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Baseball preview: Minnesota Twins

After finishing in third place in the AL Central last season (79-83), the Minnesota Twins decided that it was time to try new things in order to get to the top of the division again.

First, center fielder Torii Hunter headed to the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent in November. In order to replace Hunter's presence in the outfield, the Twins shipped starting shortstop Jason Bartlett, right-handed pitcher Matt Garza and a minor league reliever to the Tampa Bay Rays for outfielder Delmon Young, infielder Brendan Harris and a minor league outfielder.

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In order to replace Bartlett, the Twins signed veteran shortstop Adam Everett. Then, they signed his former Houston Astros teammate – third baseman Mike Lamb.

However, the biggest move of the offseason came in the last few days of January. They traded superstar pitcher Johan Santana to the New York Mets for outfielder Carlos Gomez, who could replace Hunter in center field, and three pitching prospects (Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey).

Although the Twins lost their best hitter (Hunter), starting shortstop (Bartlett) and two of their top starting pitchers (Santana and Carlos Silva), they've retooled with young talent that will help them be contenders again within the next couple years.

Minnesota Twins

2007 record: 79-83 (3rd in AL Central)

Key additions: OF Delmon Young, 2B Brendan Harris, 3B Mike Lamb, RHP Livan Hernandez, CF Carlos Gomez, SS Adam Everett

Key losses: LHP Johan Santana, CF Torii Hunter, RHP Carlos Silva, RHP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett, OF Jason Tyner

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Justin Morneau, 1B – One of the other matters of business for the Twins during the offseason was agreeing to an extension with Morneau. He signed a six-year extension worth $80 million in January. He's the perfect player for the Twins to build around because he's a left-handed power hitter. Morneau only hit .271 last season after hitting .321 in 2006, but he still had 31 home runs and 111 RBIs. He'll be gone after the third round, so be sure to grab him early. You'll get 30-35 home runs and 100-110 RBIs from him. Morneau could compete for another MVP award if he hits close to .300 again.

2. Joe Mauer, C – Mauer would be a fantasy superstar if he had a little bit more power. Still, he's one of the better options at catcher and should be drafted in the first nine rounds. He'll hit around .300 and will have a lot of doubles, but won't get too many home runs. Mauer will hit 10-15 home runs if you're lucky. He's still young and there's the potential for a power surge, but it's not guaranteed. With all that said, Mauer is still one of the most exciting players to watch in the majors.

3. Joe Nathan, RHP – Some readers asked me about Nathan's fantasy value since Santana was traded. Honestly, I don't think it will affect his value too much. Ideally, Francisco Liriano returns to the rotation and makes up for Santana's departure. Nathan is one of the better closers in the majors and he'll find a way to get his saves. His numbers might dip slightly, but I'd expect him to save 30-35 games with an ERA around 2.00. He should be one of the first closers drafted, so get him before the eighth round.

4. Delmon Young, OF – As a rookie last season with Tampa Bay, Young played in every game and hit .288 with 13 home runs and 93 RBIs. He's only 22-years-old, so there is plenty of time for Young to develop. Look for his numbers to improve this season, especially since Morneau will protect him in the lineup. Young should hit close to .290 with 20-25 home runs and 100-110 RBIs in 2008.

Hidden gems:

1. Francisco Liriano, LHP – Remember him? Yeah, this is the same guy who was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 28 games (16 starts) in 2006. He missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery, but it looks like he's on pace for a full recovery. The Twins will need him to replace Santana in the rotation, so there's a good chance he'll win at least 15 games this season. A lot of fantasy owners may overlook him because he didn't play last season, so make sure you remember him on draft day.

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2. Michael Cuddyer, RF – Although he's hit .280 with 40 home runs and 190 RBIs over the last two seasons, Cuddyer doesn't get much respect from other fantasy prognosticators. He's one of the most underrated outfielders in the game and there's a good chance that he'll have 20-25 home runs and 90-100 RBIs in 2008. Because a lot of people overlook him, Cuddyer could probably be drafted in the middle to late rounds.

3. Scott Baker, RHP – Since there are multiple voids in the rotation this season, the 26-year-old starter will need to take on a bigger role. He was 9-9 with two complete games in 23 starts last year. Baker is probably good for 10-15 wins and an ERA around 4.20 this season, so be aware that he's available. You could easily grab him with one of your last picks and he may even go undrafted in many leagues.

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