Finding Optimism in the Offense
by, 01-07-2014 at 10:50 PM (251 Views)
No one would deny that this has been a relatively aggressive offseason for Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins. Already we've seen them sign two starting pitchers to larger contracts than they've ever given a free agent in the past, and they followed up by adding Mike Pelfrey on a two-year deal. On top of that, there are some whispers that the Twins might still be pursuing another arm to round out the rotation.
Of course, the club's efforts to improve the offense have been far less ambitious. The additions for this unit have amounted to a DH who posted a .610 OPS last year and a catcher who checked in at .627. Both those figures make Minnesota's .692 team OPS in 2013 (which ranked 12th in the AL) look stellar.
While the starting rotation was undoubtedly the team's most glaring weakness, run-scoring has clearly been an issue for the Twins and nothing they've done so far this winter is obviously going to help alleviate that problem. But if you look closely, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the lineup can be significantly more potent in 2014. Let's list a few:
A stronger Joe Mauer.
There's a lot of concern that Mauer's overall value could be dinged significantly by his move from behind the plate. That's a legit gripe, but we also might surmise that the transition to a less physically demanding position could lead to improvement in Mauer's offensive game. He's dealt with a ton of lower-body injuries related to catching over the years, and it's hard to believe those haven't had a cumulative effect on his ability to drive the ball at times. With stronger legs underneath him, the elite batsman may be able to produce more power than we've seen outside of that miraculous MVP campaign in 2009.
Prospects on the scene.
Josmil Pinto might be on the roster out of spring training. Same goes for Miguel Sano, though he's a less likely candidate. And of course Byron Buxton, the consensus top prospect in baseball, could be in the mix for a midseason promotion if he jumps out to a hot start in Double-A. The Twins have been ushering in a pretty ordinary group of young hitters over the past few years, but these kids -- particularly Sano and Buxton -- are top-flight talents that are really capable of making a difference.
Center field has to get better.
Led by the overmatched Aaron Hicks and the under-equipped Clete Thomas, Twins center fielders hit .230/.295/.349 in 2013. That damage was magnified because the paltry production often came at the top of the order. In the coming season, the position is bound to contribute more to the offense, whether it's Hicks bouncing back, Alex Presley holding his own, or Buxton entering the fold at some point.
Full year of Oswaldo Arcia.
Arcia had his ups and downs last year, with some notable stretches of extreme contact issues. At the end of the day, though, his performance was quite impressive for a 22-year-old getting his first taste of major-league competition. In 378 plate appearances, the Venezuelan slugger hit .251/.304/.430 with 14 homers. If you factor in some improvement as he adapts and puts in a full year's work, he could be a real asset in the middle of the lineup.
Josh Willingham will rebound.
Willingham endured by far the worst season of his career in 2013. Hampered by a nagging knee injury, he managed just 14 homers while batting .208 with a .709 OPS in 111 games. Hammer has dealt with injuries in the past, but they've never affected his performance like this. Since becoming a full-time player in 2006, he had registered an OPS of .810 or above every single year. He might be in a state of decline at age 35, but considering his consistent track record, there's no reason to expect anything resembling last year's ugly numbers unless the injury bug bites hard again.
Jason Kubel could deliver, if used properly.
Throughout his career, Kubel has been a liability against left-handed pitching -- a point of frustration when he's played for managers who refused to platoon him. Prior to 2013, he's generally crushed righties, and clearly the Twins are banking on a rebound to previous form. What's nice is that, while Doumit grumbled at times last year about a lack of playing time, Kubel's incentive-laden minor-league contract might increase Ron Gardenhire's willingness to use him in a part-time role or to cut bait if he's not producing.
More moves to come?
We're still almost six weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Ft. Myers. Numerous players remain available on the market and the Twins still have plenty of money to spend if they so choose. There's no reason to assume that they're done adding hitters, including guys who could possibly provide a real jolt.