Photo: Keith Allison
As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and Spring Training gets underway it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) here! Welcome back to M-SABR’s Season Preview 30 Teams in 30 Days series, where our staff writers share their insights on what to expect from your favorite team and players in 2018, and get you ready for that very first first pitch. Today Jack Gioffre previews the Minnesota Twins. Enjoy!
by Jack Gioffre
2017 Record: 85-77
2017 Payroll: $109,650,000
Projected 2018 Lineup:
- 2B Brian Dozier .271 AVG/.359 OBP/.498 SLG, 5.0 WAR
- 1B Joe Mauer .305 AVG/.384 OBP/.417 SLG, 2.3 WAR
- DH Miguel Sano .264 AVG/.352 OBP/.507 SLG, 2.3 WAR
- LF Eddie Rosario .290 AVG/.328 OBP/.507 SLG, 2.5 WAR
- SS Jorge Polanco .256 AVG/.313 OBP/.410 SLG, 1.6 WAR
- RF Max Kepler .243 AVG/.312 OBP/.425 SLG, 1.2 WAR
- CF Byron Buxton .253 AVG/.314 OBP/ .413 SLG, 3.5 WAR
- 3B Eduardo Escobar .254 AVG/.309 OBP/.449 SLG, 1.6 WAR
- C Jason Castro .242 AVG/ .333 OBP/ .388 SLG, 1.6 WAR
Projected 2018 Rotation:
- Ervin Santana* 153.0 IP/4.81 ERA/1.37 WHIP, 1.5 WAR
- Jose Berrios 145.2 IP/3.89 ERA/1.23 WHIP, 2.8 WAR
- Kyle Gibson 158.0 IP/5.07 ERA/1.53 WHIP, 1.1 WAR
- Jake Odorizzi 143.1 IP/4.14 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 0.1 WAR
- Adalberto Mejia 98.0 IP/4.50 ERA/1.57 WHIP, 1.0 WAR
* Out until mid-May
After swinging and missing on Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani this offseason, Minnesota settled for a trade for Jake Odorizzi to bolster their weak rotation. The Twins also had the good fortune of having the number one pick in the draft, selecting Royce Lewis, who immediately became the number one prospect in the organization. There were no key cogs lost, so Minnesota has a solid foundation upon which they can build for another playoff appearance.
2018 Season Preview
After surprising a lot of people last season (not including myself) and reaching the playoffs just one season after winning 59 games, the Twins seek to prove that their mix of established veterans and burgeoning stars are for real. Led by slugger Miguel Sano, former #1 prospect Byron Buxton, and young ace Jose Berrios, the Twins have a stable core for the foreseeable future.
The biggest problem from the 2017 squad was the rotation. Ervin Santana got off to a scorching start and slowed down slightly in the second half, but still had a superb season, throwing more than 200 innings with a sub-3.30 ERA. Despite the success, his K/9 numbers hovered around his career average (7.11 K/9), and his peripherals suggest he was the beneficiary of good luck and good defense. With a finger injury keeping him out until May, the Twins will need strong performances from other pitchers. After a horrific rookie campaign, Berrios returned to Minneapolis in early May in the wake of several dominant starts in AAA Rochester. He was superb at home in 2017, posting a 2.41 ERA in 67.1 innings, going 9-1 in his 11 home starts with 9.22 K/9. His starts on the road were significantly worse, throwing 78.1 innings to the tune of a 5.17 ERA and a 5-7 record. His numbers across the board were drastically better at home, and if Berrios can even marginally improve his road numbers he’ll solidify his status as the number one pitcher in this rotation. He has the stuff, he just has to put it all together.
The front office recognized the weakness in the back end of the rotation and finally made a move: trading for formerly good pitcher Jake Odorizzi from the Rays. Odorizzi had a bad year by every measure in 2017, as his peripherals dictate that his 4.50 ERA was actually better than it should’ve been. Thad Levine and co. are betting on the talent Odorizzi showcased in 2015 and 2016 to shine through and prove last season as a fluke. In those years Odorizzi looked primed to be the next ace in the Rays unprecedented cycle of producing successful pitchers, and if he’s able to harness those performances the Twins rotation will have a solid front 3.
There is some uncertainty in the back end of the bullpen as well after Levine traded Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals at the trade deadline last year. Matt Belisle stepped into the closer role for the last two months of the season, accruing 9 saves while blowing 2. Belisle signed a deal with the Indians in the offseason, leaving the Twins with just 4 saves from their 2017 roster. However, they did sign Addison Reed, a bullpen staple from various teams over the last several seasons. It is extremely likely that Reed steps into the closer role for Paul Molitor this season.
The lineup outperformed a lot of people’s expectations last season, finishing 7th in the majors in runs scored, ahead of highly touted offenses such as Boston, Arizona, and Los Angeles (NL). If Sano can stay healthy and Buxton can continue to hit with his stabilized swing, this won’t change in 2018. With Brian Dozier accountable for 25+ home runs consistently and an aging Joe Mauer still contributing, the top half (and wherever Buxton hits) is able to produce relatively well. Although there were no notable offensive moves made this offseason, the returning production is there, and the farm system is promising.
Even after Sano, Berrios, and Buxton have graduated from prospect lists, there are still promising players waiting in the ranks. Led by #1 overall pick Royce Lewis, Baseball Prospectus ranks the Twins system as 12th entering the 2018 season. It will take a few seasons for Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, and Nick Gordon to earn their path to the majors, but look for young arm Fernando Romero to challenge for a rotation spot and Stephen Gonsalves to compete as well.
Success this season will be largely contingent upon the pitching staff and their ability to come up with quality outings. There are a lot of qualifiers I could throw out there, but if the Twins want to be successful this year, it all comes down to their pitchers improving from 2017. I think they will be able to do so.
Predicted Record: 87-75
Player to Watch: Miguel Sano
The lone All Star for the Twins in 2017, Sano is almost certainly the best player in the organization at this point in time. His health is always a question mark, and a report emerged from spring training that his offseason shin surgery limited his ability to exercise, resulting in an overweight frame for the start of baseball activities. As a power hitting DH this probably will not be a huge deal, but a team never wants to hear that their star player is out of shape. Regardless, you can count on stellar production from Sano, likely in the realm of 30-35 home runs and around 90 RBIs, depending on his health.
Player to Watch: Byron Buxton
While some might consider Buxton the star of the team, he isn’t quite there yet. What is indisputable is his prowess in the field and on the basepaths. His elite speed allows him to steal bases with ease and traverse center field like a veteran. He was among the best fielders in the league in nearly every advanced metric, and he is primed for another huge year helping his pitchers. His production at the plate, however, is what limits him from becoming an all-out superstar. After a scorching end to the 2016 season, it was thought that he had finally found himself in the big leagues and was realizing his untapped potential. This was, of course, incorrect, and Buxton struggled at the dish for entirety of the first half of 2017. After taking a step back and closing his stance, he hit .300 with a 130 (!!) wRC+ in the second half. There were a lot of encouraging signs in his swing improvement since the All Star break, so look for Buxton to build on his progression this year.
Player to Watch: Robbie Grossman
There was a fair amount of rotation in the outfield last season, especially given various injuries. This resulted in Robbie Grossman playing 118 games last season, with more success than some might have thought. He had a wRC+ of 102, and although the power numbers aren’t there, Grossman has the versatility as a switch-hitter to be a valuable piece of the puzzle for Minnesota this season. You won’t see Grossman packing the highlight reel much, but if the Twins win 85+ games again this season, he’ll be part of the reason why.