Kansas City Royals 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Royals, the underdogs of last October who won the hearts of the world, but lost the World Series. Naturally, there’s only one goal this year: to win it all. Can the improbable playoff run happen again?

And just to get this out of the way right now: no, they shouldn’t have waved home Alex Gordon.

Projected Lineup: SS Alcides Escobar, LF Alex Gordon, CF Lorenzo Cain, 1B Eric Hosmer, C Salvador Perez, DH Kendrys Morales*, RF Alex Rios*, 3B Mike Moustakas, 2B Omar Infante

Projected Rotation: RHP Yordano Ventura, LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Jeremy Guthrie, LHP Danny Duffy, RHP Chris Young*

* new additions

The Royals had a magical season last year.

From their miracle comeback in the Wildcard game, to all of Ned Yost’s questionable decisions that inexplicably always worked, all the way to bringing the winning run to the plate in Game 7 of the World Series.

What’s more, the Royals accomplished this remarkable feat: all nine starters appeared in at least 130 games in the regular season, the first team since the 2007 Red Sox to have achieved that. It’s almost impossible to have such consistent production from all of your players, not to mention a clean bill of health, that you never have to sit anyone for any extended amount of time.

What I’m getting at is that it’s very unlikely the Royals catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row.

The problem is the Royals have no bench to speak of. Their dependency on everybody playing every day worked last season because they got incredibly lucky. No one got injured, and guys like shortstop Alcides Escobar and catcher Salvador Perez were happy to grind through the regular season, playing in 162 and 150 games, respectively.

That level of endurance is clearly unsustainable.

Yost has already made it clear that he plans to rest his catcher more often this season. That decision may be partially based on Perez’ offensive production as the dog days wore on last year. In the second half, Perez batted .229/.236/.360 with only six home runs.

Which brings us to the Royals’ very thin bench. At the season’s outset, the bench will potentially consist of just Erik Kratz, Christian Colon and Jarrod Dyson. Not much in the way of major league talent, and made thinner by the Royals’ plan to possibly experiment with an eight-man bullpen.

But when the regulars play, they’re among the best in the game.

Lorenzo Cain will be looking to build on his career year in which he became one of the key hitters in the middle of the Royals’ lineup. Cain is one of the best in the league at going to the opposite field, so he cannot be suppressed by any shifts, and will always be helped out by a high BABIP (.380 last year). He’ll be a .300 hitter for many years to come, so Royals fans should be excited.

And as always, defense is central to the Royals’ game plan. Perez and Eric Hosmer will each be looking to receive their third straight Gold Glove award, while Alex Gordon is gunning for his fifth. And don’t be surprised if the Royals add a couple more guys to the club this season: Cain in center field and Escobar at short are both very worthy of some defensive recognition.

The rotation will be missing departed workhorse James Shields, but they’ve got a couple young guys who should be able to step up and take on more of the load.

Yordano Ventura, now the de facto ace, will be let loose this season. The Royals have been understandably cautious with him, as when you’re the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in baseball and still in possession of your original elbow ligament, it kind of makes you a walking time bomb. But he’s slated to be the team’s Opening Day starter, which means his responsibilities will be extended this year. He’ll be called on to go deep into games, extend his pitch count, and save the bullpen when needed. It all comes with his new job title of “The Man”.

A bit of an under-the-radar pickup for the Royals was 35-year-old starting pitcher Chris Young, whom they signed to a one-year, incentive-laden deal. Originally expected to be a safety net, he may very well have earned the role of fifth starter with his good spring showing. Young is a perfect fit for the Royals, an extreme fly ball pitcher who relies on good outfield defense to get outs. Look for him to thrive in Kansas City and be a big part of the Royals’ pitching staff.

One more guy whom most people don’t realize the Royals signed is Kris Medlen, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and should return sometime in the second half. He’ll give the Royals some added depth for any type of playoff push on which they should wish to embark.

