Hopeully there will be several wins in 2009.
Morneau is one of the best players in all of baseball. He is able to hit for average or power, and his defense at first is outstanding. The Twins were very wise to lock him up to a long term contract. He will be a cornerstone player for the Twins for years to come.
However, the Twins need to find him a good backup. Morneau cannot be asked to play every game next season. Michael Cuddyer was supposed be Morneau’s backup, but Cuddyer was hurt all season. While Cuddyer will likely be back and healthy next season, the Twins should look at getting someone else on the team (Jason Kubel?) some time at first just in case.
Alexi Casilla 2nd Base – Demoted to the minors in the middle of spring training, Casilla was not exactly lighting it up in Triple A when injuries forced his call- up in April. However, once here Casilla seized the opportunity and become the igniter to a Twins hot streak. Casilla has learned to play within himself, and how to work counts and get walks. While he could not keep up his early .300 + batting average, he never lost sight of his role as the team’s number two hitter. Casilla looks like a solid .280-.290 hitter who can earn walks, bunt, and move runners along. He is also a plus in the field.
Some people has suggested moving Casilla to short which he played a lot of in the minors, but I am against that move. Casilla has settled in comfortably at second. It would be unwise to disrupt him now.
It also should be noted that Casilla is also a positive influence on fellow Dominican Carlos Gomez with whom Casilla rooms with on the road.
Nick Punto shortstop – Almost by default Punto ended up being the shortstop. Adam Everett was suppose to man the position but was always hurt. After he bombed at 2nd Brendan Harris took over and faired okay, but was then needed at 3rd. Punto is best as a utility player who does not play everyday. He is a capable defender at multiple positions, but only a marginal hitter. He is also injury prone.
Punto is a free agent and might been in demand because of his versatility. Everett is also a free agent though he will not be in demand because of two straight years of injuries. I think the Twins will take a stab at resigning Punto as he is a Gardenhire favorite, but he might be to expensive.
Even it they do resign him, he might be more valuable in a utility role than as the starting shortstop.
Who would be the starting shortstop? Matt Tolbert could be the answer. He looked good at second before being hurt, and can play short. Brendan Harris could slide over to short. He is solid though not great on defense and he can hit. Everett could be resigned, or another player brought in. There does not seem to be a player in the minors ready to come up and take the job.
Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher 3rd Base – Harris was solid on defense and a capable hitter. Buscher was a solid hitter who has issues on defense. Neither looks to be a full-time answer, and neither has a lot of power. Luke Hughes and Danny Valenica will challenge from the minors. Both have power potential with Hughes being viewed as closer to ready.
Look for 3rd and short to be positions with lots of competition for playing time.
Joe Mauer Catcher – Mauer was simply brilliant this year. Winning his second batting title in three years, Mauer continues to shine as a hitter. Defensively Mauer was dominant, and he brilliantly handled a young pitching staff. Mauer is the best catcher in all of baseball, and amazingly is still only 25.
Mike Redmond will be back as Mauer back-up. Redmond handles the bat and pitching staffs well. More importantly he handles s being a backup to a Minnesota icon even better. Wilson Ramos is rated as a top catching prospect with a powerful arm and even more powerful bat, but he is considered at least a couple years away.
Carlos Gomez, Denard Spahn, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, and Jason Kubel – Outfielders and DH – The Twins will have five players who have proven they not only belong in the majors, but should be starting but have only four spots open for them to play. How Gardenhire sorts this out could be critical to the team’s success next year.
While one could be traded, they might all be kept for fear one might be injured or one might take a step back from their play this season. Also the Twins could use the depth especially when the need a pitch hitter. In years past the pitch hitting choices have been slim. This would beef that choice up.
Cuddyer is likely to return to starting in right. He is a good defender with a strong arm. He is also a right handed bat with some power, and the Twins really need that. Throw in that Cuddyer is one of the clubhouse leaders of this team, and his position looks secure.
Gomez is a dynamic talent. In the field Gomez as more range and a stronger arm in center field than his gold glove winning predecessor Torii Hunter. Gomez has speed to burn and stole most bases by a Twin in over a decade. Gomez also looks to have power potential. He swings a little too freely, and a can get a little too worked up. Still I cannot remember another Twins player who much five tool talent as Gomez does. The question is can he harness it. I think the Twins will try to find out by keeping him the starter in center field.
Kubel played mostly at DH and thrived. He was second on the team in HR’s and third in RBI’s. Kubel also was not bothered by not being able to play in the field. Many players don’t like to DH because they like playing in the field where they don’t have to sit around and think about their last at bat. Kubel seems to not have that problem. On a team desperate for power hitters, Kubel’s power will likely get him a lot of at bats at DH.
