How soon will bright future emerge for Twins?
After another rebuilding season, Minnesota waits in earnest for prospects
JUPITER, Fla. -- First, the good news. The Minnesota Twins have seen the future -- at least they hope they have. Few franchises have more kids with the potential to be impact big league players.
They're close to being big league ready, too, and because of them, the Twins believe their franchise is about to be remade around all that talent and energy. Everything begins here.
"We're going to start injecting those kids, probably this year," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've got some pretty good ones that can really help turn this thing around."
From that standpoint, this Spring Training has been a spectacular success.
"I think our young players did a nice job in representing themselves well," assistant general manager Rob Antony said, "and the future looks a little bit better."
Indeed, it does.
Nothing the Twins have seen this spring has dampened their enthusiasm for a long list of players, beginning with multitalented outfielder Byron Buxton, the No. 1 player on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects List.
Minnesota also has the No. 3 player on the list, in third baseman Miguel Sano, and three others in the Top 100 -- right-hander pitchers Alex Meyer (28), Kohl Stewart (40) and Jose Berrios (90).
The Twins believe they've got talent coming at almost every position, and as outfielder Aaron Hicks and third baseman Trevor Plouffe and others continue to figure things out, they're hoping for the kind of organizational depth that defines good teams.
"We saw some really good ones," Gardenhire said. "Some good pitching. Some really talented young players. They're not far away, and they're really talented kids."
Now, about 2014. The Twins simply don't know what they have. They believe they're better than last season when they went 66-96 and had baseball's worst starting rotation -- last in ERA (5.26), innings and opposing batting average (.305).
General manager Terry Ryan went for an immediate infusion of pitching by signing veterans Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to multiyear deals. He also re-signed Mike Pelfrey.
They'll join right-hander Kevin Correia in the rotation, and there are three guys competing for the fifth spot in camp. Ryan has also emphasized pitching in his recent Drafts, so he's working hard to shore that spot up, too.
Minnesota feels good about its pitching in 2014. Or least the club feels much better about it.
"Absolutely," Gardenhire said. "[Hughes has been] great, very professional. Same thing with Nolasco. They know how to pitch and how to go about their business. They're going to be good leaders for us."
What Gardenhire can't know is how much offense the Twins will generate. They were 13th among 15 American League teams in runs last season. They struck out way too much and didn't get on base or run much.
Improvement must come from within, with young guys like third baseman Plouffe, center fielder Hicks and right fielder Oswaldo Arcia getting better. Gardenhire also needs solid years from Joe Mauer (shifted from catcher to first), catcher Kurt Suzuki and left fielder Josh Willingham.
If all those things happen, and if the Twins get a bunch of kids playing better and some veterans having decent years, they've got a chance to hang in the race in the AL Central.
"We're getting after it pretty good," Gardenhire said. "Still a little leery of our offense. We need some guys to get to swinging better and all those things. I like our pitching. The way it's going, our bullpen looks like it's coming together as expected. We're still trying to figure out a lineup as far as leadoff guy and all that stuff, how it's going to work, and try to get some continuity all the way up and down it. We don't have a lot of different people. We've just got to figure a way to put it down there."
The Twins believe there are better days ahead, at least when Buxton, Sano (who underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss the season) and others walk into the home clubhouse at Target Field.
"A lot of it is going to depend on if guys can take a step forward and be a solid regular," Antony said. "Can Plouffe do that? He has shown signs in the past. Willingham is looking at a bounce-back year. There are a lot of question marks. There's no question about that. But it's kind of hard to address everything in one offseason. We tried to address the starting pitching. We were pleased with our bullpen. Now it's an opportunity for some guys to take charge. They've got to step up."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.