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Minnesota Twins - 2007 Team Preview
Predicted Finish
83-79
3rd Place
AL Central

by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 27, 2007

2006 Record - 96-66, 1st Place AL Central
2006 Runs Scored - 801
2006 Runs Allowed - 683
Pythagorean Projection - 93-69



The 2006 Minnesota Twins surprised the baseball world by coming all the way back from third place as late as September 3rd to win the AL Central on the last day of the season in a year in which most people predicted that either the Cleveland Indians or Chicago White Sox would take the division crown. The Twins took their fourth division title in five years with a lethal combination of superior pitching and just good enough to win hitting. Unfortunately, while young stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau return to action in 2006, the Twins pitching staff has lost Brad Radke and Francisco Liriano. Worse yet, the Twins replace Radke and Liriano with Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz, both of whom are well past anything that could be considered their "prime".

Catcher
2006 Starter - Joe Mauer
Projected 2007 Starter - Joe Mauer

Not much to say here - Mauer has lived up to the hype, and became the first catcher to win an American League batting title in 2006. As he gets older, it will be interesting to see if he develops some power to go with his already very mature hitting.

First Base
2006 Starter - Justin Morneau
Projected 2007 Starter - Justin Morneau

Morneau was a disappointment in 2005 and for the beginning of 2006 before living up to the hype and winning the 2006 American League Most Valuable Player Award. It would be shocking to see him top 130 RBI again this season, but he could easily go 40-120.

Second Base
2006 Starter - Luis Castillo
Projected 2007 Starter - Luis Castillo

Castillo remains a solid option at second base, despite his age and declining offensive value. Has a sure glove but declining range.

Third Base
2006 Starter - Nick Punto, Tony Batista
Projected 2007 Starter - Nick Punto, Jeff Cirillo

Bad news for Twins fans - Nick Punto is nursing a groin injury, which means Jeff Cirillo may find himself in the lineup more than Twins fans would like, which is to say he will play at all. Punto rebounded from a .239/.301/.335 year in 2005 to post a .290/.352/.373 in 2006. If he can rebound from his groin injury, he could score 100 runs this season.

Shortstop
2006 Starter - Jason Bartlett, Juan Castro
Projected 2007 Starter - Jason Bartlett

Bartlett generally got on base over 40% of the time in the minor leagues, but in the majors last season, he managed a .367 OBP. Bartlett is primarily a defense first shortstop, which is not a liability for the Twins.

Outfield
2006 Starters - Lew Ford, Torii Hunter, Mike Cuddyer, Rondell White, Shannon Stewart
Projected 2007 Starters - White, Hunter, Cuddyer, Jason Kubel

One would have to be either totally ignorant or hopelessly optimistic to think that Rondell White would have a whole season in him in 2007.

Jason Kubel has ripped it up this spring, and is healthy for the first time in two years. Kubel was generally studly in the minor leagues, and could have 20-25 homeruns in him in 2007.

After ripping it up in the minors and putting up unenthralling numbers in the major leagues, Cuddyer had a breakout season in 2006 as he scored 100 runs and got 100 RBI to go with 24 homeruns. He probably needs to reduce his strikeout total (130), but was a pleasant offensive surprise, and the Twins hope he can replicate his 2006 performance.

Despite his career high 31 homeruns in 147 games in 2006, Torii Hunter remains a largely overrated offensive player but a top-notch defender. One can only wonder how much of Brad Radke's success over the years was due to Hunter's defense.

Twins Fun Fact - 2006 was the first season in which a Minnesota Twin hit 30 homeruns since 1987, when Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, and Tom Brunansky all accomplished the feat.
Designated Hitter
2006 Starter - Rondell White
Projected 2007 Starter - Jason Kubel

Kubel is listed as the starter at DH, but the brittle White will probably see plenty of time there, as well as Joe Mauer in the first half of the season as he recovers from a stress fracture in his foot.

Starting Pitchers

2006 Starters - Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, Brad Radke, Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano
Projected 2007 Starters - Santana, Bonser, Silva, Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson

Last season, Santana and Liriano were unbelievable, Radke and Bonser were solid, and Silva and Baker pitched poorly. This season, Liriano is out for the year and Radke has retired, which means a serious drop in quality for the staff. What's more, Santana and Bonser will be joined by Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, neither of whom has resembled a major leaguer in the last couple of years. It also appears as though the Twins will be sending Matt Garza down to Triple-A even though he has been dominant in spring training, while holding on to Carlos Silva, who has been lit up like a firecracker over the past month.

Obviously, Santana is without peer, and Bonser appears to be a strikeout-per-inning type of pitcher. The sooner Ponson and Ortiz are no longer in the rotation and Matt Garza is slated for the number three slot, the sooner I will be a believer again.

Carlos Silva could be the key to the season for this squad - will he revert to the Carlos Silva of 2005, who walked only nine batters in 188.1 innings, or will he be the next Cincinnati Reds waiver wire pickup?

Relief Pitchers
2006 Relievers - Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Dennys Reyes, Willie Eyre
Projected 2007 Relievers - Nathan, Rincon, Crain, Reyes, Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier

I said in my Angels preview that I thought the Angels had the best bullpen in baseball. I was wrong - that title belongs to the Minnesota Twins, and I apologize for stating otherwise.

I am dubbing a new nickname right now - Joe "the Giant mistake" Nathan. Nathan was lights out for the Giants in 2003, but in the worst trade of this decade the Giants sent Nathan, Boof Bonser, and Francisco Liriano to the Twins for A.J. Pierzynski. Nathan has been amazing ever since, striking out way more than a batter per inning, and basically dominating as the Twins closer.

Dennys Reyes is the 2006 winner of the "Must Be Something in the Water" Award - after playing for eight teams in five seasons and performing at a below average level, Reyes joined the Twins last season and went 5-0 with a 0.89 ERA. Will the real Dennys Reyes please stand up?

Jesse Crain somehow went from a 25/29 K/BB in 2005 to a 60/18 K/BB in 2006. His ERA is very good, but has risen each season in the majors.

Juan Rincon had his third straight excellent season in 2006, but his ERA has climbed in each of those seasons, and he somehow stuck out under a batter per inning last season for the first time since 2003.

In his first ever major league action last season, Pat Neshek struck out 53 batters in 37.0 innings while walking only six. Interestingly, he gave up only nine runs, all earned, but gave up six homeruns. If he can keep the ball in the park, it would appear that he would not give up any runs at all!

Outlook for the Season

The 2006 Minnesota Twins finished eighth out of 14 American League teams in runs scored, but finished second in the league in runs given up. There is no secret that it was the pitching that carried this team to the AL Central title. This season, the bullpen looks as good as ever, but the starting rotation is in serious trouble. If the pitching falters, the Twins will have a very hard time winning their fifth AL Central title in six years.


Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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