It's snowing in Minnesota but there's still baseball to played, as the Mets head to Target Field for their first interleague series of the season with the Twins. Coming off of a 96 loss season a year ago, the Twins come into tonight's game with a record of 4-5 in 2013 after getting swept by the Royals. To help give us a better idea of what's going on with them, Jesse Lund of SB Nation's Twinkie Town was kind enough to give us a preview of the team.
Amazin' Avenue: What are the expectations for the 2013 Twins and what has to happen for the team to reach those expectations?
Twinkie Town: I think that even the most optimistic of Twins fans are hoping for a 75-win season, but by and large the expectations for this year's club are pretty general: be better than last year. They lost 99 games in '11 and 96 games in '12 - even the awful Twins teams of the 90s didn't lose that many games in any two-year span. You have to go all the way back to the '82 and '83 squads.
To reach those "lofty" expecations goes beyond numbers. It would be great if 80% of our rotation didn't catch the plague or require career-altering surgery, and if those two things don't happen then it's a big step in the right direction. I do think we're looking at a third consecutive 90-loss season, so if they can push that loss column down into the upper 80s I'd consider it a good season.
AA: Somewhat surprisingly, the Twins promoted center field prospect Aaron Hicks straight up to the majors from Double-A after a strong spring. Unfortunately, Hicks is off to a 2-30 start at the plate in the big leagues. How has he looked and do you think this was the right move by the Twins' front office?
TT: He's looked over-matched, but that's to be expected. He's not a Joe Mauer type who can make the jump from Double-A seamlessly, and his history will point that out. But when the Twins traded Denard Span and Ben Revere, there were no good in-house center field options. The choice came down to backup Darin Mastroianni (a fourth outfielder type who really hasn't played too much center field), Joe Benson (who is a four-tool player but was hurt all of last season and is getting a bit old for prospect status), and Hicks. Hicks won the job in spring training not based on just numbers, but on his approach and attitude and defensive ability and speed and, apparently, he looked like he was ready to take a step forward.
Was it the right move? I think it's too early to know for sure, but it's not like their other two options would make the Twins a better team. For me the question is less about the Twins and more about the player. Was giving him the job the best thing for Hicks' development? The Twins think it is. It's going to be a bumpy ride, but right now I'm torn on whether this was the right decision for Hicks or not. But I do applaud the front office for taking who they thought was the best player and ignoring issues like service time (waiting would have pushed back his arbitration and Super Two clocks).
AA: Our old hand licking friend Mike Pelfrey is a member of the Twins' rotation. How has Big Pelf looked in his first couple of starts and in general, what do you think of the team's off-season rotation imports thus far?
TT: Pelfrey has been alright in his two starts. I know he wanted to be a Twin, but I'm sure that's more due to the opportunities that were available to pitchers here over the winter and less due to Minnesota being a super awesome appealing destination.
In general I wasn't too impressed with the Twins free agent signings, although I'm okay with the Pelfrey deal. Kevin Correia is the other free agent in our rotation, and he'll implode like a dying star at some point but he's been brilliant in his two outings. Then there's Vance Worley, who I see as a #3 starter in his best years. We haven't seen him at his best quite yet.
AA: Josh Willingham was excellent at the plate a year ago, with a .380 wOBA and 35 home runs. At 34, though, he's starting to get up there in age a bit for a team that's not ready to compete yet and the Twins' organizational strength seems to be in the outfield. Do you think he can repeat what he did last year and if so, will he still be Twin?
TT: Honestly, I think that whether he's a Twin or not will depend on other factors than Willingham. If the Twins are quasi-competitive instead of a bottom feeder they could wait until next winter to deal him. It will also depend on the performances and health of Aaron Hicks in center, Chris Parmelee in right, and the fellow we ranked as the organizations #2 prospect who is in Triple-A - Oswaldo Arcia. If Arcia continues to look like a man among boys against Triple-A pitchers, the Twins would be more open to dealing Willingham.
Can he repeat his performance? It seems unlikely and the odds are against it, but he doesn't need to repeat it to have good value at the trade deadline. He just needs to have another Willingham-type season. And he'll definitely do that.
AA: Give Mets fans a little scouting report on Target Field. How does it play and how do Twins' fans like their (relatively) new stadium?
TT: Target Field is beautiful. I love the limestone, I love the local food, I love the views, I love the wide concourses, I love that it's an outdoor ballpark. I've been around, and it's one of the most attractive parks I've seen. If you want to go to a ballpark for history, sure, head to Fenway. But if you want a ballpark whose aesthetic beauty truly enhances your game experience, then you need to see Target Field. Some folks complained about the cold in April and October, but places like Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, and New York all manage and it's cold in those cities in April and October, too. By this point I think most fans who didn't like it have remembered that they're Minnesotans and are actually fully equipped for chilly weather.
As for how it plays - it's been more of a pitcher's park. Right handed hitters who like to pull for power will have opportunities to launch some homers into left field. It's one of the reasons Michael Cuddyer, Trevor Plouffe, and Josh Willingham all continued to hit for power at home. Left handed batters, though, really need to generate some power if they're going to knock one out. That balcony in right field doesn't help, and the alleys can kill fly balls. Jim Thome didn't have a problem with it in 2010 when he was here, but he was a special case.
Thanks again to Jesse Lund for giving us a preview of the Twins! Here are the pitching matchups for this series: