The ZiPS player projections for the 2014 Twins, released Friday on FANGRAPHS, can be read a couple different ways, we suppose.
In the short view, it offers a pretty pessimistic look at the potential lineup for 2014, as it stands now -- which of course is only Dec. 16 and not even halfway into the offseason. That's not terribly surprising, we suppose, since the Twins ranked 25th in MLB in runs scored a season ago and their only significant moves so far this offseason have dealt with starting pitching.
Nonetheless, here is what the projections say about the players currently on the 40-man roster: Joe Mauer will be the Twins' best offensive player, but with his move to first base his edge in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) will be diminished. We already knew that, we suppose, but the raw Mauer projections -- a .292 average with 10 homers and 60 RBI -- will not make anyone in Twins country happy. Mauer has a tendency to beat projections on batting average on balls in play; then again, he will be 31 pretty soon after the season starts. Per FANGRAPHS:
Part of that appears to be adjustment for BABIP: no player is reasonably forecast to record one above .350, even though Mauer has exceeded that figure each of the last two seasons. Part of that is likely a product of whatever aging curve Dan Szymborski’s math computer utilizes.
Perhaps more alarming for 2014 -- but encouraging, we suppose for the future, which is the other way to read these projections -- are the players listed directly below Mauer in terms of projected offense. The site lists players ranked in terms of WAR, and the next three are Josmil Pinto, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.
That is to say, one player who had a limited 2013 audition and two more who have never taken an MLB at-bat are projected -- if they were in the majors full-time in 2014 -- to be three of the Twins' four best offensive players in 2014. Sano would bat .227 but would hit 30 homers, the site says. Buxton would steal 30 bases. Pinto would hold his own at the plate.
Here is the list of the top 10 Twins players, projected by WAR, for 2014:
The bottom line: If these projections are to be believed or at least used as a starting reference, Terry Ryan still has a lot of work to do this offseason -- unless he and the on-field staff are ready to turn things over on offense to the prospects and ride it out. Or as FANGRAPHS notes, it isn’t great for the 2014 Twins that many of the best projections below are assigned to players unlikely to begin the season on the 25-man roster. What it is good for is the 2015 and 2016 and 2017 Twins, probably.
/Thanks to Aaron Gleeman for the heads up on the ZiPS release.