Top Five Questions Heading Into Minnesota Twins’ Spring Training
Big Off-Season Poses Big Questions for Minnesota Twins
As pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers for the 2013 Spring Training, a lot of questions surround this year’s version of the Minnesota Twins. Gone are familiar faces and outfield stalwarts Denard Span and Ben Revere, gone are familiar pitchers Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano, and gone are the notions of an organization without a long-term plan to fix a struggling team. This off-season saw the Twins trade away big league talent for promising draft picks that have restocked their minor league system so much that the Twins were recently ranked number two in terms of the best minor league systems in all of baseball. The team also invested money in journeyman starters in hopes that they can improve their dismal starting rotation from a year ago. In addition to acquiring new talent, the Twins have also been surrounded with rumors regarding what the team will do with aging veterans Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham. With an off-season of great turnover behind them, the Twins enter this season with a lot of question marks and a lot of new faces. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan refuses to admit that this team is rebuilding and believes that this team can contend if all the pieces fall in place. While I don’t disagree, I do have my doubts about how quickly the young players can mature and contribute and whether or not the off-season pitching signings will actually pan out or not. These questions—among others—have led to my creation of the top five overall questions facing the Twins as they enter the 2013 season.
Number Five: Who will Start at Shortstop and Second Base?
The best way to characterize the Minnesota Twins' middle infield situation heading into spring training is unsettled. The Twins have many options to choose from to fill their vacant spots up the middle at shortstop and second base. Some of the most notable names competing for those spots are Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier, Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar. My gut feeling tells me that Florimon and Dozier will be your opening day starters up the middle, but each must show that they can hit the ball consistently if they are to win the job out of spring training. If either fails to do so, look for Carroll to get the nod.
Number 4: Who will Start in Centerfield?
With the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere this off-season to acquire more young power arms for the Twins minor league system, the Twins now have a vacancy in centerfield and at the top of their order. In house candidates include Darrin Mastrionni, Joe Benson or promising youngster Aaron Hicks. Each possesses different attributes that makes them a good fit at the top of the order and in center, with all of them also possessing strong arms and speed. My hunch tells me that Mastrionni will get the opening day opportunity in center, but I do believe the Twins will give Hicks every opportunity to win the job. I hope Hicks has a strong enough spring to win the job outright and I believe that Benson could be a solid backup—or even corner outfielder—if he regains his form and finds his swing.
Number Three: Which Off-Season Acquisition Will Pay Off?
The Twins entered the off-season looking to fill an empty starting rotation that would replace an underwhelming rotation from the year before. The Twins signed Rich Harden, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia to contracts and acquired Vance Worley from the Philadelphia Phillies via trade, in hopes that they can turn around a rotation in need of help. I do not like the signing of Correia and would have preferred the Twins to sign a pitcher like Jair Jurrjens who has more upside, but that is all old news now and cannot be undone. In terms of who I believe was the best off-season acquisition, I would say it will be Alex Meyer, who was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Denard Span trade. Meyer has the type of front-end of the rotation stuff that is rare for the Twins to have and I believe long-term, he could be the ace their staff has been sorely in need of. I believe that out of the rest of the bunch, Pelfrey will be the pitcher who has the best season. Before Tommy John surgery, Pelfrey was a serviceable starter for the New York Mets posting a career mark of 50-54 with a 4.36 ERA. I believe that a new start is just was Pelfrey needs and I look for him to win 10-15 games for the Twins this season.
Number Two: What Will the Starting Rotation Look Like on Opening Day?
With all of the off-season acquisitions behind us, the Twins have a large group of pitchers they get to look at to see who will fill their opening day rotation. Injuries to Scott Diamond and Nick Blackburn have put their availability in question, but Diamond has stated that he plans to be ready come opening day. All in all, I do not believe Kevin Correia will be a serviceable pitcher for the Twins and I believe he will either be relegated to the bullpen or will be released by the all-star break. I do like the Rich Harden signing because it is a low-risk, high reward signing that can benefit our team in the short term, while allowing a pitcher to regain his form and value that could translate into the acquisition of future pieces come trade deadline. My prediction for the opening day starter will be Vance Worley and the rest of the rotation will be Scott Diamond, Mike Pelfrey, Kyle Gibson, and Samuel Deduno with Harden beginning the season in the bullpen. I also look for Liam Hendricks to win a spot in the rotation if Gibson heads to AAA to gain more innings while he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. At some point this season though, Gibson will be in the rotation and will be a major contributor for the Twins.
Number One: What Will the Twins Do With Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham?
The biggest question for the Twins heading into spring training is what the team plans to do with Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham. There is no doubting the importance, impact and meaning that Morneau has had on the Twins’ organization and fans; but with the veteran entering the final year of his contract and the team in rebuilding mode, Morneau could be deal at the trading deadline to a team in need of a left-handed bat for a playoff run. If this were to happen, I would not rule out Morneau resigning with the team next off-season at a cheaper price because of the fact that he and his wife make their home in Minnesota. With a team in need of more prospects, I believe that Willingham will also be a deadline casualty this coming season. Willingham had a great season last year hitting 35 HR and driving in 110 RBI. His value may never be any higher and for a team looking for a powerful right-handed bat at an affordable price, Willingham could be just the guy. While it will negatively affect the team in the short-term trading either of these fine players, it is a necessary step for the organization in order to rebuild and attempt to be competitive next year and beyond. My prediction is both are traded by the deadline, with Willingham being the more likely of the two to be traded and Morneau likely to return the following off-season if dealt.