We conclude our series of outlooks against Central Division foes with the boys up north, the Minnesota Twins.
The Twins finished in last in the Central for the third time in four seasons following a run of six playoff appearances in nine years. They won just 70 games, although they fielded a largely young team with some upside potential. Minnesota finished fifth in the league in runs scored despite a down-year from Joe Mauer and the third-youngest lineup in the league. While the lineup doesn't have any big stars other than Mauer, it also had few glaring holes last year as all nine of their starters had an OPS+ over 100. The Twins did have a hole in their outfield they recently plugged by bringing back veteran free agent Torii Hunter to return to Minnesota.
The Twins splurged on free agent pitching last year with wildly different results. Right-hander Phil Hughes, signed to a three-year $24 million contract, proved to be one of the best bargains of the off-season with 16 wins and a 2.65 FIP and a microscopic walk-ratio of 0.8 per-nine-innings. However Ricky Nolasco, signed to a four-year, $49 million contract, was a disaster with a 4.30 FIP (5.38 ERA). The Twins were dead last in the league in runs allowed, and will seek more starting pitching depth around Nolasco, Hughes, and Mizzou alum Kyle Gibson.
I had a chance to talk to Jesse Lund, editor at our sister site Twinkie Town, to discuss the Twins offseason.
Royals Review: What are the biggest holes the Twins need to fill this offseason?
Jesse Lund: Even with the acquisition of Torii Hunter, the Twins need to decide how they want to roll in the outfield. Do they give Aaron Hicks the center field job for the 3rd season in a row and hope he is ready this time? Or do they sent him to Triple-A and target a free agent like Colby Rasmus or an undervalued asset in a trade such as Peter Bourjos? With Torii Hunter and Oswaldo Arcia lumbering around in the corners (so tired of bad defensive corner outfielders), the center fielder needs to be very, very good.
Royals Review: What is the feeling of Twins fans on the reunion with Torii Hunter?
Jesse Lund: At first we were all like "No way, that's not happening, but it'd be fun, right?" And then we were like "Oh wait, the Twins are serious, so...lols." And then it sounded like he was going to a contender so we were all "Phew, man, dodged a bullet." But in the end it's all "Know what it's like when that hot ex shows up one night and you're like NO GO AWAY I DON'T NEED YOU but part of you is still like YES YES YES WE ALREADY KNOW IT WILL BE FUN WHO CARES IF WE'LL HATE OURSELVES IN THE MORNING LET'S GO."
Royals Review: The Twins were active in free agency last year getting Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Do you anticipate them spending more money this winter?
Jesse Lund: They better, or there will be riots. I'm in an odd position where I advocate more spending, but it can't just be throwing bad money around. There is such a massive core of young players who need playing time - it restricts the areas in which the Twins can funnel the money to get better. Heading into the off-season that was the outfield and starting pitching. Now, it's...well, probably the outfield and starting pitching.
Royals Review: How do Twins fans feel about the hiring of new manager Paul Molitor and his new coaching staff?
Jesse Lund: I don't mind it. It's been coming for about 13 years. He's a "great baseball mind," and I could probably say that without the quotes. We'll see more defensive shifts going forward, we'll probably see platoons if they present themselves, and we should see a team that knows how to position itself on defense and that knows how to read pitchers. Molitor is detail-oriented to an insane degree, and he should be able to squeeze the most out of his roster as a result. At least, that's my pitch.
Royals Review: The Twins had a pretty young team last year. What young players do you see breaking through in 2015 that Royals fans should know about?
Jesse Lund: In the rotation, Alex Meyer has Ace stuff but can struggle with command. Great velocity, lots of strikeouts - just needs the opportunity.
Josmil Pinto, if he can just throw ONE runner out, will be a catcher who can hit. But that whole defense thing is an issue. Oswaldo Arcia has been around for a couple of years now, but I'd peg him as a breakout candidate. If Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are happy, we could see their debuts sometime after the All-Star break. In the bullpen there are a number of interesting options.
After how the Twins have drafted the last couple years, there's a real chance that between 2015 and 2016 we see an influx of high-velocity, high-strikeout pitchers under team control. Forward-looking fans are liking the idea of forgoing the "six-inning game" in favor of the "four or five-inning game." Of course that's optimistic, but Lester Oliveros, Tyler Jones, Zack Jones, Jake Reed, Nick Burdi, and others will all be ready in the next 6 to 18 months.
Thanks to Jesse Lund at Twinkie Town for talking with us. You can follow all the latest news on the Minnesota Twins at www.twinkietown.com.