2018 Season Preview: Minnesota Twins

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Allowed

85-77

84-78

81-81

815

788

The 2017 season was surprisingly successful for the Minnesota Twins, ending in a loss to the Yankees in the A.L. wildcard game. Entering the season with little in the way of playoff aspirations, the Twins rode a solid offense and improved defense to an 85-77 record. Some key young players took steps forward, with Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios finally living up to their prospect hype.

The position players as a whole thrived, with very few individuals putting up below-replacement performances. Avoiding these black holes in the lineup helped the team finish with a 102 wRC+, good for fifth in the league. For the most part, this offense came from steps forward from younger hitters like Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano. Brian Dozier put up another stellar season, finishing with 5.0 fWAR, proving his 2016 wasn’t a fluke. The Twins’ major weakness in 2017 was unequivocally the pitching staff, especially the starting pitching options. Small steps forward from Berrios and Kyle Gibson, as well as a luck-filled 3.28 ERA from Ervin Santana, managed to keep the team afloat. Outside of these options, however, was a mess of poor performances as the Twins gave almost 300 innings to players with 0.0 WAR or lower.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi, Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney

Content to stick with their incumbent offense, the Twins’ major moves revolved around improving their putrid pitching. Signing a back-loaded two year, $10 million deal, Michael Pineda looks to recover quickly from Tommy John surgery, potentially pitching for the team by August. Odorizzi was grabbed on the cheap in mid-February, with the Twins betting he can rebound from his 5.43 FIP/5.10 xFIP in 2017. Rodney and Reed were similarly grabbed for less than expected, with concerns over the former’s age and the latter’s August velocity dip scaring some teams off. The two look to solidify the 8th and 9th innings for the Twins, both having enough recent closers’ experience to warrant taking over the 9th inning duties.

Key Losses – Hector Santiago, Bartolo Colon

The few players leaving in free agency this offseason should improve the Twins in 2018, as Santiago, Colon, and Dillon Gee were quite terrible in 2017. The biggest potential impact to the team’s roster could come in the form of a suspension of Miguel Sano, following off-season sexual harassment claims leading the MLB to start an investigating into Sano’s past behavior. Sano recently had a discussion with the MLB, which should mean a decision on this misconduct should come soon.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 83-79

81-81

80-82

Steamer and Pecota don’t fully buy the Twins’ improvements carrying over into 2018, projecting a 2nd place finish in the AL Central, well behind the Indians. Expected regression across the offense, especially from Buxton (3.8 sWAR) and Dozier (3.8 sWAR), offset the additions made to the pitching staff, as the depth and back-end options in both the rotation and bullpen look to hold the Twins back again.

Key Players:

Averaging 4.7 WAR over the last four seasons, Brian Dozier has improved almost every aspect of his game after debuting in the big leagues as a largely unheralded prospect. Dozier epitomizes the power surge seen across the league, transforming from a light-hitting SS prospect into one of the better power hitters in the AL. Byron Buxton finally began living up to his tantalizing skill set and athleticism last year. Most scenarios that involve another playoff appearance by the Twins revolve around Buxton finding some consistency at the plate to go with his great defense and speed. Taken 30 picks later in the 2012 draft, Jose Berrios has had a similarly uneven path to the pros. Possessing three good pitches in his fastball, curveball, and slider, Berrios has the best chance of becoming a top-of-the-rotation option for the Twins in 2018. Kyle Gibson is boring in every conceivable way, making him the most Twins pitcher since Nick Blackburn hung up his cleats in 2013.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Royce Lewis, the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, looks to provide great speed and enough defense to stick at SS long-term. Nick Gordon showed improved power in 2017 and will eventually make a transition to 2B to create a formidable double-play combo with Lewis. Both players possess good speed and hope to hit enough to be above-average hitters in the majors. With the graduation of Berrios, Stephen Gonsalves becomes the best pitching prospect in the Twins system. While he doesn’t have the ceiling of Berrios, his good change-up and low 90s fastball lead many to project him as a solid mid-rotation starter.

Future Outlook:

After a surprising wild-card run in 2017, the Twins look primed for a setback in the coming season. While the pitching staff will most likely hold the team back again in 2018, the future looks bright. Buxton, Sano, and Berrios should be cornerstones for the next good Twins team, with lots of interesting role players stepping up alongside them in 2017. A second wave of prospects who are close to the majors, combined with lots of future payroll flexibility, should allow the Twins to build a team with a strong chance of competing for the AL Central in the coming years.

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