Winter Report Card: Minnesota Twins
With little more than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013.
2013 results: 66-96 (.407), 4th place in AL Central (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: C Ryan Doumit
Key arrivals: RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Phil Hughes, C Kurt Suzuki, OF Jason Kubel, LHP Sean Gilmartin
The Twins were in desperate need of improved starting pitching after a 2013 season in which the rotation had a 5.26 ERA, which was nearly a half-run worse than any other big league club, and struck out just 4.93 batters per nine innings, which was more than a strikeout fewer than any other team and more than two strikeouts fewer than the league average. Minnesota signed Nolasco, who enjoyed a strong 2013 season, and Hughes, who struggled in New York but as a flyball pitcher should fare better at Target Field. The Twins also re-signed Mike Pelfrey, will welcome back Samuel Deduno from a shoulder injury and can hope that Vance Worley bounces back from a 2013 disaster.
Those signings were an important but ultimately patchwork start to overhauling a poor rotation and by themselves won’t bring about major change in one season. That could happen in the not-too-distant future, however, given the enviable amount of prospects on the farm — led by Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Kohl Stewart, Jose Berrios, Lewis Thorpe and Felix Jorge — and the Twins reportedly still have interest in signing another starter from this year’s free-agent market.
Minnesota’s offense, which scored just 614 runs last season (second-fewest in AL), remains largely unchanged. Joe Mauer is moving full-time to first base, which fills that hole but opened another behind the plate; the Twins signed Suzuki, who’s an adequate stopgap. The club undoubtedly hopes Aaron Hicks improves upon his poor rookie season to claim centerfield and, if he doesn’t, it is left with just Alex Presley there. Around the diamond, the Twins have a lot of players who just aren’t difference makers. Like with the pitching, the real hopes for change are already in the system, with two of the game’s very best prospects in centerfielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano. For the 2014 season, however, there could be more struggles.
Unfinished business: Leftfield or designated hitter
The Twins could use some more power either in leftfield or at DH, with Josh Willingham handling the other spot. The club brought back Kubel, who reached 20 homers in Minnesota in 2008, ’09 and ’10, on a minor league deal so he could be an option if he recovers from an ugly 2013 season (5 HRs, .610 OPS in 290 PAs). Otherwise, they reportedly have expressed interest in Mark Reynolds.
Preliminary Grade: B
At the outset of the offseason, my counsel to the Twins was that the impressive stockpile of prospects would need help in turning this club into a contender by 2015, so they “ought to start adding a few mid-level free agents or trade acquisitions to supplement the future stars in the system.” Nolasco and Hughes were exactly that remedy, though Minnesota gets only a B for lack of a meaningful offensive upgrade.