When the offseason began, most Twins fans had high hopes that the organization would finally dive into free agency and grab an upper-level starting pitcher. No one realistically expected the Twins to jump through hoops and go after Zach Greinke or Anibal Sanchez, especially after the market for starting pitching went crazy early. However, a second-tier guy like Edwin Jackson was seemingly a realistic dream. Instead, the Twins have signed Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey in an attempt to assist the starting rotation.
Many Twins fans wanted the team to go after a veteran middle infielder after watching Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon struggle in their first real big league opportunities. Although the Twins acquired some quality pitching from Washington and Philadelphia, it came with the loss of centerfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere. So, there are some fans that wanted the Twins to go after a centerfielder in free agency. Hey, Michael Bourn is still out there, right?
There is, however, a case to be made that the Twins have been true to themselves and to the players brought up through their organization. It has long been a slogan of the organization. The Twins prefer to build from within. That’s true in the front office, and it’s true on the field. It is how the Twins have done it for over 30 years, and it is a belief that has proven successful over time. It is the best way to build sustained success.
Unfortunately, the Twins minor league system since the middle of the past decade has not been able to supply the big league roster with players. Because of that, just one offseason ago, GM Terry Ryan was aggressive in his pursuit of free agents Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Jamey Carroll.
So what changed this offseason? Well, several of the Twins top prospects made positive strides in the 2012 season and made themselves ready for their big league opportunity. Some even got their first taste of the big league life. This offseason, the Twins have added Alex Meyer and Trevor May, and now have several pitchers that are close. Because of that, it appears, the Twins may not have been as aggressive in free agency. Why? Because the Twins have a very nice core of minor leaguers that are going to be ready to debut in 2012. Others have shown that they have nothing more to prove in the minor leagues and deserve the opportunity to show if they can make it in the big leagues. 2013 is a great opportunity for many players to take a positive step forward in their career, and if a couple of them are able to take big strides and show that they can be consistent and counted on for the future, that is the perfect scenario.
Chris Parmelee – The 24-year-old will get an opportunity to start the season in right field for the Twins. Last year in 64 games at Rochester, he found his power. He hit .338/.457/.645 (1.102) with 17 doubles and 17 home runs. He got time with the Twins and certainly did not look intimidated. He deserves this opportunity to play every day and see what he can become.
Liam Hendriks – We all know that Hendriks struggled most of the 2012 season with the Twins, but he has little to prove in AAA any more. In 16 starts, he went 9-3 with a 2.20 ERA and a 0.98 ERA. His minor league strikeout rate is 7.9 K/9, although that number dropped to 6.9 K/9 last year. He had elbow surgery in October but says he will be ready this spring. (Vance Worley had the same surgery in August, and Scott Diamond did in September.)
Brian Dozier – Yes, he really struggled in 2012 with the Twins, but many players struggle in their first big league opportunity. We can all see that he was handled wrong last year. He was over-touted in spring training, brought up too quickly in early May, and then sent down too late. But it would be silly to completely give up on him. No one is expecting him to be an All Star, but can he be a solid every day starter? I’m not yet willing to say he is not. He will turn 26 during the season, so it will be a big year for him.
Pedro Florimon – I’m less confident that Florimon will ever hit in the big leagues, primarily because he has never hit in the minor leagues. Last year, his defense with the Twins wasn’t very good either. At 26, this will be a big year for him to show that his defense is worth the (lack of) bat. Having the stable Jamey Carroll around, along with Eduardo Escobar, will certainly lower the risk.
Joe Benson – Like Parmelee, Benson will turn 25 during Spring Training. 2012 was a lost season for him. He was hurt all season and his play on the field showed it. He should be healthy in 2013, and when he has been healthy, he has produced. One year ago at this time, he was the Twins #3 prospect by Baseball America. He will get an opportunity to start the season as the centerfielder. He is a great athlete and can play all three outfield positions. Like others, it’s a big year for him to show what he can do.
Aaron Hicks – Hicks will be 23 years old throughout the 2013 season. He blossomed in 2012 when he hit .286/.384/.460 with 21 doubles, 11 triples, 13 home runs, 100 runs scored, 61 RBI and 32 stolen bases. He is also a tremendous outfielder with a very strong arm. Since the Span and Revere trades, Hicks has been receiving most of the attention and will certainly be given a real shot at opening the season as the Twins centerfield. If it doesn’t happen on Opening Day, it will happen sometime during the season.
Oswaldo Arcia – Between Ft. Myers and New Britain in 2012, Arcia hit .320/.388/.539 with 36 doubles, eight triples, 17 home runs and 98 RBI. He will go to his second spring training as a 21 year old. He is a long-shot to make the Opening Day roster, but at some point during the season, it would not be surprising to see him make his debut.
Kyle Gibson – The Twins top pick in 2009, he was on the fast track to the big leagues until he underwent Tommy John surgery late in the 2011 season. His rehab in 2012 went as scripted and he will be ready to debut with the Twins sometime in 2013. Will it be Opening Day or not? Will it be as a starter or a reliever? He will be up early in the season.
Scott Diamond – Yes, he is a given to start the season in the Twins rotation (assuming his elbow allows), but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still questions about what his future holds. Hopefully what he showed in 2012 is the true Scott Diamond, but again, we will find out more in 2013.
Alex Meyer and Trevor May – he two prospects received in the December trades are both Top 10 Twins prospects who have work to do in the minor leagues. Both are intriguing, hard-throwing, high-upside prospects. Although both will likely debut in 2014, if all goes well, they could see time in 2013.
Caleb Thielbar and Tyler Robertson – These two lefty relievers may be competing for one bullpen spot in spring training, particularly if the Twins decide to carry a third lefty reliever (since Glen Perkins will be the closer).
So, there are 13 players I’ve mentioned above could be seen in a Twins uniform in 2013. Some of these players are top prospects. Some of them have somewhat graduated from the minor leagues and deserve an opportunity to succeed or fail in the big leagues. Some guys will make their debuts and deserve an opportunity to show what they can do.
If some of these guys can become the core of the next sustained Twins success, that would be best case. Within the next few seasons, there will be an influx of additional talent coming through the farm system. Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and some of those college pitcher draft picks from 2012. Beyond that, names like Byron Buxton and JO Berrios will be coming. In my mind, 2013 is the beginning of what will hopefully be the sustained success that we hear so much about.
Consider all of the players that the Twins brought up from 1999 through 2006, and what it meant for Twins fans over the better part of a decade. Yes, it’s been a long couple of seasons, and 2013 could be equally long. However, when you can see the plan, there is at least reason for optimism.
The Twins front office could have gone out and signed players who would, in essence, block these players. However, if we can all agree that the best way to sustained success is to build from within (and them supplement your core with free agents when they are close to competing), then it is more difficult to argue with the strategy. Sometimes it is important to clear the path.