Monday, March 25, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Minnesota Twins

(The majority of this article was written before spring training began, so some of the content has been made obsolete after what has happened during the Grapefruit League.  I've added a post script to clarify what has happened during the mean time)

Key Off-season Moves

]Traded Denard Span to the Nationals for SP Alex Meyer
Traded Ben Revere to the Phillies for SP Vance Worley, & SP Trevor May
Signed SP Kevin Correia for 2 years/10M.
Signed SP Mike Pelfrey for 1 year/4M

Key New Addition

Alex Meyer
        It says something about the state of the Twins where their most important acquisition of the off-season is a player that we arent likely to see in the majora before 2014.  However with that being said Meyer shows that the Twins are serious about changing their approach to pitching.
       For years the Twins have modelled their pitchers after former Twin great Brad Radke.  The focus was entirely about throwing strikes, and trying to generate soft contact.  That is simply outdated thinking at this point, and Meyer is now the face of the new direction the team is moving.  It started in last years draft where they gambled on a bunch of hard throwing college relievers with the intention of converting them to starters, and continued this winter with the acquisition of hard throwing, high-ceiling arms in the form of 6'9 behemoth Meyer, as well as 6'5 Trevor May (acquired from the Phillies).
      Both of these players may be years away, and they may never even make an impact, but what these moves show about the long term, philosophical shift in the Twins front office should bode well for years going forward.

Spring Training Battles

Center Field -
        Heading into the offseason, the Twins looked as set in center field as any place on the diamond.  They had 4 year starter Denard Span signed for the next two years, and water bug Ben Revere set in left field (but a natural center fielder).
       Now, both of those are gone, and who will be roaming the wide expanses of Target field is largely an open question.  The first option is 27 year old (& former Jays farmhand) Darin Mastroianni, the other is 2008 1st round pick Aaron Hicks, who after an up and down start to his career, posted a very promising season in 2012 in AA.
      I'd expect on opening day we'll see Mastroianni patrolling center, and leading off, but its still possible that if Hicks blows the doors off this spring, he could break camp with the big club.  Whoever it is that winds up getting the job, they better get their track shoes on, because it could be a busy year with them having some combinations of Parmalee, Willingham & Doumit set to play the corners.
      Post script - Turns out, Aaron Hicks has indeed blown the doors off during Spring Training, and has won the job.  I think this is a very poor decision for the long term.  I'd have sent him down for at least a couple weeks in order to gain a year of service time.  On the otherside he could add some excitement to the team, and provide very excellent up the middle defense with Pedro Florimon & Brian Dozier.

Back End of the Rotation -
         Coming into the offseason the Twins only had one pitcher coming back who seemed assured a shot, in 2012 Canadian breakthrough Scott Diamond.  To address that, the Twins have added the uninspiring duo of Vance Worley (via trade with the Phillies), & Kevin Correia (who signed maybe the worst contract of the offseason.  Plus they brought injury reclamation project Mike Pelfrey, but he isnt likely to be ready til June at the earliest, after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May last year.
        So that means that going into the season the #4 & #5 slots in the rotation are up for grabs, and there are a few options for that spot.
Liam Hendriks - the Australian import is the latest in the long line of Twins, command/control pitchers, but one who's had a decent pedigree coming up thru the minors.  Hendriks has struggled in his limited major league opportunities, but given his age, and that he has nothing left to prove in the minors, so he'll probably will get the first opportunity.
Kyle Gibson - The 2009 first round pick is still fighting his way back from Tommy John surgery in late 2011.  After missing the first half of 2012, he returned, and pitched his way up to AAA by the end of the year, and was sent to the Arizona Fall League to get more work in.  While I think we'll see Gibson by June, I think they'll want to ease him in a bit slower.  However  lights out camp could change thay.
Rich Harden - The Twins are the latest to take a flyer on the massively talented, and just as injury prone Canadian.  Early in his career Harden had a reputation of being either terrific, or iniured.  However of late, the terrific part hasnt even been true (not posting an ERA under 4 since 2009).  The Twins just signed him to a minor league deal, so there's no risk.  If he has his stuff back in the spring, he could be in the rotation til his arm blows out again.
Cole DeVries - DeVries is another stereotypical pitcher for the Twins.  Doesn't pop a radar gun, and rarely walks people.  Despite a fairly pedestrian minor league career the Twins were ao hard up for pitching that DeVries got 17 starts last season, and unlike other fill in options (like Samuel Deduno) he stayed on the 40 man roster.  I'd imagine that if none of the Twins higher upside pitchers emerge, DeVries would get the #5 role almost by default.  Otherwise he's likely tagged for Rochester.
Brian Duensing - This is getting a little repetitive, but Duensing is another soft tossing lefty, who struggles to strike people out.  While Duensing has been very up and down as a starter, he did show some success after transitioning into the bullpen last season.  Over his career his ERA has dropped over a full run out of the pen (from 4.57 to 3.38).

