Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
One of Section 219's frequent and valued commenters, "conormacleod," took some exception to my last post on the frustration of finding much to light the hot stove with when it comes to the 2013 Twins. He wrote: "Jeez. One of the most depressing articles on baseball I've ever read. And it's in the middle of a cold front in January. Realism is one thing, but this just stunk to read. I'd rather a breakdown of position by position, even if the numbers aren't that good, than just saying 'they suck.' "
Well, OK then. In that spirit, here's a breakdown of what I'm seeing with the 2013 Twins, although I hesitate to use the word "breakdown" because it may well come close to what could be happening. I'm not going position-by-position, but rather thought-by-thought. (And, seriously folks, comments that take exception to what I'm saying or thinking about the Twins are always appropriate. I like when you agree with me, but you certainly don't have to be as kind to me as you should be to your fellow commenters. Dissent is good. Young 219 had a "Question Authority" t-shirt before he knew what authority was.)
Settled positions: The Twins are set at three positions -- catcher, first base and left field. I'll be watching to see how many games Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham are in the lineup together. All have injury histories of one sort of another and, if health issues act up, the Twins' skinny every-day lineup will become even unhealthier than what I currently imagine.
The No. 9 spot in the batting order: All kinds of candidates. Pedro Florimon, who appears to be the front runner at shortstop, has shown an inability to hit at all levels, with a .321 on-base percentage in 2,900 minor-league plate appearances. Darin Mastroianni, who could well be the starting center fielder if Aaron Hicks isn't ready, also put up numbers worthy of a No. 9 hitter in 2012, although Gardy put him everywhere except the 3-4-5 spots. Jamey Carroll batted ninth more often than any place else last season. And reserve catcher Drew Butera will also battle for some of those at-bats when he gets a chance to play.
The unsettled outfield: We're not going to argue the merits of the Span and Revere deals here. But coming into spring training with two of three outfield positions pretty much unsettled is unsettling. The reliance on youth and hope is a problem, and an example of what I've written about when I've taken issue with the Twins unwillingness to build a bridge to 2014 or 2015, when they're much-touted youngsters are expected to become contributors.
The top two spots in the order: See "unwillingness to build a bridge."
Much-touted youngsters: On a yearly basis, many have written about how the promising youngsters in the Royals organization were finally going to end their more than quarter-century of postseason futility. Ever year, in talking about the upcoming season, I've been among those saying the Royals were going nowhere. Dermal (Dee) Brown? Luke Hochevar? Eric Hosmer? It's all well and good to hold out hope that reinforcements will soon turn around the Twins' fortunes. But I'll believe it when I see it. In the meantime, I'll try to use the phrase "Kansas City North" in describing the Twins as infrequently as possible.
Second, third and shortstop: If you know who's going to see a majority of time at those positions, please tell me. The list of candidates is long. The list of those who would be more than placeholders is not. Trevor Plouffe has the best chance at third base, but he needs to be closer to his May 15-July 20 form (.296 batting average/.344 on-base percentage/.618 slugging percentage) than the August/September numbers when he returned from his hand injury (.196/.254/.344).
Starting pitching: I'm going to err on the side of respecting the judgment of the Twins front office about its pitching acquisitions, although Aaron Gleeman is among those who has written smartly about why that could well be anywhere from wishful thinking to full hallucination. The Twins could be a postseason contender with a rotation of No. 3-type starters, providing they are pitching for a team that can hit and field. Right now, I'm more concerned about the hitting and fielding thing, which the Twins seem to think will take care of itself.
Down cycles: There was some chatter, especially as talk perked up around TwinsFest, about how all teams go through "down cycles." I agree. The issue, however, is that the Twins were positioned not long ago so that a "down" year meant they would be a playoff contender, but not built to survive the haul that the postseason has become. Then, the Twins went far enough "down" that 100 losses became the number to avoid for two straight seasons. It's so far down that merely finding a way to get into the wild card race seems like way, way up.
That's my breakdown. I doubt it makes you feel better, conormacleod. But you asked.
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