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Molly's Cupcakes: A Minnesota Twins preview

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A look ahead at the White Sox' first visitors to U.S. Cellular Field in 2015

"And I contend that pitcher acquired that Stanozolol BEFORE he entered Molitor's House of Pharmaceuticals."
"And I contend that pitcher acquired that Stanozolol BEFORE he entered Molitor's House of Pharmaceuticals."
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins are a weird bunch in that there's tons of nice things to say about their players, but there's great consensus that they'll be one of the worst teams in the American League.

The 2014 Twins finished in the AL Central cellar, exactly where everyone expected them to be, with a record of 70-92. It represented a mere four-win improvement over a disastrous 2013 campaign, but that result wasn't troubling for a team that's simply biding its time until some of the best prospects in the game get promoted to the big league club. Actually, given where the value came from, the Twins have to be downright happy with last year's big-league results. Similar to the White Sox, the 2014 Twins got plenty of value from guys that will be building blocks for the future, while being dragged down by other guys who stink and don't matter, like Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey.

Take the offense, for example. It was expected that the Twins' offense would fare better than their pitchers, but it still registered as a nice surprise that their offense crept into the top half of the American League in runs scored while playing in a pitchers' park. It happened because the primary player at each of their nine lineup slots registered an OPS+ above 100 (even Eduardo Escobar!). The reason the Twins weren't an offensive juggernaut was because all nine except Danny Santana and his absurd .406 BABIP finished between 102 and 115. There weren't really any sinkholes, but there weren't any major stars at the plate either.

Headlining the position players who took a big step forward was second baseman Brian Dozier, who clubbed 23 homers while upping his walk rate and racking up over 700 plate appearances. His strong 2013 season was a nice surprise. Now, he looks like a true cornerstone player. The aforementioned Santana probably won't hit .319 or have another year close to 4.0 bWAR again. However, he's a guy who can play shortstop and shift to center field when your Aaron Hicks v.2.0 beta model inevitably malfunctions, and that has plenty of value.

Then there's Trevor Plouffe, a guy who, in this space last year, I joked was an obvious stopgap for top prospect Miguel Sano. In a direct response to my column, Plouffe put together a 4.0 bWAR season, clubbing 40 doubles and drastically improving his defense at third base. He now has to be considered a part of the Twins' future, so what would have been a natural succession at the hot corner just turned into what Marlo Stanfield would call "one of them good problems".

Left fielder Oswaldo Arcia didn't show much growth in his sophomore season, but he still reached 20 homers and draws enough walks to remain interesting, despite the frightening strikeout rates. He could have a true "bash brother" in lumbering designated hitter Kennys Vargas, who has tremendous raw power but, contrary to his minor league track record, swung at everything in sight last year. Both of these guys have a chance to become forces of terror at the plate if they can rein in their all-or-nothing approaches.

Even though the pitching side of things was something of a disaster in Minnesota, there was a significant bright spot in Phil Hughes, who emerged as a top-of-the-rotation starter. Hughes allows fly balls by the truckload, so it comes as no surprise that moving from the tighter confines of Yankee Stadium to the spacious Target Field served him well. The surprise came from Hughes dramatically cutting his walk rate; he walked only 1.9 percent of opposing hitters in 2014. It will be interesting to see if he can sustain most of those gains going forward.

Elsewhere, Kyle Gibson established himself as a big-league starter, albeit a back-end type, and top prospect Alex Meyer had a solid, if uneven season at Triple-A Rochester, blowing away hitters with a fastball that can touch 100 and missing the strike zone enough to keep things interesting. Meyer should be ready to step into the major league rotation soon. He'll join Ricky Nolasco, who will be hoping to rebound from a disastrous 2014, and new import Ervin Santana, who'll be durable enough to eat plenty of league-average innings once he returns from his suspension for taking the hilariously-named banned substance Stanozolol. Sure, for now they have to get by with lefty soft-tosser Tommy Milone and the aforementioned Pelfrey's gasoline-flavored brand of pitching, but the Twins now boast more depth in the rotation than they've seen in years.

Still, with all of this promise on the roster, the Twins aren't all that serious yet, partially evidenced by the signing of Torii Hunter for a year and asking him to play defense. Hunter hasn't completely fallen off the table at the plate yet, but the signing strikes the casual observer as one more directed at providing some nostalgia for the fans and serving as a mentor for some of the team's younger hitters. It's perhaps fitting that "Torii Hunter" is an anagram for "Hire-in Tutor".

Also delaying the Twins' competitive timetable were injuries to their top two prospects. Byron Buxton is still considered by some to be the game's overall top prospect even after a wrist injury (among other maladies) limited him to just 31 unspectacular games last year. The 21 year-old center fielder boasts tremendous speed, a great arm, and a swift stroke at the plate. He'll be looking to recover from what was essentially a lost season. Elsewhere, 22 year-old thumper Miguel Sano missed the entire season to Tommy John surgery. Both guys still have a good chance to enter the major league picture by the end of 2015.

We've come this far without discussing the $184 million elephant in the room, Joe Mauer, and that's probably a mixed blessing. On the plus side, the Twins have a handful of guys that are more interesting to talk about. On the minus side, Mauer's decline at the plate seems to have coincided with the increased offensive expectations demanded by a move from catcher to first base. He's no long an elite contact hitter, and last season's drop in power was troubling as well. Still, the Twins of the future should have enough firepower to compete in a universe in which Joe Mauer is a good, not great player.

As a new wave of players arrives to take control of the future of the Twins' organization, it's perhaps fitting that longtime skipper Ron Gardenhire was fired in favor of rookie manager Paul Molitor. The times they are a-changin' in Minnesota, and a departure with Gardenhire may well symbolize a departure from the outdated organizational philosophies of emphasizing control over strikeouts for pitchers and the piranha-like offensive mentality that worked much better in a dome than it does at Target Field. The Twins probably have one more year left in them of being a divisional doormat as some stopgap pitchers and a bad defense allow runs by the truckload. After 2015, though, watch out.

Predicted Record and Finish: 68-94, 5th place, AL Central

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Danny Santana - SS

SP1. Phil Hughes - RHP

2. Brian Dozier - 2B

SP2. Ricky Nolasco - RHP

3. Joe Mauer - 1B

SP3. Kyle Gibson - RHP

4. Torii Hunter - RF

SP4. Tommy Milone - LHP

5. Kennys Vargas - DH

SP5. Mike Pelfrey – RHP

6. Trevor Plouffe - 3B

CL. Glen Perkins -- LHP

7. Oswaldo Arcia - LF

RP1. Casey Fien – RHP

8. Kurt Suzuki - C

RP2. Brian Duensing -- LHP

9. Jordan Schafer - CF

RP3. Blaine Boyer -- RHP