Injuries, aging pitching staff, and poor start to 2012 has fans looking ahead
A depressing 2011 campaign and sluggish start to 2012 have not given fans much optimism for the short-term future of the Minnesota Twins. The uncertainty of injuries, player development, and free agency never eliminates any team from contention over the next half decade but poor on-field performance and a lack of immediate minor league help certainly does not spark excitement. While it is within the realm of possibility that the Twins recover from their 0-4 start to make a run at the Wild Card, last season’s opening week destruction by the Toronto Blue Jays leaves most fans with a lack of optimism following their offensively-challenged performance in Baltimore and 1-run, 5-hit effort vs. the Angels on Monday. And please do not use the optimism argument that the 1998 New York Yankees started 0-3 and went on to win 114 ballgames in route to a World Series title. That team was loaded. The 2012 Minnesota Twins are not.
With Terry Ryan back behind the switchboard, there is always room for encouragement that a winning club will soon represent the Twin Cities once again. While we always concentrate on the here and now, the future faces of this organization must be presented, as we would be lucky to see 35 players of the 40 man roster still with the team in five years. The pitching staff seems to be regressing; Justin Morneau is having a terrible time staying healthy; promising youngster Danny Valencia is more inconsistent than Bobby Petrino; and the bullpen is littered with cheap fill-in relievers.
A look at what the roster might look like for Opening Day 2017:
C: Chris Hermann
Trading away blue-chip prospect Wison Ramos was undoubtedly a foolish mistake but it is time to move on. Joe Mauer might catch 45-50 games over the next few years but with Justin Morneau’s DH-role and no prospects ready to take over at first base, Mauer will see extensive time there. Ryan Doumit is a short-term solution and do not even think Drew Butera is the future of this franchise. Hermann can hit for average and has speed but also possesses a great arm behind the plate. Look for him to see spot duty in the next three years before taking over full-time by 2017.
1B: Joe Mauer
As much as Twins’ fans want to believe Justin Morneau will bounce back from two depressing injury-plagued years, it is highly unlikely. His injuries are not immediately career-threatening but they will definitely shave off a few years of productivity and the soon-to-be 31-year-old will find himself at DH 90% of his starts for the next 3-4 years before he is likely forced out of baseball completely. The combination of Target Field, injuries, and insanely lofty expectations has put Mauer in a position where he needs to step away from the plate in order to get more ABs and find that batting title stroke once again, while also adding 2-3 years onto his career.
2B: Luke Hughes
I have no idea who will be playing the corner infields spots in 2017. It has been a circus for the last decade and while they have received near-adequate production and reasonable defense at second and short, at least a dozen current Twins and a half dozen more could land at second base in the near future. Hughes is still 27-years-old and has shown timely hitting, decent power, and sound defense but a couple more full years at Rochester might be the only way he will become a reliable big leaguer. 100 ABs with the club during the entire season will not help him develop.
SS: Trevor Plouffe
Despite struggles both at the plate and in the field, Plouffe remains an excellent prospect for this organization. While the front office insists Plouffe has been converted to an outfielder, the lack of minor league infield depth will force him back to shortstop, unless that is Levi Mitchell steals away his chance. Again, the Twins’ infield is too unpredictable to be certain but Plouffe is the leader in the clubhouse.
3B: Miguel Sano
Getting sick of hearing analysts’ gush over divisional foe Kansas Cty’s incredible infield prospects over the last decade? The Twins will finally have one that deserves just as much hype as Alex Gordon or Mike Moustakas. Sano is still only 18-years-old and can do just about everything. He can play any of the infield positions but will most likely stay at third base or move across the diamond to first if he continues to get bigger. Miguel is an extraordinarily raw player but a full season in 2012 will help determine if he will be in Minneapolis by 2014.
LF: Ben Revere
A quicker version of Jacque Jones? If Revere can take a breath, slow down his hitting approach, and become more disciplined in all areas of his game, he will become a superstar in Minnesota. Some excellent young prospects could challenge Revere for playing time in the near future but the possible departures of the other current outfielders should leave room for him in left or center. When was the last time they had a disciplined base stealer capable of swiping 40-50 bases?
CF: Eddie Rosario
Rosario might the best offensive infielder in the Twins’ system but with his speed and decent arm, he could end up back where he was drafted: center field. The development of corner infielders ahead of him at New Britain and Rochester will largely determine if he stays at second base, or even moves to shortstop.
RF: Aaron Hicks
Hicks is yet another athletic raw outfielder that the Twins are waiting very patiently to develop into a potential 5-tool player. Twins’ fans have been hearing his name since he was the 14th overall pick in 2008 but inconsistent play and slowly-developing power has kept him in the minor leagues. Look for Hicks to finally see time in 2014 and grab an outfield spot full-time the following year.
DH: Chris Parmelee
Parmelee isn’t ready for the bigs but is getting his opportunity in the whirlwind that is first base this year. He showed great power and the ability to hit to all fields out of high school but significantly regressed his first few years before finally breaking out at New Britain in 2011. Parmelee will certainly have to learn on the fly as he splits time with at least four other guys in 2012 but impressive spot duty could land him a starting spot next year.
Bench: Travis Harrison, Levi Mitchell, Christian Walker
SP: Liam Hendriks
Hendriks is best known for his awful case of food poisoning last week and not for his solid four-pitch repertoire. He will definitely get his opportunity to showcase his talent in 2012 but a bad case of hanging changeups could lead to a quick demotion to Rochester to further develop. He will be more than ready by 2017 to be either the #1 or #2 starter.
SP: Kyle Gibson
Gibson is the newest version of Matt Garza but recent Tommy John surgery has temporarily derailed his major league debut, something that will definitely come in late-2013. He is a finesse pitcher that relies on ground balls but has a devastating slider to bail him out. Gibson could be a fixture atop the Twins’ rotation for the next ten years.
SP: Glen Perkins
Perkins is the best pitcher on their current 40-man roster, starter or reliever. Following a brief period of tension over trade rumors and contract negotiations, Perkins seems focused and might be the only consistent pitcher on the staff for the time-being. He was adequate in previous spot starts but has really found his niche in the bullpen and while there is still a possibility he will stay there permanently, odds are he will get another opportunity to start.
SP: Adrian Salcedo
Salcedo is a wild card pick to start in the next five years. As a 20-year-old his body is still rapidly developing and there is no telling what type of pitcher he will become. He has three strikeout pitches but is not a strikeout pitcher, something that should bode well for him as he further develops his offspeed pitches. Salcedo could easily wind up in the bullpen but appears to have plenty of stamina to be a workhorse in the starting rotation.
SP: Hudson Boyd or Anthony Swarzak
Twins’ fans should be fully aware of the promise, yet inconsistencies, of Anthony Swarzak. He has been given every opportunity to lock down a starting role and while performing admirably in spot starts, he has not turned the corner. Physically, Hudson Boyd is a man amongst boys in Fort Myers but his less than stellar two-pitch collection is holding him back even further. The potential is there and if a curveball or change-up is perfected, or even utilized, Boyd might be at Target Field well before 2017.
Bullpen: Alex Wimmers, Deolis Guerra, Alex Burnett, Kevin Gausman, Matt Hauser
The organization will definitely add a few veteran free agents to the roster by 2017 but with the extreme unpredictability of performance league-wide, it is impossible to predict who will be signed in the next five years. While last season was discouraging and 2012 has started off with a nothing less than a crawl, the future still holds excellent promise for the Minnesota Twins.
By Andrew Doughty