- The Twins have a new manager and a renewed sense of energy. Can they knock off the Indians atop the AL Central?
2018 finish: 78-84, second in AL Central
SI's 2019 prediction: 90-72, first in AL Central
Key additions: DH Nelson Cruz, INF Jonathan Schoop, INF Marwin González, 1B C.J. Cron, RP Blake Parker
Key departures: SP Ervin Santana, INF Logan Forsythe, OF Robbie Grossman, 1B Joe Mauer (retired)
1. RF Max Kepler
2. SS Jorge Polanco
3. LF Eddie Rosario
4. DH Nelson Cruz
5. 1B C.J. Cron
6. 2B Jonathan Schoop
7. 3B Marwin González
8. C Jason Castro
9. CF Byron Buxton
C/1B Mitch Garver
C/INF/OF Willians Astudillo
INF/OF Ehire Adrianza
OF/1B Tyler Austin
OF Jake Cave
1. RHP José Berríos
2. RHP Kyle Gibson
3. RHP Jake Odorizzi
4. RHP Michael Pineda
RHP Blake Parker (closer)
RHP Trevor May
LHP Taylor Rogers
RHP Trevor Hildenberger
LHP Adalberto Mejía
RHP Ryne Harper
LHP Martín Pérez
Injured List: 3B Miguel Sanó, RHP Matt Magill, RHP Gabriel Moya, RHP Addison Reed
Movin On Up! This is Byron Buxton’s year! Finally. Maybe. He was preposterously bad last season while battling injuries—his .156 average was his best stat—but he is reportedly healthy this spring. He has still yet to put it together over a full season, but his tools are so sparkling and his ceiling so high that he still has a chance at the career that had scouts dreaming when he went No. 2 in the 2012 draft. He’s still only 25 years old.
Sell! Miguel Sanó has already disappointed—he was supposed to be a young David Ortiz—but he has shown no evidence of reversing his downward spiral. His career .244/.336/.477 slash line is barely above league average and he scuffled to worse stats than that in every category last year. His problems are not limited to the field: He was accused of, although not punished by the league for, sexually assaulting a female photographer in 2017. This winter he allegedly hit a police officer in the Dominican Republic with his truck, breaking the man’s leg. (Sanó has denied the sexual-assault allegations, and he was not charged in either case.)
Appreciate This Man! Marwin González is so good at his job that no one notices. When people do talk about him, it’s to praise his versatility—which is admittedly praiseworthy. He played all seven non-battery positions last year; he’d played six in four of the previous five seasons. In 2017, he became the first player in history to log 20 games each at first base, second base, shortstop and leftfield in the same year. Then he did it again in ’18. But he is not just a scrub piecing together a career by carrying around three gloves. González can hit: He struggled last year but had an .844 OPS in the second half, a year after finishing fifth in the AL in OPS+ (146). Fittingly, he does that with versatility, too: He’s a switch-hitter.
A Modest Proposal from Joe Sheehan: With three rebuilding teams behind them, and the Indians acting like one ahead of them, there’s an opportunity for the Twins to steal the AL Central. Critical to that will be a healthy Byron Buxton. Buxton, 25, played in just 28 games last year while battling migraines, a broken toe, and a strained left wrist. The Twins then denied him a late-season return so as to retain control of him through the 2022 season. This spring, though, Buxton is healthy and playing like the No. 2 overall pick he was in 2012. He has the highest upside of any Twins player, with speed that makes him both the best defensive center fielder in baseball (saving 24 runs on defense in his one full season), and one of its best base stealers (45/6 SB/CS, career). The Twins have put a winning team around Buxton through development and free agency; now, they just need their superstar.
MLB.TV rating: 5.0
It’s only even this high because Willians Astudillo—the rotund Twins backup catcher who famously scored from first on a double last year, then said, “I just wanted to show that chubby people can run”—is a delight. This team is shaky on fundamentals and lacks graceful defenders, and it plays in the least interesting division in the game. (This grade will rise if Byron Buxton plays up to his ability.)
Keep an Eye Out For... A first-round pick in 2017 out of Mississippi State, Brent Rooker is the possible future at first base in Minnesota after hitting 22 homers in Double A last season. Lewis Thorpe comes from Australia and has been in the Twins’ system forever, long hampered by injuries, but throws 95 from the left side and could be a late-season rotation option. Gonsalves has top prospect pedigree, though he was clobbered in his brief MLB stay last year, walking 22 in 24 2/3 innings and giving up 18 earned runs. Nick Gordon—son of Tom and brother of Dee—finally reached Triple A last season, four years after being the No. 5 pick of the 2014 draft, but struggled badly there. A good year there could make him a viable piece of Minnesota’s future infield in 2020.
