With the second half of the 2013 Major League Baseball season about to begin, I took some time to answer questions from Twins fans about their team. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions at FOXSportsNorth.com. Here's the inaugural edition of the Twins Mailbag as we take a look at the rest of the 2013 season and beyond.
Q: Any chance Miguel Sano gets a call up in September? Just about the only thing to look forward to as a Twins fan ...
-- Luke, Minneapolis
A: Several people asked about when we might see Sano, and whether the 20-year-old third baseman might get a chance to debut as a September call-up. I asked Twins general manager Terry Ryan the same thing last week, and Ryan was hesitant to say we'll see Sano in Minneapolis come September. Sano began the year on a tear at High-A Fort Myers, where he batted .330 with 16 homers and 48 RBI in 56 games.
That earned him a promotion to Double-A New Britain, where he has struggled. In 30 games, he is hitting just .198 with 18 RBI and six homers. If Sano had maintained the same level of production in New Britain that he did in Fort Myers, there would have been a decent chance he was up with the Twins in September. But Minnesota wants to see him adjust to tougher competition before throwing him into the fire at the major league level. There's still an outside chance if Sano hits well the rest of July and all of August, but it's more likely we won't see him up here until next year.
Q: Do you see the Twins dealing Glen Perkins for 2-3 top pitching prospects, then signing him back after the season? Same question for Justin Morneau.
-- Patrick R., St. Paul, Minn.
A: Perkins is certainly a popular name in trade rumors as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches -- and for good reason. Perkins earned his first All-Star nod this year after saving 21 games in the first half of the season. There are certainly teams out there that would love to have the left-handed Perkins in their bullpen. He is signed to a team-friendly contract through 2015, with a team option for 2016, meaning he is locked up for the next several years. So if the Twins do trade him, there would be no chance to sign him back after this year.
Morneau, on the other hand, will be a free agent after the year. I received several questions about Morneau and whether he'll be traded by the end of the month. The one thing that may lower his trade value is his lack of power this year. Once a 30 home run hitter, Morneau hit just seven homers in 86 games before the break. Still, he's hitting for average (.273) and had a team-high 52 runs. If the Twins do indeed trade Morneau, don't expect a ton in return. He'll be a rental player for a few months for a team needing a first baseman. That would likely warrant only one or two minor leaguers, possibly a pitching prospect.
Q: There are so many rumors of trades swirling around and names I keep hearing are Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham. Personally I love seeing the Hammer in a Twins uniform. Do you see Josh being traded by the deadline?
-- Garret Jeddeloh, Owatonna, Minn.
A: Willingham's highest trade value came last year when he put up career numbers in many offensive categories. Instead of dealing him, though, the Twins opted to hang onto Willingham, whose numbers have dipped in 2013. On top of that, he's sidelined four to six weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery in early July to repair a meniscus tear. That means he won't be healthy and activated until after the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Because of his injury and subsequent surgery, it's unlikely that Willingham -- who is under contract through 2014 -- will be on the move this year.
Q: The Twins seem to be drafting and signing taller pitchers who throw 92-97 mph fastball. How does this or does this change how they coach them? Do they go away from the pitch to contact approach?
-- Morris Schutz, Stewartville, Minn.
A: A quick glance at some of the Twins' top young pitchers makes you think they're building a basketball team, not a baseball team. Prospect Alex Meyer measures 6-foot-9, while Kyle Gibson is 6-foot-6 and Trevor May is 6-foot-5. Minnesota also recently drafted 6-foot-9 Indiana pitcher Aaron Slegers in the fifth round. On top of that, they've added hard-throwing pitchers like Kohl Stewart, the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft. Given the recent acquisition of this model of pitcher, it's safe to say the Twins are starting to move away from that "pitch to contact" approach. In fact, this past spring, pitching coach Rick Anderson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he would never use that phrase again. "I've taken enough crap for it," he said.
Q: Why do the Twins never swing at the first pitch even if it is in the strike zone?
