Twins' offseason builds pitching depth for spring

Twins' offseason builds pitching depth for spring

MINNEAPOLIS -- After finishing with the worst record in the American League the past two seasons, the Twins have nowhere to go but up in 2013.

The Twins figure to be an improved team, as they added much-needed depth to a rotation that struggled mightily last season. And they still have a collection of impressive middle-of-the-order bats such as Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit, as well as up-and-coming sluggers such as Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe.

But they also had to give up both Denard Span and Ben Revere in trades to acquire pitching, and now have holes in center field and at the top of the order.

Minnesota, though, has plenty of help on the way, including center field prospect Aaron Hicks, who could start the season there if he fares well in Spring Training. Hicks is just one of six Twins prospects named to MLB.com's Top 100 prospect list this season, which ties them for the most in baseball.

So while the Twins are trying to get the bad taste out of their mouths after struggling the last two seasons, the future is looking brighter for an organization that is accustomed to competing in the American League Central.

"When we leave for Fort Myers, we're going to leave 2012 behind us," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "It was a difficult year for various reasons. The year before was the injuries and last year was the pitching. So we need to get this going again. We have a core we can build around so now it's time to put some wins on the board."

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 12

Full squad reports

Feb. 15

First Spring Training game

Away at Orioles, Feb. 23 at 12:05 p.m. CT

Opening Day

Home vs. Tigers, April 1 at 3:10 p.m. CT

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. How will the revamped rotation fare after last year's struggles?
The Twins added three starting pitchers this offseason slated to join the rotation, as they signed Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia, and traded for Vance Worley. All three pitchers are making the transition to the American League and join left-hander Scott Diamond in the rotation.

The fifth spot is up for grabs with the favorites including top prospect Kyle Gibson, as well as Liam Hendriks, Cole De Vries, Sam Deduno, P.J. Walters and Rich Harden.

But the Twins still have much to improve, as Minnesota starters finished with the second-worst ERA in the Majors last season at 5.40. Even if they shaved 100 runs off last year's total of 528 earned runs allowed, they would still rank in the bottom third of the Majors in starters' ERA.

2. How healthy is Justin Morneau and how will he perform in the last year of his contract?
It's a big season for Morneau, who declared at TwinsFest that he's fully healthy heading into the final season of a six-year, $80 million deal signed before the 2008 season. The four-time All-Star and '06 AL MVP has spent his entire career in Minnesota, but could be traded before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline if the Twins are out of contention.

Morneau, 31, is looking to build on his 2012 campaign that saw him play in more than 130 games for the first time since '09. But he dealt with his fair share of injuries, such as a wrist injury that sapped his power, so he could bounce back in a big way in '13.

3. What will the Twins look like up the middle of the diamond?
The Twins are set at catcher with Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit and possibly Drew Butera on the roster, but there are question marks at second base, shortstop and center field.

The Twins will have an open competition in the middle infield in Spring Training with Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar as candidates for both spots. Florimon and Dozier are the favorites, but Carroll has the most experience. Escobar is more likely to be in a utility role.

Center field is also up for grabs with Darin Mastroianni the favorite to take over after the departures of both Denard Span and Ben Revere. But prospects Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson will both be in the mix in Spring Training.

2012 record
66-96, fifth in the AL Central.

Projected batting order
1. CF Darin Mastroianni:
  .252 BA, .328 OBP, .350 SLG, 3 HR, 17 RBI in 2012
2. C Joe Mauer:
  .319 BA, .416 OBP, .446 SLG, 10 HR, 85 RBI in 2012
3. LF Josh Willingham:
  .260 BA, .366 OBP, .524 SLG, 35 HR, 110 RBI in 2012
4. 1B Justin Morneau:
  .267 BA, .333 OBP, .440 SLG, 19 HR, 77 RBI in 2012
5. DH Ryan Doumit:
  .275 BA, .320 OBP, .461 SLG, 18 HR, 75 RBI in 2012
6. RF Chris Parmelee:
  .229 BA, .290 OBP, .380 SLG, 5 HR, 20 RBI in 2012
7. 3B Trevor Plouffe:
  .235 BA, .301 OBP, .455 SLG, 24 HR, 55 RBI in 2012
8. 2B Brian Dozier:
  .234 BA, .271 OBP, .332 SLG, 6 HR, 33 RBI in 2012
9. SS Pedro Florimon:
  .219 BA, .272 OBP, .307 SLG, 1 HR, 10 RBI in 2012

Projected rotation
1. Scott Diamond, 12-9, 3.54 ERA in 2012
2. Mike Pelfrey, 0-0, 2.29 ERA in 2012
3. Vance Worley, 6-9, 4.20 ERA in 2012
4. Kevin Correia, 12-11, 4.21 ERA in 2012
5. Kyle Gibson, Did not pitch in Majors in 2012

Projected bullpen
Closer: Glen Perkins, 16/20 saves, 2.56 ERA in 2012
RH setup man: Jared Burton, 2.18 ERA in 2012
LH setup man: Brian Duensing, 5.12 ERA in 2012

The new guys
RHP Pelfrey: Pelfrey established himself as an effective groundball pitcher with the Mets, but underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery on May 1 after making just three starts in 2012. Pelfrey, who signed a one-year deal for $4 million, is heading into Spring Training without any restrictions. The 6-foot-7 right-hander has a career 4.36 ERA.

RHP Worley: Worley, along with prospect Trevor May, was acquired in the trade that sent Revere to Philadelphia. He's been a capable middle-of-the-rotation starter in parts of three seasons in the Majors with a career 3.50 ERA in 277 2/3 innings. He had a bone chip removed from his elbow that ended his season early, but said he's fully recovered heading into the season.

