The Minnesota Twins come into 2014 off a third straight season of over 90 losses. The last time the Twins went through a rough stretch like this was at the end of the 90’s when they had 4 straight seasons of over 90 losses and that was actually part of 8 consecutive seasons of finishing under .500 from 1993 to 2000 for our Minnesota Twins.
When a franchise goes through bad stretches like that, they better have good scouting to take advantage of picking higher in the draft. From those drafts the Twins drafted players like Todd Walker (1st round in ‘94), A.J. Pierzynski (3rd round in ‘94), Corey Koskie (26th round in ‘94), Doug Mientkiewicz (5th round in ‘95), Jacque Jones (2nd round in ‘96), Michael Cuddyer (1st round in ‘97) Justin Morneau (3rd round in ‘99), Jason Kubel (12th round pick in 2000) and Joe Mauer (1st overall pick in 2001).
Those players played key roles in getting the Twins back to winning after those 8 consecutive losing seasons. Six of the next ten American League Central Division titles were won by Minnesota from 2001 to 2010. But, as you see from above, there was a severe lack of pitching from the drafts from 1994 to 2000 which has been a big reason why the Twins are now struggling to win games. Score as many runs as you want, you’ll never win consistently if you can’t keep the other team from scoring runs and the Twins aren’t scoring that many runs either.
Knowing they need some starting pitching, they went out and spent some of that salary cap room to improve in that area. Right-handed pitcher Ricky Nolasco was signed to the biggest free agent contract in Minnesota Twins history for 4 years/$49 million on December 3rd followed by RHP Phil Hughes signing 2 days later on December 5th for 3 years/$24 million. Then they re-signed RHP Mike Pelfrey for 2 years/$11 million around Christmas time* and with Kevin Correia, the Twins had 4 starters penciled in for the 2014 starting rotation.
*Merry Christmas!!! So when relatives see your salary, do their Xmas lists get longer or do they just have better gifts listed? “Hmmm…I could really use a nicer car and Mikey just got a raise!”
In 2013, the Minnesota Twins used 11 different starting pitchers throughout the season. Only 3 pitchers made over 20 starts, Kevin Correia (31), Mike Pelfrey (29) and Scott Diamond (24), and Samuel Deduno made 18 starts before going on the disabled list at the end of August with a shoulder injury. The other 60 starts went to Vance Worley, Andrew Albers, Pedro Hernandez, Kyle Gibson, PJ Walters, Liam Hendricks and Cole De Vries.
The 891.2 innings pitched by starters added up to a single season WAR* (Wins Above Replacement) of negative 3.0 and a record of 39 wins & 74 losses. OUCH! Correia (1.6), Pelfrey (-0.3), Diamond (-1.0) and Deduno (1.5) combined had a WAR of 1.8 while the rest of the starts combined for a WAR of -4.8.
*Wins Above Replacement is a stat that basically shows how much better a player is than a replacement player that would be considered a AAA or “AAAA” player. So the American League Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer’s WAR for last season was 6.7 & the National League winner, Clayton Kershaw’s was 7.8, meaning they were worth approximately 7 & 8 wins, respectively, for their teams in the 2013 season. Also, there’s two different WAR stats, one from Baseball-Reference.com (bWAR) and one from Fangraphs.com (fWAR). I’m using bWAR unless otherwise noted.
Improve the starting rotation by taking out the replacement level pitching, right? What do the Twins get when they do that?
- Ricky Nolasco has six consecutive seasons winning over 10 games, averaging just under 13 wins & a WAR of 1.8.
- Phil Hughes, before struggling last season with a record of 4-14, averaged about 12 wins & a WAR of 1.6 from 2010 to 2012 when he was a full-time starter for the Yankees .
- Kevin Correia had 16 quality starts out of his 31 starts and 3 of his bad outings changed his ERA from 3.50 to 4.18. With more run support, those 9 wins could easily become double digits. We’ll get to that later.
- Mike Pelfrey had a rough year coming back from Tommy John surgery maybe a little sooner than he should have but he did pitch pretty well in the summer months. We should get a better Pelf this season now that he’s 1-year removed from that surgery and he seems to alternate good years and bad years.
- Kyle Gibson*, who won the 5th spot in the rotation, has pitched very well in the minors, and has been a highly rated prospect for the Twins since they drafted him back in 2009. He did struggle in 2011 at one point but that was mostly due to the elbow problems that brought on his Tommy John surgery. He struggled a little in his first taste of the Majors last season but he pitched very well in AAA. The Twins showed faith in him by waiving Vance Worley and Scott Diamond and moving Deduno to the bullpen. It’s his spot to lose now.
