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The biggest change for the Twins is up the middle of the diamond, where Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy have been replaced by underachiever Alexi Casilla and Japanese batting champ Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who is expected to be sandwiched between Denard Span and Joe Mauer atop the Twins'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