If you listened to Sunday morning’s inaugural “This is Twins Territory” on KTWIN with Rod Simons, Lindsay Guentzel and Jack Morris, you heard the 1991 World Series hero remind us of an important tidbit. Prior to that season, the “experts” predicted the Twins would finish in last place, as they had the year before… just like their World Series counterpart from Atlanta had.
I think we’d be even more shocked if that happened in 2014, however, “You Never Know” is a big part of the national pastime. I’ll ask you, the Twins Daily readers, to add more to this list of reasons why "You never know". I’m sure there are many.
The Greatness of Joe Mauer
Now that he is out from behind the plate, the goal is for Joe Mauer to be in the lineup most every day, hitting either second or third. More games will mean more plate appearances. The veteran will turn 31 in three weeks. He is continuing to climb his way up the Twins all-time lists. Here are some milestones he could reach in 2014:
- His 86th hit of the season will be the 1,500th of his career. He is currently in 6th place on the Twins all-time list, 299 behind Harmon Killebrew.
- His 18th double of the season will give him 300 for his career. His eighth double will move him past Justin Morneau, into fifth place on the all-time Twins list. His 24th double of the year would move him past Rod Carew into fourth place. His 31st double of the year would move him past Kent Hrbek into third place. He would need 48 doubles to pass Tony Oliva for #2 on the all-time list. Sounds like a lot, but he did have 43 doubles in 137 games in 2010.
- If Joe Mauer were to drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career, he would pass Bob Allison, Torii Hunter and Rod Carew and move into seventh place on the all-time list.
- When he scores his 26th run of the year, he’ll move past Chuck Knoblauch into 6th place in that category. On his 26th walk, he will move past Bob Allison into third place on the all-time walks list.
What Will Aaron Hicks Do?
A year ago, Aaron Hicks had a remarkable spring training to win the starting centerfield job. He had a rough 2013 big league debut. He hit just .192 and got on base just 26% of the time. Consider in his minor league career, he got on base at about a 37% clip, something has to give. Hicks bulked up in the offseason. He is very strong and yet has great range and a strong arm in centerfield.
So how much improvement can we expect? Alex Presley is no longer with the Twins so there is little or no competition for him. Which of his tools will become big league skills? Will he do enough for the team not to rush Byron Buxton and to tell them that he’s worth keeping around to play one of the corner outfield spots when Buxton does arrive?
The Veteran Starters
The Twins made a splash when they signed Ricky Nolasco to the biggest free agent contract in team history. Nolasco had spent his entire career in the National League, so how will his adjustment to the American League be? Kevin Correia handled it well last year, performing as well as anyone could have hoped or expected in his first year with the Twins and in the AL. The question with Correia is will he be able to perform as well in 2014? Mike Pelfrey came to the Twins last year and it was his first year in the AL. More important, it was his first year back after Tommy John surgery and he now admits he rushed back too quickly. The Twins brought him back with a two-year contract, and he’ll look to show that he can contribute now that he’s at 100% Finally, just days after signing Nolasco, the Twins signed Phil Hughes. He has to be thrilled getting out of New York and Yankees Stadium’s band box, but he has a lot to prove. The Twins took a chance on the still-young right-hander. Will Hughes be able to eat some innings and keep the ball in the park?
It seems I’ve said this a lot the last week or two. This year, the Twins have pitchers who will give up three runs in six innings most times out instead of six runs in three innings. That’s going to be important.
When Will We See Alex Meyer?
Kyle Gibson won the fifth starter job out of spring training. Sam Deduno pitched well but will be used out of the bullpen. Vance Worley imploded, was DFA'd and then dealt to the Pirates. Scott Diamond was also DFA'd and chose to remain with the team. Diamond or fellow-lefty Kris Johnson are likely first in line to be promoted if there is a need early in the season. Trevor May might also fit into the equation throughout the season.
