Playing Pepper 2015: Minnesota Twins

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Preorder this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Minnesota Twins
70-92, fifth in the AL Central

It’s been a bit of a dry patch for the Twins.  Their 70 wins last year was the highest the club had achieved since winning the division back in 2010.  From the outside, at least, it looked like the Twins kept doing the same thing over and over again and not getting any different results.  They shook some things up this offseason with the changing of the guard at manager.  Will that be enough to get this team back into contention in what suddenly is a very competitive AL Central.

I don’t know, but thankfully you don’t come here to listen to me talk about Twins baseball.  We’ve got experts for that and a good number of them today.  First up is Thrylos from The Tenth Inning Stretch.  He’s on Twitter @thrylos98.  In the second slot we have Cody, a Pepper veteran writing at North Dakota Twins Fan and podcasting at Talk To Contact.  Follow him on Twitter @NoDakTwinsFan.  Batting third is Collin from Puckett’s Pond over on the Fansided network.  His Twitter handle is @CollinKottke.  Hitting cleanup and rounding out our order is John from Twins Trivia.  No Twitter for John, so you’ll have to check out his blog for his thoughts!

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

TIS: On the player part, no. They needed a youth movement, better outfield defense, improvements in the pen and rotation. Instead they got a close to 40 year old outfielder with suspect defense and an attitude problem and a 30-something mid-tier pitcher. Alex Meyer and Miguel Sano could have been better choices than those 2 and they wouldn’t have to spend $ (with Plouffe moving to a corner OF position and offering better defense and better bat than Hunter.) On the management part, some. Firing Gardenhire and Co was a good step, because at some point accountability needs to be there. That was about 8 years too late, but late is better than never. I hope that the Front Office is held accountable as well, if they do not win this season.

NDTF: The biggest change this offseason was the team firing Ron Gardenhire and revamping the coaching staff with Paul Molitor at the helm. Adding Ervin Santana should help a pitching staff that finished with the American League’s worst ERA. Signing Torii Hunter will bring a lot of smiles back to the faces of Twins fans but there are questions about how he will be able to produce on the field. His leadership and mentorship of young players like Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks should be worth the money Minnesota is paying him. Because of the poor starting pitching performances in recent years, the Twins bullpen has been taxed. Adding free agent Tim Stauffer and Rule 5 pick JR Graham will help strengthen the bullpen. All of these moves seem great on paper but it’s still a waiting game until their core of young prospects is ready.

PP: I think the Twins did what they had to do and could do. The Twins find themselves in this weird holding pattern, half-waiting for the young guns to save the day. I love the Ervin Santana signing. Another legit starting arm is always welcome. I’m warming to the addition of Torii Hunter, but still not totally sold.

TT: The Twins are and it seems they have always been in need of starting pitching so they dipped into the free agent waters for the second year in a row and this past offseason snagged Ervin Santana. Their venture into the free agent starting pitching fracas last season brought them Ricky Nolasco and he turned in a very forgettable season in 2014. The 31 year-old Santana should fit right into this rotation and provide some stability and leadership to a starting staff that needs it desperately. The biggest change the Twins made this past off-season by a long-shot was firing manager Ron Gardenhire and most of his coaching staff and turning the manager role over to Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. The Twins don’t fire their manager very often, the last time they fired a manager was in 1986 when Ray Miller was let go.

C70: Will Miguel Sano make it to the majors this season?

TIS: I hope so. And I hope so fast.

NDTF: Sano will be on a mission this year and I think he will make it to Target Field by the end of July or beginning of August. He’s always wanted to be on the fast track to the big leagues and he’s so close that he’ll be pushing himself even harder this season. It also helps that young players like Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas had success last season. This might make the Twins more likely to give Sano a chance. It will cause a ripple effect on the team as Trevor Plouffe could be pushed to the outfield but that’s a few month away.

PP: He better. I believe he will. He’s so strong and even though the Twins want to make sure their players are developed, the Twins need to show even more of the future sooner than later. This four-year suckfest has detreated the fans base and it needs to be rejuvenated. The only two ways to do that is young guys and winning again. Miguel Sano will supply both of that.

TT: Absolutely Miguel Sano will wear a Twins uniform in 2015 but the question is when. There is little to no chance of Sano opening the season at Target Field but he could make his first appearance in a Twins uniform around the All-Star break. The big question with Sano is not if he can hit but where can he play in the field.

C70: Is it good to see Torii Hunter back in a Twins uniform?

TIS: Nope. There used to be a saying in the Twin Cities when Hunter was with the Twins before “there is no I in team, but there are 2 in Torii”. And we are talking about a guy who did not take a fair offer by the Twins when he first became a free agent but followed the money (and opened his big mouth speaking negatively about the Twins) and then he decided to play for the strongest Twins’ division rival. No thank you.

