The annual AL Central Previews are back for 2017 at IBI as Jake Dungan goes team by team and examines the strengths and weaknesses of each club heading into the new season as well as how competitive they will be in the divisional race. Be sure to check out our other team previews of the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals.
|2016 Statistical Rankings|
|Statistic||Division Rank||MLB Rank|
Key Offseason Additions
- Jason Castro
- J.B. Shuck
- Drew Stubbs
- Ryan Vogelsong
- Craig Breslow
- Nick Tepesch
- Chris Gimenez
- Matt Belisle
- Ben Paulsen
- Tommy Field
- Matt Hague
Key Offseason Subtractions
- Kurt Suzuki
- Trevor Plouffe
Given their recent history, someone might look at the Minnesota Twins, see they lost 103 games last season and write them off as any kind of playoff threat for 2017. While it is true that times have taken a turn for the dismal in the Twin Cities over the last six years, there may be more than meets the eye with this young and intriguing bunch of players.
Let's take a look at what the new year could bring for this Minnesota ballclub...
While their record may not show it yet, what the Minnesota Twins do have above all is talent. Obviously, Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer are the big names with track records of All-Star level success, but up-and-coming stars such as Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Jose Berrios are just some of the aforementioned young players who make up this roster. All have already shown flashes of what kind of upside they possess and could meld together into a strong core of talent for the foreseeable future.
Also despite having the most losses in baseball in 2016, the Twins were far from the worst team offensively posting numbers that were middle-of-the-pack among major league clubs. In fact, they finished third in the division in runs scored (722), team OPS (.738) and wRC+ (95). Between Dozier, Sano and Kepler, there's a lot of power that can be tapped into. Plus, if Byung-ho Park can find the success he had overseas, Minnesota could have one of the tougher lineups in baseball. The offseason additions of veterans like Jason Castro, Drew Stubbs and J.B. Shuck can also help offensively to add some additional power and speed to the lineup.
So why did the Twins lose 103 games last season? You don't have to look much further than their pitching staff, which was statistically one of the worst in baseball across the board as only six of the 29 pitchers to take the mound for Minnesota posted ERA marks under four. Their starting rotation in particular saw considerable struggles last season posting an MLB-worst ERA of 5.39 and the lowest strikeout-per-nine-inning rate of 6.73 as opposing teams batted a league-high .284 against Twins starters. While they have veterans such as Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago in their rotation, it will be up to their young arms like top pitching prospect Jose Berrios to turn the ship around.
Things were just as bad for them on defense last season as only the Oakland Athleics posted poorer fielding metrics in both major categories. A few of the biggest "contributors" to this futility have since moved on such as Trevor Plouffe, Kurt Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez, but many of the primary culprits still remain in Robbie Grossman, Miguel Sano, Danny Santana, Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar, all of whom posted negative marks in defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating. Another contributing factor to these defensive shortcomings was trying to find a home position for Sano. It'll be interesting to see if they keep him in right field after his subpar -8 DRS and -2.5 UZR in 312.2 innings last year on top of his decline in offensive production. In 2015, the Twins were an average team defensively at best, so 2017 should be a good indicator as to whether last season was a fluke.
The strength of the Minnesota Twins lies in their young pool of talent, but it also is the biggest wild card for them for the near future as they continue to weed out which players are the real deal and which are not likely to reach their full potential. This process will likely continue in 2017 as more players work their way up to the big league level. Guys like Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios and Max Kepler will be under the microscope during the upcoming campaign as they get more playing time.
Byung-ho Park will also be subject to heavy scrutiny during the season as one of the team's biggest investments. After batting just .191 with 12 homers and 24 RBI's in 62 games and striking out over 32% of time, Park was sent down to the minors where he continued to show his power clubbing 10 homers in just 31 games, but still batting just .224 and striking out 32 times in 116 at-bats. This offseason, the Twins designated Park for assignment to clear a spot on their roster. He went unclaimed on waivers, though, so he is still in the Twins system and has a chance to make it back up to Minneapolis. At 30 years old, 2017 will likely be the make-or-break year for the Korean slugger as the Twins will look to continue to get younger.
The Twins will go as far as their young talent takes them, but they will also need their pitching staff to step up and become a more reliable unit. Their chances of winning the division are not very favorable, but they will, however, continue to be a pest for a lot of teams regardless of talent or record. One thing is almost certain, though, this is not going to be another 100-loss team in 2017. The question is how much will they improve?
2016 Final Record: 59-103, 5th in AL Central
PECOTA Projection: 80-82, 2nd in AL Central
My Projection: 81-81, 3rd in AL Central