Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 2/20/13
Joe Mauer The Minnesota Twins finished 2012 with the worst record, 66-96, in the American League. They ranked 28th in baseball with a team ERA of 4.77 and their staff finished dead last in all of baseball with 943 strikeouts. Things weren’t that much better offensively where the Twinkies eked out a meager 131 home runs which ranked them 27th in baseball. Josh Willingham did have a good season with 35 home runs and 110 RBI. Gone from that team are 3 of the Twins best players; Francisco Liriano, Denard Span and Ben Revere. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are both back and both are healthy. That’s good news for the 2013 Twins. The bad news is they have no chance of competing for the AL Central crown. Minnesota simply doesn’t have the horses to finish in even 3rd place. This is definitely a time of rebuilding for the Twins. They have one of the top farm systems in baseball and some of their elite prospects will begin to trickle onto the roster this season. They key will be not to rush them and ruin their confidence with a too early call up. Unfortunately that means that the prime of Joe Mauer’s career will be spent on a team doing a slow and deliberate rebuilding process. 3 Up Best case scenario Even if everything works out in a light most favorable to the Twins it is unreasonable to expect anything greater than a 3rd place finish. For that to happen they will need full, healthy seasons from Mauer and Morneau and another big campaign from Willingham. There starting pitching, which lacks a true ace, will have to perform far above their career norms. Most important Twins Joe Mauer is the heart and soul of this organization. It is vital to the success of this team that he play a full season. ”I’ve been preparing for the season to be the everyday catcher,” Mauer said at the Twins annual fan festival. “I can go over to first if they need me to do that. I can DH if they need me to do that, too. The way I’ve been preparing is catching every day.” Not only is he their best hitter, he is a steadying influence behind the plate and that will be needed with this year’s pitching staff. Mauer’s longtime sidekick Justin Morneau showed signs of life last season playing 134 games and posting a .267 average with 19 homers and 77 RBIs. He’s had his first healthy offseason in many years and said he feels good about the upcoming season. “I’m still young enough to produce and to produce the way I expect myself to,” Morneau explained at the Twins fan festival.  ”I don’t feel like I’m too far off. I had a little rough start last year, but if you stretch it out to 162 games or 158 games or whatever it is, you get in that full season, those numbers aren’t too far off. I don’t see why I can’t get back to that point.” Keeping Mauer and Morneau in the line up is critical, they are seasoned veterans who know how to hit and can help carry the load while some of the Twins young players find their way. Potential break out players Scott Diamond Scott Diamond was impressive last season as a rookie with a 3.54 ERA in 27 starts. It’s a lot to ask him to anchor the rotation, but he is, by default, the Twins ace. He’s not a power pitcher, 90 strikeouts in 173 innings last year, but in the mold of a Minnesota pitcher he doesn’t walk many batters.  Last season he issued just 31 free passes. The lack of strikeout ability may limit Diamond’s ceiling, but he could build upon his strong rookie campaign and have a breakout season. One of the Twins top prospects, Aaron Hicks is competing for the starting center field job. Last year in AA he hit .286 with 13 homers, 61 RBI and 32 stolen bases. He is an excellent defensive player and could wind up being the top rookie in Minnesota this year. Minnesota’s top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson, is heading into his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in November 2011. Gibson will battle for the 5th spot in the rotation. He only pitched 28.1 innings last season, but fanned 33 batters. The Twins had six prospects ranked in MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list — Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Kyle Gibson, Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks — which tied them for the most in baseball. ESPN ranks Minnesota’s farm system as the 2nd best in baseball. Some of those top prospects, like Sano and Buxton won’t see the big leagues this year, but the offer promise to a franchise that is trying to reestablish their dominance in the AL Central. 3 Down Worst case scenario It can’t get much worse than last season, or can it? The Twins shipped off some of their best players and are counting on a lot of unproven guys and a shaky pitching staff to guide them through the 2013 season. Areas of concern As I explained in the open, the Twins pitching was bad last year. Unfortunately the moves they did make, adding middle tier starters like Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia, aren’t going to do much to bolster those numbers. All 3 of those guys come over from the National League and might be in for a rude awakening against American League line ups. They don’t have a guy who can be their stopper, instead they have a bunch of guys that usually cause a team to need a stopper. Who needs to bounce back from a down 2012 At one time, Brian Duensing appeared to be a future star for the Twins, he was 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA in 2010. However, in each of the last two seasons his ERA has ballooned over 5 and his WHIP has been north of 1.4. He was one of only 3 Twins pitchers to log over 100 innings pitched last year and the club could use him to bounce back to 2010 form. Trevor Plouffe showed promise last year with 24 long balls, but his batting average was a paltry .235. If he can elevate that to around .250 range it would help stabilize the Twins line up.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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