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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Minnesota Twins

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Minnesota Twins put together a 66-win season in 2013, boasting the American League's third-worst record.

They scored the sixth-fewest runs in baseball, had the sixth-lowest batting average (.242 -- but they did walk the seventh-most times), carried the second-worst ERA (4.55), third-worst WHIP (1.41), and struck out the fewest batters in the majors. They weren't just disappointing; the Twins were fairly boring. But with an influx of young talent about to take over the roster, the story here is what lies just beneath the surface.

On the major league level alone, the 2014 season brings with it some hope for improvement. The Twins added Ricky Nolasco (3.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.4 K/9 in 2013) and Phil Hughes (5.19 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 7.5 K/9) to the rotation through free agency. While Nolasco had his best year since 2008 -- and should carry over some momentum to this year -- Hughes essentially bottomed out in 2013, with a 5.00-plus ERA for the second time in three seasons, spurred on by a very unbalanced home/road split.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Hughes had a 6.32 ERA with 17 home runs allowed in 17 games at home, and a 3.88 ERA with seven home runs allowed over 13 games on the road. This nearly mirrored his disasterous 2011 split (7.83 at home, 4.14 on the road), and gives some reason for optimism in 2014, as Hughes is out of Yankee Stadium and into Target Field (which, while not representing a huge park factor swing overall, is, according to StatCorner.com, a marked improvement). Now 27 years old, Hughes is probably looking at one of his last chances to show off his potential (he's at his peak, with a fresh start on a new team) as a starter, before maybe being sent to the bullpen, where he had his best major league season (in 2009). The rest of the rotation (Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, Vance Worley) remain relatively unexciting, but with enough potentially decent 2014 outcomes to justify dollar bids in AL-only formats.

The offense returns most of its core, with the major loss being first base mainstay Justin Morneau, who was traded to the Pirates at the deadline in 2013 (and is now with the Rockies). The Twins also traded Ryan Doumit to the Braves for pitching prospect Sean Gilmartin. Joe Mauer, who has caught 920 games for the Twins since his 2004 debut, will take over for Morneau at first base; this is important for Fantasy owners, as the position change should lessen the wear on Mauer's body, while giving him everyday at-bats at first base (as he retains his catcher eligibility for the 2014 season in nearly every format). Doumit had appeared at catcher, DH, and in the corner outfield spots, so his loss will open up more at-bats for the newly-acquired Kurt Suzuki and Jason Kubel, while giving Oswaldo Arcia full-time at-bats in right field.

Alex Presley was sent back to the Twins as part of the Morneau trade, and he performed well in 28 late-season games as the team's starting center fielder, hitting .283 with four doubles and a home run. But Aaron Hicks -- a top prospect who struggled in the role last season -- could factor into the team's plans again, if he can show some growth in spring training (or get off to a hot start in the minors). But both would essentially be one-year projects, as Byron Buxton -- the game's top prospect -- is the future at center field. Buxton, 20, hit .334 with 12 home runs and 55 steals across two levels of the minors last season. He'll almost certainly spend the bulk of the year in the minors (and is, by all signs, clear from a shoulder injury that shut down his Arizona Fall League season), but he may force his way up to the Twins by August -- and almost certainly will get a September call-up.

Buxton's fellow rising star, Miguel Sano, hit .280 with 35 home runs over two minor league levels last season (he has 90 home runs over 379 games), but was shut down in November with a strained UCL in his throwing elbow, which could require Tommy John surgery. If Sano's elbow is good to go by spring training, there isn't much more he can prove in the minors. He could see a mid-summer call-up (after the June Super-2 deadline date), moving Trevor Plouffe to the outfield or to DH. Sano's a risky proposition, but the closer he makes it to the start of the season without being shelved, the higher his value will be.

Breakout ... Oswaldo Arcia, outfield

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Alex Presley CF
2. Brian Dozier 2B
3. Joe Mauer 1B
4. Josh Willingham LF
5. Oswaldo Arcia RF
6. Trevor Plouffe 3B
7. Chris Colabello DH
8. Kurt Suzuki C
9. Pedro Florimon SS
Bench Jason Kubel OF
Bench Josmil Pinto C

Arcia finished his debut season with a .251 average and 14 home runs over 351 at-bats. He hit 17 doubles and stole a base. And this was with several interruptions to the 2013 campaign, with a somewhat-surprising demotion as he slumped in mid-July (he was hitting .257 with six home runs over 53 games), and then intermittent battles with knee, hand, shoulder, and wrist injuries. But Arcia should enter 2014 healthy, and he has a minor league track record that would suggest success in the majors -- a .915 career OPS, a .314 average, and four seasons of double-digit home runs, despite having more than 350 at-bats just once in those seasons. With everyday at-bats and a good amount of power surrounding him, it's not out of the question to expect a .280 average with 20-25 home runs for the 22-year-old. He's a nice fourth outfielder in Roto formats, and could be a solid bench pick in H2H leagues.

