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TwinsCentric: Five players to watch in the next two months

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: July 29, 2014 - 11:51 PM
On his excellent RandBall blog, Michael Rand wrote Tuesday that despite being out of contention, the Twins' approach at the deadline isn't as cut-and-dry as "trade anyone with a pulse." There is value, Rand argues, in working toward a better finish and changing a culture of losing.

I very much agree with the general sentiment expressed here. The Twins desperately need to show more down the stretch this season than they have over the last three years. Another lifeless August and September would be unacceptable.

However, if that improvement is driven by players like Kurt Suzuki, Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia, who are not part of the long-term solution, what good does it do? At that point, all you're doing is costing yourself valuable draft slots, with no tangible positive takeaways to bring forward.

Maybe Terry Ryan will move those veterans before Thursday's deadline and maybe he won't. But regardless, these are the players we should be focused on here in the final two months, and what we should be looking for:

Oswaldo Arcia: His season has been one of the great disappointments of 2014, as he has taken a significant step backward following his promising rookie campaign. Any time he appears to be getting something going, he falls into another spell where he looks totally lost at the plate. An at-bat on Sunday that ended with him snapping a bat over his knee sums up his season pretty well, but a strong finish with a bunch of home runs would go a long way toward building optimism toward 2015.

Kyle Gibson: He has given us a lot to like this year, most notably an elite ground ball rate (fifth-best in baseball) and control that has improved substantially over the course of the season. But it's hard to get overly excited when he's giving up five-plus runs every other start. If he can eliminate most of the clunkers while staying healthy and working toward 200 innings, we'll be able to feel a lot more comfortable in his ability to help anchor next year's rotation.

Joe Mauer: We need positive signs. He was hitting .362 on a 12-game hitting streak before going down with an oblique injury, and now that he appears close to returning, he needs to pick up where he left off. It's tough to imagine the Twins returning to contention in the next couple years without Mauer being a major contributor. I'll be particularly interested to see if he can start evening out his K/BB ratio, which was still oddly unimpressive even while he was heating up.

Ricky Nolasco: Will the first season of his big new contract be an unmitigated disaster, or can he salvage something here at the tail end? Nolasco pitched hurt for months before landing on the shelf with elbow soreness. If he can't come back and perform for a stretch before the season ends, he's going to be a big question mark during the offseason that will make it difficult for the team to plan out its 2015 starting corps.

Byron Buxton: The top prospect may have positioned himself as the 2015 Opening Day center fielder if he'd remained healthy this season. Maybe he still can. He's finally got it going in Ft. Myers and should be moved up to New Britain very shortly. A good month there could possibly earn him a September call-up. With all their issues in center, the Twins have plenty of reason to want a look at him.

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