While 2014 baseball season is officially underway, fans across the country are anxiously waiting for something that will differentiate this year from last.
On the surface it feels somewhat the same. The Yankees, Dodgers and Angels are still outspending everybody else. The Nationals, Cardinals and Red Sox are still preseason favorites to make the World Series. And Twins fans are bracing themselves for – drumroll – yet another rebuilding year.
So what should we as Twins and baseball fans be expecting this year? Perhaps 2014 will go down as the year of the overpriced superstar, as Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano all seek to live up to their outrageous offseason deals.
Or maybe it will be the year of bizarre injuries. We had our first instance of this the other day when former Twin and current Angels coach Don Baylor fell and broke his leg while trying to catch the ceremonial first pitch on opening day.
My hope is that this is the year the Twins transform themselves from being simply a placeholder roster to an actual up and coming, rebuilding team.
With several talented prospects on the verges of making their major league debuts, this appears to be a strong possibility. Fans will once again have something to be pumped about after bad personnel decisions and a dry talent pool has forced the team to field rosters consisting largely of scrub players during the Target Field era.
A true rebuilding squad should generally, at the very least, provide its fans reason for optimism, even if they aren’t winning boatloads of games. Watching younger players push through their growth years and develop into seasoned professionals builds a loyal and homegrown element to the team, especially when those guys end up sticking together for the long term (think Mauer and Morneau).
Sadly, in recent years, the Twins have instead offered fans rosters filled with placeholder guys rather than players that project to be impact players down the road. These guys have no real long term outlook on the team and are just keeping the seats warm for Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.
Knowing that they will be gone as soon as the young prospects are ready makes it especially hard to identify with these players (especially for an absentee fan such as myself). Try as I might, I just can’t get super excited about watching guys like Brian Dozier or Pedro Florimon play.
We witnessed a similar dynamic in the doldrums of the 1990s, where as much as the Twins pumped guys like Scott Stahoviak and Mary Cordova as being the future of the franchise, most folks could well see that these players were not going to amount to much.
The good news now is that the Twins’ farm system is loaded with talent that is almost major league ready – so much so that you wonder why FSN North isn’t broadcasting AAA Rochester games instead of the Twins. Indications are that many of these guys will get their first crack at the majors this season, finally giving us a chance for optimism and to have a glimpse of what glory might await Minnesota baseball in the future.