Who Surprised and Who Disappointed for the Minnesota Twins in 2013?
It has been a disappointing season for the Minnesota Twins in general, but there have been a few silver linings.
While outfielder Josh Willingham and pitcher Scott Diamond regressed significantly, Twins fans got to see Brian Dozier succeed as a converted second baseman and Chris Herrmann become a viable option as a backup catcher.
There have been a few independent league players who have come in and contributed, like pitchers Andrew Albers and Caleb Thielbar, but other established major leaguers like pitcher Vance Worley ended up in the minors.
All in all, it’s another rebuilding year in Minneapolis. Some of these names on the list will help fill in spots during the Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano era, while others will be playing for another team or be out of the game by the time the Twins are good again.
Surprised: Second Baseman Brian Dozier
Stats: .240/.308/.418, 17 HR, 61 RBI, 98 OPS+, 3.5 WAR
The switch from shortstop, where the Mississippi native struggled last season, to second base has been huge. He admitted to carrying bad plays on the field to his at-bats last season and has been trying not to do that this year.
While his numbers are far from gaudy, he dug himself a hole in May, going .190/.227/.286, but exploded in August, hitting .276/.333/.535. He has shown a lot of pop in his bat, leading the team with 17 home runs (Justin Morneau had 17 as well).
He has the ability to become a .280 hitter with power and has been sensational at second base, leading me to believe that the Twins will deal either him or Eddie Rosario for pitching help in the near future.
Disappointed: Left-handed Pitcher Scott Diamond
Stats: 5-11, 5.61 ERA, 112.1 IP, 46 SO, 33 BB, 73 ERA+, -1.1 WAR
Scott Diamond was an incredible story two years ago. He went undrafted, was picked up from the Atlanta Braves as a Rule 5 pick and became the first major league player to ever come out of SUNY-Binghamton.
Last year he went 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA while pitching 173.0 innings and was considered the only secure part of the rotation heading into this season. He underwent surgery to have bone chips removed from his throwing shoulder, struggled upon returning and eventually was sent down to Triple-A.
So sure were the Twins of his success that they put him on their 2013 Yearbook and above one of the signs identifying each section of Target Field. After being a surprise during the first two years of his career, he ended up being a disappointment in year three.
He is a smart man, having graduated with a degree in engineering from SUNY-Binghamton, and knows that he will be fighting for a rotation spot next season. Hopefully for Twins fans, he will work his way through whatever prevented him from getting out of the fifth inning and be the pitcher he was last season.
Surprised: Left-handed Pitcher Andrew Albers
Stats: 2-3, 3.81 ERA, 49.2 IP, 21 SO, 4 BB, 109 ERA+, 0.7 WAR
Andrew Albers may very well be the first name in the Canadian phonebook and took over for Diamond as the surprise from north of the border this season.
After spending 2010 as a member of Les Capitales de Quebec of the Canadian-American Independent League as a 24-year-old, Albers joined the Twins farm system in 2011 and rose high enough in the ranks to be called up as a late-season replacement.
Not only did he bring legions of supporters from his native Saskatchewan to Target Field, but he wowed them and the rest of the crowd by going nine innings against Cleveland in a 3-0 shutout following an 8.1-inning outing at Kansas City in his first start.
Albers tops out at around 87 mph, but has a nasty 60 mph curve and is precise enough with his pitching to have a shot at earning a roster spot next season.
Disappointed: Left Fielder Josh Willingham
Stats: .211/.351/.382, 14 HR, 48 RBI, 102 OPS+, 0.4 WAR
After signing a three-year, $21 million contract a year ago, the highest amount Minnesota has ever spent on a free agent, Willingham hit 35 home runs, drove in 110 RBI and had an OPS+ of 142—all career highs.
Unfortunately, older players tend to regress, and this season he battled a knee injury while hitting .211/.351/.382 with only 14 homers. He was playing so poorly at the end of the season that he eventually asked manager Ron Gardenhire to take him out of the cleanup spot—this after Morneau had left and while the rest of the young players on the team were still figuring out major league pitching.
People all throughout Minnesota freaked out at general manager Terry Ryan for not trading Willingham while his stock was high, and are hoping that he can be dealt for some value over the summer or has a better season next year and can be used as trade bait at the deadline.
