Tuesday, March 29, 2011

MLB 2011 Preview-Minnesota Twins

As I mentioned in yesterdays post, I would have a more in depth one on the Twins, since this a Twins blog.

2010 Recap:
94-68, 1st in AL Central.
Lost ALDS 3-0 to New York

In 2010, the Twins ushered in a new ballpark, celebrated 50 seasons, and set a franchise high in payroll. Target Field disappointed absolutely no one. And the Twins broke in their new ballpark by going 53-29 on their new turf (Best in AL). The Twins began the season with out Joe Nathan as he required Tommy John early on in Spring Training. Jon Rauch would fill his spot through late July before the Twins traded stud catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington for Matt Capps. Key acquisitions Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy proved to be valuable up the middle, but both missed various time due to injuries. But it was Jim Thome who proved to be the best acquisition, smashing 25 home runs and winning over the hearts of Twins fans after spending his career breaking them. The Twins broke out fast out of the gate, going 31-20 after May, and a 4.5 game lead in first. But June and July struggles, and losing Justin Morneau in July, took the Twins out of first place and dropped them back as much as 4.5 games of the surging Chicago White Sox. But following the All Star Break, the Twins took charge and went 48-26 in that span retaking first place, and ultimately crushed the rest of the division and uncorked the bubbly on September 21. The Twins won 94 games in 2010. This despite the fact Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer all had down seasons. Carl Pavano lead the pitching staff in innings pitched (221.0), while winning 17 games and having a 3.75 ERA. But the shining star was Francisco Liriano, who found his nastiness once again, going 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA while striking out a team high 201. But, once again the Twins reached the postseason and found that team from the Bronx was waiting for them. The Twins did have home field advantage against the Yankees, but a late Yankee rally in games 1 and 2 doomed the Twins, sent them down 0-2 to New York, and were quickly kicked to the curb in game three ending the season. A bitter end to a magical season...

Key Departures:

RHP Jesse Crain (White Sox)
RHP Matt Guerrier (Dodgers)
LHP Brian Fuentes (Athletics)
RHP Jon Rauch (Blue Jays)
2B Orlando Hudson (Padres)
SS JJ Hardy (Orioles)
INF Nick Punto (Cardinals)

As you can see, the entire reliable contingent of the Twins bullpen had their contract years in 2010. And they all were allowed to leave via free agency. It would of been nice to see one of them return. But I guess they were just too expensive for the Twins to return. They Twins also parted ways with with their middle infield tandem of Hudson and Hardy. Hudson left via free agency and Hardy was surprisingly traded to Baltimore. Alexi Casilla, who had an average year off the bench in 2010, will fill in for Hardy at shortstop as the Twins wanted more speed up the middle, which is why Hudson and Hardy were shipped out. The Twins said goodbye to the lone remaining piranha, Nick Punto, as injuries in 2010 scared the Twins from bringing him back in 2011. With Danny Valencia taking the third base job, the Twins had really no room for Punto and he signed on with St. Louis.

Key Acquisitions:

2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.346 average for Chiba Lotte Marines)
LHP Dusty Hughes (3.83 ERA in 57 games in 2010 with KC)
RHP Jim Hoey (Played in minors in 2010 with Baltimore)
RHP Scott Diamond (Played in minors in 2010 with Atlanta)

The Twins marquee signing of the off season was Nishioka. They posted $5 million to talk to him, the signed him for 3 years and $9 million. He is regarded as one of the best players from Japan as the switch hitter batted .346 (Best in Japan) and won the equivalent of a gold glove at the shortstop position. He will play second base to start his major league career with the Twins and will bat in the second spot between Span and Mauer. Nishioka has had an impressive spring hitting .346 with an impressive 13 game hitting streak along the way. Dusty Hughes was a unknown signing late in the winter. His numbers don't stand out, but has been effective during spring and probably will break camp with the team. He does add another lefty presence to the bullpen, which is something the haven't had much of in the past. Jim Hoey and Scott Diamond were acquired separately by the Twins but could very well play together in AAA this season. Hoey was part of the JJ Hardy trade, and features a high 90s fastball, but has control issues with it. Diamond was a rule 5 draft pick, and has not had the best of springs. Rumor has it the Twins are trying to make a deal with the Braves so they can send him to AAA to begin the season, as they liked what they have seen out of him. Look for them to make an impact with the 2011 Twins if they have bullpen issues.

