Pre Spring Preview

Back again and not for the last time. Now that football is done, a ton of eyes have just turned towards the upcoming baseball season. 2 weeks out from the first of the “boys of summer” reporting to their spring homes. The beginning of the position battles, fan battles over projections, the studying of draft orders, studying of potential lineups, rotations, and bullpens. With all of that I am here to bring you my insights on the soon to start Twins season. Instead of starting the analysis on an area of need, I am going to start on the perceived strengths of the Twins and try to work my way into the needs and deficiencies.

The biggest plus in Minneapolis according to most is the entire outfield. You have one of the youngest and most unproven “studs” in the game patrolling center in Byron Buxton. He only knock is how easily he picks up “knocks”. He is getting to be known as getting bite by the injury bug and all that we fans can hope is that he figures out soon how to play the game while preserving his health.

In left it is looking more and more likely that Oswaldo Arcia is on his last chance due to the emergence last season of Eddie Rosario. He came up to replace Arcia last season and his play in the Bigs is one of the reasons that we didn’t see Arcia when he was healthy. I personally hope that He can find his way back to Target Field while still wearing our colors cause he is still a young talent. Eddie should find himself with LF next to his name a majority of the time this season.

Now out in Right is going to be a little more interesting. You have Molly saying that they are going to do everything that they can to get Miguel Sano ready to start out there. Many in the organization believe that he has the ability to make the transition, and with out the brass dealing Plouffe, its looking like its a project that they are willing to undertake. I believe that by the end of the season, we will see more games played in Right by Max Kepler than we do Sano. Max is our long developing German stud that analysts are saying is finally growing into his body and developing his power. He has shown the ability to play the OF and even had a late call up last year.

So far we have Bux, Eddie, Sano, and I believe Arcia only because he is out of Minor options. Max is going to be a casualty of the roster game and I just don’t see Minnesota giving up on Oswaldo yet. I would not put it past the front office to quietly shop him, especially if he shows up in Spring. Santana could also play in the OF as a super sub and all around utility man, a Minnesota version of Ben Zobrist without as strong of a bat.

First Base/Designated Hitter
Who would have guessed that we would ever have a bevy of power bats and enough that we would look to maybe even deal one? I never would have guessed but that is where we are right now. The big issue right now is that we are tied into Joe at first. He is owed somewhere over $60mil over the next 2 years. Now this is how you will know that I didn’t grow up in Minnesota but just a fan of the team, I want Joe on the bench. AHHHH, how can I say that right? Now here me out,  I want Joe on the bench as a coach, I just don’t see it happening. I also don’t see Terry Ryan demoting, trading, or pressuring him off of first base. That means that unless Joe has some career threatening injury, he will be there for a large portion of games through next season.

You are asking how I can say that and still say that this is an area of abundance right? That is because of the others that he is “blocking”. First off this is where I should be talking about Sano instead of in the outfield. I am in the camp that thinks this is where he is going to end up playing the major part of his career. I know everyone says that his arm is too good to put at first but he already had to have Tommy surgery on his elbow. That is no joke for a non pitcher. Means that there are issues. Another player that was added to the fold this off season is the Korean HR king, Byung-ho Park. He has been absolutely crushing Korean pitching the last 2 years and turned it into a move stateside, and a pretty good chunk of money. Now don’t get ahead of yourself, some of you are going to be hating this deal by the All Star break and comparing him to the bust of Yoshi a couple years ago. We will have to be patient with him and just hope he develops like his buddy, Kang in Pittsburgh did last year. The odd man out at first and DH is someone that resembled Arcia last year, Kennys Vargas. He came up in 2014 and played pretty well and had people already questioning Joe at first. Last year he disappeared all of the way to AA Chattanooga. He is another player that could end up falling through the cracks of the roster game. I hope we are a little more patient with him than we were with his mentor that has done nothing but have a HOF career in Boston in David Ortiz. He has a lot a similarities in his game except for one huge difference, he is a switch hitter. He needs some time but in the pro sports world, he could be on his way out of Minnesota and I think that would be a travesty.

Second Base
Brian Dozier. Nothing else needs to be said here.

