The 2+ Year Outlook - Position Players
(Scroll down if you're looking for a quick summary)
The Twins’ roster looks close to finalized for the 2014 season. There’s rumor of interest in Stephen Drew, but I’d be surprised if that happens. A realistic signing could be a CF to pair with Alex Presley, or possibly a veteran catcher to share dish duties with Josmil Pinto. There are also some hints that the Twins will add another SP. Aside from that, the players taking the field on opening day for the Twinkies are likely already under contract.
Here, I’m going to put some general musing about the roster, with a focus on 2014 and 2015. I’ll write about the position players now, and maybe pitchers later. I’ll be using FanGraphs.com as a resource/reference throughout. In particular, I’ll likely mention players’ Steamer Projections (SteamerProjections.com, available at FanGraphs) for 2014. Steamer Projections are arguably the best freely available projection system around. They take into account previous years’ performance (including minor league stats), player aging, and probably some other stuff in order to come up with a projection for what can be expected both offensively and defensively from each player for the upcoming season. Also, while discussing what a player is expected to do in 2014 and/or what he has done in previous seasons, I’ll be mentioning Wins Above Replacement (WAR). WAR is a metric that takes offense and defense into account to put a single number on a player's overall production. A general guideline for WAR values would be something like this:
0 WAR - Replacement level. These are the types of guys that are readily available at minimal cost. They can be signed as minor league free agents, or to major league minimum contracts. Ideally, everyone on the major league roster is better than replacement level.
2 WAR - League average. Brian Dozier produced 2.8 WAR over the course of 147 games last year. Pedro Florimon produced 1.3 WAR over 134 games. Those were the players closest to 2.0 on the Twins’ roster. According to Steamer, Josmil Pinto is projected for 2.4 WAR next year in 398 plate appearances. Alex Presley is projected for 1.7 WAR in 532 PA.
4 WAR - All-Star discussion. Last year, Brandon Belt produced 4.0 WAR for the Giants in 150 games. That was good for 38th overall among MLB position players.
6+ WAR - Superstar. Only 12 position players produced 6 or more WAR in 2013 according to FanGraphs. The top three were: Mike Trout (10.4 WAR), Andrew McCutchen (8.2), and Josh Donaldson (7.7).
And so, without further ado, here’s my position-by-position breakdown of the Twins for the coming years.
It looks like the Twins will go with Josmil Pinto as their starting catcher in 2014. As mentioned above, he’s projected to produce 2.4 WAR by Steamer. Pinto will be 24 years old on opening day (for a few days, at least: He’ll turn 25 March 31st). League average production from a 24 year old catcher in his first full season of Major League baseball would be quite good and portends well going forward. He had a 342/398/556 triple slash line (BA/OBP/SLG) in 83 plate appearance for Minnesota last year. That’s a very small sample size, but Pinto projects to be an offense-first catcher with a good arm and questionable pitch framing/pitch calling/pitcher handling skills. Defensive metrics for catchers can be particularly sketchy, but Pinto has consistently thrown out an above average percentage of base stealers (33% in his minor league career. For reference, the Major League average for CS% was 27% in 2013). It’ll be interesting to see how the defensive scouting reports and pitch framing numbers develop for him over the course of the next season. If they turn out to be better than has been heretofore advertised, Pinto could turn into one of the better all around catchers in the league.
Backing up Pinto will most likely be Chris Herrmann. Herrmann provides defensive flexibility (can also play a corner OF) and gets generally decent reviews behind the plate. Steamer projects him to have a 224/293/326 triple slash line next year. That ain’t too great with the bat, but the standard for catchers is quite low. As a backup catcher, Herrmann is perfectly adequate. As an added bonus, Herrmann is a lefty batter, while Pinto hits from the right side. Ideally, most of Herrmann’s starts will come against right handed starting pitchers. Making sure Pinto’s bat is in the lineup versus as many lefties as possible (and Herrmann’s isn’t) would be astute. Additionally, Ryan Doumit may or may not be playing catcher this season. He suffered a (multiple?) concussion(s) last year, and I haven’t heard the Twins definitively say whether or not he’ll be catching (although I could have just missed it). I’ll assume he’s going to serve as the team’s primary DH, get a few starts in a corner OF spot, and also act as the team’s 3rd catcher (Gardy loves 3rd catchers). He’s projected to hit 253/316/407 next year. For reference, American League DHs combined to hit 245/326/402 last year. Doumit’s contract is up after 2014, and it’s hard to see the Twins bringing him back for 2015. With or without him, the 2015 catching situation will probably look quite similar to 2014: Pinto will get the majority of the starts and Herrmann will back him up. The handful of remaining starts will likely be handled by a 3rd-catcher-to-be-named-later. Barring an injury to the starter, the 3rd catcher has very little impact on the overall production of a team in a given year. Let us not sweat too much over who this 3rd catcher will be.
