Fantasy baseball 2013 team preview: Minnesota Twins
Last season was an ugly one in Minnesota, and now the Twins find themselves in unfamiliar territory in the Ron Gardenhire era: coming off two consecutive last place finishes in the AL Central and at the start of an earnest rebuild. Their successful teams of last decade were built on pitching, defense, speed and the famous "piranhas" that drew the enviable ire and grudging respect of Ozzie Guillen when he managed the White Sox. Last year's Twins posted a team ERA of 4.77, the third worst in the league. They allowed 832 runs, the third most. And they committed 107 errors, 10th most in the majors.
Signs of a rebuild are most evident in the rotation, where Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey lead an unproven bunch. If Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham all stay healthy, the Twins will offer the fantasy community a strong middle-of-the-order group. However, that's about the only place they'll show up on the fantasy radar. The team surprisingly dealt both Denard Span and Ben Revere, a tacit acknowledgment that there will be no postseason in Minnesota in 2013. Credit GM Terry Ryan with doing something some GMs refuse to do. What's the value in winning 75 games instead of 70 this season? Minnesota fans may already be counting down the days until Adrian Peterson is back on the field, but fantasy owners and Twins supporters alike can find some value here if they know where to look.
1. Darin Mastroianni, CF
2. Jamey Carroll, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Josh Willingham, LF
6. Ryan Doumit, DH
7. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
8. Chris Parmelee, RF
9. Pedro Florimon, SS
1. Scott Diamond
2. Vance Worley
3. Mike Pelfrey
4. Kevin Correia
5. Liam Hendriks
Bullpen: Glen Perkins (closer), Jared Burton, Alex Burnett, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, Anthony Swarzak
• At 34 years old, can Josh Willingham do it again? Willingham enjoyed a career year in 2012, hitting .260/.366/.524 with 35 homers and 110 RBI. Perhaps most importantly, it was the first time since 2007 he played at least 140 games, and only the second time in his career in which he played in at least 130 in back-to-back seasons. While I'm not betting on him matching those numbers, I do feel good about him hitting somewhere between 27 and 30 home runs.
Unlike Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, Willingham thrives at Target Field. He hit .293/.407/.610 with 21 homers at home last season. While Target Field plays as a pitcher's park on the whole, it is actually quite friendly to right-handed pull hitters, such as Willingham. Though he struggled on the road, he still hit 14 homers and carried just a .255 BABIP. That should pick up a bit this year.
I see Willingham's home run total coming down because of the suspiciously high home run/fly ball ratios he has put up the last two seasons -- 21.2 percent last year and 17.5 percent in 2011. Willingham has always had power when healthy, but it's not often that a player finds and sustains a new level of power when he's well into his 30s. Willingham should be a starter in mixed leagues, but don't look for him to repeat last season.
• What does the American League have in store for Vance Worley? After dealing Denard Span to the Nationals, most everyone figured the Twins would turn the center field job over to Ben Revere. However, they turned around and sent Revere to the Phillies for Worley, who had two underappreciated seasons with the Phillies before hitting his 25th birthday. Despite moving to the AL, Worley's got sleeper written all over him.
Worley went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 1.23 WHIP and 8.13 strikeouts per nine innings in his rookie season of 2011. His glamorous numbers fell off last year, as he went 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA, but he still had a decent 3.85 FIP. He posted a 46 percent ground-ball rate, getting nearly 1.5 ground balls for every fly ball, but opposing hitters still managed to hit .340 against him -- largely due to the lumbering infield defense playing behind him in Philadelphia. It wasn't just Worley, either. Cliff Lee had a .309 BABIP, the highest of his career. Roy Halladay's was .301. Cole Hamels had a monster season, but his .290 BABIP was the second highest of his career. Trading the Phillies' infielders for the Twins' should help Worley. He struck out fewer batters per nine innings, but his walk and contact rates fell, and his swinging-strike rate remained flat. This is a guy perfectly capable of whiffing eight batters per nine innings. I doubted the Revere-for-Worley trade for the Twins at the time, but I'm starting to come around on it.
• Outside the usual suspects, is there anyone else on this team who deserves my attention? Not really. Joe Mauer, Willingham and Worley should be drafted in all leagues. Justin Morneau has name recognition, but he plays quite possibly the deepest position in fantasy. They have a crop of intriguing prospects, including pitcher Alex Meyer, third baseman Miguel Sano, and outfielders Oswaldo Arcia and Bryan Buxton, but we probably won't see any of them in the majors until next year at the earliest. The one prospect who could make a splash in Minnesota this year is pitcher Kyle Gibson. In 18 starts at Triple-A Rochester as a 23-year-old in 2011, Gibson posted a 4.81 ERA, 3.67 FIP and 8.59 strikeouts per nine innings. He missed most of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he could earn a promotion with a strong showing at Rochester, especially since the Twins want to see if he fits into their long-term plans.
Justin Morneau: Morneau will be an afterthought at most draft tables this year, but he still managed 19 homers and 77 RBI in 134 games last season. This is a total no-risk pick. If he continues to slide on the wrong side of 30, you can cut your losses and get rid of him. If he reverts to form at all, you've got yourself a cheap source of power to slot into a utility spot.
Scott Diamond: Diamond may have posted a respectable 12-9 record and 3.54 ERA last year, but his FIP was a full half-point worse and he fanned fewer than five batters per nine innings. He did have a 53.4 percent ground-ball rate, so he may be able to sustain a lower-than-average BABIP, but just a year before that ground-ball rate was down at 46.2 percent. Given that he won't contribute in strikeouts at all, and that he'll hurt you if your league uses K/9, I recommend staying away.
Vance Worley: The case for him is above. The fact that he'll come very cheap on draft day makes him all the more attractive.
Trevor Plouffe: Plouffe is a one-category player, but you can get by with guys like that in AL-only leagues. He hit 24 homers in 465 plate appearances last year, and should be an everyday starter for the Twins this season.
Darin Mastroianni: In just 77 games in the majors last year, Mastroianni swiped 21 bags. He's not going to contribute much outside of steals, and perhaps runs, but he could steal close to 40 bases with a full complement of at-bats.