We’re Going to Win Twins. . . Maybe . . . Minnesota Twins 2012 Preview

Posted: April 6, 2012 by Kodi in MLB

We are going to need a miracle from Baby Jesus Joe Mauer if the Twins are going to compete in the AL Central

After a historically bad season last year the Twins are hoping to bounce back and limit injuries

Minnesota has some talent but some questionable off-season moves have Twins fans scratching their heads . . .

Minnesota Twins

Minnesota is coming off of a 99 loss season the 2nd worst record in Twins franchise history and the club finished in the basement of the AL Central for the first time since 2000. There is one huge discrepancy between the 2000 team and the 2011 roster; it’s about $96 million worth. Back in 2000 when the Twinks finished the season 69-93 they had the cheapest payroll in the MLB but last season the team was the 9th highest payroll spending over $112 million and they lost 6 more games. The Twins were decimated by injuries placing 13 different players on the disabled list throughout the season. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Denard Span and Nick Blackburn suffered the worst injuries paying a vital role in the Twins losing 99 games.

Bilateral leg weakness, a broken leg, a strained forearm and concussions forced the Twins high hopes for 2011 to come to a screeching halt. Minnesota had just 3 players that played in over 100 games but former AL MVP’s Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer were missed the most. They combined for just 7 HR’s and 60 RBI and played in a total of 151 games, 3 less than Danny Valencia’s team leading 154 game appearances. The Minnesota Twins offense was absolutely terrible ranking near the bottom in ever offensive statistic in the American League. They had just 4 players with 10 or more HR’s and were led by RF Michael Cuddyer who had 20 dingers and 70 RBI. Cuddy has been a Minnesota fan favorite for years because he was the quintessential Twins player doing whatever Manager Ron Gardenhire asked of him.

Heading into the offseason fans knew that Minnesota wouldn’t be able to keep both Michael Cuddyer and Jasob Kubel but when the Twins let both of them walk in free-agency it brought up a lot of questions. General Manager Bill Smith stepped down from his position only to be rehired to another non-operational position was replaced by former Twins GM Terry Ryan. It didn’t take long for Smith to turn the roster that Ryan left him upside down and strip the farm system of nearly all its talent. Ryan was left with some tough decisions but letting fan favorites like Cuddy and Kubes walk to Colorado and Arizona respectively left a hole in Minnesota fans’ hearts. Ryan had to make a move and he decided that he could bring in former Pirate Ryan Doumit and ex-National Josh Willingham.

Ryan Doumit is going to be the utility player the Cuddyer was with his ability to catch, play right field and 1B. He may not have the agility to play 2B as Cuddy did last season but he does give Gardenhire that same versatility in the lineup. I am worried about Doumit’s ability to stay healthy as he has played in more than 100 games just twice in his 7 year career. Doumit’s offensive numbers aren’t nearly as impressive as Cuddyer’s and overall the move seems like a downgrade. The Twins probably realize this and Doumit is likely to split time with OF Ben Revere and IF/OF Trevor Plouffe.

Trevor Plouffe was called up from Rochester to join the Twins team as a replacement at SS and he did give that position some power at the plate he was a burden in the field. In the 44 games he played at SS he had 11 errors. The Twins are hoping a shift to OF will allow them to use him as a situational hitter and a great role player off the bench. Ben Revere is getting a demotion because Minnesota feels like Denard Span deserves to start in CF. Span has admitted the he still feel effects from the concussion he suffered last summer. Revere will get into games but the Twins won’t have his low batting average in the starting lineup everyday but they can get him on the base-paths in pinch running situations.

Josh Willingham was thought to be the RF but the Twins are worried about his ability to track balls in the gap. Gardenhire has named Willingham as the opening day starter in LF and there won’t be as much pressure defensively repacing Delmon Young than Cuddy. Willingham does have consistent numbers in the power department surpassing Young, Kubel or Cuddyer on a yearly average but he doesn’t have a great eye at the plate and is prone to striking out. If there is a theme with this year’s Twins roster its versatility while Ryan and Gardenhire are building a roster than can prepare for the injury bug.

