Hopes for Twins lie in the future
Coming off of back-to-back 90-plus losing seasons, the Minnesota Twins had a much-needed overhaul in the offseason, one which tore down the 2012 starting rotation and hopefully the start of rebuilding a new foundation is underway.
The deficiencies the Twins suffered in 2011 and 2012 were something they were not used to -- shaky defense and incompetent starting pitching.
After making several unsuccessful stabs at the World Series -- mostly due to being owned by the New York Yankees in the playoffs -- the breakdown in the Twins' farm system and big league team finally occurred in 2011.
Then general manager Bill Smith drained the young arms being developed in the Twins system by trading for some hitting, unfortunately suspecting such youthful pitchers as Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey were the future stars of the rotation.
Smith didn't only miss on one or two of these young arms, he basically missed on every single one of them.
That created a black hole in the rotation, forcing the Twins to send out No. 4 or 5 types of pitchers out on the mound, instead of an elite ace stopper they were used to during the days of Johan Santana.
Even the move to add a big slugger went awry, with the trade with Tampa Bay coming up completely one-sided when Smith sent over power pitcher Matt Garza to the Rays for the "up-and-comer" Delmon Young.
Then there was the nowinfamous gigantic contract for Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau's bout with concussions.
After Mauer signed his megadeal, injuries started to hit the All-Star catcher, and basically, two former A.L. MVPs were seeing the trainer's table more than the batter's box.
Defense, which was once the pride of Twins' ball, became a bumper pool of mistakes.
The failed third base experiment of Danny Valencia hurt, as did the signing of Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
All these moves added up to not just two steps backward, but eventually falling right down the stairs butt first.
With Terry Ryan taking back the reins of the general manager position, he started where he succeeded the first time when he had to rebuild the Twins -- with pitching.
The only area the Twins were deep in was the outfield, or more exactly, center field.
So Ryan used some of his chips and cashed in the value of center fielders Denard Span and Ben Revere.
In return, the Twins received some potential present help, but more importantly, future help in restocking a depleted farm system.
Coming in from the Span trade were Washington's second-best pitching prospect and power thrower Alex Meyer.
The Revere trade netted Vance Worley, a righty from the Phillies, who is expected to produce as a starter this year, and one of Philadelphia's top pitching prospects in Trevor May.
Add in the signing of former 15-game winner Mike Pelfrey from the Mets and the departure of Carl Pavano, and the starting rotation has been thrown into the proverbial blender -- broken up and remixed.
That is a good thing, of course, but this starting rotation of 2013 will not necessarily be better than the one from last year.
Time will tell on that matter, since Pelfrey is coming off Tommy John elbow surgery, Worley isn't exactly your ace in the hole (the Twins don't have one of those) and some of the usual candidates are back, such as Brian Duensing.
But one thing is for certain, Ryan was able to pull in some young guns for the minor league system, with some potential to become aces down the road, and that's something the Twins have not had for the last few seasons.
The batting lineup will once again depend on the health of former MVPs Mauer and Morneau.
Mauer did produce from the plate in the second half of the season with a .319 batting average, but his power numbers were bad, with only 10 homers and 85 RBIs.
Those stats need to improve, as well as Morneau's playing time. He simply needs to be on the field.
That leads to the hole in center, where young players such as Aaron Hicks -- ranked the Twins' No. 4 prospect -- and 27-year-old Darin Mastroianni are expected to fill the void.
It will be a downgrade from Span, no doubt, or even Revere. But let's face it, the Twins did not trade away two All-Star outfielders, so the gap between the two former Twins and the eventual starting center fielder at Target Field is not too wide.
Josh Willingham will be back and is expected to bring his heavy lumber and 35 homeruns, while third baseman Trevor Plouffe went on a tear last season and ended with 24 dingers.
But ever since Corey Koskie departed, the hot corner has been a sore spot. Valencia looked to have been the future there, but he fizzled. To count on Plouffe to ring out 25-plus homers is unrealistic, as well.
This season isn't being counted on as a Central Division contending one, but it will be a vital one to make improvements.
Even if vets such as Morneau can play well through July, his value is much higher for a midseason trade and gives Ryan some more ammo to build up more.
But let's face the facts for 2013, it will be the year of the unknown faces and names taking to Target Field.
It's not necessarily a bad sign, if fans can keep their expectations real.
Next year, Ryan can supplement the lineup with a bigger free agent signing or two to plug holes.
The youth movement is on for the Twins, so get ready to just enjoy the sunny and beautiful Target Field -- and not necessarily taking in a bunch of wins while you're there.