For Major League Baseball teams, there is a window of opportunity to win a championship. Unless, of course, you’re the Pirates. Then it’s more like a knothole. Or the Yankees, who had some remodeling work done in the ’90s to have that wall removed entirely. But for the rest of the teams, there is a window of opportunity that is largely determined by the health of their minor leagues.
The Twins window slammed shut in 2011 when their team was decimated by concussions, bi-lateral leg weakness and locusts. Any hope of it reopening last year was dashed when injuries to their starting rotation revealed just how barren the minor league system had become. And, unfortunately, it’s going to remain closed this year.
It was bound to happen. They extended that window a full decade, something usually only wealthy teams can accomplish. They also converted that window into a new outdoor home, one that is going to let the sun shine on otherwise dreary seasons.
However, last year’s problem, a starting pitching rotation that ranked as the second worst in the majors, only nominally improved. The optimist will point out that the three offseason acquisitions — Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey — should be quite a bit better than last year’s patchwork. The cynic might suggest that the Twins acquired two fifth starters and a guy rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Both are right.
Instead, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan’s biggest moves focused on the next window. He traded away center fielders Denard Span AND Ben Revere for three young pitchers, including two high-upside prospects who could begin the year in AA. The hope is that they’ll eventually make their way to the majors along with Kyle Gibson, a #1 draft pick who worked his way back from Tommy John surgery last year and is in AAA. Those three, along with Scott Diamond and Worley, could man the rotation by the end of 2014.
But while pitching was the focus of the offseason, it’s the farm system’s hitters who are starting to garner national attention. Just about every minor league analyst listed the Twins farm teams as among the most loaded. For instance, Baseball America listed six Twins among the Top 100 in baseball. By comparison, the other four teams in the AL Central had nine players combined.
That talent begins to arrive this year. Ryan was comfortable trading away Revere and Span because first round draft pick Aaron Hicks had a breakout season in AA last year. A hot spring has put him in position to be the starting center fielder on Opening Day. A complete athlete, he’s a potential All-Star, but he’s just 23, has never played a game in AAA and has a history of struggling initially when he moves up a level. He won’t lift the Twins to an AL Central title this year, but his development will be worth gauging and he should be a fun player to watch.
Over the next two years, you’re going to start seeing changes all around the rest of the diamond too. On Opening Day, right field will belong to 25-year-old outfielder Chris Parmelee. He had an almost historic year in AAA-Rochester last year. But even he might be bumped to first base before the year is out by Oswaldo Arcia, who has slugged his way through AA and is still just 21 years old.
Let’s move to the infield. As early as late next year, the Twins could reload with another 1991 baby, Eddie Rosario, at second base. And then they could get even younger and a LOT better by giving 19-year-old Miguel Sano a shot at third base. Sano is a Dominican man-child, a top 10 national prospect who slugged 28 home runs in A-ball last year. Right behind them is the #2 overall pick in last year’s draft, outfielder Byron Buxton, who makes Ben Revere look slow. Seriously.
At shortstop there’s, well, nobody really. At least you won’t have to watch Tsuyoshi Nishioka. There is also no heir apparent at catcher, but Joe Mauer is under contract through the turn of the century, so that’s not really a priority.
That could be your next winning Twins team, but the minor league system should get even deeper this year. The Twins have the #4 overall pick in a MLB draft that features several high-upside college pitchers. (They’ll likely have a good pick next year, too.) And don’t be surprised if they trade away some veterans for even more prospects at the trade deadline. That could mean saying goodbye to fan favorite Justin Morneau, who will also be a free agent at the end of the year.
But that’s how a rebuild works. Fans’ focus for this year will to need to be on the sunshine, a cold beer and the individual players who are working to show they can contribute to the next competitive Twins team. If you’re one to focus on wins and losses, a third straight dismal season is imminent. But if you can peer forward a bit, that next window of opportunity may be opening sooner than you think.
John Bonnes writes for Twins Daily — a hub for all things Twins at twinsdaily.com. He started TwinsGeek.com in January of 2002. He also is the owner of GameDay Program and Scorecard, which provides the content for the Minnesota Twins Official Scorecard. You can hear him as a guest of the Powertrip Morning show on KFAN 101.3 and on his Gleeman and the Geek podcast, or follow him on Twitter at @TwinsGeek.