The 2014 season doesn't bring about a lot of expectations for the Minnesota Twins. They struggled mightily in a variety of different ways last year as they try and build up their farm system to become competitive in the American League Central once again. To a certain degree, they've done that. They boast one of the better systems in the game and are on the right track toward becoming a very big threat in the AL. In addition to that, they added some pitching and a few key veterans that will help them improve in 2014. While their stock isn't exactly flying up heading into the new season, they're certainly trending in the direction they'd like to be.
Depth Chart (As of 3/3)
C: Kurt Suzuki
1B: Joe Mauer
2B: Brian Dozier
SS: Pedro Florimon
3B: Trevor Plouffe
LF: Josh Willingham
CF: Alex Presley
RF: Oswaldo Arcia
SP: Kevin Correia
SP: Ricky Nolasco
SP: Phil Hughes
SP: Mike Pelfrey
SP: Samuel Deduno/Scott Diamond/Vince Worley
CL: Glen Perkins
There's no shortage of new faces in the Twins' clubhouse heading into the new season. They attempted to revamp their starting pitching by bringing in a few notable names (and making a supposed run at many others) over the course of the winter. They also added a couple of complementary pieces out in the field that should help this team improve in 2014.
As far as the pitching staff is concerned, the additions are highlighted by Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Nolasco is a major upgrade for this pitching staff, and his four-year deal is pretty favorable for a Twins team that likes to keep the payroll down. Hughes should be able to rebound with a change of scenery. Kurt Suzuki is a steady backstop behind the plate with Joe Mauer making the move out to first base. The team reunited with Jason Kubel, signing him to a minor league deal. He shouldn't have any problem grabbing the full-time DH duties.
There isn't a whole lot to talk about this team in the way of departures. Justin Morneau is the big one, but he's been gone since he was traded during the 2013 season. Jamey Carroll departed in free agency, and the club traded a significant source of offense (at least as far as they're concerned) in Ryan Doumit.
There's potential for youngsters to make an impact here. You could talk about a guy like Josmil Pinto, though his defense needs work even if he was extremely impressive at the plate last year. The more notable names we're likely going to have to wait much longer to see, though. Alex Meyer could be ready to take the bump for the big club at some point this summer, and we may see Byron Buxton by September, if not earlier if he really impresses this year. There's plenty of exciting young talent here, we may just have to wait a bit to see it.
Surprisingly, on a team like the Twins, there aren't a whole lot of positions up for grabs. The back end of the rotation is up for some debate, with several different names in the mix, including Samuel Deduno and Scott Diamond, as well as potentially Vance Worley. While Kurt Suzuki is looked at as the starter right now, Josmil Pinto could push him for playing time behind the plate, after reaching base at a .398 figure in 76 at-bats last year.
As far as starters, or potential starters go, Samuel Deduno is coming off of shoulder surgery in September. He's no lock for the fifth starter job, but is considered a favorite to land the spot if he can prove healthy. By all accounts, he's good to go so far this spring. He's coming off of a very solid season out of the bullpen for Minnesota. The big news here is obviously in regard to Miguel Sano, who is out for the season as he needs elbow surgery. One has to consistently wonder about the health of Joe Mauer as well, but the move to first should help to mitigate those concerns.
Best case probably doesn't even include a playoff spot for this team. They simply don't have it. Not yet at least. Best case would be to show marginal improvement and for each of their impact prospects to take a step forward. The club gets a glimpse of Buxton and Meyer, while Miguel Sano makes great progress in his recover. Joe Mauer returns to All Star form and Josh Willingham rebounds enough to get a two-year extension to keep somewhat of a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Phil Hughes takes a major step forward in his first year out of the Bronx. Success for the Twins in 2014 would probably be more about individual successes, rather than the team fighting for even a wild card berth.
What is the worst case scenario for a team that's expected to be fighting to stay out of the division cellar? This is mainly in regard to prospects. Buxton somehow takes a step back. Sano takes longer than expected in his recovery. The transition to first doesn't rid Mauer of nagging injuries. Nolasco struggles and the Phil Hughes deal is a total flop. Many of these are extremely unlikely, but we're obviously talking worst case.
The Twins aren't contending for anything this year. This isn't quite a throwaway year, but it's one where they come in with minimal expectations. There's still reason to watch this team, with names like Mauer and Nolasco in the fold, but the true excitement comes in watching their youngsters. Keep an eye on guys like Meyer or Buxton as the season wears on, as we might just see them at some point in 2014.