There were rumors about the Twins being interested in both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski this offseason. Both signed elsewhere, but I think either one of them would have been a useful addition to the team. I think John Bonnes mentioned it on one of the recent episodes of G&TG, but a situation where Pinto and Salty each get about 70 starts behind the plate and another 70 starts at DH could be decent to quite decent. In that scenario, there would only be room for one of Doumit or Herrmann on the roster. Doumit could have filled the 3rd catcher role for 2014, with Herrmann stepping up from AAA full time in 2015. Their role would be similar: Get 10-20 starts at C, another 10-20 starts in a corner OF, and whatever remaining starts needed at DH. They would essentially be the 13th man on the bench (assuming a 12-man pitching staff), and you could do a lot worse than either of them in that role.
But, that last paragraph is all moot, as both of those catchers signed elsewhere, and there doesn’t appear to be another worthwhile catcher on the FA market.
After sustaining a (multiple?) concussion(s) last year, Joe Mauer will be moved to first base full time in 2014. Much has been said about this. Aaron Gleeman had a good write up about it on his blog a while back. Basically, Mauer will go from being one of the three best hitters in the league at his position (C), to being more of a top 10-ish hitter (at 1B). It’ll be interesting to see how his defense gets reviewed/rated. If he can combine a top 10 bat with Gold Glove caliber defense (is that asking too much out of his defense?), he’ll be a top notch first baseman.
There’s hope that by getting away from the rigors of everyday catching Mauer will not only see an increase in games played, but also a slight bump in his overall offensive production. I’m skeptical of the latter, but hopeful for both. Justin Morneau played 163 (yes 163) regular season games for the Twins in 2008 while serving as the primary first baseman. Expecting Mauer to duplicate that would probably be a stretch, but a goal of 150 games seems reasonable. First base appears to be a position of strength in both 2014 and 2015, and will continue to be so for as long as Mauer’s bat and defense hold up.
Whatever starts remain to be had will likely go to some combination of Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello, and Ryan Doumit. Speaking of Parmelee and Colabello: As I have the roster currently penciled out, only one of them will make the opening day roster. Perhaps surprisingly, I think Colabello would be the better fit. Both players project as 1B/RF/DH types with meh defense (though Chris P. is likely better than Chris C. in the outfield) and an upside of….. league average-ish offense. Steamer is actually more optimistic about Colabello’s bat, projecting a 252/322/426 triple slash line for him compared to Parmelee’s 245/321/389. Not a huge difference, but perhaps more important (at least to my roster construction) is their handedness. Chris C. is a righty while Chris P. is a lefty. The Twins happen to be flush players capable of playing 1B/LF/RF/DH: Mauer (LH), Doumit (LH (yeah, yeah he’s a switch hitter, but he’s definitely better from the left side)), Arcia (LH), Herrmann (LH), Willingham (RH). If there’s only room for one of these Chriss, and their primary role will be giving that list of guys a day off, it seems Colabello’s RH bat would be slightly better fit. In particular, a DH platoon with he and Doumit would be neat.
Working in Parmelee’s favor is the fact that he’s out of options. If the Twins want to send him to AAA to start the season, they’ll have to pass him through waivers and he could very well be claimed by another team. He’s still relatively young, and there’s still a glimmer of hope that he’ll turn into a useful player. However, he has consistently struggled in the MLB (aside from that hot September call up in 2011), he is unlikely to be a defensive asset anywhere on the field, and he is simply being squeezed out by a glut of similar players on the roster. It would be unfortunate if he were claimed off waivers and lost for nothing in return, but perhaps a change of scenery (to a team capable of giving him lots of ABs in RF or 1B) would be good for him. His departure would be unlikely to have a huge negative impact on the Twins’ overall production in the coming seasons. One possible way for Chris and Chris to each have a role on the team would be to jettison Doumit. Assuming Gardy is willing to go with only two catchers, a DH platoon of C&C would probably produce similar to a Colabello/Doumit platoon, with the bonus of giving Parmelee one more year to put it all together.
