Mauer looks to the future. (Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

Can the Twins Compete in 2014? 2015?

I’ve gone on record to say that I feel the Twins will be competitive in 2014 and become contenders in 2015. I seem to fall strongly in the minority as most people seem to believe I am at least a year early on both projections.  So let’s take a closer look and see if I might be right.

As bad as The Twins have been this year, they are on pace to win 73 and lose 89 games. Winning just 8 more games out of 162 would put them at .500 next year. And in the AL Central, and with the added Wild Card, a .500 team usually is at least in fringe contention until the final couple weeks to a month of the season.  73 wins would be a seven win improvement over 2012. A similar improvement next year puts them just below that .500 record.

Obviously the Twins’ biggest obstacle to being competitive is starting pitching. That’s not something they are going to be able to fix overnight. But as bad as they have been, at least now there is some hope in the wings, unlike the past couple seasons. Kyle Gibson has struggled in the Majors but put up very good numbers in AAA and looks nearly recovered from Tommy John surgery. With his age, stuff, and maturity level, he’s a strong candidate to step up and be a solid number 3 or four starter next year. There is still a chance that Liam Hendriks develops as a serviceable Major League starter. And though Alex Meyer and Trevor May have not had quite the seasons in the minors as The Twins may have hoped due to injuries and late season struggles, both have shown the kind of stuff that could lead them to be good starting pitchers at the next level. Both will be expected to reach The Twins in 2014. Notably, as good as The Twins’ bullpen is and should again be next year, the team’s starting pitching only needs to be slightly below average for the team to have a legit shot at a .500 record. The talent in the rotation is getting stronger. Now they just need to perform.

As for the offense, Oswaldo Arcia is showing that he should be a force to reckon with in the years to come. Joe Mauer is still in his prime. Brian Dozier is playing like one of the best 2B in baseball over the past couple months. And Miguel Sano is knocking on the door. The Twins’ offense almost can’t be as bad next year as they’ve been this year. Even just performing as well as they were expected to this year might have put this current team just a sniff below .500 at this point. Justin Morneau‘s bad first half makes it more likely he comes back next year at a team friendly contract, and I’d be all for that. I still think he’s got another big season or a couple left in him. His concussions have saved a bit of wear and tear on his body and he plays a fairly non-physically demanding position so it’s entirely possible that the further he gets from his post-concussion symptoms, the better he’ll get. I thought he was ready this year, but maybe next year is the year he comes back and hits .280 with 25 homeruns. I believe Sano will start in AAA but spend most of the season at the ML level. He probably won’t hit for average at first but he should put up big HR numbers right away. Trevor Plouffe probably becomes a utility guy. Aaron Hicks will be much better. You can bank on that. He might never be a star, but if he keeps playing Gold Glove caliber defense and can hit .250 with a little pop and a little speed, that’a very valuable center fielder. And Willingham will be back and looking to bounce back in a contract year.

On paper, that looks to me like a team that will be fun to watch next year, probably fringe contend for a bit, and settle in around .500 with a chance for much bigger things the following year. The biggest thing that people who doubt this timeline fail to recognize is how far a strong bullpen can carry a team. They will be better on offense, and starting pitching. As long as the bullpen stays strong, I’ll be telling you “I told you so” next year.

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  • Adam

    I agree to an extent, but I believe there lineup 1-9 has far too many holes at the moment and for the next year at least for them to have a chance next year. You can realistically say there are about 6-7 outs in it. They bat .240 as a team (26th) in the league, strike out the 4th most in baseball, and their team BA with RISP is .233 (27th). these 3 stats speak of a very bad offense. Joe Mauer is the only player over .300 and the next closest everyday player is .263 (Morneau). There are some interesting pitching stats showing how far off when it comes to pitching they are, i choose not to list them. The only saving grace is that they play in one of the worst divisions in baseball. I believe if you want to say they are a couple years away from contending, thats valid. But define contending, do you mean chance to make the playoffs? Or contend to go further than the first round if they make it to the playoffs. They are 2-3 solid starters and about 4 bats away from having any shot at winning the division. I have hope for them the next couple years, but those are a LOT of ifs to depend on.

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  • gagu

    I see a lot to be optimistic aboutfor the future. Next year is the time for working up a winning atmosphere again after a miserable stretch, If Hicks returns next year better prepared to take on major league pitching, and I think he will, the defense should be excellent up the middle. That is huge. Willingham should produce at a rate much closer to 2012 than 2013. Mauer seems completely back on track. Morneau has made great strides recently. And Albers may actually turn out be a legitimate star even after the opposition has time to define his faults. He could make up the difference to .500 by himself.
    I understand that the free agent pitching pool won’t be deep this Winter, but I’m thinking that the Twins will bring the payroll back to the 100 million mark again, if they can find the talent that will sign to play for them. In any case, there should be quite a pile of cash available to try and grab a couple players who can make an immediate impact.
    Anyway, there are many feasible scenarios for a 81plus victory team next year.

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  • Paul DeVos

    Don’t forget a possible appearance for Byron Buxton sometime in 2014 (Mike Trout early perhaps?)…they may move him up to AA ball this year even (Same class as Sano). A lot of the better young players today moved up to the Major Leagues directly from AA ball: Mike Trout, Jean Segura, Manny Machado, Paul Goldschidmt, etc.

    I wonder if Plouffe could play 2nd. He’d add a lot of power there. Twins have a few decent prospects at 2nd base in AA and A+ as well. Eddie Rosario seems to show great plate discipline and has been a .300 hitter consistently at each level he’s played at.

    And for hitters these guys add more depth by 2015.
    Fort Meyers (A+): Dalton Hicks (1B), Kenny Vargas (1B)
    Cedar Rapids (A): Adam Walker (OF), Max Kepler (OF)

    It’ll be if we can get those pitching prospects to turn out and a few middle infielders.