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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Minnesota Twins

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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All the Minnesota Twins do is win games ... regular season games that is.

Minnesota has won the AL Central in six of the nine seasons manager Ron Gardenhire has been at the helm. Unfortunately, they haven't won a World Series in that stretch and have made it to the ALCS just once in that span -- Gardenhire's first year in 2002.

The Twins defended their AL Central title in 2010 with a 94-68 record, but they were quickly swept out of the playoffs in the ALDS for the second straight season by the Yankees. The regular season's best are once again heavy favorites in the AL Central, returning most of the usual suspects.

The biggest change for the Twins is up the middle of the diamond, where Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy have been replaced by underachiever Alexi Casilla and Japanese batting champ Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who is expected to be sandwiched between Denard Span and Joe Mauer atop the Twins' lineup.

Although he wasn't a free-agent acquisition, getting closer Joe Nathan back from Tommy John surgery is as good as a trade-deadline pickup. He will battle Matt Capps for the ninth-inning role once he returns to form.

Another key returnee for the Twins is first baseman Justin Morneau, who didn't see the diamond again after suffering a concussion in early July. He was having an MVP-like season up to that point. Morneau is reported to be making great progress, but his status for opening day remains up in the air.

The Twins did bring back designated hitter Jim Thome, who will once again steal at-bats from Jason Kubel, who will also see time in the outfield.

Rotation depth is another plus for Minnesota. Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey will all be vying for the final two rotation spots this spring and the depth extends to Triple-A, where uber prospect Kyle Gibson is biding his time until his much-anticipated debut.

The pieces are once again in place for Gardenhire to lead Minnesota into the playoffs. Getting out of the divisional round remains another story.

Sleeper ... Danny Valencia, 3B

Minnesota went into last season having used 17 different third basemen since Corey Koskie left following the 2004 campaign. The team might finally be able to end the revolving door at third with Valencia, who exceeded expectations as a rookie last year. Valencia's slow rise to the majors was never about his offense. It was always about his defense. But once the Nick Punto-Brendan Harris experiment failed, it was time to see what the kid could do. Valencia hit .311 with seven homers, 18 doubles and 40 RBI in 85 games. Even a modest increase in those numbers over a full season's worh of at-bats should give Fantasy owners plenty of value for being a late-round selection. Lineup protection once again won't be a problem, so Valencia should get plenty of good pitches to hit.

Late-round flier ... Jim Thome, DH

If I told you that you could draft a player with 20-homer ability in the latter rounds of drafts, would that be something you would be interested in? Look no further than the ageless wonder Thome. Even without full-time at-bats in 2010 -- his first year in Minnesota -- Thome parked 25 homers in 108 games. It was his fifth straight year of 20-plus homers and the 16th time in his career he reached that plateau. Thome also hit above .280 for the first time since 2006 and posted a .412 on-base percentage. Thome might have gone to another team and seen more at-bats this season, but he seems content to share time with Kubel. He makes a good late-round Fantasy option because of his power potential with little investment. Look to start Thome in the weeks when he is on a roll and Minnesota is facing a bevy of right-handed starters. Thome is a career .294 hitter against right-handers, as opposed to .238 against lefties.

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Can't-miss prospect ... Kyle Gibson, SP

A forearm fracture turned out to be the worst thing to happen to Gibson, but the best thing for the Twins. Gibson fell in the 2009 draft after he suffered a forearm fracture right before being drafted. That enabled Minnesota to get a top 5 talent with the 22nd pick. Gibson didn't disappoint in 2010, his first pro season. He breezed through three levels of the minors, compiling a 11-6 record and 2.96 ERA. Had the team not re-signed Carl Pavano, Gibson would have had a great chance to make the rotation out of spring training. He is likely to start at Triple-A, but the Twins expect him to debut in 2011. Gibson is in the same mold as Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Brad Radke, but the big difference is that Gibson has better stuff. He might top out as a No. 2 or No. 3 major league starter long-term, but that doesn't mean he isn't worth drafting in all long-term Fantasy keeper formats and deeper seasonal leagues, particularly AL-only.

