This could be the most intriguing Spring Training in years. With the Twins hoping to put a winning team on the field, finally some patience may be paying off. Ever since slugger Jim Thome left in 2011, the Twins have been down in the dumps. The club finished in last place in 2011 and 2012, and in fourth in 2013. The die-hard fan base grew restless after the Twins extended Manager Ron Gardenhire’s contract in September. But then the Twins made several moves to try to improve this depressing team.
Coming into this Spring Training, the Twins pretty much have the top three starting pitchers locked up for the first time in years. The Twins spent more than $60 million on three pitchers this off-season: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey. Nolasco and Hughes should really help the front of the starting rotation, as they can rack up the strikeouts. Hughes had only four wins with the Yankees last year, but has won more than 16 games in a season a couple of times. Nolasco does not have impressive numbers but the Twins think he will be a prime pitcher. I am not sure why the Twins signed Pelfrey, but they think he will be better this year. Other pitchers who will fighting for a spot on the starting rotation will be Sam Deduno, Vance Worley, Kevin Correira, and Kyle Gibson.
The catcher position is all but solidified. The Twins permanently moved Joe Mauer to first base to get him in the line-up more. Days later, they signed free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki as a replacement. Suzuki has a career average of .263 with 67 home runs and brings good catching skills with him. Look for Suzuki to be the starting catcher, with surging Josmil Pinto to be his back-up. In a September stint last season, Pinto smacked four dingers and had a batting average of .342 in 21 games.
There should be two players sharing the Designated Hitter position: Josh Willingham and Jason Kubel. They both have power at the plate when healthy. Willingham had 35 home runs in his first year as a Twin and 191 during his career. Willingham hit only 14 home runs last year due to injuries. During Kubel’s nine seasons in the Majors, he has hammered 139 balls with 551 RBIs. With Arizona in 2012, Kubel sent 30 balls into the stands. Both Willingham and Kubel struggled last season, but look for them to bounce back in 2014 sharing the DH role.
The 2014 Spring Training will feature the Twins two prized phenoms: third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton. Sano has been in the Minor Leagues for four seasons and has 90 home runs with 291 RBIs. Sano was named 9th best prospect in 2013 by Baseball America. If he has a decent spring, Sano could easily replace Trevor Plouffe at third. As for Buxton, he was named the 10th best prospect by Baseball America last year. During his first two years in the minors, Buxton has an average of .312 with 17 homers and 97 RBIs. Keep a close eye on the center field battle between Buxton and Aaron Hicks. Hicks was supposed to be the full-time center fielder last year but he struggled at the plate and dealt with injuries. If Sano and Buxton really show off their stuff this spring, the Twins should not hesitate to put both of them in the Opening Day line-up! The Twins need firepower!
It should be a better year if Nolasco and Hughes shine, and if Sano and Buxton get their shot in the Majors. It is time to look toward the future. If the Twins end above the 82-win mark, it will be a great season. Spring Training truly kicks off on February 22 when all players are supposed to report.
Written by: Michael L. Sack