Another team that stood out during what seemed to be a lengthy rebuild is the Minnesota Twins. Longtime manager Ron Gardenhire was let go after the 2014 season and replaced with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. The Twins were certainly considered to be in a transition phase with a slew of potential young stars on the horizon. Under Molitor's leadership, the Twins played extremely well perhaps overachieving by finishing at 83-79, good enough for second place in the AL Central. Unfortunately, expectations have to rise for a team like this, but many signs point towards the Twins possessing an improved roster led by a couple of young players who may be on the brink of becoming stars.
Veteran outfielder Torii Hunter announced his retirement shortly after the season completed. There was no doubt that Hunter impacted the young players so it is understood how his presence will be missed. The Twins signed Korean first baseman/ designated hitter Byung Ho Park with the hopes he can add a little depth to the middle of the order. The Twins traded outfielder Aaron Hicks (.256 batting average, 11 home runs, 33 runs batted in, .721 on base plus slugging) to the New York Yankees in exchange for catcher John Ryan Murphy (.277, 3, 14, .734).
The acquisition of Park was interesting. The former Korean star hit 53 home runs last season and 52 the season before, but those numbers are not expected to translate in the major leagues. Of course, if he is half the power hitter he was in Korea, the Twins will welcome his presence in their lineup. Star in the making Miguel Sano (.2269, 18, 52, .916) will move from designated hitter to right field to allow for Park's bat to be in the lineup. Sano's original position of third base is currently occupied by Trevor Plouffe (.244, 22, 86, .742) which forced Sano into the DH role last season. First baseman Joe Mauer (.265, 10, 66, .718) played in a career high 158 games last season which puts Park in a unique spot of serving likely as only a DH. The Twins will also work in the likes of Kennys Vargas, who has some power that has developed at each level of the minor leagues. If he emerges as a presence, the Twins will have a log jam.
This season will mark the first full one for top MLB prospect Byron Buxton. Despite a meager .206 batting average and .576 OPS in 46 MLB games last season, Buxton looks like a star in the making, a great combination of power and speed though the Twins do not have a legitimate center fielder in the event Buxton either struggles or gets hurt. Left fielder Eddie Rosario (.267, 13, 50, .748) can play center and will if either would occur. Oswaldo Arcia hit 20 home runs in 2014 but played in just 19 games at the major league level last season. Arcia struggled in the minors, hitting just .199 in 79 games for Triple- A Rochester.
One of the more underrated players in all of major league baseball is second baseman Brian Dozier (.236, 28, 77, .751). The All Star has now hit 51 home runs over the past two seasons. Veteran Kurt Suzuki (.240, 5, 50, .610) will handle the catching with Murphy getting an opportunity to earn time. Murphy, Sano and Mauer will join Vargas backing up Park as a DH. Shortstop Eduardo Escobar (.262, 12, 58, .754) rounds out the projected lineup, one that should look like this: Buxton CF, Dozier 2B, Mauer 1B, Sano RF, Park DH, Plouffe 3B, Rosario LF, Suzuki/ Murphy C, Escobar SS. The Twins possess one of the deepest benches in all of baseball with 23 year old German born outfielder Max Kepler in the mix, joined by Vargas, Arcia, Murphy and Danny Santana, the latter looking to bounce back after a tough second MLB season.
The Twins have the makings of a respectable starting rotation. Ervin Santana (7 wins, 5 losses, 4.00 earned run average, 17 starts) gets to pitch a full season after serving an 80 game suspension for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Phil Hughes (11-9, 4.40, just over 155 innings) needs to a relapse of his breakout 2014 campaign where he was a true ace. Right hander Ricky Nolasco (5-2, 6.75 ERA in 9 starts) has made the Twins look bad after signing a four- year, $48 million contract prior to the 2014 season. The Twins would be happy to get anything out of him this season. Left hander Tommy Milone (9-5, 3.92) and right hander Tyler Duffey (5-1, 3.10, 53 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched) round out the rotation.
Glen Perkins (3-5, 3.32, 32 saves) has been consistent serving as the team's closer the past several seasons. However, he digressed last season as his strikeout rate went down and he gave up nine home runs, the most since he was a starting pitcher in 2009. Right handers Kevin Jepsen (3-6, 2.33 in a league leading 75 games) was great last season and Ryan Pressly (3-2, 2.93, 27 games) pitched very well in a small sample. The Twins have little depth after that though, with young pitchers Casey Fien, JR Graham and Trevor May (8-9, 4.00, 110 Ks, just less than 115 IP) looking to emerge from the group. May could become a solid late game option in what will be his first season as a full time reliever. Left handers Fernando Abad and Dan Runzler have a good chance of making the team as Abad was great a couple of years ago and Runzler at one time being highly touted by the San Francisco Giants.
The Twins rotation will get a boost once right hander Jose Berrios is ready. Berrios averaged over a strikeout an inning and is expected to join the team before the All Star break. Left hander Stephen Gonsalves looks to be a dark horse candidate to make the team at some point in the season. Perhaps he is more of a September call-up, but he is worth reading into. Of course, Buxton is going to get a lot of attention, but so should Kepler. Kepler looks like a future batting champion and will likely walk more than he strikes out.
The Twins have a solid lineup but could have some suspect pitching. I find it hard to put their starting rotation up with the others in the American League Central division let alone the rest of the American League. In order for the Twins to compete for a postseason spot, the Twins need a 2014 season from Hughes and Santana and a lot more out of Nolasco as they have gotten in the past two seasons. I feel that Perkins is on his way down; I look at May as a possibility of being the Twins closer before the All Star break. Las Vegas has the Twins over/ under at 77.5. I think the Twins can finish higher than that, at 79-83, forth place in the AL Central division.