Predicting the Minnesota Twins’ 2014 Opening Day Lineup
Predicting the Minnesota Twins' 2014 Opening Day Lineup
Last season was yet another the Minnesota Twins would like to soon forget. Recording 66 wins for the second-straight season and less than 67 wins for the third consecutive campaign, the 2013 Twins finished 27 games back in the AL Central. Despite the club’s poor showing, manager Ron Gardenhire was granted a two-year extension and will continue to guide a team looking to bounce back.
Before 2013, many of the questions surrounding Minnesota’s lineup were focused on young talent and how the likes of Aaron Hicks, Chris Parmelee, Pedro Florimon and others would respond to added exposure. This offseason, however, the front office chose to put an end to its typical wait-and-see approach and aggressively took to free agency for help. After agreeing to pay just over $88 million in guaranteed money, Minnesota’s most expensive offseason in team history will bring in several new and familiar faces alike.
While most of this offseason’s spending went to help a starting pitching rotation that posted the worst ERA in MLB in 2013 (5.26), the lineup could receive help from recent roster moves as well. Former Twins Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett were each signed to minor league deals and could both see significant big-league playing time as early as Opening Day. The signing of Kurt Suzuki gives Minnesota a veteran option to replace Joe Mauer behind home plate, and trading away Ryan Doumit opens up numerous possibilities at the DH spot.
With Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton expected to make their debuts soon and with several other young players waiting for their own opportunity, the Twins’ lineup is likely to experience significant changes throughout the entirety of 2014. Especially if things take a familiar turn for the worse, the depth chart could look very different in six months. However, looking to right the ship, here are the men likely to be in Minnesota’s Opening Day lineup.
1. CF Alex Presley
Alex Presley is not the flashiest of options in either the leadoff spot or center field, but he is actually a very solid player, both offensively and defensively. Presley has good speed and past experience leading off for the Pirates as well as the Twins in 2013. In 28 games with Minnesota last season, Presley produced a solid line of .283/.336/.363. He lacks patience, but he will likely seek to improve his eye at the plate during spring training and look to take more pitches this year. Presley will compete with Aaron Hicks for the job, but after significantly outplaying his teammate last season, the starting bid should be Presley’s to lose.
2. 2B Brian Dozier
Enough cannot be said about Brian Dozier’s improvement and overall play in 2013. By the end of last year, it was hard to argue a better second baseman graced the AL. Dozier, a bright spot for the Twins in 2013, has solidified his spot near the top of the lineup. Only 26-years-old, he’ll look to improve even further in 2014.
3. 1B Joe Mauer
A three-time batting title winner and former AL MVP, Mauer is one of the best hitters in MLB. By moving from catcher to first base in 2014, his bat will find the lineup much more often this season. Look for a well-rested Mauer to have a big year.
4. LF Josh Willingham
Coming off an injury plagued 2013, Josh Willingham will look to bounce back this season. A very consistent hitter up until arthroscopic knee surgery last season, Willingham should swing a much better stick this time around. He’s recently announced that he loves playing in Minnesota and would enjoy returning to the team when his current contract ends after the upcoming season. If he can get back to his old ways in 2014, his chances of being re-signed by the Twins significantly increases. With this extra incentive, expect Willingham to produce from the cleanup spot.
5. 3B Trevor Plouffe
When looking at Minnesota’s options in the five through seven positions, I chose not to split up right-handed and left-hand batters due to some players' obvious comfort levels at specific spots in the order. Trevor Plouffe lacks consistency but could potentially be a great middle-lineup hitter. In parts of four seasons he’s produced a career line of .240/.300/.411, but when inserted at the fifth spot in the lineup, his line improves to .297/.333/.515. Plouffe can hit for average or power and might have something to prove this year with Miguel Sano’s potential debut looming over third base in Minnesota.
6. DH Jason Kubel
Back in Minnesota courtesy of a minor league contract offer, Jason Kubel will look to resurrect his career in 2014. Not what he once was for the Twins, Kubel could still be a valuable left-handed bat in the middle of the order. Kubel is a solid veteran and is expected to win the starting DH spot -- at least against right-handed pitching -- to start the year. If and when Miguel Sano makes his MLB debut, it’s likely he would split some time with Kubel at DH. Much like Plouffe, Kubel has recently proven to be more comfortable hitting from a specific spot in the order. He put up a .216/.293/.317 line in 2013 but improved that mark to .271/.347/.419 when batting sixth. Kubel also hit .286 last season with runners in scoring position.
7. RF Oswaldo Arcia
Much like Brian Dozier’s improved season in 2013, Oswaldo Arcia’s great rookie campaign was quietly hushed under the rug. Through 97 games, he put up a line of .251/.304/.430, with 14 home runs and 43 RBI. With major pop in his bat, expect big things from Arcia in years to come. At 22-years-old, there’s no need to thrust Arcia into a high pressure spot in the order. Besides, he felt most comfortable as the seventh hitter in the order last season and produced a noticeably better line of .283/.327/.489 when penciled in as such.
8. C Josmil Pinto
Free Agent signing Kurt Suzuki is the early favorite to replace Mauer at catcher in Minnesota. Suzuki is a veteran journeyman known for consistently average play behind the plate. He is thought of as a better defensive option at the position, but isn’t capable of putting up the offensive numbers that Josmil Pinto can. In 21 games last season, Pinto produced a .342/.398/.566 line. He’s improved his offensive production at every level and can really drive the ball. At 24-years-old, Pinto’s defense has time to improve and isn’t currently that far off the pace of Suzuki anyway. Pinto deserves the start at catcher.
9. SS Pedro Florimon
Known mostly for his glove work at shortstop, Pedro Florimon is a defensive specialist for the Twins. A switch-hitter with good speed, the 27-year-old can only improve on a lackluster .221/.281/.330 line last season.
Starting Pitcher: Ricky Nolasco
No surprise here, as Ricky Nolasco’s four-year, $49 million deal was the largest free agent signing in Twins history. As a consistent workhorse, Nolsaco will bring a fiery attitude to a pitching staff that could use some pumping up. With a career 4.37 ERA and 7.4 K/9, Nolasco is coming off his best of eight seasons in MLB. In 2013, with both the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers, he threw just shy of 200 innings to the tune of a 3.70 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and only 2.1 BB/9.