Coming into the 2011 season Twins fans were ecstatic about the prospects of Tsuyoshi Nishioka playing in the Major League. The season had barely started before T-Nish had his leg broken during a play at 2B versus the Yankees. When Nishioka was on the field most Twins fans would have preferred if he was off ot it. Nishioka proved time and time again that he didn’t have the arm to play SS in the MLB he had 10 errors in 59 games while playing that position. He didn’t do much better at 2B having 2 errors in just 6 games. It was a bad year for Nishioka who had won a batting title in Japan but struggled to hit just .226/.278/.249 in the 68 games. Nishioka came into Spring Training hoping to claim a spot on the 40 man roster but Gardenhire decided it was better if he spent some time in the minors to gain some confidence. Not only was Nishioka sent down to AAA he was also informed in February that he would be going through divorce proceedings with his Japanese model wife.

Alexi Casilla and Jamey Carroll are the beneficiaries of Nishioka’s bad luck as one will be the Twins opening day 2B and the other the SS. They will get the ability to solidify their spots on the roster with good play but what does that signify? Casilla has been given an opportunity time and time again but without a player on the bench to push him he is constantly underwhelming. He isn’t nearly the liability in the field of the other middle infielders are but he is just a small improvement and atrocious at the plate. With Plouffe in the outfield and T-Nish playing in Rochester the Twins are expecting a lot out of 38 year old Jamey Carroll to be Minnesota’s everyday SS. Carroll does have the skills to play SS but his offense is extremely limited. He had a career high 5 HR’s and 36 RBI in 2006 when he played 136 games with the Colorado Rockies. His ceiling is 5 homers and 36 ribbies and he has batted over .291 just once in his career. With Casilla and Carroll as everyday starters the Twins can nearly guarantee two easy outs at the bottom of their lineup. Luke Hughes had a great Spring Training and I wouldn’t be surprised that if either Carroll or Casilla slip he may be their likely replacement or Nishioka if he can get it together.

The only position that Is locked down is the hot corner but 3B Danny Valencia needs to improve because another year like last season won’t cut it. Valencia was one of the team leaders offensively but that’s not saying much. It was his first full year at 3B and he had 15 HR’s while knocking in 72 RBI but he walked just 40 times while striking out 102 times and hit just .246/.294/.383 after hitting .311/.351/.448 during his rookie campaign. Last year Minnesota had multiple different players fill in at 1B due to Justin Morneau’s reoccurring concussion symptoms. Morneau was extremely pessimistic when he arrived to Spring Training about the upcoming season and Gardenhire is letting him become their full time DH. Justin played in just 69 games last year and hit a measly 4 HR’s for 30 RBI and clearly isn’t the same player.

1B will be left in the hands of Chris Parmelee who has had success with the Beloit Snappers and New Britain Rock Cats, so much that he’s skipping a stint with the AAA Rochester Red Wings. Parmelee has a big bat and a solid eye with a low strikeout ratio but there are questions about such a big jump. He had a solid Spring Training hitting .355/.443/.592 with 6 doubles, 4 HR’s, 14 RBI, 12 walks and 13 strikeouts in 76 at bats. The Twins are desperate as Morneau has made it clear that he feels more comfortable as the DH. It makes since to find a replacement because Morneau is more valuable to you with 120+ appearances as a DH than 60+ as a 1B. Joe Mauer may take some starts at 1B after his success at that position last season but that will only happened when Doumit is playing backstop.

Joe Mauer has been labeled the Twins everyday Catcher which was made clear by both Ron Gardenhire and Mauer himself. Baby Jesus needs a resurrection after a horrible season last year filled with rumor and doubt. Nobody In their right mind should be expecting Mauer tp become a power hitting Catcher. Rather we need to see the Mauer that hits for average and as bad as that makes his contract look it’s what should be anticipated. There will be a lot of pressure on Joe this season but it will be nice to see how the young man handles the pressure. He has been very outspoken about his disappoint with last season but the Minnesota Twins and their fans need to see his apology on the field not in an interview. It blew my mind when it was reported that C Drew Butera was being sent down to Rochester and it looks like Carl Pavano’s lil’ buddy wasn’t going to be stealing innings from Mauer or Doumit’s bats. It doesn’t look good when the Twins newly acquired pitcher Jason Marquis has a higher career batting average than Sal’s kid.

