The Minnesota Twins Rebuild: Which Players Will Fuel a Rebirth?
For the Minnesota Twins, to say the 2011 season did not go as planned would be an extreme understatement.
The last time the Twins were this bad, it took them five years to rebound from the worst record in the American League to winning the World Series.
In 1982, the Twins lost 102 games under the direction of manager Billy Gardner.
That season was also the beginning of the careers for five players that would become the nucleus that led the Twins to their first world championship.
Catcher Tim Laudner, first baseman Kent Hrbek, third baseman Gary Gaetti and outfielder Tom Brunansky all broke into the Twins starting lineup that year. They hit a combined 75 home runs that season and accounted for 255 RBIs.
(Of course they played in the Metrodome, where home runs came easier for the Twins than Target Field.)
Pitcher Frank Viola also debuted in 1982. He would start 22 games for Minnesota, finishing with a 4-10 record and a 5.21 ERA—the highest in the rotation.
Within five seasons, however, he would become the staff ace and the World Series Most Valuable Player.
The 2012 Twins might head into the season without three of their top four home run hitters from 2011.
Michael Cuddyer, who led the team with 20 home runs, has signed with the Colorado Rockies.
Jason Kubel remains on the free agent market but after the signing of Josh Willingham it is unlikely he will return.
Here's a look at several youngsters who made their debut with the Twins in 2011 and some veterans who could be a part of the rebuilding for the Minnesota Twins in 2012 and beyond.
Infielder/Outfielder Trevor Plouffe
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Trevor Plouffe was an 18 year old kid, drafted right out of high school by the Minnesota Twins with their first pick in the 2004 MLB draft.
Through eight seasons in the Twins farm system, he's compiled a .258 batting average with 79 home runs.
Over the last three seasons, playing with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, Plouffe hit .264 and averaged a home run every 25.6 at-bats.
Compare that to Michael Cuddyer who averaged 26.5 at-bats per home run for the Twins in 2011.
Last season Plouffe played 81 games for the Twins at five different positions. Brought in to play shortstop, his problems defensively prompted manager Ron Gardenhire to move him to the outfield.
The 13 games he played there for the Twins, however, more than doubles the total number of games he played outfield in his entire minor league career.
The best Plouffe can hope for in 2012 is to make it as a backup or a utility player.
If he is to be a part of the Twins rebuilding he will need a breakout year next season.
First Baseman Chris Parmelee
Look for Chris Parmalee to wear a smaller number for the Twins in 2012.
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The plan for the Minnesota Twins will be to have former MVP Justin Morneau covering first base regularly again in 2012.
If Morneau experiences any more setbacks from the concussion he suffered in July of 2010, or other freak injuries, a pretty good contingency would be Chris Parmelee.
In 21 games for the Twins, Parmelee hit four home runs in 76 at-bats (5.26 percent).
Although a small sample size, Parmelee compares very favorably to departed designated hitter Jim Thome, who led the Twins, hitting home runs in 5.83 percent of his at-bats in 2011.
Parmelee, a first round draft pick of the Twins in 2006, has spent his entire professional career with the Twins. He made the jump to the Twins last season from Double-A.
With the uncertainty surrounding the health of Morneau, Parmelee is the best prospect the Twins have to replace him.
Look for Parmelee to be a part of the Twins in 2012—most likely promoted from Triple-A as the season progresses.
Infielder Luke Hughes
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Luke Hughes made his major league debut on April 28, 2010, hitting a home run off of Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers.
It wasn't enough to keep him with the Twins. He played two games at third base and was sent back to the Rochester Red Wings.
He also started the 2011 season in the minor leagues despite leading the Twins with six home runs in 65 at-bats in spring training.
It took Tsuyoshi Nishioka's broken fibula in the first week of the season for Hughes to get another shot with the Twins.
In 96 games, Hughes played first, second, and third base. He finished with a .223 average and seven home runs.
Hughes should make the Twins in 2012, if not as a starter than as a replacement for utility infielder Matt Tolbert.
Tolbert relies on his flexibility and speed. Last season he only hit .198 with only three stolen bases in five attempts.
I would take Hughes' seven home runs and 30 RBIs from a part-time player over three stolen bases every time.
Hughes will most likely hang around as a bench player for the Twins until another opportunity presents itself.
Given the chance, he'll develop into a middle of the lineup power hitter that the Twins tend to trade away.
Left Fielder Rene Tosoni
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The Twins were so high on Canadian Rene Tosoni that they drafted him twice—well, perhaps that is not accurate. They didn't select him until the 34th round of the 2004 draft.
Failing to sign him, they drafted him again the following year in the 36th round.
In five minor league seasons, he has a .272 batting average.
The numbers don't look quite as good when broken down by level. After hitting .270 in two seasons at Double-A, Tosoni's average dropped to .226 in 73 games of Triple-A ball in 2011.
Tosoni bounced between Rochester and the Twins in three separate stints in 2011, hitting only .203 in 172 at-bats over 60 games. The bright side was five of his 35 hits were home runs.
With it looking unlikely that the Twins will reach an agreement with outfielder Jason Kubel, there's an outside chance that Tosoni could make the roster as Kubel's replacement
Tosoni will have plenty of competition to make the club. He will need to raise his batting average to get some consideration.
