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Minnesota Twins Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 63-99 Manager: Ron Gardenhire

Name it, if it could have gone wrong in Minneapolis, it went wrong during the 2011 season. Gone are some old mainstays in the outfield, Mike Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, and also Joe Nathan. Unfortunately, they left in free agency instead of getting some decent prospects in a trade deadline deal. So now Terry Ryan is back at GM to straighten things out.

Player in the spotlight: Joe Mauer C

Great hair and a great swing. But pneumonia and other assorted issues have sidelined or affected Mauer for the past two seasons. He’s at the beginning of his megadeal that will net him over $180M and the Twins can’t afford any more seasons like last year. They need 150 games and his typical top 5 hitting season to give this team any kind of hope for this season.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Justin Morneau 1B/DH

It’s been a season and a half since Morneau suffered that concussion in July of 2010. Since then Morneau hasn’t been the same with problems from post-concussion syndrome and other physical issues. If he can climb his way back to being an average middle of the order hitter to go along with a healthy Mauer, the Twins could climb back over .500. That’s a lot of ifs, and only with two players.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Francisco Liriano

Most potential contenders would have already given up on the enigmatic, yet extremely talented LIriano. But the Twins are still hoping against hope and they need a season like 2010 out of Liriano if they have any chance to compete this year. If he doesn’t start showing the kind of consistency they are looking for, expect Liriano to be wearing a new uniform by the end of July.

Biggest pitching question mark: Scott Baker

The oft-injured Twins best pitcher from 2011 was Baker. Now he’s on the shelf with some elbow problems and he’ll be getting a second opinion next week. The Twins need a healthy Baker to contribute if they hold any hope of returning to the postseason.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Joe Benson OF

It’s just a matter of time for Benson, who will start the year at AAA. Denard Span has been rumored to be traded for a little while now and he’ll probably get dealt for some pitching health when Benson is ready.

Prediction: 5th in AL Central

Ron Gardenhire is one heck of a manager. That’s the only real reason for optimism for this edition of the Twins. He’s been able to stabilize some of the most challenging situations over the years and he’s a primary reason for hope this season. Of course, it helps if Mauer and Morneau are able to bounce back and if the pitchers can stay healthy and pitch well enough. They should be better than last year, of course. But how much better? If everything goes right, they could surprise and win 85-88 games and compete for the wildcard. But that’s a HUGE if. More likely is a season with less injuries than last year but where there’s a lot of turnover on the pitching staff and a season spent looking for the right mix in the lineup. It feels like a 75-78 win team that will compete with Kansas City more than Detroit in the standings over the season.

The Giants Lose Buster Posey, How Do They Replace His Production?

Posey is probably done for the season

Buster Posey’s home plate collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins on Wednesday knocked the 2010 NL rookie of the year out; probably for the season. The Giants offense has been mediocre, at best, and bordering on atrocious even with Posey. Only the Twins have scored fewer runs than the defending champions in all of baseball. The Giants needed to upgrade their offense before the injury; now that HAVE to upgrade it soon to remain a viable contender in the NL West.

Offense is down across the board in baseball and the Giants won’t be the only contender searching for an upgrade to their lineup. As the calendar turns to June, trade talk will be heating up and it’s probably prudent to be the team that strikes first. There aren’t going to be more than a few impact bats available this summer and the Giants have to ensure that they acquire at least one of them.

So who’s going to available and who should the Giants target?

Jose Reyes’ name continues to pop up as player that the Giants would want to trade for and they have a need to upgrade shortstop. Reyes is heading to free agency after the season and the Mets have been unwilling to extend his contract and will probably look to move him eventually. The problem for the Giants is that they need offense now. But even if the Mets don’t deal Reyes now, the Giants should still have interest, if, and when they deal him in July.

Carlos Beltran is also in his last season with the Mets. There’s probably no chance that he returns to Queens and he might be the best hitter available this summer. While Beltran can still play center field occasionally, he probably more suited to a corner now. But that’s fine since the Giants could use production anywhere in the outfield, especially in right field where Cody Ross has struggled so far this season. Beltran probably wouldn’t cost the Giants a top prospect, especially if they were to take on the remainder of Beltran’s $20 million salary for this season.