Projected Lineup and Pitching Staff:

Lineup (2010 Stats)

Denard Span CF (.264 AVG, .331 OBP, 47 RBI)
Tsuyoshi Nishioka 2B (First season in MLB)
Joe Mauer C (.327 AVG, 9 HR, 75 RBI)
Justin Morneau 1B (.345 AVG, 18 HR, 56 RBI)
Michael Cuddyer RF (.271AVG, 14 HR, 81 RBI)
Jason Kubel DH (.249 AVG, 21 HR, 92 RBI)
Delmon Young LF (.298 AVG, 21 HR, 112 RBI)
Danny Valencia 3B (.311 AVG, 7 HR, 40 RBI)
Alexi Casilla SS (69 G, .276 AVG, .331 OBP)

Despite losing Hudson and Hardy, this is still a pretty good offense. With the good spring Nishioka has had, he should do very well in the two hole. If Justin Morneau has to miss time with his concussion, Cuddyer will move to first base and Kubel to right field, while Thome will DH. Cuddyer isn't the most defensively sound first baseman but he can do the job just fine there. If Alexi Casilla has issues at shortstop it will be interesting to see how the Twins handle that. The reason he is starting is because management wanted more speed up the middle. But, if he can't hit decently, then the speed is kind of irrelevant. But all in all, this will be a lineup that puts up a lot of runs. Delmon Young is poised for another good year, Danny Valencia gets his first crack at a full season in the major leagues, and they have some guy named Joe Mauer batting third. The Twins will put up some runs. Its a guarantee.


C Drew Butera (49 G, .197 AVG, .237 OBP)
INF Matt Tolbert (48 G, .230 AVG, .293 OBP)
DH Jim Thome (.283 AVG, 25 HR, 59 RBI)
OF Jason Repko (58 G, .228 AVG, .324 OBP)

The only legitimate bat off the bench is Thome. And he and Kubel will probably split time at DH. And all Thome is, is a pinch hit option. His fielding days are well behind him. When the Twins brought back Thome, I had objections to his return on the count of his only being able to hit. But if he can hit like he did in 2010, I won't complain. The rest of the bench are more defensive replacements and givers of the occasional day off to the regulars. Butera is an outstanding defensive catcher, and could become Pavano's personal starter once again. But he is a liability in the batters box. Same could be said for Tolbert and Repko. They are good defensive players and can be pinch runners, but they do not hit well. If Tolbert can't do the job, look for Luke Hughes to steal his job.

Pitching Rotation

Carl Pavano RHP (17-11 3.75 ERA, 221.0 IP)
Francisco Liriano LHP (14-10, 3.62 ERA, 201 K)
Brian Duensing LHP (10-3, 2.62 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)
Nick Blackburn RHP (10-12, 5.42 ERA, 161.0 IP)
Scott Baker RHP (12-9, 4.49 ERA, 170.1 IP)

The one two punch of this rotation should be solid once again for the Twins. Pavano will continue to eat innings and Liriano should continue to have those ace like numbers most times out. But a big key for the Twins will lie with the back three starters. Duensing was 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 13 starts after moving out of the bullpen and most people expect him to have a down year. Blackburn had his worst season in the majors, and his 2010 season included a stint with AAA as he couldn't keep his sinker down. Baker should be a 2-3 starter, but for some reason, he just can't have that great of a season. If one, or two for that matter, of these pitchers struggle mightily, Kevin Slowey and/or Kyle Gibson will move into their place. The Twins success in 2011 will be in large part to the back end of their starting rotation.

Projected Bullpen

Joe Nathan (Missed all of 2010)
Matt Capps (16 SV, 2.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)*
Jose Mijares (47 G, 3.37 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)
Dusty Hughes (57 G, 3.83 ERA, 1.47 WHIP)
Glen Perkins (13 G, 5.82 ERA, 14 K)
Jeff Manship (13 G, 5.28 ERA, 21 K)
Kevin Slowey (13-6, 4.45 ERA, 1.29 WHIP)

Last year, the bullpen was a great strength for the Twins. But in 2011, I consider it a great weakness. As before mentioned, they lost their four top relievers to free agency. They do get Joe Nathan back, but you won't really know what to expect until he gets out there. Nathan and Capps figure to be the closer and eighth inning setup man. Jose Mijares will be the top lefty reliever, and he makes me uneasy most times. He can be really good, or he can really be bad. You don't know what you're going to get from him. Hughes is another lefty reliever, and should do ok, but I would refrain from putting him in big spots. Perkins figures to make the 'pen because he is out of options so I would expect more long relief from him. It will be interesting to see what kind of role Manship has with the team. He could do middle relief or long relief. Slowey also will do more long relief than middle relief, but with this bunch you never know. If the Twins can stay in the hunt long enough, but the pen struggles, look for GM Bill Smith to acquire a more proven reliever.