Surprised: Left-Handed Pitcher Caleb Thielbar
Stats: 3-2, 1.79 ERA, 40.1 IP, 34 SO, 14 BB, 232 ERA+, 1.1 WAR
It’s an incredible story: In 2011 Thielbar was pitching for the St. Paul Saints (yes, those St. Paul Saints) in the independent Northern League. This year, he went 19.2 innings without giving up a run as a relief pitcher.
He’s a hometown dude, born and raised in Randolph, Minn., near Northfield, and never would have been part of the big league team had Milwaukee not released its 18th-round pick from 2009 so soon.
Thielbar played his college ball at South Dakota State, which was a newly minted Division I program and had never gotten out of Class-A ball with the Brewers.
While the rotation may be in shambles, Thielbar should be a major cog in a strong bullpen next season.
Disappointed: Third Baseman Trevor Plouffe
Stats: .251/.304/.401, 14 HR, 49 RBI, 92 OPS+, 1.6 WAR
Some idiot wrote that Trevor Plouffe was going to have a breakout season this year after hitting 24 home runs in 2012 [looks at byline]. Oh woops…that was me!
I thought Plouffe was primed for success. It was his second year at third base after being shuffled all over the field, he had a mentor in Josh Willingham and Miguel Sano was far enough away from being a big leaguer that Plouffe, a 2004 first-round pick, didn’t have one of Minnesota’s up-and-coming stars breathing down his neck.
Most importantly, after suffering a thumb injury following a red-hot June where he hit .327/.391/.735 with 11 home runs, Plouffe could return to the field healthy.
Instead, he began the year with a calf injury, which resurfaced later on, and he struggled to get the bat going.
In some ways he became Josh Willingham, only the one that struggles in the field and hit 14 homers with a low average and a high strikeout rate.
Plouffe is under team control until 2017, makes the league minimum and has a lot of power. Letting him go now would be stupid (look what happened to Danny Valencia), but he also has to get things going if he wants to be in Minnesota for the long run.
Surprised: Catcher Josmil Pinto
Stats: .405/.463/.703, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 215 OPS+, 0.5 WAR
Okay, keep in mind that Josmil Pinto has only played in 11 games, but this dude literally came out of nowhere and absolutely raked.
An amateur free agent signing out of Venezuela in 2006, Hose Meal—as Minnesotans call him in our Fargo accent—was nowhere to be found on anybody’s prospect lists.
Part of this may be because he was signed internationally—although everyone knew about Oswaldo Arcia—and the other part may be because there is a little groupthink when it comes to prospects.
Pinto has put up numbers, hitting .309/.400/.482 with 15 home runs, mostly at Double-A, this season after hitting .295/.362/.482 with 14 dingers in High-A and Double-A the year before as a 23-year-old.
Keep in mind that Pinto has only played 19 games in Triple-A, so no matter how small the sample size is now, what he is doing is incredibly impressive.
He is bound to regress, of course, but there is no question the bat is there. The bigger concern is his catching ability; he will likely begin next season in Rochester while Mauer and Herrmann take over catching duties and the team figures out how much they can get for Ryan Doumit.
Disappointed: Pitcher Vance Worley
Stats: 1-5, 7.21 ERA, 48.2 IP, 25 SO, 15 BB, 57 ERA+, -1.2 WAR
The Twins Opening Day starter found himself in Rochester after 10 starts and was not called up in September. The 25-year-old was supposed to be a cog in the rotation for years to come, arriving as a part of the Ben Revere trade with the Phillies.
Instead, everyone in that trade, including Trevor May, has struggled with their new teams. What was supposed to be a win-win transaction between two first-class organizations looks like an absolute disaster now.
The Vanimal is still young and could bounce back next season, but he’s got to figure out what is wrong with his velocity and get healthy if he was playing injured (keep in mind, this guy wore short sleeves while pitching in the snow).
Don’t give up on Worley just yet, but there is no getting around the fact that he was a major disappointment this season.
Surprised: Outfielder Oswaldo Arcia
Stats: .249/.306/.426, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 99 OPS+, -0.4 WAR
Other than his 12 home runs, which are the most for a Twins rookie since 2002 (good omen, right?), there are no numbers that jump out at you when evaluating Oswaldo Arcia, but the 22-year-old passes the eyeball test. He has incredible power at the plate that will manifest itself with more at-bats (keep in mind, he’s only played 88 games) and a summer of training.
