The Twins put out a starting lineup Thursday featuring these players as the first seven in the order: Aaron Hicks, Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia, Trevor Plouffe and Jason Kubel.
There is reason to believe all seven could be in the Opening Day lineup, in that order. Each of them has question marks and is critical to the Twins’ relative potential for success. What I’ve attempted to do is rank those seven in terms of their importance. I’m defining “important” here as: If everyone in this lineup has an average year, the Twins will struggle to score runs. But if Player X performs above expectations, he has the ability to transform the lineup into something that might not be historically bad.
1. Oswaldo Arcia: He showed enough promise as a rookie to make the top of this list. If Arcia is given regular playing time and blossoms into a 25-homer, .500 slugging percentage outfielder even though he’s only 22, it would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the lineup. If he regresses, the lineup starts to look even thinner.
2. Josh Willingham: His advancing age (35) should lead to legitimate concerns that his injury-plagued 2013, when he had an OPS (. 709) that was 100 points lower than any other full season in the majors, wasn’t a mirage. But if he can trend back up toward his 2006-2012 form, it would give the lineup teeth.
3. Aaron Hicks: It’s not automatic that he wins the starting job in center field, but he certainly has the most upside. The Twins need to find out if he’s the guy, and there’s really no time like the present. If he could even hit .250 with power and speed, the lineup is off to a decent start.
4. Joe Mauer: He’s the Twins’ most accomplished hitter by a wide margin, but he winds up a few spots down on this list because it will be hard for Mauer to exceed what we expect from his first full year at first base: 15 homers and an OPS approaching .900. If he suddenly becomes Mauer circa 2009, it would obviously be huge.
5. Trevor Plouffe: Is there a consistent home run hitter lurking in there? With Miguel Sano out, there’s really no competition. But this is also probably Plouffe’s last chance to prove it.
6. Jason Kubel: Ryan Doumit averaged 16 homers and 65 RBI the past two years. The Twins traded him, and if Kubel exceeds those numbers, it would be a nice surprise but it wouldn’t make or break the lineup.
7. Brian Dozier: He’s this low for similar reasons as Mauer. It’s hard to imagine him taking a huge leap from where he was last year, but a bump from that solid year would be welcome.