What destroyed the Twins last season was the utter combustion of their pitching staff. Two reasonable bright spots included right handed starting pitcher Ervin Santana (7 wins, 11 losses, 3.38 earned run average, 1.219 walks and hits per nine innings pitched) and relievers Brandon Kintzler (0-2, 3.15, 1.233) and Ryan Pressly (6-7, 3.70, 1.354). Collectively, the Twins staff had a 5.08 ERA with just 1191 strikeouts in 1443 innings pitched. Falvey was given a lot of respect and credit in Cleveland for the development of their pitching. He was hired off of that reputation with the hopes of changing the results of a woeful pitching staff. The Twins big free agent addition was not a pitcher, but hopes are that catcher Jason Castro can call a better game than his predecessor Kurt Suzuki. Castro is much respected for his defensive skills but it seems as if there is a lot more the Twins need to do to be better off on the mound. Relief pitcher Matt Belisle, coming off a solid season with the Washington Nationals, was the Twins only other major league addition to their team.
The Twins made a deal last season to add left handed starting pitcher Hector Santiago. He pitched effectively with his prior team, the Los Angeles Angels, but struggled upon his arrival in Minnesota. In fact, his ERA was over a run and a quarter higher with the Twins (5.58) than it was for the Angels (4.25). Overall, Santiago did win 13 games and posted his second straight season of 180+ innings pitched. Just full seasons ago, it seemed as if the Twins had found their ace. Enough so that the Twins decided to guarantee Phil Hughes another $39.6 million over the next three seasons. Based off that, it would make sense for the Twins to give Hughes another chance to be a starting pitcher, especially considering the team lacks much in the line of depth. Santana, Santiago and Hughes could be joined by youngsters Tyler Duffey and Jose Berrios, coming off seasons with ERA's of 6.43 and 8.02, respectively. Kyle Gibson is coming off a rough season himself, but seems poised to be part of the mix. In addition to Duffey and Berrios, veteran Ryan Vogelsong and former Rangers starting pitcher Nick Tepesch will be in camp to compete for spots on minor league contracts.
I look at the Twins starting rotation as one that has a lot of concern. However, Santana, Santiago and Hughes have a track record of pitching well and Vogelsong is just three years removed from his last successful big league season as a starting pitcher. While I see a little hope, there really is little to none in regards to the outlook of the Twins' bullpen. Star closer Glen Perkins is coming off a lost season, which saw him appear in just two games. Prior to 2016, Perkins had lost a little of his edge which got him to three straight All Star Games. He is joined by Kintzler, despite the latter's lack of strike out ability. Pressly is back and Belisle helps and there is a little hope in the lines of former starting pitching prospect Trevor May, who has managed to increase his strikeout percentage since becoming a full time reliever. If Hughes is unable to stick as a starting pitcher, he could become an option out of the pure need the Twins have. Craig Breslow is in camp with a new look and could be an instant bargain if the talking heads are correct.
It seems from a leadership standpoint the Twins lost a lot when Torii Hunter retired after the 2015 season. The Twins brought back Hunter, as well as successful Twins LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer, bringing them in as special assistants to the General Manager. Leadership seems to be something the Twins could use and I could not think of three better men advise this group of younger players.
The Twins made the decision to move (back) top prospect Miguel Sano to his original position at third base. Second baseman Brian Dozier was thought to be traded this off season, but the Twins decided to hold on to their All Star, who managed to hit 42 home runs and score 104 runs last year. I see absolutely no sense of urgency to trade Dozier. Some may say there may not be a better time to get a high return, but I do not think that matters. The Twins have a lot of young players and more coming up in the pipeline. Who better to lead Byron Buxton, Sano, Max Kepler and Kennys Vargas than a home grown Twins star, especially with some doubts over veteran Twins icon Joe Mauer. Mauer has two more seasons left on his contract and is very unlikely to return in 2019. If that is the case, it is reasonable to say the Twins should be more competitive by then. That is where, in my opinion, Dozier becomes more of an important piece for the Twins going forward. He has more future value to the Twins by staying than any reasonable return that could be netted by trading him. Byung Ho Park is an interesting player, though his story got a lot more interesting after the Twins removed them from their 40 man roster and added him as a minor league invite. Of course, Park is in the second year of a four year, $12 million guaranteed contract he signed with the Twins prior to the 2016 season. Jorge Polanco gets the chance to be the Twins everyday shortstop and left handed hitting left fielder Eddie Rosario gets a crack as well. I would go with a lineup that starts with Buxton leading off in center field, Polanco SS, Dozier 2B, Sano 3B, Kepler RF, Rosario LF, Castro C, Mauer 1B, Vargas DH, Of course, production can easily change the way the lineup is ordered. I can see Buxton becoming the three hitter if he breaks out the way I anticipate.
Some young players to think about are pitchers Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero, both on pace to be either September call-ups or to break camp with the Twins in 2018. Infielder Nick Gordon, son of Tom and half brother of Dee, is the Twins number one overall prospect and is expected to make his MLB debut in 2018. I think we will see former first round draft pick Kohl Stewart in the majors this season as he is likely going to have a chance of sticking in the team's rotation.
I look at the Twins as a team that can reasonably perform better than it did in 2016. The new leadership group of Falvey and Levine as well as the veteran former players Hunter, Hawkins and Cuddyer could change things for the better by themselves. Castro could help the pitching staff with his defensive and game calling ability. However, I look at this season as lost one for the Twins, who need a lot of players to overachieve (or reach expected levels) to get closer to their 2015 form. I wish them the best, but cannot go anywhere their Vegas prediction of 70.5. I take the under and have the Twins at 60-102, last place in the American League Central. It is a one game improvement from where they finished last season.