For the past several years, the Twins' organization has been saddled with a major problem: too much pitching, too little hitting. It was a problem that prevented the 2005 and 2007 teams from making the playoffs, and also a deep-rooted issue that reached all the way into the lowest levels of the minor leagues. Any listing of the organization's top prospects was certain too include far more arms than bats. Fans continually bemoaned Terry Ryan's inability to deal from his pitching surplus and acquire legitimate hitters.
Now, here in the wake of Bill Smith's big offseason shakeup, I find myself looking up and down the organizational ladder and noticing a major reversal. Suddenly, it appears quite possible that pitching will be the problem needing to be addressed in coming years, while the offense could be in far better shape.
Don't get me wrong. Throughout the minor leagues, the Twins are still far deeper in quality pitchers than hitters. There are very few impact bats on the horizon, which remains troubling. Yet, looking at the Twins' major league roster, you find enough young, controllable, talented hitters to inspire confidence that this offense could be fairly strong for the next several years; to wit: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Brendan Harris, Carlos Gomez, Alexi Casilla, Mike Lamb and Jason Pridie. Granted, some of those players have chance of fizzling out (Gomez, Casilla, Pridie) and some aren't exactly young (Lamb), but all of the hitters listed have a decent shot at being productive hitters and all are locked up for at least the next three seasons. Several of the players listed -- most notably Mauer, Morneau and Young -- could very well rank among the league's elite hitters.
The pitching situation is less encouraging, if not in the long term than almost certainly in the short term. As I mentioned before, the Twins are not lacking in quality pitchers throughout their organization. In Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Kevin Mulvey, Philip Humber and Brian Duensing, the Twins have a collection of major-league ready starters that most teams in the league would envy. The problem is that almost none of these pitchers have legitimate ace potential, and it would be a stretch to project almost any one of these guys as even a strong No. 2. This problem persists throughout the organization's advanced minor league affiliates. There are good prospects there: Anthony Swarzak, Ryan Mullins, Jeff Manship, Oswaldo Sosa, Yohan Pino and Jay Rainville to name a few. Each of those pitchers has a fairly good chance of developing into a big-leaguer at some point, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one with the makeup of a front-line major-league starter.
Dipping into the lower levels of the minor leagues, you find a few guys like Tyler Robertson and Deolis Guerra who have the upside of a top-of-the-rotation starter, but it's awfully difficult to put a ton of stock into pitching prospects who are still in their teens. Losing Johan Santana and Matt Garza has left this team with a lack of power arms outside of Francisco Liriano, so if Liriano struggles in his return from Tommy John surgery, we are potentially looking at a team that is very middle-heavy in terms of starting pitching over the next several years and without much in the way of star power. A rotation filled with solid but unspectacular starters would inevitably rank right in the middle of the league, and that would put a lot of pressure on the offense to make this team a playoff contender.
Over the next several seasons, we could see this team relying on offense to win games a lot more than we ever have in recent Twins history. That method will only work if some of the team's hitters live up to their star potential. Here's wishing good health to Liriano, and hoping guys like Baker and Bonser can step up to provide this staff with the type of above-average performance it will need. There might not be as much help on the horizon as we'd like to think in that department.