Minnesota Twins Spring Training Preview 2010

sect-101-450.jpgNow that the Twins are cranking things up down in Fort Myers, here is a little preview of what to expect in terms of the build-up to Opening Day 2010:

Last Year: 87-76, 1st in American League Central Division (1 GA of Detroit Tigers), lost to New York Yankees in ALDS (3-0).

 

Manager: Once again, the Twins will have Ron Gardenhire at the helm.  Since taking the reins from Tom Kelly back in 2002, Gardy has posted a 709-588 (.547) record with the Twins.  Besides the lone 1969 Billy Martin tenure, that winning percentage constitutes the highest mark in franchise history, and trails only TK (1140-1244) in overall wins.

 

Venue: After nearly three decades of playing in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the Twins will now christen open-air Target Field as their new home.  Dimensions: LF-339, LCF-377, CF-404, RCF-367, RF-328.

 

Projected Starting Lineup & Positions:

 

  1. Denard Span (R), CF (2009 stats: .311 BA, 97 R, 180 H, 23 SB, .807 OPS): Though primarily just a singles hitter who runs the bases well, Span is very adept at working counts, getting on base, and coming up big in the clutch.  The best lead-off hitter wearing “TC” since Chuck Knoblauch jumped ship.  Plays Torii Hunter-like defense in the outfield.
  2. Orlando Hudson (S), 2B (for LA Dodgers: .283 BA, 74 R, 35 2B, .774 OPS, All-Star, Gold Glove): One of the newcomers this year.  Can’t say I’ve watched him play much, but the stats don’t seem to lie.  He’s very comparable to the departed Orlando Cabrera, who did wonders for the top of the order down the stretch in ’09.
  3. Joe Mauer (L), C (.365 BA, 94 R, 96 RBI, 28 HR, 1.031 OPS, All-Star, Gold Glove, MVP, Silver Slugger): Perhaps the most talented player in baseball this side of Albert Pujols.  The kind of guy who could hit .320 and call it a “down year”.
  4. Justin Morneau (L), 1B (.274 BA, 100 RBI, 30 HR, .878 OPS, All-Star): Take a look at those stats, and then consider he missed the final month of ’09 due to injury.  His ability to hit for average and maintain a selective eye separates him from the hackers.
  5. Michael Cuddyer (R), RF (.276 BA, 93 R, 94 RBI, 32 HR, .862 OPS): The biggest hurdle for Cuddy is making it through an entire season.  When hurt, he struggles with things like consistency and strike outs.  When healthy, he puts up numbers like last season.  Possesses a rifle arm.
  6. Jason Kubel (L), DH (.300 BA, 28 HR, 103 RBI, .907 OPS): Could be the cleanup hitter in many other teams’ lineups.  Is just coming into his own (a bit late) after struggling through a serious knee injury as a rookie.  Can also more than hold his own in the outfield, where he may find himself on more than a few occasions if Jim Thome heats up.
  7. Delmon Young (R), LF (.284 BA, 60 RBI, 12 HR, .733 OPS): Will be the first to sit if Kubel and Thome play their way into the lineup, but also has tremendous upside.  Is clumsy in the field (but just good enough to make up for it) and prone to hitting nothing but singles for long stretches, but when locked in can be a deadly force.
  8. J.J. Hardy (R), SS (for Milwaukee Brewers: .229 BA, 53 R, 47 RBI, 11 HR, .659 OPS): The Twins are hoping for the ’07-’08 Hardy to re-emerge…the one who hit 25+ homers and posted a respectable average.  The verdict is still out on his D, which is decent but not Punto-like.
  9. Nick Punto (S) (.228 BA, 56 R, 82 H, 16 SB, .621 OPS) or Brendan Harris (R), 3B (.261 BA, 44 R, 108 H, .672 OPS): A classic “offense vs. defense” choice here.  Gardy loves Punto for the defense he brings to the infield, but Little Nicky is often an albatross at the bottom of the order.  Harris is an average fielder, but can rattle one off the wall every so often.

 

Bench:

 

  1. Jim Thome (DH/1B, L) (for White Sox & Dodgers: .249 BA, 23 HR, 77 RBI, .847 OPS): Hopefully the big bat the Twins have desperately needed off the pine.  Could easily play his way into everyday lineup if balls start clearing the walls.
  2. Jose Morales (C, S) (.311 BA, 119 AB, .742 OPS): Showed enough poise as a youngster for the Twins to let veteran Mike Redmond leave.
  3. Alexi Casilla (2B, S) (.202, 228 AB, .538 OPS): At times provides a spark to the top of the order and plays flashy D, but is still far too prone to mental errors/goofs that Gardy can’t stand.
  4. Matt Tolbert (IF, S) (.232, 198 AB, .611 OPS): Plays the kind of scrappy ball and defense that the manager loves and his adept at handling the bat (if not racking up hits).

