Between now and the start of the 2007 regular season, I plan on giving previews on some of the more interesting teams around Major League Baseball. While I won’t be covering every team, I will touch on those that either have made significant changes, have interesting stories, or even good chances to win it all this October.
Today’s Preview: Minnesota Twins
“The Piranhas” (Castillo, Punto, Tyner, Bartlett)
The Twins have many key hitters in their lineup. Of course they need the Mauer-Cuddyer-Morneau middle of the lineup to repeat what they were able to do a year ago, but in order for them to be successful they are going to need the group known as “The Piranhas” to cause opposing teams problems. The 8-9-1-2 hitters of Jason Tyner, Jason Bartlett, Luis Castillo, and Nick Punto need to once again pick teams apart with their hits, speed, and pure determination. This group was named “The Piranhas” by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen after the four players continued to cause problems for his ball club. All four of them will need to pick up where they left off last season setting the table for the big bats. If they can have as good a season as they did the second half of last year, the Minnesota Twins shouldn’t have any problems scoring runs.
#26 Boof Bonser | SP
The easy answer would of course be Johan Santana. But naming the best pitcher in baseball the “Key Pitcher” would be a major copout on my part, so let’s look at the other pitcher who is key to the Twins success. Boof Bonser came to the Twins organization in2003 in the Pierzynski for Bonser/Liriano/Nathan trade (one of the worst trades in MLB history). Bonser made a huge impact once he was inserted into the rotation last season. Going into September during the big push towards the division crown the Twins had just lost two of their most important starters Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke to injuries. They needed someone to step up and help Santana carry the load. Boof was that guy and went 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA in six September starts. With Liriano out all season and Radke’s retirement, Boof has been thrust into that spot again as the team’s number two starter. The young righty showed a lot of grit and determination on the mound last season and should be able to carry it right into 2007. With a lot of question marks in this rotation, the Twins need him now more than ever.
PLAYER TO WATCH
#21 Matt Garza | SP
After facing all four levels of professional baseball last season (A-MLB), Matt Garza learned a few things about pitching in the majors. After flying through minor league ball (going 14-4 in the process), he hit the majors and joined the Twins starting rotation. Many people felt as if the Twins, who sometimes take too much time easing players into the majors, rushed Garza into the spotlight. While the young right hander did show flashes of brilliance after his call-up, he also faced some hardships. The 23 year old finished last season with a 5.76 ERA due to his inexperience working counts against seasoned players. In the minors you can get away with trying to blow hitters away and leaving pitches up, but as Garza learned very quickly you can’t always challenge hitters and have to keep them on their toes by mixing in more off speed pitches. As the season went on Garza got better and now approaches 2007 with some major league experience under his belt. Garza is one of the top pitching prospects in the game and still has his rookie eligibility after only pitching 50 innings last season. One of the best pitching coaches in the game, Rick Anderson will have more opportunity to work with Garza and help shape him into the dominant pitcher they know he can be.
#? Jeff Cirillo | 3B/DH
With what has become an all too common off season theme here in Minnesota, the Twins front office did very little to bring in new talent. Two of the signings that they made was a minor league contract to troubled pitcher Sidney Ponson and a horrible contract of $3.1 million to Ramon Ortiz. While neither of these contracts will improve the club, they did sign a very good bench player in Jeff Cirillo. Cirillo comes to the team as a free agent after hitting .319/.369/.414 in 263 at bats with the Brewers in 2006. While the veteran doesn’t bring much pop to the team, he does bring a right handed hitter off the bench and the option to plug him into DH or even at third to give Nick Punto the night off. He may actually be the best option the club has for a DH depending on what they decide to do with Rondell White/Jason Tyner in left field. There is one thing for sure, the Cirillo signing can’t be worse than the Tony Batista and Rueben Sierra signings before last season.
1. Luis Castillo, 2B (.296, 84 R, 49 RBI, 25 SB, .728 OPS)
2. Nick Punto, 3B (.290, 73 R, 45 RBI, 17 SB, .725 OPS)
3. Joe Mauer, C (.347, 13 HR, 84 RBI, 8 SB, .936 OPS)
4. Michael Cuddyer, RF (.284, 24 HR, 109 RBI, 6 SB, .866 OPS)
5. Justin Morneau, 1B (.321, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 3 SB, .934 OPS)
6. Torii Hunter, CF (.278, 31 HR, 98 RBI, 12 SB, .826 OPS)
7. Rondell White, DH (.246, 7 HR, 38 RBI, 1 SB, .641 OPS)
8. Jason Tyner, LF (.312, 29 R, 18 RBI, 4 SB, .698 OPS)
9. Jason Bartlett, SS (.309, 44 R, 32 RBI, 10 SB, .760 OPS)
1. Johan Santana, SP (19-6, 2.77 ERA, 245 SO)
2. Boof Bonser, SP (7-6, 4.22 ERA, 84 SO)
3. Matt Garza, SP (3-6, 5.76 ERA, 38 SO)
4. Carlos Silva, SP (11-15, 5.94 ERA, 70 SO)
Matt Guerrier, RP (1-0, 3.36 ERA, 37 SO)
Jesse Crain, RP (4-5, 3.52 ERA, 60 SO)
Dennys Reyes, RP (5-0, 0.89 ERA, 49 SO)
Pat Neshek, RP (4-2, 2.19 ERA, 53 SO)
Juan Rincon, RP (3-1, 2.91 ERA, 65 SO)
Joe Nathan, CL (7-0, 1.58 ERA, 95 SO, 36 SV)
KEYS TO SUCCESS
Last season the Twins were a dreadful team that didn’t show any signs of life until June. Of course from June until the last game of the regular season they were by far the best team in baseball. In 2007 the Twins need to come out of the gates with all the energy and success that they had during their historic 12 ½ game comeback of 2006. In order to do this they are going to need their question filled rotation to once again step up. This means that the rest of the rotation needs to help out Santana as he can only help them every fifth day. Last year’s rotation saw two devastating injuries (Liriano and Radke) only to have everyone step up and pick up the slack. Not only will the questionable rotation need to step up, but the Twins lineup needs to help carry the torch. 2006 saw some incredible numbers come from the middle of their order (Mauer/Cuddyer/Morneau/Hunter) and now they have shown the world they can do it, now the only question is can they sustain it. The AL Central is perhaps the most competitive division in all of baseball and now it will be tougher than ever with Cleveland improving this off season. The Twins are going to need everyone to do their part to carry them to yet another division championship.
2007 Prediction: 94-68 (2nd place in AL Central, 1st in Wild Card)
2007 Strength: Bullpen
2007 Weakness: Rotation/DH
2007 Team MVP: Joe Mauer
2007 Team Cy Young: Johan Santana