What to Expect from the Minnesota Twins in 2014?
Summer were long for the Minnesota Twins, and their fans last year. The Twins lost 96 games, but there's fresh grass, and new faces that may provide a glimpse of optimism in 2014.
Manager Ron Gardenhire is back, and tabbed three new coaches. Tom Brunansky takes over as hitting coach, Bobby Cuellar will be the new bullpen coach, and Terry Steinbach is the new bench coach and catching instructor.
In the starting rotation, there's two new faces. Ricky Nolasco is Monday's Opening Day starter against the Chicago White Sox. He battled injuries a year ago with the Miami Marlins (in five games, he was 2-2 with a 3.48 ERA). In Spring Training, he struggled, going 0-2 with a 5.50 ERA. In the other four spots, Phil Hughes comes over as a free agent from New York (did not pitch in 2013 due to injuries). Mike Pelfrey was re-signed after going 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA last year with Minnesota. Kevin Correia and Kyle Gibson will fill out the other two spots.
Glen Perkins (2-0, 36 saves, and 2.30 ERA in 2013) is anchoring the bullpen as the closer again after a great season in 2013. Jared Burton, Samuel Deduno, Brian Duensing (currently on paternity leave), Casey Fien, Anthony Swarzak, Caleb Thielbar, and Michael Tonkin will all be available for the Twins in relief in 2014.
In the field, Joe Mauer moves to first base full-time. Monday's Opening Day lineup featured second baseman Brian Dozier batting leading off with catcher Kurt Suzuki (in 15 games, he hit .303 with two home runs in Oakland) and Mauer right behind him. Left fielder Josh Willingham bats clean up, followed by designated hitter Chris Colabello, and third baseman Trevor Plouffe. Right fielder Oswaldo Arcia, center fielder Aaron Hicks, and shortstop Pedro Florimon round out the bottom of the order.
Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel were signed as free agents in the offseason and will play again in the Twin Cities. Bartlett has been playing in Tampa Bay and San Diego the last five years. He played for Minnesota in 2006 and 2007. Kubel played in Arizona the last two years before playing six seasons in Minnesota.
A few of the Twins top prospects will have to wait a little bit longer to see playing time in the majors. MIguel Sano had Tommy John surgery in Spring Training, while Byron Buxton injured his left wrist and will start the year on the disabled list. Buxton was likely to start the year in Double-A. Top pitching prospect, Alex Meyer will start the year in the minors, as well.
The Twins outlook looks similar to last year: long. However, the pitching should be better with Nolasco and Hughes at top of the rotation. Terry Ryan was able to spend some money for some new arms. At the same time, Twins hitters will need to score runs to provide those arms with some help. Last year, Minnesota ranked 25th in MLB while batting .242 as a team. Twins hitters were 18th with 151 home runs.
Expectations may not be higher than the Mendoza Line (.200) for the Twins, but there's even greener grass in the future, as some of their top prospects are getting closer to take a swing at the game's best.
For now, grab a seat on the couch, or visit Target Field to enjoy some Twins baseball!
The Twins can be heard on KSOO 1140 AM all season long.
**Email Sam Tastad at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments or story ideas. Follow him @samtastad on Twitter.**