Monday, April 2, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: Minnesota Twins

Here it is everyone. The Minnesota Twins 2012 Preview.

2011 Recap:
63-99, 5th in AL Central

From the beginning, the Twins never had a chance in 2011. Seemingly every player that opened the season on the 25 man roster, spent time on the DL. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau each missed half the season due to various injuries. The injuries forced the Twins to call up players from AAA and the team suffered greatly. The lineup was punchless, pitchers could not get outs, and the defense played with iron gloves every night. The poor performance saw notable players Jim Thome and Delmon Young traded in August to contending teams. The team finished the year with the second worst record in franchise history with a 63-99 mark (Only the ’82 Twins finished with a worse record going 60-102). The season cost GM Bill Smith his job and his predecessor, Terry Ryan, was brought back to lead the Twins back to respectability.

Key Departures:

RF/1B Michael Cuddyer (Rockies)
OF/DH Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks)
RP Joe Nathan (Rangers)
RP Jose Mijares (Royals)

This was a difficult offseason for any Twins fan, as mainstays Cuddyer, Kubel, and Nathan (The Twins all time saves leader) were allowed to leave via free agency. All three were asking for more than the Twins could afford at this point (With the announcement in the winter that the payroll would decrease to around $100 million). Losing Cuddyer was toughest due to his ability to play anywhere on the field (Including pitcher as we saw last year), something manager Ron Gardenhire values greatly. Kubel’s bat will be tough to replace, but he saw a decline in his numbers in the two seasons the Twins have played at Target Field. Nathan was not effective for the first half of 2011, and he even spent some time on the DL. But when he return he looked much like the 2004-09 Joe Nathan we all loved. Its obvious he wanted to move to a team that had a shot to win a World Series before the right hander decides to hang up the spikes.

Key Acquisitions:

SS Jamey Carroll
OF Josh Willingham
C/1B Ryan Doumit
SP Jason Marquis

One of Terry Ryan’s main objectives, when he took over the GM duties again, was to get the Twins back to playing basaeball, the Twins way. And one of the big components of the Twins Way is to play sound fundamental defense, something that was rarely seen in 2011. So his first move as GM, was signing Dodger SS Jamey Carroll to a 2 year deal to help patch up a hole offensively and defensively at the position. Willingham was brought in to replace Cuddyer’s bat in the lineup. He brings a bit more power than Cuddyer does, but Cuddy was a bit more sound defensively in the outfield. Bringing in Doumit was by far the best decision the Twins made this winter. Doumit can catch and play first base (Area’s the Twins were in need of last year), while being a bit (When I say a bit, I actually mean a lot!) better than the previous backup catcher, Drew Butera. So if Mauer were to miss time due to injury, Doumit can step in and be the team’s starting catcher. The Marquis signing was to add a bit of depth to the rotation in the event of injury. Marquis did have a decent year in 2011 (8-5 3.95 ERA in 20 starts), but has not played a full season since 2009.The guy obviously can still pitch, its just a question of can he stay healthy. Marquis won’t be on the Opening Day roster due to missing time this spring to tend to a family matter. He misses a start or two, but should be back with the team before April ends.

Projected Lineup and Pitching Staff

Lineup (2011 Stats)

Denard Span CF (.264 AVG .328 OBP, 16 RBI)
Jamey Carroll SS (.290 AVG, .359 OBP, 17 RBI)
Joe Mauer C (.287 AVG, .360 OBP, 30 RBI)
Justin Morneau DH (.227 AVG 4 HR, 30 RBI)
Josh Willingham LF (.246 AVG, 29 HR, 98 RBI)
Danny Valencia 3B (.246 AVG, 15 HR, 72 RBI)
Chris Parmelee 1B (.355 AVG, 4 HR, 14 RBI)
Alexi Casilla 2B (.260 AVG, .322 OBP, 15 SB)
Ben Revere RF (.267 AVG, .310 OBP, 34 SB)

If these players can stay on the field, they should have no issue putting up some runs. This lineup has speed at the top, power in the middle, and speed at the bottom. But, there is a big IF there as Span, Mauer, and Morneau all missed significant time due to injury. All signs are a go for Span and Mauer this year, and Morneau should be fine assuming he plays most of his time at DH (His hot hitting this past week in spring has been a sight for sore eyes). But you never know what to expect as he continues to battle post concussion symptoms. I like Willingham hitting behind Mauer and Morneau as he brings serious power to the lineup. If the stars lineup, Willingham could reach the 100 RBI mark for the first time in his career. The bottom of the order should wreak havoc on pitchers with speedsters Casilla, Revere, then back to the top of the order to Span all having above average speed. This is a really good lineup. Just knock on some wood everybody can remain in it.

