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Saturday, March 1, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Minnesota Twins

Wild on Sports
MLB 2014 Team Preview: Minnesota Twins
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:

The future has arrived!...sort of. Consecutive 66-win seasons are set apart by the fact that this time, Minnesota was breaking in some real talent, at least in the lineup, instead of fooling around with the likes of Ryan Doumit. But the Justin Morneau era is over, and it ends in unspectacular, maudlin fashion. He leaves behind a roster full of holes, an army of AAAA batting practice pitchers, and Joe Mauer, now officially an ex-catcher.

Winter Grade: D
Coming: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes  
Going: Ryan Doumit
Management correctly identified the glaring weakness in their rotation. And ownership threw a solid amount of money at the problem, $84 million. The only problem is who they picked to eat all those innings, and all that money. Instead of targeting higher end arms (a Matt Garza homecoming would have been welcome), the Twins bought high on some decidedly mid-tier free agents, none of whom can safely be expected to be more than a fourth starter. Ricky Nolasco becomes their highest free agent expenditure ever, despite last year being the first in five where he was an above average starter. His 4.37 career ERA is even more milquetoast than it looks considering he’s spent his whole career in pitchers parks. And he was the best they got! Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey are two New York castoffs who never lived up to their pedigree, but that didn’t stop Minnesota from betting on some magical improvements. At least Hughes has shown success in the bullpen; Pelfrey has never missed enough bats with his declining fastball. They were better off just letting the kids take their lumps
Wild Card(s):
Aaron Hicks is no longer a rookie, and now he’s an afterthought after hitting a soft .192 last year in 81 games with Minnesota. But the 24-year-old still has 20/20 potential and if he can find the plate discipline he showed in the minors, the Twins will have an underrated everyday center-fielder.

Key Contract Years:
Josh Willingham followed up a huge 2012 with an injured, ineffective 2013, but if he finds a happy middle ground between the two the Twins will have a more difficult decision, as he could be a fine corner OF/DH for another year or two, and offense is suddenly hard to find on the open market. Kevin Correia is a free agent and if things go right this year they won’t need to keep him around.

The rookie most likely to make an impact is catcher Josmil Pinto, who was one of four minor league catchers to have an OPS above 800 Last year, although his defense is a major question mark. Kyle Gibson and Alex Meyer are candidates for the rotation, and both could be better than any of Minnesota’s veterans, although that isn’t saying much. At some point during the year some of Minnesota’s high profile offensive studs will make their debut; five-tool outfielder Byron Buxton, slugging third basemen Miguel Sano and 2b Eddie Rosario.

Key Questions:
Will any of the Twins veterans be better than replacement-level (and/or have an ERA under 4.5)?
Is there any room to see if youngsters like Kyle Gibson or Alex Meyer could be part of the next good Twins team?
When will young slugger Miguel Sano make his big league debut?
Will moving to first base/DH allow Joe Mauer to play an extra 30 games a year?
Farm System Overview: BLUE (elite)
And now for some good news. The Twins have an impressive collection of true elite-level talent, although their pitchers are a little further behind. Buxton and Sano make every major top-ten list (ESPN, Baseball America, etc) and overall they have potential stars all around the diamond. The challenge will be finding room to integrate everyone onto the roster over the next few years, or determining who will be part of the next good Twins team or whether they need to trade from depth for more pitching. Also, the next Twins’ shortstop is probably not on the roster at the moment. Pedro Florimon Jr doesn’t count

2014 Prognosis: Rebuilding
Some analysts have pointed to their glut of high-end talent and predicted a potential surprise, but it’s hard to see a contender shaping up with such a bland, uninspiring rotation. It may take some more time for players like Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia to work out the holes in their game and become useful. But if management exercises patience with these guys, they should find themselves with an overflow of big league talent by sometime next year. 2014 also might be a good time to sell high on infielders Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe. They’ll be bad, but they won’t be boring.


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