Carl Pavano and Jason Marquis are in the middle of the two biggest stories in the Twins locker room right now and it’s for completely different reasons. Marquis was signed by the Twins in hopes of replacing disgruntled pitcher Kevin Slowey but the 32 year old have a career ERA of 4.55. There is nothing intriguing about Marquis stepping onto the mound at Target Field but that date has been delayed due to a near deadly accident. Marquis’ daughter was involved in a bicycle accident forcing the emotional father to travel back home during the middle of Spring Training. The doctors were able to save his daughter’s life but now people are expecting him to return to baseball? This is going to affect his psyche not to mention he’s not going to be in great shape. Gardenhire and GM Terry Ryan decided to start him off in the minors and get his legs under him before entering the starting rotation.

Carl Pavano led the team in wins with his 9-13 record and had the 2nd lowest ERA of the starting rotation with a 4.30. There was an extreme drop off from his 2010 season where he was 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA while throwing 7 complete games and 2 shutouts. It may have been due to the story that broke just a few weeks ago involving the Twins Ace and a high school classmate. It’s alleged that Pavano and this man had a sexual relationship with the accuser climbing through Carl’s window for over 3 years. This guy who is close with Pavano’s family was in contact with Carl’s sister through Facebook. He told her that he had written a book and this story would come to fruition unless Carl bought him a Rover with beige leather of course. Pavano has had no comment on this more than weird situation but that may explain why Carl Pavano has been pitching like well Carl Pavano. In my humble opinion the 2010 season was a fluke and Twins fans are unlikely to see similar success this year.

The real Ace of the staff should be Francisco Liriano who burst onto the scene in 2005 but hasn’t been the same dominant pitcher since Tommy Johns Surgery. Frankie was 9-10 during the 2011 season and the roller coaster ride that is Liriano’s career continued. He no hit the Chicago White Sox on May 3rd last season but he struck out just 2 batters and walked 6, making it one of the ugliest no-hitters of all-time. He finished the season with an ERA of 5.09 and a WHIP of 1.489 but Liriano has more than one reason to produce in 2012. He is in the final year of his contract and the 27 year old knows that if he wants a big pay day he needs to prove that he’s worth it. Once again Liriano looked great playing Winter ball south of the border but he also had an incredible Spring Training.

In 27 innings of work Liriano has walked just 5 batters and struck out 33 while posting an ERA of 2.33. He has looked outstanding and Twins fans might be excited about his upcoming season. I want to warn people that if Liriano lights it up in the first half of the season the Twins and Terry Ryan know that they won’t be able to sign the young man to the type of contract he wants. If that is the case look for the Twins to deal Liriano before the deadline and learn from their mistakes of letting players like Cuddy, Kubel and Torii Hunter walk without getting anything in return.

The Twins best pitcher last season was probably “Big Spot” Scott Baker but many times we saw his arc ego “Moonshot” Scott. Baker was 8-6 in the 23 games he appeared in posting an ERA of 3.14 and a WHIP of 1.173 while walking just 32 batters and striking out 123, leading the team’s starting rotation in all categories except wins. Baker did give up 15 HR’s in the 134.2 innings he pitched and needs to learn to keep the ball down and stop this terrible pitch to contact philosophy. Baker will not be taking the mound for the Twins early in the season as he is battling through some elbow tendonitis and was put on the DL to start the season.

The Twins are likely to start with a 4 man rotation while Jason Marquis and Scott Baker get it together which means there will be more pressure on Nick Blackburn and 23 year old Liam Hendricks to pitch well. Blackburn has shown time and time again that he is capable of winning 10 games when he play for the full season but he isn’t going to overwhelm any starting lineup. His season was cut short last year and finished with a 7-10 record before being shut down. Blackburn is not going to all of a sudden put everything together and become a 14+ win pitcher, especially with this lineup.