-Others battling for roster spots include Drew Butera (C), Wilson Ramos (C), Jacque Jones (OF), Luke Hughes (IF), Trevor Plouffe (IF), and Danny Valencia (IF).

 

Starting Rotation:

 

  1. Scott Baker (RHP, 15-9, 4.36 ERA, 200 IP): Baker has shown spurts of ace-like outings, but needs to consistently pitch further into games to really match up against the league’s best.
  2. Nick Blackburn (RHP, 11-11, 4.03 ERA, 205.2 IP): Has a knack for coming up big in the clutch starts, but also needs to work on consistency.  A typical sinkerball pitcher in that if the ball isn’t diving, it’s jumping (off bats, that is).
  3. Kevin Slowey (RHP, 10-3, 4.86 ERA, 90.2 IP): At times looks like the second coming of Brad Radke, but needs to stay healthy for an entire season to prove it.  Has absolutely pin-point accuracy with an assortment of pitches to keep the hitters guessing.
  4. Carl Pavano (RHP, 5-4, 4.64 ERA, 73.2 IP): The only veteran in the starting rotation, but his overall effectiveness is questionable.  Showed he could compete against the AL Central after being acquired during the latter months of the season, but needs to prove his worth against the “big boys” of the league.
  5. Francisco Liriano (LHP, 5-13, 5.80 ERA, 136.2 IP), Glen Perkins (LHP, 6-7, 5.89 ERA, 96.1 IP), Brian Duensing (LHP, 5-2, 3.64 ERA, 84 IP), Anthony Swarzak (RHP, 3-7, 6.25 ERA, 59 IP), or Jeff Manship (RHP, 1-1, 5.68 ERA, 31.2 IP): Liriano is obviously the wild card of this group, as he could become unquestioned ace of the staff or play himself right out of the majors.  Perkins is not on the organization’s good side after squabbles over service time and just plain poor performance, while Duensing is the conservative pick after impressing in the heat of the pennant race last year.  Swarzak and/or Manship would have to pitch their tails off to even warrant consideration.

 

Bullpen:

 

  1. Joe Nathan (RHP, 2.10 ERA, 68.2 IP, 47 SV): Still a top-tier closer in all of baseball, but somehow needs to shake late- (and post-) season demons.  Too many batters (7) tagged him with the long ball last year, so that is a good place to start.
  2. Matt Guerrier (RHP, 2.36 ERA, 76.1 IP): The primary setup man to Nathan.  Is very solid, but fatigue always an issue due to over-use.
  3. Jose Mijares (LHP, 2.34 ERA, 61.2 IP): The lefty-lefty matchup guy who his almost unhittable when in decent shape and possessing a clear head.  Has tendency to put balls in the dirt and sometimes inexplicably loses his control for short periods of time.
  4. Pat Neshek (RHP, DNP-Injured): After missing almost two whole seasons due to Tommy John surgery, the side-winding Minnesota native is back to confuse opponents once again.  Could be a god-send to take some of the strain off Matty G.
  5. Jon Rauch (RHP, 1.72 ERA, 15.2 IP): One of the big (literally!) reasons the Twins made the playoffs last season.  Is very flexible in terms of duration (1-3 innings).
  6. Jesse Crain (RHP, 4.70 ERA, 51.2 IP): An enigma: some fans love his electric stuff, while others cringe at his predictability, wobbly control, and inability to pitch out of jams after creating them.
  7. Clay Condrey (RHP, for Philadelphia: 3.00 ERA, 42 IP): A newcomer who is coming off two solid seasons in the National League.  Adds valuable depth to a unit that would often carry a green rookie or past-his-prime vet in this spot.

 

Prediction: If the starting pitching holds up for the entire season and the bats produce even a trifling of what they should, this could be a very scary team.  Must prove first and foremost that, as well as beating up on the Kansas City’s and Cleveland’s of the world, they now have the firepower to take on the likes of New York and Anaheim (teams that destroyed them in ’09).  A division championship is a very achievable goal, with the sights set on further venturing into the playoff tournament.

 

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