The wounds are still fresh, but they will fade.
Eventually, we will look at this season with a smile. The Twins’ pitching failed its hitters and fans in the Wildcard game. But, isn’t that what we expected? Isn’t that what we talked about all season? The pitching held up well enough to get us to the post season, when nobody even expected that. It’s time to look forward. But to do that, we will have to look back at 2017.
The young hitters were impressive all season. Behind the leadership of Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, and newly acquired Jason Castro, they flourished. It didn’t happen right away for all the budding professionals growing up on this team. But when they did break through, it was fun to watch.
Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco both hovered around .200 for the first half of the season. But, Buxton and Polanco’s surge, during the second half, was remarkable. The hot streaks brought their averages up, from below the Mendoza Line, to up and over .250. Max Kepler was up and down all season but finished with a solid .243 BA, 19 HR, 69 RBI, and a .737 OPS.
Eddie Rosario was good for pretty much the whole season. He dipped for a little while before the midway-point but started laying off terrible pitches and quickly became the best hitter of his career.
And Miguel Sano… What can be said? Sano helped carry this team through the first half of the season and made his first All-Star game because of it. He was on pace to his best season yet (.264 BA, 28 HR, 77 RBI, .859 OPS). We were watching him blossom into one of the best power hitters in the league before he went down with the shin injury that essentially ended his season.
But Eduardo Escobar could be awarded with Team MVP. He came through for anyone who couldn’t play, or wasn’t playing well, all season. When Polanco struggled through the first half, Escobar was there to pick up the slack and take over the starting spot, while Polanco took time to get things figured out. Then, when Sano went out with an injury in August and September, Eduardo was there too, to take over. He was one of the best hitters in the lineup during Sano’s absence.
Beyond the young bucks and the established position players, you had Robbie Grossman, who was as steady as you can get. He didn’t hit for a high average this season (.246), but his on base percentage was near the top of the team’s (.361). If you go into win-now mode, Robbie likely gets the axe at the end of this season. Outside of that, you are pretty much leaving the offense alone.
The entire outfield is considered part of the future. Rosario, Buxton, and Kepler have all solidified themselves as bona-fide starters. Zach Granite looks ready to be the 4th outfielder on a regular basis too. Robbie served his purpose for this team but it is time to move on. For the Twins to take the next step, they need to bring in a typical American League DH. The lineup could use more pop to go next to Dozier and Sano, especially if Joe Mauer is your 1st baseman.
Speaking of the infield, you really aren’t doing much with that either. Dozier has one season left on his contract. It will be interesting to watch the Twins as they ride out the end of Dozier’s deal. Will they resign him and make him a Twin for life or will they look to hand the other middle-infield spot to Nick Gordon? Will Gordon be ready? I don’t study the Twins’ minor league system as well as some but I would expect Gordon to start next season in AAA. That means he is one hot-streak away from making his big league debut. Polanco looks like he solidified his spot at one of those middle infield spots. Which position Polanco will play for the long-term is yet to be decided, but part of it will depend on who his partner is.
The Twins have locked down 5 of their 8 fielding positions. Mauer, Dozier, and Castro are the only guys I’m not sure I see on the Twins’ roster after next season. If the Twins are looking to win now, they will probably hold onto these guys through the end of their contracts. Sano could eventually go to 1st base when Mauer’s contract is due (after next season).
And then we get to the pitching staff…. Oh the pitching staff…
Here is the bright-side. 3-5 good moves can make this pitching staff one of the most talented in the league. Santana and Berrios are legitimate top 3 starters in the MLB. But neither are #1 starters. If the Twins pick up a legitimate #1, and then another starter who is seen as a top 3-4 guy, they have fixed their rotation. Let Gibson, Mejia, and anyone else who emerges, battle for the 5th spot.
The Bullpen needs growth from its young pitchers like Taylor Rogers, Trevor Hildenberger, and Alan Busenitz. It also needs a couple of top-end relievers. If the Twins can go out and get 2 back-end bullpen guys, their bullpen would be more than competent. The only big money spent on pitching would go to that #1 guy. The other starter, on the wish list below, would cost the same or less than Santana’s deal. Bullpen guys come on the cheap. Fixing the pitching isn’t as scary as it might seem.
So, if I am the Twins, here is my offseason wishlist, in order:
- #1 Starting Pitcher
- Top Back-End Bullpen Pitcher
- #2-4 Starting Pitcher
- Middle-order DH
Moves like these would show the fan-base that the Falvey and Levine are serious about building a contender, as quickly as possible. It looks like they are going to keep Molitor around which is a good idea. He has helped these players grow and pulling the plug now would send the wrong message and set this team back. Reports are that Molitor gets to keep his entire coaching staff too which is a little more surprising
This is a pretty good team. Normal development from their young guys will make them even better. The right offseason moves in free agency can make them really good.
Minnesota Sports Fan @RealMNSportsFan