The bullpen continues to be a strength for the club, as Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland all return for an encore of last year’s historic showing. The trio shuts down the opposition, and when the Royals have a lead, they essentially shorten the game by three innings, putting opponents at a severe disadvantage.

But this year, the Royals may have an even stronger middle relief corps to support their three stars.

Coming back from Tommy John surgery is former starting pitcher Luke Hochevar, who will be in the bullpen this year and has looked strong this spring. He’ll be a guy with whom the Royals can play match-ups, or extend for multiple innings if needed. And on top of that, he gives the ‘pen another “H” name, which quite honestly changes the whole game.

The only thing the bullpen is lacking is a consistent lefty arm. Brandon Finnegan, who was a star during last year’s playoff run, earned a ticket to Triple-A after a poor spring. He’ll be back in due time, but until that happens, the Royals will have to rely on Bryan Flynn or Franklin Morales if they want that lefty matchup.

Pitching and defense will keep the Royals in the hunt this season, but some level of regression is bound to stop them short.

Give it about 28 more years, and the Royals will be due for another World Series.

Projected Finish: 84-78, Third place in AL Central

Chicago White Sox 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the White Sox, who with a barrage of offseason moves have risen from the basement of the AL Central into the thick of the playoff discussion. There are no secrets here: the Sox are going for it.

Projected Lineup: CF Adam Eaton, LF Melky Cabrera*, 1B Jose Abreu, DH Adam LaRoche*, RF Avisail Garcia, 3B Conor Gillaspie, SS Alexei Ramirez, C Tyler Flowers, 2B Micah Johnson

Projected Rotation: LHP Chris Sale, RHP Jeff Samardzija*, LHP Jose Quintana, LHP John Danks, RHP Hector Noesi

* new additions

The White Sox had an exciting offseason, having landed more free agents than you probably were aware of. Now they’re the answer for every time the casual fan in the cubicle next to you asks, “Oh yeah I heard that guy was a free agent, where did he end up?”

It started with a big splash, when the White Sox traded for Jeff Samardzija. This move alone vaulted them into the discussion as serious contenders, and with this newfound respectability, free agents started flocking to Chicago. In quick succession, the Sox signed journeyman reliever Zach Duke, designated hitter Adam LaRoche, outfielder Melky Cabrera, new closer David Robertson, and even old fan favorite Gordon Beckham.

The most intriguing signing out of that group might be Zach Duke. Playing last year in Milwaukee, he made a strong bid for Comeback Player of the Year as he posted a 2.45 ERA to go along with a ridiculous 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. The White Sox were so impressed with the reliever’s dominance that they inked him to a three-year deal, and he figures to be a major part of Chicago’s drastically revamped bullpen.

The new offensive pieces help fill a need that became apparent last season: finding protection in the lineup for Jose Abreu. Abreu was intentionally walked 15 times last season, the fifth-most in baseball. It may not seem like a lot, but that number is only expected to increase, especially now that the rest of the league knows that he’s the greatest hitter on the planet. This year, he’ll be sandwiched between Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche in the lineup, making it a lot riskier for opposing pitchers to hand out free bases.

And let’s not understate the offensive threat that is Melky Cabrera. Last season, the White Sox got almost no production from their 2-hole hitters, who hit for just a .237/.279/.355 slash line. This year, the Melk-man will change that. He’s generally always good for a .300 average, a fair amount of walks, and between 15-20 homers. If he performs up to expectations, it will mean many more opportunities for Abreu to bat with multiple runners on base, something that happened in only 79 plate appearances last season. If you’re keeping score at home, that will mean a lot more three-run dingers for Abreu, and therefore a lot more reasons to be excited if you’re a Sox fan.

Another guy the Sox are excited to have is Adam Eaton, whose picture shows up on Wikipedia when you look up “scrappy”.

Although Eaton hit .300 last season and became a fixture in the leadoff spot, he hasn’t fully broken out yet. Being a real stolen base threat was something that eluded him, because even though he did steal 15 bags on the year, he got caught or picked off far too often to be effective. Stealing came naturally for him in the minors, where he stole as many as 44 bases in a single season. Expect him to figure it out sometime this year and to add that trick to his arsenal.