Brian Dozier is clearly the starting second baseman heading into 2014. Last year he put up a 244/313/414 triple slash line while generally getting decent to good reviews for his defense. His 2.8 WAR was second best on the team. Steamer projects similar defensive value in 2014, with a drop in his triple slash line to 244/304/376. That works out to 1.4 WAR in 130 games. If you expect him to match last year’s 147 games played, that WAR would inch a little closer to the magical 2.0-league-average level. As such, Brian Dozier as the everyday second baseman seems perfectly acceptable for the Twins’ current situation.
Backing him up in 2014 will likely be Eduardo Escobar (who I assume will be the primary backup at all three infield positions). Eddie Escobar (which rolls off the tongue a lot better than Eduardo) is a glove-first switch hitter who has put up better offensive numbers from the left side of the plate in his career (last season not withstanding). He seems perfectly capable of filling in for Dozier on the 10-20 off days he’ll get off. Ideally, those starts will coincide with a RH pitcher taking the mound for the opposition to maximize both players platoon potential.
Waiting in the wings down on the farm is Eddie Rosario (who appears to be facing a 50 game suspension to start the season). Rosario has consistently put up impressive offensive numbers throughout the minors. The jury is still out on his defensive proficiency at second. The general sense I get from various reports is that his defense continues to improve and he has the potential to stay there long term. He began his professional career as an outfielder, so he will have that to fall back on should the need be.
Prior to the aforementioned suspension, I would have guessed he’d start 2014 at AAA with a call up to The Show at some point around midseason a very real possibility. Assuming he sits out the first 50 games, I could see him starting his season back at AA, getting a promotion to AAA shortly thereafter, and having a decent shot at being a September call up. Either way, I assume he has a very good chance of being on the 2015 opening day roster.
As I have the 2015 roster constructed, I view Rosario as a bit of a poor man’s Ben Zobrist. And that’s a compliment. Since 2009, FanGraphs has assessed Zobrist’s season WAR totals as: 8.5, 3.7, 6.3, 5.8, 5.4. Cumulatively over those seasons, only Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria have produced higher WAR totals. Zobrist slots right ahead of Joey Votto and Robinson Cano on that list. He has a career 263/354/435 triple slash line. Last year, he started 117 games at 2B, 11 games at SS, and another 26 games in the outfield. It’s difficult to project anyone (including Rosario) to produce at such a high level. However, if Rosario’s capable of hitting, say, 270/330/400, with average defense at 2B and slightly above average defense in the outfield, he could realistically produce 2ish WAR per year during his cost-controlled seasons.
In 2015, I could envision Dozier being the primary second baseman, getting 120ish starts there. Rosario can start there the other 40 games (ideally against RH SP), while getting another 50-80 starts in the outfield (again, mostly against RH SP). His defensive versatility and left handed bat (a nice complement to Dozier’s RH bat at 2B) make him potentially a very valuable asset. Of course, my assessment is contingent on both (i) his bat developing reasonably well, and (ii) his defense at 2B being close to league average. Those are each far from sure things, but I am optimistic about his future.
Pedro Florimon looks to be the starting SS for the Twins in 2014. He’s a switch hitter who does better from the left side. His career triple slash as a lefty (332 PA) is 236/300/365. That’s not bad for a SS. For comparison’s sake, AL shortstops as a whole hit 256/307/373 in 2013. His career triple slash as a righty (112 PA) is 180/229/230. That’s not too great, even for a SS. Those are both small sample sizes, but the overall picture is probably apt: Florimon is maybe a league average-ish hitter (for a SS) from the left side, and below average from the right side. Overall that would make him a below average hitter. If you assume he’ll provide above average defense, he projects to be an average SS. That’s probably best case scenario. A more pessimistic view would be to say his offense is well below average while his defense is merely average. That adds up to a below average starter. Steamer projects him to be worth only 0.7 WAR in 122 games next year.
