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CNN/SI Preview: Minnesota Twins

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Posted: Friday March 12, 1999 12:50 PM

  Radke has allowed an average of 31 homers in his four major league seasons. Harry How/Allsport

By Greg Auman, CNN/SI

Player to Watch: Brad Radke, P

With a career record of 54-54, Brad Radke can go one of two ways in 1999 -- back to the success that saw him win 20 games in 1997, or back to the form that saw him lose at least 14 games in each of his three other seasons in the majors.

Radke's 1998 season was a disappointing dropoff -- forget his 12-14 record and 4.30 ERA and consider that opposing batters hit .283 against him, after hitting .257 against him in 1997.

Radke, just 26, can become a free agent after the 1999 season, and given Minnesota's desire for a light payroll, he might be in a new uniform before the season is over. Being on the open market should be incentive enough, but Radke usually starts his seasons well -- he was 7-3 with a 2.83 ERA entering June last year, and 15-5 at the end of July in 1997. A solid start for Radke in '99 might end his stay in Minnesota, but might pay off in other ways.

1998 Recap (70-92, 4th in AL Central)

Minnesota's sixth straight losing season saw the Twins hovering under .500 all season long. Once the team established it wasn't moving to Charlotte, it also made it clear it really wasn't going anywhere in the standings, either.

In August and again in September, the Twins endured 1-12 stretches that made a tough season altogether frustrating. There were glimpses of promise as young players played a more prominent role in the Twins' lineup.

Second baseman Todd Walker emerged in his first full season, hitting .316 with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs. Outfielder Matt Lawton raised his batting average 30 points from '97 and led the team with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs. Promising young first baseman David Ortiz saw his season end due to injury after just 86 games.

However, the team lacked power as a whole -- their 115 home runs were second-worst in the American League -- while opposing batters hit .284, with only the Rangers allowing more hits in the AL.

1999 Outlook

The Twins might not be better in 1999, but they'll certainly be younger this year. Paul Molitor has retired and Otis Nixon is with the Braves, and once closer Rick Aguilera is traded, the Twins won't have anyone over 35 on roster. That's a refreshing change from last season, when Mike Morgan, 39, and Bob Tewksbury, 38, combined for 42 starts. Both are gone now, and young mediocrity is always preferred to its aging counterpart.

Tom Kelly is the last remaining link to the 1991 World Champions, entering an unimaginable 14th season in Minnesota. He boasts the longest active reign with the same team among major-league managers, and if the team's young talent can develop this season, that likely won't change this year.
Roster roundup
Who's new
No major free-agent signings

Who's gone
DH Paul Molitor, OF Otis Nixon, SS Pat Meares, OF Alex Ochoa, P Mike Morgan, P Bob Tewksbury, P Dan Naulty


In addition to Radke, two other young pitchers each lost 14 games and gained valuable experience last year. LaTroy Hawkins, 26, needs to inherit Tewksbury's control, and Eric Milton, the key prospect the Yankees gave up to get Chuck Knoblauch last year, could be the team's future ace at just 23. Three rookies -- Benj Sampson, Dan Serafini and Mark Redman -- will also battle for a spot in the rotation.

If the Twins can pick up immediate help in trading away Aguilera and Radke, they can make 1999 a more bearable year for Minnesotans, and if the young prospects can step up like last year's surprising contributors did, the Twins can turn potential into something more tangible in the league standings in a few years.

Related information
CNN/SI Baseball Preview: Chicago White Sox
CNN/SI Baseball Preview: Cleveland Indians
CNN/SI Baseball Preview: Detroit Tigers
CNN/SI Baseball Preview: Kansas City Royals
CNN/SI's Spring Previews
Minnesota Twins roster
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