2018 MLB preview: Minnesota Twins

2017: 85-77

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 1991

2017 Recap

In 2016, the Twins finished with the worst record in baseball, winning just 59 regular season games. Last year, they became the second team in MLB history to have the No. 1 pick in the MLB Draft and make the playoffs in the same year. Although they fell to the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, Minnesota was the first franchise to lose 100 games and then go to the playoffs in the following year.

So how in the world does a team, with virtually the same roster, do a complete turnaround and win 26 more games? Well, to start, they learned how to field.

In 2016, Minnesota racked up 126 errors, the second most in the MLB. Miguel Sano, who played just 80 games in the field, had 18 errors, and Jorge Polanco had 15 in just 61 games. A year later, and the Twins made 48 less errors. Sano cut his errors in half, and Byron Buxton was the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. Here is a table to back that up.

Byron Buxton’s 2017 Defensive Ranks

STATISTIC RANK AMONG CF’S
DEFENSIVE WAR 1st (3rd OVERALL)
DEFENSIVE RUNS SAVED 1st (3rd OVERALL)
REVIZED ZONE RATING 1st (1st OVERALL)
OUT OF ZONE PLAYS 1st (5th OVERALL)
RANGE RUNS 1st (2nd OVERALL)
PLUS MINUS RUNS SAVED 1st (3rd OVERALL)
TOTAL ZONE RUNS 1st (1st OVERALL)

 

Minnesota’s 2016 team finished 11th in the AL in batting average and 11th in OBP. In 2017, they finished fourth in both categories. Eddie Rosario had a career year, hitting .290 (.332 at home) with 27 home runs. Sano raised his average by nearly 30 points, while also hitting 28 home runs with an OBP of .352.

2018 Minnesota Twins preview

Byron Buxton is one of the best defenders in the game. (Photo from Twinkie Town)

Their two big-name players, Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier, also played well. Dozier, after 42 home runs in 2016, finished 2017 with 34 home runs, 106 RBIs and a career best .359 OBP. He also ranked 10th in runs scored.

Joe Mauer, one of the best Twins of all time (fourth in WAR), hit .305 with an OBP of .384. The craziest stat was Mauer’s average after going 0-2 in the count. In 88 at-bats, Mauer hit a ridiculous .341.

Here is a table to illustrate the differences between the Twins offense in 2016 and 2017.

2016 vs. 2017 Minnesota Twins offensive ranks

STATISTIC 2016 AL RANK 2017 AL RANK
RUNS 9th 3rd
SLUGGING PERCENTGAE 9th 6th
BATTING AVERAGE 11th 4th
OBP 11th 4th
RUNS WITH MEN IN SCORING POSITION AND TWO OUTS 14th 3rd
BATTING AVERAGE WITH RUNNERS ON 13th 4th
BATTING AVERAGE WITH BASED LOADED 15th 2nd

 

2018: Around the Diamond

Minnesota will sport a practically identical team from last season. Jason Castro will remain behind the plate, while Joe Mauer, who will enter the last year of his eight-year deal, will hold down first base. Kennys Vargas will get some time when the old 34-year-old Mauer needs a rest.

Up the middle is Brian Dozier at second, and Jorge Polanco, who hit 13 home runs and stole 13 bases in 2017, will play shortstop. Miguel Sano will man the hot corner, and DH, with this current lineup, could vary between Vargas, Eduardo Escobar or Robbie Grossman.

Eddie Rosario will play left, and Max Kepler will most likely start out in right, although Grossman has a shot. Kepler hit 19 home runs in 2017. Their best defender, Byron Buxton, who won a Gold Glove, as well as the Wilson Overall Defensive Player of the Year, should improve as a hitter. He finished seventh in steals and joined Jose Altuve and Whit Merrifield as the only players to hit at least 16 home runs and steal 29 bases. Buxton will need to get on base more in 2018, but he is coming off a great second half in 2017, as he hit .300 with 11 home runs.

On the Bump

In December, the Twins signed Michael Pineda, who had elbow surgery last July and has just started throwing. He will hopefully have a positive impact on the team in 2019.

With that said, the rotation remains the same. Ervin Santana, who finished second in innings, ninth in WHIP and tied Corey Kluber with the most complete games and shutouts in the MLB, will be the ace. He was seventh in Cy Young voting, going 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA.

Santana was the only Twins pitcher to throw over 200 innings, which will hopefully change in 2018. Jose Berrios, the former first-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, had a solid season at age 23. He went 14-8 with a 1.23 WHIP. He is a bit wild as he was third in hit batters and needs to pitch better on the road. At home, Berrios was terrific, posting a 2.41 ERA, but on the road, his ERA sky-rocketed to 5.41.

Kyle Gibson, who has had a 5.07 ERA in back-to-back years, will follow Santana and Berrios. Adalberto Mejia looks to be in line for the fourth starter. The last spot could go to the 25-year-old Aaron Slegers, or the veteran Phil Hughes. In Triple-A during the 2017 season, Slegers went 15-4 with a 3.40 ERA.

The one thing Minnesota did was revamp the back-end of the bullpen. The Twins signed Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney, two veterans who Minnesota hopes will finish games in 2018.

The Future

The Twins best prospect has to be the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, shortstop Royce Lewis. Lewis, the top ranked high school position player in 2017, is obviously still just a kid, but has posted solid numbers as a pro. In Rookie Ball, over 36 games, Lewis had a .390 OBP, and in A ball, he had a .296 batting average. 2018 will be Lewis’ first full season as a pro, which is exciting for everyone involved.

2018 Minnesota Twins preview

The No. 1 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Royce Lewis (Photo from Star Tribune)

Their top pitching prospect, Fernando Romero, has spent a lot of time on the DL over the past few years, but could see big league action in 2018. Last year, in Double-A, Romero won 11 games and finished with a 3.53 ERA in 125 innings. His fastball can reach triple digits, so let’s hope Twins fans can see this guy on the big stage at some point this season.

Minnesota also has pitcher Stephen Gonsalves, who could also see time with the MLB team in 2018. Gonsalves was tremendous in 2017 at the Double-A level, posting a 2.68 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 87.1 innings. MLB.com claims he “has the ceiling of a solid mid-rotation starter.”

Don’t forget about Tom Gordon’s son, and Dee Gordon’s brother, second baseman/shortstop Nick Gordon. Gordon hasn’t progressed like other first-round players in his draft like Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto or Trea Turner, but the former fifth overall pick looks to be a solid everyday player at some point. Last season in Double-A, Gordon hit .270/.341/.408 with nine home runs and 13 steals.

2018 Prediction: 82-80

Minnesota is linked in rumors to Chris Archer, so if they trade for him, that could shake things up. However, in the AL, you have to think that Boston, New York, Cleveland and Houston have four of the five playoff spots locked up. That means only one spot is up for grabs, and although they made it in 2017, Minnesota will fall just short in 2018. The pitching isn’t deep, and the lineup will not perform as well as they did in 2017.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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