Head-to-head hero ... Brian Dozier, second base

Dozier hit 18 home runs and stole 14 bases over 147 games last season, providing impressive counting stats at two relatively weak positions (shortstop and second base), no matter what the format. But Dozier also hit 33 doubles (seventh-most among second basemen) and walked 51 times (eighth-most among second basemen). Despite striking out 120 times, Dozier was still a top 12 second baseman -- the only position at which he'll be eligible in 2014 -- for most of 2013. While his average will probably top out at .260-.270, he can repeat the 15/15-ish numbers, and could hit 35 or more doubles. He still has plenty of value in Roto leagues, but Dozier's ability to hit doubles and walk a decent amount makes him an underrated asset in H2H formats.

Impact prospect ... Alex Meyer, starting pitcher

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Ricky Nolasco RHP
2. Phil Hughes RHP
3. Kevin Correa RHP
4. Vance Worley RHP
5. Mike Pelfrey RHP
ALT Kyle Gibson RHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Glen Perkins LHP
2. Jared Burton RHP
3. Brian Duensing LHP
4. Anthony Swarzak RHP
5. Michael Tonkin RHP

Meyer was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Denard Span to the Nationals before the 2013 season. A first round pick in 2011, Meyer -- who stands 6'9" and weighs 220 pounds -- finished last year with a 2.99 ERA and 1.26 WHIP across 78 1/3 minor league innings (some of them rehab outings), striking out 100 batters. A mid-season shoulder issue shortened his year, but Meyer, 24, was dominant in seven Arizona Fall League starts this offseason, with a 3.12 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, striking out 28 batters in 26 innings. There's little left for Meyer to prove in the minors; if he hadn't injured his shoulder last season, he probably would have worked his way up to Triple-A and made a late-season appearance with the Twins. Heading into 2014, that could be the new plan -- we could see Meyer after the Super-2 deadline passes in June. With Buxton and Sano getting most of the attention in the Minnesota system, it could end up being Meyer who makes the biggest splash in 2014.

Prospects Report

Most of this column has essentially been the Prospects Report, with Buxton, Sano, and Meyer representing a core of exciting young players scraping at the majors. But there's plenty more in a deep Twins system. Second baseman Eddie Rosario has never finished with an average below .294 in four minor league seasons, and has double-digit home runs and steals in each of the last three seasons. But a positive drug test (for a drug of abuse, not a PED) will knock him out for the first 50 games this season, which should stunt his development enough to push his arrival to 2015. ... Kohl Stewart, the fourth overall pick in last year's draft, had a 1.35 ERA and 0.85 WHIP over 20 innings last season (playing on two Rookie League teams). He's just 19, but is worth a long-term look in dynasty formats. ... Kyle Gibson disappointed in a 10-game major league stint last year, posting a 6.53 ERA over 51 innings (pushing him just above the rookie threshold), but 2013 was his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, and he was excellent in Triple-A, with a 2.92 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He's another Twins minor leaguer who can be slapped with the, "if he gets off to a hot start, he could get called up," label.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS .

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Player News
Twins' Gibson feels 'a little more comfortable' with curveball
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson surrendered one run on two hits and one walk in two innings while striking out two in his spring debut Thursday, using the outing to work on his curveball, the Associated Press reports.

"I felt really good," Gibson said. "I'm working on some stuff, and some stuff worked out that I was working on. I threw more curveballs than normal. That's what spring training's for. It's just fun to be able to work on a particular pitch. I feel a little more comfortable."

Gibson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, completed his first full major-league deal in 2014, going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA and 107:57 K:BB ratio in 179 1/3 innings.


Blue Jays' Barton hoping his glove wins him a spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Blue Jays first baseman Daric Barton is hoping his glove can win him a spot on the 25-man roster, according to the Toronto Sun.

Barton isn't much of a power hitter, but gets strong marks for his defense at first. Manager John Gibbons is well aware of Barton's skills. "One thing that put Daric on the map was that he was such a disciplined hitter and a great defender," Gibbons said. He added that the first baseman is involved in a large chunk of plays, so defense at the position is probably more important than people realize.

With that said, Barton may need a trade to make the opening day roster. As currently constructed, the Blue Jays may carry three catchers. If the team retains Dioner Navarro, Barton could find himself in the minors.

The 29-year-old Barton hit .158 over 57 at-bats last year.


Pirates' Pedro Alvarez feeling comfortable at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez is feeling comfortable at first base, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After playing third the past couple of seasons, Alvarez will transition to first base full-time in 2015. The 28-year-old is still getting used to the position, but he seems comfortable with the change.

"It’s just a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view, get the reps in so that the responsibilities that come with playing the position become second nature," he said. "That’s just with time and repetitions."