The Twins are probably going to be sellers this summer. The question then leads to which players are going to be made available? Jason Kubel and Mike Cuddyer are both free agents following this season and should be made available. The Twins biggest need is high end starting pitching and the Giants have that with Madison Bumgarner and potentially Zach Wheeler in the minors. Both might be available in the right package. The Twins would probably have to trade both of these players and pay most of their remaining 2011 salary for the Giants to part with either young pitcher.

But, what about Justin Morneau? Morneau isn’t a free agent but is owed two more years at $14 million per season plus the remainder of his $14M for 2011. While Brandon Belt is seen as the first baseman of the future for the Giants, he’s played both corner outfield positions and could probably play left field until Morneau’s contract expires after the 2013 season. The 2007 AL MVP has struggled to start the season since coming back from the concussion that ended his 2010 season. But if Morneau can start hitting well, the Giants could have an interest. The Twins would be interested in moving Morneau if they can get quality pitching in return and it would open up first base for Joe Mauer. It would also give them some financial flexibility going forward.

Derrek Lee is another first base option should the Giants pursue him. Lee is on a one-year deal with the Orioles for just over $7 million and has been a gold glove fielder in the past. Lee’s currently on the DL with an oblique strain, but could be a good option when he gets healthy.

Juan Rivera is in the final year of his contract with the Blue Jays and might be a cheap option if the Giants were to deem him an upgrade over their current outfielders.

Out of this group, Reyes is the best player, but the price will be steep to obtain him. They have to know that they can re-sign him if they are to give up the top prospects that the Mets would want. If the Giants wanted to really make a big move, they would try to get both Reyes and Beltran in the same deal, with Bumgarner/Wheeler headlining it and two other quality prospects. The Giants ability to take on salary would be a huge advantage when dealing with the Mets.

Unfortunately for the Giants and others, there won’t be that much offense that’s going to be available. That means the price for decent hitters could be at a premium. The key will be to strike quickly and aggressively upgrade sooner to avoid engaging in a bidding war.

If the Giants wait until July to pull the trigger on a big deal, more teams will be dealing with injuries and looking for last minute offensive upgrades. Most teams can’t take on salary, especially this early in the season. But the Giants have sold out every game so far this year and should have the extra money to invest in reinforcements.  The time to make a deal is the next ten days when other contenders are willing or haven’t decided who to target in a deal.

The Phillies are Another Phlawed Phavorite

Madson's been great but he needs help

The Fightins’, along with the Red Sox, were everybody’s favorites coming into this season due to their unexpected free agent signing of Cliff Lee to go along with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. The comparisons were made to the 1971 Orioles staff that featured four 20-game winners and the Phans were talking about one of the best pitching staffs of all time.

But the Phillies have just put 5th starter Joe Blanton back on the DL while their bullpen continues to be perilously thin. Eighth inning stalwart Ryan Madson has been closing since interim closer Jose Contreras got hurt a few weeks ago. Madson has been great in the role, but there’s really nobody left to handle the 8th inning. Rookie Michael Stutes has done well when called upon but manager Charlie Manuel hasn’t shown that he’s completely confident in handing the 8th inning to Stutes yet.

The back end of the bullpen doesn’t necessarily hurt top teams during the regular season, but a lack of quality depth for the Phillies in the pen will be felt if they reach the playoffs again.

The Phillies offense showed signs of slowing down last season, especially during the NLCS against the Giants, and this year they look rather ordinary. They should improve substantially if Chase Utley is able to return to his all star form, but the lineup is still extremely vulnerable to left handed pitchers.

The Braves exploited the Phillies weakness against lefties last weekend with their THREE lefty relievers George Sherrill, Eric O’Flaherty, and the unhittable Jonny Venters. Make no mistake, the Braves built their bullpen to face and beat the Phillies in September and maybe October.

