Every season the folks over at Cards Conclave do a series called "Playing Pepper." In this series, they ask questions to a group of bloggers from each major league team to preview their club. There's off-season discussion, some spring training topics, and even some 2015 predictions. Overall, it is a fun series to take part in every year and you can click here to see the other Twins bloggers responses.
I wrote the answers to these questions near the beginning of spring training so some items have already changed. Miguel Sano is injured and out for the season. Alex Meyer has already been shipped off to minor league camp. Other than that, things should look good. Enjoy this year's "Playing Pepper" article.
1) What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?
The biggest change this offseason was the team firing Ron Gardenhire and revamping the coaching staff with Paul Molitor at the helm. Adding Ervin Santana should help a pitching staff that finished with the American League's worst ERA. Signing Torii Hunter will bring a lot of smiles back to the faces of Twins fans but there are questions about how he will be able to produce on the field. His leadership and mentorship of young players like Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks should be worth the money Minnesota is paying him. Because of the poor starting pitching performances in recent years, the Twins bullpen has been taxed. Adding free agent Tim Stauffer and Rule 5 pick JR Graham will help strengthen the bullpen. All of these moves seem great on paper but it's still a waiting game until their core of young prospects is ready.
2) Will Miguel Sano make it to the majors this season?
Sano will be on a mission this year and I think he will make it to Target Field by the end of July or beginning of August. He's always wanted to be on the fast track to the big leagues and he's so close that he'll be pushing himself even harder this season. It also helps that young players like Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas had success last season. This might make the Twins more likely to give Sano a chance. It will cause a ripple effect on the team as Trevor Plouffe could be pushed to the outfield but that decision is a few month away.
3) Is it good to see Torii Hunter back in a Twins uniform?
Yes and no. I'm not sure how much more Hunter has in the tank. His offensive numbers dipped a little last season and the defensive metrics aren't kind to him. It also sounds like he wants to bat in the number two spot in the order which could be good or bad depending on his offensive production. He's already been working long and hard with younger players like Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks. This is great for spring training but when the season starts, Buxton and Hicks might both be in the minor leagues. If things go south in a hurry with this team, it will be interesting to see what kind of leadership Hunter shows.
4) What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?
I would love to say Aaron Hicks because he seems to have all the tools and talent to make it as an everyday player. There just hasn't been any signs of life from him at baseball's highest level. I think Brian Dozier has the best opportunity to make some strides this season. In his third full season of playing second base, he could make some strides on the defensive side of the ball to enter the conversation as one of the best second basemen in the American League. His offense can be streaky so it will take some more consistency this year especially since it sounds like he'll have a new contract in place before Opening Day.
5) What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?
77-85, 5th Place in the AL Central
6) What do you like best about being a Twins fan?
Even though there have been some rough years recently in Twins Territory, the core group of fans have stayed true to this team. Hopefully, they will be rewarded in the next handful of years with star players like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, etc.