Alvarez hit .231/.312/.405 over 398 at-bats last season. 


Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman gets strong marks at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman received strong reviews after playing his first game at first base this spring, according to MLB.com.

"He is still in the stages of having to think about it out there, because it's not natural yet," manager Matt Williams said. "He looked fine. He has fantastic hands." Zimmerman was tested during the start, and had to make two scoops in order to prevent possible throwing errors. 

He's been taking extra practice at the position this spring, and was fairly happy with how his first game turned out. "You can do so many drills, exercises and things like that until you have to go out there and play," Zimmerman said. "So it's nice to have a few chances. The more I play over there, the more comfortable I will get. I feel fine."

Zimmerman, 30, hit .280/.342/.449 over 214 at-bats last year. 


Orioles' Brian Matusz tosses scoreless inning in return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz tossed a scoreless inning in his return to the mound.

Matusz came into camp dealing with a shoulder issue, but said he was pretty close to 100 percent. He allowed one hit during his one inning of work, and struck out one batter. Matusz is expected to open the season in the team's bullpen. 

The 28-year-old posted a 3.48 ERA over 51 2/3 innings last year.


Red Sox's Rusney Castillo wouldn't alter plan if sent down
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo won't be upset if he winds up being sent down to the minors, according to the WEEI.

That's not a likely outcome, but with his recent oblique injury, there's a chance Castillo could fall behind the other outfielders on the roster. "To me it wouldn’t be anything that would alter my plan, or my attitude, or my perspective," he said. "If that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it’s got to be. I’m just worrying playing and continuing to get reps and reps wherever they may come."

Castillo did note that he's feeling a lot better, and is expected to return in about a week. Castillo hit .333 over 36 at-bats in the majors last year. 


Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr. showing off new swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is showing off his new swing this spring, according to the Boston Herald

Bradley started working out at the team's facility in November, and started hitting in January. He worked with assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez for a good portion of the offseason. "Jackie was dedicated," Rodriguez said. "He listened, too. He was open to what we talked about."

Manager John Farrell has noticed the change in Bradley's approach. "In BP, to me, it seems like there’s more of a willingness to stay in the middle of the field and not look to lift a ball too much," Farrell said. "I think it’s more of his natural swing, which he was drafted with."

Bradley said his swing has been a "work in progress." While it doesn't appear Bradley has a starting role, his defense should make him a useful major-league asset.

The 24-year-old hit .198/.265/.266 over 384 at-bats last year. 

 


Molitor: Eduardo Escobar 'will be' important part of Twins in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Twins manager Paul Molitor marked infielder Eduardo Escobar as "an important part" of the team in 2014 and believes he will be the same this season, the Star Tribune reports.

"He was an important part of our team last year," Molitor said. "He will be this year, too."

Escobar delivered the best performance of his career in 2014, hitting .275/.315/.406 with six home runs and 37 RBI in 433 at-bats. However, he arrived at camp to learn he was in a competition for the shortstop role with last year's center fielder, Danny Santana. Breaking the news to Escobar was a delicate conversation for the manager.

"Obviously," Molitor said. "You’ve got a guy who came in and played every day for you last year, and then you’re thinking about doing something different. I’ve tried to explain it to him the best I could. His answers, at least for now, are, 'No problem. I understand.'"


Blue Jays' Daniel Norris performs well in first start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris tossed a strong start in his first spring appearance on Thursday.

Norris is competing for the fifth spot in the team's rotation, and got off to a nice start. Norris allowed one hit and one walk over 1 2/3 innings. He struck out two during the outing. 

Norris said he was glad to be taking on a strong lineup his first time out, according to the Toronto Sun. "I liked the fact I was facing a good lineup. You have to bring your 'A' game" Norris said. While it wasn't a perfect outing, Norris was pleased with his stuff.

"I struggled a little with it (staying closed) in the first, but was much better in the second inning," said Norris. "Years back in spring training, I can remember my stuff not doing much."

The 21-year-old posted a 5.40 ERA over 6 2/3 innings in the majors last year. 


Pirates' Jeff Locke wants to remain with team if he doesn't start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke said he prefers to remain with the club even if he loses out on the fifth starter spot, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Locke is stuck in a battle with Vance Worley, but Worley is considered to have a leg up in the competition. Both players are out of options, and would be considered for the bullpen if they lose out on the rotation spot. While a trade is possible, Locke said he would rather remain in Pittsburgh.

"If it comes to them saying, 'Would you rather be a starting pitcher on (another) team or be a (reliever) on the Pirates?' this is where I'd want to be," Locke said. "This is where my loyalty sits. This is the team I want to win with. It's never going to be about anything more than that."

The 27-year-old Locke posted a 3.91 ERA over 131 1/3 innings last year. 


 
 
 
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