Posted on March 13, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The 2016 season was a disaster for the Minnesota Twins, and that’s putting it kindly. But the slate has been wiped clean heading into 2017. Expectations are understandably low after last season, so there’s nowhere to go but up. Can the Twins surprise some people and work their way out of the AL Central baseman or will be another woeful year in the Twin Cities?
Minnesota’s rotation was the worst in baseball last season, meaning there’s nowhere to go but up. Ervin Santana remains at the top of the rotation and pitched far better than the 7-win pitcher he was a year ago. The Twins should be able to rely on him, but they’ll obviously need to a lot more than one competent starter.
The trio of Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson, and Phil Hughes will determine just how good Minnesota’s rotation is this year. Santiago was a quality starter for several years until taking a step back last season. If he can bounce back, Santiago will be a perfect complement to Santana at the top of the rotation. Gibson also took a big step backward last year but could be an asset if he can regain his form from 2015. Hughes, meanwhile, is coming off a knee injury that kept him out the second half of last season, but if healthy, he’s capable of being a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.
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Unfortunately, the Twins are still lacking in rotation depth, especially with Trevor May out for the season, as many of their top pitching prospects are at least a year away from the majors. The lone exception could be Jose Berrios, who struggled in 14 starts with the Twins last year but has the ceiling of a frontline starter, making him a potential X-factor in Minnesota’s rotation.
Minnesota’s bullpen was the worst in the American League last year, and much like the rotation, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Part of the problem last season was the absence of closer Glen Perkins, who made just two appearances before succumbing to a shoulder injury. There’s no guarantee Perkins will return to full health this season, but if he does, the Twins should be in good position in the back end of their bullpen, especially after Brandon Kintzier proved to be a solid closer last year.
Beyond the duo of Perkins and Kintzier, the Twins have a couple of reliable setup men in Ryan Pressly and Taylor Rogers, who both proved their worth last year. However, the depth beyond in Minnesota’s bullpen beyond that remains a question mark.
Offensively, the Twins were fine last year, but there’s still much room for improvement this year. Despite a wave of trade rumors, second baseman Brian Dozier remains with the Twins, and along with Joe Mauer, he should help to anchor Minnesota’s lineup in 2017.
The key for the Twins offensively in 2017 will be the performance of a slew of young players who are high on potential but have yet to produce in the big leagues consistently. Miguel Sano may be the most important player in Minnesota’s lineup. The 23-year old flashed star potential as a rookie in 2015 but took a slight step back year. If he can bounce back, he can be the middle-of-the-order bat the Twins need hitting alongside Dozier. The same is true to a lesser extent with left fielder Eddie Rosario.
The Twins also have a trio of young players in Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, and Max Kepler they hope can have breakout seasons. Buxton is a five-tool talent with an outrageously high ceiling who finally started to show glimpses of his potential last September. If he can build on his strong finish last season, it’ll be great news for the Twins. Polanco also showed signs of his potential last year and is now penciled in to be the team’s every-day shortstop in 2017. As for Kepler, the native of Germany had his ups and downs last year, but he’s a player who figures to get better the more he plays.
The Twins are a long shot to make the playoffs this year, but they should certainly be better than the team that loss 103 games in 2016. The pitching staff has plenty of question marks, but they certainly have the potential to avoid having the worst staff in the American League as they did last year. Offensively, there are few guarantees outside of Dozier, but the upside of Sano, Buxton, and a few others provides hope for the Twins.
Look for Minnesota to finish 70-92 this season. On paper, it’s not a great record, but most teams will take an 11-win improvement from the previous season. The Twins still don’t have the pitching they need, but many several of their young position players should be exciting to watch develop.