However, how quickly could we see flame-throwing right-hander Alex Meyer? His performance in the Arizona Fall League alleviated concerns about his shoulder, at least for the moment. His four big league pitches, size, intelligence and control make him a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.
Arcia and Kubel
As Oswaldo Arcia raced through the minor leagues, hitting for both power and average, he was often compared to Jason Kubel. As Jason Kubel was coming up, it was said that he could hit for average like Mauer and hit for power like Morneau. In 2014, with the return of Kubel, the two will be teammates for the first time.
Arcia is one of the keys to the 2014 season for the Twins. What kind of player will he be? Will he hit for average? Will he be a power guy with the potential for 30 home run seasons? Can he hit left-handed pitching? If he’s in right field, will his defense look better?
Kubel came to the Twins on a minor league contract after a difficult, injury-plagued 2013 season (split between Arizona and Cleveland). In 2012, he hit 30 doubles and 30 home runs while driving in 90 runs for the Diamondbacks. He turns 32 in late May, so he’s not young, but he is not yet old. If healthy, he could provide power in the middle of the Twins lineup. Sure, he may never post an .800 OPS again, but he might still be a very solid contributor.
Does Josh Willingham have anything left?
In 2012, Willingham put together arguably the best season of his career when he hit .260 with 30 doubles, 35 homers and 110 RBI. In 2013, he was hurt and needed a knee surgery that cost him time and production. While Kubel is just 31 on Opening Day, Willingham will need to show that he’s got anything left in the tank at 35. He is in the last year of his three-year contract.
In spring training, his numbers certainly didn’t indicate that there was much left. However, how long have we been preaching how meaningless spring stats are? But can he physically hold up?
His 76th hit of the season will give him 1,000 for his career. His 19th home run will give him 200 for his career.
Taking the Next Step?
Which Brian Dozier will we see in 2014? The one we saw in 2012 and the first two months of 2013, or the one we saw after May of last year who was one of the most productive second basemen in all baseball? Last year, his 18 home runs led the team and was the most for a Twins second baseman in their history. Will he be able to hit that many homers in 2014? More important, will he be able to be more consistent throughout the 2014 season, especially in terms of getting on base.
Trevor Plouffe set career-highs in 2013 with a .254 batting average and a .309 on-base percentage. With Miguel Sano out for 2014, Plouffe just needs to remain healthy to get the majority of at bats at the hot corner. He may never have a stretch like he did in June of 2012, but can he show more consistent power production? He got bigger in the offseason, so I am optimistic.
Josmil Pinto, who turns 25 years old today, is on the opening day roster along with Kyle Gibson, Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks. Michael Tonkin is with the Twins for Opening Day as well as a replacement for Brian Duensing who will be on paternity leave. Although we won’t see Miguel Sano in 2014, it is possible that we do see several top prospects. The odds of seeing Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario have reduced, but we could still see Meyer, May, and Danny Santana. Matt Hoffman and Lester Oliveros are still 25 while Deolis Guerra is just 24 on Opening Day.
Other Reachable Milestones
- With two wins this season, Ron Gardenhire will reach the 1,000 win total for his career. His career record coming into the season is 998-949. 1,000 wins will tie him for 59th place all the all-time manager list with former Twins player Charlie Manuel. If the Twins can win 67 games this season, he will tie Frank Robinson for 51st place.
- If Glen Perkins can save 35 games for the Twins in 2014, he will pass Mike Marshall, Ron Perranoski and Al Worthington into 6th place on the Twins all-time saves list.
- If Ricky Nolasco can win 11 games this year, he will reach 100 career wins.
Up here in Northern Minnesota, it’s possible we will be ‘blessed’ with another foot or more of snow on Monday. Happy Opening Day, Minnesota! Beside to help forget about the weather, there is another reason to watch the Twins at 3:00 in Chicago. Did you know that the Twins have never lost a regular season game in March? They are 2-0 all-time on March 31! So… good luck, Chris Sale! You’re going to need it!