After consecutive disastrous seasons for the Twins, it will be difficult for most to find hope for 2013; 2014 is another matter, what with the All-Star Game and the Twins' top prospects finally knocking on the door. Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks and B.J. Hermsen will start in Rochester next year barring a flurry of trades from the Twins clearing room for them (or Hermsen just winning a starting job) and Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Jose Barrios and Byron Buxton could be in New Britain or even Rochester in 2014, meaning a midseason callup in 2014 wouldn't be out of the question. I think the Twins will be looking to load up for a legitimate run at the postseason in 2014 to help generate excitement for the All-Star Game, but I think next season can still be a successful one for the Twins, maybe not a postseason appearance, but maybe a flirtation with contention that leads to multiple division titles in following years, such as 2001 and 2008.
For one thing, the Twins' entire starting lineup is under contract for next season. The Twins will not be looking to fill holes like they had to for this season. The Twins have a pretty deep lineup when Trevor Plouffe or Ryan Doumit is batting 7th. Plus, Denard Span and Ben Revere provide a dynamic duo at the top of the lineup. This team should score plenty of runs next year.
The bullpen has been evolving this season as well and the Twins have one of the better left-right tandems in the game with Glen Perkins and Jared Burton. Plus, it appears they found a pretty good setup man in Casey Fien, and Tyler Robertson is showing signs of being a dominate LOOGY while striking out more than a batter an inning. Having four power arms in the back of a bullpen is a very good thing.
Which leaves us to the starting rotation, otherwise known as the black hole. In 2011, everything went wrong for the Twins and no one could avoid the blame. In 2012, there is little doubt that the majority of the blame lies with the starting rotation since not one of the pitchers that was tabbed to be in the starting rotation at the beginning of the season are currently in the rotation and none of them are expected to pitch the rest of the year.
So, what to do with this mess? Well, the Twins have already found a good one in Scott Diamond. I've liked what I've seen from Cole DeVries and I really want him to succeed. He's a guy that's easy to cheer for, what with him being an undrafted free agent and having pitched for the Gophers. He has good control and a better K rate than Deduno. He just needs some better luck with fly balls. I also think the Twins need to stick with Liam Hendricks. He has a very good minor league track record and just needs to be left alone in the majors and allowed to sink or swim. His numbers suggest he'll do plenty of swimming.
So, that's three to start with. The Twins have a number of options to look at for the other two spots, which is what they need: depth. Kyle Gibson is the one to be most excited about. He's healthy and pitching at full strength and striking out more than 10 batters per 9 innings, which is higher than his K rate before the surgery. That first year after TJ can be inconsistent, but hopefully Gibson getting as many innings as possible now will help Gibson get through that. If all goes well, he could be the Twins' top starter by the end of next season.
Samuel Deduno is a unique pitcher for the Twins. For one, he's a pitcher that struggles with his control and he does not have a great K rate to offset it. He has a decent K rate and his curveball and slider suggest it could be better if he could throw more strikes with his fastball, which is by far his biggest problem. His last start was hugely encouraging, but it will take a month of similar starts to end the season for the Twins to seriously consider him one to count on next year. He has a long track record of struggles, but one thing to consider is that his fastball has been compared to a knuckleball, and those types of pitchers tend to be late bloomers as they struggle to master that pitch and/or struggle to reinvent themselves from a traditional pitcher. I think the Twins are hoping the same is true for Deduno, but hopefully they aren't blinded from his control issues by the allure of the fastball no one can hit.
The Twins also traded Francisco Liriano for Pedro Hernandez and a middle infielder. Hernandez is not considered a top prospect and has a mediocre K rate, which sounds a lot like Diamond when the Twins traded for him. That was not a widely popular trade even though the Twins only gave up a minor league reliever with control problems. Now it looks like a steal. Hernandez may need more time in AAA since he's only had 12 starts above AA, but I imagine he'll get a long look in spring training.
Esmerling Vazquez is another interesting pitcher. He's another minor league veteran the Twins signed to help Rochester. He was originally a reliever, but was moved to the rotation and thrived there while the Red Wings were making a playoff push. He'll get his chance on Sunday for the Twins and could get more starts if the Twins decide to shut down Diamond or stick Duensing back in the bullpen. Or even go with a six-man rotation.
Duensing is also an option for the rotation and has boosted his chances for next year with better results in his second stint in the rotation this year. However, he has always been better coming out of the bullpen and I would prefer to have another lefty in the middle innings so the Twins don't overuse Robertson.
P.J. Walters also will be in consideration. He was decent when given the opportunity before developing a sore shoulder. He'll be with the team in September and will be in the mix next year, but he's in that AAAA gray area.
So, the Twins have a number of in-house options for next year without forcing a prospect to skip AAA. None of these will set the world on fire except maybe Gibson or even Hendriks, but it could even approach being average, which would be a big upgrade over this season and when you have a good lineup and a dominate bullpen, a mediocre rotation is all you need for contention.
Of course, I seriously doubt the Twins will stay in-house, especially with the emergence of Chris Parmelee. This comes at a good time, when Morneau has proven himself healthy and only has one year left on his contract. In an ideal world, the Twins will be able to trade Morneau for a young starting pitcher ready, or nearly so, to help the Twins and then use the money saved to sign a top free agent pitcher to a multi-year deal. However, my guess is the Twins will have to settle for a prospect or two not ready for the majors to get the salary relief, or will have to pay a good portion of Morneau's contract to get a good prospect nearly ready for the majors.
Other options would be for the Twins to offer minor league or one-year minimum contracts to Baker and/or Pavano as they look to prove themselves healthy after injuries this year. Also, the Twins could trade one of Span or Revere for pitching to make room for Arcia in right field (or even Parmelee if they don't trade Morneau, but I doubt Parmelee is a long-term OF option); or they could even go real crazy and trade both Span and Revere and stick Hicks and Arcia in the outfield (or Parmelee). So, in my thinking, the Twins have quite a few viable options without hurting the lineup too much or taking on a lot of payroll in 2013. So maybe, just maybe, there is hope for next year for those looking for it.