The current face of the franchise, Joe Mauer, is probably one of the, if not THE, most overpaid players in baseball. The first baseman looked to age ten years in 2014 in his transition from catcher to first base. He never looked comfortable at the plate or in the field. Injuries sapped whatever production he could muster as he put forth his worst season as a professional save his 82-game 2011. That being said, I think Mauer can have a bounce back 2015. As every person says after an injury plagued year, Mauer is claiming 100% health. If that is true, he should hit .300 in his sleep. If his oblique injury acts up, which they tend to do once it happens once, the Twins have a $23 million a year statue at first. The last time they had that problem, Justin Morneau was unceremoniously jettisoned out of Minneapolis. A much friendlier contract was signed yesterday by Brian Dozier. The versatile second baseman inked a 4 year, $20 million extension yesterday buying out the remainder of his arbitration years. It is quite the coup for Minnesota as Dozier was unarguably the Twins' best position player a season ago. Though his average may be tough to look at, he hits for power and walks often, two attributes rarely shown by today's second basemen. If he can take his current .240's and make them .270's, he'll be one of the biggest bargains in the American League. Joining Dozier up the middle is Danny Santana. The 24 year old Dominican split time between the outfield and shortstop in 2014. He finished his rookie campaign with a .319 batting average with 7 home runs, 40 RBI, and 20 SB. Now entrenched at one position, expect at least some of those numbers to get a healthy bump. Third base is where we will probably see the new blood rise first. Sorry for the small percentage of you that just thought of the WCW Pay-Per-View New Blood Rising, I am truly sorry. Trevor Plouffe, a free agent at season's end, led the team in RBIs last year and probably had his most complete season as a big leaguer. His job is probably safe for 2015, barring a base hit barrage from last year's shortstop Eduardo Escobar, but 2016 will probably mean the introduction of one of the organization's top minor league talents, Miguel Sano. Sano will turn 22 in May and is a slugger. He's hit for power at every level and even though he missed 2014 with Tommy John Surgery, Minnesota can't keep him down on the farm much longer. Kurt Suzuki proved last year that Minnesota could still send a catcher to the All-Star Game not named Mauer. His recent contract extension gives the Twins veteran leadership and stability for a pitching staff that needs it. Designated hitter duties will be split between Mauer and the pseudo-linebacker Kennys Vargas. Basically one will play first base and one will DH pretty much every day.
Outfield is where the future is brightest. Torii Hunter returns to the place that made him a defensive legend of our generation. The 39 year old isn't just here for a farewell tour. He is two years removed from winning an AL Silver Slugger award. He's knocked in at least 80 runs in six straight years and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. On the other corner of the outfield, 23 year old Oswaldo Arcia is showing serious power potential. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts but has the makings of a perennial 30 home run producer. He also needs to prove he can remain healthy for a full season, a task he's yet to complete in two years. Center field is where the biggest impact will be made. Aaron Hicks is merely keeping the seat warm for the top prospect in all of baseball, Byron Buxton. Even battling a cornucopia of afflictions, Buxton has been rated the #1 prospect in all of baseball the last two years by both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus. He is what you see in the baseball dictionary under 5-Tool Player. His power is developing earlier than expected. He can cover copious amounts of ground in center field. He is already an adept base stealer. He has, as an old Peyton Manning Sprint advert would say, "a laser rocket arm." Like Sano, it is just a matter of him getting back into full game shape before he starts patrolling the Target Field grounds. Whether that is next year or as early as July, Torii Hunter is going to be seeing some highlights happening next to him akin to what he used to do at the Metrodome.
Before last season, I didn't know what to make of the Twins pitching staff. They had just signed Ricky Nolasco who I had just watched disintegrate into dust in September for the Dodgers. They had also brought in Phil Hughes from New York after failing to meet expectations for the Bronx Bombers. Nolasco was supposed to be the ace but that responsibility ended up in the lap of Hughes. Hughes set the Major League record for K/BB ratio by walking just 16 batters, to 186 strikeouts, in 2014. He was rewarded with a contract extension that will keep him in Minnesota, and paid handsomely as well, until 2019. Nolasco on the other hand, had the worst season of his career. He will slot into either the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation but if on a larger club would probably be looking for work. The new number two is Ervin Santana. Santana parlayed a one year deal in Atlanta last year into a four year, $55 million pact with Minnesota this offseason. He had his best season since his lone All-Star year (2008) and many believe he would have been better off staying in the National League. That is probably true but Santana seemed to work out a lot of kinks in his delivery last season leading to him not giving up as many home runs, a problem that has plagued him throughout his career. The third starter will most likely be Kyle Gibson. If you are a fantasy player you doesn't enjoy risks, stay away from Kyle Gibson. One game he'd look like an All-Star. The next he looked like he was better suited to throwing batting practice. He's only 27 so there is still time to figure out how to miss bats, but not that much. The fifth starter out of the gate will probably be Tommy Milone. The Twins are hoping that spot will belong to 6'9" prospect Alex Meyer or Futures Game starter Jose Berrios before long.
The bullpen may not look imposing but is probably one of the more cohesive units in the American League. Closer Glen Perkins doesn't blow people away but he gets outs. He's been an All-Star the past two seasons and racked up seventy saves for two pretty terrible teams. The men bridging the gap to Perkins from each side are Casey Fien (right) and Brian Duensing (left). Like their closer, neither guy blows you away with a plus fastball or a knee buckling breaking pitch. Both though have shown the ability to pitch to both righties and lefties and be able to spell Perkins when he needs a day off. The only real addition to the pen was former Padre Tim Stauffer. I only wanted to bring him up to personally thank him for making me lose to the most annoying kid in my league last year after his 1/3 of an inning, 7 run stinkfest against Arizona. Ahhhhh. Feels good to get that out.
Hall of Famer Paul Molitor isn't going to have a great debut season taking over at manager from long time skipper Ron Gardenhire. Give it a couple years though and I think Molitor will have the Twins back in the Playoffs again like they were for the majority of the 2000's. Until then, just keep getting your prospect handbook each spring. There will be plenty of Twins on that top prospects list.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #29 (UP 5)
PREDICTED RECORD: 73-89
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Phil Hughes (starting pitcher), Glen Perkins (relief pitcher), Brian Dozier (second baseman)
Trevor Utley is a big fan of skyways.
Image Credit: Twins logo (sportslogos.net)