- *Did you know that Kyle Gibson was born on October 23rd, 1987? That means on his first two full days as a baby, the Twins won Game 6 & Game 7 to win their 1st World Series in 1987! That’s a pretty cool fact and almost makes it sound like destiny that he would play for the Minnesota Twins.
Speaking of the bullpen, there’s not that much to say. The Minnesota Twins had one of the best bullpens in the league last season and they were overused because of the poor starting pitching. In 582.2 innings, the bullpen combined for a 4.4 WAR. The mainstays of Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fien, Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing are still there. They also added Deduno to the bullpen mix, who might thrive there with his stuff, should get a full season from Caleb Thielbar and Ryan Pressly could improve from a solid first season.
So the Minnesota Twins improved the starting pitching and have a good bullpen that could get better but it won’t matter how good your pitching is if you can’t hit the ball or catch the ball. How’d they improve at the plate and in the field? Will they score more runs than they did in 2013?
The Bats & The Gloves
The Minnesota Twins traded Justin Morneau at the trade deadline last season and traded Ryan Doumit in December after signing former Twin Jason Kubel a week earlier. Roughly a month before that the Twins signed another former Twin in Jason Bartlett. Then, on the same day the Twins signed Mike Pelfrey, they signed catcher Kurt Suzuki to a 1 year, $2.75 million contract to add depth to the catching position. Is that enough to make up for what they lost in Morneau and Doumit? We’ll find out.
The Twins are counting on young guys stepping up and other guys coming back from down seasons a year ago but they signed some veterans for depth to have just in case of injury or unproductive play. They are staying with Pedro Florimon, Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier. Those guys deserve time to be full time players after solid seasons last year. They are also showing confidence in younger players Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia.
The Catcher in the…Sigh…
At least they have the catcher position set for a long time in Joe Mauer, right? Oops, that’s right. Joe Mauer is no longer putting on the “tools of ignorance” because of the concussion that stopped his season short in 2013. I know what you’re thinking. Another injury with Joe Mauer? Well…this might help Joe and the Twins in the long run. Not the concussion but the fact that Joe decided to never play catcher again. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for the “Baby Jesus” to get out from behind the plate and out into the field.
People have been talking about Joe moving out from behind the plate for quite a while now. The catcher position wears on a player’s knees making it difficult to stay in the lineup. The Twins have slowly been trimming down how many games Joe was behind the plate trying to get him into more games to keep his bat in the lineup and eventually move him to another position permanently, or so it seems. Unfortunately, a concussion, which, of course, is never a good thing, has accelerated that permanent move from behind the plate. At least we know that Joe is a great enough athlete to learn the 1st base position quickly and he may even win a gold glove there eventually. We’ve seen plenty of great plays from Joe at first that make him look like a natural over there. Who knows what kind of production he’ll have when playing in the field won’t be so hard on his knees? Will he hit for more power because of it?
Who’s On First?
Kind of crazy that long tenured 1st baseman Justin Morneau was traded to Pittsburgh (then signed with Colorado to play with his buddy Cuddy) and Ryan Doumit was traded to Atlanta in the offseason because the Twins didn’t have many options for who to put over at position number 3. Some, not many, but some. They have Chris Parmelee (who was sent to the minors) and…uhh…well, there’s Chris Colabello. He’s played 623 games at 1st base in his minor league career including 124 in 2012 for New Britain and 67 last season for Rochester before being called up to the Twins and playing 26 games at 1st base for them.
So, like I said, kind of crazy that the Minnesota Twins have a player like Joe Mauer to move to first and Chris Colabello ready in case they need him to play over there for an extended amount of time. He ripped up the International League last season with the bat, winning MVP & Rookie Of The Year while playing for the Rochester Red Wings, and hit .352/.427/.639 with 25 doubles, 24 HRs, 74 RBIs, 89 strikeouts and 43 walks in 89 games. If he can produce those kinds of numbers with the Twins, he’ll be in the lineup one way or another.
A couple of years ago, the Twins were wondering who would be their 2nd baseman of the now and of the future. They thought Brian Dozier was that guy but he didn’t exactly inspire much confidence when he came up in 2012, hitting .234 with an on-base % of .271 and slugging .332 in 84 games before being sent back down to Rochester and not faring much better there. Those games were all at shortstop where he struggled in the field as well. Amazing how a move to 2nd base seemed to make Brian Dozier comfortable with the bat and with the glove. He probably put in a lot of work in the offseason too so he may be fine at shortstop as well. He solidified that spot for the time being, especially from a defensive point of view. He showed the range and defensive ability in the field and actually did respectable in the leadoff spot. At 27 years old, he should be able to hold that 2nd base position for a while now and make it so the Twins don’t have to rush any prospects.
