Ladies and Gentlemen,
Twins fans and followers,
Here we sit, January 25, 2011. It doesn't seem so long ago that the Twins lost in three games to the Yankees. The memory is engrained in our minds. But at the same time, it seems like so long ago that we have watched a live Twins game. October! That means we have gone through November and December, and most of January without any baseball games to watch. If you're like me, you're ready. I'm ready! There are several Twins contingents around the Upper Midwest on the Winter Caravan. Twins Fest is this weekend in Blaine. And most important, we are just three weeks away from Pitchers and Catchers reporting.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the offseason has been long. At times it has been frustrating. At times we held out hope for a big signing and at other times we hoped for a big trade. Frankly, none of that happened, but that does not mean that it was not a successful offseason for the Twins in some ways. Today, I will discuss the State of the Minnesota Twins today.
Where do we start? How about with the manager, Ron Gardenhire who, after finishing runner-up five times finally won the American League Manager of the Year award. It was a well-deserved honor. The coaching staff returns, however, Steve Liddle will now be the Twins 3B coach with Scott Ullger moving to the role of bench coach. All together, this is a positive thing for the Twins.
Joe Mauer will be the catcher, and he is really good. (slight understatement) There is no question mark there. However, with Wilson Ramos and Jose Morales traded away, the backup job goes to Drew Butera again in 2011. I personally have no problem with that because he is elite defensively and that's really what should be looked at first in a backup. The bigger concern is what happens in the event that Mauer gets hurt. Well, if Joe Mauer misses extended time, it doesn't matter who is the backup, there will be a downgrade. Butera can handle the job defensively, and would bat ninth, but the Twins may go with Rene Rivera as the starter if needed.
Let's jump to the outfield. Delmon Young had a terrific 2010, showing glimpses of the things that made him the first overall pick in the 2003 draft. The defense is still shaky, although his UZR did improve in LF for the third straight season. Denard Span returns to center field where he posted a 5.7 UZR. It was a down season at the plate for Span, however, as his On-Base Percentage was nearly 60 points lower than it had been during his first two seasons. Expect that number to increase in 2011. Michael Cuddyer will begin the season in right field again. His 2010 was another interesting season. He played several positions (including starts at 1B, 2B, 3B and CF). His batting average was about the same as 2009, as was his on-base percentage, however, his slugging percentage dipped 100 points due to the lack of home runs. Expect him to be much better in 2011. Jason Kubel filled in admirably in right field last year when Cuddyer moved in to first base. Although he has little range, he makes all the plays he gets to. He should again be the team's primary DH in 2011. Jim Thome re-signed with the Twins recently and will chase his 600th career home run in a Twins uniform.
So the 2011 outfield will look very similar to 2010. There is reason to believe that all four of them will perform better in 2011. At the same time, the defense is a large concern. Jason Repko as the team's fourth (5th?) outfielder is great from a defensive standpoint, although he adds little with the bat.
The infield looks a little different than it did in 2010. Gone are JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson up the middle, replaced by Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The Twins wanted speed, and they were able to improve greatly in that category with these two changes. Of course, this leaves many fans concerned about the change. The bigger concern is that we Matt Tolbert is one injury from getting a lot of playing time. Simply, Matt Tolbert is not as good as a utility player as Nick Punto, who just recently signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Danny Valencia came up in early June last year, and he had a large impact on the Twins. He finished 3rd in AL Rookie of the Year voting and held down 3B terrifically. He will have to show in 2011 that he can take another step forward. And Justin Morneau will begin the season at 1B, we think. Obviously there are a lot of question marks surrounding the former MVP and his concussion. It's frankly a topic I am not qualified to discuss because I'm not a doctor and I'm not Justin Morneau. However, getting his bat in the lineup would be a huge boost for the Twins offensively and his defense will help out the young infield.
With last week's signing for veteran Carl Pavano, the Twins have six starters for five spots. Pavano and Francisco Liriano will likely claim the top two spots. Brian Duensing and Scott Baker will likely take two more spots. So it could be a 'fight' between Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn for the final starting spot to start the season with the other pushed to the bullpen. Can we expect Pavano to put up numbers like he did in 2010? I'm not sure that's fair, but we can certainly hope that he will be at least league average. Francisco Liriano came back with a vengeance in 2010 and if he can take another step forward in 2011, he could put himself into Cy Young discussions. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn can only be better in 2011... Right? Likewise, I don't think it'd be fair to expect Brian Duensing to duplicate his 2010 sub-three ERA, but he did show that he can be consistent and has earned his spot in the rotation.