NDTF: Yes and no. I’m not sure how much more Hunter has in the tank. His offensive numbers dipped a little last season and the defensive metrics aren’t kind to him. It also sounds like he wants to bat in the number two spot in the order which could be good or bad depending on his offensive production. He’s already been working long and hard with younger players like Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks. This is great for spring training but when the season starts, Buxton and Hicks might both be in the minor leagues. If things go south in a hurry with this team, it will be interesting to see what kind of leadership Hunter shows.

PP: Eh… I’m wishy-washy on the whole Torii thing. He’s still had solid seasons the last couple, but that is eventually going to come crashing down. He’s old and he’s getting paid a lot of money. There’s a joke around Minnesota in ‘getting the band back together’, last year the Twins did it with Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel, this isn’t that kind of signing. Torii brings something to the table, I just don’t know if it worth the price tag. If he helps this team to a Wild Card berth or better, I won’t complain about the money.

TT: I don’t see the Twins signing Torii Hunter so much as an improvement in the field but more of a clubhouse and PR move. The Twins are coming off of four horrendous seasons and Hunter has always been a favorite of Twins fans and his personality should help the Twins younger players learn the game on the field and how to be professionals off the field.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

TIS: Mike Pelfey. I see him as a cornerstone in the Twins’ pen and potentially the closer by the All Star break.

NDTF: I would love to say Aaron Hicks because he seems to have all the tools and talent to make it as an everyday player. There just hasn’t been any signs of life from him at baseball’s highest level. I think Brian Dozier has the best opportunity to make some strides this season. In his third full season of playing second base, he could make some strides on the defensive side of the ball to enter the conversation as one of the best second basemen in the American League. His offense can be streaky so it will take some more consistency this year especially since it sounds like he’ll have a new contract in place before Opening Day.

PP: I think Brian Dozier is poised for a breakout year. He is one of the best second basemen in the American League and I think he’ll really shine in 2015. The Twins and him are currently talking extension which is a smart move, in my opinion. Dozier is one of my picks to be an All-Star this summer.

On another note, I expect big comeback years for Joe Mauer and Ricky Nolasco. Simply on the basis of they can’t be that bad again. Especially, Mauer. Mauer is a really, really good baseball player no matter what some idiot fans will try to say.

TT: I believe that pitcher Kyle Gibson will be the most improved Twin. He now has a full season as a starter under his belt and in 2014 he was either really good or really bad. I think he will become a more consistent pitcher this season and finally start to become the pitcher that the Twins have hoped to see.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

TIS: Hard to tell, because I like to see them play at Spring Training before I make a projection. I’d say about 75-87 (their Pythagorean from last season) and fourth place look about right from here, but depends how they play in Spring and who comes up North. If the latter includes Alex Meyer and Miguel Sano, I’d add 5-8 wins…

NDTF: 77-85, 5th Place in the AL Central

PP: I looked it up and on my site earlier this year I said 82-80 which I suppose I will stick with. Last season I said if the Twins lost 90-games again I was going to start covering the Cardinals (I look up at my keychain St. Louis bobble and grin), but I’m giving the Twins another chance or two… They’ll finish third in the division. I find it very plausible for the Twins to finish in any position in the division, most likely between two through four.

TT: It appears that the Twins are doomed to finish in the AL cellar in 2015 but they will be an improved team and finish with a record of about 78-84. This record could be slightly better if Twins management decided to go “all-in” earlier in the season with all their prized prospects like Sano, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario. However, I am not holding my breath, the wheels in the Twins offices turn ever so slow.

C70: What do you like best about being a Twins fan?

TIS: Everything 🙂 I cannot help being a Twins’ fan. How am I enjoying their play after 1992? Not that much.

NDTF: Even though there have been some rough years recently in Twins Territory, the core group of fans have stayed true to this team. Hopefully, they will be rewarded in the next handful of years with star players like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, etc.

PP: Our stadium is pretty darn great. I went to the new Busch Stadium before Target Field opened up and I was blown away, but I have to say Target Field is even better. The fellow blogs that are dedicated to the Twins are awesome as well! For such a small market, there are a lot of passionate Twins fans blogging about our team.

TT: I am a baseball fan and the Twins have been my home town team since they left Washington after the 1960 season and moved to Minnesota. The Twins have had some great players over the years and they have been fun to watch.

I appreciate Thrylos, Cody, Collin and John for taking the time to talk some baseball with us.  The Twins would seem to have their work cut out for them, but given how quickly turnarounds happen in baseball these days, you just never know!

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