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  • Upward Trends for the Twins

    We know about the negative trends: three straight years of losing, a spring marked by consistently low offensive output and several veterans whose numbers have been on the decline.

    Those trends are no fun to think about, especially here in a young season that remains full of possibilities despite some discouraging early signs. Today, let's focus on some positive trends that emerged last year and will hopefully serve as precursors of things to come.

    Nolasco's Nifty Second Half Run

    After being traded from the cellar-dwelling Marlins to the contending Dodgers last summer, Ricky Nolasco went on quite the run. In his first 12 starts with LA, Nolasco went 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA and 62/17 K/BB ratio in 74 innings while holding opponents to a .213 average.

    He turned in a few clunkers in the final weeks of the season, taking some luster out of his second-half numbers, but the impressive stretch was a reminder that Nolasco can dominate when he's locked in.

    His overall results last season (best since 2008) certainly seem to bode well, even if his first start for the Twins left a bit to be desired.

    Colabello's Improved Discipline

    During his initial exposure to major-league pitching, Chris Colabello looked pretty overwhelmed. Understandably, he seemed rattled early on, posting an atrocious 18-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 plate appearances through the end of July. Yikes.

    The International League MVP made some impressive adjustments at the plate, striking out 40 times against 19 walks in 126 plate appearances from the start of August through the end of the year. Nothing great, but a huge step forward. He continued to control the strike zone well this spring, with 10 strikeouts and eight walks.

    We know that when Colabello hits the ball he can generate some legit power (that was on display Monday when he drove a double deep to right in the ninth inning) but keeping his K/BB ratio in check will be vital to his success at the plate.

    Jerry Lai, USA TODAY Sports

    Escobar's Awakening

    Serving as a backup infielder for the Twins in the first half last year, Eduardo Escobar was simply brutal at the plate. When he was sent down in mid-July, his batting line was an anemic .214/.268/.328.

    The demotion to Rochester proved to be just what Escobar needed to jolt his slumbering lumber. In 43 games at Triple-A, he hit .307/.380/.500 with 22 extra-base hits and 17 walks. Very nice all-around production for the 24-year-old. He returned to the Twins as a September call-up and batted .324 the rest of the way.

    Escobar has never hit much in the past, so it's tough to put too much stock in the strong second-half performance, but he's seen by many as a late bloomer and if he can develop into a remotely effective offensive threat off the bench (or as a replacement for a scuffling infield bat) it would be a big boost for this club.

    Swarzak Settling In

    After spending his first few seasons as a swingman and long reliever, Anthony Swarzak transitioned to a full-time relief role last year, and over the course of the season he was given more and more opportunities to pitch in shorter late-game situations. He figures to see more of those chances this year, with Sam Deduno presumably taking over the primary right-handed long man role.

    That's good news, because Swarzak thrived in full-time relief duty, posting career bests in ERA (2.91), WHIP (1.16), BB/9 (2.1) and K/9 (6.5). He was especially effective in the latter part of the season, putting up a 2.70 ERA while holding opponents to a .603 OPS in the final three months.

    Pelfrey's Progression

    Many people are down on Mike Pelfrey due to his overall production in 2013, which certainly wasn't good, but I'm actually feeling confident in his ability to rebound and give the Twins a solid season. He made a too rapid return from Tommy John surgery last spring and it showed in the early months, but in the second half of the campaign he was downright respectable, with a 4.39 ERA and .730 opponents' OPS from July through September.

    Those are perfectly adequate numbers for a back-end starter making $6 million, and of course, now that he has gone through a normal offseason of rest and preparation, it's possible we haven't seen his best.
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I'd have added Hicks and Arcia in there too (and possibly Dozier)... All 3 of these guys could be significantly better than last season.
    1. tjsyam921's Avatar
      tjsyam921 -
      I think Pelfrey should be better this year. Nolasco from what I've read is prone to starts like Mondays, but should have plenty of good ones. I think its only a matter of time before Colabello takes over the clean up spot. I like Willingham but he looks like the oldest 35 year old I've ever seen.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      I can't get on the Colabello bandwagon. He's too old to be considered a prospect and too limited. He had a nice double on Opening Day, but again he seems to only be able to drive the ball to right and right-center. I'll also wait to be convinced on Escobar. Otherwise, I like the upward trends for the other players.
    1. savvyspy's Avatar
      savvyspy -
      I think Hicks is definitely a key player to watch. I think if he can get off to a decent start he should solidify himself as our best outfielder. Pinto and Arcia are in the same boat. The young guys are really the only source of hope.

