Hope for the Twins? Maybe next year
It was the summer of 2004 and the Minnesota Twins were in the midst of a season that would end with their third straight American League Central title.
My days pretty much revolved around Twins’ games at that time. I had returned home from my freshman year at college in Sioux Falls to work a summer job at the local insurance company in Cottonwood.
That meant getting to work at 8 a.m. so I could be off by 4:30 in the afternoon to play some golf with my buddy, Sam. Our conversations almost always turned to the Twins that summer. Was this finally the year that they could get past the Yankees?
Sam and I were pondering those chances when we stepped up to the fourth tee box and my mind slipped toward the future.
“It’s going to stink when the Twins are bad again,” I remember saying. “It’s going to happen. That’s how it works for teams like the Twins.”
The 90-loss seasons from 1997-2000 were still too fresh in my mind to forget about. Now here we are again, right back in an era of Twins baseball that has bordered on unwatchable over the past three summers.
Those looking for a sign of hope probably aren’t going to find it this summer. The Twins beat writer for the Star Tribune, Phil Miller, sent out a tweet on March 20 with a picture attached and this message – “The entire projected regular-season lineup is taking the bus ride to Port Charlotte to play the Rays tonight.”
I clicked on the photo and cringed. Here are the names with my addition of the player’s 2013 batting average – Brian Dozier (.244), Kurt Suzuki (.232), Joe Mauer (.324), Josh Willingham (.208), Jason Kubel (.216), Trevor Plouffe (.254), Oswaldo Arcia (.251), Aaron Hicks (.192) and Pedro Florimon (.221).
Twins officials focused almost all their energy on finding a few capable starting pitchers in the off-season. That’s understandable for a team that gave up the second most runs in the league last summer at 788. Building a winning team starts with the pitching staff.
But what got lost among last year’s rotation is that Minnesota’s lineup was almost as futile with the Twins scoring the sixth fewest runs in the league (614).
One look at that lineup above suggests things won’t be much better this summer. The Twins went from last place in 1990 to World Series Champions in 1991. It would be equally as shocking if this team was anywhere near contention this September.
That leaves Minnesota fans hoping that a restocked farm system can rejuvenate the organization sooner rather than later. The Twins have some of the most exciting young talent in the minor leagues in center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano.
Minnesota will need Buxton to be a star. They also need Sano to recover from his Tommy John surgery he recently underwent and become the power threat in the middle of the lineup that he has been in the minor leagues. There are other talented position players coming through the system that should make this a competent lineup in a couple years.
It’s the pitching that requires fans to take the biggest leap of faith. The Twins drafted right-handed pitcher Kohl Stewart out of high school with the fourth overall pick in 2013. He projects to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but no young pitcher is a sure thing. He is also 19 years old and years away from the big leagues, even if all goes well.
Alex Meyer is the closest prospect to the majors that features the potential to be an ace. His fastball clocks in the upper-90s, but he is also a 24-year-old who has never pitched above the AA level. That doesn’t exactly scream “sure-fire ace” on a contending staff.
Trevor May is also a hard-throwing righty who has racked up 806 strikeouts in 677 minor-league innings. He’ll enter his seventh professional season this summer as another 24-year-old who has never pitched above the AA level.
Even with Target Field, the Twins are never going to buy their way to relevancy. They need power pitchers like Meyer and May to become top-three starters in the rotation if this team is going to have a chance to contend in the near future.
The good news is that there is hope on the horizon. It’s time for some of these highly-touted prospects we’ve been hearing about for a couple years to become productive big leaguers.