Backing him up is another glove-first switch hitter who also happens to swing better from the left side: Eddie Escobar. They seem to be quite similar players. At the plate, Escobar will hit a couple more singles, while Florimon will draw a few more walks and stroke a few more doubles. Their overall production would probably be similar if given regular playing time. The fact that they’re both better as lefty hitters makes them somewhat redundant.
The top SS prospect in the upper minors right now is Danny Santana, who will likely start the season in AAA. He’s also a switch hitter, but unlike Flo and Esco, Santana swings his stick better from the right side. Additionally, Santana has put up some respectable stolen base totals, swiping a total of 47 bases over that past two seasons. Unfortunately, that has been accompanied by a very high caught stealing total (28 in the same timeframe). Hopefully Paul Molitor can teach him a thing or three and he could be counted on to steal 15-20 bases at a respectable rate if given everyday playing time.
Also starting the season at AAA will be James Beresford. He’s a lefty hitting, high average, no power decent defending middle infielder. Relative to Santana, Beresford draws a few more walks, but Santana will hit for extra bases more often. In fact, Beresford appears to have a prodigious lack of power. Here are the career minor league Isolated Power (SLG% - BA) numbers for the four middle infielders mentioned above:
The outlook at SS for the next two years is probably the least rosy of all the positions on the roster. In 2014, Florimon will get the majority of the starts and provide what is likely to be below average production. On Florimon’s days off, Florimon 2.0 will be providing similar results. Perhaps a best case scenario for 2015 would be a platoon featuring Santana and either Flo, Esco, or B-ford that generates league average production by maximizing platoon advantages. A more pessimistic, and arguably realistic, scenario would be some combination of Santana/Florimon/Escobar/Beresford providing below-average production over the course of 2014 and 2015. As such, I think SS is the position most ripe for upgrading, either through trade or free agent acquisition.
Here’s a way-too-early look at the potential free agent SS market next winter. Through the miracles of modern technology, I can type that list into FanGraphs and get their Steamer Projections for 2014. Note that those are projections for 2014, whereas they’re the guys who may be available heading into 2015.
All of the guys listed there are 29+ years old, so they’re likely in the decline phase of their career. Thus, if we are targeting guys who could be worth 3+ WAR in 2015, they need to be projected to be even better than in 2014. That shortens up the list a bit, as only Hanley Ramirez (4.2 WAR) and Yunel Escobar (3.1) fit the bill. Just missing the 3.0 cutoff would be Jed Lowrie and J.J. Hardy (2.8 WAR each).
As far as trade targets go… Well it’s difficult to pry away a good SS. Before the Rangers traded away Ian Kinsler, I had outside hopes that the Twins could try to pry away either Jurickson Profar (less likely) or Elvis Andrus (more likely). That’s no longer a realistic option, and maybe it never was.
Based on not much research, I’d say the Diamondbacks might have the closest thing to a glut of shortstops right now. They currently have both Didi Gregorious (who will be 24 years old on opening day this year), and Chris Owings (who will be 22). Neither are a sure bet to develop into a 3 WAR player, but both have the potential to do so. Unfortunately, young, cost-controlled, high potential shortstops are the types of players should require a king’s ransom to acquire. Working in the Twins favor would be (i) the Diamondbacks’ possible willingness to accept a little less in return due to their surplus, and (ii) the Diamondbacks’ organization not being viewed as having one of the more savvy front offices around. They just acquired Mark Trumbo for what was described by some (e.g. the FanGraphs folks) as an overpay. Perhaps they would be interested in a deal centered around Oswaldo Arcia to give them a left-handed power bat to go along with Trumbo? Hey, a guy can hope, can’t he?
Trevor Plouffe enters 2014 as the odds on favorite to start at third. Over the past two years, Plouffe has been below average defensively and about league average offensively. Steamer projects him to hit 243/306/417 with 20 HRs in 569 PAs next year. Also, somewhat surprisingly, Steamer projects him to have the best defensive season of his career. Add it all up, and Steamer projects a 1.6 WAR season. Backing him up will likely be Pedro Florimon III, aka Eddie Escobar. As I’ve said before, Eddie is a glove-first switch hitter who hits better from the left side. As a lefty, he makes for an OK backup for both Plouffe at 3B and Dozier at 2B.
