Minnesota Twins 2009 Preview
A year after losing Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Matt Garza, and Jason Bartlett, the Twins were extremely quiet this offseason. Too quiet according to the majority of Twins fans. They are coming off a succesful season, and if Francisco Liriano can continue his recovery, they could challenge for the AL Central title once again.
Very little changed here. Their infield is still anchored by MVP Justin Morneau and two-time Batting Champ Joe Mauer. Morneau drove in 129 runs last year, but faded a bit down the stretch. He only had five HRs in August and September to prevent him from recording his third straight 30+ HR season. Mauer hit .328 last year with a career high 85 RBIs. He had offseason kidney surgery, but he should be fine once Spring Training rolls along. The Twins found their Second Baseman last year in Alexi Casilla. He hit .281 with 58 runs and 50 RBI in 98 games. He is a great #2 hitter that benefits from hitting in front of Mauer. He should be in line for an even bigger year, and could easily be the best fantasy value on the Twins. At Shortstop the Twins are sacrificing Offense for Nick Punto‘s incredible glove. Many Twins fans were hoping they would do something at SS because Punto is better served as a utility player filling in at 2B, SS, and 3B. The last time he was handed a starting role he struggled big time at the plate. Another area that wasn’t addressed in the offseason was Third Base. Brian Buscher is coming off a decent season (.294, 47 RBI), but Twins fans were looking to add a HR threat. Brendan Harris will get some work at SS and 3B. If the Twins are successful, this is the position that is most likely to be upgraded in a deadline deal.
The Twins have four quality Outfielders for three positions, which is a good problem to have. Denard Span was one of the biggest surprises for the Twins last year and is their top fantasy prospect Outfielder. He hit .294 with 70 runs, 47 RBI, and 18 SB in 93 games. He could easily reach 100 runs and 30 SBs in a full season. He’s not the only Twins OF with speed though. Carlos Gomez swiped 33 bases last year with 7 triples. He struggled at the plate hitting .258 with a .296 On-base Percentage. He was just 22 last year though, and with the experience he gained he could improve to a .270 average with 85 runs. I expect him to steal at least 40 bases if he can stay healthy. Delmon Young has the potential to be one of the Twins best hitters, but he could have a hard time finding at bats. He hit .290 last year with 80 runs, 69 RBI, and 10 HRs. Many were expecting loftier power numbers from Young, but that’s not the style of hitter he is at this stage of his career. He drove in 93 the year before for Tampa, and the success of Garza and Bartlett for the Rays didn’t do him any favors. Neither did his Defense. He has the potential to hit .300 and drive in 100, but he’ll need to play regularly to do so. The return of Michael Cuddyer could cost him those at bats. He struggled last year at the plate (.249), but was very successful in 2006 & 2007 for the Twins. He has an incredible arm in the field, which is one of the reasons Ron Gardenhire favors him over Delmon. This could turn into a platoon situation, along with DH Jason Kubel, which hurts all three players values. Kubel can play the OF, but is mainly used at DH. He hit .278 with 20 HRs and 78 RBIs last year. He is the Twins’ biggest power threat after Morneau, and I expect him to improve again this year.
This is the wildcard of the team. They potential for this staff, but they are very young and inexperienced. Francisco Liriano is the key to their success. He was 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA after the All-Star break. He was lights out in August going 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA. He was 2-1 with a 4.66 ERA in September, which hopefully isn’t the Liriano they are getting in ’09. If he stays healthy he should win 15 games and have a sub-4.00 ERA. The other key to their pitching staff is Scott Baker. He went 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP last year. He was equally impressive before and after the All-Star break, which is a good sign. I expect 15+ wins from Baker as well with a sub-3.80 ERA. The Twins also have Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Nick Blackburn. all of which won 11+ games last year. Slowey was the best of that bunch going 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. Perkins was the most successful going 12-4, but his ERA was 4.41 and had a 1.47 WHIP. Blackburn was 11-11 with a 4.05 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. Perkins or Blackburn would move to the bullpen if Philip Humber can win a spot in the rotation in the Spring.
The Twins bullpen is anchored by Joe Nathan, who is one of MLB’s best closers. He saved 39 games last year and had a 1.33 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. He should be the first Twins pitcher drafted. Matt Guerrier had a great first half last year, but was overworked and was worn down. Jesse Crain had a successful 2008 year recording a 3.59 ERA with 17 holds. Jose Mijares sparkled in his debut with the Twins (0.87 ERA, 0.27 WHIP) so much that the Twins are comfortable letting Dennys Reyes go. Craig Breslow was also successful recording a 1.63 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP in 42 games. As long as the Twins do a better job of keeping their bullpen from wearing down, Pitching Coach Rick Anderson should have one of the leagues best bullpens again.
The Twins could actually make some moves in the near future. There is talk that they could add Eric Gagne and/or Joe Crede.
The Twins will dedicate their season to their longtime owner Carl Pohlad, who passed away earlier this month. With their young pitching, speed on Offense, timely at bats, and one of the best Managers, I predict they will win the AL Central in Pohlad’s honor.
Projected Record: 90-72.
This preview (or a portion of it) will also be featured in SportingNews blogger Bartolis‘ MLB Preview.