New Twins Lineup Lacks Spark at the Top

Adam JohnsonContributor IFebruary 17, 2008

The Minnesota Twins starting lineup has undergone a lot of change since the start of the 2007 season. 

It appears that the organization was scared into rebuilding mode after the division rival Detroit Tigers acquired two former Florida Marlins All-Stars in Miguel Cabrera and Dontrell Willis. 

Although many faces have changed, the Twins have still not addressed the fact that they do not have a proven lead off hitter again this season. 

Obviously there are no Rickey Henderson clones sitting around waiting for teams to call, but the Twins failed to acquire anybody who has any experience at the top of the order.

The Twins have a history of fitting players into that lead off spot even though they are not your prototypical lead off hitters. 

Kirby Puckett started his career leading off before discovering his leg kick and power. 

Dan Gladden was not the most talented lead off hitter in the world but he had experience there and did not let the spot in the order affect his game. 

Chuck Knoblauch is the best lead off hitter this team has had the last twenty years, but since he was traded to the Yankees, the Twins have not found anybody who can stay healthy, consistent and comfortable in that spot.

Recently, they have experimented with the free swinging Jacque Jones; his on base percentage sunk lower than the Titanic.  Christian Guzman had one brilliant season in 2001 but seemed to lose interest after the Twins "showed him the money". 

Shannon Stewart jump started this team in 2003 and finished high in the MVP voting, but he could not stay healthy long enough to remain the lead off hitter the team desperately needed.

The Twins have been well below the league average the past three seasons in batting average and on base percentage out of the lead off spot.  Is it any coincidence that this team has missed the playoffs two of the last three years? 

With the emergence of  young stars Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer as middle of the order type hitters who can drive in runs, the need for table setters has been even more critical to this team's success.  

The newly acquired Delmon Young, a future All-Star, is destined to be a 3, 4 or 5 hole hitter for years to come.  Adam Everett, a free agent acquisition from the Astros is a solid shortstop but is better suited for the bottom of the lineup. 

Alexi Casilla, a player who has potential to be able to fill the lead off spot, was so far in manager Ron Gardenhire's dog house last year that Gardenhire discussed the light hitting Nick Punto as the front runner at 2nd base this season. 

How about the Twins new centerfielder? We will get back to you on that one.

So what is the solution?  It is likely that the Twins will have a committee of players batting lead off this year with some combination of Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla and whomever plays centerfield. 

To compensate for this, Gardenhire should slide Joe Mauer up from the number three spot and bat him second.  This will help to make up for the lack of numbers in the lead off spot and will help jump start the offense towards the top of the order. 

There is no doubt that this team has the potential to be more consistent scoring runs this season.  They have acquired some young bats that should jump start a lineup that had by far the most shutouts of any team in the American League last season. 

This team will have to score more runs considering how young and inexperienced their starting rotation is going to be. This made acquiring an experienced lead off hitter even more critical this offseason.

It is unfortunate that GM Bill Smith failed to fill this glaring hole this off season.  Right now he is being judged by his larger decisions of letting Torii Hunter walk, trading Johan Santana, and acquiring Delmon Young. 

However, the fact that he has the money to spend and still has ignored the problem shows that Mr. Smith might be more about the sizzle than the steak.

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