Of course, the 250 pound elephant in the room is Miguel Sano. He’ll likely start the season at AAA and probably make his MLB debut sometime in the summer. He’s a top 5 prospect in all of baseball and second only to the venerable Byron Buxton within the Twins’ system. I hate to put too much stock in one guy, but I’m assuming Sano will be the 2015 opening day starter. I plan on him playing 150+ games there for several years to come (before a possible switch to RF or 1B), making the role of backup 3B relatively unimportant.
That, obviously, puts Plouffe’s future with the team in jeopardy. Worst case scenario, he gets cut loose after the 2014 season to seek out better employment opportunities. Middle case scenario, the Twins keep him around for his arbitration seasons of 2015 and 2016 as a bit of a utility player with some RH pop capable of playing all four corner positions and filling in as an emergency 2B/SS. Best case scenario, he becomes Michael Cuddyer 2.0, taking over one of the corner outfield spots and providing adequate defense while suddenly finding himself at the plate and provided some RH power to the lineup. I’ll bet on the middle case scenario being the most likely. (I don’t remember who or where, but someone either here at TwinkieTown or over at TwinsDaily initially made the Cuddyer-Plouffe comparison that has stuck with me. Kudos to that person. *UPDATE: Here it is.*)
Josh Willinghammer is lined up to be the primary left fielder of the Twins in 2014. This will also be his last year under contract and I would assume he is unlikely to return in 2015. In his first season with the Twins (2012) Willingham had a career year, putting up a 260/366/524 triple slash, hitting 35 HRs, and providing, well… poor defense in LF. That added up to 3.6 WAR, which is mighty fine for a $7M salary. 2013 was marred by injury and ineffectiveness and Willingham was credited with 0.0 WAR by FanGraphs. I am guessing on 2014 being somewhere in between those two extremes. Steamer agrees, and projects a 232/342/429 triple slash and 1.7 WAR overall in 600 PA.
Hopefully his knees hold up for all of 2014, and even if they do, I assume he’ll see a fair amount of playing time at DH. In line to get to get some LF starts in Willingham’s days off in 2014 would be some combination of Colabello, Parmelee, Doumit, and whoever backs up CF (currently projected to be Darin Mastroianni). 2015 could be interesting.
Aside from SS, I actually think a corner OF should be highest on the priority list for the winter of 2014. Among the names currently in the organization: *SPOILER ALERT* I assume Bryon Buxton will be manning CF in 2015 and beyond. That allows Alex Presley to slide into what is perhaps a more fitting platoon/backup role. He could expect to get some LF at bats in 2015. As mentioned in the 2B section, I think Eddie Rosario's production could be maximized by getting his bat in the lineup vs righty starters with some starts in the outfield. As mentioned in the 3B section, perhaps Trevor Plouffe will find everyday at bats in the outfield once Miguel Sano takes over at third. Additionally, Aaron Hicks is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2013. I could see him starting 2014 in AAA, earning a promotion at some point in the summer, and being in line to compete for an opening day corner OF spot in 2015. Finally, Chris P. and Chris C. could also find some at bats here in 2015, assuming both or either is still with the team.
That’s quite a few names, but there’s really not a single safe bet in that group. In reality, it’s unlikely that Plouffe turns into an above average everyday outfielder. Rosario will hopefully be splitting time at 2B. Chris and Chris might not even be on the team four months from now. Among that whole list, perhaps the most reasonable optimistic projection would be a Presley/Hicks platoon providing league average production in a corner OF spot.
Assuming Hicks will be the smaller half of an outfield platoon with Alex Presley might be a bit downer for Hicks supporters, but at this point it’s hard to project huge things from him. I’d say his ceiling is now, say, 2-3 WAR everyday player. His floor would be, oh, 5th outfielder similar to what is available on the waiver wire throughout the year (see: Eric Komatsu, Clete Thomas, etc.). So, a realistic mid point in that spectrum would be boarderline starter/4th outfielder capable of providing solid defense at all three OF positions and solid offense against LHP. I’ll say Presley and Hicks each get 80 starts in LF. (Almost) All of Presley’s starts should come against RHP. Hicks should be starting against (almost) all LH starting pitchers (50-60 games a year), plus an additional 20-30 games against RHP to keep him close to an everyday player. Add in 10 or so starts as Buxton’s backup in CF, and a handful of starts at the other corner OF spot as needed, and Hicks is up around 100 games and 450ish PAs with half or more of them coming against LHP. Seems reasonable to me. And, like you, I’m still holding out hope that he develops into an everyday player who provides plus defense in a corner as well as very good offense against lefties and acceptable offense against righties. But, the part time starter role outlined above seems like a realistic (and probably still optimistic) projection for him.
