As the snow piles up, and my snow-blower limps to the finish line this winter; my excitement level for baseball season is rising by the hour. Even after two straight seasons of nearly 100 losses, my optimism is high for this Twins team. Part of that may be that my expectations are relatively low, much like they were heading into the 2012 Vikings season. No longer do I expect the Twins to win the Central Division every year, and therefore it makes the season much more enjoyable for me through the ups and downs. The other side to this is that every spring, every fan of every team thinks there’s a chance for a really good year. Everyone’s tied for first place right now, and literally anything could happen over the next 8 months.
As I’ve been pondering the upcoming season, a couple of things excite me about this team. Obviously not everything always works out that way we imagine or predict, but here a couple of things that give me hope heading into 2013.
Trevor Plouffe enters his first Spring Training this week as the everyday third baseman. Before last season, Plouffe had never played the position at the major league level, and made only 76 career appearances there in the minors over 8 seasons – most of those coming in 2006 and 2008. There’s no question he struggled defensively there last year, finishing near the bottom in most statistics, standard or advanced. On 1500 ESPN this morning, Plouffe talked about adding 10 pounds before last season, expecting to play in the outfield. “I felt a little slower”, he said when he moved back to the infield, and has dropped about half of that extra weight again leading into 2013.
Offensively, Plouffe was one of the best hitters in baseball for two months. In June and July, he hit .317 with 14 home runs and 30 RBI’s in 42 games – good for a 1.006 OPS – before heading to the disabled list with a hand injury. “My hand was definitely a sore thing for me for a while when I came back,” said Plouffe. The last five games of the season, Plouffe went 7-16 with 2 walks and a homer to finish the season looking like the mid-summer Trevor Plouffe. Knowing he will be an everyday player at the same position in 2013, I’m excited to see how he responds now that he can get into somewhat of a comfort zone.
The Twins also signed left-hander Rafael Perez today, who pitched 7 seasons out of the bullpen for Cleveland before have shoulder surgery to remove a bone spur back in September. Not having started since 2007 in AAA, it sounds like he will have the opportunity in Minnesota to stretch out and fill a spot in the rotation. Outside of a rough season in 2009, Perez has been very good and very consistent in his time in the bullpen. He utilizes a low-90’s fastball and a mid-80’s slider to strike out 7.3 batters per 9 innings in his career.
In addition to Perez, the Twins have definitely added quantity in pitching, with potential for quality. Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, and Rich Harden were all acquired this off-season to help boost the depth of the pitching staff. All four of these pitchers have had success at the MLB level, and even one or two of them finding success again will prove to be a major upgrade to this staff. Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, Liam Hendriks, Nick Blackburn, Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, and even P.J. Walters have potential to play a part and be successful in this rotation this year. With as many options as this club has, at least a few of these guys are bound to have a solid season in 2013 and give the Twins a chance to win each night.
Every year in baseball there are some younger players that break out of their shell and produce for big league teams. This year a handful of younger guys are going to get a chance to show they belong. Along with Plouffe, Brian Dozier, Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, Gibson, Hendriks, and maybe even guys like Trevor May and Oswaldo Arcia will get an opportunity to show their skills. Who knows what kind of impact one or two of these players could have on a team that will get better over the next 3-4 years.
With all the additions, subtractions, and coaching changes this off-season; the Twins may not be ready yet to contend for a division title. However, there is plenty to be excited and intrigued about this club that will make 2013 well worth watching.
Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.