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January 20, 2003

Team Health Reports

Team Health Reports: Minnesota Twins

by Will Carroll

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Projected lineup

 LF Jacque Jones
 SS Cristian Guzman
 3B Corey Koskie
 CF Torii Hunter
 DH Matt LeCroy/Bobby Kielty
 RF Mike Cuddyer
 1B Doug Mientkiewicz
 C A.J. Pierzynski
 2B Luis Rivas

Rotation

 Brad Radke
 Eric Milton
 Joe Mays
 Rick Reed
 Kyle Lohse

Closer

 Eddie Guardado

The Minnesota Twins won in 2002 in part due to their ability to overcome major injuries to their pitching staff. Terry Ryan and the player development staff have built a prospect-creation machine and have it hidden somewhere in the Metrodome, allowing the Twins amazing flexibility and depth. While much weaker in pitching than with the bats, the Twins were able to slog through the time lost by Radke, Milton, and Mays. Having someone like Johan Santana available in the pen makes an injury more of an annoyance that something that shatters a season, yet few general managers seem to grasp the importance of organizational depth and the effort needed to build it. At nearly every position, the Twins have enough depth to deal with even a major injury without skipping a beat, except perhaps at shortstop.

The Twins have only two red flag players, Christian Guzman and Joe Mays. Guzman was clearly playing through injuries last year, despite his denials and the Twins medical staff's. Several people pointed to plays he did not make in the playoffs and the severe decline he suffered at the plate, and think that Guzman may have been dealing with a back injury. We'll likely never know, but Guzman did play like someone with a disc problem, failing to turn on the ball and having difficulty bending for some grounders. Since the problem was not addressed in the off-season, we must assume it could recur and that Guzman may be heading for a 2003 season similar to 2002. While the Twins have enough bats to live with such an occurrence, Guzman's glove is much more important to a team like the Twins, which plays half its games on turf.

Mays battled through elbow problems most of the season, but managed to avoid the reconstructive surgery that had been suggested to him. Mays' strikeout rate, while never high, plummeted both before and after his DL stint, suggesting that success may be hard for him to find in the upcoming season. Do not be surprised to see Mays suffer from a recurrence of elbow problems or, more concerning, shoulder problems if the elbow alters his mechanics.

UTK is dropping yellow flags on Jacque Jones, Brad Radke, and Kyle Lohse. Jones displayed some signs of drop-off near the end of last season, which we believe is a sign of things to come. A player with his skill set often ends up losing something of himself to the plastic grass - the biggest example of this being Andre Dawson. Granted, Jones is no Dawson, but even a small reduction in his speed and quickness would dampen his ability to play the game effectively.

Meanwhile, Radke dealt with groin injuries that did not seem to heal properly, and some of the blame for his second DL stint must be laid at the feet of the medical staff. Any time a player comes back and re-injures himself immediately, it's a sign the medical staff either did not do an adequate job of understanding the injury or didn't properly communicate its concerns, assuming it made the right diagnosis. Groin injuries have a tendency to become chronic and Radke should be watched closely for any sign of recurrence.

Lohse is a young pitcher in a new role, which is always a worrisome sign. Ron Gardenhire appeared to have a firm grasp of how to deal with his pitching staff, but UTK worries that Lohse may be forced to throw more than anyone would like with an injury to Mays or Radke. Don't worry about Lohse much more than you would about any young pitcher. That said, you have to worry about most young pitchers.

The Twins are adequately equipped to deal with injuries to players at nearly every position due to depth. Their medical staff is considered adequate, though it's regressed since the days when long-time athletic trainer Dick Martin usually had the team near the top of DL-prevention. The worst-case scenario would be back surgery for Guzman - forcing the team to rely on Denny Hocking as more than a utility player - plus Tommy John surgery for Mays, and continuing groin problems for Radke.

Will Carroll is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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