FORT MYERS, FLA. – In Fort Myers, hope is a requirement. When it comes to the Twins’ lineup, hope is all the Twins have.
In 2013, the Twins scored more runs than only two American League teams. The Twins responded to their lack of production by bringing back all of their hitters except the guy who led them in RBI (Justin Morneau) and the guy who finished third in that category (Ryan Doumit.)
No regular other than Joe Mauer hit better than .259. No Twin produced 20 home runs or 80 RBI. In one season, the Twins tried to prove that performance-enhancing drugs are no longer used by big-league hitters.
They didn’t put the ball in play (finishing second-to-last in strikeouts). They didn’t run the bases well (finishing last in the league in stolen-base percentage.) They didn’t do anything well.
The front office spent money to upgrade the pitching staff. The front office hoped that the gradual arrival of the organization’s top position prospects, including third baseman Miguel Sano, center fielder Byron Buxton and shortstop Danny Santana, eventually would strengthen the everyday lineup.
That process is both understandable and painful to watch.
The Twins do not have a leadoff hitter, not unless switch-hitter Aaron Hicks fixes his yips from the left side of the plate and becomes an everyday player. He might be the most important position player on the team, because if he can’t hold down the leadoff role, the Twins will be turning to backup center fielder Alex Presly, who is hitting .161 this spring.
“I don’t want to put a ton of pressure on him,” assistant general manager Rob Antony said of Hicks. “I think he needs to take a step forward, and take better at-bats than he did last year and not chase balls out of the strike zone.
“At the same time, he needs to go up there ready to hit. When you get a good pitch to hit, go ahead and swing at it. He needs to become a two-way player. He’s a very good defensive player and we need him to become a good offensive player, and he has the tools to do that.”
Brian Dozier became one of the Twins’ more reliable position players last year and should bat second. Mauer will bat third, and should benefit from playing first base instead of catcher.
If Hicks is the Twins’ most important position player this spring, he is followed closely by the players who will bat behind Mauer.
Josh Willingham’s 2013 season was ruined by a knee injury that robbed him of his power and led to midseason surgery. Oswaldo Arcia has power but unraveled while in the majors last year, often swinging and missing by a matter of feet. Trevor Plouffe was supposed to feel the pressure of Sano’s imminent arrival, and now Sano, having undergone Tommy John surgery, won’t play until 2015.
If those three produce power and good at-bats, the Twins’ lineup would be transformed.
“We need Willingham, Plouffe, Arcia and Dozier to pull it together and get ready to go on Opening Day,” Antony said. “We’re going to be a little offensively challenged, and it’s going to be up to those guys to take a step forward.
“I think Josh is healthy, which is the main thing we’re looking for. Now it’s just a matter of him getting his timing down. His approach has been fine, he’s taken good at-bats, he just hasn’t squared up a lot of balls yet.”
Coming off a remarkably unproductive season, the Twins this spring have scored more runs than only two American League teams.
“The lineup is a work in progress,” Antony said. “I’m hoping that some of our guys are going to hit their stride in the last days of camp, as a lot of veterans tend to do. We haven’t been overly impressive offensively this spring.”
Given the Twins’ recent history at the plate, that last sentence is the height of diplomacy.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org