New bench coach Terry Steinbach will try to continue the Twins’ recovery process.
We’re back with more of the 2013 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit today. While we work away at the next cheat sheet (watch for second base, coming very soon), we’ll take a look at the American League’s worst team the past two years.
We read a report Wednesday detailing Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire’s involvement as a host for this week’s Black Woods Blizzard Tour ALS fundraiser, a snowmobile race that raises money in the battle against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Gardy will be joined as a host by his bench coach Terry Steinbach, and it’s very heartwarming to see baseball folks making a difference for the better.
But we can’t help but ask: who is raising money for another important cause, namely, the rebuilding of the Twins?
The Twinkies actually showed modest improvement last year, if you can believe that a 66-96 record represents an improvement. After winning back-to-back divisional crowns in 2009 and 2010, Minnesota has now spent the past two seasons running from the shadow of 100 losses.
The offense was middling, doing a solid job of getting on base and trying to manufacture runs with speed, but lacking the power to put up a lot of crooked numbers. The pitching? Abysmal. The Twins were forced to use hurlers in roles they were not good enough for and had to continue sending out to the mound dudes that should have been in Triple-A.
Let’s examine some of the highlights from Minnesota’s slightly better 2012:
- Joe Mauer stayed healthy, playing in a career-high 147 games and receiving a new personal best 641 plate appearances, and he enjoyed a very nice bounce back. The health, of course, was helped along by playing him more at first base (30 games last year compared to 18 in 2011). So what happens now? A healthy Mauer wants to catch more this season, and the Twins seem prepared to allow him to do so. Sigh.
- After having the worst bullpen in the majors in 2011, it was middling last year – a major step forward. Alex Burnett had his best season yet; Glen Perkins stayed healthier and proved he could close when Matt Capps went down; Jared Burton enjoyed the finest campaign of his career; and Brian Duensing looked solid as a lefty specialist – just keep him away from starting.
- The overall offense also took a big step forward after an ugly 2011, improving its OPS by a whopping 45 points. Given more action than ever, Josh Willingham broke through with a career year and became the leader of this offense; as discussed, Mauer rebounded in a big way; Ryan Doumit set a career high in RBI; Justin Morneau topped 500 at-bats for the first time since 2009 and enjoyed a nice recovery; Trevor Plouffe continued to improve and was pretty productive; and Denard Span continued his recovery, even flashing more extra-base pop.
- The improved offense was helped along by good health – five dudes managed to get at least 505 at-bats after only two players in 2011 even managed that many plate appearances.
Now the ugliness:
- Minny has finished dead last in the AL in each of the last two seasons and the back-to-back division cellar appearances were the team’s first since 1999-2000.
- The projected Opening Day rotation (Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis) made a total of 54 starts, leaving exactly two-thirds of the games to be started by pitchers that weren’t even in the picture at the beginning of the season. And it’s not as if they had a lot of depth in the system to overcome all those injuries. Small wonder that the Twins’ collective ERA among its starters (5.40) was the worst in the AL – despite the fact they are in a pitcher’s park.
On the prospect side of the equation, third baseman Miguel Sano moved up to full season ball last year and racked up some eye-catching counting stats (leading the Midwest League in homers and RBI), even if his slash line regressed. He remains an up and coming star, but is still a few years away.
Outfielder/second baseman Eddie Rosario is also still in the low minors and he dealt with some injury issues that stalled his progress somewhat.
Starter Liam Hendricks was forced to make 16 starts for the Twins, and while the innings will help him in time, he wasn’t ready to stick. That 2.20 ERA at Triple-A, however, suggests that he will help the Twins in time – possibly this year if he’s handled correctly and not thrown to the lions again.
So what have the Twins done this winter to address their weaknesses?
We’ll focus on the pitching additions, because that’s where Minny needed the most help.
They added to their bullpen depth by claiming Josh Roenicke off waivers from the Rockies; they signed reliever Tim Wood to a minor league contract after he was unhittable at Triple-A, yet not so impressive that he got even a sniff in the majors; they signed hitter turned reliever Jason Lane to a minor league deal; they traded Ben Revere to the Phillies for starters Vance Worley and Trevor May; they signed swingman Michael O’Conner to a minor league deal; they signed starter Scott Elarton to a minor league deal (yes, apparently he’s still in the game); they signed long reliever Bryan Augenstein to a minor league deal; they signed starter Virgil Vasquez to a minor league deal; they signed starter Kevin Correia to a two-year deal; they signed starter Mike Pelfrey to a one-year deal; and they signed starter Rich Harden to a minor league contract; and they acquired minor league starter Alex Meyer (who could now be the team’s top pitching prospect) from Washington for Span.
Some of these moves might pay serious dividends for the Twinkies, but if nothing else, we know they have a lot more rotation and bullpen depth this season.
The upshot is that this team has more reason for optimism heading into 2013 then it did in 2012.
Minnesota opens the season at home with a three-game series starting April 1 against the defending AL champion Tigers, so we won’t have to wait long to know how this team stacks up against the best the Junior Circuit has to offer.
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