Monday, January 17, 2011

Infield/Outfield Set, Bullpen Needs Help

I can't wait for this.
With the news coming yesterday that Alexi Casilla and the Twins avoided arbitration with a one-year, $865K deal, and with last week's re-signing of Jim Thome, the Twins have pretty much filled every infield and outfield position, the only question-mark remaining is the bullpen (!). Let's take a look: 

Catcher: Joe Mauer ($23.00M)
This is the first year of Mauer's new deal and the main question revolving around Joe will be, "can he stay healthy?" When he's played, the production has been there and he's about as consistent as it gets in that department. Mauer will again have a fairly young rotation to work with, but they are all guys he knows well. With Kyle Gibson possibly getting a crack at the Bigs and a bunch of new arms in the 'pen, Mauer will have some new faces, but he's proven a good leader so it's nothing he won't be able to handle. 

1st Base: Justin Morneau - hopefully - ($15.00M)
So the Twins felt it necessary to announce that they think Justin will be ready for Spring Training...and in my book that's a bad sign. If things were going well, why would they have to announce anything, and how many times last year were we told, "oh, things are getting better" only for that to be followed up by a setback? I REALLY hope Morneau isn't another Corey Koskie, but the way this thing is dragging on, it has me concerned. The Twins have shown they can win without Morneau, but their offense is much better with him and he gives the Twins way more options when he's manning 1st base. Here's to hoping Morneau is back playing at the start of this season.
2nd Base: Tsuyoshi Nishioka ($3.00M)
It will be interesting to see what this kid can do. Along with many other Twins bloggers, I wrote about him a couple of months ago and he definitely has potential, both defensively and offensively. I hope that he shows up to Spring Training early and is able to spend a lot of time working with Gardenhire and other Twins coaches because he is going to be an integral part of this year's team. Last year, the Twins had a middle-infield battery of JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson and that defense was good. This year they have two new faces at very important positions and it's going to be imperative that Casilla and Nishioka work well together.

Shortstop: Alexi Casilla ($865K)
Along with Nishioka, Casilla will also be playing an integral part on this year's team as the Twins will be relying on Casilla to produce, both offensively and defensively, on a day-in, day-out basis. Casilla and Nishioka are going to be relied upon not only because of the positions they play, but also because the back-up options behind them are, well, not good ones. Casilla has speed and a good glove, where he has the potential to struggle is at the plate. Like Nishioka, I hope Casilla shows up at Spring Training early to prepare for his new full-time gig.

3rd Base: Danny Valencia (I have no idea what his salary is, $400K?)
I may be in the minority, I don't know, but I think Valencia is in for a disappointing season. His .345 overall BABIP and .416 home BABIP are both unsustainable and Valencia's minor league track record suggests that he is not quite the player that last season's production might suggest. Who knows, maybe he's one of very few players who outperform their minor-league track record. More than likely, though, we're looking at a .280-.290 hitter with a decent .350-something on-base percentage and some power potential. Defensively Valencia was pretty solid last year and I think that bodes well for the Twins. I'm hopeful that Valencia continues to thrive in the Majors, but I think 2011 will be a rougher ride.

Left-Field: Delmon Young (~$3.5M?)
Delmon had somewhat of a break-out year last year and the Twins will be looking for him to continue that trend. Young cut way down on the Ks last year while raising his BB% and that patience at the plate paid off with Young having the best offensive season of his career. Young is still only 25-years old and is just now entering the "power years." He's still a liability defensively, but that bat can negate many of those issues. I'm looking for Delmon to have a fantastic 2011 season.

Center Field: Denard Span ($1.00M)
D-Span followed up two .800+ OPS seasons with a stinker last year, finishing with a paltry line of .264/.331/.348. I think of all of the Twins players, D-Span seemed most affected by Target Field, but hopefully he can turn it around this season. Even if he was able to find a middle ground between last season and the two seasons prior, he would be ok. He's the best OF fielding option the Twins have, by far, and he has pretty good speed on the bases as well. Hopefully some off-season work with the hitting coaches will make D-Span's 2011 season a bit more productive.

Right-Field: Michael Cuddyer ($10.50M) / Jason Kubel ($5.25M)
Provided Morneau is healthy (please God), Cuddyer will be able to resume his normal right-field position, and will be an automatic defensive upgrade over Jason Kubel. With Cuddyer, I have no doubts, he's very consistent both defensively and offensively for the Twins and has been a down-the-stretch catalyst for them the past two seasons. Kubel is going to have to prove himself yet again this season after a very disappointing season, his worst in the past 4 seasons. Kubel will have to work to get regular playing time, especially considering Thome is likely to receive a fair-amount of the DH duties. If Morneau is still down come Opening Day, Kubel will see more time, but that's a less-than-desirable scenario given Kubel's poor defensive skills.

Designated Hitter: Jim Thome ($3M + incentives) / Jason Kubel / Delmon Young
I like the re-signing of Thome not only for his presence with the team which is positive and upbeat, but also for his potential ROI, which I would have to say is high considering the cost. Earlier in the off-season, I was against re-signing Jimbo, particularly because of the track record of over-40 sluggers, but Jim brings more than just a bat to the team, he brings experience and that attitude that is infectious in the clubhouse. I don't expect he'll hit 25 HRs again this year, but for $3M, even if he hits 15-20 he'd be worth the money.

Barring injury or unforeseen trade, those are your likely starters at each position for the 2011 season. I think it will be pretty obvious in Spring Training how the Casilla/Nishioka experiment is going to go, but again, the Twins don't exactly have many alternatives if it turns out to be a disaster. Top to bottom the lineup looks solid, particularly if Morneau is back. Here's my projected 2011 Minnesota Twins lineup:

1. Denard Span (L)
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (S)
3. Joe Mauer (L)
4. Justin Morneau (L)
5. Delmon Young (R)
6. Jim Thome (L) /Jason Kubel (L)
7. Michael Cuddyer (R)
8. Danny Valencia (R)
9. Alexi Casilla (S)

That seems like a lot from the left-side in the middle of the lineup, but I don't see many other ways to stack it, particularly if you want your power in the middle. Anyway, I like the way it looks, something tells me Nishioka is going to benefit greatly from having Mauer behind him. The middle looks fearsome with legit power in the 4, 5, 6, and 7 holes. I like Casilla batting 9th because with D-Span and T-Nish following, you will have some legit speed in front of Mauer/Morneau. Those are my thoughts, what do you think?

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