Players Who Must Bounceback in 2011:

Denard Span
Going into 2010, Span had been a .300 hitter with a .390 on base percentage average in his first two seasons. But he posted career lows in average (.264), on base percentage (.331), and slugging percentage (.348) in 2010. With Orlando Hudson hitting behind him, the Twins were able to get by. But with Nishioka behind Span, he might have to step it up for some good top of the order production. When Span is on the bases, he has good speed and is a legitimate threat to steal. So a bounceback year is key for Denard Span and the top of the order in 2011.

Michael Cuddyer
When Justin Morneau went down with a back injury in September of 2009, Cuddyer stepped up big time. He hit 10 home runs and drove in 29, while the Twins surged back to win the central. And he was rewarded with the Twins picking up his 2011 option. But in 2010, he battled a bad knee most of the year and saw his numbers drop significantly. He only hit 14 home runs and drove in 81. With a more lefty dominant lineup, the right handed hitting Cuddyer must have a return to his 2009 self. It is his contract year, so another off year Cuddyer could be his last in a Twins uniform.

Jason Kubel
2009 was a breakout year for Kubel, as he hit .300, with 28 HR and 103 RBI. He was a big reason why the Twins made it to the postseason. But 2010, was a different story. Kubel's batting average dropped 51 points (.249) and saw his slugging percentage drop 122 points (.427 in '10). He did manage to hit 21 HR and drive in 92, but it was a step back for him. If Kubel has another year like 2010, he could be moved in the off season to make room for some rising prospects in the Twins system.

Nick Blackburn
In the prior two seasons to 2010, Blackburn had pitched an average of 200 innings and carried a 4.04. Not bad for a pitcher who solely pitches to contact. But in 2010, Blackburn lost control of his pitches and found himself demoted from the rotation to the bullpen and then eventually a demotion to AAA to help rediscover his sinker. "Blackie" has been tabbed a starter to open this season and with the uncertainty of the bullpen, the Twins need Blackburn to return to form and eat up a lot of innings.

Scott Baker
Baker isn't someone who can really be defined as having a down year in 2010. But I put him in this category because i believe it is time for him to step up and becoming the pitcher he is capable of being. His WHIP (average Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) has been pretty good over his career (1.279 career average). And he carries a very decent 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings (SO/9) rate. But since he became a regular starter, he has just once produced an ERA below 4 (3.45 in 2008). And he also tends to give decent amount of home runs. Baker has tools to be a front line starter. If he can control his emotions on the mound, he can do just fine.

Joe Nathan
Since coming to the Twins in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, Nathan has been one of the best closers in baseball. Between 2004-09, he averaged 40 saves a year and carries a 1.87 ERA during that time. But early on in Spring of 2010, he suffered a torn UCL and ultimately had Tommy John surgery. To fill his place the Twins used Jon Rauch and Matt Capps. But the Twins need Joe Nathan to return to his all star form. With the bullpen in its current state, the Twins need a reliable pitcher at the end of the 'pen. If he can't get it done, Capps will step in for him and Nathan will go into the middle relief. So here's to hoping he returns to his old smoke throwing self.

Prospects Who Could Impact 2011:

OF Ben Revere
In the four years Revere has been in the Twins system, no one has hit for a better average (.328). He has advanced through the system very quickly as well (A higher level each season). He is a very good contact hitter and has tremendous speed on the bases. Defensively, he has good range, but he carries a weak arm. If one of the starting outfielders has to miss time with injury, look for the Twins to call up Revere and let him play in the outfield instead of Jason Repko. Revere did get a call up with the Twins in 2010 when the rosters expanded in September. Used more as a pinch runner, Revere hit .179 (5-28), with 2 RBI. He will begin the season with AAA Rochester.