With Shane Victorino heading to the DL with a strained hamstring, the lineup becomes even more vulnerable to lefties. Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco are the only regulars who hits right handed and Jimmy Rollins isn’t that bad from the right side but isn’t even close to the all star and MVP that he was a few years ago. Jayson Werth’s big right handed bat is gone and that vacancy has become a major hole in the Phillies lineup.

This is where the lineup holes and the bullpen issues intersect. When the Braves or another opponent is creating situational matchups entirely one-sided in their favor, the Phillies lack of bullpen depth leaves them susceptible to blown saves and losses as the games go deeper.

In St. Louis a few days ago, the Phillies were forced to go to Danys Baez in the 9th inning because of their lack of depth and Baez isn’t capable of shutting the door in the 6th or 7th inning anymore, let alone the 9th.

The Phillies will get healthier, maybe, as the season goes on. Contreras and Brad Lidge are expected to return at some point. Utley and Victorino should be back in the lineup in a few weeks with Utley’s return maybe coming next week. But the Phillies age, bullpen, and hitting against southpaws will still remain an issue until GM Ruben Amaro addresses them.

With a payroll of almost $166 million, there’s probably not much more salary that can be brought on board. The team has traded many good prospects over the past few seasons and they might be reluctant to deal their top prospects this season.

If they aren’t willing to deal top prospects, then they’ll probably end up like they did last season, losing before the World Series. They need to address those three issues that they have. They can’t really get younger but acquiring quality depth would help them rest their aging stars more with little drop in performance. The lineup depth needs to be centered on acquiring a pair of right handed bats, preferably an outfielder who can play all three positions and an infielder.

One name that was mentioned in a Philly paper was Mike Cuddyer of the Twins. Yes, he’d be a really good fit because of his incredible versatility. He’s able to play the corner outfield positions and all of the infield positions except short. But he’s making over $10M in the last year of his contract. If the Twins are to eat the remaining money on that, they would have to receive a top prospect in return, probably a pitcher. Are the Phils willing to deal one of Colvin, Cosart, or May for Cuddyer?

As for the bullpen, they have to get an experienced setup man or closer to pair with Madson. Manuel really loves Madson in the 8th inning so the Phillies might want to go after a closer. But, like the Cuddyer-type move, that kind of player is going to cost prospects, heavy duty prospects if salary eating is involved.

Maybe the Phillies can get the Twins to split the cost on Cuddyer and Matt Capps while only giving them one of those pitching prospects with a marginal prospect?

Whatever the Phillies decide, they don’t want to be late to the table when dinner is called and find out that the best players have already been traded.

AL Central Weekly Overview April 12

AL Central Weekly Overview April 12

As of April 11      
AL Central W L PCT
Cleveland 8 2 0.800
Kansas City 6 3 0.667
Chicago 6 4 0.600
Minnesota 3 6 0.333
Detroit 3 7 0.300

 

Cleveland Indians

Pitching

The Indians are one of the pleasant surprises in baseball this season. While they are hitting well, it’s the pitching that has led them to the top of the AL Central so far. After getting shellacked by the White Sox in their first two games, the Tribe’s staff has surrendered only 14 runs in winning their last 8 games. That includes a win over the White Sox and a 3 game sweep over the World Series of Winter champions, the Red Sox.

Opening Day starter Fausto Carmona has the worst ERA of 9.00 but shutout the Red Sox for seven innings last week. Carlos Carrasco recovered from his bad performance to get his ERA down to 5.68. In order for the Indians to remain on top, they will need to continue their good pitching and avoid the kind of starts they had to start the season. Keeping their ERA around their current 3.60 mark should keep them competitive all season. The bullpen has been solid as well, with 10 runs allowed in 28 IP and no blown saves.

Lineup

The Indians lineup is fourth in the AL in hitting with a .276 average and is third with a .791 OPS. Asdrubal Cabrera has started fast as he’s hitting over .300 with 4 HRs after last season’s struggles. New pickup Orlando Cabrera has hit .361 and replacement third baseman Jack Hannahan has scored 7 times in his 9 games.