That leaves Delmon Young and Denard Spahn.
Young was suppose to hit for power and did not. He swung freely, but still managed to his .290. He showed some base stealing ability. He also displayed an incredible throwing arm in the field, but seemed to have problems tracking balls in left field which was not his normal position.
Young is only 23 and has great potential and the Twins gave up a lot to get him. It would be hard to see them replacing him. However Spahn came up at mid-season and showed gold glove caliber defense. He also thrived in the lead-off sport where he hit well and worked the count. Spahn also showed great speed on the base paths finishing second to Gomez is stolen bases.
Spahn true strength may lay in his ability to play all three outfield spots well. I foresee Spahn playing a lot, but not in one set outfield spot unless Young is traded.
Look for all five of these guys to play in 120 or so games, but no one will play in 150 – 160 games like Morneau will. I really like this outfield DH depth and youth. Hopefully it will develop into something great.
Outfield prospect Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks are causing a lot of buzz, but neither is ready to challenge for a major league spot right now, but they are on their way. Jason Pridie will be back at Triple A as insurance, but he will not be able to make the big club. He could be traded.
Scott Baker – Baker pitched well down the stretch and overcame early season injuries to serve notice he is the new ace of the Twins staff. There is no reason not to think next year will be a big year, however due to injures, Baker still has not made 30 starts in a year. He must stay healthy.
Francisco Liriano – Speaking of pitchers who must stay healthy, Liriano looked horrid in his initial return from Tommy John surgery. However after a stint in the minors Liriano look very good and served notice he was ready be starter #1a to Baker’s starter #1 status. Baker and Liriano could be an impressive right – left combination.
Liriano however has had history of loafing during the off-season. That cannot be the case anymore as he needs to come to Spring Training 2009 ready to go. If not, there will be some upset folks with the Twins.
Kevin Slowey – Slowey pitched the Twins only complete game shutouts this season, and easily solidified his spot in the rotation. Slowly does not have Baker and Liriano’s impressive stuff, but he has the ability to locate his pitches and keep hitters guessing. Slowey should become a valuable member of this rotation for years to come.
Nick Blackburn – Blackburn only made the team because Scott Baker was hurt in Spring Training, but he seized the opportunity and was an affective starter for most the year. At season’s end he had some rough outings, but then proved his toughness and competitive spirit by pitching a great 6 1/3 innings while giving up only 1 run in the playoff game against Chicago. That fine performance likely ensured Blackburn a spot in the 2009 rotation.
Glen Perkins – After an injury plagued 2007 season, Perkins was sent to the minors to get back in shape for a role as a starter. Brought back during mid-season, Perkins had some good outings and some dreadful outings. Still he was able to tie for the team lead in victories. Going into 09 he has the lead in earning the fifth spot in the rotation.
Joe Nathan – The Twins wisely signed Nathan to a contract extension and he responded with another All-Star season. Nathan remains an elite closer.
Jose Mijares – One of the September call-ups from the minor leagues, Mijares suddenly became the go to guy in the 8th inning. With an electric arm and incredible poise, Mijares looks to have made the team in 09, with the 7th or 8th inning role reversed for him.
Pat Neshek – The designated 8th inning reliever, Neshek promptly blew out his elbow and was lost for the season. Apparently on the road to a full recovery, Neshek will be asked to work the 7th or 8th inning.
Jesse Crain – Recovering from shoulder surgery in 2007, Crain was used with caution in early 2008. As the season wore on Crain was used more and more and for the most part was affective. Crain has a good arm and will be expected to work with Mijares and Neshek in the innings leading up to the 9th.
Dennis Reyes and Craig Breslow – One of these left handed relief specialists will not be back. Since Reyes is a free agent expect it to be him. Breslow though is not assured of a spot on the team with the decision on those below clouding things.
Boof Bonser- Bonser started the season in the rotation and I thought he would be a key to the Twins having a successful season. Instead Bonser lost his spot in rotation with a string of bad outings. Once in the bullpen it took time for Bonser to get comfortable. By season’s end he was being called on in more and more critical spots. Bonser has a very good arm, and he is out of minor league options so the Twins have to keep him on the big league roster, or trade him or release him.
Phillip Humber – Like Bonser Humber is out of options so the Twins must decide what to do with him. One of the players acquired for Johan Santana, releasing him would look bad. He may get a shot and working long relief.
Matt Guerrier – Guerrier has worked his way up from long reliever to taking over as 8th inning guy when Neshek got hurt. And for a while Guerrier was an affective 8th inning guy. Unfortunately Guerrier imploded and several late-inning Twins leads were blown because of Guerrier’s failings. Guerrier is up for arbitration so it is possible he may not be back. If he is back it will be in a reduced role.