After three straight seasons with 90-plus losses, the uphill climb that the Minnesota Twins face entering today’s season opener has become very steep.
There is hope for the future, which I touched on in our season preview in today’s paper. The Twins farm system is highly ranked by a number of sources, including Baseball America.
But in terms of 2014, two young players who will play significant roles in Minnesota’s fortunes are outfielders Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia.
Hicks and Arcia – who were among those top-ranked prospects entering last season – debuted in 2013, with Hicks struggling mightily and Arcia providing mixed results.
Hicks forced his way onto the opening day roster last season with a big spring, but hit only .192 in 81 games. The same spring scenario played out again this year, with Hicks once again the starting – and, like last year, lone – center fielder.
Arcia came up midseason and provided some pop with 14 homers in 97 games. But he also struck out 117 times in just 351 at-bats.
John Manuel, who is the editor in chief of Baseball America, spoke at length about the team’s prospects in today’s Forum story. But he also touched on Hicks and Arcia, saying he’s much more bullish on Arcia’s potential moving forward.
“I’m pretty excited about Arcia,” Manuel said earlier this month. “… I believe he will hit at the big league level. He impacts the baseball with consistency. I’m fairly bullish on him.”
As for Hicks, Manuel said: “Aaron Hicks is a much tougher guy to read. Didn’t read some good things about him when he got sent to Triple-A. The buzz around Hicks and how he was handling his struggles and his demotion was not great. … He had about as bad of year as you can have last year. He had to deal with a lot of failure. And indications were he didn’t handle it well. Generally the track record for guys who have a year that bad is not good.”
When looking at this team, I think the Twins – thanks to Glen Perkins, Casey Fien, Jared Burton and company – should have a solid, dependable bullpen. And while Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes probably won’t produce like the Nos. 1 and 3 starters that they are on the Twins, this is a veteran staff. And I think it’s a predictable staff. Not a great staff, but I think we know what to expect.
The hope is that Nolasco, Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey can at the very least pitch deep enough into games to keep the top bullpen arms fresh and productive.
The lineup has the greatest amount of question marks. How much will Josmil Pinto play? Can Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham return to their 2012 forms? Who is the leadoff hitter? Who is the No. 2 hitter, for that matter?
But Hicks and Arcia are the keys. Right now, this feels like a team that will go 68-94. Pitching has been elusive for the Twins in recent years, and now the lineup looks like, even with a good start, that it might struggle to consistently produce enough runs each game to win.