Key Questions for Minnesota Twins Entering Spring Training
It feels like it's below-zero in Sioux Falls today. To make it worse, the Minnesota Twins will be starting Spring Training in Fort Meyers, Florida where it's 65 degrees today.
I bet you wish you could watch the Twins in sunny Florida in four days. I know I do. So let's take a look at what we could expect from the Twins in 2015?
1. How will the new guy in charge do?
Minnesota has a new face at manager this year. Paul Molitor takes over for Ron Gardenhire. He's 58 years old and eclipsed more than 3,000 hits in his playing career with the Twins, Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays. Molitor was on the coaching staff last season with Minnesota.
Molitor will have a young and old roster to work with in Minnesota.
2. How will the Twins' free agent acquisitions fare?
Two free agents the Twins brought in were Ervin Santana (RHP) and Torii Hunter (CF).
I think Hunter's names rings a bell for Twins fans. He's 39 now and has spent the last two years in Detroit. Hunter has blasted 17 home runs in each of last two seasons. In 2013, he hit .304 and in 2014, he hit .286. Hunter should provide stability and depth for a young outfield that features Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, Eduardo Nunez and Jordan Schafer.
The other free agent pick-up is Santana. And no he's isn't Johan Santana. However, Santana should step into the starting rotation for the Twins and provide quality innings. He is 32 and pitched for Atlanta last season. He was 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA and struck out 179 batters. Santana will join ace Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Ricky Nolasco. Tommy Milone (who came over from the Oakland Athletics), Trevor May and Mike Pelfrey should battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.
3. Can Phil Hughes repeat his 2014 performance in 2015?
Hughes came from the New York Yankees and pitched phenomenal for the Twins last year. He was 14-10 with a 3.52 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. Most impressively, he struck out 186 batters and walked only 16.
4. How will Joe Mauer do in his second season as the Twins primary first baseman?
Mauer is 31 entering his 10th year with Minnesota (Wow, he's been with the Twins a decade!) He started 99 games at first base and 19 at designated hitter last year. In 455 at-bats last season, he hit .277 with four home runs, 27 doubles and had 55 RBIs.
Here's a fact. Did you know Mauer has never drove in 100 RBIs in a season? In 2009, he hit 28 home runs and had 96 RBIs.
5. Will Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton play in the Major Leagues in 2015 with the Twins?
Sano has now had a full year to recover from Tommy John surgery. He's on the Twins active roster currently. It would be smart for the Twins to start him in Rochester in AAA to let him get the feel for hitting and fielding again. In his last full season in 2013, he split time between High-A ball and AA ball.
Until he's ready, Minnesota can trot out Trevor Plouffe to the hot corner. Plouffe had a solid 2014 season, where he hit .258 with 14 home runs and drove in 80 RBIs.
As for Buxton, he had his season end early last year due to a concussion. He split time in High-A ball and AA in 2014. In Class A, at Fort Meyers, Buxton played in 30 games, and hit .240 with four home runs. In Class AA, at New Britain, he only played in one game.
If I was the Twins, I would start Buxton in Class AA and then watch his production. Perhaps a late season call-up will be store for him.
Vegas has the Twins odds at winning the World Series at 100/1. Last year, Minnesota was 70-92. I'll say the Twins win a few more games in 2015 and will be 75-87.
*This the third column by Sam Tastad. Every week, he will write about a local or professional sports topic. For story ideas, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @samtastad.