Note: All those options, are really terrible, but regardless two of those pitchers are likely to start the year in the Twins rotation.

       Post Script - While things looked bleak going into the season for the Twins rotation, it may be even worse.  Scott Diamond is headed to the DL to start the season, and so thus Cole DeVries will start as the #5 starter, Liam Hendriks will be in the #4 spot, and Mike Pelfrey is apparently healthy to start the season, and thus will be the #3 starter.

Burning Questions

When do the Twins decide to sell, and who can they move?
      If there was any question which direction the Twins were headed, they answered them this winter by trading away Span & Revere as well as not signing any notable free agents.  If the Twins get off to a slow start the question isn't if they will sell, but rather how far they will go.  Its fairly obvious that impending free agents like Justin Morneau will be heading out of town (and could potentially be a target for the Jays at the deadline), but you could see more of the established veterans like Josh Willingham and the like being shown the door.

Is this where the payroll is going to be going forward?
      When Target Field was built, that was supposed to be the end of the Twins operating on a shoestring budget, and they showed it early on signing Joe Mauer to his giant 8 year, $185M contract, and increasing the overall payroll to 113 million in 2011.

     That must feel ages ago for Twins fans.  Last year, following a disappointing 2011 finish, they dropped the payroll 13 mil, to just over 100 mil.  This year (assuming they dont make any more moves), they sit a further 20 mil behind last seasons outlay.  So suddenly after publicly funding a ballpark to prevent this from happening, the people of Minnesota are right back to cheering for a team closer to the bottom, than the middle of team payrolls.  There are other more immediate questions that need answering, but long term, this might be the biggest issue facing the Twins going forward.

Projected Lineup
CF - Aaron Hicks
2B - Brian Dozier
C - Joe Mauer
LF - Josh Willingham
1B - Justin Morneau
3B - Trevor Plouffe
DH - Ryan Doumit
RF - Chris Parmalee
SS - Pedro Florimon

IF - Jamey Carroll
OF - Brandon Boggs
IF - Eduardo Escobar
OF - Wilkin Ramirez

Projected Rotation
RP - Vance Worley
LP - Kevin Correia
RP - Liam Hendricks
RP - Mike Pelfrey
RP - Cole DeVries

LP - Glen Perkins
RP - Jarrod Burton
LP - Brian Duensing
RP - Casey Fien
RP - Josh Roenicke
RP - Alex Burnett
RP- Ryan Pressly

Top Prospects

Normally this section is saved for prospects who will make an impact this season, however since the 3 most likely to make their debuts this season (Hicks, Gibson, & Meyer) have already been covered extensively, so as a result I'll look at two of the top prospects in all of baseball.  These two are the future of thre Twins, and should be where fans in the Twin Cities are pinning their hopes.

Miguel Sano - 3B -  Probably has more raw power as anyone more in the minor leagues- right now.  40 HR stud in the making.  His body probably wont allow him to stay at 3rd, but its not likely to matter.  This bat will at any position.
             Starting Level - A+

Byron Buxton - CF - The #2 overall pick this past year signed quickly out of thr draft, and impressed over 2 levels of Rookie Ball last year.  A center fielder oozing with athleticism, but also possessing a higher level of baseball skills than one usually sees in these type of toolbox type players.  Is a reason for optimism, but at only 18 years old, he's still years away.
             Starting Level - Rookie

Final Projection - 67-95 (5th in the AL Central)

Its for this very reason that I'm as down on the Twins this year as I am (and as I detailed on my Over/Under article  Things could get very ugly in the Twin cities for the 3rd straight season as a result. 

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