RHP Correia: With so many injuries to Twins starters last season, the club wanted to add an innings eater to the rotation and did just that by signing Kevin Correia to a two-year deal worth $10 million. Correia averaged 28 starts per year over the last four seasons and posted a 4.21 ERA in 28 starts and four relief appearances with the Pirates last season. He has a career 4.54 ERA in the National League, but Twins scouts liked what they saw last season and recommended the 32-year-old right-hander.

RHP Harden: With his injury history, Harden is far from a lock to make the roster, but was an intriguing Minor League signing by the Twins this offseason. The right-hander has been a strikeout machine throughout his career -- averaging 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings -- but missed the entire 2012 season due to injury and hasn't thrown more than 100 innings since '09. He'll get a chance to compete for the fifth starter spot or could be an option in the bullpen if his arm holds up.

Prospects to watch
RHP Gibson: Gibson has a strong chance to make the rotation as the club's fifth starter and is worth watching because he's heading into his first full season since undergoing Tommy John in November 2011. There's still a chance Gibson starts out the year at Triple-A Rochester to get more seasoning, but the Twins are expected to limit his innings total to about 130-140 this season.

CF Aaron Hicks: Hicks, like Gibson, also has a chance to crack the big league roster out of Spring Training. He's a potential five-tool center fielder with above-average plate discipline, but has yet to reach Triple-A. If he wows Twins coaches and management in Spring Training, he could be the starting center fielder, but is more likely to open the year at Triple-A.

OF Oswaldo Arcia: Arcia had a breakout year at Double-A New Britain in 2012 and was named the club's Minor League Player of the Year. He moved from center field to right field, where he's considered a plus defender. He's expected to start the year at Triple-A, but could earn a promotion .

RHP Alex Meyer: When the Twins traded Span to the Nationals for Meyer this offseason, he immediately became Minnesota's top pitching prospect. The 6-foot-9 right-hander has ace potential with a fastball that reaches the high 90s and a power slider. He's expected to begin the season at Double-A New Britain.

3B Miguel Sano: Sano is still a ways from the Majors, but is the club's top prospect for a reason, as he might have the most raw power out of any prospect in the system. The 19-year-old hit .258/.373/.521 with 28 homers and 100 RBIs in 129 games at Class A Beloit and is expected to start the year at Class A Advanced Fort Myers.

On the rebound
1B Morneau: Morneau showed some signs he's capable of returning to All-Star form in 2012, but still battled injuries throughout the season. His left wrist injury impacted his power, but he still managed 19 homers and 26 doubles in 134 games. He's now healthy heading into the season and could easily build on those numbers if he can stay on the field.

RF Parmelee: Parmelee turned heads as a September callup in 2011, when he hit .355 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 21 games. He failed to repeat those numbers last season, as he shuffled between the Majors and Triple-A, hitting just .229 with five homers in 64 games with the Twins. He was arguably the best hitter in the International League while in Rochester and will be taking over in right field this season.

2B Dozier: Dozier entered the 2012 season with high expectations after being named the club's Minor League Player of the Year the season before, but he cooled off after a hot start and was eventually sent back to Triple-A for the rest of the season in mid-August. The Twins still think highly of him and he's a favorite to win the starting second baseman job in Spring Training.

LHP Duensing : Duensing posted a 5.12 ERA in 109 innings in 2012, but it was slightly deceiving as he fared much better as a reliever than as a starter. Duensing recorded a 3.47 ERA out of the bullpen, but posted a 6.92 mark as a starter. He's expected to be a reliever again this year and is good bet to bounce back with better numbers.

Classic departures
C Mauer: Mauer will be playing in his first World Baseball Classic, representing Team USA as a native of St. Paul. He'll be away from camp for a few weeks, but unlike last season, he's entering the year without any lingering injury concerns, so the Twins are fine with the decision.

1B Morneau: Morneau has always had plenty of pride about his native Canada and is set to represent his country in his third World Baseball Classic. The British Columbia native is expected to serve as designated hitter with Joey Votto at first base.

LHP Perkins: Perkins has established himself as one of the game's best left-handed relievers and was rewarded with an invite to play for Team USA in the Classic for the first time. Like Mauer, he's representing his country as a Minnesota native.

C Butera: Butera has Italian bloodlines and was selected to play for Team Italy in the Classic, even though he's from Orlando. He's in the mix to make Minnesota's roster as a third catcher, but isn't expected to be gone from the team too long, as Italy is the considered the weakest team in a pool that also includes the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Long gone
CF Span: Span was the subject of trade rumors for nearly two years before finally being moved this offseason to Washington for Meyer. Span has been a solid big leaguer throughout his career and is expected to take over as center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Nationals.

RF Revere: While trading Span wasn't exactly a surprise for the Twins this offseason, trading Revere about a week later certainly was. Revere was expected to take over in center after Span's departure, but the Twins couldn't pass up the Phillies' offer of Worley and May given their need for pitching help.

RHP Carl Pavano: Pavano ended the season on the disabled list with a bone bruise in his right humerus and is still a free agent after injuring himself this offseason while shoveling snow. He had his spleen removed and there is no timetable for his return to baseball.

RHP Matt Capps: Capps returned to the Twins in 2012 on a one-year deal with an option for '13, but it was declined after he missed most of the second half of the season with a rotator cuff injury. The former closer joined the Indians on a Minor League deal late in the offseason.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.