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Playing Pepper 2011: Minnesota Twins

Posted on March 10, 2011 at 12:31 PM
Filed Under: Minnesota Twins | Playing Pepper
Two years ago, I started a series I called Playing Pepper, where I asked questions of bloggers of each major league team about the season to come.  Not only was that informative and entertaining, it led to the spawning of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With spring training coming up, it's time to get back into shape by again playing a little pepper.

Minnesota Twins (94-68, 6 GA and first in the AL Central; lost in the ALDS)

Last year was a big year for the Twins.  They moved outside to a beautiful new open-air stadium and then christened it with a divisional title (that, for the first time in a couple of years, didn't take Game 163) and, while October was shorter than expected, there was still a lot of hope for the future.  It's a long way from the contraction talks and there is no shame in being a Twins fan in baseball today.

What about 2011?  Can they continue to be the class of the division?  Three Minnesota bloggers will let us know.

Around the horn, it's Andrew Kneeland of Twins Target, part of the Bloguin network.  Andrew's got an interesting look at social media and baseball coverage going on so check it out.  Also, you can find him on Facebook and Twitter.  

He'll toss to Wally Fish, who has done a number of different blogs but has now settled at Puckett's Pond on the FanSided network.  Wally's also the MLB Director for FanSided and can be found Tweeting and Facebooking.

Wrapping it up will be Cody Christie.  Like me, Cody doesn't live in the state of his favorite team, as noted by his blog North Dakota Twins Fan.  As with the others, you can also find him over on Twitter.

The guys talk about a main cog returning from Tommy John surgery after the jump, something that would probably perk up the ears of Cardinals fans.

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C70: What was your opinion of the Minnesota offseason?

TT: It was a pretty dull offseason for Twins fans, but a middle infield shuffle did keep things entertaining. Minnesota dealt JJ Hardy to Baltimore in a poorly-disguised salary dump, and showed off their new-found international scouting by signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka in what could be the bargain of the winter. I believe the team's offseason was a net loss, but a healthy Morneau could keep the Twins where they were last year. 

PP: All in all I was pretty pleased with the Twins offseason. I think moving JJ Hardy and Brendan Harris, despite the uninspired return, was a sound and intelligent decision. I know I'm in the minority on that within the Twins blogosphere, but Hardy has always been overvalued in my eyes and was not a long term solution at SS. I was also pleased that they read the market correctly and let Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch sign elsewhere. Of the four, Guerrier was the only one I was really hoping to see back for 2011 but given the 3-year $12 million contract he got from the Dodgers I completely understand the team's decision. Resigning Matt Capps was a necessary move given his experience and success as a closer over the years and can cover the Twins if Nathan takes awhile to round back into form after his surgery last year. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, by all accounts, is a perfect fit for the Twins and should be able to hold down 2B or SS while forming a nice DP combination with Alexi Casilla. Minnesota's offseason wasn't sexy and it wasn't splashy, but I think it was filled with sound, intelligent moves that will help the team in both the short and the long term.  

NDTF: I feel that most Twins fans were disappointed in seeing a lot of the Twins bullpen exit for greener pastures. The Twins are capable of using many of their internal options to fill their bullpen roles. The best thing about this offseason might have been the fact that the Twins didn't have to deal with Joe Mauer's contract. By having that distraction out of the way, the Twins were able to focus on other endeavors. The addition of Tsuyoshi Nishioka has a lot of fans excited this offseason. His addition to the middle infield could go a long way to helping the Twins to a third straight Central Division title.

C70: Did Delmon Young finally take a step last year or was it a mirage?

TT: He did take a step forward in the offensive department, but Young is still miserable in the field. In fact, his defense is so poor it almost negates his bat. Even so, Young will spend a considerable portion of the 2011 season in left field, and Twins fans will be hoping he can find a way to complement his power with some on-base skills. 

PP: I've written about Delmon Young quite a bit in the last couple weeks (here and here), and I am about as pro-Delmon as you can get outside of his friends and family. So naturally I think DY took the first of many steps last year. I believe he has just started to scratch the surface of his sizable potential and is primed for a massive, breakout season in 2011. 

NDTF: Entering last season Delmon Young seemed to give fans the impression that he was ready to make the next step. He came into Spring Training in the best shape of his life and that translated into a monster year for the Twins leftfielder. He needs to show the Twins that he is capable of sustaining this production if he wants to continue to be a part of the organization. The Twins have a lot of young outfield prospects (Ben Revere, Joe Benson, and Aaron Hicks) that are chomping at the bit to be part of the major league club. It will be great to see if Young can reproduce his production from last season, especially if Mauer and Morneau are also healthy and part of the middle of the line-up.

