2013 Minnesota Twins Preview
After a run of six division championships in nine years, the Twins suffered a second consecutive last-place finish with more than 95 losses in 2012 and have begun a major rebuilding effort. Coming off a 2010 division championship, the 2011 Twins team surprisingly struggled to 96 losses. But that decline was largely to due injuries. There was a case to be made that the Twins could rebound in 2012 if the lineup and starting rotation stayed healthy. The lineup stayed healthy and improved in 2012 and the Twins scored 701 runs from 619 in 2011. However, the starting rotation didn't stay healthy and there was a lack of pitching talent ready in the high minors to fill the void. The pitching staff gave up an ugly 831 runs - second worst in the A.L., and a decline from 801 runs allowed in 2011.
Minnesota's success the previous decade was largely driven by the development of home-grown talent - especially the ability to develop back-of-the rotation major league starters (Joe Mays, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Kevin Slowey) to compliment a top-of-the rotation ace (Johan Santana and the good version of Francisco Liriano).
The Twins may have been ridiculed for their low-strikeout/good control, "pitch-to-contact" philosophy, but they made up for in quantity what they lacked in quality. That pipeline of starting pitching talent dried up the past two seasons. Pitchers thought of as cornerstones of the major league rotation fell apart (Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker) and few prospects emerged to take their place at even league-average levels. Even Minnesota's best pitching prospect of the past two seasons, Kyle Gibson, lost a season to Tommy John surgery.
With a bleak outlook for starting pitching the next few seasons, general manager Terry Ryan (who took back the job in 2011 from the fired Bill Smith) decided to rebuild the pitching talent in the minors at the expense of the 2013 major league roster. The strength of the Minnesota organization is the talent in the minor leagues in the outfield. The Twins have both depth and quality in the outfield. As a result, the Twins traded two major league outfielders for pitching help. Denard Span (a 3.9 bWAR player in 2012) was traded to Washington for highly-touted pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Ben Revere, who had a breakout season in 2012, was traded to Philadelphia for Vance Worley and pitching prospect Trevor May. The Twins also changed their organization philosophy a bit, as they acquired more hard-throwing, high-strikeout pitching prospects in both those trades and recent drafts.
While addressing the lack of pitching talent appears like a good long-term strategy, Ryan's short-term strategy has many doubters. The Twins are no longer the small market team that required the organization to develop pitching talent on the cheap while in the Metrodome. Target Field has afforded the Twins higher revenues as fans have flocked to the venue despite losing records (2.7 million in attendance last season). The Twins had the 12th highest payroll in baseball in 2012 and rank in the top half of major league teams in revenue according to some estimates. Even with an expected decline in attendance as the buzz wears off from the excitement of the new stadium, the Twins were thought to have the ability to spend $90 million in payroll again in 2013.
And while many will complain the team can't compete with Joe Mauer's hefty salary (he's due $23 million annually), it's worth noting that Mauer both earned that level of salary from his performance last season ($22.5 million according to Fangraph's calculations) and that the Twins would still have about the 20th highest payroll in the majors excluding Mauer's salary if they spent at the $100 million level many think is possible given the team's revenues (the Twins had a $112 million payroll in 2011 and $97 million in 2010).
Ryan could have traded for the future and still signed several high-profile free agents in the short term to keep the team competitive. Alas, that wasn't in the cards and the Twins made minimal moves to boost the 2013 roster and the payroll is projected to be about $80 million at the start of the 2013 season. Ryan was quoted at the start of the offseason that he expected to sign several impact starting pitchers, so it's possible few top pitchers wanted to sign with a last-place team - at least at market rates.
In any case, the Twins simply decided in 2013 not to spend to their maximum possible payroll. Instead, Ryan shopped in the bargain bin for starting pitching. But rather than sign high upside, but risky arms (Rich Harden being a notable exception), Ryan signed several pitchers with low strikeout rates and questionable success (most notably, Kevin Correia). And with a staff loaded with ground-ball pitchers, Ryan made no moves to improve the infield defense which was problematic last season. While Minnesota's 18th-place ranking in baseball in defensive efficiency isn't terrible, the Twins need outstanding defense to overcome a pitching staff that was last in baseball in strikeouts by a wide margin (22 percent below league average).