INF Trevor Plouffe
The Twins have pushed Plouffe through the system more than let him advance on his own. But he still can be a solid player. Since the Twins drafted him in the first round of the 2004 draft, Plouffe has only hit .254. He has decent power (.419 Slugging percentage at AAA) despite the low average numbers. He primarily plays shortstop, but can play second or third base too. He is not great defensively. He has a decent throwing arm, but his glove work still has a ways to go. If Casilla or Nishioka goes down with injury, look for Plouffe to be the man to fill in for them.

INF Luke Hughes
As I before mentioned on this blog, I believe Hughes as done enough this spring to earn a spot on the opening day roster. He has shown he can rake from the right hand side of the plate (something this team needs!). He might not hit for a decent average, but he is a more scary pinch hitter late in the game than Matt Tolbert. Hughes has played all around the field defensively. He has played more of his time at second base and has played it very well. If the Twins do not go with Tolbert, or he fails to impress them during the season, look for Hughes to take his place on the roster.

P Kyle Waldrop
Last year, the Twins minor leagues did not have many pitchers stand out. But Kyle Waldrop was one of those pitchers. In 59 games out of the Rochester bullpen, he had a 2.57 ERA while striking out 60 in 87.2 innings pitched. He doesn't throw for a high velocity, but makes up for it with decent control. If a bullpen slot should become available, look for the Twins to give Waldrop a call.

P Jim Hoey
Coming over from Baltimore in the JJ Hardy trade, Hoey battled most of spring training for a spot in the bullpen. But ultimately his control issues earned him a trip to AAA to begin the season. He has a power arm and if he can get his control in order, could be a valuable asset to the Twins. Look for him to get a call up for middle relief sometime this season.

P Carlos Gutierrez
Gutierrez was once a starter. But injury and ineffectiveness forced him to become a reliever in the minors. His stats don't jump off the page at anyone (3.93 ERA, 1.42 WHIP), but he is regarded by many as one of the 10 best Twins prospects. He has a high 90s fastball (something most Twins minor leaguers do not have), but an issue for him has been controlling it (3.7 walks per 9 innings). If he can find his control look for him to have a place in the Twins' future, whether their bullpen needs help or not.

P Anthony Slama
For his minor league career, Slama has been a closer. And he has done impressively well (194 G, 85 SV, 1.95 ERA) and now finds himself on the doorstep of being a major league reliever. He did make his MLB debut last year, but had a couple of rough outings and was sent back down to Rochester. Slama is more of a strikeout pitcher (12.5 K per 9 innings pitched) and does not allow many batters to reach base (1.06 WHIP). His fastball doesn't have much velocity, so control is very key to him. Look for him, like the past few guys as well, to get a call up sometime this year for middle relief.

P Kyle Gibson
Gibson fell to the Twins in the late in the first round of the 2009 draft. And in his first year in the Twins system he rose through the ranks and made it to AAA by seasons end (11-6, 2.96 ERA between class A, AA, and AAA). He will begin 2011 at Rochester, but he could be in the majors by the end of '11. He has a good fastball, slider, and changeup. He pitches to contact so a big key for him is keeping the ball down. If Gibson has a season at AAA like he did in 2010, he will be with the Twins full time in 2012. He is that good.

2011 Prediction:
Well, you may of read that yesterday. But my reasoning for that is simple. The Twins did not make the necessary adjustments they needed to (A right handed power bat, proven power bullpen arm) and the White Sox filled the holes they had to. In fact, the Twins took a small step backwards. Their bullpen is a huge liabilty. The back end of the rotation is unpredictable and also should be considered a liability. And their middle infielders speak different languages and have yet to prove themselves in the major leagues (scary!). It pains me to do this. It really does. The Twins will finish second in the AL Central in 2011. The White Sox are just a better team. They have the necessary assets to win. But lets hope I'm wrong. In fact, I really hope I'm wrong! Here's to another good season at Target Field.



The Scruffy Rube said...

Not sure how I've missed this blog for so long. But thanks for writing it. It's clear, well written, and definitely comprehensive. I'm definitely in a mood that's more realistic than optimistic at this point. But...I've often been wrong before (here's hoping I'm wrong again!)

gitesferrett said...

Thanks for the support! I do hope they can prove us wrong!