The area that seems to be creating the most concern among many Twins fans is the bullpen. The one sure-thing in the bullpen right now is Matt Capps. Jose Mijares is the next closest things. The Twins are telling us that Joe Nathan is on schedule and everything is going great, but in my mind, we won't know until we see, and until we see over an extended period of time. We are talking about Tommy John surgery, so we just do not know until we see. However, assuming he is not hurt (and on the DL), he will be on the active roster. Pat Neshek is coming into his second full-season after Tommy John surgery. He is where Francisco Liriano was a year ago. Plenty of questions, but the world of talent. Let's hope that he can take the giant step forward in 2011 that Liriano did in 2010. So, there are four spots that will be taken. We need to fill three more. I know Twins fans don't seem to like reading or hearing that Glen Perkins will fight for one of those jobs, but he is out of options, and he will be given every opportunity. He will need to show that he can get left-handers out consistently, but in the past, he has shown that he can be a good pitcher, so he should ge a shot. That said, the Twins drafted left-hander Scott Diamond in the Rule 5 draft in December, and they really like him. They will not want to lose him back to Atlanta, so I expect that he will make the roster. Will the Twins bring three left-handers north for the bullpen? Those last two will have plenty of competition in spring. Last year, we saw extended time from young Alex Burnett, and he'll get another shot or four because he's very talented. Anthony Slama has dominated at every minor league level, and he deserves a shot for an extended period. James Hoey came over from the Orioles in the JJ Hardy trade throws really hard which will be hard not to notice. Rob Delaney is another guy not to forget.
The Twins brought in several minor league veterans this offseason to bolster the Rochester and New Britain rosters. However, I think it is great because it keeps the actual prospects from getting pushed faster than they are ready for. Most of the veteran signings will not play for the Twins, but there are a few names worth getting to know. Chuck James and Phil Dumatrait are two lefties coming to big league camp that could contribute if needed for the Twins sometime this year. Yorman Bazardo could be an option if needed from the right-side. Jeff Bailey spent three years between AAA and the Boston Red Sox. He can play 1B and the corner OF positions. Justin Huber is back in the organization this year after spending 2010 in Japan. Rene Rivera and Steve Holm are two veteran catchers with big league experience who could be called on if needed.
Finally, despite the struggles in terms of wins and losses in 2010 in both Rochester and New Britain, there are players that can contribute to the Twins if needed in 2011. I believe that starting pitcher Kyle Gibson and reliever Carlos Gutierrez are two guys who could come up around mid-season and have a strong impact on the Twins and the AL Central race. Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes and Steve Singleton are all guys who could help out in the middle infield, providing depth behind Nishioka and Casilla. Chris Parmelee made big strides as an all-around hitter in 2010, and I expect him to put up big numbers in New Britain in 2011. He could be a 1B option later in the year. In the outfield, Ben Revere could be used if a starting centerfielder is needed for some time. Rene Tosoni is back after shoulder surgery cut short his 2010 season. Joe Benson, the team's minor league hitter of the year in 2010, needs more development time, but could be mentioned. David Bromberg and Billy Bullock are two more names to watch at the upper levels of the Twins minor league system and could help in some way in the second half.
My Projected Twins Roster:
Catchers: Joe Mauer, Drew Butera.
Infield: Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, Matt Tolbert.
Outfield/DH: Delmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jason Repko, Jim Thome.
Starting Pitchers: Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey.
Relief Pitchers: Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, Jose Mijares, Pat Neshek, Scott Diamond, Nick Blackburn, Anthony Slama.
Those are my thoughts on the Minnesota Twins as of today, January 25, 2011. This is a very good team capable of winning 90 games in 2011 again. They are likely to be in an intense division race with the improved Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers.
The White Sox go into spring training as the favorite to win the division yet again. They re-signed Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski. They also added a big bopper in Adam Dunn, stole Jesse Crain and added another lefty, Will Ohman, to the bullpen. They made some great moves, some of them targeted to beating the Twins.
The Tigers made a couple of moves early in the offseason. They re-signed Brandon Inge, Jhonny Peralta and Magglio Ordonez. They added Victor Martinez as their DH, and 33-year-old, one-year wonder Joaquin Benoit got a huge three-year deal to pitch out of their bullpen. They also have the best 1-2 punch in the division with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, so they will be a daunting competitor again.
Cleveland will continue its rebuilding behind the terrific Shin-Soo Choo, but how much help will he get. There are a lot of question marks and youth on this roster, but they should be a little better in 2011.
The Royals are a mess, and they will have a really, really bad 2011 season. Sure, they'll win their 50 or so games and play a terrific spoiler role, but they will not be good. They traded Zach Greinke for more prospects, and that is what gives Royals fans hope and actual excitement. Over the past three or four seasons, the Royals have put together the best minor league talent in baseball, and we will start seeing some of that in 2011. I know Royals fans have heard it before, but they have seven or eight high-end starting pitching prospects. If two of them turn out to be really good, they're much improved. If two more become solid big league pitchers, that's even better. Names like Erik Hosmer and Mike Moustakus and Wil Myers will become big names in AL Central circles. So, although 2011 is going to be a bad year for the Kansas City Royals, it will be a big year in terms of bottoming out and moving ahead.
How do I see the AL Central race winding up... again, as of January 25th, 2011, before spring training even starts: 1.) Chicago White Sox, 2.) Minnesota Twins, 3.) Detroit Tigers, 4.) Cleveland Indians, 5.) Kansas City Royals.
There you have it, ladies and gentleman, the state of the Minnesota Twins (through one man's eyes)...
And now, please feel free to give your thoughts and feedback and projections as you like. Thank you for reading and your thoughtful consideration... Oh...
and god bless the Minnesota Twins!