By Conor Stemme
2018 Record: 78-84 (2nd AL Central)
2018 Payroll: $116,373,333 (17th)
Projected 2019 Lineup:
1. SS Jorge Polanco, .272 AVG/.333 OBP/.420 SLG, 2.6 WAR
2. OF Marwin González, .267 AVG/.332 OBP/.435 SLG, 1.5 WAR
3. OF Eddie Rosario .277 AVG/.318 OBP/.470 SLG, 2.5 WAR
4. DH Nelson Cruz .282 AVG/.361 OBP/.533 SLG, 3.0 WAR
5. 3B Miguel Sanó, .236 AVG/.327 OBP/.456 SLG, 2.3 WAR
6. 1B C.J. Cron, .261 AVG/.323 OBP/.482 SLG, 1.7 WAR
7. 2B Jonathan Schoop, .266 AVG/.307 OBP/.468 SLG, 2.0 WAR
8. C Jason Castro, .219 AVG/.308 OBP/.363 SLG, 1.2 WAR
9. OF Byron Buxton, .244 AVG/.301 OBP/.410 SLG, 2.2 WAR
Projected Starting Rotation:
1. José Berríos, 193 IP/4.27 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 2.6 WAR
2. Kyle Gibson, 192 IP/4.22 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 2.6 WAR
3. Jake Odorizzi, 161 IP/4.95 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 1.2 WAR
4. Michael Pineda, 138 IP/4.11 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 2.2 WAR
5. Martín Pérez, 119 IP/4.71 ERA/1.47 WHIP, 0.9 WAR
The Twins had an active offseason, bolstering their batting order by signing the former All-Stars Jonathan Schoop and Nelson Cruz. They also claimed C.J. Cron off waivers and signed the versatile Marwin González to improve their lineup even further. Their major issue last season was their pitching, but they did little to improve it; the only notable signings were Martin Perez and Blake Parker. Of the major free agents left, the Twins are unlikely to sign another big name like Dallas Keuchel, but they may try and bolster their rotation or bullpen some more in the month or so before the season starts. This was a solid offseason for the Twins. They made some good moves to add great batting talent in Cruz and Schoop. However, they neglected to address their main issue of pitching, so it was not the best offseason that they could have had.
The Twins finished 2nd in the American League Central last season with a solid batting team but a below average pitching staff. They lost only one major member of the team: face of the franchise Joe Mauer, who played in 127 games and hit .282, earning 1.0 fWAR. Mauer was never going to return to his former batting champion self, so it’s not as big of a loss for the team performance-wise. To replace him they added Nelson Cruz, coming off his fifth consecutive year of hitting 35 home runs or more, on a one-year deal with a club option for a second. They also claimed 30-home run C.J. Cron off waivers, giving them an instant replacement at first base. Super-utility player and former Astro Marwin González may have had a down year in 2018, but he remains a versatile player who has experience at every position except pitcher and catcher. Armed with the MLB.com 7th ranked farm system, the Twins are in a position to compete for the second Wild Card spot and might even challenge Cleveland for the AL Central crown. The most important thing for the Twins’ playoff chances this year, however, is how well their pitching staff can perform.
The Twins’ pitching staff is led by José Berríos and Kyle Gibson. Last year, the entire pitching staff did not have the best season as they finished 16th in K/9, 20th in total pitching WAR, and 21st in both team ERA and team FIP. Despite a bottom third pitching staff, they still managed to finish second in the AL Central. José Berríos had a very good season, finishing top 25 in pitching WAR last season with a 3.93 ERA and a 9.45 K/9. Berríos is only 24, and he still has his best years ahead of him. Behind him in the rotation is Kyle Gibson, who had 2.8 WAR in a career year. He had a 3.62 ERA, but will probably regress as he outperformed his 4.13 FIP. The Twins third starter is Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi had a 4.49 ERA last season, but he got slightly unlucky as he had a 4.20 FIP last season. Kyle Gibson should regress and Jake Odorizzi should improve, so the Twins starting rotation will likely end up being pretty similar to last year. The Twins bullpen was 18th in WAR, 21st in team ERA, and 11th in K/9. The bullpen was led by Fernando Rodney, now an Oakland Athletic. Instead of Rodney, Trevor May is the projected closer this season. Last season, May had a 3.20 ERA and 12.79 K/9. May should have actually been better, as he had a 3.02 FIP. The Twins major pitching free agent signing was Blake Parker, who played last season with the Los Angeles Angels. He had a 3.26 ERA, this obscures his 4.40 FIP. The Twins’ overall weakness is their pitching staff, but this should still be an average to above average staff that could lead them to a good record.
