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.
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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
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
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.
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.