Bench (2011 Stats)

Ryan Doumit C/1B (.303 AVG, 8 HR, 30 RBI)
Sean Burroughs INF (.273 AVG, .289 OBP, 8 RBI)
Luke Hughes INF (.223 AVG, 7 HR, 30 RBI)
Trevor Plouffe OF (.238 AVG, 8 HR, 31 RBI)

The Twins bench is a bit more deep compared to last year’s bench on Opening Day (Drew Butera, Jim Thome, Matt Tolbert, and Jason Repko). Ryan Doumit will be a significant upgrade over incumbent backup catcher, Butera, due to the fact Doumit has been able to hit higher than .250 several times in his career. The only knock on Doumit is he has been injury prone over his career. He should mostly see time as catcher as he gives Mauer a day off or lets Joe play first, but you could also see Doumit play some time at first too. Then you have the youngsters Hughes, who has had a phenomenal spring, and Plouffe who both saw significant time with the team last year, but as you can see, they really struggled. Look for Hughes to play first second or third this year and Plouffe will be primarily used as a fourth outfielder. Burroughs was out of baseball between 2007 and 2010. He finally got back in the bigs last year and played briefly with Arizona. He obviously had a decent spring with the Twins to earn a spot on the club, but you have to wonder how short of a leash does he have going into 2012?

Rotation (2011 Stats)

Carl Pavano RHP (9-13 4.30 ERA 222.0 IP)
Francisco Liriano LHP (9-10 5.09 ERA 112 K)
Liam Hendriks RHP (0-2 6.17 ERA 23.1 IP)
Nick Blackburn RHP (7-10 4.49 ERA 148.1 IP)
Scott Baker RHP (8-6 3.14 ERA 123 K)*
Jason Marquis RHP (8-5 3.95 ERA 120.2 IP)*
*Will not be on the Opening Day roster

As you can see, the Twins will begin the year with a four man rotation. Scott Baker (injury) and Jason Marquis (Personal) will not be on the opening day roster. Once again, the Twins turn to the veteran right hander Carl Pavano to take the ball on Opening Day in Baltimore. It will be Pavano’s second consecutive Opening Day start for the Twins. But as you can also see, this staff struggled mightily in 2011. They also battled various trips to the DL as Pavano was the only one to not make a trip to it. Francisco Liriano had a very impressive spring coming off a dismal year, but at this point it’s a tossup as to what you can expect from the lefty this year. Hendriks could be a nice surprise for the Twins in 2012 if pitches like he is capable of pitching, but you would have to believe that when Baker and Marquis comes back, Hendriks will be the one sent back down. Blackburn has struggled since signing his new contract prior to 2010 after coming off back to back years where he threw a minimum of 190 innings, having a ERA around 4. But since then he has seen time on the DL and has lost his sinker ball causing him to be ineffective and not pitching deep in ball games. This staff is crucial for the Twins in 2012 if they want to have a chance to compete.

Bullpen (2011 Stats)

Matt Capps (4.25 ERA, 15 SV, 65.2 IP)
Glen Perkins (2.48 ERA, 61.2 IP, 65K)
Brian Duensing (9-14 5.23 ERA 161.2 IP)
Matt Maloney (9.16 ERA, 18.2 IP, 13 K)
Anthony Swarzak (4-7, 4.32 ERA, 102.0 IP)
Jared Burton (3.86 ERA, 4.2 IP, 3 K)
Alex Burnett (5.51 ERA, 50.2 IP, 33 K)
Jeff Gray (2.70 ERA, 13.1 IP, 7 K)

One better hope that the aforementioned starters can pitch 6+ innings consistently. Because behind Duensing, Perkins, and Capps, this bullpen looks mightily inconsistent. And even Capps is a wild card coming off a awful year which saw him get booed off the Target Field mound more times than he closed out a ball game successfully. Duensing had a bad year, but that was while he was in the rotation. He has had better success when he comes out of the bullpen in the late innings, so he should do just fine there once again. Swarzak should once again be claiming his role as long reliever/spot starting, a place I am just fine with him being in. Alex Burnett once again will make the team, despite his awful numbers in his first two seasons in the big leagues. He has the potential to be a late innings guy for this club, but he is still a long way from that. Then we have newcomers Maloney, Burton, and Gray who all had limited time in MLB last year, so hopefully one of them can be a hidden gem for Ron Gardenhire out of the pen. Like the starters, the bullpen is crucial for the club in 2012. But the starters and lineup have to get them the ball with the lead before we can truly say they are crucial.

