MLB Spring Training: Minnesota Twins Full Preview

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2015 Minnesota Twins in review

83-79, 2nd in AL Central, 7th in AL

Top three hitters: 2B Brian Dozier (.236, 28 HR, 77 RBI), 3B Trevor Plouffe (.244, 22 HR, 86 RBI), RF Torii Hunter (.240, 22 HR, 81 RBI)

Top three pitchers: RHP Kyle Gibson (11-11, 3.84 ERA), RHP Phil Hughes (11-9, 4.40 ERA), CL Glen Perkins (32 SV, 3.32 ERA)

 

Key offseason transactions

Additions: 1B Byung-ho Park (free agent), C John Ryan Murphy (via trade), C John Hicks (claimed off waivers), LF Carlos Quentin (free agent)

Losses: RF Torii Hunter (retired), CF Aaron Hicks (trade), RHP Mike Pelfrey (elected free agency), LHP Neal Cotts (elected free agency), LHP Brian Duensing (elected free agency)

 

Rotation

  1. Ervin Santana
  2. Phil Hughes
  3. Kyle Gibson
  4. Ricky Nolasco
  5. Tommy Milone

Assuming he stays healthy, the Twins’ rotation will get a big boost this season with the return of Ervin Santana, a year removed from an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. In 17 starts last year, Santana compiled a 7-5 mark with a 4.00 ERA. At full strength, Santana should be good for double-digit wins this season.

Mar 13, 2015; Bradenton, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana (54) pitches during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 13, 2015; Bradenton, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana (54) pitches during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Phil Hughes will be a mainstay in the rotation for the third year. In 2015, the right-hander saw a 0.88 point spike in ERA up to 4.40, but he did reach double-digit wins for the third time in the past four seasons. He’ll allow his fair share of hits (10.7/9 IP last season), but he continues to pound the strike zone (5.88 K/BB) and work as a quality innings-eater for the Twins.

Kyle Gibson was by far the top starter for Minnesota last season, given Santana’s suspension. Gibson continued to show signs of growth, going 11-11 with a team-low (among starters) 3.84 ERA. If the 27-year-old can continue his progression, it makes for a formidable 1-2-3 punch in Minnesota.

Ricky Nolasco and Tommy Milone will round out the rotation. Milone had a respectable first full season in Minnesota, working his way to a 9-5 mark with a 3.92 ERA, while Nolasco struggled with injuries, leading to a 5-2 record and a 6.75 ERA. The good news for the Twins is that Nolasco has fairly high floor, somewhere in the range of six or seven wins, meaning there is some value there. It’s a question of whether he can ever return to the form he showcased with the Marlins from 2006-2013. Nolasco had seven double-digit win seasons in that span.

Lineup

  1. CF Byron Buxton
  2. 2B Brian Dozier
  3. 1B Joe Mauer
  4. RF Miguel Sano
  5. 3B Trevor Plouffe
  6. LF Eddie Rosario
  7. DH Byung-ho Park
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. SS Eduardo Escobar

The Twins’ lineup will look considerably different this season following the loss of Torii Hunter and the additions of KBO star Byung-ho Park (2x KBO MVP), catcher John Ryan Murphy (acquired from Yankees via trade) and Byron Buxton playing full-time.

However, the mainstays in the lineup, all still in Minnesota minus Hunter, provided a solid offensive attack last season and should continue to do more of the same this year. Dozier is coming off a career year in which he led all second basemen in home runs (28), ranked second in RBI (77) and third in doubles (39). Joe Mauer will continue to be good for 10-plus home runs, 60-plus RBI and 140-plus hits and provides as a good a veteran presence as you’ll find. Miguel Sano (.269, 18 HR, 52 RBI) looks poised to take over a full-time role in the lineup, most likely in right field, so the loss of Hunter shouldn’t hurt the Twins too much.

Trevor Plouffe, who hit 20-plus home runs for the second time in his career last season, returns at the hot corner. Kurt Suzuki, who ranked fifth among AL catchers in RBI last season (50), will work the receiving end of the battery. Left fielder Eddie Rosario, who had a fine rookie campaign, as well as Eduardo Escobar, who had by far the best year of his career, also return to the lineup.

Mar 10, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (70) works out prior to the spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (70) works out prior to the spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

If Byron Buxton can take another step this season, the Twins will be a team to look out for in the postseason push. Buxton, the MLB’s No. 1 prospect, saw limited action with the big club last season and struggled (.209, 2 HR, 6 RBI), but flashed signs of promise. He’s part of a very select group of players with five-tool ability and Minnesota fans have a great deal to be excited about, despite his struggles in 2015 at the major league level. The arrival of KBO slugger Byung-ho Park should be another factor in determining Minnesota’s success this season. Park, a two-time KBO MVP, has smacked 50-plus home runs each of the past two seasons in Korea and has recorded four consecutive 100-RBI seasons.

Bullpen

Glen Perkins will continue to be one of the most reliable closers in the league. The 32-year-old three-time All-Star has notched 30-plus saves in each of the past three seasons and should reach that metric again this year.

Beyond Perkins, however, the bullpen gets a bit shaky. The losses of Brian Duensing (55 appearances) and Neal Cotts (17 appearances) certainly don’t help, leaving the pen very right-hand heavy. The only notable returning southpaw to the bullpen in Minnesota is Aaron Thompson (41 appearances, 5.01 ERA).

Blaine Boyer, Casey Fien and Trevor May will be the determining relievers this year, tasked with holding leads until Perkins is ready in late-game situations. As a result of the relatively weak pen, don’t be surprised if Perkins enters games in four-plus out save situations.

 

2016 outlook

Coming off a second place finish in the AL Central last season, there’s certainly reason for optimism in Minnesota in 2016. A talented core returns and a revamped pitching rotation are signs of good things to come. The Central will be a treacherous division, however, this season, with stiff competition being provided by the defending champion Royals, White Sox and Indians.

In USA Today’s 2016 MLB predictions, every team in the Central reached the 80-win plateau. Unfortunately, for Twins fans, Minnesota finished last at 80-82.

What do you think about the Twins’ chances in 2016? Let us know in the comment section below.