C70: What are the expectations for Joe Nathan this year?

TT: There are zero expectations for Joe Nathan this year, which is why the Twins felt obligated to tender a contract to the vastly-overpaid Matt Capps. If Nathan can resume his dominance in the 9th inning, Minnesota could have a very reliable back end of the bullpen. But 'expectations'? I expected Nathan to retire after he went down with injury last year, but he's trying a comeback. Nathan is going to have to be good to live up to his $11.25 million contract, but we certainly don't expect him to. 

PP: It's impossible to know how guys are going to come back from Tommy John surgery. The good news for the Twins is that relievers generally make it back more quickly. They are also usually able to shake the rust off faster than starting pitchers. Joe Nathan in particular has always been dedicated to his career and his work ethic and attitude have never been in question so I have no doubt that he will be back near the top of his game in short order. He pitched a scoreless inning in his first game since the surgery on March 1st and it appears that all signs are positive. Together they have a big price tag, but Capps and Nathan give the Twins a deadly 1-2 combo in the 8th and 9th. 

NDTF: Nathan is proving this spring that he is capable of being the closer again this season. The Twins are going to be cautious with him and I think this is the right approach. Matt Capps provides some insurance for the Twins in the closer role. All indications point to Nathan getting around 2/3's of the save opportunities with Capps getting the other 1/3. Nathan has dealt with a shoulder surgery in the past and recovering from that has allowed him to be more focused when it comes to this current recovery. With Nathan back to his normal form this season, the rest of the chaos in the bullpen might be easier to smooth out.

C70: Is there a Twins prospect that will make a significant impact this season?

TT: Kyle Gibson will likely be making his major-league debut at some point this season, most likely when the Twins' rotation is in need up an upgrade. Gibson has four quality pitches and is almost universally regarded as a potential #2/#3 starting pitcher, with 'ace-like' upside. 

PP: The one prospect that has everyone in Twins Territory universally excited is right-handed starter Kyle Gibson. Minnesota's 1st round pick in the 2009 draft out of the University of Missouri, Gibson tore through three levels of the minors last season. He is in camp this spring and while he will likely be sent down to start the season, the question isn't "if" but rather "when" he will make his major league debut this season. He has some strong supporters in the prospect community, like Jim Callis, who raves about Gibson's future as a major league starter. Beyond Gibson, the Twins have a pair of outfielders in Ben Revere and Joe Benson who both figure to contribute in the majors this year. That said the team needs more quality at the top of the rotation and Kyle Gibson is the guy that has the potential to be a #2 starter 

NDTF: The Twins have a surplus of starting pitching at the moment, but the one prospect that is most ready to make an impact at the major league level is also a starting pitcher. Kyle Gibson is the most major league ready player in the Twins organization. From college to the minor leagues, he has shown that he is on the fast track to make his mark at the major league level. The biggest question might be how the Twins will make room for him in a jam packed rotation. If any of the Twins starting pitchers struggle at the beginning of the season, Gibson will be making his major league debut sooner rather than later.

C70: What is your prediction for Minnesota's record and divisional finish?

TT: I expect the Twins will finish roughly where they were last year, with maybe an extra loss or two to account for the improved division. Assuming Minnesota can count on the contributions of a healthy Morneau for a full season, they should be at least be in contention for a playoff spot next September. 

PP: The Twins suffered a litany of injuries to key players last season and still won the AL Central going away last year. They will open the 2011 season with half of their bullpen rebuilt, but that is the one portion of a roster that can be overhauled with relative ease, and the Twins are no stranger to rebuilding their pen. Their final record may not show it since wins in the AL are going to be very tough to come by but I think the 2011 Twins are going to be better than they were in 2010. I also believe the impact of the Tigers and White Sox offseason moves have been widely overstated and both teams still have flaws and holes that need to be addressed. The Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central this year by at least 3-4 games and finish with a 91-71 record. 

NDTF: There are so many question marks that currently plague the Twins and their run for a third straight Central Division title. Morneau's health, Mauer's knee, a unproven bullpen, and a revamped middle infield are all areas that need to work out in favor of the Twins for the team to be successful. Even with obstacles to overcome, the Twins always seem to find themselves in the heat of the pennant race at the end of the year. The White Sox and Tigers have also bulked up to try and take down the Twins. The Twins will be fighting for the title but will fall a few games short at the end of the year. A total of 88 wins and a 2nd place finish will be the Twins fate in 2011.

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