Minnesota Twins Predictions
The Minnesota Twins only managed two seasons of 95-plus losses in their first 50 seasons in Major League Baseball. They have topped that number three straight years with a 63-99 campaign in 2011, a 66-96 mark in ’12, and another 66-96 season in ’13. This was an organization that had seemed to get the most out of average talent over the years, but those days appear to be in the rear view.
Rod Gardenhire was the manager during all those overachieving years, and the Twins are sticking with him for a 13th season in 2014. They scored just 614 runs in 2014, which was the lowest total in a season for the Twins since 1968, a year before the pitcher’s mound was lowered. The pitching was brutal as well, finishing 29th in the league with 4.86 runs allowed per game. The good news is that it can only get better from here.
Alex Pressley (CF) – Presley came over from Pittsburgh in the Justin Morneau trade last season. After Aaron Hicks and Clete Thomas struggled in center in ’13, the Twins realized they needed an upgrade at the position. Presley played well in limited action, hitting .276 with 17 runs scored and 15 RBIs over 57 games and 195 at-bats between Pittsburgh and Minnesota. His career slash line of .309/.377/.460 (average/on-base/slugging) at the Triple-A level makes it evident that the 28-year old has talent. Unfortunately, it has yet to really translate over into full playing time in the big leagues because he hasn’t been able to come close enough to those numbers. The Twins are hoping he will with them now that he’s in the prime of his career.
Brian Dozier (2B) – Dozier didn’t stick at shortstop in 2012, so the Twins shifted him over to the other side of the infield, where he shined in ’13. He was not only reliable with his glove, but the 27-year-old smacked 18 homers in 623 at-bats last season to show some nice pop at the plate. However, that’s where the good news ends as he finished with a .244/.312/.414 slash line and a whopping 120 strikeouts. His 19.3 strikeout percentage last year was considered below average by MLB standards. Also, Dozier hit .328 against left-handers last year, and a woeful .219 against righties. He’ll have to prove he can hit same-side pitchers if he wants to stick in the big leagues.
Joe Mauer (C) – The Twins will be moving Mauer over to first base full-time in 2014 to try and preserve their best player. This move certainly takes away from his value as he is one of the best bats in the league behind home plate, but merely an above-average bat compared to the rest of the first basemen. Still, Minnesota wants Mauer on the field so it can at least get something back for the five years and $115 million remaining on his contract. There’s no denying that Mauer is one of the best hitters over the past decade, and he hit .324/.404/.476 last season. Those numbers were right in line with his career .324 average and .400 on-base percentage. It’s better for the Twins’ sake that they keep him on the field and away from injury.
Josh Willingham (LF) – Willingham was coming off a career year in 2012 in which he hit 35 home runs to go along with 110 RBIs. Almost everyone expected him to regress, but nobody could have seen him falling on his face quite as hard as he did in ’13. Willingham would post a .208/.342/.368 slash line with only 14 homers and 48 RBIs last season. It’s easy to point to his tender knee after an awkward slide in late April that lingered for two months as the culprit. He would eventually go under the knife, so the Twins are hoping that the injury was the main cause. However, the 35-year-old saw far too many of his fly balls end up dying at the track instead of in the bleachers last season. Due to his poor defense in left, Willingham needs to come back healthy and figure out how to rake again or he’ll be out the door sooner rather than later.
Oswaldo Arcia (RF) – Arcia battled through hand and wrist injuries in ’13. He dominated in Triple-A, hitting .312/.426/.594 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs, but struggled at the major league level. He finished with a .251/.304/.430 slash line and 14 homers with 43 RBIs over 378 at-bats with Minnesota. It’s clear that the talent is there, but Arcia is going to have to find a way to make better contact. He struck out on a whopping 31 percent of his big-league plate appearances, which is nine percentage points higher than his 22 percent career rate at the high minors. Arcia will only be 22 on Opening Day, so there’s plenty of time for him to figure it out in the big leagues.
Trevor Plouffe (3B) – Plouffe has been the main guy at third base for the Twins over the past two seasons, but with the talented farm system, he’s going to have to play better in all areas if he wants to stay there. He has combined for 38 homers and 107 RBIs over the past two seasons, but his career .240 average in the big leagues leaves little to be desired. His high strikeout rate (career 21.4 percent) keeps his batting average low, and his low walk rate (career 7.1 percent) doesn’t allow him to reach base often. Plus, his glove is barely better than Miguel Cabrera’s, so Plouffe is likely to be replaced at the hot corner soon.
Jason Kubel (DH) – Kubel battled through knee, back and quad injuries last season in his time between Arizona and Cleveland. They are likely the reason that his career .483 slugging percentage against right-handers plummeted to .338 last year. His value is his ability to hit righties from the left side of the plate, and the Twins are banking on those injuries being the cause for his steep decline. Remember, he hit 30 homers for the Diamondbacks just two seasons ago in 2012, and he’s only 32 years old. This former Twin could regain his stroke in Minnesota if he can just stay healthy.
Kurt Suzuki (C) – The 30-year-old catcher is the definition of your average player. He is solid but not spectacular at the plate, and while his athleticism makes for some nice saves on balls in the dirt, he is still just average behind the dish. He has hit .253/.309/.375 for his career, and he will never again be the player he was in 2009 when he hit .275 with 15 homers and 74 RBIs. He can still swing the stick, and for now the Twins like the player they are getting to replace Mauer. Suzuki’s label as a proven catcher will earn him at least a few more years at the big league level.