The Tribe has been successful without good production from the two players they expected to lead them coming into the season. Carlos Santana and Shin-Soo Choo have both struggled and when they get going, their offense might be one of the best in the AL.

Overview

The offense is only going to get better with Choo and Santana’s production and they also get Grady Sizemore back in a few weeks. The Indians won’t get the kind of pitching that they’ve had the past 8 games, but the start of the season is definitely promising. The ability of the Indians starters to consistently pitch well enough to post a sub-4.00 ERA moves them from a potential .500 team to a team that can win at least 90 games and the AL Central. The Indians will play another two against the Angels and then go home to face the surprising Orioles for three.

Kansas City Royals

Pitching

The Royals pitching has done well enough to keep them close and they’ve capitalized with some late wins. The possibility for the Royals to remain above .500 is going to be the responsibility of their starters to pitch decently. Jeff Francis has pitched really well in two starts and Bruce Chen has been good since last August. Opening Day starter Luke Hochever finally had a solid start last time out after two mediocre ones and Kyle Davies has struggled in his starts. But will need to improve to keep the Royals winning.

Joakim Soria actually blew a save and the Royals are still doing well. He’s the great equalizer with the good teams of the league as their might not be a better closer than him. The key is the Royals giving him chances to close games out. Crow, Jeffress, Collins, and Adcock are all young relievers who have done well since the start of the season. The Royals will need to lean on their good young arms in the bullpen to support their below average starting staff.

Lineup

The Royals offense has been surprisingly good so far with one-time top prospects Billy Butler and Alex Gordon leading the way. Both are hitting well over .300 and hitting like legitimate middle of the order hitters. Melky Cabrera has been a solid pickup so far as they have leaned on a few veteran journeymen for stable production in their lineup. The Royals are going to need highly regarded shortstop Alcides Escobar to produce when some of their other players cool off if they are going to be productive all season.

Overview

The Royals are probably not going to be contending all season, but they are showing some life and could be trouble for opponents this year. If they are to be in the race until September, then the bullpen is going to have to carry their starters as there doesn’t appear to be much quality with their starting staff. Their lineup should get a boost in a month or two if they decide to bring up prospect Mike Moustakas. If he’s able to contribute, their lineup might be decent enough to pull out low scoring games late. The Royals get two games in the Twin Cities against last year’s AL Central champions and then play four against the Mariners at home. They have to take care of business against teams like the Mariners.

Chicago White Sox

Pitching

The White Sox pitching has been a little mediocre so far this season and their ace, Mark Buehrle, hasn’t been great. Buerhle did pitch well against Oakland on Monday, but had struggled in his two other starts and he just isn’t getting the ball past any hitters, with 3 K’s in 19 IP. The other starters have been all right to pretty good to start the season.

The bullpen has blown four saves already, although the Monday night loss to Oakland was as much due to Juan Pierre’s drop than anything. But Matt Thornton is 0 for 3 closing and Chris Sale is 1 for 2. While it is early, the White Sox don’t have another possible closer on the roster and might have to make a deal if these two can’t get the job done.

Lineup

The offense has been very good as the White Sox lead the AL with a .295 average and 63 runs scored. The lineup is that solid up and down and should remain at or near the top all season. Only Alex Rios, at .209, is really struggling so far.

Overview

The White Sox should remain in contention all season due to solid starting pitching and one of the best lineups in the majors. The starters will get even better if Jake Peavy is able to return and pitch as he has in the past. The bullpen is the question mark as both Thornton and Sale have struggled and Bobby Jenks is in Boston. GM Ken Williams is one of the best and he might have to make an early season move if the bullpen continues to blow sure wins.

The Sox stay at home this week with two more games against the A’s and then the Angels come to town for three. This is a good opportunity to put more distance between them and the Twins while getting closer to the Indians.

Minnesota Twins

Pitching

The Twins starters have really struggled with the exception of Nick Blackburn. It could just be a product of playing at Skydome and at Yankee Stadium for their first 7 games, but they will have to pitch in other hitter friendly ballparks as the season goes on.

