John Lepore | March 15th, 2020
The Minnesota Twins finished the season with 101 wins crossing the 100-win mark for just the second time ever (102 wins in 1965). The Bomba Squad set the Major League record for homers in a season with 307, but they couldn’t get past their playoff kryptonite in the New York Yankees and fell 3-0 in the ALDS. That was last year. Now, let’s look forward to the 2020 season, whenever that starts.
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The Twins have made some moves this offseason and are poised to make another run at a title. Brining in the Bringer of Rain himself was a big move bolstering the defense as well as adding to an already potent offense. The loss of Kyle Gibson and the suspension of Michael Pineda were covered by the trade for Kenta Maeda and the signings of Homer Bailey and Jhoulys Chacin. This team won 101 last year and actually improved. Let’s take a look at who will be playing at Target Field this season.
Garver broke out in a big way last season blasting 31 HRs in just 93 games while slashing .273/.365/.630. He made big jumps in his batted-ball metrics, and while a regression could happen, it shouldn’t be drastic enough to keep him from being a top-5 catcher in baseball. Sano moves to first base this season. The big guy hits the ball as hard as anyone in the game (21.2% Barrel, 94.4mph AEV, 57.2% HH Rate). He’s never had more than 500 PAs in a season. If Sano can stay healthy, he has the ability to hit 50 bombs. Arraez came on the scene to bat .334 in 92 games last year. His batted-ball metrics point to regression, but with his elite plate discipline (36/29 BB/K rate), he should still be a .300 hitter. Josh Donaldson was the big signing for the Twins. He plays elite defense (8 Outs Above Average) and still showed great offensive production slashing .259/.379/.521 with 37 HRs and an impressive 100/155 BB/K rate. His defense should help Jorge Polanco as well. Polanco had -16 OAA which was dead last out of 35 qualified shortstops. Without having to go to his right as much with Donaldson at third instead of Sano, Polanco should improve on that number. Offensively, the Twins SS has come into his own. He has improved all of his batted-ball metrics over the past two seasons so regression is unlikely for the 26-year-old.
Rosario is a solid power hitter with bad plate discipline. He has been hitting the ball harder the last two seasons and the power is real, but his defense could use some work although he does have a good arm. Buxton is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball when he is on the field. That has been his issue more than anything else. If he can play 140 games like he did in 2017, he will save tons of runs and likely hit 20 HRs with 40 swipes. Kepler took a big step forward in 2019. The German right fielder set career highs in all offensive categories last year. His progress has been pretty linear since being signed as a 16-year-old in 2009. Look for Max to continue to improve. The old man is still getting it done at 39 years old. He’s had 244 HRs since 2014 and had 41 last season in only 120 games. There is no reason to think the Boomstick won’t keep it up.
Starting Rotation Projections
Berrios is the ace of this staff and will start on Opening Day whenever the season gets underway. Now with 103 major league starts under his belt, he is another player whose development has been linear. Berrios has improved his K/BB Rate from 2017-2019 (2.90-3.31-3.82) and threw 200.1 innings last year after 192.2 in 2018. Look for him to be in the Cy Young conversation this season. Jake Odorizzi comes back after accepting the qualifying offer. He had one of his best seasons in 2019 going 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA and a career-high 178 Ks. If the soon-to-be 30-year old has another career year, he will be looking at a big contract in 2021. Maeda was brought over from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Brusdar Graterol. Maeda has been used as both a starter and reliever for the past two seasons but will open up with Twins as their third starter. What happens when Hill and Pineda get back is anyone’s guess, but Maeda has been solid and gives Rocco Baldelli flexibility when all of the starters are available. Chacin, Dobnak, and Smeltzer will all likely be fighting for the last spot. With Bailey signed for one year at $7 million, he will most definitely be in the rotation to begin the season. Bailey proved he was finally healthy in 2019 starting 31 games for the first time since 2013.
Rogers emerged as a solid closer last season with 30 saves. He threw 69 nice innings with an impeccable 90/11 K/BB rate. He should be considered a top-10 closer in baseball. May has fully worked his way back from TJS in 2017. The Tylers, Clippard and Duffey, will join May as the main setup men. Duffey had a solid showing last season with an 82/14 K/BB rate in 57.2 innings. Clippard has had his ups and downs, but he has been a workhorse tossing at least 60 innings each year since 2009. Romero, Littel, and Stashak will all be fighting for a spot in the bullpen. Romero could use some more work on his command in the minors so I expect him to start the season in Triple-A. One of the spots could be taken up by Smeltzer as he could be a long man and is the only lefty besides Rogers projected to be on the Opening Day roster.
Players To Watch For
Alex Kiriloff – After being drafted out of High School in 2016, Kiriloff started tearing up Rookie ball at age 18. He lost all of 2017 to TJS and bounced back strong in 2018. Across two levels and 130 games, he slashed .348/.392/.578 with 44 doubles and 20 HRs. Possibly even more impressive was his 15.3% K rate. Battling wrist injuries last year, Kiriloff still managed a solid season in Double-A with a .756 OPS, nine HRs, and seven SBs in just 94 games while keeping his K rate at 18.5%. With Rosario, Buxton, and Kepler set for the OF, Kiriloff will likely start the season in the minors. He played 35 games at first base last year which gives him some flexibility. I expect to see him with the big club in June and possibly sooner if there are injuries. He is currently ranked #32 on MLB Pipeline and is second in the Twins’ system behind Royce Lewis.
Trevor Larnach – This dude can flat out hit. He mashed at Oregon State in 2018 with a 1.116 OPS along with 19 doubles and 19 HRs in just 68 games. It earned him a first-round selection that year. In 2019 across two levels, Larnach continued torturing pitchers slashing .309/.384/.458. While the power has tailed off a little, he still had 30 doubles and 13 HRs in 127 games. He’s a big kid (6’4, 223 lbs) and has a sweet left-handed swing. He will start the season in the minors but could be up later in the year.
Some players may see a little regression, but the signing of Donaldson helps the defense while adding a lethal bat. The Twins also added some serious depth to their staff. The rotation will have a solid five once Pineda and Hill come back with options in Bailey, Dobnak, Chacin, and Smeltzer. The bullpen was a strength last year. They have a good combination of live young arms (Rogers, May) and wily vets (Clippard, Romo). The Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers are beginning to rebuild. The Cleveland Indians are still dangerous but lack depth and may wind up trading major pieces at the deadline if they aren’t in it. The Chicago White Sox made some decent moves, but I believe they are still a year away from making any noise. This is the Twins’ division to lose which won’t happen barring catastrophe.
Record: 100-62 and the AL Central crown
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