Can super-prospect Miguel Sano crack the Twins' lineup in 2014?
The Minnesota Twins are in a period of transition. The 2013 season got off to a solid start, but the wheels have come off since then, leading into a renovation of the team's lineup that will take place this winter.
With a slew of top prospects making their way through the system, 2014 could represent the moment in which the pieces that have compiled a 183-263 record since 2010 are sent packing and the next generation of Twins crack the starting lineup.
It will all start with Opening Day for an unveiling of a much different lineup than Twins fans have been used to in recent years.
Joe Mauer gets a lot of heat for not putting up the power numbers that should come with a $23 million salary. However, he's not going anywhere and remains one of the best catchers in the game.
The anticipated regression of Mauer behind the plate has been overblown, and the Twins still have an advantage with a guy who's toward the top of the American League in many offensive categories.
The day will come when Mauer will have to slide from catcher to another position, but that's not going to happen in 2014.
In a perfect world, Justin Morneau would return and man first base as he has done since late in the 2004 season. However, there just doesn't seem to be enough incentive for the former American League MVP to return to the Twins.
With that in mind, the Twins need to prepare for life without Morneau. For that to happen, they need to give Chris Parmelee one last chance to prove himself.
Parmelee has struggled in parts of three seasons with the team, but a lot of that has had to do with playing out of his natural position at first base. With only 510 major league at-bats in his career, he deserves one season at first base to see if he can produce.
A big storyline in the second half has been the emergence of Brian Dozier, who will be entrenched at second base heading into the 2014 season.
With a .496 slugging percentage since the All-Star break, Dozier has successfully paired an emergence of power with some slick fielding after being converted to second base last offseason.
Dozier's long-term outlook at the position is murky with Eddie Rosario climbing through the organization and may require him to move back to shortstop, but the prospect will not be ready until late in 2014 at the earliest.
Pedro Florimon's offensive abilities leave a lot to be desired, but with no real challenger to his spot, he will likely be the starting shortstop for the Twins.
If there's one thing that Florimon does well, it's fielding his position. He's made several spectacular plays at short during the season, and it's enough for the Twins to ignore his .217 career average and pencil him into the lineup.
There's still potential there if Florimon can get his average up to the .250 or .260 range, so he'll have another opportunity to grow heading into next season.
2014 is the year the Twins free the beast.
Miguel Sano will make his major league debut at some point during next season. As the third-best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America's midseason rankings, there is plenty of excitement for the 20-year-old Dominican product.
His prestigious power should be something that not even Target Field can keep in check, and his defense is steadily improving to the point where he could force the Twins' hand to be their Opening Day third baseman similar to the way Aaron Hicks did last spring.
If Morneau does leave the Twins, the chances of Sano opening the season with the Twins increase dramatically.
Josh Willingham's name will be thrown into many trade rumors this winter, but his value isn't high enough for the Twins to get a generous return so the team will likely keep him as its left fielder.
Such a move would be a blessing in disguise if Morneau moves on. Willingham is one year removed from winning an American League Silver Slugger award, and the Twins would need to fill Morneau's production in the middle of the lineup.
Willingham still has a defensive issue from time to time in left, but the Twins will accept his flaws if he can duplicate his 2012 season results. Such an outcome would rehab his value and make him enticing trade bait next July.
Hicks' rookie season hasn't gone as planned, but he'll have every opportunity to reclaim his spot in center field as the 2014 season approaches.
While his overall offensive line hasn't been enticing, there is still plenty of promise in the 23-year-old outfielder. The Twins would be wise to let him catch his breath during the offseason and hopefully take off beginning with another start in center on Opening Day.
In any event, Hicks figures to keep the spot warm until Byron Buxton is ready to make his major league debut. For now, it's his spot to lose.
Oswaldo Arcia is another young player who can fill the void a Morneau departure would make as he possesses the power nobody else on the roster seems to have.
With 10 home runs in 290 at-bats in 2013, Arcia could be a perennial threat to hit 20 in a season as his career progresses. That level of production would be similar to what Jason Kubel provided the Twins in his final two seasons with the team.
Like most of the lineup, Arcia has issues defensively. However, he may also move to left field if Willingham is traded and/or Buxton is called up later in the season.
There seems to be an issue with Trevor Plouffe lately. He's been on one of his notorious cold streaks lately, and the Twins are becoming frustrated with his leaky play at third base which has been fueled by 17 errors. With Sano on the horizon (and cracking this starting lineup), there's only one thing to do:
Take him out of the field.
Who knows if focusing solely on hitting would make Plouffe a more consistent hitter, but it's worth a try with few players in the organization ready to take on the designated hitter role. It's a move that would give the Twins nothing to lose and a potential impact player to gain.
Even as a complete optimist, it's hard to think that the Twins would suddenly spend a bunch of money on free-agent starting pitching. With that, it's the in-house options that will compete for the top spot in the Twins' rotation.
Kevin Correia figures to be the front-runner because of his strong April in 2013 and the fact he's the eldest member of the rotation.
There's hope on the horizon as Trevor May and Alex Meyer should make their debuts in 2014, but they won't be ready coming out of spring training. That leaves the uninspiring veteran as their leader for at least the first couple of months.