Will the rotation be better?
If it isn’t, the Twins will suffer through their fifth consecutive season of at least 90 losses. The rotation has been terrible the past four summers, and the starters have had the American League’s worst ERA the past three seasons. They then spent $55 million on free agent Ervin Santana, only to see him suspended for half the season. Still, there’s hope, if: Phil Hughes repeats his 16-10 record of last season; Ricky Nolasco reverses his disastrous 6-12 record of 2014; Kyle Gibson takes another step forward; Santana is effective when he returns; and Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey or someone else becomes a capable back-end starter.
Will Joe Mauer regain his batting champion stroke?
At this stage of his career no one is expecting Mauer to become a 30-homer machine. But Mauer needs to be better than last year’s .277 average and .361 on-base percentage that was 40 points below his career mark. Mauer is a career .319 hitter with three batting titles and an AL MVP to his credit. Everything about last season was a disappointment, and some of it was cause for concern, specifically his career-high 96 strikeouts (only 60 walks) despite playing in only 120 games. The Twins offense desperately needs its No. 3 hitter to show that last season was a blip — not the start of a downturn in his career.
Will Paul Molitor succeed?
Molitor is widely considered one of the best baseball minds in the business when it comes to the game’s nuances. But the unknowns are numerous. How will the Hall of Famer relate to players, almost all of whom have far less talent than he had? How will he handle the inevitable ups and downs? Will he be able to inject enthusiasm into a clubhouse that has been visibly beaten down by four years of losing? How will he handle a pitching staff? The consensus thinking in baseball has been that Hall of Famers don’t make great managers. Molitor has a chance to change that thinking.
What will Torii Hunter’s impact be?
Hunter is clearly the same personality he was when he left the Twins as a free agent after the 2007 season: outgoing, enthusiastic and always ready to help mentor younger players. He’s almost certain to be a positive influence in the clubhouse. But the Twins also need Hunter to be a positive addition on the field, since he is opening the season as the starting right fielder and will bat in the middle of the lineup. He will turn 40 during the season, and he needs to have at least one more productive season in him as a major league regular. It would help if he somehow improved on the numbers that last year identified him as one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball.
Will there be a massive in-season youth movement?
Twins fans have been waiting for years to watch Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Alex Meyer, among others. Sano and Buxton might have been with the club this season had their 2014 seasons not been derailed by injuries. They will start the season in the minors, and if they show they are back to where they left off in 2013, they could get quick call-ups. The problem for the Twins is that if that happens, the team is probably losing. GM Terry Ryan isn’t likely to make drastic changes if the current roster is playing winning baseball. So Twins fans have to be careful what they hope for.
La Velle E. Neal III