To say the Minnesota Twins turned things around in 2017 would be an understatement. After losing a franchise record 103 games in 2016 the Twins were looking like they were a few years away from contending even for a Wild Card berth. Byron Buxton had struggled to live up to the hype and Jose Berrios definitely needed some seasoning. Just when most people thought the Twins would finish in the bottom five again in the American League, something happened. Everything started to click as the Twins won 85 games in 2017, and made it to the playoffs. Although they were knocked out by an impressive New York Yankees team who came within a game of the World Series, the Twins showed they were going to be a team to be reckoned with.
2018 Minnesota Twins Season Preview
The Twins will come into this season with higher expectations to build on what they were able to accomplish last year. While they still have a tough Cleveland Indians squad in their division, the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and Kansas City Royals are not expected to do much as they are all in different modes of rebuilding. That being said, here are a few things to keep an eye on with the Twins in 2018.
The Development of the Young Players
The 2017 season did not start off well for Byron Buxton. It was looking like the same story and there were grumblings that maybe Buxton would wind up being a bust. But after a first-half slash line of .216/.288/.306, he got his act together. While playing incredible defense throughout the season and cementing himself as arguably the best centerfielder, if not all around defender in the league, Buxton hit a robust .300/.347/.546 in the second half. He is only 24 years old. If the second half of last season was any indication, he will be a superstar for years to come.
Miguel Sano is another player who had an off season in 2016. The Twins tried him in right field and that experiment was a failure. It also affected Sano’s hitting. He went back to his natural position at third base in 2017 and improved his OPS by 78 points. Sano is also still young and won’t turn 25 until May. He should continue to be the power threat in the middle of the Twins lineup.
On the pitching side, Jose Berrios took a big step forward. Another player with high expectations, Berrios failed miserably in his first taste of the majors in 2016 to the tune of an 8.02 ERA and a 1.40 K/BB. Putting that season behind him, Berrios turned in a very good sophomore campaign improving to a 3.89 ERA and 2.90 K/BB. He has only thrown 204 major league innings and, like Buxton should only get better moving forward.
The Pitching Staff
Ervin Santana was looking like a Cy Young candidate for the first two months of the season pitching to a 1.75 ERA and a 7-2 record. He hit his struggles, but ultimately evened out to finish at a 3.28 ERA and 16-8 record. While Santana just turned 35, he still threw over 210 innings last year. Adalberto Mejia is another starter who should make the rotation this year. The big left-hander came over from the Giants for Eduardo Nunez at the trading deadline in 2016. He made 21 starts last year and has plenty of stuff to be a solid major league starter.
The bullpen is considerably better this year. The acquisitions of Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke, and Addison Reed have improved what was a weakness last season. Last year after the trade of Brandon Kintzler in July the bullpen was shuffled around and there were no defined roles. This was especially hard on the younger players like Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, and Ryan Pressly. With assignments more clearly defined, the Twins bullpen should improve as everyone settles into their roles.
Free Agents and What’s Next
Yu Darvish is still the big fish the Twins are hoping to land in free agency. They realize pitching was an issue last year and have already addressed the bullpen. The new front office seems willing and able to spend some money now that they are in a strong position to make a deep run in the playoffs over the next few years. The Twins remain one of the teams in the hunt for Darvish’s services. He also has a relationship with Thad Levine, the Twins Senior VP, and GM. Levine was with the Rangers when they signed Darvish from Japan.
A large part of their willingness to spend money is that Joe Mauer is in the last year of his contract. That will be $23 million off the books next year. The Twins may want to sign Brian Dozier long term. He will also be a free agent after this season but they have the option of bidding with anyone for a top-notch starter. The Twins realize scoring isn’t a problem. They finished fourth in the American League in runs with 815. The Twins are doing what they can to take advantage of their window. The ownership and front office know that this is their time. The younger players should improve and they have strengthened the bullpen. Getting a number one starter could be the final piece securing a Twins a playoff berth in 2018 and beyond.
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