kyle Gibson, P.J. Walters, Pedro Hernandez, Vance Worley and Liam Hendriks.  Those five fellows rewarded the Twins with a combined ERA north of 6.5.  That is an unbelievable figure.  If the Twins can simply replace those 48 starts with 48 starts from Nolasco and Hughes, their runs against and team ERAs will plummet.  Worley and Gibson could improve, as they are young players.  Hernandez, Walters and Hendriks are thankfully not available for the Twins any longer.

The rest of the rotation is suspect.  Sam Deduno looked crazily good last year and Kevin Correia was a nice surprise.  Mike Pelfrey was pretty awful at the beginning of the year, but improved as the year went on.  Scott Diamond made 24 starts and was not great.  Those starts could have been included in the 48-start quintet of crap, but that would have made a sextet and I didn't want any giggles.  If Correia and Pelfrey can average out their performances last year, if Hughes and Nolasco can stay healthy and if one of Gibson, Diamond, Worley and Deduno can turn in just an average season (say 25 starts at 4.5 ERA), the rotation could go from "AAA Special" to "Actual MLB rotation." 


I often discuss the Twins bullpen as a strength of the team.  I feel this is true partially because there are good performers in the bullpen and partially because the rest of the team has been quite poor.  The Twins' bullpen is good, but it isn't deep.  Glen Perkins is awesome and Casey Fien does a really nice job.  Jared Burton and Brian Duensing have been good pitchers in the recent past, but each had struggles in 2013.  Anthony Swarzak was possibly the Twins' best pitcher last year, when you consider the role he was given and how well he performed.  There are some young guys who look like potential contributors as well (Michael Tonkin, Edgar Ibarra and Ryan Pressly).  In addition, one of the losers in the 5th starter battle could end up in the bullpen and I think Deduno and/or Worley could really do well in that role. 

The bullpen is going to be good, but it could be better than that.  If the young guys improve and the veterans bounce back, the bullpen could become a strength of this team on its own and not by comparison to the rest of the team. 

World Series aspirations?

N/A, at least not right now.  I think there are aspirations down the line though.  The Twins should grow as an MLB team this year, but their organizational growth will be even more important.  If prominent prospects continue to grow, the franchise outlook will get brighter.  I think the Twins could contend for a World Series before the end of this decade. 

Can the Twins finish ahead of them?

This question doesn't really work.  Unless we think in a really meta manner.  I guess the Twins can exceed their expectations, thereby finishing ahead of the Twins.  So yes, they will finish ahead of the Twins.  I think the national perception is that the Twins are still a 95-loss team.  I don't think they are.  Locally, we are more optimistic.  I think the Twins could win as many as 81 games in 2014.  That would be their ceiling, but there is enough talent on this roster to win half of their games. 

Projected AL Central finish - 4th

The Twins avoided the AL Central basement in 2013, but that had more to do with the White Sox being a completely rancid team.  The Twins weren't good in 2013 and they really weren't much better than they were in 2012.  However, the Twins supplemented their roster by adding two quality pieces, strengthening 40% of their starting rotation.  The younger players should continue to develop and more young players are lurking, ready to claim their long-term spots on the team. 

The Twins could surprise in 2014, even if that is unlikely.  However, can a surprise really be likely?  Does that make it a surprise?  I can see the Twins winning anywhere from 65 to 80 games in 2014.  That would be a frustrating range if the ceiling wasn't immensely higher than Twins fans have grown accustomed to in recent years.  A run at a .500 record would energize me, I know that for sure.  It would be a step in the right direction and a positive sign of even better things to come.

If you're interested, here is the whole lot of AL Central team previews (in projected order of finish):

White Sox

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