Twins '06: Is the Future Still Now?

Snapshots of a long-shot season to come

THE LINEUP

Shannon Stewart, LF: Like his new teammate Rondell White, Stewart's a pretty good player on the downhill side of a career marked by extraordinary physical wear and tear. He's 32 now, and last year he dropped 60 points apiece from his on-base (.380-.323) and slugging (.447-.388) percentages. He hasn't played a whole season without injury since 2001. Likable as he is, odds are he'll be below league average as a left fielder and a leadoff hitter.

Luis Castillo, 2B: The signing of Castillo says everything you need to know about the kinds of upgrades the Twins were content to make last winter. He's an improvement over Luis Rivas because a) once you get past A ball, there aren't a lot of second basemen who could contribute less than Rivas, and b) Castillo has posted on-base percentages of .373 and .391 the past two years, including 65+ walks. He'll need all the free passes he can coax, because the rug at the Dome is going to eat a lot of those infield singles he dropped on the grass in Miami. It'll probably be a moral victory if he manages to get on base at a .350 clip—and that's not much for a guy who does so little else with a bat.

Johan Santana: The game's best starting pitcher is not enough to make the Twins favorites in the AL Central
Craig Lassig
Johan Santana: The game's best starting pitcher is not enough to make the Twins favorites in the AL Central

Joe Mauer, C: No problems here, if he proves as durable as he looked last year. Apart from Victor Martinez, Mauer's got the highest offensive ceiling of any catcher in the American League.

Rondell White, DH: Twelve years and dozens of DL visits ago, White was one of the more exciting young hitters in the National League. He's played a full season exactly once in his major league career. He can still hit some when he's not on the shelf, but chances are he'll do about what Matt LeCroy would have done, and manage to break a bone or two in the process.

Torii Hunter, CF: If the Twins are mired in the middle of the AL Central pack come June, look for Hunter to get more than his share of the blame. Too bad. Torii Hunter isn't the Twins' problem. A championship-caliber team can certainly get by with a center fielder who scores 70 runs, drives in 80, and brings his kind of glove. But Torii Hunter isn't the solution, either—he's not the offensive mainstay that fans and the front office think he is. That's not his fault. It's the lack of punch at the corner outfield spots, where defensively challenged sluggers typically graze, that hurts.

Justin Morneau, 1B: Scouts and statheads alike have agreed from the start that Morneau will rake someday, to the tune of 35+ HR a year. The question is, when? Power prospects like Morneau occasionally take a long time to develop; Derrek Lee finally had his breakout year at the age of 29. It's hard to know what Morneau's 2005 portends, seeing as how he was both ill and injured the previous winter. He could contend for a home run title this year, or in 2009, or never.

Tony Batista, 3B: Meh. I think the Baseball Prospectus guys were right about him—he could hit 30 home runs and still be barely useful due to all the outs he makes.

Jason Kubel, RF: Back from a bad injury, he could be a pleasant surprise, or not. Same with Cuddyer. But either guy would have to overachieve to give the team a league-average amount of production from right field, most likely.

Juan Castro, SS: The kind of shortstop who prevents runs with his glove and more especially with his bat, a real dime-a-dozen character. For this they sent Jason Bartlett back to the sticks? —Steve Perry

THE ROTATION

Johan Santana, SP: By consensus the best pitcher in baseball, just 27 years old, with three complementary "out" pitches—plus-fastball, nasty slider, and a devastating changeup made all the more effective by the first two. Even with a traditional slow start in the spring, he'd be a threat to win 30 games on the Yankees.

Brad Radke, SP: A third or fourth starter in all but name—seniority has its privileges—Radke has won 15 games or more twice in 11 years (though never during the Twins' three-year run of division titles) and sports a career ERA of 4.22. He does have impeccable control and eats innings, but at age 34, the paucity of walks is a much safer bet than the surfeit of innings.

Carlos Silva, SP: The best argument for Castro at short is Silva on the mound. A smart pitcher with phenomenal location (one unintentional BB every three games!) and an effective sinker, he has hurled with Maddux-like efficiency—latter-day Maddux, but still—when healthy the past two years. Given his weight, the knee is a concern, but who would you rather have: Silva or Eric Milton? Kudos, Terry Ryan.

Kyle Lohse, SP: Lohse's not a smart pitcher, not a consistent pitcher, and not one to keep the ball down. It is a real mystery why the Twins agreed to go to arbitration with Lohse again this offseason—and why they haven't dealt him since losing at arbitration and overpaying his ass.

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