#28 – Minnesota Twins (70-92) in 2014, my 2015 projection (72-90)
This team summary is going to be slightly more positive than my previous two, as I view the Minnesota Twins as a team trending in the right direction. I’m not here to crush everyone’s hopes and dreams. I have some concerns with this team, but there’s also a lot to be excited about. I’ll start with the concerns, as they pertain to both the Twins immediate situation and the challenges they will face moving forward.
The Twins have some bad contracts, and as a small market team, bad contracts can severely limit Minnesota’s options to build around the core talent they’ve assembled. Joe Mauer still has 4-years, at $23 million per year, remaining on his 8-year, $184 million extension. That’s the type of financial commitment that can cripple of a mid-to-small market team if the player doesn’t produce to his expected value. Unfortunately, that’s what we’re seeing with Joe Mauer, as injuries leading to position change, and possibly some regression with the bat, have lead to Mauer’s decline from one of the best Catchers this generation, to a Major League average First Baseman. The Twins also have a total of $25.5 million per year committed to the pitching combination of Ervin Santana (signed through 2018) and Ricky Nolasco (signed through 2017). Combined with the money owed Joe Mauer, that’s $48.5 million per year(of a $100 million ML payroll), through at least 2017, committed to three players who project for roughly 6.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2015. To the Yankees, that’s business as usual. To the Twins, that’s a lot to absorb and remain competitive.
As for the positives, Baseball Prospectus ranked the Twins Farm System #4 in 2013, #1 in 2014, and #2 in 2015. Not only do the Twins have an impressive amount of organizational depth, but the high-end talent that has headlined the Twins prospect rankings over these past 3 years is nearing the Major Leagues. The amount of impact talent in this organization is pretty staggering. It’s almost impossible, even with some of the financial limitations this organization may face, to imagine this Twins team not competing for Central Division titles beginning in 2016. The 2016 Minnesota Twins may be next year’s version of the young and exciting Chicago Cubs team everyone is wound up for this season.
Hitters to watch: Kennys Vargas, Oswaldo Arcia, and Danny Santana. These three young players need to play every day they are physically able so the Twins can have a firm grasp on exactly what they have heading into 2016. Vargas is a 1st Base/DH (best suited as a DH), switch-hitter, with power. The question will be if he hits for enough average to claim the full-time DH job moving forward. I think .250 is a reasonable expectation, and I imagine the Twins would be satisfied with that if comes with 20+ homers. Arcia, a left-handed hitting, corner outfielder, faces nearly identical challenges. The power is there, smacking 20 homers in 2014, in just 410 ABs. For the Twins to hand him a full-time job, Arcia must improve his .231 batting average, starting with his dismal .198 average against LHP. If he can push that average against LHP to at least .230, he’s going to be a valuable player for the Twins moving forward. If he can’t, he can still provide some value as platoon guy, much in the Matt Joyce mold. Danny Santana burst on to the scene in 2014, hitting .319 with 7 homers and 20 Steals. Santana might be biggest regression candidate entering 2015, as his 2014 totals were lifted by an unsustainable .405 BABIP. The question is, how far will the average fall? If he can set a new baseline between .260-.270, he can be a useful contributor. If it falls closer to .240-.250, he’s going to lose the job to Eduardo Escobar, another temporary solution at SS. If the Twins fall out of contention early, I’d also like to get an extended look at Catcher, Yosmil Pinto. He’s shown some impressive skills with the bat, for a Catcher, but questions about his defense behind the plate may push him off the position. His offensive tools don’t play as well at 1st Base or DH. The Twins may want to answer those questions about his defense and find out if he’s going to be a possibility behind the plate before 2016 arrives.
Pitcher to watch: Just one….. Phil Hughes. Personally, I’m a believer. I think Hughes can repeat, and possibly even improve on his impressive 2014 season. If the Twins hope to contend at all in 2015 and beyond, Hughes must be the Ace. The Twins have pitching depth, but most of their young arms are mid-to-back of the rotation guys. They can’t afford to go out and sign a top of the rotation free-agent. They need Phil Hughes to be that guy. It’s unlikely Hughes, an extreme fly ball pitcher, will repeat his incredible 0.69 BB/9, or his 0.69 HR/9 (with a 6.2% HR/FB rate), but it’s possible he’ll see improvement with his BABIP against, which may offset some regression elsewhere. I think it’s completely within reason to expect Hughes to post a 200-inning, sub-3.50 ERA season. If he delivers on that, the Twins have a phenomenal deal on the 5-year, $58 million extension Hughes signed in December.
3/17/2015 – Ryan Perry, @OCBrooks7 on Twitter