Biggest Questions Facing Twins on Brink of Spring Training
We’re entering the end of February, which is an exciting time for baseball fans around the country. March in Minnesota really just means more snow and temperatures still below freezing, but the ability to watch Spring Training baseball games live on TV can still give us the illusion of hot summer sun and cold beers that drip sweat.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We may be closing in on the 2021 Major League Baseball season, but we aren’t that far removed from the flurry of late offseason moves that got the Minnesota Twins in the position they sit in today.
In a 17-day period between January 20 and February 5, Falvine re-upped on Nelson Cruz, signed Andrelton Simmons, brought in pitching help for the back-end of their starting rotation and shuffled the bullpen around with the little money left in Papa Pohlad’s pocketbook. When the dust settled, the Twins again housed a roster projected to win the AL Central by just about every expert and algorithm that anyone cares about.
PECOTA predictions for AL Central.— Christopher Tenpenny (@Tenpenny88) February 17, 2021
Over valuing the Twins and Indians while under valuing the White Sox and Royals (what else is new). This division is the Sox’s to lose as they got better this offseason while CLE and MIN got worse or stayed the same. pic.twitter.com/IZRtd7zBWx
Minnesota Sports Fan Anxiety
But that means little to Minnesota baseball fans at this point in time, most of which are desperate to remember what just one playoff win feels like, let alone an entire series. So let’s talk about those concerns, along with others this team will face as they enter and hopefully roll through the 2021 regular season in all of its 162-game glory.
1.) Can Twins stay healthy in 2021?
The answer to this question will decide the fate of the Minnesota Twins this season. It’s a roster full of proven major leaguers that should have plenty of chemistry and talent. Veteran leaders like Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson return while most lineup regulars like Sano, Kepler, Buxton and Berrios are all entering their prime years.
It’s a roster screaming for a bust-out season. BUUUUUUUUUTTTTT, it’s a roster that’s been riddled with injuries in the past. The worries start with Josh Donaldson’s calves. Will we get the guy who dominated 2019 with the Atlanta Braves or do we get the 2020 Twins’ version who couldn’t run down a foul ball on defense or even stay in the lineup to provide help on offense?
Then, there’s the history of Byron Buxton vs outfield fences, Andrelton Simmons’ vs the 1st base bag and Miguel Sano’s continued “hard luck”. The Twins should easily make the playoffs this season but all of that quickly changes if their best players can’t stay in the lineup.
Sources say Josh Donaldson is growing out a Mohawk mullet as well as going back to No. 20. In other words, pray for the league.— Nash Walker (@Nashwalker9) February 18, 2021
2.) Will We Move On #1 Starter Pitcher by Deadline?
The $25 million question that the Minnesota Twins, their front office and ownership has yet to answer. Will the Twins be willing to reach into their pockets and pull out the money or the prospects to bring in a bona fide #1 starting playoff pitcher? The type of guy that we know will break the Twins 18-game playoff losing streak before he even takes the mound?
That’s the pitcher many fans have been begging for, since the beginning of time, but especially since Derek Falvey and Thad Levine pulled into town a handful of years ago. Sure, Kenta Maeda’s dominance in 2020 was a pleasant surprise, we all know Jose Berrios will break out eventually (maybe) and everyone loves Big Mike and his willingness to do WHATEVER it takes to win games.
But if this team wants to be taken seriously as a World Series contender, they will need to swing a trade for a starting rotation alpha dog before the trading deadline.
3.) Can “youngsters” hit their prime
I’ve talked about this a bit in other sections of this blog but it deserves its own. We’ve been teased with flashes of greatness from many of the lineup regulars who once made up the most exciting class of minor leaguers in franchise history.
We used to dream about the day that Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios and (to a lesser extent) Max Kepler would hit their primes together. Well, here we are. Sano and Buxton are both 27, Berrios is 26 and Kepler is 28. It’s time to turn on those prime jets so the world can see what we’ve all been waiting for.
If these guys can stay healthy there’s a good chance we start seeing the production we once dreamed of when they were coming through the minors.
Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano may be the two best 20-year-old players in the world. For Minnesota, 2014 is about them. http://t.co/uRE6FsFXf9— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 11, 2014
4.) Veteran regression
Yes, it’s quite possible we see a regression from Kenta Maeda, who went out of body in his first season as a Twin and from Nelson Cruz, who will eventually (maybe) start looking more his age.
But beyond that… who else is going to regress from 2020? I sure hope we get more out of Josh Donaldson than we did last season. I hope we see more out of those entering their late 20’s, as mentioned above.
So while we could see some regression from Maeda and Cruz who carried the load last season, I still expect others to pick up their slack and even offer more.
Get off to a good start and prep for playoffs
If the Minnesota Twins can get off to a good start, I expect them to coast to an American League Central championship. Cleveland has been waving the white flag for a couple seasons and the White Sox just aren’t ready to compete yet. Something will have to go seriously wrong (or seriously right for a rival) for the Twins to lose hold of this division.
So let’s win some games early and put pressure on the Pohlads to make that big splash move for a starting pitcher we can ride to the World Series.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan