Three reasons to watch the Twins in 2015

There are approximately 12 American League teams with hopes of big games in September and even October. Reasonable hopes, I mean. Untinged by the sunny optimism of  March in Florida or Arizona. The Twins, who finished last last year and are widely expected to finish last this year, are not one of those teams.

Of course, if you’re a Twins fan you don’t care about that, shouldn’t care about that. Plus, Torii Hunter. But I’m afraid the rest of us need some better reasons to follow a team that’s probably going to finish fourth or fifth without much excitement in the lineup. Which is why I’m here! Here are three good reasons to watch the 2015 Twins…

1. Oh, just a Cy Young candidate is all.
Sure, it’s difficult to win the big award if you don’t win a lot of games, which usually means playing for a good team. Sure, it’s difficult to win the big award when you’re in the same league with Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, and Chris Sale. But if you believe the projections, Phil Hughes is just as good as any of them.

Labeled a disappointment with the Yankees after an injury-marred 2011 and a 4-14, 5.19 2013, Hughes signed a three-year, $24 million contract – since torn up, by the way – with the Twins and … practically overnight became one of the very best pitchers in the majors. The highlight? Hughes’ strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best for a starting pitcher in the 21st century. Oh, or the 20th century, too. Hughes has the all-time record: 11.6 strikeouts for every walk.

Of course Hughes probably won’t be quite as tremendous this year. But when he pitches, he’s worth watching. Unless you’re a Yankees fan.

2. Those exciting 24-year-olds!
Okay, so we’re already reaching a little. But did you know the Twins actually scored a fair number of runs last season? Plus, they finished second in the American League in on-base percentage, and sixth in slugging percentage. With the exception of left field, which was sort of a disaster, the Twins got above-average production – granted, that’s relative to the league without accounting for position – at nearly every position on the field.

And a big part of that was a trio of 23-year-olds: center fielder Danny Santana, right fielder Oswaldo Arcia, and DH Kennys Vargas (who took over when the Twins finally gave up on Kendrys Morales). Arcia seems legitimate, while Santana and Vargas … well, let’s just say the jury’s still out. Again, that’s why we watch. Especially with Santana shifting to shortstop, even though incumbent Eduardo Escobar played well last season.

3. Oh those prospects!
Okay, so now we’re reaching a lot. After all, this is supposed to be reasons to watch these Twins, in 2015. But the Twins do have a couple of incredibly hot prospects, both of whom might actually debut with the big club this year.

According to Baseball Prospectus, third baseman Miguel Sano is the 12th-best prospect in baseball. Yes, even though he missed all of last season with an elbow injury and eventually Tommy John surgery. Still, he showed enough in 2013 that he’s still considered an outstanding talent, and won’t turn 22 until later this spring. If Sano’s recovery goes well, Trevor Plouffe might be trade bait in July.

But of course Sano’s just the frosting atop the Twins’ prospect cupcake. The really tasty bit is center fielder Byron Buxton, BP’s (and MLB.com’s) No. 1 overall prospect (in case you’re wondering, the Immortal Kris Bryant is just No. 5 by BP’s lights, though No. 1 for Baseball America).

Buxton, too, missed a lot of time last year, too; first there was a wrist injury, then a concussion. And it will be a real upset if he joins the Twins this season. Even leaving aside the dreaded service-time considerations, Buxton has exactly three at-bats above Class A. So unless he recovers fully from his injuries and moves very quickly through the high minors, his ETA is mid-season next year. At the earliest.

Still, one might watch the Twins this season and imagine Byron Buxton out there playing center field. But if you prefer to stay grounded, you can instead just watch the Twins’ actual center fielder, Aaron Hicks. A warning, though: He’s not going to hit. He’s not going to hit at all.