Minnesota Twins Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Denard Span CF 1 Francisco Liriano LH
2 Tsuyoshi Nishioka 2B 2 Carl Pavano RH
3 Joe Mauer C 3 Scott Baker RH
4 Justin Morneau 1B 4 Kevin Slowey RH
5 Michael Cuddyer RF 5 Brian Duensing LH
6 Jason Kubel DH Alt Nick Blackburn RH
7 Delmon Young LF
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Danny Valencia 3B CL Joe Nathan RH
9 Alexi Casilla SS SU Matt Capps RH
Top bench options RP Jose Mijares LH
R Jim Thome DH RP Pat Neshek RH
R Jason Repko OF RP Alex Burnett RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Kyle Gibson 23 SP Triple-A Triple-A
Another great Twins' pitching prospect that is just waiting for his turn to shine.
2 Aaron Hicks 21 OF Class A Class A
Raw switch-hitter with great athleticism. A future five-tool player with 20-25 homer power.
3 Miguel Sano 17 3B/SS Rookie Class A
It might not show yet, but Sano continues to grow and is projected as a 30-homer threat.
4 Ben Revere 22 OF Majors Triple-A
The Twins' top-hitting prospect and OBP hog will bide time in minors until outfield job opens.
5 Alex Wimmers 20 SP Class A Class A
The 2010 first-round pick and projected No. 3 starter could surge through the minors like Gibson.
Best of the rest: Joe Benson, OF; Liam Hendricks, SP; Adrian Salcedo, SP; Oswaldo Arcia, OF; Carlos Gutierrez, RP; Billy Bullock, RP; Max Kepler-Rozycki, OF; David Bromberg, SP; Angel Morales, OF; Manuel Soliman, SP; Eddie Rosario, OF; Nate Roberts, OF; Tom Stuifbergen, SP; Kane Holbrooks, SP; B.J. Hermsen, SP; Bruce Pugh, SP; Pat Dean, SP.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Angel Pagan, Michael Morse could miss next series
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(2:12 pm ET) According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants may have to do without Angel Pagan and Michael Morse for their upcoming three-game series against the Dodgers, which begins on Monday.

Pagan missed Saturday's game -- his fourth absence over the last five games -- with a back injury, and he was out of the starting lineup again for Sunday's game at the Padres. Morse was out for Saturday and Sunday as well, as he hurt his oblique in Friday's game. That was Morse's only appearance since Aug. 31, as an oblique injury had kept him out all month.


Chris Dominguez set to make first start
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(1:59 pm ET) For the first time in his major league career, Chris Dominguez is in the Giants' starting lineup. He is listed as the team's left fielder, as Gregor Blanco was shifted to center field to fill in for the injured Angel Pagan (back).

Dominguez has already appeared in three games for the Giants, and he batted .274 with 21 home runs and 21 stolen bases for Triple-A Fresno.


Alex Rios' season is over
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Rios played 131 games for Texas this season and hit .280 with four home runs, 54 RBI, 54 runs and 17 stolen bases.


Domonic Brown still out of the lineup
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(1:32 pm ET) Domonic Brown was not in the Phillies' starting lineup for Sunday's game at the Athletics, as Grady Sizemore got the start in left field. Brown had missed the previous two games with a right wrist injury.

Juan Uribe makes speedy return
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(1:08 pm ET) After missing Saturday's game with a minor side injury, Juan Uribe was back in the Dodgers' starting lineup for Sunday's series finale at the Cubs. He was penciled in as the team's third baseman, hitting in the seventh spot in the order.

Collin McHugh ready to make Sunday start
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(12:58 pm ET) Collin McHugh was listed as the Astros' starting pitcher for Sunday's series finale against the Mariners. He left his most recent start, which was on Monday against the Indians, after sustaining a contusion to his left forearm.

Jason Kipnis to return from two-game absence
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(12:46 pm ET) Jason Kipnis was in the Indians' starting lineup as the team's designated hitter for Sunday's game at the Twins. He missed the last two games due to a hamstring injury.

Dallas Keuchel done for 2014
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(12:34 pm ET) The Houston Chronicle reports that the Astros will shut down starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel for the remainder of this season. Keuchel made what turned out to be his final start on Saturday, holding the Mariners to one run over eight innings and picking up a win.

The lefty, who has the highest ground ball rate of all qualifying starters in the majors, finishes his third season with the Astros with a 12-9 record and 2.93 ERA.


Jacoby Ellsbury intends to return this season
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(12:27 pm ET) MLB.com reports that Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is working with trainers on a plan that would enable him to play before the end of the season. He missed Saturday's game against the Blue Jays with a hamstring injury and was out of Sunday's starting lineup as well.

An MRI revealed that Ellsbury sustained a mild right hamstring strain, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he would receive "a few days off" before the team would assess the situation.


Masahiro Tanaka back from DL stint
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(12:12 pm ET) Masahiro Tanaka was activated from the 15-day disabled list in order to start Sunday's game for the Yankees against the Blue Jays. He has been out for more than two months with a partially torn UCL.

 
 
 
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