The Twins franchise has been defined by fraternities of prospects who elevated or cursed the team that raised them.
A wave of prospects led by Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek took the Twins from a stretch of seven non-winning seasons to two World Series titles in five years.
A group of prospects led by Rich Becker and Scott Stahoviak became the primary reason for eight consecutive losing seasons, from 1993 to 2000.
The frat-house buddies led by Torii Hunter, A.J. Pierzynski, Cristian Guzman and Corey Koskie spurred a turnaround that led to nine winning seasons out of 10.
The recent failures of the farm system have led to 195 losses in the past two seasons.
With expectations low for the 2013 season, the franchise will once again ask fans to buy into the notion that the next wave of prospects will reward patience. On paper, the top prospects who should surface in the big leagues over the next few years look even more promising than the last successful wave, the rescue Twins of 2001.
Here’s the breakdown, comparing the 2001 group to the team that could be together in 2014 or 2015:
First base: Doug Mientkiewicz brought gamesmanship, brilliant fielding and competitive at-bats to the field. The Twins will have to decide whether to re-sign Justin Morneau or replace him with Chris Parmelee. Both could hit 25 homers a year. Edge: New Twins.
Second base: Luis Rivas proved a brilliant fielder and aggressive baserunner before flaming out. In the next two years, the Twins hope Eddie Rosario, a superior offensive player at the position, will have turned himself into a workmanlike fielder. Edge: New Twins.
Shortstop: Cristian Guzman might have been the most talented of the 2001 Twins. The Twins project Danny Santana to be their shortstop of the future. He might become a more reliable fielder, but Guzman was often a spectacular talent. Edge: Old Twins.
Third base: Corey Koskie turned himself into a valuable hitter and excellent fielder. Miguel Sano could be reminding people of Miguel Cabrera in the big leagues by next season. Edge: New Twins.
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski was a savior to the 2001 Twins, who had no other options at catcher, and his raw competitiveness fueled an overachieving team. Joe Mauer is one of the best catchers of his generation. Edge: New Twins.
Left field: Jacque Jones displayed excellent range and decent power but didn’t draw walks and couldn’t throw. Josh Willingham is a high-quality power-hitting corner outfielder who will eventually be replaced by an outfield of Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia. Edge: New Twins.
Center field: Torii Hunter became one of the most spectacular and likeable players in Twins history. Hicks and Buxton, both of whom share similarities with Hunter, will man center field for the next decade. The kids have more polish and upside, but Hunter became an All-Star. Edge: Old Twins.
Right field: The Turn-of-Century Twins tried Dustan Mohr and Brian Buchanan here before Michael Cuddyer emerged. Arcia or Parmelee will play here, depending on what happens with Morneau. Edge: New Twins.
Rotation: The Turn-of-Century Twins developed or traded for Brad Radke, Johan Santana, Joe Mays, Eric Milton, Kyle Lohse and Rick Reed, giving them a deep rotation. The New Twins hope Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Vance Worley, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson prove even more talented. Edge: Until midway through the 2003 season, Santana was a middle reliever, so edge goes to the New Twins, although none of their prospects can be expected to match what Santana became in his prime.
Bullpen: The TOC Twins had no reason to expect Eddie Guardado to become an All-Star or LaTroy Hawkins to finally find his niche as a setup man, but they were a remarkably effective duo. The New Twins have a slew of power arms rising through the system in support of Glen Perkins. Edge: Old Twins.
In terms of raw talent, the Twins’ best current prospects are more impressive than the youngsters who took the team to the ALCS in 2002. What the prospects will have to prove is that they possess the mental toughness of their successful predecessors.