Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be previewing each team by eavesdropping on an extended conversation about them. For the full archive of each 2018 team preview, click here.
Minnesota Twins PECOTA Projections:
Runs Scored: 796
Runs Allowed: 780
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .255/.329/.433 (.257)
Total WARP: 26.7 (9.9 pitching, 16.8 non-pitching)
Aaron Gleeman: Lance Lynn, Logan Morrison, Addison Reed, Jake Odorizzi, Fernando Rodney, and Zach Duke, all acquired without giving up a single top-10 prospect or a contract longer than two years. I think the Twins had a great offseason. However, having also previewed the Indians earlier this week, I’m hoping that everyone in Minnesota realizes there are probably still a few stops on the hype train between “had a great offseason” and “will seriously challenge the Indians in the AL Central.”
I’m certainly not saying the Indians are unbeatable, or that the Twins don’t have the upside to blow past their PECOTA projections on the way to 90-plus wins, but … well, Cleveland is really good and really deep and won the division by 17 games last season. Where are you at in terms of balancing offseason success vs. season-long expectations?
Parker Hageman: There’s no question that you have to look back on the moves this offseason and consider it a success. And, like you said, the results of it will probably set the Twins up to be a postseason contender and have an outside chance to challenge the Indians in the AL Central—you know, if the Indians’ entire rotation gets a season-long case of food poisoning or something.
It was probably a very opportunistic offseason for the Twins and it’s possible the blueprint changed from the beginning to the end. The Twins would make a move, like signing Morrison, and then chief baseball officer Derek Falvey would tell the media “this is it, this is our squad, ride or die” … and then turn around and sign Lynn a week later.
Consider where the Twins were at in December. Back then they targeting Yu Darvish—which seemed strange given the status of the team. No doubt Darvish is sexy af, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30 and wanted more than five years. Plus, the Twins did not feel one starter away from being the Indians’ equals. They still may have added Reed, Rodney, and Duke to the bullpen regardless of whether they added Darvish, but it’s likely they wouldn’t have targeted either Odorizzi or Lynn. Morrison may have also been a casualty of a Darvish contract. What ultimately happened—Darvish opting for the Cubs and turning down the Twins’ offer—allowed them to be more creative with that money.
And by the way, you didn’t even mention Michael Pineda, whom I felt was a very savvy signing with eyes to the future. Going over that list of offseason additions, this front office has to be thrilled by what they paid for their makeover.
Gleeman: I still think Darvish for $135 million or so would have looked damn good in Target Field, but I agree the fallback plan worked out just as well. It does, however, offer considerably less upside, at least in terms of the pitching staff. There’s no doubt that the Twins’ pitching is better than last season, and miles better than the 2011-2017 staffs as a whole, but I’m not sure there’s much upside beyond Jose Berrios. At least on the Opening Day roster, that is.
Top prospects Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves figure to debut at some point this season, and guys like Tyler Jay, Zack Littell, Gabriel Moya, and even Adalberto Mejia could provide midseason boosts, but the rotation is long on solid third or fourth starters and short on guys you’d want taking the mound in a playoff game. Gotta walk before you can run, though, at least after Darvish didn’t let you catch him.
Hageman: It does feel better than last year when the rotation’s cavalry was Nik Turley and Dillon Gee. With Ervin Santana being out for a while following finger surgery, if you can go through the rest of the season with Santana, Berrios, Lynn, and Odorizzi, you have to be happy with the improvements. And, since you didn’t give anything up this winter, you probably have the opportunity to add an arm if necessary at the deadline. Or, hell, maybe Bartolo Colon will want to come back.
I think Falvey has been pretty open about his beliefs when it comes to developing pitching in order to be a successful franchise. It’s a slow burn in that regard. They made some good hires on the player development side and have instituted new practices that should help some of those arms you mentioned make quicker leaps—whether it’s focusing on using a superior pitch or tinkering with others. For instance, I’ve been told they are installing a Rapsodo pitch tracker in the Rochester bullpen for the pitchers to utilize.
Gleeman: I actually like the Twins’ pitching depth. In the bullpen and the rotation, they have tons of decent options. Solid quasi-prospects like Mejia and Alan Busenitz are destined for Triple-A, they aren’t tempted to promote the real prospects ahead of schedule, and they should have Trevor May back in the mix by midseason. Like you said, it’s so much less hideous than the next-man-up options they’ve had in recent years. I just think they’re still lacking 1-2 impact arms, but that’s a hard problem to solve in one offseason and it might solve itself eventually if Berrios and Romero both pan out fully.
Also: It’s a good feeling to have confidence that the people making decisions are not only up to speed on modern baseball analysis and technology, but are probably several steps ahead of the public. Twins fans are, uh, not used to that. But man, after talking to their new director of baseball operations, Daniel Adler, for 90 minutes last month, it’s hard not to feel like things are in good hands.
Let’s switch to the offensive side of things. Was there a role you felt they should have looked to upgrade during the offseason? Or did you think they were pretty much set as a lineup, and thus the Morrison addition was just icing on the cake?
Hageman: I didn’t see any glaring need from the offensive side. You could go get a veteran bench bat (which they did, sort of, in Morrison) or improve at the backup catcher spot. I like Mitch Garver and his potential, but he’s still sort of raw. The front office and coaching staff have raved about his defensive improvements in regard to pitch framing and throwing out runners, but Garver doesn’t seem elite on that side of the ball. His bat, on the other hand, complements Jason Castro’s well. He’s got pop but he got chewed up a bit in his appearances last year. It seems like he might benefit from consistent playing time versus being a two-or-three-games-a-week guy.