One of the Twins strongest suits is their infield. They claimed first baseman C.J. Cron off waivers coming off of the best season of his career. Cron hit 30 home runs and slashed .253/.323/.493 in 2018. He should be able to continue his power dominance in Minnesota. Another major signing was former All-Star Jonathan Schoop. He had a very bad season after his 2017 All-Star season, slashing .233/.266/.416 with 21 home runs only one year after hitting .293/.338/.503 with 32 home runs in his All-Star campaign. Schoop probably will not return to 2017 numbers but should still be a productive member of the lineup while providing a great defensive boost as well. The Twins’ biggest question mark of the infield is Miguel Sanó. In 2017, Sanó showed the flashes that made him a top prospect after slashing .264/.352/.507 and hitting 28 home runs. However, he took a massive step back last year, hitting .199/.281/.398 with 13 home runs in 71 games and was at one point demoted to Class A-ball. Sanó will have to get back to his 2017 form if he wants to continue on the team as the starting third baseman. The last starting member of the infield is Jorge Polanco. He hit .288/.345/.427 in 2018, good for a 1.3 WAR season. Polanco is not the best defensively, however, as he was worth -0.5 defensive WAR last year. Still, as long as Sanó and Schoop can improve on their previous season, the infield will be a strength for the Twins.
With Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Marwin González, the Twins’ outfield is another strong point. Rosario was a highlight of the Twins lineup last season, hitting .288/.323/.479 line with 24 home runs. His .316 BABIP was noticeably lower than his first two seasons and only four points higher than his 2017 mark of .312, which indicates that the success he found last year wasn’t a fluke. Like Sanó, Byron Buxton faced some offensive struggles in 2018, slashing only .156/.183/.200, hitting zero home runs and finishing the year with -0.4 WAR. He will have to improve if he wants to stay with the team. Max Kepler is not in the projected lineup, but he figures to be a major part of the team. Kepler owned a line of .224/.319/.408 with 20 home runs and a 97 wRC+. Kepler is looking to be a great player and looking to continue on his path upward. The last player is Marwin González. Marwin is known for his positional flexibility. He started 21 games at first base, 19 games at second, 2 games at third, 29 games at shortstop, and 65 in the outfield. Marwin González is a great depth guy to have as he can play anywhere that is needed. If Buxton can tap into the potential that made him the second overall pick seven years ago, the Twins’ outfield will not be one to be trifled with.
The Twins also have a top 10 farm system, highlighted by Royce Lewis and Alex Krilloff. According to MLB.com, Lewis is the fifth best prospect in baseball. He played in Single and High-A in 2018 so he will not have an immediate impact on the team. Alex Krilloff is in the same boat, as he played at the same levels as Lewis last season. He is another top prospect and hit .348 with 20 home runs in 130 games. Kirilloff will look to make the jump to Double-A this year and should be in Triple-A by the end of the season. The Twins drop off in their system with their next prospect at number 68 in Brusdar Graterol, a right-handed pitcher. He pitched to a 2.74 ERA through 19 starts and struck out 107 in 102 innings playing in Single and High-A. The Twins have two of the best prospects in the game and do not have much after that, but having two prospects in top 10 is only accomplished by one other team: the Houston Astros.
Record Prediction: 90-72
The Twins will be able to compete with the Indians this season behind their solid pitching and great hitting. The Twins big names of Miguel Sanó and Byron Buxton will have to show their elite prospect status if the Twins want to achieve this record, but that is not out of the question at all. The Twins are also helped by playing in the AL Central meaning that they get to play the Royals, Tigers, and White Sox a lot giving them the potential for easy wins. The Twins will not have the depth or veteran presence to make a deep playoff run, but they will be able to compete for the second Wild Card and possibly the AL Central Crown.
Player to Watch: José Berríos
José Berríos has been with the Twins for two full seasons now and has quickly become the ace of their staff. He had a solid 2018, pitching to a 3.84 ERA and a 3.89 xFIP while averaging over a strikeout every inning. His flyball tendencies (he only got grounders 41.5% of the time last year) can lead to some bad stretches when he gives up the long ball too often, and this happened to some extent last season. His HR/9 rose 24 points and his HR/FB jumped from 9.1% in 2017 to 12.8% in 2018. Berríos is unquestionably the Twins’ ace, and if he gets his homer problem under control he could be dominant.
Player to Watch: Royce Lewis
Royce Lewis is a top-five MLB prospect, the second best shortstop prospect, and the Twins number one prospect. Lewis played 121 games last season split between Single-A and High-A hitting .292/.352/.451. These are not numbers that destroy the competition, but Lewis is only 19 and has plenty of time to develop. Lewis will start the year in High-A, but with the offseason to develop he should be a good candidate for a Double-A call-up some point during the year.
Player to Watch: Willians Astudillo
A late-season call-up for the Twins last year, Astudillo played in 29 games and did well, hitting .355/.371/.516 with three home runs. Incredibly, only slightly over five percent of Astudillo’s at-bats in the big leagues ended in a strikeout or a walk. This is par for the course for Astudillo, who has often ranked lowest in both K% and BB% during his time in the minor leagues. In an era dominated by the three true outcomes, Astudillo is a refreshing change of pace, the ultimate contact hitter. Astudillo also can provide positional flexibility. Although his first position is catcher, he’s played second base, third base, and the outfield. He even pitched an inning, allowing five earned runs on two homers. The Twins are probably hoping they won’t see him pitch again, but Astudillo could easily be the backup to Jason Castro and should continue to be a good asset for the Twins to have due to his positional flexibility.
Image via USA Today