The Minnesota Twins are not close to being good, but there is reason for hope for the future.
The Twins were absolutely dreadful this season. They set a team record for losses in a single season and had the worst record in baseball, guaranteeing themselves the top selection in next year’s MLB Draft.
Going into the final game of the season, Minnesota was 29th in baseball, and last the AL, with a 5.09 team ERA. They have a dreadful .283 batting average against, and made just 59 quality starts in 161 games. They had just one starting pitcher who might have cracked a decent rotation, Ervin Santana. Santana, , who actually had a solid year, gave up 168 hits in 181.1 innings and posted a 3.38 ERA, a 3.81 FIP, and a 3.2 fWAR. Not bad, especially on such a dreadful team.
Minnesota didn’t have another starter pitch even passably well beyond Santana. Every single start that was not made by Ervin Santana or Hector Santiago (who was traded to the Angels halfway through the season) was made by a player who finished the season with an ERA above 5. That’s staggering.
Imagine being a young position player for the Twins and knowing that just about every single game for the entire season that your starting pitcher is worse than there’s. That’s got to be demoralizing. At least the Twins’ staff walked fewer guys than league average.
What’s worse: it’s not immediately clear what gets better going forward. Glen Perkins will likely come back from injury and throw more than the 2 innings he pitched in 2016 and that’s good. But a closer won’t turn around a pitching staff. Jose Berrios is supposed to be a starter of the future, and still may very well be, but an ERA above 8 in 13 starts certainly doesn’t instill confidence.
Phil Hughes is bad. That’s not changing. Tommy Millone and Ricky Nolasco are known quantities at this point. And Tyler Duffey and Kyle Gibson aren’t arms to build around. They’re going to need an influx of pitching talent and I’m not sure where that’s coming from.
On the other side of the ball, Joe Mauer struggled this season. Again. The former MVP rebounded a bit from a disastrous 2015, but at this point in his career doesn’t bring power or speed and his massive contract is a real problem for a small market team like the Twins.
But there is reason for hope in Minnesota. It is the same reason for hope that had Twins fans excited about this year.
Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano had pretty inconsistent seasons as they were both trying to figure out major league pitching. But there’s no better time to fail a few times and figure things out than when your team couldn’t be farther from contention.
In the end, both players proved they deserve to be in the majors and that they’ll contribute long term. Sano proved he isn’t an outfielder, but he did swat 24 homers and looks to be a middle of the order mainstay, just as we all hoped.
Buxton hit 8 homers and played great since being recalled from the minor leagues on September 1 and is starting to harness the flashes of talent that made him the top prospect in baseball for a time. That’s good news for the Twins.
The Twins future in large part rests on those players. If both turn out to be what the team thinks they can be, they have a core to build around. If they both fall far short, the team will be at a severe disadvantage going forward.
But Buxton and Sano are not the only talent on this roster. Brian Dozier quietly just set the record for most home runs by a second basemen in AL history. The 29 year old swatted 42 bombs to go along with nearly 20 steals and a respectable average in the high .260’s. That’s good for a 6.5 bWAR and at least some down ballot MVP votes.
At the very least, Dozier is a very attractive trade chip. At the most, he’s a middle of the order bat, even if he doesn’t replicate this season’s power surge. Don’t discount his season as a total fluke; Dozier hit 28 homers last season and has increased his total every year he’s played. He had 5.2 bWAR in 2014 and got MVP votes last year despite just a .236 average. He’s not just a flash in the pan.
Another exciting young guy to watch on this team is Max Kepler. Kepler has been near the top of prospect lists for a while now and we finally got to see why. At just 23, Kepler his 17 bombs in 112 games with flashes of speed. He strikes out too much, but there’s reason to see why the team was excited about him. A Kepler- Buxton- Free Agent outfielder TBD outfield in Minnesota sure feels like an outfield that can take a team to the playoffs.
Is this team going to contend next season? Probably not. They need a lot of pitching. They need to trade some veterans. They need to upgrade at first base, catcher, shortstop, and in one outfield position. It’s going to be very difficult to pull off all of that, but they have talent. They have the makings of a very potent if top-heavy lineup. If they can fill the lineup out a bit more they could be very good.
The new front office has a lot of work to do, but a lot to work with.