Matt Capps has been very good in his setup role, but hasn’t needed to close because Joe Nathan has been solid as well in his return from Tommy John surgery. Their other relievers have been pretty solid as well as their bullpen has surrendered 9 runs in 27 IP for a 3.00 ERA.

Lineup

The friendly hitting confines only affected the Twins pitching staff as their hitters struggled as well. The Twins are only hitting .214 and have the lowest slugging percentage in the AL at .288. In addition to the overall struggles of their hitters, they also lost rookie Tsuyoshi Nishioka for a few months with a broken leg. Luke Hughes has been called up to replace him and started two games. The Twins lineup is deep and Nishioka’s unproven bat probably won’t be missed, but he’s going to need more time to adjust to the majors now.

These hitters on the Twins are too good to struggle for much longer. While you never know when a veteran like Jim Thome might be at the end, perennial MVP candidates Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will eventually heat up and the Twins should be an above average offensive team.

Overview

It’s early and the Twins dropped 2 of 3 to the Yankees, but they always do that. What hurt was losing 2 of 3 to Toronto and then doing the same at home to the A’s last weekend. As long as they start to get good outings from their starters, they should start winning. If their starters are still struggling in a few weeks, then GM Bill Smith might be on the phones looking for another starter or call up prospect Kyle Gibson.

The Twins get two against the second place Royals and then play four in St. Pete against the Rays. Assuming that the Rays are not what they have been, then the Twins have a very good chance to make up some ground over the next two series.

Detroit Tigers

Pitching

The Tigers thought they were playing a manageable schedule to start the season but they are 3-7 with series losses to the Yankees, Orioles, and Royals. Their pitching has been the main culprit as they have a 5.76 team ERA. Only Jason Verlander has an ERA under 4.00 out of the starters and the questions about the rest of the starters behind him remain after a week and a half. Ironically, Max Scherzer is 2-0, but his success is unlikely to continue if he doesn’t improve his 5.73 ERA. Phil Coke has pitched decently in two starts after coming out of the pen, but Rick Porcello and Brad Penny have been abysmal. They need more than Verlander to pitch well to remain in the AL Central hunt.

Lineup

The Tigers are in the middle of the pack with a .254 batting average (7th in AL). But a close look sees them at only 10th in OBP. Even with a .432 slugging mark, the Tigers lack of base runners is restricting their ability to score runs. Miguel Cabrera continues to produce like an annual MVP candidate. But Austin Jackson has regressed since last year’s strong rookie season. He hasn’t cut down on his strikeouts and has a .262 OBP. He’s not the only one as #2 hitter Will Rhymes, cleanup hitter Magglio Ordonez, and free agent pickup Victor Martinez are all struggling. But the top of the order sets the tone for any lineup and Jackson and Rhymes have to improve to get the Tigers on track.

Overview

The Tigers have to find a way to get better work from their pitching staff if they want to remain in the AL Central race. As obvious as that is, it could take sending out 22 year old Rick Porcello to AAA to rediscover how to pitch winning baseball again. Top prospect Andy Oliver could be on the fast track to the Tigers if their pitching continues to struggle.

The lineup issues should resolve themselves somewhat as Martinez and Ordonez are very good hitters who are probably just starting slow. But the top of the order is something to keep an eye on as Jackson could suffer from a sophomore slump, especially if he continues to swing and miss as often as he does.

The Tigers received news that Joel Zumaya has suffered a setback in his rehab and Magglio Ordonez has some issues as well. While the news to Zumaya was disappointing, it’s not unexpected as the Tigers haven’t been able to rely on him for a number of years. Ordonez issues could be something that lingers throughout the season. The silver lining with that is that both Brandon Boesch and Ryan Raburn have hit better than Ordonez and will play more if Ordonez has to sit.

The good news with the standings is that Cleveland isn’t expected to run away with the division and could just as easily drop 8 in a row. But the Tigers can’t afford to drop too far behind the Twins and White Sox if they hope to be in contention in August and September.

