RotoWire Partners

2011 Twins Preview: Health Key For AL Central Threepeat

Peter Schoenke

Peter Schoenke

Peter Schoenke is the president and co-founder of RotoWire.com. He's been elected to the hall of fame for both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and Fantasy Sports Writers Association and also won the Best Fantasy Baseball Article on the Internet in 2005 from the FSWA. He roots for for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings and T-Wolves.

Last season everything seemed set for Minnesota to finally have a deep run into the playoffs. New ballpark. Big crowds. More revenue, which allowed the team to plug the typical weak infield hitting holes (a trade for J.J. Hardy and free agent Orlando Hudson), acquire an experienced starter (bringing back Carl Pavano) and even spend some money on depth (Jim Thome). Even when Joe Nathan was lost to injury, the Twins were surprisingly agressive by acquiring Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes during the season.

The Twins were in a dogfight with the White Sox once again until they pulled ahead late in the summer. Everything was working as planned until the playoffs brought a matchup with the Yankees. The Twins are 18-54 in the regular season against the Yankees since Ron Gardenhire became manager in 2002. They were eliminated by the Yankees in the playoffs for the fourth time in nine years. For all their regular season success (six AL titles in the last nine years), the Twins have lost 12 consecutive postseason games and six consecutive postseason series.

Coming off that disappointing ending, the Twins treaded water in the offseason. They seemed to make several lateral moves or even took a step back. Part of the problem was that recent success has meant a growing payroll (about $110 million in 2011). Target Field has allowed the Twins to retain some players they would have lost in the past, but the extra revenue didn't allow for more big name additions. The Twins brought back free agent Carl Pavano (two-year, $16.5 million contract) and Jim Thome (one-year, $3 million contract). However, J.J. Hardy was deemed to expensive and was traded to Baltimore in mostly a salary dump. Hudson was let go in free agency. The Twins let three key relievers go in free agency (Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier) along with Fuentes. Minnesota did acquire Tsuyoshi Nishioka, paying a $5.3 million fee in the posting system to acquire him from Japan.

Nishioka will help plug one of the holes with the departure of Hardy and Hudson. But the Twins are putting a lot of faith in Alexi Casilla as the other starter with little depth behind him. And for all the success the Twins have had the last decade, their success at developing middle infielders is poor. The bullpen will need help to replace the depth lost in free agency, but Joe Nathan returns after missing a season due to Tommy John surgery and Matt Cappas and Jose Mijares remain.

And the Twins have a strong record of developing relievers from failed startes and without the need of high-profile draft picks (Nathan, Guerrier, Eddie Guardardo, Latroy Hawkins).

While the offseason may have been unexciting, the Twins should get a boost from two All Stars in Nathan and Justin Morneau who both missed significant time last season. And the roster features depth in starting pitching, two of the best players in baseball in Mauer and Morneau and all the key cogs of a lineup that scored the fifth most runs in the AL last season. The Twins have to be considered the favorite to win their third consecutive AL title as a result.

Offseason Moves:

Re-signed Carl Pavano to a two-year, $16.5 million contract.

Pavano gives the rotation a veteran anchor, but his recent health contradicts his career record and he struck out just 4.8 K/9IP.

Re-signed Jim Thome to a one-year, $3 million contract.

He'll provide a powerful bat off the bench again, but can't be counted on for too many at-bats at age 41.

Lost Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Brian Fuentes to free agency.

The Twins likely made the correct decision in not paying top dollar for setup men, but they won't be easy to replace.

Traded J.J. Hardy and Brendan Harris to Baltimore for pitchers Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson.

A confusing move by the Twins. Sure, Hardy was due about $6 million in arbitration and the Twins questioned his toughness after a wrist injury, but he was an asset in the field and at the plate when healthy - a combo Minnesota has struggled to develop and lacks elsewhere in the organization.

Acquired Tsuyoshi Nishioka, paying a $5.3 million fee in the posting system to acquire him from Japan.

He'll start at shortstop or second base after a career year in Japan (.346/.423/.482) but his season was much better than rest of his career (and included a high BABIP).

Didn't re-sign Nick Punto, who later signed with the Cardinals.

