2015 A.L. Central Preview: Minnesota Twins

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As many of you won't recall I like to do a preview of the A.L. Central during Spring Training.  It is a way to kind of size up the competition and see what lies ahead for the Royals this season.  And this year, unlike last, it looks like this division could be the best division in all of baseball.  With new additions of  Yoenis Cespedes, Jeff Samardzija, and Melky Cabrera this division has some serious clout. So lets take a look at last years cellar dweller, the Minnesota Twins.

Last year the Minnesota Twins had a rough go.  Losing long time Manager Ron Gardenhire, the Twins turned to long time Major Leaguer Paul Molitor to take the reigns.  This will be a large undertaking as the Twins had the second worst record in the A.L. in 2014, going 70-92.  With a depleted starting rotation, and inexperience around the infield, it was a growing year for this team (which is nothing new for Minnesota's fan base).  However, many of the data machines that predict outcomes do not see them fairing too well this year either.

New Comers:

    The person most Royals fans will have taken note of that the Twins acquired this offseason is Ervin Santana.  Santana decided to take a more lucrative deal with the Twins and return to the A.L. Central.    He will be in a battle with Phil Hughes to be the opening day starter, and adds another quality arm to what is already the strength of this team.  Santana brings with him a sub 4 ERA and a 179 innings pitched last year.  This will help relieve some innings from the bullpen (I hope you see what I did there), an area that needs help.

Another acquisition the Minnesota Twins made this offseason is no stranger to Royals Fans.  Torii Hunter decided to return to the place where his great career began.  He bypassed offers from the Royals and others to return to the Twin Cities, in what will probably be his last stop.  This bring the Twins a power bat that they desperately need, as well as some national notoriety.  The problem is he is definitely not the player he was when he left the Twins, and is not getting any younger (39).

Returners:

The one bright spot on the offense of the twins last year was catcher and all-star Kurt Suzuki.  Suzuki lead the way with a .288 average in 2014 for the twinkies, but they will need much more production from their younger guns to hope to make a dent in this high caliber league.  Brian Dozier will be another important piece as he provided pretty much all the pop in the line-up last season.  Blasting 23 homers on his way to 145 hits (also most on the team) were imperative to a team that only scored 715 runs last year.  It would be shameful to mention returners for the Twins and leave out Mr. Twin himself Joe Mauer.  This guy used to be Head and Shoulders above the competition, but switched positions, and rehabbed from injuries last season, which may have lead to his down year.  I fully anticipate a rebound year if he can stay healthy.  He already is figuring out the new position at first.  And looks to be more than adequate with a slightly bigger glove, and much less protective gear.

Pitching wise Phil Hughes will be the cornerstone of the rotation.  His experience and rejuvenation in Minnesota has really put him back on the stage of legitimate number one starters.  Last season Hughes lead the team in Wins (16) , ERA (3.52), and innings (189).  Needless to say he was the workhorse, and will be looked to continue this in 2015.  With the huge hole the Ricky Nolasco signing put the Twins in financially vs. output he too will undoubtedly start in the rotation, but will need to dramatically improve to show he is worth his contract.

Prospects:

 

Minnesota is not without a bright future.  According to Baseball Prospectus the #1 (or #2) prospect in baseball the last two years, is Byron Buxton.  The term 5 tool player is used too often when it comes to prospects (because how many major leaguers legitimately have 5 tools better than the average player…5 maybe), so to me Buxton is a legit 4 tool player.  Power being the one lacking part, and even his power isn't terrible.  This guy plays an amazing defense, and has the ability to hit for average and get on base.  The second big prospect in the system is Miguel Sano, who with Buxton is starting to remind fans of the A.L. Central of another duo that was highly toted developing through the Twins organization of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.  These two could be the second coming of that success.  Something that should excite the good people of the Great North.

Outlook:

I think this year will be a much more successful one for the Twins.  However due to the overall strength of the Central and the schedule makers continuing to make the unbalanced schedule, I don't think that success will translate into climbing out of the cellar in the Central.  The Twins will be better this year, but the upgrades they made were not enough to compete in what is sure to be the best division in baseball in 2015.  I predict last place in the Central going 75-87

Projected Lineups:

Starting Pitching:

1. Phil Hughes

2. Ervin Santana

3. Ricky Nolasco

4. Kyle Gibson

5. Tommy Malone/Mike Pelfrey

Closer:

Glen Perkins

Batting order and position

1.  Danny Santana SS

2. Kurt Suzuki C

3. Joe Mauer 1st

4. Brian Dozier 2nd

5. Kennys Vargas DH

6. Torii Hunter RF

7. Trevor Plouffe 3rd

8. Oswaldo Arcia LF

9. Aaron Hicks CF

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