Minnesota Twins: 2011 MLB Season Preview
Last Year: 94-68, AL Central Champions
Manager: Ron Gardenhire
C Joe Mauer (L)
1B Justin Morneau (L)
2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka (S)
3B Danny Valencia (R)
SS Alexi Casilla (S)
LF Delmon Young (R)
CF Denard Span (L)
RF Michael Cuddyer (R)
DH Jason Kubel (L)
The Twins' offense had an exceptional 2010, which led the team to take the AL Central title. The Twins were second in OBP percentage, seventh in slugging and third in batting average.
Target Field took some of the power away from the Twins' lineup though, especially Joe Mauer.
I think Mauer's power will come back to the 15-HR range, and he will continue to hit around .330 and have a .420 OBP. Justin Morneau was on pace to have a monster 2010 until a concussion sidelined him for the rest of the year. No one is exactly sure how Morenau will react when he returns. Cuddyer will move to 1B, Kubel to RF and Thome to DH if Morneau has any problems.
The middle infield has some offensive question marks. Alexi Casilla doesn't have the power of JJ Hardy, but will put up the same OBP numbers.
Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka had a great year in Japan with a line of .346/.423/.482, 11 home runs and 22 stolen bases. I don't know how well he will translate, but Japanese hitters usually have a hard time adjusting. Expect .280/.340/.400 and 5-10 home runs.
Danny Valencia will man the hot corner after having a very good rookie season, hitting .311. He benefited from a high BABIP, so don't expect the same this year.
Jason Kubel provides some power and a lot of strikeouts from the DH spot. Kubel struggled in terms of batting average, but he should rebound to his normal .280 with 20-25 home runs.
Delmon Young finally showed some power in 2010, and I expect him to maintain that 20-HR power in 2011. He isn't patient though, especially when runners are in scoring position, where he usually swings at the first pitch.
Denard Span steals 20 or more bases out of the leadoff spot for the Twins. Span is a good leadoff hitter because of his ability to work the count and not strike out, but his power declined in 2010 at Target Field. Many procrastinators see Span returning to his old line of .290/.360/.390.
Michael Cuddyer was another Twins hitter who lost a lot of his power in the move to Target Field. However, Cuddyer has always had inconsistent power numbers, but I expect him to put up numbers similar to 2010.
The Twins played very well defensively last season. The team was ranked sixth overall in terms of UZR, and the infield defense was a key factor. The Twins lost two key defensive players in JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson, but they should be covered.
Casilla is above average at SS, and Nishioka has a very strong reputation at 2B. Justin Morneau is one of the best defensive 1B in baseball, and Danny Valencia is considered above average at 3B. Joe Mauer has the complete package behind the plate. The outfield defense is not as strong as the infield though; Young and Cuddyer have very poor range in the corners, forcing Span to cover both giant gaps in Target Field.
OF Jason Repko (R)
IF Matt Tolbert (S)
1B/DH Jim Thome (L)
C Drew Butera (R)
RHP Carl Pavano
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Nick Blackburn
LHP Brian Duensing
RHP Scott Baker
Carl Pavano will get the start on Opening Day, but the true ace of the Twins' rotation is Francisco Liriano.
Liriano looked like he fully recovered from Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2007 season. His velocity jumped from 91.7 MPH in 2009 to 93.7 MPH in 2010. He throws one of the best sliders in baseball, paired with an above average change-up.
I feel Liriano will pitch even better this year as he gains back the command he showed in 2006. He gets a ton of groundouts and strikeouts, coupled with pitcher-friendly Target Field, which should make him a CY Young candidate.
Pavano also seemed to bounce back from his recent Tommy John surgery and put up a year like the one he had in 2004.
Pavano has spectacular command of his sinking fastball, slider and split-like change-up. He uses all three to get a ton of groundouts, while striking out close to five per nine innings. Pavano's performance has never been an issue though, it's whether he can stay healthy enough to pitch.
The rest of the rotation is similar to Pavano, in that they have very good control, but do not record many strikeouts.
Nick Blackburn, who will slot behind Liriano, is a poor man's Pavano. Blackburn has very good control, but he has a worse strikeout rate than Pavano and allows more HRs. Blackburn's xFIP will usually remain the same year-to-year with his ERA fluctuating because of the amount of balls put into play.
Brian Duensing pitched well in relief and in 13 starts last season. Duensing throws 91 MPH with sink, plus a slider, change and curveball. He gets a good amount of groundballs, but only strikes out a little more than five per nine innings.
Scott Baker is another Twins starter with good control (2.27 BB/9 in 2010), and he records more strikeouts than Pavano, Duensing and Blackburn. He should pitch with a 4.00 ERA and strike out a little more than seven per nine.
RHP Joe Nathan (Closer)
RHP Matt Capps
LHP Jose Mijares
RHP Kevin Slowey
LHP Dusty Hughes
RHP Jeff Manship
LHP Glen Perkins
The Twins' bullpen will be quite different from the 2010 version.
Closer Joe Nathan will be coming off Tommy John surgery, and it will be interesting to see where his velocity will be to start the season. I'm sure he will come back just as strong and put up his usual numbers as one of the top closers in baseball.
Matt Capps will be the primary set-up man for Nathan after closing last year. Capps isn't a dominant reliever, but he should have a seven strikeouts per nine innings rate with good control.
Jose Mijares will be the top lefty in the 'pen. Mijares is tough on left-handed hitters with a low 90's fastball and good slider.
Alex Burnett could be a factor in the Twins' bullpen with a 92 MPH fastball and a good slider. He has a nice strikeout rate, but needs to have better command to be counted on.
Dusty Hughes will be the second lefty out of the 'pen. He doesn't have great command, and I wasn't impressed with any of the outings I witnessed when he was with the Royals. He has a below average strikeout rate and poor command.
Jeff Manship throws a two-seam fastball at 89-91 MPH with a good slider, decent curve, and change-up. He has great control, but a below average strikeout rate.
Slowey and Perkins can be long men in the 'pen. Slowey has the one of the best K/BB rates in baseball, and Perkins has shown increased velocity working in relief.
NOTABLE NON-ROSTER INVITEES
RHP Yorman Bazardo
LHP Chuck James
LHP Phil Dumatrait
C Rene Rivera
1B/OF Jeff Bailey
KEY PLAYER: Justin Morneau
There aren't any real breakout stars on this Twins team because most of these players have already established themselves.
I know it's obvious, but the key to this team is Justin Morneau and his health. He needs to be in the lineup on a regular basis for the Twins to win this competitive division. If healthy, expect him to hit .290/.380/.550 and 30 HRs.
PROSPECT TO WATCH: RHP Kyle Gibson
Baseball America ranks Kyle Gibson as the Twins' No. 1 prospect. Gibson did very well in his first year of pro ball, making it all the way up to AAA after he was the Twins' first-round pick in 2009.
Gibson sports a low 90's fastball with good movement to both sides of the plate, and he mixes in a very good slider and change-up. He has very good control, but his K/9 numbers declined from 8.31 to 5.17 as he worked his way through the organization. He might make his way up to the big club in September.
PROJECTED FINISH: Second in AL Central
Besides 2010, the AL Central race has been extremely close over the last few years with an extra game needed to decide the division in 2008 and 2009.
I wouldn't be surprised if that play-in game will be needed this year.
The Twins will be in this race until the end because of their ability to play well in every facet of the game. There isn't a glaring weakness on this team, but I have the feeling they will fall short this year. Morneau's health is a concern.
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