TwinsCentric was formed by Twins super-bloggers Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes. Together they publish at TwinsDaily.com and have authored books, e-books and magazines that provide independent and in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Twins from a fan's perspective. You can contact them at TwinsCentric@gmail.com.
When you look up and down the Twins' projected starting lineup for 2015, there are a number of potential weak spots.
Neither Danny Santana nor Kennys Vargas is a lock to maintain their stellar rookie performances. Joe Mauer is a giant question mark at this point. We still don't really know who's going to play center field.
But one area that few people are talking about is catcher, where the Twins are counting on Kurt Suzuki to back up one of the best seasons of his career. What happens if he can't?
At the trade deadline in 2014, with Suzuki's name floating around in rumors, Terry Ryan decided instead to lock up the veteran backstop with a two-year extension. At the time, Suzuki was batting over .300 with an above-average OPS, and his strong first half had even earned him an All-Star appearance.
Yet, in the context of Suzuki's career, the quality offensive output looked somewhat unsustainable -- his .760 OPS at the end of July was 70 points higher than his career mark, and he hadn't even finished above .700 since 2009.
Had he really recaptured the ability that made him a major asset for the Athletics in the earlier portion of his career, or had he simply enjoyed a few good months? When your production is based so heavily on putting the ball in play and collecting singles, things can turn around in quite a hurry.
Unfortunately, that's just what happened to Suzuki. After signing his extension, he hit .248/.290/.366 the rest of the way. Those numbers line up far more closely with his career slash line: .257/.314/.376.
That kind of production wouldn't exactly be disastrous -- American League catchers hit just .241/.301/.374 overall in 2014, meaning Suzuki was essentially average even in his diminished second-half capacity -- but what if the 31-year-old continues to slide toward the sub par level he was at in 2012 and 2013?
This brings us to a question that is likely be discussed frequently this spring and summer: What do the Twins really think of Josmil Pinto?
The 25-year-old's future became murky after Minnesota extended Suzuki's contract for two years; would the team have committed $12 million to the veteran if they truly envisioned Pinto taking over the reins any time soon?
The answer is... maybe. Suzuki's $6 million salary wouldn't be all that ridiculous even if he's only playing part-time, especially when you consider the depth he adds at a position that -- outside of Pinto -- is almost barren at the highest levels. (Beyond these two, there are no catchers currently on the 40-man roster.)
Suzuki's presence allows the Twins to be very patient with the development of Pinto's defensive skills, and that likely played a big part in the decision to keep him around. But what if Pinto's proficiency behind the plate does not improve, or Suzuki's regression hits harder and faster than expected?
With a lack of appealing alternatives on the extended roster -- or, really, anywhere in the organization -- it's hard to say at this point. Unless they are willing to make some concessions defensively and let Pinto's bat carry him, the Twins might be tied to Suzuki -- for better or worse.
Aaron and John meet at Mason's and ramble about Jacque Jones career and his upcoming appearance at the Twins Daily Winter Meltdown, Joe Mauer's contract, crying babies, a mailbag and meeting the in-laws. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click the Play button below.
Firing a manager in the middle of a postseason run seems like an unlikely scenario in any sport however the Puerto Rican team, Indios de Mayaguez, recently fired their manager and Minnesota Twins’ Kennys Vargas may have played a role.
On January 5, after going 1-2 to start the round-robin postseason tournament, Indios de Mayaguez fired their manager Carlos Baerga, a former major league player who managed Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in 2013 as well as led Indios to a league title in 2014. According to local reports, Vargas was one of three players that was cited as a contributing factor in Baerga’s ousting. ElNuevoDia.com reported that Vargas, along with Luis Figueroa and Martin Maldonado, had issues with the Baerga's decisions.
For more baseball, go to TwinsDaily.com and be sure to check out the lineup for the Winter Meltdown on January 24th at Mason's in Minneapolis. Guests include Twins president Dave St. Peter and 1987 World Series catcher Tim Laudner.
With temperatures outside dropping well below zero, we're here to warm you up by serving hot takes to answer all your burning Twins-related questions!
Sorry. That was very lame. Anyway, moving on...
Twins Daily Member Kirby_waved_at_me:
How bad does Ricky Nolasco have to be to lose a spot in the Twins' rotation? Conversely, how good does Alex Meyer have to pitch to earn a spot?
If Nolasco pitches as badly as he did last year, they're going to remove him. But if that's the case, some sort of significant injury is going to come to light. He's got too much ability to keep getting rocked to that extent unless there's an underlying issue.
The bigger question is, what do they do if he's performing badly but not terribly (i.e. 4.75 ERA) and there's a guy on the farm who's clearly ready to step in (like, say, Meyer)? I don't know the answer, but I'm very curious to find out.
Twins Daily Member mike wants wins:
Which minor league RP will we see up early? Not a big fan of not using your minor league system for those guys fast, before they get hurt (which seems to be what many, not all, other teams are doing now).
Michael Tonkin will be up early, if not out of camp. A.J. Achter has a chance. Neither Nick Burdi nor Jake Reed has pitched above Single-A, but it wouldn't shock me to see either (or both) up and making an impact in the second half. Those guys can bring it.
@MrNewBrighton on Twitter:
What kind of season can we expect from Joe Mauer in 2015? (I'm hoping for .315 15 HRs 100 RBI #MNTwins
I like the optimism. I won't venture to guess at this point on his home runs and RBI, but I do think he'll get back to batting over .300 with an elite OBP. Nice piece to have around the top of the lineup.
Twins Daily Member stringer bell:
Are the Twins really going to go with their current options for center field? Related question--will Danny Santana see considerable time in center this year?
