The Twins don't really have piranhas anymore. Instead, they have Brian Dozier, a guy whose primary means of annoyance is hitting the ball out of the park way more often than you think he should. Ron Gardenhire penciled Dozier and his poor batting average into one of the top 2 slots of the lineup 95 times last year. It was an odd fit for him given that his power outpaces his on-base skills, but the Twins didn't have many better options. Alas, if the spring is any indication, Dozier's a good bet to start the season in the leadoff slot. Joe Mauer is no longer a catcher! This is because the Twins decided to give Old No. 7 a $184M contract and they have some interest in Mauer playing as much baseball as possible through 2018. The move should help keep him on the field and this is a good thing for baseball because watching Joe Mauer hit is pretty neat. The plummet down the defensive spectrum is a bummer, but the nice thing about a .400 OBP is that it plays anywhere.
Manning right field for the Twins is young Oswaldo Arcia, a promising hitter that held his own in his first (partial) season in the majors. The campaign wasn't without red flags. Arcia struck out 5 times as often as he walked, with the former taking place with Adam Dunn-like frequency. In-between strikeouts, Arcia flashes good power that gives hope that he carve out a good career as a starting corner outfielder, albeit of the "please don't hit it at him" variety. After a great 2012, Josh Willingham pancaked in 2013, partially due to a knee injury. If healthy, he could be a decent bounceback candidate with homers in the mid-to-high 20's, but the 35-year-old is a pretty good bet to miss a chunk of games. Sources close to Willingham claim that he owns a baseball glove, but I spoke with a few defensive metrics that insist that Willingham's camp has no proof of this.
Someone managed to prevent the Twins front office from learning that Gavin Floyd no longer pitches in the AL Central, so they wound up bringing back Jason Kubel. Kubel failed to even do his usual righty-mashing last season, so he'll have to bounce back in a big way to be a useful player. The Twins are hoping worse-than-usual knee (and quad) problems were the reason for his lost 2013, but Kubel's knees have been a problem since he came into the league and he's now on the wrong side of 30. He's one of two Jasons the Twins nostalgically brought back from their '07 lineup. If I'm Jason Tyner, I'm feeling pretty left out right about now. Trevor Placehol....errr...Plouffe is going to man third base for the Twins to kick off the year. For some reason, I get a "light-hitting" vibe from the sound of Plouffe's last name, but in reality, power is probably his best tool. "Best" is relative, though; over a full season it's probably not wise to expect more than a homer total in the high teens out of him. The plan was for Plouffe to hold down the fort until the Twins were ready to unleash the fury of Miguel Sano on Major League pitching, but the latter's Tommy John surgery will give Plouffe another extended opportunity to show he belongs.
Kurt Suzuki put together a few pretty good seasons for the A's in his youth, but he has been a pretty miserable hitter for a couple seasons now and there's no reason to think it's going to get any better. Fortunately for the Twins, they have Josmil Pinto lined up to take over behind the dish. Pinto is an offense-first catcher that was very impressive in his brief MLB debut last season. He'll likely settle in as an above average Major League hitter, without the "for a catcher" qualification.
Aaron Hicks beat out the fourth-outfielder-shaped Alex Presley (who's now an Astro) for the center field job in spring training, but there's a Byron Buxton under his bed! Nasty little buggers, those things. They make your skills appear futile and suck the playing time right out of you. While the Twins dream on everyone's favorite prospect, Hicks will get another extended look. His good baserunning skills make him a tempting choice for the top of the order, but it's tough to expect someone who strikes out as often as Hicks to be a consistent on-base threat. Perhaps taking note of this, Gardenhire has kept him away from the top of the order this spring, so there's a good chance he'll bat further down to start the season. Nonetheless, he plays great defense in center and throws very well, so there'll be something of a silver lining to his play even if things don't get much better than 2013 at the plate. Pedro Florimon is a glovely shortstop who marks the 4th player in this lineup (excluding Kubel) that isn't a great bet to have a starting role on a Major League team in the near future. His good defense makes him somewhat useful in spite of the light bat, but it's unlikely he'll be much of a barrier to the next interesting option the Twins consider for the position.
The Twins had a pretty awful rotation in 2012, so they decided to throw a bunch of different right-handed 4th and 5th starters at the problem last year. That didn't work out too great, so they're doing more of the same this time around with the exception of Ricky Nolasco, who gets to sit in the special "default ace" chair the Twins installed in their clubhouse back in 2011. While not a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher, Nolasco comes packing well above-average control and a slider that works as a great out pitch. He's one of those odd ducks whose FIP is consistently rosier than his ERA, in part due to pitching in front of bad Marlins defenses for years. How Kevin Correia has managed to stay in Major League rotations is beyond me. His K-rate is one of the weakest you'll find, and he doesn't generate the eye-popping ground-ball percentages (to the extent those actually 'wow' people....) that you'd like to see from a pitch-to-contact guy. One of these days, the BABIP gods will punish him, but this weak ensemble is entering its seventh season as a rotation regular. No matter how bad the end will be, Correia's already come out ahead.
Former Yankee top prospect Phil Hughes is an extreme flyballer that will benefit from the move to Target Field, but not from the corner outfielders on Target Field's home team. Hughes added a slider to his repertoire in 2012 and has since relied on it heavily to generate strikeouts. For those subjected mostly to Twins baseball in recent years, that's the outcome when your pitcher gets three strikes on the batter before either four balls (I'll explain this one another time) or the ball is put in play. I might fall asleep if I start writing about Mike Pelfrey, but I'm going to chance it anyway. Pelfrey (you might want to sit down for this) is a right-handed Twins pitcher that doesn't miss many bats. The White Sox welcomed him to the American League last year to the tune of .345/.390/.518 over 5 starts. If the 2013 White Sox mash you that hard, you should probably just give up.
Samuel Deduno was beat out by Kyle Gibson for the fifth starter spot out of spring training, which made the outlook for the Twins rotation a whole lot happier. Gibson had a pretty awful tour of duty in the majors in 2013, but that really doesn't do him justice. He's 6'6'' with a good low-90's fastball and has shown an ability to produce ground balls by the truckload throughout his minor league career. Whether the strikeouts come with him to the majors will be the big question, as they didn't in last year's (somewhat small) sample. Closing out games for the Twins is lefty Glen Perkins. Perkins has been outstanding since his transition to late-inning reliever from starting. Starters are the more valuable commodity, sure, but Perkins is a great argument for failing starters to try to reinvent themselves as relievers. The lefty had trouble getting strikeouts as a member of the Twins rotation, but a move to the bullpen added a few ticks to his fastball and last year he fanned 11 hitters per 9 innings with his newfound mid-90's heat.
Outlook & Prediction: This Opening Day roster doesn't look too great, but like the Sox, Twins fans will have plenty of promising young players to root for as they build towards a better future. Predicted record & finish: 70-92, 5th place - AL Central.