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2010 Twins Projections - Outfielders + Hudson + Thome

-by Brandon Warne (Plymouth, Minn.)
(brandon.r.warne@gmail.com)

LF- Delmon Young (.284/.308/.425 in ‘09)
BJ: .297/.332/.437 (wOBA .333)
BW: .290/.325/.430 (500 AB)

Delmon Young has been difficult to predict since he came to the major leagues with a brief call-up in 2006. It's long been suggested that his key to taking the next step is developing some semblance of plate-discipline. Not only did he not do this in 2009, but he took a giant step back. Young's K rate, which by all accounts was not good to begin with, jumped by an astonishing five percent from 18.3% to 23.3%. For those mathematically challenged, essentially one of every four at bats resulted in Young striking out. So why the optimism from both BW and Bill James? One must believe it's due to the offseason trade of Carlos Gomez, thus opening a full time CF slot for Denard Span, and also a full time slot in LF for Young. Young's 2010 picture became a bit more unclear with the signing of Jim Thome, who may vulture PA from Young if Young's play can keep Jason Kubel out of LF.

CF- Denard Span (.311/.392/.415 in ’09)
BJ: .300/.377/.403 (wOBA .345)
BW: .310/.405/.435 (15 HR)

Denard Span has come a long way from being drafted as Torii Hunter's heir apparent in the first round of the 2002 first-year player draft. At times it looked as though Span would amount to nothing more than a poor-man's Juan Pierre; in fact his AAA line of .285/.353/.387 very closely mirrors Pierre's major league production. However, something clicked with Span, and he's evolved into arguably the premier leadoff hitter in the American League. The 2009 version of Span cut his strikeouts by nearly 2% from 2008, but with it went a few of the walks and a little of the power. While Bill James has Span's power slipping a bit more, it is the opinion of this writer that Span will benefit greatly from the added production of Orlando Hudson in the 2-hole in the lineup.

RF- Michael Cuddyer (.276/.342/.520 in ‘09)
BJ: .273/.347/.478 (wOBA .354)
BW: .270/.350/.465 (40 2B)

Nobody benefitted more from Justin Morneau's injury last season than Michael Cuddyer. Filling in at 1B for the 2006 AL MVP, Cuddyer hit .325/.398/.675 from Sept. 13 (the day Cuddyer took over 1B), and virtually carried the team into the playoffs. It may be unreasonable to expect Cuddyer to hit 32 home runs again (previous career high of 24 in 2006), and it may yet be impossible to predict how RHH will fare in Target Field, but the fact remains that Cuddyer will be protected on both sides by Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, both of which are legitimate .900 OPS hitters. If Cuddyer remains healthy, he should be a near lock to drive in 100 runs, and may score 100 as well.

DH- Jason Kubel (.300/.369/.539 in ’09)
BJ: .284/.354/.504 (wOBA .370)
BW: .295/.370/.530 (30 HR)

2009 marked a huge season for Kubel, who evolved from a solid lower middle of the order hitter into an elite one. Kubel finished 8th in the AL in SLG, 8th in the AL in RBI, 10th in OPS+, and in a sign of the increased respect for him, 8th in the AL in IBB. All of this was a culmination of the long road back for Kubel from knee surgery coming off his 2004 cup of coffee with the Twins. Kubel's .907 OPS basically mirrors his AAA production, and his walk rate has slowly crept up to a more than respectable 9.7%. All this seems to suggest is that Kubel's 2009 line was very real, and that the Twins should act quickly if they want to lock Kubel up, as they hold a $5.25 million option on him for 2011 before he's eligible for free agency.

2B- Orlando Hudson (.283/.357/.417 in ’09)
BJ: .280/.353/.409 (wOBA .337)
BW: .285/.355/.425 (40 2B)

Hudson fills an enormous hole for the Twins. The Twins' 2B as a whole last year hit .209/.302/.267 (54 OPS+); their 2-hole hitters last season hit a combined .262/.306/.394 (85 OPS+). If Hudson can merely replicate his 2009 numbers, which saw his worst strikeout percentage of his career (18%) and his worst ISO since 2003 (.134), he'll still likely provide a 50 point OPS+ increase at 2B for the Twins, and a 20 point increase in the 2-hole of the lineup. This is a huge hole to fix between Denard Span and Joe Mauer, and the Twins did well to wait out the market on Hudson, signing him for five million for one year after he allegedly wanted a multi-year deal and Chase Utley money. The Twins offense was very good in 2009 in spite of holes like the 2-hole and the infield spots outside of Morneau, and Hudson is part of a fantastic job by Bill Smith to fill those holes both efficiently (financially) and effectively.

DH/PH- Jim Thome (.249/.366/.481 in ’09)
BJ: .245/.374/.488 (wOBA .375)
BW: .250/.365/.470 (250 AB)

Signing Jim Thome to a $1.5 million deal might be the most unheralded move the Twins made this offseason, but it might prove most beneficial as well. Thome showed last season that he's still got something left in the tank, posting a better than .800 OPS for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons. Batting average has never really been Thome's strong suit, as he's only hit .300 once since 1996, so nobody is going to expect him to hit better than .250. However, as long as he still takes walks and hits for power, it's unlikely that anyone will even notice. Thome's worst walk rate as a full time player is an outstanding 15.1%, and while he's struck out in exactly 30% of his career at bats, he's still managed an oustanding .279 ISO as he approaches 10,000 career PA. What does all this mean for the Twins? For starters, an experienced hitter off the bench who brings the power that both the Twins haven't had off the bench in a while and also the kind of game-changing power that one would prefer from a pinch hitter. Additionally, Thome brings accountability to Delmon Young in the sense that if Young doesn't play well early in the season, the Twins can have Kubel play more LF and get Thome at bats as the DH. For 1.5 million dollars, this was a move the Twins had to make.

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