April 5, 2010

Opening Day

The Twins begin the 2010 season against the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim). I'm generally annoyed by not having a game on at seven, but being that I have night class on Monday's (that gets done at 8:45) I'm thrilled that the game doesn't start until nine.

Since the end of last season, a lot has change has happened. The team bid farewell to Carlos Gomez in November by shipping him to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchanged for shortstop J.J. Hardy. The Twins are looking to Hardy to add certainty to a position that has been muddled for the past few years. Along with Hardy, the Twins signed free agent Orlando Hudson to a one-year $5 million contract in February to start at second base. Hudson and Hardy are two well-respected defenders with histories of good productivity at the plate. Hudson will hit in the two-hole while Hardy will likely hit eighth. In 2009, the Twins two-hitter was one of the most unproductive in all of baseball. So having a player with a career .282/.348/.431 tri-slash line hitting ahead of the American League MVP, it's pretty exciting.

The signing of Hudson was preceded by the signings of Clay Condrey and Jim Thome. Condrey, a right-handed reliever, was signed to a one-year, $900,000 contract after being non-tendered by the Philadelphia Phillies. He is experiencing stiffness in his right arm, so he'll begin the season on the Disabled List. Thome was signed to be a left-handed bench bat, which was music to the ears of Twins fans who experienced many of his 57 career home runs hit against Minnesota. Thome will probably appear as a late-inning pinch hitter, but he'll also get starts against right-handed pitchers on occasion.

The Twins also retained Carl Pavano, who they acquired in August, by accepting the Twins offer of arbitration. Pavano will join forces with Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano in the rotation. Combined, these five had a were 55-48 with a 4.81 ERA in 2009. But despite those numbers, this group has the potential to be very strong from the top to the bottom and each has motivation heading into the season.

Denard Span (CF) will lead-off what should be one of the best lineups in all of baseball. The Twins finally have a productive two-hole hitter in Hudson hitting ahead of Joe Mauer (C), who's hitting third. Following Mauer is Justin Morneau (1B). Morneau missed the end of last season with a stress fracture in his lower back. Michael Cuddyer (RF), who caught flame after Morneau went down will hit fifth ahead of Jason Kubel (DH), who lead the Twins with 103 RBI last season. Next will come the 30 lbs. lighter Delmon Young (LF). Young lost weight in the off-season, but there's been nothing to suggest that he'll finally start reaching his potential at the plate as a result. Hardy (SS) will try to find his pre-2009 stroke in the eighth spot ahead of Nick Punto (3B). Punto is a sore spot in what is expected to be a lethal lineup, but the Twins are hoping his production won't be needed and instead will play him because of his strong defense.

Joe Crede is no longer with the team, but the Twins have Danny Valencia in the wings, which is another reason Twins fans should be able to fathom Punto starting at third base for the time being. Valencia is one of several top prospects who could make their Major League debuts in 2010. Alex Burnett, Anthony Slama, Wilson Ramos, Carlos Gutierrez, Ben Revere and Kyle Gibson are all players to keep an eye on. Other players, such as Drew Butera, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes may see time in a much more reserved role. Butera and Burnett are just about guaranteed to see action at some point as both are with the club as replacements for the injured Condrey and Jose Morales.

Heading into the season, the bullpen is the biggest cause for concern regarding the Twins. All-Star closer Joe Nathan will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery on his right elbow. To replace him, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire originally thought of going with a closer-by-committee, but that looks to have just been posturing during much of Spring Training as he named Jon Rauch his closer at the end of last week. Along with Rauch, the Twins should have a quality bullpen with the return of Pat Neshek from Tommy John Surgery. Neshek will likely be given 7th inning duties until he gets used to facing Major League hitting on a daily basis, but don't be surprised if he supplants Rauch from the closer's position of Rauch is struggling around mid-season. The eighth inning duties will belong to Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares, with Jesse Crain filling in whenever he's needed. Brian Duensing will be used as the long reliever and Condrey will more than likely be used in mop-up duties when he returns. Slama and Burnett have late-inning potential and should be ready if called-upon.

On top of all of this potential, promise and optimism, the Twins will break-in a new ballpark that will keep fans in the seats to help them feel right at home. There are so many positives about the 2010 Twins that it's tough to be pessimistic in any facet. Homerism may be clouding my views of the team, but one thing that I do know for sure is that the Twins have a legitimate shot at not only winning the division but some playoff games as well.

Here are some predictions for the 2010 Season (if I've missed any, let me know!):

Aaron from Aaron Gleeman
Mike from Alright Hamilton!
Brian from BP's Baseball Blog
Eric from Call to the 'Pen
Emily from Chatter From The Cheap Seats
Topper from Curve For A Strike
Steve from Gear Up For Twins Baseball
TT from Granny Baseball
Louie from Hitting The Eephus
Adam from Just a Bit Outside...
j-bro from k-bro's baseball blog
Jim Crikket from Knuckleballs Blog
Joe from Little Big League
Matt from matt weighs in
Nick and Nick from Nick's Twins Blog
Andrew from Off the Mark
Sarah from Oh, It's THOSE Girls
Erin from Picked off At First
Seth from Seth Speaks
Ben from That's Twins Baseball
PanthersFTW from Twinkie Town
John from Twins MVB
Andrew from Twins Target
Eric from Undomed

Hopefully everyone is geared up for another great year of baseball and hopefully you'll continue to support the Twins blogging community. Classes will be over with (for me) in about a month, so between now and then, I'm sure there will be sporadic lapses in posts, but rest assure, I will finish my Top 50 Twins Prospect list and also post some variation of my Top 50 MiLB Propsect list as well. Whether or not it will just be a list or in another format is yet to be determined.

Go Twins!


JimCrikket said...

You didn't "miss" our predictions over at Knuckleballs, Josh... I just didn't get around to posting any until today. Click me for the link.

I'm already second-guessing myself, however. Seems that consistency isn't my strong suit. I picked Valencia as the "Twins best rookie"... right before naming Punto "most improved", purely on the basis of his career-long trend to overperform in even numbered years. While it's unlikely both of those predictions prove true, maybe I'm just hedging my bets?

Steve L. said...

heh, you can click my name for a link to my predictions too Josh (if you get around to it)

It's good to see you mention every name I did in my prospect lest(except Delaney) in your list of guys to keep an eye on. Burnett is already is going to make my list 1-10 with lots of season left.

Josh Johnson said...

Thanks, Steve. I added it to the list and also your site to my blogroll.

JimCrikket, I don't believe I sent any of you an e-mail (couldn't find one), but thank you for participating. As for Valencia/Punto, I'm positive that one of them will work out. Ha!