-- Patty Darsnek, Aitkin, Minn.
A: The Twins do tend to be more patient on the first pitch. When comparing Minnesota to other teams in the American League Central, Minnesota has fewer hits on the first pitch (92) than the other four teams in the division. The Twins have a .323 average on the first pitch, which ranks lower than the American League average of .336 in that situation. Minnesota has traditionally been a patient team.
Take catcher Joe Mauer, for example. You'll notice that he rarely swings at the first pitch -- he has just six hits on the first pitch this year -- yet he still hits for a high average. Mauer likes to see a pitch or two from the opposing pitcher to see what he might be throwing. This also allows hitters behind him to get a feel for the pitcher and what kind of stuff he has. Mauer is also not afraid to bat with two strikes in the count. He's hitting .280 with two strikes this year, including two home runs and 16 RBI. As frustrating as it might be to watch players watch the first pitch sail right through the strike zone, there is sometimes a method to the madness.
Q: Why won't the Twins spend money for top-rate pitchers?
-- Dean, Iowa
A: The Twins' lack of spending in free agency sometimes frustrates fans, and I received several questions about the starting pitching struggles. A year ago, Minnesota's starting pitchers had the worst ERA in the American League, and an emphasis was placed on improving that. This past offseason, Minnesota signed two free-agent pitchers in Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey to reasonable two-year and one-year contract, respectively. Neither would be consider top-rate pitchers, as the question states. But given where the team was entering 2013, spending a ton of money to acquire one marquee free-agent pitcher would have been silly if the team was not going to contend.
Keep in mind, too, that not every top-rate free-agent pitcher would necessarily want to sign with a rebuilding club. Instead, the Twins have gone about the process by acquiring young pitching via trades -- i.e. prospects Trevor May and Alex Meyer -- or the draft in the hopes that they can improve the starting rotation by promoting within in the next few years rather than spending money now to acquire a pitcher who might not make a huge impact in a rebuilding year.
Q: Granted, it is early, but is Kyle Gibson an improvement over a Kevin Slowey or Nick Blackburn?
-- Dave S., Albuquerque, N.M.
A: You're definitely right in that it's early to make any type of assessment on what type of pitcher Gibson might be in the major leagues. The 25-year-old right-hander made his debut on June 29 and has had just four starts in the majors, going 2-2 with a 6.45 ERA. Given his track record, though, Gibson will likely turn out to be a better pitcher than both Slowey (who is now with Miami) and Blackburn (who is in the minors, working his way back from arm surgery).
Prior to the season, Baseball America ranked Gibson as the No. 68 prospect in baseball. Twins fans had been waiting months, if not years, for Gibson's arrival in the majors, but his road to the big leagues was slowed by Tommy John surgery in 2011. As far as second-half story lines go, Gibson will be one of the big ones for the Twins in the rest of the 2013 season. As I mentioned, four starts is too small of a sample size to judge how Gibson has fared so far. Now at 115 innings overall for the year, it remains to be seen how many more starts Gibson will get as the Twins will still be cautious with him one year removed from surgery. In the long run, though, fans can certainly be excited about the potential that Gibson can bring to the starting rotation for years to come.
Q: Do you think it'd be possible to re-hire Gardy at the end of the season but let Rick Anderson go? Seems to me like pitching has been majority of the problem the past few seasons.
-- Kyle B., Bloomington, Minn.
A: It's not completely out of the realm of possibility that the Twins bring Gardenhire back for 2014. His contract is up after 2013, and his future is one that many fans have wondered about. I asked general manager Terry Ryan about the job that Gardenhire has done, and Ryan stated that no one person is at fault for the disappointing few years the Twins have had. This is an organization of loyalty and consistency, as is evident by the fact that there have been just two managers -- Gardenhire and Tom Kelly -- over the last 26 years.
