Key Additions—Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Key Losses—Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes
Lineup—While the Twins didn’t lose any big name stars in this lineup, they did lose their middle infield and both of whom were fairly large contributors. But this offense resolves around two main components, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. When healthy they are as good of a 3-4 combination there is. But my concern is health with these guys. Mauer is being held out a bit in spring training with nagging injuries, which can’t be a good sign moving forward. I would expect him to play through it, but the grind of being an everyday catcher may finally be catching up. Morneau is a big concern for me. He got his concussion 8 months ago, and he’s still not cleared to return. There were rumors last year in the playoffs he would return, and now 4 months later he still cannot play. From what I understand he still has fogginess and blurred vision at times, which could pose a huge problem for this team. Outside of those two, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer provide some pop, and the DH combo of Jason Kubel/Jim Thome is fairly solid. But with young guys filling the the infield spots, along with questionable Morneau, I think this lineup will take a step back this year.
Rotation—Francisco Liriano has returned to form as a top of the rotation starter. The big question mark for him is whether he will stay a Twin. But for this year, he will anchor that top spot. Carl Pavano by name alone doesn’t appear to be a #2, but on paper he is. However, I do think he will take a step back this year. The 3-4-5 guys are all young and have been thrown into the mix in the past and should provide at least a solid back end of the rotation. If one or two of these guys can take another step forward it could give this team a huge boost. All in all, I think this rotation challenges the White Sox to be the best in the division.
Bullpen—To me, this bullpen completely hinges on the ability of Joe Nathan to come back strong from injury. If he is able to get back to being Joe Nathan, and you put him at the back end with Matt Capps setting up, this team can really shorten games. I realize the rest of the pen is young and you have no idea what to expect to them, but Ron Gardenhire could have the ability to play 7 inning games. If Nathan is not able to come back healthy, then Capps moves to closer thus making this entire bullpen move up a spot, and making the pen below average in my opinion. Amazing how one guy can make such a difference.
Impact Rookie—Kyle Gibson, RHP. The 6’6″ Missouri product generates sinking life on a low 90s fastball that will result in plenty of ground balls. While he’ll start the season in AAA, he’ll be the first man called up if a rotation spot opens up.
Outlook—Obviously there are a lot of question marks for this team. With Nathan, Mauer, and Morneau all battling injuries, you have to question whether they will come back. If they all come back and make an impact, this team is well on its way to contending for October baseball once again. However, if one of those guys doesn’t, I think they fall back this year. Maybe they don’t fall in the division standings, as overall I think this is a weak division, but they fall in the mindset of what fans expect from the Twins. Lastly, can we please stop calling them a small market team? Their payroll will exceed 100 million this year.
Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent
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