For all the abuse he took from the sabrametric crowd, his glove may actually have been enough of an asset to warrant the starting shortstop job if he returned. But that may say more about the hole created with the Hardy trade.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

The Twins lineup features the return of eight of last year's ten primary starters, with only shortstop and second base featuring new faces. With the departure of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, the Twins feature a revamped middle infield. Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla are expected to take over as the starters at shortstop and second base. It's thought Nishioka will play second base, but the Twins have said they won't decide whether he plays shortstop or second base until they can evaluate him this spring. Casilla is the leading candidate to start at the other position, with Matt Tolbert and Trevor Plouffe nominally in the mix. Of course, the key to the lineup is a healthy return of Justin Morneau from last year's season-ending concussion. If Morneau isn't able to start the season, then Michael Cuddyer would move to first base, with Jason Kubel moving to right field and Jim Thome starting at DH.

1. CF Denard Span
2. 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka
3. C Joe Mauer
4. 1B Justin Morneau
5. LF Delmon Young
6. DH Jason Kubel / Jim Thome
7. RF Michael Cuddyer
8. 3B Danny Valencia
9. SS Alexi Casilla

When Carl Pavano decided to return after exploring other options in free agency, the Twins rotation now has six starters for five spots. Glen Perkins and Kyle Gibson are also nominally in contention for spots in the rotation, but only if any injury creates and opening. Brian Duensing, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn are competing for the final two spots in the rotation. Duensing would appear to be the best candidate for the bullpen, since he performed well as a reliever last season before joining the rotation and is left handed. However, Duensing has put up strong numbers the last two seasons in the rotation (7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 2010) despite weak peripheral numbers. Slowey won 13 games last year, but there was talk he could be traded this winter as there seems to be frustration within the Twins' organization that he hasn't improved. Despite Blackburn's poor numbers last season, he seems likely to emerge with a rotation spot given his strong late season performance (3.16 ERA and 33:13 K:BB ratio in 57 innings) and his four-year, $14 million contract. Baker had what the team is calling a minor setback in his rehab from offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, so watch his progress this spring.

SP1 Francisco Liriano
SP2 Carl Pavano
SP3 Scott Baker
SP4 Brian Duensing / Kevin Slowey
SP5 Nick Blackburn / Glen Perkins / Kyle Gibson

CL: Matt Capps, Joe Nathan

Key bullpen members: Jose Mijares, Pat Neshek, James Hoey, Jeff Manship, Alex Burnett

Minnesota's bullpen is the one area with major turnover as Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch all left via free agency. Joe Nathan returns after missing last season due to Tommy John surgery. Matt Capps will likely begin the season as the closer as Nathan works his way back into shape. However, the two could split the role or Capps could move to a setup role if Nathan has a strong spring. Jose Mijares will be the top lefty. Beyond Mijares, Nathan and Capps, the competition is wide open. James Hoey has a live fastball, but needs better control. Pat Neshek needs to show he has better velocity after he struggled last year in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing could also compete for high-profile bullpen roles if they lose out on a spot in the rotation.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

As the Twins approach spring training the biggest questions are:

1. Can Justin Morneau return from last year's season-ending concussion?

Morneau was on pace for possibly the best year of his career and another MVP award before his season ended due to a concussion on July 7. He was among the league leaders in home runs and batting average when he took a knee to the head while sliding into second base. He made several attempts to come back over the next three months but wasn't able to make it through full workouts without symptoms and eventually was shut down. Team doctors have assured general manager Bill Smith that Morneau will be ready for the start of the season. Morneau has also said he should be ready for spring training. But Morneau didn't attend the team's recent winter fan festival in Minnesota, instead staying in Arionza. The Twins have seemed to pull back on talk he'll be ready for the start of spring training and are now saying he should be ready for Opening Day. It's very hard to forecast his recovery since every player coming back from a concussion reacts differently. We won't definitively know about Morneau's health until he starts playing spring training games.

2. Who's the odd man out of the rotation?

If Scott Baker's elbow is healthy, the battle for the final two spots in the rotation likely comes down to Brian Duensing, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn. Blackburn's four-year, $14 million contract would seem to give him a leg up in the competition. Duensing had success out of the bullpen last season, so pressure may mount to make him a reliever if few options behind Nathan and Capps emerge this spring.

3. How soon will Joe Nathan be ready to close games?

Nathan said he was already throwing 91 mph in workouts before spring training, so he seems poised to win back his closer role. However, pitchers often struggle with command initially when coming back from Tommy John surgery. And the Twins may not feel rushed to put Nathan back into the closer role since they have confidence in Matt Capps, who they traded a top prospect for to take over the role last season. Still, Nathan was arguably the best closer in the game before Tommy John surgery, so the Twins may accelerate his time table with a strong spring.

