Friend, colleague and BBA Founder Daniel Shoptaw recently extended me an invitation to participate in his yearly team-by-team series Playing Pepper. I gladly jumped at the chance to answer some questions for him as that’s what friends do. Of course I love writing – and talking baseball with anyone who will listen – so he didn’t exactly have to twist my arm.
I was joined by some familiar faces in the Twins online-writing world. In addition to my answers you can check out the thoughts of Andrew Kneeland (Twins Target) and Cody Christie (North Dakota Twins Fan) by reading the Minnesota Twins edition of Playing Pepper over on C70 At The Bat.
You can read my responses – which were written on March 1st – after the jump.
C70: What was your opinion of the Minnesota offseason?
PP: All in all I was pretty pleased with the Twins offseason. I think moving JJ Hardy and Brendan Harris, despite the uninspired return, was a sound and intelligent decision. I know I’m in the minority on that within the Twins blogosphere, but Hardy has always been overvalued in my eyes and was not a long term solution at SS. I was also pleased that they read the market correctly and let Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch sign elsewhere. Of the four, Guerrier was the only one I was really hoping to see back for 2011 but given the 3-year $12 million contract he got from the Dodgers I completely understand the team’s decision. Resigning Matt Capps was a necessary move given his experience and success as a closer over the years and can cover the Twins if Nathan takes awhile to round back into form after his surgery last year. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, by all accounts, is a perfect fit for the Twins and should be able to hold down 2B or SS while forming a nice DP combination with Alexi Casilla. Minnesota’s offseason wasn’t sexy and it wasn’t splashy, but I think it was filled with sound, intelligent moves that will help the team in both the short and the long term.
C70: Did Delmon Young finally take a step last year or was it a mirage?
PP: I’ve written about Delmon Young quite a bit in the last couple weeks (here and here), and I am about as pro-Delmon as you can get outside of his friends and family. So naturally I think DY took the first of many steps last year. I believe he has just started to scratch the surface of his sizable potential and is primed for a massive, breakout season in 2011.
C70: What are the expectations for Joe Nathan this year?
PP: It’s impossible to know how guys are going to come back from Tommy John surgery. The good news for the Twins is that relievers generally make it back more quickly. They are also usually able to shake the rust off faster than starting pitchers. Joe Nathan in particular has always been dedicated to his career and his work ethic and attitude have never been in question so I have no doubt that he will be back near the top of his game in short order. He pitched a scoreless inning in his first game since the surgery on March 1st and it appears that all signs are positive. Together they have a big price tag, but Capps and Nathan give the Twins a deadly 1-2 combo in the 8th and 9th.
C70: Is there a Twins prospect that will make a significant impact this season?
PP: The one prospect that has everyone in Twins Territory universally excited is right-handed starter Kyle Gibson. Minnesota’s 1st round pick in the 2009 draft out of the University of Missouri, Gibson tore through three levels of the minors last season. He is in camp this spring and while he will likely be sent down to start the season, the question isn’t “if” but rather “when” he will make his major league debut this season. He has some strong supporters in the prospect community, like Jim Callis, who raves about Gibson’s future as a major league starter. Beyond Gibson, the Twins have a pair of outfielders in Ben Revere and Joe Benson who both figure to contribute in the majors this year. That said the team needs more quality at the top of the rotation and Kyle Gibson is the guy that has the potential to be a #2 starter
C70: What is your prediction for Minnesota’s record and divisional finish?
PP: The Twins suffered a litany of injuries to key players last season and still won the AL Central going away last year. They will open the 2011 season with half of their bullpen rebuilt, but that is the one portion of a roster that can be overhauled with relative ease, and the Twins are no stranger to rebuilding their pen. Their final record may not show it since wins in the AL are going to be very tough to come by but I think the 2011 Twins are going to be better than they were in 2010. I also believe the impact of the Tigers and White Sox offseason moves have been widely overstated and both teams still have flaws and holes that need to be addressed. The Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central this year by at least 3-4 games and finish with a 91-71 record.