MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 23: Justin Morneau #33 of the Minnesota Twins reacts to striking out against the Baltimore Orioles in the seventh inning on August 23, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Orioles defeated the Twins 8-1. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Twins players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will continue tomorrow with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Twins went from first in 2010 to worst in 2011 as they finished 62-100, a huge disappointment indeed. The season was characterized by poor run production as well as prevention, steps backward from almost every player, and injuries. Lots and lot of injuries. No team could be expected to compete with most of their key players hurt for most of the year, but the lost season exposed some of the organization's flaws (a lack of depth, overpaying for players with downward career trajectories, and perhaps even a poor approach to treating injuries).
Now, instead of viewing an injury-plagued, 100-loss season as a fluke, most observers see it as a harbinger of things to come in the near future. Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit were nice additions, but Justin Morneau said recently that he still feels pain that affects his swing in his surgically repaired wrist and Tsuyoshi Nishioka was finally and mercifully optioned to AAA just a couple of days ago. Pegging down the Twins' exact place in the AL Central pecking order is difficult. If they improve their W-L over last year by 15 games, it should probably be considered a coup.
Target Field was the stingiest home run park in the bigs in 2010, its debut year, but last year it played much closer to neutral. It's pretty safe to say that the ballpark does benefit pitchers, but we can't really declare to what degree until more data is available.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Ron Gardenhire has been around the team long enough (10 years) that the local fans pretty much know his tendencies inside and out. That can be endearing when the team is winning, but when they're not, insisting on the sacrifice bunt or showing an affinity for light-hitting, speedy middle infielders can be a source of frustration for supporters. Is it possible that Gardenhire, once considered (and still considered by some) one of the smartest managers in the league, is on the heat seat?
Expected Position Battles
There are a few areas of concern (Who will take over at first if/when Justin Morneau goes down? Should Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe platoon in left?), but there are no true position battles, and isn't that a major part of the problem?
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Denard Span - CF
Jamey Carroll - SS
Joe Mauer - C
Justin Morneau - 1B
Josh Willingham - RF
Ryan Doumit - DH
Danny Valencia - 3B
Revere/Plouffe - LF
Alexi Casilla - 2B
Revere/Plouffe represents a platoon. When healthy Mauer/Morneau/Willingham is a pretty salty 3-4-5, but there are so many question marks with all three, and the surrounding cast is fairly suspect. Let's not go overboard with dreams of finishing in the top half of the league in runs scored.
Scott Baker has been dealing with elbow tendinitis, and there have been whispers that he may have to start the season on the disabled list. Minnesota could elect to go with a 4-man rotation in the early going, but if a fifth starter is needed, Liam Hendriks may be the guy. Minor league gurus agree that Hendriks needs more seasoning before he's truly ready for the show, but he may be adequate in the spot starter role. As a guy who doesn't miss bats, doesn't walk anybody, and induces ground balls, he is the prototypical Twins pitcher. If he's needed, watch Hendriks closely and be ready to pull the trigger on him.
Matt Capps returns to the closing role with the departure of Joe Nathan. He's one of the lowest-rated closers in the game, and for good reason. He doesn't miss bats, and his rate stats are average at best. His set-up man, Glen Perkins, does all of those things well, and you could do worse for a handcuff. Gardenhire isn't so fickle that he'll replace Capps after 1 or 2 bad performances, but he can't last forever in that role, can he?
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
I really wanted to put Scott Baker here, but his elbow problems give me pause. Even if he gets a clean bill of health publicly, there will still be concerns that something could crop up at any moment.
Instead, let's look at Ryan Doumit. Most of the projection systems do not see a good year in store for Doumit, so take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt. What we have here is an injury-prone player who no longer has to worry about playing the most demanding position in baseball. Does that mean he's not going to get injured anymore? Not at all, but he will have a chance to play a full season for the first time in his career. He's a career .271 hitter with upside for 20 home runs. That has value at the catcher spot.
Spring Storylines to Watch
It's all about health. Will Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit, and Scott Baker (among others) be able to play full seasons this year? Comments like the ones Morneau made the other day worry me, as does his spring performance.
Follow the Team
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.