But Twins fans are like the rest of us parents. We understand that it is infinitely more rewarding to see success come from someone in whom we’ve invested some time. While it isn’t clear that this team is ready to add to the four division championships they’ve had this decade, the players’ minor and major league histories show that they’re not as far as some might think. So, if you like watching kids grow up, here are the Top 10 reasons to watch the Twins this year:
10. Justin Morneau – He has an MVP award in his back pocket, he’s going to be a Twin for the next six years, and he still hasn’t entered his prime. It’s almost become a cliché that baseball players often have a career year when they turn 27, and Morneau’s 27th birthday is May 15th.
But the critical question about Morneau might be: what happens when this guy doesn’t slump for two months of the year? Last year, he had 28 home runs by the end of July, but slumped the last two months hitting just .222 with 3 home runs in August and September. And in 2006, when he won the MVP, he was hitting just .244 entering June. We still haven’t seen this guy’s ceiling.
9. Scott Baker – As he entered the ninth inning of a perfect game last August, it was pretty clear we were watching Baker make “the leap” that we had been waiting for. In reality, this was the second leap. The first was in 2004 when he motored through three levels of the minors and we got all excited. It’s taken three years, but he’s still just 26 years old.
8. Brendan Harris – He showed last year in Tampa Bay that he could hit in the majors, but he’s going to need to show the Twins that he can field for an organization that cares about details. He’s the starting second baseman for now, but watch to see how many rollers make their way through the right side of the infield. If he even becomes average defensively, he’ll likely hold this job until the new ballpark opens. If not, you’ll see him backing up someone next year.
7. Boof Bonser – Apparently, I’m contractually obligated to talk about Bonser’s weight, or at least that’s what I gather based on the thousands of words penned about the topic this spring. Instead, let’s focus on a minor league career that included a strikeout title in the AAA Eastern League. For all last year’s struggles, he still kept striking out batters (136K/173 IP), which bodes well for continued success in the majors. Fatso or no, he projects to be a legitimate #2 pitcher in the next year or so.
6. Jason Kubel – “Before The Injury”. It seems like those three words have almost become a new first name for Kubel. Like “Before The Injury, Kubel was a more exciting hitter than Mauer or Morneau.” Or “Before The Injury, Kubel was one of the top prospects in the minors.” The sad truth is that Kubel may never be the player he was Before The Injury.
Then again, maybe he will be. Shortly after Twins fans started tuning out last year, Kubel started locking in. He hit .341 over the last two months last year, and showed both patience (.400+ OBP) and power (.500+ SLG). Could that be from the increased plate discipline he showed as the year continued? In April he was striking out four times for every walk. By August, the ratio was 1:1.
(Space is getting short. See what I mean about having a lot to watch? Let’s do a lighting round….)
5. Kevin Slowey – “He needs a strikeout pitch!” Really? He struck out 342 batters in his 354 minor league innings. Maybe he can just use the pitch he used for those. I’m just saying.
4. Joe Mauer – “Where’s the power?” He’s 6’ 5”, 225 pounds, 24 years old and is a career .313 hitter. I’m thinking it will come. Just a hunch.
3. Carlos Gomez - “He’s not ready!” Probably not, but over the last three years, he has averaged 45 stolen bases per year. Only three Twins have ever stolen that many in a season – Chuck Knoblauch, Rod Carew and Cesar Tovar.
2. Delmon Young – “He’ll swing at anything!” True, but if he can learn to recognize pitches that he can’t hit, he may have the highest ceiling in this list. In Tampa Bay, he was striking out four times for every walk. This spring he continued that trend, so he certainly has a ways to go. For now, his power, arm, and lack of plate discipline will remind you of Torii Hunter, both the good and the bad.
1. Francisco Liriano – “What’s his velocity?” Quit obsessing about the radar gun and watch the strikeout totals instead. In his last two spring training starts, he struck out twelve batters in nine innings. Giggle.
I'll be at the home opener tonight, and GameDay will be sold across the four corner of the Metrodome as usual. This year, I'm going to be working with the vendors a lot more than in the past, so you might well see me walking around in my red vest (and red stocking cap) tonight. If so, please say "Hi".
And of course, look for GameDay vendors with the red vests and the colorful covers featuring art by Robert Blehert this month. (You can see it at the top of the entry.) This month's guest editor is Nick Nelson and the opposing team's Dugout Splinters is by an Angels blogger from HalosHeaven.com. Plus, there are stories by Jesse Lund and Seth Stohs. It's a virtual bloggers cornucopia.