Most likely he will open the season in Rochester again in order to play every day.
Second Baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka
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Tsuyoshi Nishioka had an extremely rough introduction to Major League baseball. In only the seventh game of the season he suffered a broken fibula on a clean, hard slide into second base by the Yankees Nick Swisher.
The unfortunate break limited Nishioka to only 68 games for the Twins last season.
With the signing of Jamey Carroll, Nishioka is pegged to play second base in 2012.
A career .296 hitter over eight professional seasons in Japan, Nishioika came to the Twins with high expectations. He finished the season only hitting .226.
There's still a tremendous upside to Nishioka, who turns 28 in July, if he can make the adjustment to major league baseball and contribute like he did in Japan.
If that happens, it's a good bet he will still be with the Twins five years from now.
Centerfielder Ben Revere
Ben Revere makes the Catch of the Year.
The last time the Twins had two center fielders it turned into a platoon situation spanning the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Eventually, Denard Span won out over Carlos Gomez, who was dealt to the Brewers.
In 2012, Ben Revere will find himself playing the same role that Span did in 2008. The plan now is to move Revere to left field.
Always with a smile on his face, Revere's apparent joy for the game reminds many fans of another great center fielder—Kirby Puckett.
Puckett debuted with the Twins in 1984, batting .296 over 128 games. At the time, Puckett did not show any signs of power. He finished the season without a home run and a .336 slugging percentage.
At .267, Revere's average was not as high as Puckett's in his first year. But he did provide some great defense and used his speed to steal a team-high 34 bases.
Revere's future with the Twins looks extremely bright.
If Span is still bothered by the concussion symptoms that limited his play last season, don't be surprised if the Twins move Revere to center field permanently.
Third Baseman Danny Valencia
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In 2011, Danny Valencia was one of two players to open the season that did not spend time on the disabled list. He played in a team-high 154 games.
He saw his batting average dip from .311 (in 85 games) in 2010 to .246 this past season, his sophomore season in the major leagues.
Still, Valencia led the Twins with 72 RBI and hit 15 home runs.
Look for Valencia's average to rebound in 2012 as he cements his role as the Twins starting third baseman.
Catcher/First Baseman/Outfielder Joe Mauer
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Joe Mauer would probably like to forget the 2011 season ever happened.
The season did not start well for Mauer. Due to offseason knee surgery and a light workload during spring training, he developed bilateral leg weakness that resulted in a trip to the disabled list.
Eventually making his return in June, Mauer would suffer from a stiff neck in late August and an upper respiratory infection that developed into season-ending pneumonia in September.
Limited to only 82 games, the fewest since his rookie season in 2004, the Twins' best hitter had his lowest single-season batting average of .287.
After signing Mauer to a lucrative contract that will pay him $23 million a season, the Minnesota Twins need to maximize his presence in the lineup.
Last season Mauer started at first base and right field, a trend that should continue into the future if Mauer and the Twins intend for him to play out his contract through 2018.
In order for the Twins to turn things around, Mauer needs to perform like he did in 2009 when he won his third batting title, hit 28 home runs and drove in 96 RBIs—numbers that earned him the American League MVP.
Count on the Twins best hitter for average on being a part of the nucleus that turns it around for Minnesota.
First Baseman Justin Morneau
A key for a Twins turnaround will be the health of Justin Morneau.
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Justin Morneau has only played in 150 games over the past two seasons.
In 2010, before suffering a concussion sliding into second base against the Blue Jays, Morneau was having the best season of his career.
In 81 games he was leading the Twins with a .345 average, 18 home runs and 56 RBIs. His .618 slugging percentage was 59 points greater than when he earned the American League Most Valuable Player award in 2006.
Since then Morneau's career has been one malady after another.
After making his way back to the starting lineup in 2011, Morneau suffered a herniated disc in his neck that required surgery. That was followed by a bone spur in his foot, a sore shoulder, surgery to remove a cyst from his knee, and then another concussion and finally surgery on his wrist.
The Twins will look to protect their biggest power threat in 2012, with hopes that his play returns to pre-injury levels.
The problem is that Morneau will turn 31 in May.
If he remains with the Twins over the next five seasons, it will be as the full-time designated hitter.
Starting Pitcher Scott Diamond
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At 24, Scott Diamond made his major league debut two years older than Frank Viola when he debuted with the Twins in 1982.
Viola would make his major league debut in June of that year, and finish the season with a 4-10 record, 5.21 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP. It took Viola two more seasons to pitch to a single-season winning record.
By 1987, Viola had established himself as the best left-hander in the American League. As the Twins ace, he led the team with a 17-10 record and a 2.90 ERA.
Viola was named the World Series MVP as the Twins defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
Diamond made his debut on July 18th this past season. He finished the season 1-5 in seven starts with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP.
The Twins, in desperate need of an ace, will give Diamond every chance to prove he can be a worthy heir to Viola.
Depending on what deals Terry Ryan has planned for the Twins starting rotation, Diamond will most likely open the season at the Triple-A level, where he only has 33 starts over the last couple of seasons.
If he continues to progress, he will definitely be apart of this team in five years.