1. Trevor Plouffe improves off of strong 2014 season, traded in-season.
Trevor Plouffe is one of best third baseman in all of baseball; that last statement is a fact even if most fans won’t recognize it. He was fifth among all third baseman in runs batted in last season and fourth in extra base hits, ahead of many “big name” players at the position including David Wright and Pablo Sandoval, both of whom had more at-bats than Plouffe did last season.
Plouffe’s strong season was also impressive because he got better as it went on. The 28-year old hit 30 points higher after the All-Star break and experienced similar rises in his on-base and slugging percentages as well.
This man will once again be among the best third baseman across the entire league in 2015 and even improve on his number from a season ago, leading to Plouffe being sent packing in a trade that brings the Twins some much needed pitching help at the top of the starting rotation with the Twins having a Wild Card spot in sight around the deadline. Such a trade would be a move that shocks Twins fans everywhere.
Plouffe is very expendable to the Twins for multiple reasons. The team is expected to use him in either the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup this season, which is low for a player who drove in 80 runs as one of the league’s best third baseman. The fact is that this team has no shortage of offense, and that gives the Twins the freedom to trade Plouffe. A starting pitcher would probably be of better use for Minnesota. The second reason why Plouffe is expendable to the Twins is actually a very obvious one; Miguel Sano is knocking at the door.
Sano is a can’t miss prospect in the eyes of most scouts and is seen as a future All-Star cleanup hitter. His Major League debut can’t be put off much longer as the 21-year old Dominican native is projected to be with the big club by the middle of the season. There will come a moment in time where Plouffe will be standing in the way of Sano’s greatness and with Plouffe building on a successful 2014 season, there will be a number of teams willing to take him off of the Twins hands and help clear Sano’s path to the Majors.
2. Josmil Pinto is the regular starting catcher by the end of season.
Kurt Suzuki was a great story in Minnesota last year when he stepped up and made the All-Star Game for the first time in his eight year career but his strong season was probably more catching lightning in a bottle than Suzuki emerging as a top catcher in the league.
He hit a career high .288 in 2014, but the odds are probably against him to do it again; Suzuki hadn’t even hit above .240 since 2010 so it seems likely that his production will decrease a bit as the season begins.
Suzuki falling off in 2015 could mean the team turns to a younger player as the everyday backstop by the end of the season and the likely candidate for that would be Josmil Pinto, who is starting the season in AAA.
Pinto did lose the backup catcher job and a spot on the Opening Day roster to Chris Herrmann, who has a career batting average below .200, but there’s no way he’d be in the minor leagues if he hadn’t suffered two separate injuries while in camp. He is healthy now and a good start to the season in Triple-A will surely get him back with the Twins, especially if Herrmann continues to struggle when the games count.
Pinto, 26, is a .257 hitter in 78 games at the Major League level and has displayed a powerful bat, especially for a catcher, slugging 11 home runs in his career as well as adding 13 doubles to the resume. He has been very inconsistent over his 78 career games and has struggled to even make contact at time but there are other hot spells where Pinto has proven to be an impossible out who can go deep at any given moment. All the tools are there for Pinto to be a very productive power hitting catcher and Suzuki taking a step back would really allow him to finally get everyday playing time.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem that hard for Hughes and Gibson to accomplish because it means they need to win 16 games each but that’s actually a lot harder than most fans realize. Only 25 pitchers league-wide won 15 games last year and only 16 people hit that mark in 2013, so for two players on one team to do in the same season is a very impressive feat.
If you add up the group’s wins from last season, they sit at 29 so the group doesn’t need to improve too much this year. Phil Hughes was one of the 25 pitchers who got to the 15 win mark last season and he finished the year with 16 wins. Kyle Gibson got 13 in what was his first full Major League season.
Look for Gibson to be the man adding the most onto his win total from last season as he tries to weed a number of bad starts out of his game. Gibson allowed one or zero earned runs in 14 starts last year, which is an extremely positive thing to see out of a young pitcher. The issue for Gibson was that he also allowed five or more earned runs in 11 of his starts last year. Eliminating a lot of those bad outings will make his record a lot better than it was a year ago.
The Twins do have one of the better offenses in baseball so this duo will have the run support behind them needed in order to pile up their win totals.
Of course the strong offense might not help everyone who takes the mound as Ricky Nolasco is trying to bounce back from a horrible first season with the Twins.
Nolasco has looked sharp at points this spring but he has also struggled during some of his outings which ultimately could lead to another disappointing season for the team. He finished 6-12 last year and his win total might slightly improve if he avoids a stint on the disabled list, but his ERA and overall effectiveness could be in the same range as it was in 2014.
4. Joe Mauer hits above .310 again.
Joe Mauer takes a lot of crap from Twins fans becasue of his contract but that dates back to before his career worst season last year.
In 2013, Mauer hit .324 which is above his career average. The year before that, he led the league in on-base percentage. He’s never going to be the 29 home run hitter that fans were treated to in 2009 and a lot of that is the fact that Minnesota no longer plays in the Metrodome.
He turns 32 later this month but Mauer is healthy now and working hard. A healthy Joe Mauer will keep making contact and those balls will start falling in for hits, even if they’re just singles.
The Twins ability to win goes does not start and stop with Joe Mauer. If players like Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia behind him in the order can become the extra base hit machines that scouts believe they can be, then just having Mauer on base ahead of them will lead to runs. Mauer won’t be a run producer; he’s never had a 100 RBI season and he’s only gotten to 90 once in his career but he can still be just as effective as he was years ago by getting on base.
5. The Twins win 77 games; still finish in last.
There’s not a team that really stands out in the AL Central this year. None of the teams, outside of the Twins, are bad in the eyes of most “experts” but as far as a World Series contender goes, it might be a stretch for this division.
The defending division champion Tigers can hit, but lost a good amount of starting pitching this offseason and Justin Verlander is already on the disabled list. Kansas City, who won the American League crown in 2014, also lost some talent including James Shields and Billy Butler.
The White Sox and Indians aren’t bad teams by any standards but not many people are thinking about them when it comes to contending.
With four teams beating each other up all season and possibly struggling to win 85 games, the Twins just need to improve slightly on their 70 wins from 2014 just to stick around. Getting a fresh armed Ervin Santana back in early July will provide a huge boost to the rotation down the stretch and allow them to fight for a division title but when it is all said and done, the team will fall short because they are just less talented then the rest of the team’s in their way.
A 77 win season will be a huge statement though as Byron Buxton and Sano reach the Majors and show they are ready to push the Twins back into playoff races for years to come.