Minnesota Twins: 10 Silver Linings to 2012's Gray Cloud
The 2012 season for the Minnesota Twins is certainly not going how anyone had hoped.
After last season's dismal 63-99 record there was certainly hope in Minnesota that things would get better, but that hope has quickly dissipated.
After being 16-31 through the first 47 games last season, there was no chance this year's version of the team could be worse, right?
Yet somehow they are. Through 47 games this year they are 15-32 and battling with the Chicago Cubs for the worst record in Major League Baseball.
There have been a few bright spots, so let's take a look at those.
The Twins signed P.J. Walters on December 14, 2011 figuring he would spend the season at Triple-A.
Instead, Walters has found himself leading the way for the Twins.
In his four starts this season he has a 2.96 ERA over 27.1 innings pitched. All four of his starts have also been quality starts.
He has gives the Twins a chance to win every time he takes the mound, and he has faced some pretty potent lineups. He held Toronto (fifth in runs scored) to two runs over six innings while striking out five. In two games against Detroit he has held them to five runs in 12.1 innings. Against the Chicago White Sox he pitched nine innings, fanning eight and allowing only two runs.
If Walters continues to pitch this well he could find himself being named the Twins' Opening Day starter for next season.
Scott Diamond is another extremely bright spot for a Twins team that is dismal at best.
In four starts this season, he is 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA and three quality starts.
Over 25.1 innings pitched he has walked only four (one intentional) and struck out 17.
The most impressive thing about Diamond is probably the fact that he has only allowed two home runs, and for a club that is leading the league in home runs allowed, that is a huge plus.
Given his age (25) and the fact that he is left-handed, it is safe to believe the Diamond can have a long and successful career in the big leagues, hopefully with Minnesota.
The Minnesota Twins bullpen has been very stellar this season, posting a 3.87 ERA. While that is only good enough for 18th in the league in bullpen ERA, you have to consider the fact that it is almost three runs less than that of the team's starters (6.51 ERA).
Add to that the fact that the bullpen has accounted for 162.2 innings so far this season, which is the third highest among MLB teams, and it gives an idea of how good the bullpen could be if it weren't so overused.
The Twins bullpen also boasts a record of 5-6 compared to the 10-26 record of the starters.
They have only blown three saves, which is tied for second best in MLB, while walking only 46 (fifth best in MLB). They have also racked up 119 strikeouts compared to only 142 for the starters.
It is safe to assume that if the starters could work deeper into games on a more consistent basis that the Twins bullpen would be one of the best in MLB.
After being limited to 150 games over two seasons because of a concussion, it is good to see Justin Morneau starting to play consistently at first base.
Morneau was a perennial All-Star for the Twins until the concussion he suffered on July 7, 2010.
In late September of 2011, Morneau had wrist surgery and spent a little time on the DL this year because of wrist soreness. Fortunately, it wasn't anything significant and since he has been back, Morneau has been looking more and more like he is finally healthy.
Since coming off the DL, Morneau has hit .282/.326/.718. He has five home runs, 14 RBI, two doubles, three walks and nine runs scored. While the average is a bit low still and the strikeouts have been too frequent, Morneau is certainly showing signs of getting back to being the player that won the AL MVP in 2006.
While this season has been a very small sample size so far, Drew Butera appears as though he has finally figured out how to handle a bat.
He has played in 11 games and has gone 9-for-30 with three doubles. His line reads .300/.400/.400 right now.
The biggest surprise with Butera this season has been his walk to strikeout ratio, which prior to this year was 15:67. This season it is 4:6. That is still too many strikeouts for only 35 plate appearances, but it is a sign of improvement and gives reason for some hope.
Considering the frailty of Joe Mauer and the suspect defense of Ryan Doumit, having Butera as an average to above-average contributor on offense has been a very nice plus for the Twins this season.
Most people consider Danny Valencia to be the epitome of what is wrong with the Minnesota Twins this season.
In his first full big league season in 2011, Valencia struggled mightily. Batting .246/.294./383 after posting .311/.351/.448 in his rookie season, everyone thought that he would come back with a great year.
That didn't happen. Through 27 games he was hitting .190/.204/.290 and had two errors. The errors, however, don't tell the story of how he was truly fielding. Every ball hit towards third base and every play Valencia had to make was always nerve-racking. Playing the field simply looked like it was too much for him to handle.
After his sophomore slump and poor start to the season, it was clear to see his confidence was basically shattered and there was no way for him to regain it playing for the Twins, so he was optioned to Triple-A.
It is true his current .268 batting average at Triple-A won't get him brought back to Minnesota anytime soon, but that doesn't mean there isn't potential for him to regain his confidence and become the offensive player that he is capable of being.
Upcoming Free Agents
While neither Carl Pavano nor Francisco Liriano have pitched anywhere near where people have expected them to this year, this is a big bright spot awaiting them at the end of the season. They are both slated to be free agents.
They are making $14 million this year combined, so to be able to have that money to spend elsewhere next season should be a big help.
There is also the possibility of trading them both at the deadline for some prospects or cash considerations.
It is unlikely the Twins would get much in return for Pavano, but there is the chance that a team would be willing to bet that a change of scenery for Liriano might be just what he needs.
Liriano has shown signs of brilliance in small amounts over his career and there is always a team willing to take a chance on a hard throwing lefty.
The 2012 First-Year Player Draft
The 2012 First-Year Player draft is fast approaching, and the Twins have the No. 2 pick.
According to the draft experts over at MLB.com, there are five pitchers in the top 10 prospects for this year's draft.
It won't make a difference to this season, but a few losing seasons can really turn a franchise around. For evidence, look no further than the Washington Nationals.
They lost consistently and hit on some top draft picks and now they look ready to compete for the foreseeable future. And they should only get better, as they still have a few of their top picks playing in the minors.
It may not seem like much to look forward to, but every little bit helps, right?
Denard Span missed 92 games last season because of injury. The thoughts coming from spring training were that if Span is healthy, this team will have a chance to win games.
Span has played 43 out of 47 games this year and is putting up some good numbers, hitting .307/.364/.408.
Not only does this bode well for the Twins if the starting pitching can come around, but it also is going to be a nice dilemma to have come the trade deadline.
With the recent contract extension that Adam Jones signed, there aren't many great defensive center fielders who hit well that will be going to free agency soon.
With free agency not being an option for teams to address their need in center field, there is a big possibility that a lot of teams will be calling the Twins to check the availability of Span.
Last year, the Washington Nationals reportedly offered Drew Storen for Span, which begs the question of what would they be willing to part with this year if they continue to battle for the NL East pennant.
The AL Central
Even as bad as the Twins have been playing, they are only 11 games back from the division-leading Cleveland Indians.
It may not help much come the playoffs, but playing in a bad division is great for the regular season.
In 2009, the Twins were 6.5 games back with 24 games to play and they ended up winning the division, so there is still hope being a mere 11 games back with 115 games left.
There is always hope when you are playing in a bad division.