4. Is Target Field an extreme pitcher's park?

The Twins moved into Target Field last season and it played as the worst home run park in the majors - by far. There were 35 percent fewer long balls hit at Target Field than the average ballpark. Joe Mauer hit just one home run at Target Field. Justin Morneau complained the ball didn't travel saying: "Right-center to left-center is ridiculous." Morneau hit four home runs at home and 14 on the road before his season ended due to a concussion. Delmon Young hit six home runs at home and 15 on the road. Overall, the Twins hit 52 home runs at home compared to 90 on the road.

Still, it's just one year of data and there are several reason to think it won't become PETCO East. First, the Midwest usually has hot summers and the Twins previous home outside, Memorial Stadium, wasn't a pitcher's park. Target field has nearly the same dimensions as the Metrodome, except for a longer outfield wall in right field. And last year seemed to have an unusual weather pattern for Minnesota, with a very early, dry spring.

The one case to make for it being a sustainable trend is that with an open concourse in right field and a second story enclosing left and center field, there may be a wind pattern that blows out to right field and isn't present or even blows in from left field.

Even with the drop in home runs, the park played neutral on a run scoring basis with a park factor of 100 for pitchers and 101 for hitters. Batting average, doubles and triples all came at above-average rates.

5. Can Alexi Casilla really be an everyday shortstop?

Casilla is the leading candidate to start at shortstop or second base, whichever role Tsuyoshi Nishioka doesn't win. It's thought that Nishioka won't have the arm strength to play shortstop in the majors, but the Twins will make a decision in spring training. Casilla has had an up-and-down career and has been in and out of the starting lineup, but he hit .276/.331/.395 in a utility role last season and saw improved range and defensive metrics at shortstop last season (4.6 UZR) even if in a small sample size. He entered 2009 as Minnesota's starting second baseman but struggled and had frequent mental lapses. Last season, he got back in the good graces of the coaching staff and rebounded at the plate. He has a good contact rate and draws some walks, but doesn't have any power. If he gets regular time, Casilla has the speed to produce stolen base totals that can help fantasy teams. Still, he faces competition for the job opposite Nishioka from Trevor Plouffe, Matt Tolbert and Luke Hughes. Although the Twins may more likely acquire talent from outside the organization if Casilla isn't seen ready for an everyday job.

6. Where does Jim Thome get at-bats?

Thome entered last season appearing to be winding down his career in a pinch-hitting and reserve role with the Twins, but ended up becoming the primary DH and put up one of his best seasons on a per at-bat basis. Thome turned 40 last season, but showed little decline in his skill set. If Justin Morneau returns to health, then the Twins have four players for the three outfield positions and DH. Jason Kubel will likely get the most time at DH. However, Thome could platoon with Delmon Young (career .834 OPS vs lefties and .729 OPS vs righties) if Young gets off to a slow start. More likely, the Twins divide the playing time evenly between Thome, Young, Cuddyer and Kubel. And with Thome turning 41 this season, it may be unrealistic to expect him to get more than 300 plate appearances again.

Strengths

Stars in the lineup, depth of starting pitching.

Weaknesses

Production at the plate from shortstop and outfield defense.

Sleepers

Rising: Francisco Liriano - Last season, Liriano was finally back to the dominant form he had before his 2006 Tommy John surgery and he enters 2011 as the ace of the Minnesota staff. Liriano was an enigma in 2009 as he was in his second season back from surgery but struggled with a 5.80 ERA and mediocre control. He pitched in winter ball and finally said his arm felt strong and the change was marked once the regular season began. Liriano saw a strong bounceback in his velocity to an average of a 93.7 mph from 91.7 in 2009 - which almost approached his pre-surgery form (94.7 mph in 2006). His fastball went from one of the most hittable in the league in 2009 to league average in 2010. That allowed his slider to become a devastating pitch again, as it was among the top off-speed pitches in fewest average runs allowed. He also saw a dramatic increase in his groundball rate to 53.6 percent from 40.2 percent in 2009 along with fewer walks and home runs. One of the few concerns was that he only allowed 6.5 percent of home runs on flyballs, which may be unsustainable. With an excellent strikeout rate (9.4 K/9IP), good control and an ability to keep the ball on the ground, Liriano looks like one of the best starters in the AL now that the physical and mental trials of Tommy John surgery are behind him.