His fielding has to improve as well, and that is part of the reason why he has a negative WAR. Arcia often looks out of control when running across the field and doesn’t always get a good jump on the ball. At the same time, he’s made some crazy sliding catches that make you think he could figure things out as a corner outfielder if given time.
A 2007 amateur free-agent signing out of Venezuela, Arcia may not have been off the radar like Pinto, but he certainly did not disappoint during his rookie season.
He will likely be a big part of the team’s future and should be around when Buxton and Sano arrive in Minneapolis.
Disappointed: Center Fielder Aaron Hicks
Stats: .192/.259/.338, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 63 OPS+, 0.6 WAR
So certain were the Twins of rookie Aaron Hicks’ success that the team traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere and named Hicks the Opening Day center fielder and leadoff man even though he had never played a game at Triple-A.
Granted, it’s probably more accurate to say that Hicks made Span and Revere expendable, especially when the team needed pitching. Hicks did tear it up in spring training, but he could not hold his own as a leadoff hitter, continued to struggle as he moved down the order, was sent down to Triple-A in August and was not called up in September.
Keep in mind, the Twins did the same thing last year with Dozier, giving fans reason to hope that Hicks will come back stronger.
With Dozier, however, defense was the main issue, whereas Hicks' defense has been just fine, but it is his bat that needs work.
The 2008 first-rounder will take the summer off and allow his body to heal. He should return a legitimate five-tool player that should be around in the Buxton and Sano era.
Minnesota took a big gamble with him, however, and the Twins are hoping that like two other first-round picks from Southern California (Plouffe, Parmelee), he can make drastic improvements between now and 2014.
Surprised: Catcher Chris Herrmann
Stats: .218/.302/.361, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 82 OPS+, 0.0 WAR
Chris Herrmann could easily make Ryan Doumit trade bait next season and be Mauer’s backup at catcher.
Herrmann is a decent defensive catcher with an absolute cannon for an arm. He can also play the outfield well enough to be used in a pinch and uses that rubber arm to toss out daring baserunners.
Keep in mind that he has only played 49 games this season, so his numbers are a little skewed (he hit .500 in June, for example), but he is only 25 and has plenty of good years left in him.
There are improvements to be made, that’s for sure, but the way he hits the ball and tosses runners out at second—from both behind the dish and against the outfield wall—leads me to believe that he’ll force Doumit out at some point next season.
Disappointed: Right Fielder Chris Parmelee
Stats: .223/.306/.363, 8 HR, 22 RBI, 83 OPS+, 0.6 WAR
As with Trevor Plouffe, I made a case for Chris Parmelee early on this season, essentially telling readers to look beyond his poor contact numbers and focus on his power behind the plate and the proficiency in which he plays the ball off the wall and guns down runners.
While he hasn’t cranked a ton of home runs out of Target Field, Parmelee has only played in 88 games, and if you look at the ones he has gotten ahold of, they go pretty far.
It’s even easier to notice how well he plays the ball off the wall. As he explained to me, there are about 10 different surfaces on the wall, and it takes a trained eye to know where it’s going to hit and what it’s going to do. He tends to read everything that’s hit off those massive walls pretty well and set himself up for a long, accurate throw into the infield.
I know it’s weird to hype a guy when I said he was a disappointment, and as a 2006 first-round pick the expectation is that the 25-year-old would be close to MLB-ready by now, but there are parts of his game that are polished. He’s just got to find a way to make contact on a more regular basis if he’s going to be a big league ballplayer.
While just about everyone in Twins Territory feels that all hell has broken loose and a once-proud organization is bowing at the altar of Buxton and Sano, hoping the two blue-chip prospects can save the franchise, there are multiple players that played surprisingly well and showed promise for the future.
On the other hand, guys like Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Aaron Hicks were supposed to be surefire major leaguers and found themselves in Triple-A late in the season.
It’s too early to give up on those guys just yet, as all three are young, Diamond and Worley have had success at the big league level and Hicks has displayed five-tool promise early on this season.
Nobody is going to blame Twins fans for griping about this season—it is clearly justified given the team’s record—and nobody wants to endure three losing seasons when a fourth seems on its way next year. Yet there should be a big turnaround in the near future, and a few of these guys will make it out of the dark ages and produce once Buxton and Sano arrive.
All advanced statistics via baseball-reference.com.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.