Minnesota Twins Opening Day Overview

Minnesota Twins Opening Day Overview

Manager: Ron Gardenhire           GM: Bill Smith

  Lineup:
1 CF Denard Span
2 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka
3 C Joe Mauer
4 1B Justin Morneau
5 LF Delmon Young
6 RF Mike Cuddyer
7 DH Jim Thome/Jason Kubel
8 3B Danny Valencia
9 SS Alexi Casilla

 

Span took a step back in his development last season as his averages dropped across the board. His overall OPS dropped from .807 in 2009 to .679 last season. It’s amazing that the Twins offense was so good despite Span’s performance. If Span can revert to his 2009 numbers as a 27 year old this season, the Twins could have the best offense in the AL.  

Nishioka comes over from Japan after winning their Pacific League batting title last season. He’s got a good glove and if he can provide above average production out of the #2 hole, the Twins offense will be lethal. The Twins would definitely be happy with a .350 OBP and a modest .400 or so slugging while playing a high quality second base.

Mauer’s homer numbers dropped in his first year at Target Field. But the 9 HRs matched what he did in 2008. His 53 extra base hits were the second best total of his career to his 2009 season. Assuming that the 2009 season was somewhat of an anomaly, the Twins should expect another typical Mauer season with at least a .325 AVG, .400 OBP, and .480 SLG. Would anybody have a problem with that?

Morneau was on his way to a ridiculous season statistically last year when the concussion ended his season. Assuming that Morneau is fully recovered from the injury, he should have a huge season. There’s no reason by he can’t get over 30 HRs and get on base at a .360 or better average and drive in over 100 runs.

Young moves up in the order after a huge breakout season last year. At 25, Young should only get better. A key component in his continued improvement will come from increasing his walks to over 50 this season. If improves his pitch selection, all of his averages will increase and Young might join Mauer and Morneau in the AL MVP race.

Cuddyer is a pretty steady contributor whose biggest contribution is his versatility. He played over 10 games at 1B, RF, and 3B last year. That kind of flexibility gives Gardenhire a lot of options when filling out his lineup card. Last year, Cuddyer took a step back due to the big dropoff in HRs both at home and on the road. Assuming that he’s recovered from offseason knee surgery, Cuddyer should return to an OPS of over .800 this season.

Thome slugged over .600 last season for the first time since his final year in Cleveland in 2002. The Twins can’t count on that again but if Thome can contribute what he had in the few seasons before last year, the Twins can count on a .830 OPS or so from their lefty DH. Kubel will spot start in RF and DH against lefties. Kubel hit over 20 HRs for the third consecutive season but his average dipped below .250 and his other averages suffered as a result. The Twins could really use Kubel to return to his .800 or so career level OPS this season.

Valencia had a really good rookie season as he hit over .300 and posted an OPS close to .800. If he maintains or improves his production, Gardenhire might consider moving Valencia to the #2 spot in the order if Nishioka or Span struggles.

Casilla had a decent comeback season in limited playing time after an awful 2009. If Casilla doesn’t maintain an OPS of at least .700, the Twins could make a trade to upgrade here or give AAA Trevor Plouffe another shot.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Carl Pavano
2 LHP Francisco Liriano
3 RHP Nick Blackburn
4 RHP Scott Baker
5 LHP Brian Duensing

 

Pavano had his second best season last year for the Twins. At 35, it’s difficult to forecast another near career best season, but if Pavano can keep his ERA under 4.00 and start another 32 games, then the Twins should expect about 15 wins.

Liriano is the best starter the Twins have in the majors. He’s fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery of a few years back and whatever problems he seemed to have appeared corrected. The key for Liriano is to continue to keep the HRs down and get his IP over 200. If he can continue to pitch like last season and add some innings, Liriano could improve his win total to 16-18 this year.

