Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Playing Pepper: 2012 Minnesota Twins

Just a reminder that I am spending most of this week in Arizona by enjoying some time in the sun. Yesterday I saw my first Cactus League action with the Royals facing off against the Giants. Tim Lincecum was on the mound for San Francisco so that was exciting. I will have a full report when I get back but in the meantime you can check out my updates on Twitter: @nodaktwinsfan.
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Daniel Shoptaw is a St. Louis Cardinals blogger and the founder of an organization this blog is a part of called the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Every year he sends out a list of questions to bloggers from all of the team's in MLB for a series he calls "Playing Pepper." As a blogger, it is fun to answer these questions and give other fans a perspective of the Twins for the 2012 season.

Below you will find my responses to the questions he asked and make sure to visit his blog to see some of the other editions in the "Playing Pepper" series.

1) What was your opinion of the team’s offseason?

It was tough to see long time players like Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan, and Jason Kubel leave the team in the free agency process. The editions of Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit should help an offense that finished near the bottom of the American League in 2011. Jamey Carroll was brought in to sure up the middle infield after the Twins saw plenty of fumbling and bumbling from the likes of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe. Out of all of the team’s moves, bringing back Terry Ryan as the team’s general manager might rank as the best move for the future of this organization. The loss of clubhouse leaders like Cuddyer and Nathan will be tough to compensate for but the Twins offseason moves seem to have filled some of the holes the organization had from a disastrous 2011.

2) Francisco Liriano seemed to be wildly inconsistent last season. Is there any reason to hope he’ll be more dominant this season?

Before the 2010 season, Liriano spent time pitching in the Dominican Winter League and he went on to have one of his most successful seasons on the field that year. The team had him rest in the next offseason so he didn’t have the opportunity to pitch in the winter months. He ended up showing up to camp out of shape and this seemed to set him back from very start of the 2011 campaign. For this offseason, the Twins allowed Liriano to pitch in the Dominican once again and so far this spring he has looked like he might be able to gain back some of his consistency. One of the most intriguing aspects could be that he is in a contract year and at the end of the season he can become a free agent. If this doesn’t light a fire inside of him, then there is a good chance he will be pitching for another team in 2013.

3) Justin Morneau hasn’t played 100 games in the past two seasons. What are the expectations for him in 2012?

This is truly the million-dollar question in regards to the team’s success in 2012. It has been tough to watch the struggles of Morneau over the past two seasons because of the unknown element involved with head injuries. When he walks into the locker-room he doesn’t have a cast on or scars from a surgery and there doesn’t look like there is anything wrong with him. This makes it tough for other players and the fans to understand because of the mysteries with brain trauma. The team is hoping he will be able to get back to himself in 2012 so the expectation would be for him to play over a 100 games for the first time since 2009. If he is able to play in this amount of games, his production should improve so look for Morneau to accumulate around 20 home runs and hopefully drive in 90+ runs for the year.

4) Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

The Twins farm system had two prospects breakout in 2011 and both of those prospects could make an impact on the team in 2012. Liam Hendriks got a taste of the big leagues at the end of last season and hopes are high for the young Australian to continue to be an impact arm. Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, and Francisco Liriano can all be free agents at the end of the year so the minor league system of the Twins is going to have to produce some talent for future roles in the starting rotation. By mid-season, Hendriks could be back at Target Field and taking his permanent spot in the rotation. The other area of need for the Twins in recent years has been the middle infield. Terry Ryan tried to address this need by bringing in veteran infielder Jamey Carroll but he looks to be a stopgap for top middle infield prospect Brian Dozier. The hope for the Twins is that Dozier won’t be needed in 2012 because the young man has only played part of a season at the Double-A level. An injury or poor start from one of the starting infielders could be Dozier’s ticket to the big leagues.

5) Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

On paper in the American League Central, it seems to be the Detroit Tigers and then everyone else. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals could be poised to make the next step in 2012 but a healthy version of the Twins should be able to stay close to these other squads. It would seem that the Indians, Royals, and Twins could all be fighting for the runner-up spot in the AL Central but in this division it only takes a .500 mark to stay in contention. A couple of injuries on the Tigers could bring them back to the rest of the pack and then things could get very interesting in the Central. For me the most exciting thing about the 2012 season will be putting the nightmare of 2011 out of my mind. Seeing a healthy Joe Mauer on the field will be great and if Justin Morneau can join him there should be a Twins team fighting for another title in the AL Central.

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