Declining: Nick Blackburn - Blackburn enters 2011 as Minnesota's No. 4 or No. 5 starter after another roller coaster season that saw him close to losing his place in the rotation. Minnesota's decision to sign him to a four-year, $14 million contract extension before spring training looked astute after he began the season 6-1 with a 4.28 ERA. However, his season went south as he struggled with a 9.88 ERA over his next nine starts and was demoted to Triple-A. But he was back in the rotation in late August and had a 3.16 ERA and 33:13 K:BB ratio in 57 innings. Blackburn has good control and gets groundballs (50.8 percent of balls in play), but struggles to miss bats. His already low strikeout rate fell to 3.8 K/9IP last season - the lowest in the major leagues for pitchers with more than 150 innings. Since he's so dependent on balls in play, he's a very streaky pitcher, which makes it difficult to juggle him in a fantasy lineup. His late season success was attributed to a change in mechanics that kept the ball down and resulted in a more passable 5.7 K/9IP in his late season surge. It's also possible he wasn't at full strength as he had offseason surgery to remove a bone spur and other loose particles in his right elbow (he's expected to be ready for spring training). Still, his low strikeout rate and mediocre velocity limit his upside, and it's easy to see him losing his spot in the rotation.

Sleeper: Alexi Casilla - If he wins the starting shortstop job, he hit enough last season (.276/.331/.395) to have upside in deeper formats. He could steal 15-20 bases if given enough at-bats.

Super Sleeper: Kyle Gibson - Minnesota's 2009 first-round draft pick jumped from High-A to Triple-A last season. He could contend for a spot in Minnesota's starting rotation in spring training, but likely begins the season at Triple-A and gets called up after a few months. The 2009 first-round draft pick has three above average pitches and excellent control. He could be an impact fantasy pitcher in 2011.

Roster

Top Prospects:

1. Kyle Gibson - See above.

2. Alex Wimmers - Minnesota's 2010 first-round draft pick out of Ohio State had a strong professional debut by allowing one run in 15.1 innings at Low-A Fort Myers with a 23:5 K:BB ratio. He has a 90-93 mph fastball, a good breaking ball and the best changeup in the draft class along with sharp control. He'll likely begin 2011 in Double-A, with a chance to reach the majors as soon as 2012.

3. Miguel Sano - He showed enough in his first professional season to draw comparisons to a young Miguel Cabrera. He was considered the top prospect in the Dominican Republic when he signed with the Twins in November 2009. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, he was moved to third base from shortstop and posted a 1.009 OPS in 20 games in the Dominican Summer League, before hitting .291/.338/.466 for the Gulf Coast League Twins in rookie ball. He struggled with the strike zone (10:43 K:BB ratio), but held his own in rookie ball at just 17. He has explosive bat speed with huge power potential. Sano needs refinement, but the upside is very high.

4. Ben Revere - He displayed strong on-base skills, speed and good defense last season, but failed to show much power while hitting .305/.371/.363 at Double-A before a September callup with Minnesota. He was also snake-bitten with several odd injuries that included getting hit by a ball in the knee while sliding into second base and breaking a bone near his eye after getting hit by a pitch. He also experienced knee issues for a second consecutive year. Revere could win a reserve role with the Twins this spring but more likely will begin the season at Triple-A Rochester. His speed will boost his fantasy value, and his high minor league batting averages make him intriguing, but it's not clear if he has enough power to hold an everyday job in the majors.

5. Aaron Hicks - The 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft improved from a disappointing 2009 season, but failed to put up the kind of numbers expected from a top prospect. He got off to a slow start a Low-A Beloit, bothered briefly by a wrist injury, hitting just .256/.378/.403 in the first half. He improved in the second half by hitting .308/.429/.459. He also had a large platoon split (1.113 OPS vs lefties, .722 OPS vs. righties) which could limit him at higher levels. Still, he's seen as a five-tool player with great plate discipline and a strong arm and good range in the outfield. He'll likely begin the season at Double-A New Britain. Even a modest improvement at the plate should put him in Minnesota's plans in 2013, but he'll need a breakout season to be considered among the elite prospects in baseball again.

Here's a rundown on the rest of the team not mentioned above.

Andrew Butera - Butera won the backup job to Joe Mauer last season based on his defense, but he offers almost nothing at the plate. He hit just .197 with a .296 SLG. And there's not much upside since he never hit higher than .258 at any level in the minors. If Mauer were to get hurt for an extended period, the Twins would call up or trade for another catcher who could survive at the plate.

