The last cuts have been made, the roster is set, and the regular season is about to begin. Here is the team the Twins decided to bring north:
1. CF - Carlos Gomez
It's going to be a bit of a bumpy ride with Gomez in 2008. In 1,291 minor-league ABs, he's hit .278/.339/.399 with 18 HRs and 141 SBs. But he's also struck out 250 times while working just 82 walks, and that's a big concern for the Twins this year. Based on the swings he's been taking this spring, I think it's going to be a struggle for him to crack .300 OBP, which would not be a good thing for a leadoff guy. Add to that his wildness throwing from the OF, and the only tool the Twins can really count on next month is his other-worldly speed. He's going to need to make more contact, take more pitches, and consistently hit the cutoff man if he wants to stick in the Majors.
Best case: Curtis Granderson
Worst case: Corey Patterson
SfC Projection: .260/.290/.410, 10 HRs, 50 RBIs, 85 R, 60 SBs, 130 Ks. But I think he'll be sent down by the end of May.
2. C - Joe Mauer
Mauer didn't have his legs under him last year. A stress reaction in March, a hammy in May, a quad in August. His numbers dipped substantially from his batting title in 2006. Still, .293/.382/.426 isn't too bad for an off year. I remember a number of ABs last year where he drove fly balls to the warning track in left - they only have to go 5% further to become homers. If his legs are feeling 5% better, I think we're finally going to see the power we always thought Mauer could display.
Best case: He's back challenging for the batting title and the AL MVP.
Worst case: He gets hurt again
SfC projection: .335/.425/.500, 18 HR, 80 RBI, 100 R
3. RF - Michael Cuddyer
Cuddyer was also derailed somewhat by injury last season, hurting his back when he lost his footing on the base paths in July. He was remarkably consistent in terms of average, OBP and SLG% before and after the All-Star break. He's had 2,097 MLB ABs, which many would say is enough to establish his .270/.346/.450 career line as about as good as he'll do this year. I think that line is weighted pretty strongly by his first 993 ABs, spread over 5 seasons when he was adjusting to the majors. His line over that stretch was .260/.332/.428, with a HR every 31 ABs. In the 1,104 ABs he had in '06-'07, his line was .280/.362/.469, with a HR every 27 ABs. I'm expecting something more along those lines for 2008.
Best case: His numbers fall in line with his career minor league averages (.290/.379/.485)
Worst case: His MLB career average really is his ceiling
SfC projection: .285/.370/.475, 22 HR, 90 RBI, 95 R
4. 1B - Justin Morneau
This winter, Morneau signed the longest, richest contract in Twins history. Not bad for a guy who hasn't put together a complete season in the big leagues yet. He's got just about the same number of career ABs as Cuddyer (2058), and it wasn't too long after the 1000 AB threshold that he began his tear in 2006. His power numbers tailed off drastically after July in each of the last two years. If he can sustain the numbers he's put up in the first four months through August and September, he should wind up with 40+ HRs. He's determined to make that happen this year. I hope he can stay out of his own way, mentally speaking.
Best case: Harmon Killebrew in 1969
Worst case: Justin Morneau in 2007
SfC projection: .295/.365/.565, 42 HR, 120 RBI, 90 R
5. LF - Delmon Young
At 22, Young is, well, young for the Major Leagues, yet he'll reach that 1000 AB threshold by June. Last year he swung at everything, especially the first pitch. He's been much more patient this spring, even though he's still not drawing many walks. As he gets more comfortable with deep counts, he'll find himself with more opportunities to focus his considerable hitting abilities on pitches in the zone. I've been impressed by his ability to drive in runs this spring, whether by hits or fly balls. 2008 should be another step on his path to stardom. His arm in left field will prevent a lot of extra bases on the defensive side of things.
Best case: He starts putting up his minor league numbers (.317/.363/.517)
Worst case: He repeats last year (.288/.316/.408)
SfC projection: .310/.345/.475, 18 HR, 100 RBI, 85 R
6. DH - Jason Kubel
Ever since Kubel lost 2005 to an ACL tear in the AFL, we've been waiting for him to recover his spectacular minor league form (.320/.385/.499). Late last season, it appeared that finally happened: Kubel hit .303/.379/.511 in 170 ABs after the All-Star break. If that continues into this season, the Twins' DH woes could finally be over. Kubel won't turn 26 until May, and he's only had about 700 MLB ABs, so there's reason (once again) to be optimistic.
Best case: His minor league numbers
Worst case: Another 2007
SfC projection: .310/.380/.500, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 75 R
7. 3B - Mike Lamb
Lamb will get a chance to be an every-day player for the first time since his rookie year of 2000, when he got about 500 ABs with the Rangers. Since then, he's been a platoon guy, never reaching even 400 ABs. With the exception of 2005, he's always done a good job offensively. Defensively, he's average at best. He's having a terrific spring, which will hopefully carry over into April. I think we can expect to see Punto or Tolbert come in for defensive purposes in games the Twins are leading after 6-7 innings.
Best case: Corey Koskie
Worst case: Tony Batista
SfC projection: .285/.345/.450, 15 HR, 80 RBI, 70 R
8. 2B - Brendan Harris
Harris finally had a full season in the Majors last year after a number of limited stints from 2004-2006. He was able to come reasonably close (.286/.343/.434) to his career minor league numbers (.294/.365.458). He had a horribly slow start to the spring, both offensively and defensively, but he's been warming on both sides of the ball as late. Like Young, Harris will hit the 1000 AB threshold some time this summer, so there's reason to hope that he'll find his comfort zone and rise to his minor league averages. Though his defense has improved recently, I think it's likely that Punto or Tolbert will replace him in the late innings of every game the Twins are leading.
Best case: His minor league numbers
Worst case: His spring training numbers
SfC projection: .290/.350/.450, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 65 R
9. SS - Adam Everett
Everett was signed to hold down the shortstop position for one season. He's not much of a hitter, barely cracking a .700 OPS in his best offensive season in the Majors. His 2145 career ABs put him in the same league as Morneau and Cuddyer, but unlike those two, Everett hasn't shown any improvement in the last couple of years. At his age, I think we know what we're getting at the plate. However, he's a peerless defender, at the top of the league in range and fielding percentage over the course of his career. Just what a young pitching staff needs.
Best case: Punto in 2006
Worst case: Punto in 2007
SfC projection: .245/.295/.350, 2 HR, 45 RBI, 50 R
I'm projecting this lineup to produce 715 runs, already about equal to the anemic team total from 2007. If the bench guys kick in another 75, that will comfortably lift the team into the major league average. Hopefully that will be enough for a staff of promising young pitchers.