Players Who Must Step Up In 2012

Joe Mauer
In the first season of his 8 year/$184 million contract, Mauer disappointed, as he battled various injuries, and was limited to 82 games. The Twins had to use Drew Butera in his absence, and the Twins suffered due to Butera's poor hitting ability. This year, all signs point to Mauer being at 100% health. This year, the Twins brought in Ryan Doumit to backup Mauer, so look for Mauer to get more time playing first or DHing so there is less risk of injury. Look for Mauer to have a bounceback season in 2012.

Justin Morneau
Its hard to put Morneau in here due to the nature of his condition, but he is just as needed as Mauer is. Morneau battled injuries and post concussion symptoms which saw him play 69 games and only hit .227. Going into 2012, the plan is for Morneau to be primarily DH, so there is less chance of him aggravating his symptoms. In the last week of Spring, Morneau has been the Twins hottest hitter. Lets just hope he can carry that into the regular season.

Francisco Liriano
Everyone thought the 2010 Liriano would return in 2011. But instead, we saw more of the 2009 Liriano, who couldn't command his pitches and often fell behind to batters causing many walks and hits. And as a result, Liriano saw his ERA rise over 5 for the second time in his career. If the Twins have success in 2012, they need the 2010 Liriano to return to his ace form. It looks so far so good for that happening this spring, but he too needs to carry it into the season.

Matt Capps
Last year, Capps was far from reliable coming in the 8th or 9th inning (He split time with Joe Nathan as the team's closer). He saw his ERA go from 2.47 in 2010 to 4.25 in 2011. And now, the Twins are without Joe Nathan, and Capps will be the Twins full time closer. When the Twins brought Capps back this offseason, Terry Ryan mentioned that relievers go through phases, and that Matt Capps was just going through a bad one. Lets hope he was right.

Brian Duensing
Duensing was a full time starter in 2011 after splitting time between the rotation and bullpen in 2010. But Duensing struggled being a starter and the plan for him in 2012 will for him to be a late inning guy out of the bullpen (Duensing has a career 3.31 ERA compared to a 4.15 ERA as a starter). If the Twins can get the lead late in the game, they need Duensing to step up and help get the ball to Capps in the ninth.

Prospects Who Could Impact The Twins In 2012

SP Liam Hendriks
Hendriks came up for a cup of coffee in 2011 with the Twins. In his brief time with the club (4 starts), he went 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA in 23.1 innings pitched. Obviously, those four starts do not tell the whole story with Hendriks. Hendriks has excellent control of all his pitches (21 walks in 139.1 innings pitched in the minors in 2011), and has been able to keep the ball in the ballpark (5 home runs allowed all of 2011). Hendriks is due to begin the season with the Twins, but will probably see some time at AAA this year as well.

SS Brian Dozier
No one turned more heads in the Twins organization than Dozier did in 2011. Dozier has shown quite the offensive skill set while playing at a position the Twins are in real need of. Last year, Dozier hit .320 with a .399 on base percentage while slugging .491. He also had 56 RBI, while moving up from Fort Myers to New Britain. Dozier was one of the final cuts from the major league camp in spring and will start the year at AAA. But look for Dozier to get called up should someone go down with injury.

1B Chris Parmelee
Parmelee was a September call up last year for the Twins. And in his month up here Parmelee did not disappoint as he hit .355 and had a on base percentage of .443. He also added 14 RBI with the Twins on top of his 83 he drove in with New Britain. Parmelee continued his hot hitting this spring, and earned himself on the opening day roster. Look for Chris to spend much of his time up here as the first baseman, while Justin Morneau plays DH. If Parmelee can continue his hot hitting into the year, he should have no trouble staying with the Twins the entire year.

OF Joe Benson
Benson, like Parmelee, was called last September by the Twins. He didn't have the same type of success Parmelee did, he still did decently in his month with the club. Benson can just about do it all. He can hit (.285 AVG, .388 OBP, .495 SLG in 2011), he has tremendous speed, and he can play good defense in the outfield. Benson will begin the season at AAA, but he could see serious time up here if an outfielder goes down with injury.

2012 Prediction:
Come back to Twin Minds tomorrow for our AL Central Preview and find out where we picked the Twins to finish in the standings in 2012.

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