      The veterans like Plouffe, Mauer, Willingham, and Dozier aren't bad pieces but they have already proven they aren't going to move the needle.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by diehardtwinsfan View Post
      I'd have added Hicks and Arcia in there too (and possibly Dozier)... All 3 of these guys could be significantly better than last season.
      I'm hoping for good things from all those guys but with Hicks and Arcia there weren't really any upward trends to illuminate. Hicks never got it going in the majors last year, then went tor Triple-A and struggled. Arcia fizzled out some after a strong start with the Twins, which wasn't surprising.

      Dozier could have been listed of course, since he really turned it around after the first couple months last year, but he almost seemed too obvious.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      What's with all the positivity. The Twins suck so quit trying to put lipstick on a pig!

      Actually I'm hopeful this year is what I wanted from last year. I wanted to see some youth show up and really progress. Arcia had some nice stretches and overall was encouraging, Dozier turned it around and showed he could be a nice role player at the least, then we got the fun Pinto run in September.

      I was really hoping for more out of Gibson and Hicks as well as a glimpse of Meyer and/or May in the big leagues. Hopeful this year we get to see some improvement from these guys that figure to be a part of the long term future.

      The other guy I really want to see just be average is Plouffe. He's young enough and now with Sano's injury 3B might be a bigger need than we had previously thought. At the least Plouffe will be manning the hot corner for the next two years. I'm doubtful that Sano starts above AA next year after missing a year of competition.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I think a good old platoon of Kubel and Colabello might work out fairly well.

      You might have added Duensing here, too.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I also think Colabello may have a better grasp of the MLB strikezone. I'm guessing the front office belives so. Let's not forget they tried to sell him to Korea three months ago, now he made the opening day roster (and lineup).

      I think Swarzak is also turning into an asset. I know some still don't like Duensing, but he really turned the corner in the second half last year gaining MPH and really improving his K%. Watching game one, it looked like Swarzak might be on the same path hitting 95-96 MPH Monday. That's pretty encouraging.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I think Swarzak is also turning into an asset. I know some still don't like Duensing, but he really turned the corner in the second half last year gaining MPH and really improving his K%. Watching game one, it looked like Swarzak might be on the same path hitting 95-96 MPH Monday. That's pretty encouraging.
      Agreed, I'm eager to see what Swarzak can do in high leverage situations this year. He could really turn into a valuable piece for the team.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Agreed, I'm eager to see what Swarzak can do in high leverage situations this year. He could really turn into a valuable piece for the team.
      He already has. I'd argue that he was one of the most valuable players on the roster last year (not saying a ton). He was always ready to go, always ready to pitch multiple innings, and almost always effective. That was pretty crucial with all the short starts.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Quote Originally Posted by savvyspy View Post
      I think Hicks is definitely a key player to watch. I think if he can get off to a decent start he should solidify himself as our best outfielder. Pinto and Arcia are in the same boat. The young guys are really the only source of hope.

      The veterans like Plouffe, Mauer, Willingham, and Dozier aren't bad pieces but they have already proven they aren't going to move the needle.
      Lumping Mauer in w/ those other bums is a bit blasphemous. I really hope they don't use Deduno in Swarzek's role last year, pitching in blowout loses, his stuff is too good to waste in those situations I think.
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      Quote Originally Posted by halfchest View Post
      Actually I'm hopeful this year is what I wanted from last year.
      I kind of think this is largely what I feel, too, though I would say "hopeful" would be a bit strong to describe my feelings.

      But the part about this year being somewhat what I was hoping for last year isn't far off.

      Last year, I wanted the FO to go get more starting pitching. They were a year late honoring my request.

      Last year, I wanted to see Gibson, Hicks and Arcia really step up and turn their potential in to results. That didn't happen to the degree I had hoped, but maybe this year the results will be better.

      I'm not ready to say I'm hopeful, but I'm open to being convinced.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      He already has. I'd argue that he was one of the most valuable players on the roster last year (not saying a ton). He was always ready to go, always ready to pitch multiple innings, and almost always effective. That was pretty crucial with all the short starts.
      Yeah, I didn't mean to imply he wasn't already valuable, but I think pitching in higher leverage situations and translating his success there will further elevate him. I think he'll be able to do that as well.

      The boon is that it would open up some trade possibilities if any of Fien/Burton/etc. can put together a nice season.
    1. Reider's Avatar
      Reider -
      I agree that an upward trend falls into the hands of the young guys. It will be guys like Hicks, Arcia, Gibson, Meyer, Buxton, Sano etc.. that turn this team into a contender again.

      I know the Twins have only played 2 games this year, but Hicks is already off to a better start than last year. That's a positive.

      Willingham and Plouffe need to hit this year or they both need to go. Their defense is not that good and if they can't hit there's no point keeping them around.
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