Matt Capps - After struggling with the Pirates in 2009, Capps was non-tendered and the Nationals struck gold when they signed him to a one-year deal. Capps found his previous All-Star form and saved 26-of-30 games for the Nationals with a 2.74 ERA and 38:9 K:BB ratio in 46 innings. He was then traded to Minnesota in July, where he took over closing duties and was equally as successful by converting 16 of 18 save chances with a 2.00 ERA. Capps improved his velocity (to an average 94 mph fastball), increased his groundball rate (to 43 percent) and kept the ball in the park after homers plagued him in 2009. He doesn't have a dominant strikeout rate for a closer (7.27 K/9IP), but goes right after hitters and keeps the ball on the ground. However, his status as Minnesota's closer is uncertain heading into 2010 as Joe Nathan is set to return after missing last season due to Tommy John surgery. Capps will likely begin the season as the closer, but he could cede the role to Nathan once he's back to full speed. It's also possible Nathan works in a setup role all season if he struggles and the two could share the closer role. Either way, it's going to be hard to pay full closer pricing for Capps given the uncertainty.

Michael Cuddyer - While the once injury-prone Cuddyer played the most games of his career last season, he took a big step back at the plate. Cuddyer began the season as Minnesota's starting right fielder, but moved around the infield when the Twins wanted to give at-bats to both Jim Thome and Delmon Young. He played a game at second base and then looked set to take over as the starting third baseman (where he hadn't played since 2005 and where he struggled in the field previously) before moving to first base when Justin Morneau suffered a season-ending concussion. At the plate, Cuddyer saw a drop in power from 32 home runs to 14 last season along with the lowest slugging percentage of his career when he played more than 100 games. His drop in home runs wasn't due to spacious Target Field as he hit an equal amount of homers on the road. Still, there's reason to think he'll rebound since he still draws walks at good clip and had the lowest rate of home runs compared to flyballs of his healthy seasons (8.8 percent), which could indicate some bad luck. He'll enter 2011 as Minnesota's starting right fielder. His value is boosted in leagues where he qualifies at third base (14 games played at third base last season).

Jason Kubel - While Kubel had 21 home runs and 92 RBI, he posted the worst batting average and OPS of his career for a full season (he hit just .249 with a .750 OPS). He started very slow with a .219 average and .619 OPS in April and then had an up-and-down summer. He may have been just a bit unlucky with a career low .280 BABIP for a full season. Kubel has good plate discipline and power, but struggles against left-handed pitching (.655 OPS) which could limit his playing time. He'll be back in the starting lineup at DH and also get some starts in right field.

Jeff Manship - Manship began last year with an outside shot at a rotation spot after a strong year at Triple-A, but started the season in the minors. He was called up several times as a spot starter and longer reliever with some initial success (2.41 ERA in his first seven outings), before he struggled in September (12 earned runs in 10.1 IP). In between trips to the majors, he had a 5.13 ERA at Triple-A which may not tell his whole story. Manship has always had good control, but improved his strikeout rate at Triple-A (7.6 K/9IP) last season while also maintaining a good groundball rate. He'll enter spring training with a chance to win a long relief job, but more likely begins the season in the Triple-A rotation. He may surprise if he lands a significant role in the majors.

Joe Mauer - Mauer was arguably the best catcher in baseball last year, but his season looked like a disappointment after a decline in power from his 2009 MVP campaign. Mauer set a career-high in home runs in 2009 as something seemed to click that moved him from perhaps the top fantasy catcher to one of the top fantasy options at any position. His home-run total dipped from 28 to nine last season, with much of the problem seemingly due to the move to spacious Target Field as Mauer hit just one home run in his new park but eight on the road. His doubles count climbed to 43 from 30 the season before, but he hit his 28 home runs in fewer at bats after he missed a month in 2009 due to injury. Mauer's 2010 season almost mirrored his production in his full healthy seasons of 2006 and 2008, so perhaps that's more of what should be expected. However, Mauer will still be just 28 this season and he was nagged by injuries last year (hip, heel, knee, shoulder) that may have sapped his power. Of course, playing catcher will always have injury risk. Mauer has outstanding plate discipline which typically puts in him the AL batting race, he runs well for a catcher and won his third Gold Glove last season. His 2010 season may have been a disappointment, but he still may have as much upside as any player in the game if he can recapture his power stroke given the drop-off elsewhere at the catcher position.

