Even though Major League Baseball has tried to increase the excitement and hope of franchises by adding another playoff team to each league, the surest way for teams to make the post season is to win their divisions. Winning their division should be the foremost goal for each and every team each season. Kansas City Royals‘ fans should always have at least a bit of knowledge about each of the Royals’ division rivals in the American League Central. This is the first of four parts that will take a small look into how each of the other AL Central teams shape up for the 2013 season.
The Minnesota Twins, a model franchise other small market teams looked to emulate over the past decade, seem to be in a period of transition. After several seasons of challenging for the divisional title and playoff spots, the Twins are running low on impact major league talent. There are question marks at numerous positions all over the field.
One place not in question is catcher. Former 3-time AL Batting Champion Joe Mauer is still one of the best hitters in baseball. Although he doesn’t hit for power, he gets on base a high percentage of the time, and can still produce runs. His age (turns 30 in April) and his health history may start working against him but the Twins have done a good job reducing his games behind the plate. Last season, Mauer played nearly half his games at first base or designated hitter. With the versatile Ryan Doumit as back-up, and defensive specialist Drew Butera as a possible third catcher, the Twins are set behind the plate.
For now, the Twins are set at first base as well. Long time Twin Justin Morneau holds down this position but there has been debate within the organization on whether or not to trade him. Morneau returned from wrist and concussion issues to be productive in 2012, but not as productive as he was before the onslaught of injuries in the previous two seasons. His home runs are down but this could be a byproduct of Target Field as much as anything. He will turn 32 in May, so his best days are more than likely behind him, especially considering his health history. Morneau is a free agent at the end of this season, so this may be his last go around with the Twins anyway. A move to first for Mauer would only lengthen that star’s career so there may not be a place for Morneau next season unless it is in a reduced role as a DH or back-up first base man. Chris Parmelee will also get some starts.
There will be competition at second between Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, and veteran Jamey Carroll. Dozier and Escobar are both slick fielding, light hitting infielders who can play either middle infield spots. Dozier does have a history of hitting for a decent average in the minors but struggled with the Twins on 2012. Jamey Carroll has experience at third as well as the middle infield positions, and can hit for a more consistent average but is 39 years old. If both Dozier and Escobar can perform in Spring Training, the Twins may just decide to go young in the middle of the field.
An unproven commodity may have the inside track at shortstop as well. Pedro Florimon is very much in the same mold as Dozier and Escobar in that his glove work is good but his bat will scare no one. If Florimon disappoints in the Spring Training, the three players mentioned as in the running for second can all play short. Regardless of what combination makes up the middle infield, the Twins will have at least two empty offensive spots in their line-up.
At third base, super utility man Trevor Plouffe earned first shot with his 24 home runs in 119 games in 2012, 95 coming at the hot corner. Plouffe only hit .235 with those round trippers and only put up a .301 OBP, so there are still many unanswered questions about the 26-year old. If Plouffe can match or exceed his 2012 home run totals, and bump his average and OBP significantly, it will go far toward helping the Twins be more competitive by having a fourth big bat in their line-up. There is little competition behind Plouffe so he would have to be dreadful not to break camp at third. Carroll or Escobar can back up Plouffe when needed.
Another position that is locked down is left field. Although he is another trade candidate if things go wrong early, Josh Willingham is the third big bat, along with Mauer and Morneau, in the middle of the Twins line-up. He is the only true power bat the Twins have, amassing 35 home runs last year. It is yet to be seen if Willingham can match that lofty number but Josh is the guy in left.
Center field is another question mark for the Twins. Speedy Darin Mastroianni and rookie Aaron Hicks will probably battle it out during the spring games. It would benefit the Twins greatly if Hicks could earn the starting job as Mastroianni would be a terrific back-up and pinch runner. Regardless of who wins this job, the Twins will have another unproven commodity in center.
Ditto for right field. Rookie Joe Benson, Parmelee, Ryan Doumit, and Mastroianni could all see playing time in right field. Like center, it would be great for the Twins if Benson earned the spot and some of the other guys filled in as needed. This is yet another position on the field where the Twins are just not sure what kind of production they are going to get.
There will be a designated hitter by committee for the Twins. Mauer, Morneau, Doumit, Parmalee, and Mastroinanni will all get plenty of at bats at DH. The last three, plus either Carrol or Escobar, will make up the bench for Manager Ron Gardenhire.
There are a number of candidates for the starting rotation. Considering he came over in the Ben Revere deal, Vance Worley will probably be the default ace, with newly added Kevin Correia as another starter. Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, Liam Hendriks, Brian Duensing, and Cole De Vries are all competing for a spot. This looks a lot like a Royals’ list of possible starters in years past, doesn’t it? That is not a good thing for the Twins.
The bullpen is just about as questionable. The closer will most likely be Glen Perkins or Jared Burton, with an unimpressive list of pitchers setting them up. One bright spot could be Alex Burnett, who despite a sickly number of strikeouts, was an effective pitcher in 2012.
It is hard to see the Twins finishing better than 5th in a division where every other team has more talent at this point. They have four positions – second, third, center, and right – where a number of unproven players are competing for playing time. As Royals fans. we know this is never a good situation. The same can be said of the starting rotation. The Royals have started enough 3 and 4 starters on Opening Day to know what it looks like. It never works out in the long run. The Twins do have some exciting young players and some good arms (Trevor May and Alex Meyer were acquired in the off season) in the minors. If these players can develop quicker rather than later, the Twins may not be down for long. Even though the Twins do have three terrific offensive players in the line-up, and a fourth possibly developing, there are just too many holes and question marks in their offense and rotation for the Twins to make much of a run on 2013.