As a result the Twins are likely to be one of the worst teams in baseball in 2013 and Ryan will likely look to move veterans (most notably Justin Morneau) for talent that can help the team win in the second half of the decade. The good news is Ryan's moves have helped the Minnesota farm system climb into the top five of many analyst's rankings. With top talent like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, Jose Berrios and Trevor May in the pipeline, the Twins could return to dominating the division later this decade. Unfortunately, it's going to be an ugly few years before the team becomes competitive again.
Traded Denard Span to Washington for Alex Meyer. Traded Ben Revere to Philadelphia for Vance Worley and pitching prospect Trevor May.
It wasn't surprising that the Twins traded an outfielder for pitching given Minnesota's depth in outfield prospects in the minors. It was surprising that both Span and Revere were moved in the same offseason. Span was set to get expensive in arbitration and had the most market value as a strong fielder and leadoff hitter. Revere was expected to take over center field if Span was traded. The Twins may have sold high on Revere as despite outstanding defense, his lack of power and on-base skills limit his upside despite a usually good batting average. The trade of both players leaves a major hole in the outfield with no remaining candidate really thought to be ready to play everyday in 2013 and signaled the Twins were set for a painful rebuilding year.
Signed free agent pitchers Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, Rich Harden.
Despite enough payroll to make an impact in free agency, the Twins signed just three notable starting pitching free agents. Pelfrey would seem to fit the mould of a rebuilding team as he's coming off Tommy John surgery. However, Pelfrey's deal is just for one year and no club option. The Twins didn't want to re-sign Scott Baker early in the offseason, citing the need for a two-year deal or a club option. They then settled for a worse deal with Pelfry, whose lower strikeout rates may mean less upside.
Correia fits the low-strikeout, good control pitcher who can generate ground balls that the Twins love. But Correia signed a head-scratching two-year, $10 million contract. The Twins cited the need for a workhorse, but Correia has never thrown more than 200 innings in a season.
Harden has the most upside as a strikeout pitcher (9.2 K/9 IP in his career), but he didn't pitch last season after undergoing surgery to repair his right rotator cuff. It's not clear if he'll be able to return as a starter after signing a minor league deal. Taken altogether, the Twins underperformed most analysts expectations in free agent signings to help the 2013 rotation.
Alexi Casilla, Scott Baker and Matt Capps were all not re-signed.
All three were likely the right moves as the veterans were expensive and not likely to be part of the team whenever it becomes competitive again. However, the Twins failed to make major acquisitions to help in all three areas the players left: the bullpen, starting rotation and middle infield.
1. CF Darin Mastroianni / CF Aaron Hicks
2. 2B Jamey Carroll
3. C Joe Mauer
4. 1B Justin Morneau
5. LF Josh Willingham
6. DH Ryan Doumit
7. 3B Trevor Plouffe
8. RF Chris Parmelee
9. SS Pedro Florimon
The middle of Minnesota's lineup should be stable (barring a trade) as Mauer, Morneau, Willingham and Doumit are set as regulars. Plouffe and Parmelee will likely be given a long leash to cement their place the lineup (Plouffe's worry being his glove). However, the top and bottom of the lineup may be in flux with wide-open position battles at second base, shortstop, center field and the leadoff role.
SP1 Scott Diamond
SP2 Vance Worley
SP3 Mike Pelfrey
SP4 Kevin Correia
SP5 Liam Hendriks / Kyle Gibson
Minnesota's starting rotation may be in flux all season as three of the top six candidates for the rotation return from injury. None of the candidates have a long leash and there are few top prospects with enough seasoning to be given a shot early in the season. The rotation may again give auditions to lower-profile talent at Triple-A.
