Minnesota Twins 2013 Statistical Preview: Hitting

You know about Mauer and Morneau, but is Aaron Hicks the next great Twins CF? We examine the numbers.

Last week, we took a look at the 2013 Minnesota Twins starting rotation. This week, it’s all sunshine and daisies as we preview the offense. Okay, sure, they were only 16th in the league last year in runs scored, but when your pitching is as bad as theirs, that’s golden.

The offense, despite the 195 losses over the last two seasons, has been surprisingly competent. The departures of outfielders Denard Span (traded to the Nationals) and Ben Revere (traded to the Phillies) will make equaling that production a bit tougher, but it will also open doors for some fresh talent to step in.

With those new holes come a whole lot of questions that will determine whether the Twins hover in the 75-win region or will keep the Houston Astros company in the basement.

Is Joe Mauer still an elite catcher?

Well, uh, yes. Not only that, but he’s your best option at catcher for fantasy, too.

Last year, Joe Mauer led the league with a .416 OBP and finished fourth in the American League batting race. In years in which he has had at least 555 plate appearances, Mauer has never had an offensive WAR lower than 4.9 (which would have put him fifth in the league among catchers last year). Also, the man and his wife are currently expecting twins. Mauer is as Minnesotan as they come. I assume he is the love child of Paul Bunyan and Mary Tyler Moore.

Justin Morneau: Boon or Bane?

Will the Twins get the 2010 version of Justin Morneau (.345/.437/.618 with 18 homers before suffering a season-ending concussion) or the 2012 version (.267/.333/.440 with 19 homers in 134 games)? This is the big question on the Twins’ mind for multiple reasons. First, it gives the Twins legitimacy behind Mauer and Josh Willingham. Second, if Morneau proves he is, indeed, back at full strength, then he will draw serious interest at the trade deadline.

Morneau’s production did increase in the second half last season as his OPS jumped to .793 from .752 in the first half. However, the power was still not there as he battled through a wrist injury. The spring has been kind to Morneau (had an OPS of 1.601 for Canada in the World Baseball Classic), and the Twins had better hope summer is the same.

Can Josh Willingham Repeat 2012?

In the words of every twelve-year-old girl on the planet, probs not. Willingham’s team-leading 35 home runs, 110 RBI’s and .890 OPS were great, but they were also all career highs. Willingham’s 34 years old now. Regression to the mean must be expected.

The positive here is that The Hammer struck hardest at Target Field (.293/.407/.610 with 21 HR’s and 63 RBI’s), a place where Morneau has struggled mightily. Willingham is in the same boat as Morneau in that a productive first half would make him good trade bait at the end of July, but it would be unrealistic to expect another huge year from the slugger.

Will Aaron Hicks Live Up to Expectations?

The Twins’ centerfield bloodlines run deep (Torii Hunter to Span to Revere), so no pressure, kid! Ron Gardenhire announced last week that Aaron Hicks had won the job, making his debut the most anticipated for Twins fans since Carlos friggin’ Gomez in 2008. That one didn’t work out so well. Hicks has impressed in the minors with his patience (.74 BB/K ratio), speed (32 stolen bases last year) and surprising power (21 2B’s, 11 3B’s and 13 HR’s last year). However, he has never played above AA.

He will also need to be a stud defensively as he will most likely be flanked in the outfield by Willingham (-2.2 defensive WAR in 2012) and Chris Parmelee (a natural first baseman who has only played 19 games in the outfield in his major league career). Not even Christopher Lloyd could salvage that duo on the corners.

Who Will Break Out?

Best case scenario: Brian Dozier channels his inner Ray Durham and hits in the .270 range, Pedro Florimon shocks the world and hits .240 and Trevor Plouffe juices up and launches 30 bombs (steroids are WRONG, kiddos). Worst case scenario: they all suck, and the Twins lose 115 games. Realistically, if one player out of Dozier, Florimon, Plouffe and Parmelee can emerge as a threat, the Twins could have a top-10 line-up.

The most likely candidate of those four is Plouffe. In June of 2012, he had 11 home runs and an OPS of 1.126. Target Field is very righty-friendly, and Plouffe hit 15 of his 24 home runs there last year. If he can find consistency and become an everyday player, the Minnesota offense could open some eyes.

In the end, the outlook for the offense is optimistic. But, that doesn’t matter diddly squat because not many offenses can average seven runs per game, which might be the required output to compete with a pitching staff like the Twins’. Thank God for hockey and the Minnesota Wild.