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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Twins Outlook and the State of the American League Central

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  • What do I know about the Twins? Definitely not as much as many Minnesotans who have followed the team their whole life.  I don’t know about Twins lore, haven’t experienced their rivalries and have only been to a hand full of their games.  But I do know baseball, and I’m sure after a year of watching them extensively on TV and listening on the radio, I’ll be fully invested. But until then, this is an outsider’s look at the Twins in 2014.
    The Twins’ notable improvement is with their starting rotation, whose ERA ranked 29 in 2013.  Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco aren’t studs by any mean, but will give the Twins at the very least 415 innings of average ball.  Being a Yankee’s fan who’s from south Florida I’ve seen my fair share of both these guys in action.  Expecting a huge jump would be unrealistic but they could find themselves in the 18-21 range.
    Nolasco is relatively consistent from season to season, and never gets lit up. He’s a great middle of the rotation guy who’ll add stability and a veteran arm to the team.  
    Hughes is more of a roller coaster, who relies heavily on the rhythm of the game to be successful.  Once billed as a top pitching prospect and a future ace for the Yankees, he could never truly handle the pressure.  A shaky pitcher prone to the long ball, playing in Yankee stadium usually does mesh.
    However, he’s had a relatively solid career considering what he had going against him.  Hughes’ thrown some gems, and when he’s got his stuff working can, looks phenomenal.  And when he gets hit hard, it’s early and often.  With a larger margin for error in Target Field and a new fan base, he’ll look to take advantage of his opportunity.
    The bottom of the rotation is still a mess, but has some upside. Last season’s opening day starter Vance Worley is more suited as a teams fourth guy, and when healthy has proven to be an efficient, non-flashy guy.  The Twins’ top pitching prospect Alex Meyer might make a big impact this season, and getting him to the majors early on will be huge for his future development.
    A big wildcard this year, as he is every year is Joe Mauer.  Moving him to first base will be interesting on multiple levels.  His athleticism should make him a good fit defensively and he’s never shown any problems playing the position in the past, however on the offensive side he doesn’t fit the bill of the prototype first baseman, who would general hit for power and drive in runs.
    Page 2 of 2 - The move should theoretically protect his health, but there’s always a chance of injury when a player’s getting used to a new position.  The team will rely on his consistency and leadership in all phases of the game.  
    Mauer’s successor  behind the plate should be 24-year-old Josmil Pinto, who was a stud in the minors and proved it during his 20 game stint in the bigs last season.  His offense might not be too far off what Mauer had given the club the last few years.  Pinto needs experience calling pitches at the big league level, but he’s capable of holding down the fort, and should be one of baseball’s young stars this season.
    The Twins top prospect, third baseman Miguel Sano, will miss  the season due to Tommy John Surgery, but should be ready for the start of 2015.
    Although things are looking up in Minnesota, the Twins play in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.  It’ll be tough going against the top of the division, and with their yearly series against teams like the defending champion Red Sox and the Yankees, the Twins will be hard pressed to reach 80 wins.
    In the AL Central the new-look Tigers should regress a bit while new skipper Brad Ausmus works the kinks out, but are still a dominant team.  Justin Verlander is due to bounce back from his lackluster 2013 campaign. What Detroit lost on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante, they gained on defense.  By moving Miguel Cabrera back to first base and retaining Jose Iglesias after trading for him at the deadline last season, their infield should be more competent overall.
    The Indians may have over performed last season but still have one of the five best managers in the game and should win over 85 games in 2014.  The surging Royals should be close to that number as well, as they make a playoff push in James Shields’ last year under contract.  They’ll look to make some moves during the season if things aren’t going their way right near the All Star break.
    The White Sox are burdened by the contracts of some hitters past their prime, but made moves this offseason to put them in the right direction in the long term.  Cuban import Jose Abreu will fill the seats and make a splash with his astronomical power, but like the Twins, the team as a whole still has a ways to go before they’re a threat in the division.  
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