There does seem to be a lot riding on young hitters to make the next steps forward or carry over 2017 hot steaks into this season. Guys like Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, and Byron Buxton all had hot and cold spells. Even Miguel Sano’s production was up and down. That’s half the lineup. What if Kepler can’t handle lefties? What if Rosario’s free-swinging approach sinks him? What if Buxton can’t remember if he should leg kick or toe tap? What if Sano balloons to 500 pounds like many in the local media think he will? What if a meteor falls on Target Field?
Are you confident in this lineup’s ability to score runs?
Gleeman: PECOTA’s projections for the Twins’ offense are interesting, because no hitters are expected to have big, breakout seasons—in fact, nearly every regular is projected to be slightly worse than last season and only Sano is projected for a True Average above .270—yet the lineup as a whole is projected to score the fourth-most runs in the league. There are so many young, talented possible breakout candidates—including Buxton, Rosario, and Polanco, who already had monster second halves last year—that it’s hard not to start dreaming on this offense as a potentially great one.
PECOTA sees it as a good, solid, deep lineup with no superstars but also no major weak spots, but there’s more upside there. And like you noted, there’s probably more downside, too. Aside from Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, and Jason Castro, we just don’t have a firm grasp on what each hitter’s true talent level is yet. That’s exciting, but also kind of scary.
I’m been driving the Buxton bandwagon from Day 1, even when it was empty and people were throwing tomatoes at us as we drove by, so I’m obviously betting on him as the big breakout. Who do you see as the best breakout bet?
Hageman: The Byron Buxton Breakout has been several years in the making, that’s for sure. We’ve been teased a bit over the last two seasons with some offensive production, but he’s had stretches of looking completely lost at the plate. PECOTA shows him staring down a .252/.311/.444 line in 2018, which is probably a low target. Maybe it’s because I’ve been lusting after him since he was described as a “Super Magic Unicorn Good” prospect by former BP staffer Jason Parks, but I’d take the over on that projection. How far over that line is dependent on his ability to make contact—even when things were going swimmingly, Buxton still was whiff prone.
As far as breakout bets go? It’s hard to say with this lineup considering a lot of them had decent 2017 seasons. Buxton has the highest ceiling, so he’s capable of doing a lot more damage. Kepler still has to prove he can hit lefties, but he’s a supreme athlete. He has been working with hitting coach James Rowson on some swing tweaks this spring—which worked well for Buxton, Rosario, and Polanco last year—so I would look for Kepler to have a breakout year.
Gleeman: In terms of collapses, I don’t see many strong candidates aside from 41-year-old Fernando Rodney, but even he pitched a lot better than he got credit for last season. I’m a little worried about Trevor Hildenberger having lingering issues stemming from last season’s heavy second-half workload, because if healthy he has a chance to be a late-inning weapon. I’m also a little worried that if Sano can’t play third base regularly coming off leg surgery, then he’s taking at-bats from either Morrison or Mauer. Which is fine, except not being able to get all three of them into the lineup together would ruin a lot of plans. With that said, Eduardo Escobar is a damn good fallback option at third base, and also gives the Twins some cover for other injuries.
This is probably more about 2019 and beyond than about 2018, but whatever: If you had to guess, will Dozier and Mauer be on the Twins’ roster this time next year? I’ll predict that Dozier won’t be—they’ll let him walk and take a draft pick—but Mauer will re-sign on a one-year deal worth around $8 million.
Hageman: If Paul Molitor is forced to use Sano at designated hitter more it does present a challenge, but I can also see a positive slant. In theory, you could match Morrison/Sano against lefties where you want more pop and give Mauer a rest, or Mauer/Sano versus others when you need to get guys on base. Against right-handers you could use Mauer/Morrison and give Sano some rest. Yes, not having three of your better bats in the lineup everyday hinders the production, but there’s something to be said for maximizing each hitter’s attributes as well as necessary days off during the marathon of a season. And, like you said, Escobar is a decent fallback. After all, #Ed hit 11 home runs over the last two months of the season in Sano’s absence.
In regard to Dozier and Mauer, I’m inclined to agree with you. I do think there are still scenarios where Mauer simply walks away at the end of the year (maybe some more injuries or something stupid happens like the Twins win the World Series), but all things being equal, and because we live in a reality-based world, I agree that the Twins’ front office seems to think they could replace Dozier’s production either internally (a prospect like Nick Gordon) or on the free agent market. Second base is not the premium position it once was. It would hurt to lose Dozier’s power production and clubhouse leadership, though.
Gleeman: OK, final prediction time! PECOTA has them at 83 wins, which I think is reasonable except for two things. First, as we discussed earlier, there are so many young, upside-filled hitters in the lineup coming off big second halves seemingly fueled by legitimate approach changes, that I see at least a couple of them breaking through to take the offense even higher. Second, the fact that three teams in the division are barely trying to be competitive and project among the very worst teams in baseball can’t help but inflate the Twins’ win total. It won’t necessarily help them in the division race, because the Indians get the same benefit, but it should help them in the Wild Card race and I think it will get them to 88 wins.
Hageman: If I were the betting type, I would hammer the over on that 83-win PECOTA projection as well.
I expect this team to allow fewer runs in 2018. Last year, they surrendered 788 runs to rank ninth in the AL. They have a lot of ground to make up if they’re going to even approach the Indians in run prevention—a team that allowed 224 fewer runs than the Twins a year ago–but I can see them moving the needle enough that it impacts their record. The very good defensive unit returns intact from last year, and with the additions to the rotation and the bullpen, unless something goes seriously pear-shaped you have to anticipate a reduction there. Let’s say they get that down to around 700. The offense, on the other hand, seems like it will stay in the same ballpark–800 runs. That Pythagorean recipe gives them about 90 wins. I honestly feel comfortable saying that: The 2018 Twins could win 90 games.
Of course, I still wouldn’t overlook the possibility of a complete Homer At The Bat-type roster meltdown either.