Liam Hendricks is the young kid being thrown into the fire, rather than having someone like Brian Duensing or Anthony Swarzak fill that role with a little more experience. Hendricks had a limited amount of experience late at the end of last season and the kid looked lost. He had a 6.17 ERA allowing 29 hits, 16 earned runs, 3 HR’s, walking 6 and striking out 16 in 23.1 innings of work. Hendricks relies on a decent fastball and slider but also has the ability to throw a changeup and curveball with above average command but we don’t know what he’s capable of in the MLB. Clearly pitching coach Rick Anderson and Ron Gardenhire believe that he will be able to transition into the Majors because they are relying heavily on the young arm right out of the gate.

The Twins bullpen went from being one of the strongest suits in the organization to being a deficiency that left the team in a tailspin. The Closer role was filled by veteran Twin Joe Nathan coming into the 2011 season with Matt Capps filling in as the setup man. Nathan struggled early and Capps was given back the job but after blowing a few saves in a row Gardenhire turned over the responsibility back to Nathan. Capps finished the year with a team high 15 saves but he blew 9 opportunities and posted an ERA of 4.25. Joe Nathan left in the offseason to join the Texas Rangers and the Twins were basically forced to resign Capps to a one year $4.75 million contract. We may see a LHP like Glen Perkins or Brian Duensing steal the Closer role from Capps if he struggles like he did last season.

The relievers in the pen aren’t huge names that jump off the page but Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing are solid options. Perkins had a phenomenal year in 2011 leading the team with his 2.48 ERA and allowed a team low 2 HR’s. Duensing spent a lot of the year in the starting rotation but the club thinks that he’s a better fit in the bullpen although the left hander has had very little experience as a reliever. The Twins took a chance in the offseason by signing fireballer Joel Zumaya but that experiment was over before it started and once again Zumaya is forced to miss the season after requiring surgery.

Looking from top to bottom the Twins team that will be in Target Field last year doesn’t look dramatically better than the one that lost 99 games last season. The biggest difference will be a healthy Joe Mauer which should give you another 8-10 wins immediately. The problem is that there were some downgrades in personnel with certain roster changes and the starting rotation looks extremely shaky. Not to mention the fact that Gardy and the Twins are relying on Matt Capps after the debacle that took place all season long in 2011. Minnesota Twins fans should be prepared for another losing season and if the team is riddled with injury again it could be an epically terrible season. I think that the Twins will finish 4th in the division just a few games above a young Kansas City Royals team, which is the only team in the division with worse starting pitchers.

2012 Transactions:

Acquisitions: SS Jamey Carroll, C/OF Ryan Doumit, IF Sean Burroughs, OF Josh Willingham, P Jason Marquis, P Joel Zumaya

Departures: IF Matt Tolbert, OF Jason Repko, P Joe Nathan, OF Michael Cuddyer, OF Jason Kubel, P Jim Hoey, P Kevin Slowey, P Jose Mijares,

Projected Lineup:

1 CF Denard Span

2 SS Jamey Carroll

3 C Joe Mauer

4 DH Justin Morneau

5 LF Josh Willingham

6 RF Ryan Doumit

7 3B Danny Valencia

8 1B Chris Parmelee

9 2B Alexi Casilla

Bench:

IF Sean Burroughs

IF Luke Hughes

OF Ben Revere

OF Trevor Plouffe

Projected Rotation:

1 RHP Carl Pavano

2 LHP Francisco Liriano

3 RHP Nick Blackburn

4 RHP Liam Hendricks

5 RHP Jason Marquis/Scott Baker*

Bullpen:

Closer: RHP Matt Capps

Setup: LHP Glen Perkins, RHP Alex Burnett

Middle Relievers: RHP Anthony Swarzak, LHP Matt Maloney, RHP Jeff Gray

Long Reliever: LHP Brian Duensing

Key Prospects:

P Kyle Waldrop

OF Joe Benson

OF Aaron Hicks

RHP Liam Hendricks

IF Brian Dozier

P Scott Diamond

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