In the rotation, Chris Sale is a straight up beast. He led the American League with a 178 ERA+ last season, and held opponents to just a .205 batting average. And guess what? Today is his 26th birthday. Twenty-six! Chris Sale is younger than last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, Jacob deGrom. That means there’s a very real chance that he’s still getting better, which is a scary proposition.

Sale is backed up by Samardzija and Jose Quintana, one of the most underrated pitchers in the league. Here’s how Quintana ranked among American League qualifying pitchers in the following stats: ERA, 13th. Opponents’ OPS: 12th. FIP, 8th. Forget the label of #3 starter, Quintana is a guy who could be an ace on most other teams.

The only concern in the rotation is with fifth starter Hector Noesi, the main problem being that he owns a career 5.16 ERA. If Noesi is allowed to start as many games as he did last year (27), and he performs to his usual level (poorly), that could be the difference between the Sox making or missing the playoffs. The Sox aren’t going to want to take that risk, especially when they have a killer arm waiting in the minors…

Carlos Rodon is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He’s had a great showing in spring training, in which he has shown that he can handle real big league hitters, with an ERA of 3.65 through four starts, and a ridiculous 19 strikeouts in 12.1 innings. If the Sox want to win this year, they’ll bring Rodon up sooner rather than later.

Yes, “win this year” seems to be the plan. With all the chips they pushed in for 2015, it’d be foolish for the team not to use every tool at their disposal. And watch out, because I wouldn’t put it past them to make a splash at the trade deadline too, as they continue to do whatever they can to make that playoff dream a reality.

Projected Finish: 88-74, First place in AL Central

Washington Nationals 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Nationals, who after a couple early October exits have left their fans itching for a deeper playoff run. And after signing the biggest free agency prize of the winter, there seems to be little that can stop them from achieving that goal.

Projected Lineup: CF Denard Span, 3B Anthony Rendon, RF Bryce Harper, LF Jayson Werth, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, SS Ian Desmond, C Wilson Ramos, 2B Yunel Escobar*

Projected Rotation: RHP Stephen Strasburg, RHP Jordan Zimmermann, RHP Max Scherzer*, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Doug Fister

* new additions

September 28: Jordan Zimmermann throws no-hitter, Nats finish season with best record in the National League.

October 4: Manager Matt Williams pulls Zimmermann with two outs in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game. Regrets decision for the rest of his life.

That pretty much sums up last season for the Nats. They spent six long months proving themselves, only to have it all crumble away in an instant. Now the only thing for which they’ll be remembered is that unfortunate early exit in October.

It’s crazy, but that’s how this game works—you can be the best all year long, but if you can’t perform when it matters most, you lose any credibility you might have had.

And what do you do when you’re feeling insecure about your cred? Spend money on things you don’t need!

Like $210 million for new starter Max Scherzer, who will slot into the rotation right behind aces Stephen Strasburg and Zimmermann, and make hitters around the league feign all types of injuries this year when they see that upcoming three-game series in Washington.

Strasburg is finally blossoming into the superstar the Nats were hoping for when they drafted him first overall six years ago. He’s a more complete pitcher now—and the stat that supports this fact is his walk rate. Prior to 2014, he averaged 2.5 walks per nine innings. Not bad, and a few control problems are expected when you come into the big leagues throwing 99 miles per hour. But last season, his walk rate improved to just 1.8 per nine innings. A huge jump, and one that shows he’s hitting his spots better than ever.

But we shouldn’t dwell for so long on Strasburg without mentioning Zimmermann, who is probably the real ace of this staff.

Strasburg has the higher strikeout totals, but Zimmermann’s numbers are better in just about every other category. Think of Zim as the quiet assassin who sneaks up and kills you while you’re entranced by Strasburg’s flashy arsenal of pitches.

And Scherzer? He can be Mr. Pink, since he sort of looks like Steve Buscemi.

