Monday, March 7, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Minnesota Twins

The AL Central champions from last season come in with a new look for 2011. With the Twins, the more things change, the more the stay the same. But is that a good thing?

What they Have: They still have Joe Mauer, and that's not a bad thing. Even though his homerun totals were down from 2009, he still hit a brisk .327. He will lead the offense also helped by the return of 1B Justin Morneau from concussion. The question is, how long will it take for him to return to form? That's one of the major questions surrounding the Twins early on. Also, they have good returning players in 3B Danny Valencia, who hit .311 last season, and also the entire outfield returns from last season, and that's not a bad thing. They do have to replace Orlando Hudson at 2B, and J.J Hardy at SS. The pitching rotation is led by Francisco Liriano, and he did pitch well last year with a 3.62 ERA. The rest of the rotation is returning, sans Carl Pavano, and they are good, but not great. The bullpen will be helped by the return of Joe Nathan, and the Twins All-Star closer will surely help Matt Capps and the rest of the bullpen. Even though the rest of the pen is mostly new, the 2 guys at the top will be enough to lead them.

What they Don't Have: They don't have proven 2B or SS. Alexi Casilla will try to replace Orlando Hudson at 2B, and he still needs to prove that he's the every day starter at 2B. He did hit .276 last year, and he is also a decent fielder, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be a good everyday starter. At SS, the Twins acquired Tsuyoshi Nishioka from Japan, and he did hit .346 with the Chiba Lotte Marines last year in Japan. He's 26, and can hit from both sides of the plate. He's a good match with the Twins due to his speed, but he's again unproven. The rest of Minnesota's starting rotation behind Liriano was inconsistent, and they'll have to be better in order for Minnesota to compete this season. Brian Duensing was statistically the best, as he did throw out of the bullpen for the first part of last season, and he'll need to continue the pace this season. Jose Mijares, Pat Neshek, and Glen Perkins will have to pick up the slack at the back-end of the bullpen.

Any Help Coming? The best prospect for the Twins is a right-handed pitcher, Kyle Gibson. Due to a stress fracture in his right forearm, he still remains a big risk for the Twins, and no one knows yet how he'll turn out. Behind him is OF Aaron Hicks, and he has the raw talent to match the best prospects in baseball. He still needs refinement on all his tools to be a good major leaguer. 3B Miguel Sano is a big investment for the Twins, and he's very agile and has huge power potential despite his size. He's just making his conversion from SS to 3B though.

Outlook: There's a bit too much changeover from last season in order for the Twins to be the favorite to win the AL Central. They are still a good team, and the return of Nathan and Morneau will help. They will compete for most of the season for the division title, but the turnover may be too much for them to win the division.

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