It seems like one of these articles always pops up whenever a new season arrives. Why can't it be my turn to write one of these?
It should be quite clear that the Twins are not built to make a playoff run this year, but with the right breaks this team will be watchable into September for the first time since 2010. There's still quite a bit of uncertainty on the roster, so let's take a look at five things that we're still wondering about this team.
1. Was 2013 a fluke for Aaron Hicks?
Partially thanks to a horrendous 2-for-48 start to the season, Aaron Hicks finished the season with a .192/.259/.338 triple-slash last year while seeing much of his playing time as the leadoff hitter. This year, he's tabbed to hit in the bottom third of the lineup, and perhaps a second go in The Show will confirm that he's merely one of those players that needs time to adjust to the next level. The projection systems aren't looking too favorable for Hicks, so if he struggles again this year, center field could be a void until the Twins deem that Byron Buxton is ready.
2. Was Yankee Stadium really to blame for Phil Hughes' struggles?
The three year contract given to Phil Hughes was panned by some national writers, but allowing an .859 OPS while calling Yankee Stadium (both the old and new parks) home but only a .690 OPS on the road suggested that New York was the root of his problems. He's been homer-prone for his career, but Target Field should help alleviate that issue.
3. Can Brian Dozier continue to improve?
Like Aaron Hicks, Brian Dozier had a slow start to the season, but quickly turned it around over the final four months. With second base being a black hole since the days of Orlando Hudson, it would be nice if the Twins could erase another position from their list of worries. One thing to keep an eye on is his hitting against righthanded pitchers. He has OPS'd only .613 against them in his first two seasons, so although he showed last year that he can be a positive contributor even if he's not battering them, his stock will rise even more with a strong performance against the same-siders.
4. How much has the rotation truly improved?
With the signings of Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, the rotation is probably no longer the worst in the majors, but it's still quite below-average as they're only supplemented with Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Kyle Gibson. Nolasco and Hughes will add some strikeouts that have been lacking for the past couple years, but if one or even both of them go down with injuries, this rotation will return back to what we've seen since 2011. However, Alex Meyer should earn a call-up sometime between late spring and midsummer, and he would immediately become the starting pitcher with the most upside in Minnesota.
5. Is Jason Kubel going to contribute?
The reunion of Jason Kubel with the Twins reminds me a bit of when they signed Jacque Jones to a minor league contract in 2010. However, that signing only lead to a couple at-bats for Jones in the two exhibition games and then he languished in Triple-A for the rest of the season, failing to even earn a token call-up in September. While bringing back Kubel will tear at your heartstrings a bit (his cycle is one of my favorite Twins memories), he was terrible for the Diamondbacks and Indians last year and he hasn't really shown he can still hit this spring. Although it seems like the Twins and Kubel were expecting him to be on the major league roster since he signed over the winter, it would have been nice for him to reinforce that the premature decision was a sound one. Instead, we'll be collectively holding our breath to see if he can provide solid DH/corner outfielder numbers or if he'll be pushed aside for Chris Colabello midseason.