The lineup might be just about as deep as the rotation.

The big thing to remember when it comes to the Nats’ offense is Bryce Harper is still only 22 years old. He isn’t a great player yet, nor will he be the Nats’ best hitter this year. Give him time to mature, and he’ll get there.

The title of “best hitter on the team” actually belongs to Anthony Rendon. To say that the former top prospect figured out how to hit major league pitching last year would be an understatement. He figured out how to make major league pitching his bitch. Take a look at his spray chart and note that he can pretty much put the ball wherever he wants to on a baseball field. And that’s a scary proposition.

And let’s not forget about Jayson Werth, who in an added twist also spent some time in jail this offseason. If you’re wondering whether the prison time fazed him, I doubt it. Werth may be the only guy in baseball who could go to a prison and actually fit in.

What will happen is he’ll probably see his respect rise around the league. If I were a pitcher, I wouldn’t want to hit him with a pitch ever again, for fear that retaliation might involve an encounter with his “friends from the inside”.

Between a hardened Werth, a fast-rising Rendon and an elite pitching rotation, the Nats have a crew that can hang with any team in the National League.

The only question will be whether Williams can pull the right strings in October.

Projected Finish: 97-65, First place in NL East

Miami Marlins 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Marlins, whose strong young core has many optimistic fans talking about contention. But I’m here to squash those talks and tell you why it’ll be at least another year until the Marlins are seriously in the playoff discussion.

Projected Lineup: 2B Dee Gordon*, LF Christian Yelich, RF Giancarlo Stanton, 1B Michael Morse*, 3B Martin Prado*, CF Marcell Ozuna, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, SS Adeiny Hechavarria

Projected Rotation: RHP Mat Latos*, RHP Henderson Alvarez, RHP Jarred Cosart, RHP Dan Haren*, RHP Tom Koehler

* new additions

Jeffrey Loria must have lost in his fantasy league last year to the guy who owned Dee Gordon, because I can think of no other explanation for the Marlins’ ridiculous push to get him this offseason.

His speed is legit, but Gordon owns only a career .314 on-base percentage, a far lower mark than you’d want from your leadoff batter. He also gets thrown out on the bases a lot. With the Marlins, he’s going to need to learn how to be a cog in the machine—doing things like getting on base for the hitters behind him, going first to third, and generally being the facilitator rather than the star.

If that means cutting back on his fantasy stats, then so be it. Sorry Loria, you’ll have to get your steals elsewhere.

Gordon is part of a revamped infield for the Marlins, joining fellow new acquisitions Michael Morse and Martin Prado. These three guys have never played together on a diamond before, so it’ll be interesting to see how the defense meshes. But defense or not, these guys will hit.

Morse has a ton of raw power, which is important for this offense. Even though he might not hit as many homers in his spacious new home ballpark, it’s more about the threat of power than the actual results. His presence will give Giancarlo Stanton some much-needed protection in the lineup. Last season, batters hitting after Stanton hit a combined six homers, and Morse can certainly improve on that mark.

With other guys like Marcell Ozuna, who had a breakout season last year, and even a bit of outfield depth with Ichiro, the Marlins’ offense is in good shape.

The question will be whether the pitching can hold up.

In the rotation, the only thing on anyone’s mind will be Jose Fernandez’ rehab, and the chances of seeing him in uniform this season. Current estimates say he’ll return to the mound sometime this summer, but my word of advice would be not to hold your breath for anything. He’ll probably pitch in a few games, but he’ll be on a strict pitch count, and by that point in the season the Marlins will probably be well out of contention. Fernandez will eventually be the shutdown pitcher he once was, but it won’t be this year.

So let’s take a look at the guys who actually will be taking the hill for the Marlins.

You’ll notice the guys in the rotation all have one thing in common—they’re all right-handed. The Marlins traded away their only decent lefty starter, Andrew Heaney, in the Dee Gordon deal. But it’s ok—it’s not like lefties are valuable in the NL East because the division is loaded with left-handed power hitters or anything. Guys with names like Harper, Duda, Freeman, Markakis, Granderson, Howard and Utley probably won’t be a problem.

When they’re not getting pummeled by lefties, the rotation could show glimpses of success. Mat Latos will hold down the top spot while Fernandez rehabilitates, and he has become one of the more consistent starters in the league, posting an ERA below 3.50 every full year he’s had in the majors. Henderson Alvarez has become a solid #2 starter, with a league-leading three shutouts and an All-Star selection last year to add to his resume.

Steve Cishek is also the best closer in baseball that no one knows about. He pitched to a career-best 2.17 FIP last season, while increasing his strikeout rate to a remarkable 11.6 per nine innings. Look for him to do big things this year.

Overall, it’s pretty obvious that it isn’t the Marlins’ year, but I don’t think they’re in any hurry for it to be. All their core players are signed to multi-year deals, so they’re just lining things up for when Fernandez can come back in full force. And when that day comes, watch out.

Projected Finish: 75-87, Fourth place in AL East

Boston Red Sox 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Red Sox, who last season fell victim to the “championship hangover”, one of the enduring mysteries of the game. Can they reclaim their spot at the top?

Projected Lineup: CF Mookie Betts, 2B Dustin Pedroia, DH David Ortiz, LF Hanley Ramirez*, 3B Pablo Sandoval*, 1B Mike Napoli, RF Shane Victorino, SS Xander Bogaerts, C Christian Vazquez

Projected Rotation: RHP Clay Buchholz, RHP Rick Porcello*, LHP Wade Miley*, RHP Justin Masterson*, RHP Joe Kelly

* new additions

The champions of two years ago finished 71-91 last season, and without any major injuries to blame for the decline, we’re left to wonder why they choked.

What happened?

No one knows. The front office couldn’t even figure it out. So their plan this offseason was basically to sign free agents at random in the hope that some of them work out.

That’s why they brought in Hanley Ramirez, about whom general manager Ben Cherington was super excited, until one of his annoying little office aides reminded him that the Red Sox already had a shortstop.

“Oops,” said Cherington, and thus it was decided that Ramirez would play left field.

It remains to be seen how Ramirez will fare defensively, but at the plate, he looks like a different guy. He bulked up over the winter—by his admission, he gained 25 pounds of muscle. He won’t steal as many bases this year, but the Red Sox aren’t paying him to steal. They just want him to hit dingers over the Green Monster, which he’ll do plenty.

The Sox also added Pablo Sandoval, a proven winner in October who is expected to bring veteran leadership and a bat that can go to all fields. He’ll do well hitting in Fenway Park’s funky dimensions.

There are a few concerns as well. One guy who needs who step up more is Dustin Pedroia. Thumb injuries have bothered him for the past two seasons, and the effect was noticeable: in those two years, Pedroia put up a collective .752 OPS with just 16 homers. He may not be the same player as when he won MVP as a 25-year-old, but as the catalyst in this lineup, he needs to be that guy that sparks rallies. This means more walks, more extra base hits, and more of just generally being a nuisance on the basepaths. You know, the things Pedey does best.

But the aspect that has most fans worried is the pitching.

First of all, the starting rotation lacks a true ace. In fact, it also lacks a #2 starter. That’s because the Red Sox rotation is somehow made up entirely of #3 starters.

In some ways, it’s not a bad thing. One benefit is that the rotation has depth, because even though they’re all just average pitchers, they’re Major League caliber average pitchers.

They’re also all experienced. The shortest-tenured member of the starting five, Joe Kelly, has still logged 327 Major League innings, which is more than four-fifths of the current A’s rotation.

And though some may call these guys veterans, they’re not old. Rick Porcello is still just 26, and coming off the best season of his career. Wade Miley is 28 and the portrait of health, never having spent a single day on the disabled list in his career.

And then there’s Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox are still trying to figure out what he is. He was by far the worst qualifying pitcher in baseball last year in terms of ERA, with a mark of 5.34. Yet some days, he was flat out unhittable, and he somehow found time to throw two complete game shutouts in the midst of his terrible season.