Still, the front office showed last offseason that it wasn't afraid to shake things up with the coaching staff. Gone were longtime bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, first-base coach Jerry White and third-base coach Steve Liddle, while Scott Ullger and Joe Vavra were reassigned to different roles. Anderson kept his job amid all the chaos, but if the pitching woes continue, the Twins may not be afraid to make a change there, too.
Q: Who do you see on the Opening Day lineupstarting rotation for the Twins on Opening Day 2015?
-- Graham, Des Moines, Iowa
A: This is definitely a tough one to predict an entire lineup or rotation a year and a half out. There will certainly be moving parts -- trades, free-agent signings, etc. -- between now at Opening Day 2015. However, I will say that I'd expect a 2015 rotation to include Kyle Gibson, Trevor May and Alex Meyer, along with two others. Gibson, the Twins' 2009 first-round pick, debuted this year and has four major league starts under his belt. May and Meyer were acquired via trades this past offseason from Philadelphia and Washington. Both have high upsides and have pitched in Double-A New Britain this year. If they continue to move through the ranks, they'll likely spend most of 2014 at Triple-A Rochester, meaning they could be ready to begin 2015 on the Twins' Opening Day roster.
As for the lineup, that's a bit tougher to predict. You can start with catcher Joe Mauer, and add in outfielders Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia and top prospect Byron Buxton, who will have a chance to make the roster if all goes well next year in the minors. Miguel Sano will likely be the Twins' third baseman, and Eddie Rosario has a chance to start at second base. After that, several question marks remain -- although we have a long way to go before Opening Day 2015.
Q: Question on equipmentwardrobe: Do the Twin players wear new caps every game or wear them out for all games? What do they do with all the team caps they wear? Just wondering.
-- Soleil Morgan, Shiprock, N.M.
A: The Twins do not wear new hats each game and indeed wear them for most of, if not all, season. There are a few exceptions, however. Teams will wear special caps on days like the Fourth of July or Military Appreciation Day, in which they'll wear a hat just once. There are also instances in which a hat from, say, a player's first major league game will be placed in a display case either in the Twins' clubhouse or elsewhere around Target Field by team historian Clyde Doeppner.
Q: What year do you see a true Twins contender coming?
-- Dylan, Maple Grove, Minn.
A: In the midst of another disappointing season, Twins fans have started to look toward the future. And in Minnesota's case, the future should be bright. Most fans know about top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, but there are other prospects to keep an eye on -- including pitchers Trevor May and Alex Meyer. We may see a few of those prospects debut next year, meaning the Twins should be better in 2014 than they have been in 2013. But the year most people are expecting Minnesota to really contend would be 2015. By then, it's likely that both Buxton and Sano will be in the majors, as well as May, Meyer and prospects like Eddie Rosario.
Q: With Sano most likely coming up by probably middle of next year and what seems to be people losing faith in Parmelee, is there a possibility of either Plouffe being moved to take over as our everyday first baseman in the next year or two? Or would the Twins move Mauer there on a permanent basis and maybe see what Chris Herrmann can do as a full time catcher?
-- Adam, Bloomington, Minn.
A: Good question, Adam. I still don't believe the Twins have any intention to move Mauer to first base on a permanent basis. Given the money he is making over the next several years, he is most valuable as a catcher. He has also said time and time again that he wants to catch. Still, he may get the occasional game over at first base, such as he has done five times this year.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Plouffe, who began as a shortstop, was converted to a corner outfielder an then moved back into the infield at third base. He has briefly played first base in both the majors and minors, but I don't see him as a long-term fit at first base. This will be a big second half for Plouffe to show what he's capable of. The same goes for Herrmann, who has just 14 major league games under his belt, including seven this year. We'll see him again beginning this weekend as he was called up before the All-Star break. Herrmann's versatility is intriguing, as he can catch and play the outfield.
Thanks again, everyone, for your submissions to this inaugural edition of the Twins Mailbag. Let us know if you like this feature and be sure to check FOXSportsNorth.com for upcoming mailbags.
Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter