So the season is about to start and, as usual, injuries are making their impact on all the projections during the hot stove league. Lets review where the Twins are going into the opener.
Mike Redmond - Redmond has been a solid backup for the last couple years. But he is not getting any younger, to say the least, and there is serious questions about his ability to perform at that same level if he is catching every day. Both his batting average and the physical side of his defense may suffer. He remains a solid catcher who will provide leadership to a young and experienced pitching staff.
Jose Morales - Morales strength is his offense. His defense needs work. But as a guy who was converted to catching after turning pro, there is a lot or room for him to improve with playing time. Given Redmond's age, he needs to be good enough to catch more than once every 5 days. If Mauer is out for an extended period, Morales play may become critical. If too much weight falls on Redmond, things are going to unravel. Morales needs to be able to work with the young pitching staff. If he can do that, his bat will be "good enough".
Joe Mauer - There is nothing to say here except that the Twins may actually be able to survive for a period without him. That would not have been true last year. But if the bats that showed up in spring training were real, they are a lot less dependent on Joe for offense.
Even if Morneau doesn't repeat last year, he will continue to be a major threat in the middle of the order. But, with a better supporting cast behind him, he may be even better. He is going to see a lot better pitches if Young, Cuddyer and Crede are hammering the ball. A guy who is already a perennial MVP candidate could be even better. Morneau is really a guy the Twins can't replace.
No one really wants to hear it, but this is one of the Twins question marks. Casilla has the potential to be a star, but his career so far has been hot and cold. He needs to show some consistency and that may not happen immediately. If he is on his game, he provides good defense, great range and a spark-plug at the top of the order.
Punto is going to be an improvement on last year. Whether he can hold up playing every day over a full season remains a question. He will never be a real offensive threat. But his glove is solid and he is actually not a bad hitter for a non-juiced shortstop. Remember all those stories about the "new" kind of shortstop who hits for power - Tejada and Rodriguez? It turns out that new kind of shortstop may have been just a regular shortstop on steroids.
Crede is a huge improvement both in the field and at the plate over guys like Mike Lamb or the Buscher/Harris platoon. The question is whether he can stay healthy playing on turf. That is why he was available.
Buscher and Harris are likely to start the season with Tolbert as a possibility. All three are likely to see some playing time. That depth is one of the Twins strengths that make having guys with injury histories, like Punto and Crede. in the lineup less of a risk than if they had no one to step in. I am not sure either Tolbert or Harris are everyday players at shortstop. If Punto is on the DL for an extended period, we may see Trevor Plouffe given a chance.
Crowded. That is the obvious word to describe the current situation. The starting point has all four outfielders rotating pretty much equally with Young in left, Gomez in center, Cuddyer in right and Span playing all three spots. Chances are the pecking order will sort itself out differently as the season progresses. If Young and Gomez play to their potential, they are going to be in the lineup almost every day. That will mean less playing time for Span and/or Cuddyer.
If Span continues his spring struggles with the bat, he could easily end up the 4th outfielder rather than one of four. What will keep him in the lineup is his glove and his value as the Twins best lead off hitter.
Kubel looks poised for a breakout and the Twins really need for him to step up as a replacement to Joe Mauer in the number three spot in the batting order.
The Twins have five solid young starters. But very few teams get through a season with five starters and injuries have already started to have an impact on the Twins with Baker starting the season on the DL.
Liriano is by far the young starter with the most potential. He is really the only one that looks as if he has the potential to be a perennial Cy Young candidate. Baker, Slowey and Perkins are all guys who have good stuff and know how to use it. should give their teams a chance to win. Blackburn may be the weak link in terms of upside, but he has shown the ability to get major league hitters out.
Dickey looks like he is in line to start the season as the 6th starter, taking Baker's place. He will live or die on his knuckleball. While he has been great in spring training, the knuckleball is a notoriously fickle pitch. If he can keep throwing it for strikes he will be valuable both out of the bullpen and as a spot starter.
The other candidate for the job if Humber, but it is not clear he is ready to pitch at the major league level. And there is no one at AAA who has shown they are ready to step up as a sixth starter either. The one redeaming thing is that there are many candidates who might do that before the end of this season. But right now the Twins starting pitching depth for the major league team is questionable. As long as the starters stay mostly healthy, this will be a team strength. But if they lose a couple guys and have to start experimenting with guys from AAA again they could lose a lot of games before they land on someone who can do the job.
Closer? Check. Nathan is one of the best
Setup guy? Maybe. They have a couple guys capable of taking this role, but no one who has proven they own it. Guerrier, Ayala and Crain are the guys who look most likely to step up.
Breslow and Duensing are the bullpen's lefties. Breslow looked like he established himself last year, but its important to remember he was a waiver claim. That means he needs to prove it wasn't just a good few months for him last year. Duensing won a spot in spring training and will no doubt have a learning curve once major league hitters have seen him enough.
Humber is the long reliever. He has the talent to be a setup guy. But he has not really shown he is even ready to pitch at the big league level yet. How long he will get the opportunity to prove himself is still an open question.
To start the season:
I think when Cuddyer and Young are both in the lineup they will be together in the order with everyone else moving down and Gomez will move to the leadoff spot when Span sits out a game. At least that is they way things look now.
With Mauer in the lineup:
Its also possible Crede will bat lower in the order if Cuddyer or Young step up. But I think Gardy will avoid having the outfield "musical chairs" play out in the heart of the order.
Are the Twins the favorite? Probably. But a lot will depend on how healthy they stay. On the other hand, they actually have a fair amount of depth across the board. They can absorb some hits and stay competitive. They are certainly the deepest Twins club in a very long time. It should be an interesting year.