Glen Perkins - After an injury-plagued 2009 season, Perkins was mostly relegated to Triple-A in 2010 and his role for 2011 is uncertain. Perkins began the season at Triple-A and struggled in the first half with a 6.98 ERA. He improved in the second half with a 3.11 ERA and was called up to Minnesota in August and mostly pitched in relief. Despite a poor ERA, Perkins did post decent peripheral numbers at Triple-A with a decent strikeout rate (7.1 K/9IP), improved control (98:36 K:BB ratio) and slightly improved groundball rate. He'll be a candidate for a relief role this spring as another lefty in the bullpen (even though he's been no better against lefties than righties in his career), but more likely begins the season in the Triple-A rotation. He's a candidate to enter the rotation if a spot opens or to be traded, but don't get too excited given his underwhelming peripheral numbers during his career.

Trevor Plouffe - He got his first taste of the majors last season and could win a utility job with the Twins this spring. Plouffe started off hot at Triple-A by hitting 303/.367/.493 before he was called up to the majors on May 20. He struggled in his brief stint in the majors, but did show some power with two home runs in 22 games. He cooled off in the minors by posting a .551 OPS in the second half, but his Triple-A numbers were still respectable for a shortstop ( .244/.300/.430 with 15 home runs). Plouffe has decent power and a strong arm at shortstop, which resulted in some calling him "J.J. Hardy lite" - though he has a lesser walk rate than Hardy, which may result in a weaker batting average. With an uncertain situation at shortstop, Plouffe could figure into the mix or win the starting job next summer.

Jason Repko - Repko opened 2010 at Triple-A, but was called up when the Twins had a few injuries and was a strong defensive replacement for an outfield that lacked range. He had stretches when he got hot at the plate (posting a .994 OPS in his first 17 games), but he struggles to make contact (striking out in 30 percent of his at-bats), which likely limits him to a utility role. Still, he's got some power and gets enough walks that he could be productive for fantasy purposes even in a reserve outfield role.

Denard Span - Span disappointed at the plate last season in his first full season as Minnesota's center fielder after rotating outfield positions the previous two years. In Span's first two seasons he showed a strong ability to get on base, but hit just .264 with a .331 OBP last season. He also saw a dramatic drop in power as he slugged just .348. While he drew fewer walks last season, he still had a good eye at the plate by walking nine percent of the time and had a good contact rate (60:74 K:BB rate). He also may have been a victim of bad luck with a BABIP (.295) well below his career average. And he did play with a sore shoulder after June. He improved his proficiency on the basepaths (20-of-30 in stolen base attempts, though he was picked off nine times), and his speed boosts his fantasy value. He also has upside in the runs category since he'll hit leadoff again ahead of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Several defensive metrics showed Span held his own in center field, but opinions were mixed on his range. He'll begin the season as Minnesota's starting center fielder, and there are reasons to believe he's a bounce-back candidate, but his defense and power are not strong enough for him to keep his starting job if his ability to get on base doesn't return to 2009 levels.

Matt Tolbert - Tolbert began last season in the minors, which was a mild surprise since he was productive as the everyday third baseman in September in 2009 (.829 OPS). Even though he struggled at Triple-A, he was soon called up in a utility role before missing six weeks with a finger injury. Tolbert can play three positions in the infield and has some speed for fantasy purposes. However, he doesn't hit for much power. He'll compete for a utility job this spring.

Danny Valencia - Valencia enters 2011 as Minnesota's starting third baseman after a breakout rookie season. Valencia was hitting .298/.350/.381 with no home runs at Triple-A in June and was called up just as a temporary replacement but caught fire in the majors and took over the starting third-base job. While his rookie numbers were impressive, there are reasons to temper expectations for his first full season in the majors. He had large home/road splits (.979 OPS at home vs. .658 OPS on the road), and he may not be able to hit as well at Target Field again. He also doesn't draw walks at a great rate (just six percent) and had a high BABIP (.350) last season. Still, he makes good contact, has moderate power and is a good glove at third base. Even with a modest decline in his production he should still be a productive starter at third base.

Delmon Young - Young had the best season of his career last year as it appeared the former No. 1 overall draft pick was finally starting to realize his potential. Young set career highs in home runs (22), RBI (119) and batting average (.298), while seeing improvements in his walk rate, strikeout rate and his power (a career-high .493 SLG, that included 46 doubles). Despite the strong counting stats, Young has major fundamental problems as he rarely takes a walk, swings too much at the first pitch and plays poor defense (ninth-lowest UZR among all outfielders). Still, he's just 25 this season and will get steady playing time between DH and left field. Just don't look at his counting stats and assume he's set for a major growth phase given his flaws.

Top Fantasy Baseball Player News