CL: Glen Perkins
Key bullpen members: Jared Burton / Alex Burnett / Brian Duensing
Minnesota's bullpen lacks depth and both Perkins and Burton have sketchy injury histories. Duensing will move back to the bullpen, where he's thrived as a lefty specialist. However, it's possible Duensing may get yet another misplaced shot at starting (he struggles against righties) if the turnover in the rotation continues. The bullpen should be one of Minnesota's few assets, but a lack of depth could be problematic.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
As the Twins approach spring training the biggest questions are:
1. Who's in the starting rotation?
Minnesota's starting rotation may be in flux all season as three of the top six candidates for the rotation return from injury. It's not clear if Pelfrey (Tommy John) or Diamond (elbow surgery) will be ready for Opening Day. Gibson will be limited to 130 or 140 innings in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, so he may begin the season at Triple-A or the bullpen. The pecking order for any open spots doesn't appear settled as spring training begins. Hendriks would appear to be the leading candidate to begin the season as the fifth starter if Gibson is held back, but he struggled last year with a 5.59 ERA. Most of the next wave of likely candidates may be seen as better off getting seasoning in the minors (Trevor May, Alex Meyer) than filling the void in the majors with the Twins unlikely to be in the playoff hunt. The Twins may again use several older prospects with unexciting skill sets and mediocre resumes in the minors (Sam Deduno, P.J. Walters, Cole De Vries) to fill the void at the major league level.
2. Who's starting in center field?
With the trades of both Denard Span and Ben Revere, the Twins enter spring training with a competition between Darin Mastroianni, Joe Benson and Aaron Hicks for the starting job. However, none of the three was seen as a legitimate candidate to win a starting job in the majors before the offseason begin. It's very possible the Twins may acquire a veteran off waivers or in a low-profile trade in spring training to keep the position warm until a top prospect is ready to take over.
Hicks has the most upside as the 2008 first-round pick had a breakout season in 2012 at Double-A. However, the Twins are known for their deliberate pace in promoting prospects and Hicks has less than 500 at-bats above High-A. It was a surprise when Benson was named a candidate for the job as he's coming off an injury-plagued season where he didn't hit and was demoted to Double-A. His name may be in the mix just to boost his confidence. Mastroianni would appear to be the leading candidate as a result. His fielding may be adequate in center field and he has outstanding speed on the basepaths that will give him fantasy value regardless of his other numbers. However, he doesn't have much power, makes too little contact and his pedigree suggests he's more of a reserve outfielder. The center field position may be a mess all year, although Hicks could emerge with the job at some point as the season progresses.
3. Who's starting at second base and shortstop?
Minnesota wasn't happy with the talent at second base or shortstop last season, yet they enter the spring with almost exactly the same players. That makes for an uninspiring competition for both jobs this spring as several players who failed to maintain regular jobs get a second chance. Pedro Florimon is the leading candidate to win the shortstop job. He's got enough upside with the glove that he could be an asset for a groundball-heavy staff. However, his upside at the plate is only to hit enough to not totally negate his defense. Jamey Carroll is the leading candidate to win the second base job. While Carroll has a good glove around the infield and draws walks, he's been miscast in his career as a regular since he has no power. He offers more value as a utility player. Brian Dozier will be given another shot at a regular job this spring. However, the Twins have decided his defense isn't adequate at shortstop, so he'll compete for the second base role. Dozier had a strong year in the minors in 2011 with his bat, but struggled last season at the plate and in the field in the majors. The Twins appeared to sour on his future more than usual on a player who struggled initially in the majors. His age (he's 26 years old) may have given the Twins a mindset that he has a shorter window on providing himself to be an impact player the team can rebuild around. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Twins continue to experiment and acquire talent outside the organization for each position.
Strengths: Middle of the lineup, depth in the minor leagues the in outfield.
Weaknesses: Starting pitching, bullpen depth, pitching in high minors.