Blackburn struggled last season and his numbers didn’t reflect a more pitcher friendly home field. The Twins need Blackburn to return to his 2008-2009 form when his ERA was just over 4.00 and he won 11 games each season. With this offense, he might be able to increase the win total by a few wins with a similar performance this year.

Baker has been a steady performer over the years and an offseason surgical cleaning of his pitching elbow might help him improve this season. The biggest challenge for Baker is keeping the ball in the park as his HR rate is above average. If he can improve that, then he could provide 200 IP and 13-15 wins.

Duensing pitched very well after entering the rotation in the middle of last season. While he’s not expected to be a top of the rotation guy, he could be a solid #3 starter if he makes 30+ starts and keeps his ERA under 3.50. If he does this, he could win 15 games and the Twins will most likely play important games in October again..

  Bullpen
CL RHP Joe Nathan
SET RHP Matt Capps
  LHP Jose Mijares
  RHP Jeff Manship
  LHP Glen Perkins
  LHP Dusty Hughes
  RHP Kevin Slowey

 

Nathan returns after undergoing Tommy John surgery in spring training last year. The Twins are hopeful that Nathan is ready to return to his dominating form, but history tells us that TJ surgery patients typically need about 18 months to return to normal. Nathan has a chance to defy those odds, but the Twins shouldn’t count on it.

Capps is the backup closer in the event that Nathan isn’t fully recovered. He’ll probably fill in for Nathan on back-to-back save opportunities as the Twins shouldn’t press their luck with Nathan’s new elbow. Capps was very good last year after coming over from the Nationals and as long as he doesn’t revert to his uncharacteristic 2009 form with the Pirates, the Twins have a very good alternative to Nathan.

Mijares has served as a lefty specialist and might be called on to face more righties this season. If he’s able to produce at the same levels given the additional work, the Twins should be solid in the 7th and 8th innings.

Manship hasn’t proven to be capable in his parts of two seasons with the Twins. Perkins is a former starter moved to the pen but it’s difficult to see what value he has right now. Hughes had modest success last season with the Royals and could be a viable lefty specialist. Slowey competed for the 5th starter role and will be the first to replace an ineffective or injured starter and provide long relief.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 RHP Kyle Gibson
2 OF Ben Revere
3 SS Trevor Plouffe

 

Gibson is the top prospect and could be called up if there are problems with their starters and Slowey isn’t the answer. Revere is the Twins top OF prospect and could replace Span in CF if Span doesn’t return to his previous production levels. Plouffe will get a call up if Casilla doesn’t hit at SS.

Three Questions:

1. Will Justin Morneau make a full comeback from his concussion issues and stay healthy?

  • The Twins excelled last year without the former AL MVP but it’s difficult to imagine that they would continue to be better without Morneau returning to his highly productive ways. The key last year in Morneau’s absence was the resurgence of 40 year old Jim Thome. It will be difficult for Thome to repeat that performance again.

2. How long will it take before the Twins address their glaring bullpen holes?

  • Joe Nathan is a major question mark because of last year’s TJ surgery. Capps would be a really solid 8th inning setup guy if he isn’t needed to replace or fill-in for Nathan. After these two, Mijares has some talent and could be solid in the 7th and 8th, but he’s the last known proven commodity. Everybody else in the bullpen is a major question mark and the bullpen would be paper thin if Nathan isn’t ready to pitch well.

3. Can the Twins rotation help the Twins win a postseason series?

  • The Twins starting staff is filled with #2, #3, and #4 starters with nobody that’s great or really bad. That’s a solid formula for regular season success as long as the lineup hits at a high level. But when the calendar turns to October, you typically need a great pitcher to lead the way and the Twins don’t appear to have that guy. Could top prospect Kyle Gibson step in an provide that or does Bill Smith need to work the phones to find a top of the rotation guy by July?

 

Projection

The Twins are well built for another AL Central winning season. With a top ranked offense and solid starting pitching, the Twins should be near or at the top of the AL Central all season long. They are going to need to address their bullpen, probably sooner than later and unearthing a top flight starter could be the difference in going from another Division Series loss to a trip to the ALCS.