After finishing with the worst record in the American League in 2012 (66-96), the Minnesota Twins are looking to rebound and gain their first winning season since 2010 this season. But do they have the talent to do so?
After trading away Denard Span and Ben Revere for pitching depth—which the Twins needed after their starting pitchers went 39-75 with a 5.40 ERA in 2012—the rotation could be totally revamped. Nine pitchers made 10 or more starts for the Twins in 2012, and of that group, six remain on the 40-man roster (Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, Liam Hendriks, Sam Deduno, and P.J. Walters), while several of those left appear to be on the outside looking in for rotation spots after the club signed Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Rich Harden through free agency, and Vance Worley in the Revere trade with Philadelphia. Add in Alex Meyer (acquired from Washington in the Span deal) and Kyle Gibson (the club’s first round pick, 22nd overall, in 2009), and the losses of Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, and Nick Blackburn, who have struggled even when they have been healthy in recent seasons, and the Twins appear to have the potential for a much-improved starting rotation.
The bullpen is solid, as there will be some familiar names when the several starters from 2012 are tossed back into the heap after losing out on rotation spots this spring. Closer Glen Perkins, was dominant last year and will likely establish himself as an elite closer this season. Jared Burton was awesome in a setup role in 2012, posting a 2.18 ERA over 64 appearances, while Casey Fien also performed well in his 35 appearances, posting a 2.06 ERA.
Joe Mauer will continue to be a slap-hitting, on-base machine and the main cog in the Twins’ lineup. His .416 on-base percentage led the AL in 2012, and he managed to drive in 85 runs while hitting only 10 home runs. Mauer’s 4.1 WAR in 2012 was not All-Star level, and it is worrisome that he caught just nine would-be base stealers (14 percent), but if the club can continue to slide him into the DH spot and occasionally first base to keep his knees and body fresh, Mauer can continue to be productive.
Justin Morneau finally seemed to rebound from concussion symptoms in 2012, hitting 19 home runs and driving in 77 in 134 games. You could say that he isn’t “all the way back” due to his abnormally high strikeout rates and lower than his career norm walk rates, but head trauma has much more severe effects than that on some. His 17.9 percent strikeout rate is higher than his 15.4 percent career average, while his walk rate was slightly off, sitting at 8.6 percent compared to his career 9.7. If he continues to improve physically, he could be in for another rebound in 2013. He told ESPN 1500 that he is “miles ahead” of where he was last offseason already.
Beyond Morneau and Mauer, who have been the faces of the franchise for nearly a decade, the Twins will look for Josh Willingham to have another powerful season in 2013. His right-handed bat fits perfectly in the middle of the order between Mauer and Morneau, and his power still plays in spacious Target Field, as he ripped 35 home runs and drove in 110 in his first season with Minnesota in 2012. Willingham, whom the Indians lost out on in free agency prior to the 2012 season, drove in 19 runs in 17 games against the Tribe in 2012 (his most against any team), so he is definitely a factor going forward.
Ryan Doumit was solid in the DH, right field, and catcher role, proving his worth on the three-year, $10 million deal he signed last offseason. Doumit’s versatility enables Twins mangager Ron Gardenhire to find creative ways to keep Mauer fresh behind the plate, and his ability to switch hit is just icing on the cake for his value to the lineup.
Trevor Plouffe was a huge surprise in 2013, as the one-time middle infielder settled in at third base and found a power stroke. His 24 home runs were second to Willingham on the club, but should Twins fans and management expect the same production after he slipped to a .196/.254/.344 line from August 1 through the end of the season (177 plate appearances) while posting a 35:11 K/BB ratio?
Chris Parmelee could become an impact bat—that is, if he wins the right field job. The 25-year-old hit just .229/.290/.380 in 210 plate appearances in 2012, but he has .302/.407/.499 with 30 home runs, 47 doubles, and 132 RBI over 892 minor league plate appearances the last two seasons.
Beyond Parmalee, Willingham, Doumit, Morneau, and Mauer, the Twins are a collection of speedy, glove-first utility types. Jamey Carroll and Pedro Florimon will probably represent the middle infield, while Darin Mastroianni will battle Aaron Hicks for the center field job this spring. The bench, which consists of Drew Butera at catcher, Clete Thomas in the outfield, and possibly Brian Dozier and Thomas Field in the infield, probably couldn’t lead a Triple-A team to victory. If the Twins were to have a prolonged injury to their offensive core, they would probably be in line for the first overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft.
The Minnesota Twins could surprise some teams in 2013, but they need all of the mediocre starting pitching that they signed to stay healthy and overperform to become legitimate contenders. The club has a group of solid pitching prospects now in Gibson, Myer, and Trevor May, while Oswaldo Arcia and Miguel Sano are the highlights of the offensive talent on the rise. They still need several pieces to add to the puzzle before becoming the class of the AL Central, as they were early in the last decade.
Look for the Twins to remain near the bottom of the American League again in 2012, while possessing the potential to finish in the middle of the AL Central. The rotation just doesn’t have what it takes to compete with the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals—and, yes, the Cleveland Indians.