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State of the AL Central: Minnesota Twins

Mauer Power, but not too much else.


Today's article focuses on the Minnesota Twins as we work our way around the AL Central. Minnesota finished fourth in the division last season, going 66-96. The Twins have employed awful pitching staffs the past two seasons, but have attempted to remedy that problem during the offseason.

This is meant to be a quick glance at the Twins roster; a more in-depth breakdown will come closer to the start of the season and after more projection systems have been released.

Minnesota Twins

Key Additions - Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kurt Suzuki, Jason Kubel

Key Losses - Ryan Doumit

20-second lineup:

2B Brian Dozier
1B Joe Mauer
LF Josh Willingham
DH Jason Kubel
RF Oswaldo Arcia
3B Trevor Plouffe
C Josmil Pinto
CF Aaron Hicks
SS Pedro Florimon

20-second rotation:

RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP Mike Pelfrey
RHP Kevin Correia
RHP Samuel Deduno

Top Bullpen Options:

LHP Glen Perkins
RHP Casey Fien
LHP Brian Duensing
RHP Jared Burton

Potential moves still left: Sign another veteran starter, make a run at Stephen Drew, wait for Byron Buxton

Analysis: The Twins lost at least 95 games for the third straight season in 2013 after winning back-to-back division crowns the two previous seasons. Minnesota's offense has been below average during their stay in the cellar, but the team's terrible starting pitching staff has been the main culprit for their failures.

The venerable Steven Goldman did most of the legwork with this chart, but has graciously allowed me to use it in previous posts. It shows just how inept Twins' starters have been at missing bats the past two seasons; only the 1911 St. Louis Browns had a worse starter strikeout rate compared to league average:

Browns 1911 2.57 4.2 -1.63
Twins 2013 6.11 7.65 -1.54
Twins 2012 5.9 7.41 -1.52
Rockies 1997 5.47 6.89 -1.42
Yankees 1972 4.1 5.5 -1.4
Nationals 2009 5.76 7.09 -1.34
Tigers 2003 4.78 6.11 -1.33
Cardinals 1986 4.67 6 -1.33
Orioles 1989 4.2 5.48 -1.28
Pirates 2009 5.83 7.09 -1.26

I'm actually amazed the Royals never showed up on that chart. Anyways, Minnesota has attempted to shore up their rotation during the offseason by singing Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million contract and Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal.

Nolasco and Hughes are not world beaters, but neither deal seems outrageous and both represent improvements over the incumbents. I know many around here prefer the Hughes deal to the Jason Vargas contract.

Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia will also return, so Minnesota should still have plenty pitch to contact guys that we can mock. Samuel "Cy" Deduno, Scott Diamond and Vance Worley will likely compete for the final rotation spot, with Alex Meyer potentially making his way to the majors during the season.

The Twins should still have the worst starting rotation in the AL Central, but it appears to not be historically awful anymore.

The Twinkies do have some solid options in their bullpen, especially Glen Perkins. I think they would be wise to move him and his Twitter account for an upgrade elsewhere, like the White Sox did with Addison Reed, but Terry Ryan does not appear motivated to part ways with his closer.

The biggest change to the Minnesota lineup in 2014 is Joe Mauer moving from catcher to first base. I think the move will end up working well; Mauer has the bat to handle first and moving off catcher will hopefully help him stay healthy. The 31-year-old missed the end of the season with concussion symptoms, which influenced the team and Mauer's decision.

Josmil Pinto will start in place of Mauer at catcher. Pinto hit .309/.400/.482 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013 before hitting a scorching .342/.398/.566 in 83 plate appearances. The rookie is not considered a strong defender, but John Sickels notes that he has lost some weight and his scouting reports have improved. If Pinto can provide some power behind the plate, Minnesota could end up with a better offense.

The rest of the Minnesota offense is uninspiring. Josh Willingham seems like an obvious trade deadline candidate. Trevour Plouffe has hit 5% below league average over 1351 plate appearances. Brian Dozier may actually be a solid second baseman, but is stretched hitting in the top of the order. Aaron Hicks managed to post a .192 batting average in 313 plate appearances.

Minnesota may have a loaded farm system, but their major league talent still appears to lag behind the Royals. They should win more than 66 games in 2013, but are unlikely to seriously compete for the AL Central crown.