Year in and year out the Twins compete, showing that small-market teams can win as long as management makes smart decisions. Despite losing players like David Ortiz, Eddie Guardado and Corey Koskie to free agency in recent seasons, there's no reason to believe the Twins won't be in the thick of the division race come September.
Worth Every Penny
Most major league pitchers only can dream of having the type of season Johan Santana had in 2004. The Cy Young winner was 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA after the All-Star break and thrust himself right to the top of the list of dominant pitchers. Just 26 years old, Santana is entering the prime of his career. The Twins were criticized for bringing him along slowly in his development, resisting the temptation to insert him into the rotation before he was ready. Now they're reaping the benefits.
About to Blossom
After years of waiting for his turn, first baseman Justin Morneau is finally getting the opportunity to be the starter. Blessed with a sweet left-handed swing and prodigious power, Morneau hit 41 home runs combined last season between Class AAA and the majors.
The Twins did everything they could in the past few years to get Michael Cuddyer into the lineup. He's played the outfield, second base, first base and now he's settled back at third base as the replacement for longtime fixture Koskie. Cuddyer had great success for a couple of years in the minors, but I'm not convinced that it translates into a star big league career.
Do You Feel Lucky?
Former No. 1 overall pick Joe Mauer is one heck of a player. The problem is he hasn't been able to stay on the field due to rickety knees ever since he was handed the Twins' starting catching job last spring. Mauer has the skills to challenge Cleveland's Victor Martinez for the title of premiere young catcher in the AL, but the only way Mauer will do that is if his knees hold up.
Nick Punto was sidelined by a bad back which likely has cost him the Opening Day assignment at shortstop. Although he stole just six bases in limited action last season, Punto swiped 42 bags in the minors in 2002, his last full season. Last season's big surprise, Lew Ford, is also going to run and is worthy of about 10 bucks in your auction.
If Something Should Happen To Joe Nathan
In Jesse Crain and Grant Balfour the Twins have two hard-throwing prospects who fit the bill should Nathan go down. Crain saved 19 games for Rochester last season and struck out 64 batters in 50 2/3 minor league innings. Balfour, an Australia native, also has the ability to strike batters out (42 in 39 1/3 innings) and would likely get the first shot but Crain is the long-term solution.
Don't Forget About
Luis Rivas, Jacque Jones, Shannon Stewart, Brad Radke
Don't Bother With
Mike Redmond, Joe Mays, Augie Ojeda, Juan Castro
David Sabino is the associate editor in charge of statistics at Sports Illustrated and the author of the book, Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League (Muska & Lipman/Premier-Trade).