Rising: Glen Perkins enters 2013 as Minnesota's closer after his role in the bullpen grew last season as he proved his career revival as a max effort reliever was no fluke. Perkins had a breakout season in 2011 as a reliever as he saw increases in both his velocity and strikeout rate. Those trends continued in 2012 as he had the best average fastball velocity of his career (95.2 mph) and struck out 10.0 K/9. Perkins took over the closer role when Matt Capps got hurt in July and converted 16-of-20 save chances. He did share the role for about a month with Jared Burton as the Twins often used Perkins against key lefties in earlier innings. And being left-handed is about the only negative for him as a closer in 2013 as the Twins may continue to pick spots where he's used earlier in the game against a key left-handed batter. However, manager Ron Gardenhire has not had a problem using a lefty as a closer (most notably Eddie Guardado) and Perkins held the role exclusively in September. The biggest worry for Perkins may be his durability as the last two seasons have been the healthiest of his career. Still, he's set to enter 2013 as Minnesota's closer and his strikeout rates suggest he'll thrive in the role.
Declining: Kevin Correia. Minnesota is desperate for starting pitching, but adding Correia wouldn't seem to be much of an upgrade over cheaper options the Twins already have at Triple-A (he's not much different than Nick Blackburn, for example). Correia had just a 4.7 K/9 IP last season, but did have good control and a 52 percent ground-ball rate (of batted balls). Moving to the NL from the AL and with an unsettled infield defense behind him, the Twins may be regretting the second year of Correia's contract.
Sleeper: Chris Parmelee crushed the ball in the minors for a second consecutive season, but hit just .229 with a .670 OPS in the majors. Based on Parmelee's strong September in 2011 he began the 2012 season in the majors but slumped and languished on the bench. Once back in the minors, he hit a blistering .338 with 17 home runs and a 1.102 OPS at Triple-A. He did show some improvement in the majors in September when given regular at-bats as he hit .253 with a .750 OPS. Much of Parmelee's struggles in the majors were a result of poor plate discipline. Parmelee has shown outstanding plate discipline in the minors with a career walk rate of 12.4 percent of plate appearances. That fell to 6.4 percent in the majors last season and he also struck out much more than he had in the high minors. Part of the problem may be that the Twins rushed him, having him skip Triple-A initially after his strong 2011 callup (where he hit .355 with a 1.035 OPS). With a full season of Triple-A experience behind him, he may be ready to thrive in the majors. He should be a regular in the lineup as the leading candidate to start in right field after the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere, but may also get time at first base and DH.
Super Sleeper: Liam Hendriks had two disparate seasons in 2012 as he was dominant at Triple-A, but almost broke records for his poor performance in the majors. Hendriks had a 2.20 ERA and 82:28 K:BB in 106.1 innings in Triple-A and looked set to become a productive major league starter. However, he struggled in the big leagues, beginning the season 0-9 and was winless in his first 17 career starts (the record is 20) before finally recording a win in late September. The big difference in his almost polar opposite performances was his inability to keep the ball on the ground in the majors. He had a 43.9 percent groundball rate at Triple-A, but just 37.8 percent in the majors. He also gave up a staggering 17 home runs in 16 starts in the majors. While his major league strikeout rate was not great, Hendriks' minor league strikeout rates and velocity (90 mph average fastball) are viable enough to go along with good control and excellent command of three different off-speed pitches. It's still reasonable to think that he could develop into a decent middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Miguel Sano, 3B - Sano's tremendous power puts him among the top hitting prospects in the game and a strong season at Low-A puts him on track to perhaps be Minnesota's next star hitter. Sano had an encouraging development as he drew walks (15 percent of plate appearances) at a great rate, but he also struck out too much (144 strikeouts). He will need to make better contact to thrive at higher levels. He played third base at Low-A, but made 42 errors in 125 games. It is not clear if he will have the glove to stay at third base at higher levels, and Sano may have to move to the outfield. Those flaws are offset by his power as he hit 28 home runs in Low-A as a 19-year-old. The Twins have been deliberate with his development, but a strong 2013 season could make him a factor in the majors in 2014.
