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5 Big Questions: 2011 Minnesota Twins

We here at Baseball Professor think about our readers first and ourselves second—albeit a close second. That’s why we decided to reach out to other bloggers (who follow their respective teams more closely than we do) to give you a deeper look into the important issues every fantasy owner has to come to grips with this season. Our fourth installment is with the Minnesota Twins and comes courtesy of Nick Nelson from Nick’s Twins Blog.

For a complete trip around the Majors, check out the other 2011 team previews in this series.

1) Tsuyoshi Nishioka is the latest player to make the trip across the Pacific Ocean to play Major League ball. He is an unknown to most of us here in the States, so what can you tell us about him and what can we expect in his first season with the Twins?

Expectations for Nishioka should be kept in check. He posted outstanding numbers in Japan last year, but those were mostly the result of an exorbitantly high batting average which was propped up by a flukish BABIP. Here in the States, Nishioka will find better pitchers, better fielders and larger parks, so I’d expect to see his numbers drop across the board. If he can post average numbers for an MLB middle infielder (something like .270/.330/.380) I’d consider his season a success.

2) By now we know that Tommy John surgery is no longer a career-ending procedure. In fact, many pitchers such as Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson and Chris Carpenter have come back stronger than ever. How is Joe Nathan progressing and will he be ready to close games by the start of the 2011 season?

It’s tough to guess how close Nathan will be to his pre-surgery form when he takes the hill this spring. Both he and the team have spoken optimistically about his recovery and he claims his plan is to resume closing duties right out of the gate. Whether or not that will actually happen will be dictated by how well he throws during exhibition play down in Florida.

3) Danny Valencia caught the attention of a lot of people when he hit .311 with seven home runs and 40 RBI in just 322 at-bats last year. He’s listed as the Twins’ starting third baseman for 2011, but will he endure that ever-popular sophomore slump?

I certainly expect his batting average to drop a bit this year, as a natural result of MLB pitchers making adjustments and his BABIP regressing to the mean. However, Valencia has shown an ability to hit for average at every stop in his career (he never hit below .280 at any minor-league level) so there’s no reason to expect a massive drop-off.

4) For two seasons now, Justin Morneau has been battling injuries. In 2009 it was a fractured back and last year it was a concussion and post-concussion syndrome that allowed him to play in just 81 games. What can we expect from Morneau in 2011 and is he becoming a player who cannot be relied on for a full season of production?

No one really knows what to expect from Morneau. The team is still saying the same thing as they were throughout the second half of last season, which is that the first baseman is progressing but that there’s no specific timetable for his return. Much like with Nathan, we won’t be able to realistically set expectations for Morneau until we see him on the field in spring training. Given the long layoff and the nature of post-concussion symptoms (which he evidently continues to experience), I think it’s a stretch to believe he’ll hit the same way he did last year.

5) It’s fair to say that both Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey haven’t been the same pitchers they were in 2008. What has been the problem the last two years and do you see them turning it around anytime soon?

Injuries, bad luck, lack of focus. There are a number of things you can point to as reasons that neither Slowey nor Baker has lived up to his potential over the past couple years, but that potential is still there. If they can find a way to keep their arms healthy this year, I expect them to be legitimately solid middle-rotation starters.

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About the author: George graduated with a degree in Journalism, but instead of walking at his graduation, he walked down the aisle at his wedding. He’s been playing fantasy baseball for over a decade and his interest and knowledge in the sport is as big and growing as his eyebrows are bushy…and growing. (@BaseballProf)

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