Pedro Florimon (SS) – Florimon has been nothing but a disappointment in his limited opportunities in the big leagues. The 27-year-old doesn’t have much pop at the plate, and his glove isn’t good enough to make up for it to keep him in the majors for long. He has hit .219/.278/.323 with just 10 homers, 61 runs scored and 18 stolen bases in 606 at-bats in the big leagues. For a team like Minnesota that wants to compete now, Florimon makes too many outs, and he will not stick around if he cannot change that trend.
Ricky Nolasco (RHP) – Nolasco had a bit of a rebirth in 2013. After four straight sub-par seasons with the Marlins organization where he posted a 4.48 ERA or worse, Nolasco came back and went 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in his time between the Marlins and Dodgers. He was at his best right away after getting traded to Los Angeles, posting a 1.59 ERA from August into early September. However, he would get rocked in his final three starts of the regular season, and the Dodgers skipped his turn in favor of Clayton Kershaw on short rest in the NLDS. Nolasco’s career walk rate of 5.5% is excellent, but his 10.3% home runs per fly ball allowed is not. That’s why his ERA is almost always inflated compared to his solid peripherals year in and year out.
Kevin Correia (RHP) – Correia fits the mold of most of Minnesota’s starters over the past few years. It goes after guys who don’t walk anybody, but also who don’t strike anyone out. Correia gave up just 2.2 walks per nine innings last season, but only struck out 4.9 batters per nine. He went 9-13 with a 4.18 ERA and 1.42 WHIP despite earning a two-year, $10 million deal with the team last offseason. Opponents only managed a .286 BABIP off of him in 2012, yet he still had an inflated ERA (4.21) and WHIP (1.30). That lucky opponents’ BABIP earned him a new contract, and hitters feasted on him in ’13 with a BABIP of .313. Correia is no better than a replacement level starter in the big leagues.
Phil Hughes (RHP) – Hughes finished with the second-lowest ground ball rate (30.8%) in the majors last season among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. Yankee Stadium could not have been a worse fit for the fly ball-prone Hughes. Now, he enters spacious Target Field with a real chance to finally show his potential at only 28 years old. He was an above-average starter on the road last year, but gave up two homers per nine innings to go along with a 6.32 ERA at home. Hughes will never be a groundball pitcher, but he has found the right home to where he can be successful in the big leagues.
Mike Pelfrey (RHP) – The Twins signed Pelfrey heading into 2013 off of Tommy John surgery. It did not pan out as the veteran went 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over 29 starts last year. Pelfrey did have some bad luck as opposing hitters posted a .337 BABIP against him, which was 25 points higher than his career BABIP (.312) allowed. The 30-year-old is no more than a rotation filler going forward, though the numbers should improve slightly with a little better luck, and the fact that he’s another year removed from the Tommy John operation.
Vance Worley (RHP) – Like Pelfrey and Correia before him, Worley did not live up to his offseason contract. He went 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA and 1.99 WHIP over 48 2/3 innings in the big leagues in 2013. He showed flashes of brilliance in Philadelphia dating back to 2011, when he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. But, it’s clear that he was probably just a one-hit wonder as he has fallen flat on his face since. Worley even struggled in Triple-A last year, and then became an injury casualty over the final three months of the season. His fastball tops out in the upper-80s, and his .401 opponents’ BABIP in the big leagues last year had more to do with laser shots than poor luck.
If there was a bright spot for the Twins last season, it was the bullpen. This unit compiled a 27-22 record to go along with a 3.50 ERA, which was the 14th-best mark in the majors. Closer Glen Perkins nailed down 90 percent of his save chances en rote to becoming a first-time All-Star. He is signed through 2015 with a club option for 2016, so the Twins are in good shape there.
Anthony Swarzak (3-2, 2.91 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) led all major-league pitchers in relief innings last year, and Caleb Thielbar (3-2, 1.76 ERA, 0.83 WHIP) became the situational lefty. Jared Burton (2-9, 3.82 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) struggled at times to find his command, and he’ll be pushed by Casey Fien (5-2, 3.92 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 10.6 K/9) for the eighth inning role. All in all, the Twins should be set up well in the bullpen heading into 2014.
- To Win World Series: 100/1
- To Win AL Pennant: 50/1
- To Win AL Central: 33/1
2014 Season Win Total: 69
The Twins have won 66 or fewer games in three straight seasons. Sure, they have a good chance to improve as it cannot possible get much worse. However, the Twins and Astros are far and away the least talented teams in the American League. Asking Minnesota to win 70 games to beat you is asking too much, and therefore I’ll side with the under on their 69-win total for 2014.
Prediction: 5th Place AL Central (68-94)
The Twins rank last in the league in rotation ERA over the last three seasons. They decided to throw some money at the problem this offseason, giving Ricky Nolasco a four-year, $49 million deal, which was the highest free agent contract in franchise history. They also paid former Yankees’ prospect Phil Hughes $24 million over three years, hoping that he can finally live up to his massive potential by getting away from the pressure in New York.
While these moves do improve the rotation, I just don’t think it’s going to be enough to have the Twins taking a gigantic step forward in 2014. The lineup is still a mess, and I have a hard time seeing the offense surpassing their 614 total runs scored from a year ago by much, if any. It’s clear that the Twins are easily the least talented team in the AL Central, and Gardenhire is no longer able to manage the squad past these talent deficiencies. Minnesota is headed back to the division cellar in ’14.
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