Byron Buxton, OF - The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft has the potential to develop into a top-notch, five-tool player for the Twins. He hit just .248 with a .792 OPS in 48 games between two levels of rookie ball, but showed promising signs by hitting five home runs and drawing walks in 10 percent of his plate appearances. He is also said to have the best speed in the organization. Buxton is far away from the majors at age 19 and the Twins do not rush prospects, but he could quickly climb to the top of Minnesota's prospect lists.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF - Arcia may be one of the top outfield prospects in baseball after hitting .320/.388/.539 with 17 home runs between two stops in the minors last season. He hit .309 with a .893 OPS in 55 games at High-A before being promoted to Double-A in June, where he was even better in tough hitting environment (.328/.398/.557 with 10 home runs). Arcia excelled at Double-A even though he was just 21 years old. He has excellent power and draws walks at a robust rate (10 percent of plate appearances). He will need to make more contact and reduce his strikeouts or his batting average may not be an asset at higher levels. He will likely begin the season at Double-A, but it would not be surprising to see him in Minnesota in September and figure prominently in the team's rebuilding plans.
Aaron Hicks, OF - The 2008 first-round pick had shown different elements of his all-around talent during his minor league career, but had not put it all together until last season. Hicks always had great plate discipline and defense, but he finally added power last season and has improved his platoon splits (.811 OPS vs. LH, .859 OPS vs. RH) as the switch hitter previously struggled against righties. His 32 stolen bases show he could be a five-category player some day in the majors. With the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere, Hicks will be given a shot at the starting center field job in spring training. He will likely begin this season at Triple-A, but he could be a starter in the majors at some point in 2013.
Kyle Gibson, P - Minnesota's 2009 first-round draft pick spent last summer working his way back from September 2011 Tommy John surgery. He made 13 minor league starts, including two at Triple-A in September. He then had a decent showing in the Arizona Fall League with a 5.40 ERA and 28:8 K:BB in 23.1 innings (He began 3-0 with a 0.69 ERA, but struggled in his last three starts). Gibson has a strong chance to win a spot in the Twins' rotation, but it sounds like he may start the season in the minors or the bullpen as the Twins have said they plan to limit his workload to 130 or 140 innings. With three above-average pitches and excellent control, Gibson could quickly ascend to the top of Minnesota's rotation, but his upside may be limited because he has never had outstanding strikeout rates in the minors.
Trevor May, P - May opened last season as the Phillies' top prospect, but he is unlikely to top any lists this offseason. May's strikeout rate dipped with the move to Double-A last season, but it remained strong at 9.1 K/9. His walk rate rose and continues to be the biggest issue for May to address. He will also have to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard after allowing 22 home runs last year. May's ceiling remains high, but there is still a lot of work for him to do. He'll get an opportunity to continue his advancement with the Twins after being sent Minnesota as part of the Ben Revere trade in December.
Jose Berrios, P - The 32nd overall pick in the 2012 draft had an impressive professional debut as he had a 1.17 ERA and 49:4 K:BB in 30.2 innings between two levels of rookie ball. The high school draft pick out of Puerto Rico is not huge at six-feet and 190 pounds, but he is able to hit the mid-90s with his fastball and is seen as athletic. He could quickly rise to among Minnesota's top pitching prospects with a strong showing in his first full season.
Eddie Rosario, 2B - Rosario has become one of Minnesota's top prospects after hitting .296/.345/.482 at Low-A last season just age 20. Rosario missed six weeks after getting hit in the face by a line drive, but it did not seem to faze him as he had a .963 OPS after he returned. He draws walks at a decent rate, makes good contact and has shown good power through his minor league career. He moved to second base from the outfield last season, which could accelerate his advancement in a Minnesota organization devoid of strong middle-infield prospects. However, he made 15 errors in 65 games and it is not clear if his defense will be viable enough to keep him in the infield at higher levels. He will likely begin the season a High-A and could make an impact in the majors as early as 2014.