So is Buchholz great, or is he awful?

Looking deeper, it appears that the primary cause of his inflated ERA was his performance with runners in scoring position. In those situations, batters hit .363/.422/.510 against Buchholz, or to put it another way, batters (.932 OPS) basically turned into Mike Trout (.939 OPS). This is in sharp contrast to how Buchholz performed with the bases empty, when he was actually pretty good, allowing a slash line of just .236/.301/.382.

Something happens to Buchholz in those high-pressure situations that cause him to become a different pitcher. He needs to sort out whatever’s going on inside his head, because the Red Sox can’t afford to let him pitch if all he’s going to do is blow up in the most pivotal moments.

The bullpen is in rough shape to start the year, with closer Koji Uehara on the shelf with a strained hamstring. He should recover quickly enough, but he’ll also be 40 years old this season. As the guys on my co-ed softball team will tell you, injuries when you’re 40 take a bit longer to recover from.

His replacement in the ninth inning will be Edward Mujica, who has bounced around a lot in his career, but does have closing experience. This isn’t ideal for the long-term, as removing Mujica from his traditional role of set-up man thins out the rest of the ‘pen.

Another option for the Red Sox might be to not tell anyone that Uehara is hurt, sneak Junichi Tazawa in there in the ninth and hope no one notices the difference.

The Red Sox will hit this year, but the pitching won’t quite be enough to keep them in games. Look for this to be a year of growth as they give playing time to their many notable young prospects.

Projected Finish: 73-89, Fourth place in AL East

Tampa Bay Rays 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Rays, who are ushering in the post-Joe Maddon era with first-year manager Kevin Cash. Maddon was great at a lot of things, but maybe it’ll be a welcome respite for the players to not have to deal with wild animals and Mariachi bands in the clubhouse every other day.

Projected Lineup: LF Desmond Jennings, DH John Jaso*, SS Asdrubal Cabrera*, 3B Evan Longoria, 1B James Loney, RF Steven Souza*, CF Kevin Kiermaier, C Rene Rivera*, 2B Nick Franklin

Projected Rotation: RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Chris Archer, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Alex Colomé

* new additions

The Rays said goodbye to a lot of old faces this winter, and lost a bit of their soul in the process.

Joe Maddon, the fearless leader who brought this franchise out of the dark ages: gone. Ben Zobrist, consummate grinder and the most consistently productive Rays player for the past decade: gone.

Who are the Rays without those two guys?

The answer, at least for the immediate future, is not very good.

The offseason flowchart for any small market team starts with the question: Can we compete? If the answer is no, the mission is to get younger. The younger a team can get, the better chance they’ll have at competing a few years down the road.

The Rays’ window closed as soon as they traded David Price away last July. With that setting the rebuild in motion, it was time to clean house. A flurry of trades this winter added substantial depth, though it may not be apparent on the field immediately. Guys like shortstop Daniel Robertson, though you won’t see him in the big leagues this season, are expected to be a big part of the Rays’ future success.

But one guy you will see is Steven Souza, who is already famous for making the diving catch that clinched Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter for the Nationals last season. As a major part of the big three-team trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego, Souza is out to prove he does more than make amazing diving catches (not that the Rays are complaining).

The Rays would gladly take a season like the one Souza enjoyed in Triple-A last year. He won International League MVP as well as Rookie of the Year honors, slashing an outstanding .350/432/.590 with 18 homers and 26 stolen bases. Look for Souza to see a lot of playing time, as he’s one of the guys around whom the Rays will be building.

The Rays’ pitching is in shambles, but only temporarily. Starters Alex Cobb, Alex Colomé and Drew Smyly, as well as closer Jake McGee are all injured to start the season, so the rest of the staff will be stretched very thin.

The good news is that they’re all expected to be back by the end of April, so the Rays will only have to survive a month of digging into the depths of their organization for pitching help.