What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?
Are they ever going to work on fundamentals? They don’t work on turning double plays or infield defense, pitchers covering first base, bunt situations, outfield relays. There’s not much going on in this camp. It’s an upstairs thing. This is a brand-new staff. The manager [Rocco Baldelli] has never managed. None of these guys have big league experience except Derek Shelton. Spring training’s the time when you get a lot of stuff established and they haven’t done it. All the computer gerbils have been hard at work, I’m sure, filming bullpens and whatever, but you still have to do some work on the field and they haven’t done it.
Who is the most overrated player on the team?
I’m not a huge fan of their catcher, Jason Castro. He’s supposedly a great hitter, but he hasn’t hit much. I’m also not a big fan of Max Kepler, who has yet to turn the corner offensively. This entire outfield is like that. Byron Buxton has all talent in world, but he’s only produced for part of a season. Buxton got the previous regime out of there because they expected so much of him and he crapped the bed. He can run, he’s a great defender, he can throw, but he has yet to hit over a full season in the big leagues. Kepler is good kid who worked hard, but he hit .220 last year. For a corner outfielder in the American League, that is not enough production.
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
Eddie Rosario. Everybody looks at the outfield and looks at Kepler and Buxton and forgets the only guy who actually produces. He strikes out too much, but he plays hard and works at his game. He uses the whole field and has some power.
What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?
Tyler Austin is a pretty good prospect. He makes good contact and has a little bit of power. It looks like he may come on. He’ll never be a star—they have nobody who’s gonna be a star—but he has a chance to be a productive major league player.
What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?
Jason Castro. They brought him in and he was supposed to be a good hitter, good framer, high-quality catcher. He has never done it for me. He can’t hit. Miguel Sanó was supposed to be their stud coming up. Last year he hit .199. He has a little bit of power, but he’s overweight. He’s been a bust. He thinks he’s a lot better hitter than he is and swings at a lot of bad pitches.
Who gets the most out of his talent?
Rosario. He’s a hard-nosed kid who swings the bat and plays very solid leftfield. I also like Jorge Polanco, although he’s out of position. He should be a second baseman.
Who gets the least out of his talent?
Sanó. It’s in there. The first thing he’s gotta do is get in shape. He looks better than last spring, but he’s got a long way to go.
Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?
Pineda throws real hard, with a nasty slider, but he’s gotta be healthy. That slider is a crackerjack. It breaks hard, with good spin.
Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?
I’m a huge Jonathan Schoop fan. He’s a great defender. If he gets his hands on the ball, you’re out. He was a very good player for a lot of years, but I think he felt out of place in Milwaukee.
Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?
Willians Astudillo. He’s a 5 o’clock hitter. He’s got big power and he loves to show it off. He loves to take big swings. They may keep him.
Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.
Polanco, and Buxton ’cause of pure talent.
Name the guy (or guys) on this teams that you would never want in your clubhouse.
Sanó. He’s always hurt and he’s always fat.
Whose effort could use a jolt?
Sanó. No question about that.
Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?
I trust Polanco or Rosario.
Who don’t you want in that situation?
Sanó. He’ll expand the zone and try to hit a home run.
Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?
If Blake Parker learns how to pitch on the fly, then it’s probably him. He could be a good late-inning bullpen guy.
Is the current manager one that you would hire to run your club?
No. I want an experienced guy to run my team. I want a guy that’s been there. [Baldelli] gives in too much to upper management’s touchy-feely stuff.
What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?
The ceiling is a winning season. Maybe if everything breaks right, they could contend, but I doubt it. Over three years, it’s gonna depend on guys making progress.
Emptying the Notebook:
José Berríos has the tools to become an ace. … This club doesn’t finish off hitters as a pitching staff. I fear a college pitching coach—I don’t know how much they’re gonna move forward with him. … They’re gonna have to sort out the bullpen. They have no closer. They’re gonna try Blake Parker. They’ve got some pretty good arms out there, but the arms are gonna have to step up. Addison Reed is done. I like the sidewheeler, Trevor Hildenberger, but he’s a middle reliever. … If Tom Kelly came back and saw this, he would throw up. Old baseball guys considered Minnesota to be a model of fundamentals. That model is broken. … Michael Pineda is gonna be a key for them if he’s healthy because he’s a big, strong guy with great stuff, but he’s had health issues. … Jorge Polanco is a good defender at second base, but average at shortstop. He should be a second baseman, but they got Schoop instead of a shortstop. … The division is so bad, that they’re gonna win games. They’ve got some talent.