Likely Starter: Josh Willingham
2011 Stats: .246/.332/.477, 29 HR, 98 RBI, 69 R, 4/5 SB
Potential Backups: Trevor Plouffe, Joe Benson, Darin Mastroianni
When he hasn't been needed elsewhere, Michael Cuddyer has spent most of the past six years roaming right field for the Twins. No player has spent more time in front of the big blue baggy and limestone overhang.
Cuddyer was a fan favorite, a media darling and a community staple. He was also a productive player, putting up an .806 OPS while averaging 18 homers and 79 RBI during that six-year span.
The notorious clubhouse magician pulled off a final disappearing act this winter, ending his 15-year tenure in the Twins organization to sign a lucrative contract with the Rockies. The man replacing Cuddy has his work cut out for him.
Josh Willingham ought to be up to the task. In fact, there's a good chance that he'll outperform Cuddyer. During the aforementioned six-year span, Willingham accumulated a superior .838 OPS while averaging 22 homers and 72 RBI. Last year he hit 29 bombs – a mark Cuddyer has topped only once – while playing his home games in Oakland's pitcher-friendly park.
Willingham has been an extremely consistent middle-of-the-lineup slugger with more balanced splits than Cuddyer, who mashed lefties but often struggled against righties. The newly acquired outfielder also brings pure pull power, making him a better fit in Target Field than his predecessor.
In his quest to provide the Twins with above-average production in right field, Willingham will face two key barriers: injuries and age. He's done a good job of avoiding major ailments, playing in more than 100 games every year since becoming a regular, but he's also missed an average of 34 per season.
Unless Justin Morneau can bounce back in a big way, the Twins don't have another player who can pack the kind of pop that Willingham does, so they'll need him in the lineup.
Willingham is also 33 years old, putting him past what is typically considered to be a player's physical prime. There are plenty of guys who remain productive well into their mid-30s and he looked plenty sharp last year, but this is an age where many begin to see their bat speed and athleticism decline.
I suspect that age, injuries and an even tougher ballpark will take a toll on Willingham to some degree, but his track record is outstanding and he's a great fit in this lineup. It will be fun to see how many he can yank into the Home Run Porch at Target Field.
Predicted 2012 Hitting Line for Willingham: .250/.340/.450, 20 HR, 75 RBI