It really wasn’t that long ago that the Minnesota Twins were the class of the AL Central -- from 2001 to 2010, the Twins finished first or second in the division eight times. That’s an incredible run for a small-market club, even if they could never figure out a way past the Yankees. After muddling through two years of injuries, bad pitching and back-to-back last-place finishes, though the Twins are finally blowing it all up and starting from scratch. What lies ahead in 2013 is likely another rough year.
Twins on TOC
End of Season Postmortem
Hope for the Hopeless
2013 Season Preview
You May Say I'm a Dreamer (12:00 PM)
2013 Burning Question (1:30 PM)
This Is My Nightmare (3:00 PM)
2013 X-Factor (4:30 PM)
Depth Chart (as of 3/11)
C: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Jamey Carroll
SS: Pedro Florimon
3B: Trevor Plouffe
LF: Josh Willingham
CF: Darin Mastroianni
RF: Chris Parmelee
DH: Ryan Doumit
SP: Vance Worley
SP: Kevin Correia
SP: Mike Pelfrey
SP: Liam Hendriks
SP: Brian Duensing
CL: Glen Perkins
Most of the new faces in the Twin Cities are in the starting rotation, as they try to rebuild a group that put up the worst ERA in the American League last year (5.40, ahead of only Colorado’s 5.81). Vance Worley was the major league piece coming back to Minnesota in Ben Revere’s trade to Philadelphia, and likely goes right to the top of their rotation (a sign of how dire things are right now). Kevin Correia (2 years, $10 million) and Mike Pelfrey (1 year, $4 million) were also added as free agents. While they’ll add big league experience to a rotation that didn’t have much of it last year, they probably won’t do much to help Minnesota’s league-worst 5.53 K/9 or 15.2 K%.
Still trying to make the most of Joe Mauer’s prime, the Twins have been reluctant to blow it all up over the past couple years. They finally pulled the trigger on a couple of deals this offseason, restocking the farm system in some spots and creating big league openings for their own prospects in others. Revere, as already mentioned, was shipped to Philadelphia. Denard Span was traded to Washington for highly-rated pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Additionally, Matt Capps, Carl Pavano and Scott Baker all left as free agents, and infielder Alexi Casilla was lost on waivers to the Orioles.
Minnesota’s next wave of talent will start to hit the majors this year, even if their best prospects -- Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia -- are all still at least a couple years away. Aaron Hicks seems to be playing himself into the starting center field job this spring (despite Darin Mastroianni's placement on the depth chart), and could find himself leading off despite skipping Triple-A. Hicks broke out last year with a .286/.384/.460 line in Double-A, with 21 doubles, 11 triples, 13 home runs and 32 stolen bases. On the mound, Kyle Gibson returned last season following Tommy John surgery and re-established himself as a Top 100 prospect. Gibson has a good chance to claim a rotation spot out of spring training, and if he does, he’d be the rare Twins starter with strikeout stuff.
Minnesota went into camp expecting to have a competition in center field, but the combination of Aaron Hicks’ play and Darin Mastroianni missing time with a hamstring injury has basically ended it already (assuming the Twins don’t just send Hicks down to start the year to save service time). The other main competition is in the middle infield, where Jamey Carroll is simultaneously fighting for second base and shortstop with Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon, respectively. What could happen is a repeat of 2012, when Carroll was basically a full-time player based on plate appearances, but split defensive time with three spots on the infield.
The rotation may be rebuilt, but it’s rebuilt on guys who had some injury problems last year. Worley had elbow surgery last September to remove bone spurs, and Pelfrey is working his way back from Tommy John surgery last April. Gibson, if he makes the rotation, is worth keeping an eye on in year two of recovery from his own Tommy John procedure. Like Worley, Scott Diamond went under the knife to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow, but since his operation was in December, he’s still behind schedule to start the year and may lose a rotation spot because of it. And while it’s unlikely he makes the major league roster, it should be noted that this team now employs Rich Harden, and he’s pretty much required to appear in this section.
Simply put, will the Minnesota rotation be good enough to push them into contention in 2013?
As bad as things have been the past two years, there are enough new faces to bring some optimism for this season. Mauer, Morneau and Willingham is a nice offensive trio to have, and with any luck, they’ll get more offensive contributions from young players than they did last year. Any best-case scenario would probably have the Twins’ pitching around the middle of the pack in the American League -- not exactly exciting, but a big improvement over last year’s group. With the lack of strikeouts coming from the pitching staff, the defense is going to have to be very good with all the balls being put in play. The AL Central is still fairly open, especially if the Tigers end up having trouble closing games. Optimistically, the Twins could find themselves at the outer edges of the wildcard race if everything breaks right.
Even in a worst-case scenario for 2013, things probably won’t be as bad as the past two years, when they lost 96 and 99 games -- after all, it’s hard for things to get much worse. There is, however, still some disaster potential here. The starting rotation, as currently constructed, isn’t going to miss many bats, and the Twins play in a division with some big ones. The bullpen beyond Glen Perkins is also murky. And while the middle of the batting order is solid, there isn’t a whole lot of punch beyond the big three. Add all of that up, and a nightmare scenario for the Twins would probably be a third straight last place, mid-90s-loss, -100+ run differential season
Things should improve over the last two seasons, but the Twins are still far away from getting back to the top of the division. The pitching additions they made are your typical rebuilding stopgaps, with the likes of Correia just holding a spot until someone like Meyer is ready, and the offense will probably be tough to watch at times. They could make a push to avoid a last-place finish, but with the Royals and Indians making such an effort to improve, it won’t be easy.