The Sports Xchange, Published February 16 2014
Twins still need upgrades as spring training opensFORT MYERS, Fla. – It is said that change can be a good thing, and many changes were needed for the Minnesota Twins coming off a third consecutive 90-loss season in 2013.
But as the team assembles for spring training, there may not yet have been enough changes taking place.
The pitchers and catchers reported Sunday, and those units are significantly changed. The Twins added two new free-agent starting pitchers to the staff, and the opening-day catcher is not yet locked in after the move of longtime catcher Joe Mauer to first base.
What has not changed much is the starting lineup, and last season that group was responsible for only 614 runs (25th in the majors) and had a team-record 1,430 strikeouts (second in the majors). The Twins are still looking for a leadoff hitter and definitely more power in the wake of trading away first baseman Justin Morneau late last season.
The starting pitching staff certainly needed an upgrade, and the Twins front office was aggressive during the offseason, bringing in free agents Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco – who will move right to the top of the Twins rotation. They re-signed free agent Mike Pelfrey, who in May will be another year removed from his 2012 Tommy John surgery and hopes to regain full form.
“I think we’re past worrying about that now with the arm problems and that stuff,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s a self-proclaimed horse, and I expect him to take away that doubt from the elbow now and just let him be the horse he wants to be. We need innings. We need our starters to get seven innings, eight innings, nine innings if they want to take all the pressure off the other guys. I think we signed some people that we can count on to do those things, and Pelfrey should be one of them.”
Kevin Correia, who ate up a lot of innings last season, will be back and Sam Deduno, who had shoulder surgery the last month of the 2013 season, will return and look to grab a starting spot. They will be battling a host of pitchers (Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Kyle Gibson) who were on and off the Twins’ 25-man roster in 2013.
The team picked up LHP Kris Johnson for Duke Welker, who was part of the Morneau trade, but he will be battling the likes of Alex Meyer and Trevor May for a shot at coming out of the minor leagues. Meyer was invited to spring training.
The biggest lineup question coming into 2014 is who will replace Mauer behind the plate. Josmil Pinto, who batted .342 in 21 games last season as a late-season replacement for Mauer, who was out with a concussion, has a shot at the job, but his defense needs to improve to solidify that role. The Twins signed veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki to bring some experience to the position, and the question remains if he will grab the starting spot.
Hitting and scoring runs were problems last year, and the offseason acquisitions have done little to address them. The pitching staff should be improved, but the Twins must still find some increased run production in order to move in the right direction – upwards from the static 90-loss holding pattern the team is in.
At the end of last season, Gardenhire was brought back with a two-year contract extension, despite plenty of fans calling for his ouster. Gardenhire and general manager Terry Ryan are rebuilding the squad and have one of the richest farm systems in the majors. But they may need to dip into it earlier than expected for prospects such as Byron Buxton (No. 1) and Miguel Sano (No. 11) in order for some progress and promise to be demonstrated – so that the fans, and the team’s manager, continue to hang around.