We know about the negative trends: three straight years of losing, a spring marked by consistently low offensive output, and several veterans whose numbers have been on the decline.
Those trends are no fun to think about, especially here in a young season that remains full of possibilities despite some discouraging early signs. Today, let's focus on some positive trends that emerged last year and will hopefully serve as precursors of things to come.
Nolasco's Nifty Second Half Run
After being traded from the cellar-dwelling Marlins to the contending Dodgers last summer, Ricky Nolasco went on quite the run. In his first 12 starts with LA, Nolasco went 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA and 62/17 K/BB ratio in 74 innings while holding opponents to a .213 average.
He turned in a few clunkers in the final weeks of the season, taking some luster out of his second-half numbers, but the impressive stretch was a reminder that Nolasco can dominate when he's locked in.
His overall results last season (best since 2008) certainly seem to be bode well, even if his first start for the Twins left a bit to be desired.
Colabello's Improved Discipline
During his initial exposure to major-league pitching, Chris Colabello looked pretty overwhelmed. Understandably he seemed rattled early on, posting an atrocious 18-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 plate appearances through the end of July. Yikes.
The International League MVP made some impressive adjustments at the plate, striking out 40 times against 19 walks in 126 plate appearances from the start of August through the end of the year. Nothing great, but a huge step forward. He continued to control the strike zone well this spring, with 10 strikeouts and eight walks.
We know that when Colabello hits the ball he can generate some legit power (that was on display Monday when he drove a double deep to right in the ninth inning) but keeping his K/BB ratio in check will be vital to his success at the plate.
Serving as a backup infielder for the Twins in the first half last year, Eduardo Escobar was simply brutal at the plate. When he was sent down in mid-July, his batting line was an anemic .214/.268/.328.
The demotion to Rochester proved to be just what Escobar needed to jolt his slumbering lumber. In 43 games at Triple-A, he hit .307/.380/.500 with 22 extra-base hits and 17 walks. Very nice all-around production for the 24-year-old. He returned to the Twins as a September call-up and batted .324 the rest of the way.
Escobar has never hit much in the past, so it's tough to put too much stock into the strong second-half performance, but he's seen by many as a late bloomer and if he can develop into a remotely effective offensive threat off the bench (or as a replacement for a scuffling infield bat) it would be a big boost for this club.
Swarzak Settling In
After spending his first few seasons as a swingman and long reliever, Anthony Swarzak transitioned into a full-time relief role last year, and over the course of the season he was given more and more opportunities to pitch in shorter late-game situations. He figures to see more of those chances this year, with Sam Deduno presumably taking over the primary right-handed long man role.
That's good news, because Swarzak thrived in full-time relief duty, posting career bests in ERA (2.91), WHIP (1.16), BB/9 (2.1) and K/9 (6.5). He was especially effective in the latter part of the season, putting up a 2.70 ERA while holding opponents to a .603 OPS in the final three months.
Many people are down on Mike Pelfrey due to his overall production in 2013, which certainly wasn't good, but I'm actually feeling confident in his ability to rebound and give the Twins a solid season. He made a rapid return from Tommy John surgery last spring and it showed in the early months, but in the second half of the campaign he was downright respectable, with a 4.39 ERA and .730 opponents' OPS from July through September.
Those are perfectly adequate numbers for a back-end starter making $6 million, and of course, now that he has gone through a normal offseason of rest and preparation, it's possible we haven't seen his best.