The 2014 opening day starter will likely be Alex Presley. Right now, Darin Mastroianni figures to be his primary backup. Assuming Mastro is in good health, that could be an acceptable (approximately league average) platoon for the position. Unfortunately, there’s reason to believe Mastro might not be a safe bet to provide plus contributions in the future.
I’ll admit I’ve been a bit of a Mastroianni bo-bo since he was claimed from the Blue Jays in February of 2012 (Note: I was also an Erik Komatsu bo-bo, for what that’s worth). Masto compiled a career minor league triple slash line of 279/370/369 while stealing 222 bases (versus 48 caught stealings) in 2226 at bats. In descriptive terms, I would say he was a high-average, high walk, low power, elite base stealing center fielder. If you assume elite base stealing ability corresponds to very good range on defense, Mastro would also be considered a plus defender in CF. Add that all up, and in my simple mind, Mastro could himself have been expected to be approximately a league average CF in the major leagues going into 2012. In fact, in 2012, in only 186 at bats, Mastro produced 1.5 WAR. He tripled slashed 252/328/350 that year in the majors, and stole 21 bases (3 CS). He also provided plus defense. That’s a small sample size, and he was seemingly utilized in favorable situations (e.g. being used as a pinch runner where he would be able/likely to add a stolen base, getting a higher proportion of ABs versus LHP than would be expected if he were a true everyday player), but given that he was capable of putting up 1.5 WAR in 186 ABs, and given his minor league numbers, I don’t think it would have been completely unreasonable to project him to be a 2 WAR player heading into 2013. Overly optimistic? Maybe. Completely unreasonable? No.
Unfortunately, his 2013 was decidedly mediocre, and he missed a significant portion of the season with an ankle injury. I don’t have any relevant research at my finger tips, but I’ll provide you with some baseless speculation regarding a speed-based-player’s future performance coming back from a leg injury: Diminished. I hold out hope that he will come into 2014 no worse for the wear. Assuming Buxton won’t be on the ML roster in 2015, I wouldn’t mind seeing Mastro get 60ish starts in CF (Presley gets the other 100, maximizing platoon advantages), plus a few more starts in LF/RF as needed. He could also be utilized as a pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement in the corners. If he could put up a triple slash line somewhere near his 2012 numbers, say, 260/330/330, while swiping 20 bases and providing plus defense across the outfield…. That’s pretty useful. And in fact, at that point, he could be included in the discussion of potential platooning corner outfielders in 2015.
Why wouldn’t Mastro be able to stake a claim to the 2015 CF job with a successful 2014 campaign? Well, Byron Buxton, of course. You know it, I know it, and every baseball fan with an inkling of prospect prowess knows it: Buxton is the CF of the future for the Twins. He split 2012 between low and high rookie leagues and did well. He split 2013 between low and high single-A leagues and did incredibly well. I assume he will at least split 2014 between AA and AAA. It would not surprise me if he made his major league debut before the end of the season. At the very least, I expect him to be a front runner for the opening day CF job in 2015. At that point, he’s penciled in as the starting CF for the next 6-12 years.
Oswaldo Arcia will be the starting RF in 2014. He was one of the Twins’ top prospects going into the 2013 season, and backed it up with the bat, hitting 251/304/430 in 378 PAs as a 22 year old rookie. That offensive production was about 3% better than league average. If that is a fair reflection of his true talent, one could reasonably expect his production to increase over the course of the next five-or-so years, as players generally ‘peak’ in terms of talent in their late twenties. A league average bat at age 22 could develop into an elite hitter by age 27. That is strictly with the bat, however. The thing that will likely prevent Arcia from becoming a true superstar is his lack of defensive ability in the outfield. FanGraphs credits Arcia as being about average offensively in 2013, but also suggests he was almost 20 runs below average on defense. Add it up, and Arcia was essentially a replacement level player last year (-0.4 WAR).