Pedro Florimon showed he will make the routine plays and some amazing plays from the shortstop position last season. He still needs some work on the offensive side of the ball but he was a force with the glove finishing 6th in all of the American League with a 2.1 Defensive WAR. Also, he led the American League in Putouts by a ShortStop (245), finished 3rd in assists (401) and 2nd in Double Plays turned (101).
The Hot Seat at the Hot Corner
Trevor Plouffe as the Twins starting 3rd baseman might be a disappointment to some fans since top prospect Miguel Sano appeared very close to being ready to make the jump to the majors but he ended up needing Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2014 season. Trevor Plouffe is still a capable player that can be a strength with the bat in his hands and average in the field at 3rd. Throwing him out there everyday and keeping his bat in the lineup isn’t a bad thing. He needs to cut down the strikeouts though.
Outfield – Ready to Play, Today?
As of now, the Twins outfield is Josh “The Hammer” Willingham in left, Aaron Hicks in center and Oswaldo Arcia in right. The only other player who’s played in the outfield on some regular basis is Jason Kubel. Chris Colabello that has played in the outfield and, rumor has it, the Twins could use Jason Bartlett as some sort of super utility player and put him out there if they get in a bind. He’s never played in the outfield in his major league career. This doesn’t look like the best of plans but things could change before or during the season if problems arise.
Josh Willingham, or The ‘Ham as I refer to him, had a career year in 2012 when the Twins signed him to a franchise record 3-year, $21 million deal hitting .260 with 30 doubles, 5 HRs, 110 RBIs with 141 strikeouts and 76 walks and winning a Silver Slugger Award. A knee injury messed with his 2013 season however and he only played 111 games and struggled to a .208 average with 20 doubles, 14 HRs and 48 RBIs with 128 strikeouts and 66 walks. Expect a rebound year as The ‘Ham enters the last year of his contract. I’m sure he’ll start to get a lot more at-bats at Designated Hitter as his defense hasn’t always been a positive.
After winning the center field job with a great spring training in 2013 (.370/.407./.644 (AVG/OBP/SLG)), Aaron Hicks struggled out of the gate in his 1st season in the majors, hitting .113 in the 1st month of the season (starting 2-for-49) and a below the Mendoza Line .192 overall. The Twins had Hicks open the season as the leadoff hitter and he only lasted the first 11 games before being moved down to the 8th spot for the majority of the rest of the season. He never looked comfortable at the plate. Well, he had a another great spring training and won the center field job for the second year in a row and his competition, Alex Presley, was actually waived on March 27th and claimed by the Houston Astros. If you look at Aaron Hicks minor league stats, you’ll see that if he struggled one season, he learned from it and progressed the following season. The Twins need that from him this season if they hope to have some success this season. They definitely need him to get back to better plate discipline, working the count and getting on base. If he does that, he may even return to that leadoff role.
Oswaldo Arcia signed with the Twins as a 16-year old back in 2007 and he’s been hitting the ball and hitting the ball with power ever since. Once Oswaldo began playing in the full season leagues in 2011, he advanced 2 levels a season until he made his major league debut last season on April 15th, Tax Day. We file taxes. Oswaldo gets his Hacks in! (Haxes? Stretch on that one? Eh, they can’t all be gems!) When Oswaldo sees a pitch he likes, he swings and he swings hard. He might destroy baseballs in his spare time just for fun. Oswaldo struggled some in his first season in the majors. He was sent down and recalled 4 times during the 2013 season, most of them due to injury but this season he’s being given a chance to be the everyday right fielder or mostly everyday right fielder. Let’s hope he can get back to destroying baseballs, a lot of baseballs, this season.
Back to Won, Twins Way
If you didn’t know, Target Field is located on 1 Twins Way in downtown Minneapolis. That’s a clever way of referring to how the Minnesota Twins find, draft and develop players. That is how they won games and championships in the past. That “One Twins Way” got away from them for a while when Target Field changed how much payroll the Twins had available to them and is part of the reason they have three consecutive seasons of over 90 losses.
Because of those seasons, the Twins have gotten back to “the Way” they did things in the past but they also have the option of going out and getting free agents if they need to. I believe we will start to see the Twins break out of the over 90 loss season streak and get back to being a contender for the division and, ultimately, back to the playoffs and chances at winning it all. We should start to see some of those high-ranking prospects get to the Twins this season and for sure next season. Obviously by saying we will see the beginning of it this season, that means I think the Minnesota Twins will probably be right around .500 this season.
That is why I called this preview,
Back to Won, Twins Way!
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