2014 Season Preview: Minnesota Twins

This is roughly the level of excitement for the major league team in 2014. - Hannah Foslien

The Twins are building for the future, but that doesn't mean there are some interesting goings-on for the major league club in 2014. What should we watch for?

The Minnesota Twins present situation is focused on the future. The farm system is burgeoning with future MLB talent, while the MLB club is burgeoning with future farm talent. The farm system has ranked very highly, with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano headlining the rankings. Unfortunately, Sano has succumbed to Tommy John surgery like everyone else in the league, but his status as someone who doesn't throw from a mound means he should recover and mash baseballs again. Buxton will make AA pitchers wonder what they're doing with their lives as he moves through the system this year. At least fans of the Sometimes Identical Siblings can dream about what Buxton and Sano will bring in the future while they watch a slightly smaller dumpster fire at Target Field.

2013 Season in Review

Many players who logged plate appearances for the Twins in 2013 were simply placeholders, and the 66 wins reflected that fact. Joe Mauer continued to be Joe Mauer, albeit with fewer plate appearances than hoped. Brian Dozier played well. That's really all that can be said about the offense. The starting pitchers were historically bad at making the other team miss the ball, and that problem was exacerbated by an inability of the Twins' team defense to turn those contacted balls into outs. The bullpen was fairly solid, if there's anything on which the pitching staff may hang their hats.

Key Offseason Moves

Signing Ricky Nolasco

Clearly, the foremost move by the Twins was to sign Ricky Nolasco to a 4 year, $49M contract with a club or player option for a 5th year depending on innings pitched in 2016-17. This move is important for a few reasons. First, it's the largest free agent contract in Twins history. Second, Nolasco brings an average-ish ability to strike out opposing hitters. Third, he's been pretty durable, so he's likely to give the Twins a solid season of starts. Nolasco brings a sense of legitimacy to a starting rotation that previously lacked it.

Signing Phil Hughes

The second largest move was to sign Phil Hughes to a 3 year, $24M contract. The youthful Hughes has a checkered history with the Bombers of Bronx, but he also brings at least an average ability to strike out opposing hitters. Theoretically, Target Field will help reduce his home run rate, but the tinkerer is still an extreme fly ball pitcher. The Twins' outfield defense needs to be ready to chase fly balls all around the outfield grass.

Joe Mauer Moves to First

The final move, which was a technical, literal move rather than a free agent move, was to send Joe Mauer to first base full-time. This simultaneously fills the hole left by the player formerly known as Justin Morneau and opens the catcher's job to yet another twenty-something in Josmil Pinto and another placeholder in Kurt Suzuki. There's not much history to reference in seeing how successful moves like this have been in the past, so it's difficult to give any kind of prediction for how this will work. The thought is that moving Mauer to first base will help preserve his health, and as a good catcher he should probably be an adequate fielder. In a small sample of innings, his first base defensive numbers are adequate. Until proven wrong, it's safe to assume Mauer will be acceptable over a full season on defense. If there is anyone out there to set a precedent, Mauer is probably as safe a bet as there is.

One to Watch

I find that Oswaldo Arcia piques my interest for the upcoming season. He was not a placeholder and figures into the Twins' future as a young, power-hitting corner outfielder. Arcia will turn only 23 years old in May, and he's already had 378 plate appearances in the majors. He showed a fair amount of power with 14 home runs, but he embodied the opposite of the Twins' rotation with a 31% strikeout rate. Arcia showed some walking chops in the minors, so there is hope for his plate discipline.

Arcia could be limited in the field, though. In 712 innings in the outfield, the advanced defensive numbers (DRS and UZR) hated him with a burning passion. This is a small sample, so perhaps a full season in the outfield can reveal more about his defensive ability. If he does indeed lack defensive abilities, Arcia could slot into some DH time when Phil Hughes is releasing a barrage into the outfield. Then again, Josh Willingham has the same problem, so the Twins have to decide who is the lesser of two weevils.

Should Arcia bring his MLB plate discipline numbers more in line with his minor league numbers, he shows enough power to be a useful offensive player for the future. Despite his increasing K% at each level, Arcia's overall production improved with each promotion. Arcia's got a good shot at solidifying himself as a lineup fixture beyond 2014.

Twins by the Numbers

The Twins' starters ranked dead last, or first depending on your view, in contact percentage in 2013. A poor team defense combined with excessive contact led to a plate-crossing bonanza for Twins opponents. The addition of Nolasco and Hughes could help bring that contact percentage more in line with the rest of the league, but the continued presence of Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and really anyone else might have something to say about that. Given the poor team defense, limiting the opportunities given to that defense should be a priority, with one caveat.

At this point, I should mention a probably irrational fascination I have with Samuel Deduno. Deduno is not young, and he allows an average amount of contact. His strikeout rate and walk rate are nothing about which one may be excited. He threw only 108 innings last year. Deduno, however, has a strong ability to limit the damage done on contact with his gorgeous ground ball rate and garnered 1.1 fWAR in those 108 innings. The presence of Dozier and Pedro Florimon on the infield defense means that ground balls are preferable to fly balls, and Deduno is an expert at distributing work to the infield. Having such a high ground ball rate can overcome his K% and BB% deficiencies. I sincerely hope the Twins will give him another shot at starting in 2014. Hey, if you're going with the pitch-to-contact strategy, you might as well have pitchers who get weak contact rather than damaging contact.

The bullpen was near the middle in contact rate and did well for itself because of it. Continuing this strategy will help minimize the impact of the Twins' defense in later, high leverage innings. The recently extended Glen Perkins is really good at limiting contact. However, if Perkins were to falter or get injured, the bullpen might find it difficult to replace him.

2014 Team Outlook

The Twins didn't improve much for the 2014 season, but making the playoffs in 2014 probably isn't the goal. They have some youngsters, like Josmil Pinto and Oswaldo Arcia, who might figure into the future. The Twins need to throw as much spaghetti against the wall as they can to see what sticks so that the fresh meatball marinara sauce of Buxton and Sano, combined with the aged parmesan flavor of Joe Mauer, can produce a Flying Spaghetti Monster in 2015. In 2014, though, it's still spaghetti against a wall without any sauce, so it won't be good. It will be better than last year, so maybe a 7 in the tens place of the wins column is not out of the question. The Twins will still be fighting the White Sox for basement supremacy of the AL Central.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Kevin Ruprecht is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royal Stats for Everyone. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.

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