I think he is quite likely to outperform that going forward, but I have difficulty seeing him developing into a top-tier all around player. In 2014, he’ll likely be the everyday right fielder. If he is able to surprise and put up something resembling league average defense, he should be penciled in as the starting RF for several years to come. I think it’s more likely that he’ll continue to struggle on defense, and in 2015 he would better fit in as the starting DH while still filling in as a corner outfielder if needed (hopefully not more than a handful of games per year). Unfortunately it’s difficult to be a true game changer from the DH slot, so I would expect him to put up annual WAR totals in the 1-3 range over the course of his cost controlled seasons.
If Arcia is the primary DH in 2015, who will be starting in RF? Well, I’ll reiterate the list of names from the LF section: Plouffe (RH), Colabello (RH), Hicks (RH), Mastroianni (RH), Presley (LH), Parmelee (LH), Rosario (LH). Again, while that is a long list of names, it’s not real easy to find league average or better production for both corner outfield spots. I think a realistic good-case scenario would be to find 2-3 WAR production for one of the corner OF spots, while seeking an upgrade at the other spot via free agency or trade.
As with SS, here’s a way-too-early look at the potential free agent OF market next winter. Again, through the miracles of modern technology, I can type that list into FanGraphs and get their Steamer Projections for 2014. The top tier players (3+ WAR) would be Colby Rasmus and Coco Crisp. The next tier (1.5-3.0 WAR) of players: Denard Span, Torii Hunter, Brett Gardner, and Josh Willingham. Pretty familiar list of names right there, I tell you what. Among those guys, I think Rasmus provides the most interesting mix of offense, defense, and youth (will be 28 at the start of 2015).
As for potential trade targets… well, shucks. There’s a lot of outfielders in MLB, and I don’t have a nice example off the top of my head like I did for SS trade targets. I’ll leave this exercise to you, the reader. Who are some potential above average outfielders the Twinkies could pursue, and what would they need to give up in return?
WHEW! So where does all of that leave us? Well, here’s a depth chart for 2014. The first column is the primary starter, second column is the primary backup/platoon partner, and the third column are either young guys starting the year in AAA, or MLB holdovers from last year who are in danger of losing their roster spot. The fourth column is a good-case scenario WAR projection for overall production from the position:
Sum that up, and you’re looking at 20 WAR from the position players. For context, that would have placed 16th overall in 2013 among MLB teams. And that’s probably an overly optimistic projection. Subtract one WAR off each line for a more a pessimistic viewpoint and you’ll end up with 11 WAR. That would have been good for 23rd overall (The Twins actually produced 9.4 WAR and placed 25th overall in 2013). Basically, I view the Twins’ position players as teetering on the mid-tier/bottom-tier cutoff for 2014. Twentieth overall might be a fair guess.
How will things look in 2015? Well, let’s look at that depth chart with a few assumptions:
- (i) Buxton and Sano hit the ground running in 2015 and produce at an above average level.
- (ii) Rosario debuts and through shrewd platoon maximization techniques the Twins are capable of squeezing an extra win from the 2B position.
- (iii) The Twins find an above average SS and RF either through free agency, trade, or some surprise within-organization development.
- (iv) Hicks and Presley combine to form an above average platoon in LF.
Add that up and you’ll get 27 WAR. That would have been good for 5th best in the MLB in 2013. Now, I made A LOT of assumptions to get to that total. As such, our pessimistic view should be a little more pessimistic than before. Subtract 1.5 WAR from every position and you get 13.5 WAR, good for 23rd in the league.
That’s a pretty lofty ceiling I have sketched out for 2015, but if we all start praying extra hard right now, maybe the following dominoes fall into place:
- The young guys (Sano/Buxton/Arcia/Rosario/Hicks/Pinto) develop as hoped.
- The Twins open up their pocket book/trade book/magic hat and find some reliable, above average production for SS and RF.
- Gardy prioritizes platoon advantages, particularly at positions of questionable strength (C/2B/LF/DH).
And here’s one more parting table. Let’s take a lineup composed of minor league depth. These are guys currently in the organization who, if things go well, should find themselves starting 2015 in either AAA or AA:
C - Stuart Turner
1B - Kennys Vargas
2B - Niko Goodrum
3B - Travis Harrison
SS - Jorge Polanco
LF - Max Kepler
CF - J.D. Williams
RF - Adam Brett Walker
Not too shabby!
Welp, I'm over the 6000 word mark and don't have much more to add, so, there you go. The end.