One guy who will get a few starts in the interim is Nate Karns, one of the organization’s top prospects who until now was expected to be a bullpen arm. But he’s been starting this spring, and has been lights out, posting a 2.03 ERA in four starts. If he can pitch that well in the regular season, I’m not sure if the organization will let him go back to bullpen.

The bullpen appears pretty solid, with Brad Boxberger and newcomer Kevin Jepsen headlining the late innings. Both are dominant right-handers who can keep runs off the board while racking up the K’s.

The righty-heavy corps will be missing injured lefty closer Jake McGee until late April or early May, when he is expected to return to his ninth inning role.

It will be a year of non-contention for the Rays as they take the opportunity to get a good look at their young talent. In a few years, it’ll be up to these guys to usher in a new era of successful Rays teams.

Projected Finish: 70-92, Fifth place in AL East

Minnesota Twins 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Twins, whose biggest move of the offseason was dropping the pinstripes from their uniforms. A good start, but it’ll take more than that to bring the Twins back to relevance.

Projected Lineup: SS Danny Santana, 2B Brian Dozier, 1B Joe Mauer, DH Kennys Vargas, RF Torii Hunter*, 3B Trevor Plouffe, LF Oswaldo Arcia, C Kurt Suzuki, CF Aaron Hicks

Projected Rotation: RHP Phil Hughes, RHP Ervin Santana*, RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Kyle Gibson, LHP Tommy Milone

* new additions

Starting with the Twins’ very first pitch of the 2015 season, which will most likely turn into a tape-measure home run off the bat of Ian Kinsler, the only story this year will be counting down the days until prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are wearing red, blue and Kasota Gold.

All the signs are there that this is a throwaway season. Knowing the team won’t be any good, the front office signed Torii Hunter in the hopes of selling a few extra tickets to fans excited to see the human aging process in action.

But it’s not all bad news for the Twins.

Last season saw the emergence of several young players who could very well be the future for the club. Shortstop Danny Santana broke out big time, hitting .319/.353/.472 in 101 games while posting an OPS+ identical to that of the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez. It wouldn’t hurt the kid to take a few more walks, but Santana’s skills with the bat are real. He could be a star in the very near future.

Brian Dozier is another guy who should be a major part of the Twins’ future. As rare as second basemen with power are, finding one who can play above-average defense too is almost unheard of. And possibly even more important than the homers or the fancy glove work, Dozier knows how to take walks. His 89 free passes last year ranked third in the American League. That type of multi-faceted threat is someone the Twins need to hold on to for a while.

With Santana entering just his second year in the big leagues, and Dozier having just signed a four-year extension with the team, the Twins look to be set up the middle for a long time.

The starting rotation is where Minnesota needs help. The Twins’ 5.06 ERA from starting pitchers was the worst mark in baseball last year.

They attempted to help right the ship by signing Ervin Santana to a four-year deal this offseason. This was not a bad move by any means—Santana is a dependable veteran who throws quality games and generally stays healthy, but he won’t reverse the Twins’ pitching fortunes overnight.

So they may enlist the help of some other guys to help get them back to respectability.

Alex Meyer, a big, tall right-hander who lights up the radar gun, should graduate from the minors by midseason. He has the type of stuff to put up big strikeout numbers—in 27 starts last season in Triple-A, he averaged 10.6 K’s per nine innings. He’s definitely a part of the Twins’ long-term plan, and the sooner they can get him up to the big leagues to start paying dividends, the better.

Trevor May had a brief stint with the Twins last year, and he was terrible. But there’s still hope for the once-highly touted prospect. In 18 starts with Triple-A Rochester last year, he posted a 2.85 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP. I’m sure the organization will have no problem chalking up last year’s bump in the road to May adjusting to big league hitting, so expect him to get a chance this season to redeem himself.

It won’t be this season, but some mix of the names I’ve mentioned will elevate the Twins back into contention within a few years. For now, they’ll have to settle for last place in a very tough division.

Projected Finish: 73-89, Fifth place in AL Central