There's still plenty of time to grab a free agent stopgap -- Colby Rasmus, Nyjer Morgan and Eric Young Jr. are among the remaining available names -- but it looks like they're comfortable rolling with Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer. Nothing wrong with that, in my mind. Those two fit nicely as platoon partners and can both offer solid defense. Byron Buxton should be along shortly.
@Ex_Twins_News on Twitter:
MN Native Mark Hamburger has an invite to Spring Training. Does he have a shot at appearing with the big league club in '15?
Hamburger is a great story, so I'm certainly hoping so. He's got a steep hill to climb though. He was unspectacular as a 27-year-old in Triple-A last year and the reliever pipeline is pretty flush in this system.
@Twins_guyTJZ on Twitter:
With enough internal depth at first base i.e.Vargas and Adam Brett Walker, where does Mauer fit into the Twins long-term future?
Hard to say at this point whether Vargas' bat is legit. He's exceptionally strong and certainly looked the part last year, but he doesn't control the strike zone well and pitchers started to take advantage in the last few weeks. He needs to prove himself in 2015, and even then, I think he's a DH. Walker hasn't played above Single-A.
Actually, the name we should be wondering about in this conversation is Sano.
We fielded a bunch more quesitons over at Twins Daily, so feel free to come on by for discussion on Lewis Thorpe's status, Nick Gordon's outlook, Ron Gardenhire's employment situation, and what it will take for the Twins to win the division in 2015.
Aaron and John meet at Stella’s and discuss:
1:00 – Free agents and MLB payrolls
7:00 – Phil Hughes Extension
21:00 – Tim Stauffer signing
36:00 – Ballpark effects
39:00 – Aaron’s Birthday
44:00 – Twins Daily Meltdown
46:00 – Farewell Chris Parmelee
52:00 – Twins catchers
55:00 – Going to Korea
59:00 – National Perception of the Twins
61:00 – Top 30 Tweeters
64:00 – Spring Training
68:15 – Aaron’s worst analogy ever
72:00 – Super Bowl Weekend
At all the MinnCentric sites, you'll find great content, whether it's the season or offseason:
Big Changes in the Coaching Staff
For the first time in nearly three decades, the Twins fired their manager, dismissing Ron Gardenhire one day after the conclusion of the season. The move was warranted following a fourth consecutive 90-loss season.
Not everyone viewed Gardenhire's internally promoted replacement, Paul Molitor, as a transformative change in direction, but by most accounts Molitor does things his own way and the look of his coaching staff will be very different. The most notable addition is pitching coach Neil Allen, a rising talent from the Rays organization with no meaningful previous ties to the Twins.
A fresh perspective at the top, and a new voice for this embattled pitching staff, should at least provide a very different dynamic.
J.O. Berrios' Incredible Year
While the rest of the system's top prospects stagnated, sat out, or took steps backwards, Berrios saw his stock skyrocket with one of the best pitching seasons we've seen from a Twins prospect in some time.
There were questions surrounding the right-hander entering this campaign, given his relatively small stature and his good-but-not-great results at Cedar Rapids in 2013, but Berrios made an emphatic statement by obliterating the Class-A Florida State League in the first half, then holding his own as the youngest hurler in the Class-AA Eastern League after a midseason promotion. He even made a critical late-season start at Triple-A... as a 20-year-old.
Berrios' momentum hasn't stopped since he stopped playing in games. During the offseason, he's been on an insane workout regimen down in his native Puerto Rico, evidenced by the numerous photos and videos he has been sharing on his Twitter and Facebook pages.
The difference in his physique since just September (at which point he wasn't exactly in bad shape) is noticeable:
If Berrios doesn't pan out for the Twins, I think it's safe to say it won't be from a lack of effort or work ethic.
The Spending Continues
Last offseason, Terry Ryan went on a spending spree that was historic by this franchise's standards, handing out the two largest free agent deals in team history while committing a total of $84 million to Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey in an effort to reinforce their rotten rotation.
The spend trend has only continued in 2014. First there was the in-season signing of Kendrys Morales -- a totally uncharacteristic move and a surprising one, given that the Twins really weren't shaping up as contenders at the time. Then, during this offseason, Ryan eclipsed Nolasco's record deal by inking Ervin Santana to a $54 million contract. In addition, the Twins signed Torii Hunter for $10.5 million and ponied up for a Hughes extension.
In some respects, the Twins are simply riding a league-wide trend of increased spending as new revenues pour in, but it's still nice to see, and hopefully a sign of heightened aggressiveness to come, as they work back toward contention.
Free Agent Success Stories
Perhaps Ryan's new-found willingness to splurge on the open market has been bolstered by two free agent signings that would have to rank among the most successful this team has ever made (granted, that bar wasn't set high). Kurt Suzuki surpassed all expectations on his one-year deal, making the All-Star team and earning a two-year extension midway through the summer. Hughes, of course, might as well have been an All-Star, as he was one of the AL's best starting pitchers and finished seventh in the Cy Young voting. He also earned himself an extension even though there were two years left on his bargain deal.
The Twins have sometimes been accused of promoting prospects too slowly, and leaving seemingly MLB-ready youngsters stagnating on the farm, which made it all the more encouraging to see Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas featured so heavily in 2014.
Coming into the season, neither player looked like a candidate to log significant time in the majors. Santana was 22 and had played just one season in Double-A. Vargas, also 23, hadn't played above Single-A. Yet both were given chances and thrived, helping power a surprisingly strong offense. Hopefully the club will show similar willingness to let the next wave of promising young hitters make their case -- and hopefully with similar results.
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