Thursday, March 01, 2007

Minnesota Twins Q&A

The AL Central Preview is up at My Opinion on Baseball and we’ve pegged the Minnesota Twins to win the division. That means once again we bring in an expert on our chosen team. I would like to introduce you to Jesse from the Minnesota Twins blog Twinkie Town.

Thanks for stopping by Jesse and welcome to the My Opinion on Sports Empire.

The Twins have a probable Cy Young winner in Johan Santana who gets a lot of publicity but tell us a little about the guys in the rotation behind him.

Jesse: The Twins picked up Carlos Silva's 2007 option which, after losing Liriano to injury, Radke to
retirement, and finding only highly replaceable parts in Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson on the free agent market, doesn't seem like the bad idea I once thought it would be. For all the talent in pitchers like Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins, there's something to be said for having a veteran in the rotation who can simply be relied on to give you innings and give your offense a chance. That's all the Twins need Silva to do. He has pinpoint control but strikes nobody out, so to bounce back from a disappointing 2006 he's going to need to get that nasty sinker back, and he's going to need to get back to being an extreme ground ball pitcher. Those two things alone should make him as effective as the Twins need him to be.

Behind him is Boof Bonser, who logged only 100 decent innings last season, but put up great numbers in September (4-1, 2.63 ERA). Bonser has a decent fastball, but it's his breaking ball that sets everything up. To take the next step this summer, cutting down on how many homers he allows would help a great deal, as would cutting down how many free passes he surrenders. Bonser is a good middle-of-the-rotation type of pitcher, and 200 innings isn't unrealistic.

Between Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz, chances are that at least one of them will start the year in the rotation. Barring a miracle by pitching coach Rick Anderson (hey, they've happened before), they will be replaced by June (I'd like to think May). Anderson has had success in recent years with Silva (pre-2006) and Dennys Reyes among others, turning what had been marginal and mediocre players into effective pitchers. Ponson at least has a tendency to induce ground balls, which, to the most optimistic among us, gives a ray of hope that there could be a shred of effectiveness in his arm yet. I'm not holding my breath since, y'know, technically he can't throw a pitch in the United States right now.

Behind those folks are a plethora of talented arms. Scott Baker, J.D. Durbin, Matt Garza, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey are all legitimate big league starting candidates, and by the end of the season at least two of them should running out every five days. (Here's a
link for a story I did, running down the young starting pitcher candidates:)

Rotation in April: Santana, Bonser, Silva, Ortiz, Garza
Rotation in September: Santana, Bonser, Garza, Baker, Perkins

Which is better as a whole the starters or the bullpen?

Jesse: The Bullpen, without a doubt. Minnesota has one of the strongest back-ends in all of baseball. Joe Nathan has saved 123 in three years, and blown only 10. K-Rod has blown 16, Rivera's blown 11 (last 2 years) and Billy Wagner's blown 12. There's no doubt that he's one of the premier closers in the game today.

Setting up in front of him are a trio of guys with a combination of heat and nasty stuff. Juan Rincon has been one of the league's most effective and consistent set-up men over the last four years, and carries a career K/9 of 8.74. Jesse Crain just signed a 3-year deal buying up his first two years of arbitration, and in his two plus years in the majors posts a sub-3.00 ERA. Finally, Pat Neshek emerged last year as a strikeout machine (53 K in 37 IP) with mechanics than can baffle hitters and fans alike.

Our lefty specialist is Dennys Reyes (50.2 IP, 49K, 0.89 ERA in '06), and the long relief guy is Matt Guerrier. The bullpen will likely add one of the stars from the farm system as well, with likely candidates being J.D. Durbin, Scott Baker and Rickey Barrett.

We’ve got the Twins pegged to win the Central but if not them then who?

Jesse: My money would be on Detroit to have another strong season. Cleveland and Chicago are still going to be tough opponents who will give anyone a run for their money, and Kansas City is actually improving, but if it isn't the Twins taking the AL Central in '07, the Tigers have to be the team to beat.

Will Torii Hunter put up MVP numbers this season?

Jesse: No, he never has and at this point in his career I'd be surprised if he did. The thing with Torii is that he's unbelievably steaky, and when he's hot he can carry a team just as well as Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau. But his foot needs to be healthy for him to be the defender we remember and a threat on the basepaths. Torii is my favorite Twin, and there's nothing more I'd like to see than for him to win the MVP, I just don't think it's realistic in 2007; a fellow blogger of mine on the Twins, SBG, said it best: Torii hasn't lived up to the expectations imposed upon him for what happened in the first half of 2002. My early prediction for Hunter this year: 157 Games, 27 HR, 92 RBI, 18 SB, .277/.332/.478.

Give us a quick rundown on new acquisitions and key players for the upcoming season.

Jesse: The biggest acquisitions for the Twins in the offseason were on players who were with us last year: picking up Hunter's 2007 option and resigning Rondell White. Hunter is central to the team's success for a number of reasons, while Rondell White is needed to lend stability to the LF and DH slots. Hopefully his 2007 is lightyears better than his 2006.

Otherwise, the signing of Jeff Cirillo is a typical Twins move. He's inexpensive, veteran, versatile and capable. Beyond the aforementioned signings of Ponson and Ortiz, the Twins were largely silent in the offseason, and there's nothing wrong with that...particularly when you consider what the market had to offer: crap at extortionist prices.