Third Base
Trevor Plouffe and according to Ryan and other brass, nothing else will be said here. You will see Sano here to spell him in some games, and maybe a matchup or 2, but they have said that it is Plouffe’s job. Now here is another spot that Park’s signing is muddying up the waters a bit. Without Park, Plouffe spells Joe at first and gets Sano some at bats while staying fresh at third. Or if you agree with me, Joe could be the issue here too. Either way Plouffe is the man here, Sano will play the games he doesn’t, and if need arises Eduardo Escobar or Nunez could also fill in. Both can also fill in for Dozier too.

With that, the perceived strengths are done. OF, 1B, 2B, and to a point 3B too. Now I move into the dark zone.

Short Stop
Many here are saying that Eduardo Escobar has the job going into Spring this year. Last year it was Danny Santana. The year before that it Pedro Florimon, it was Dozier before he got moved to second, and the list goes on. Just to get an idea, the players on roster that were drafted as a SS are as follows, EE, Danny, Nunez, Dozier, Plouffe, and Jorge Polanco who has ABs with the Twins the last 2 years too. Its so confusing here that the official team roster on MLB has EE listed as a LF, Danny will play outfield if needed, and so did Nunez last year. It is said that the best athletes who can’t pitch play Short. Well we have a lot of high school and college athletes that can’t play Short and need to find another spot. My thoughts here are the EE is going to split time as need and depending on the hot hand with Nunez and Santana, with Nunez being the main back up and Santana like I said as the utility, fill in anywhere guy that the Twins “have” to have on the roster. Personally I can’t wait for Nick Gordon to get to Minneapolis and develops into a better player than his brother Dee is down in Miami.

Starting Pitching
I was tempted to list the catchers here but I think that our starters will be a stronger point this season than the guys behind the plate will be. We have more starters than we have spots for, mainly because no one has taking the rotation as theirs. In some order it will be Gibson, Hughes, Ervin Santana, and … maybe Nolasco? That is where I think the coaches are right now. Gibson came on and pitched like front of the rotation late, but Hughes was a vanishing act a year after setting a record for lowest K/BB ration in history. They will be some order of 1 and 2. Santana will likely get the 3 spot but Im not sold on him until he get a new nutritionist. Nolasco has been another in a long line of reclamation projects for the Twins who had 1 good year and then disappear, a la Pelfrey and Povano, just to name a few. I think that 4 and 5 in the rotation should be an open competition between Nolasco, Duffey, who earned it last year, Berrios, who has earned a chance to play against the big boys, Milone, who pitched decently last year, May, who could be destined to the bullpen, and Meyer, who is right next to him. May and Meyer are the 2 arms that we got when dealing Denard Span and Ben Revere when we were ready to anoint Hicks as the CF of the future. Berrios has started the last 2 Futures game at the All Star week and has done nothing but perform too well to get promoted. This is the territory that other teams keep him down just long enough to get an extra year of contract control over him. If the Twins aren’t playing that game than he should brake Spring with a spot every couple days. Milone has an edge in that he is the only lefty of the bunch. Does that mean that he should get a spot? No, he still has to earn it but it does give him an edge over the others, because no coach wants to have a rotation of all righties.

Before dealing Aaron Hicks, Kurt Suzuki was about the only thing that we had. Herrman is gone, Josmil Pinto is gone, and Fryer is gone. The Twins didn’t believe enough in any of them that they would develop into what we need. We deal Hicks and get what some are saying is an every day but not an AllStar catcher in John Ryan Murphy. We also claimed John Hicks, who became expendable in Seattle after they signed Chris Iannetta, shows his believers. Now call me crazy but I think we might still have one of the best game callers in MLB but he plays 1B. I think another way to get everyone at bats is to have Joe get back behind the plate maybe once or twice a week. He said that it helped him when he was batting to be catch so that he could pick up the ball. I say that it can’t really hurt his hitting stats compared to since he was moved. The only reason they won’t is because of health reasons, which I do agree with here.

All I have to say is, OUCH!!! We need help. But I think most of our help is needed in front of the bullpen. We have a statistically bad bullpen, but I attribute that more to how many innings that they have to cover for our shotty starters. 2013, they led the league in IP, 14 they were 4th, and last year they improved to middle of the pack. So good news is that they are trending in the right direction. We have a top of the league Closer, when he is healthy, in Perk. Jepsen filled in admirably when he wasn’t at the end of the year, and will be back as the set up guy, at least until Perk goes down with an injury, or someone offers a stupid trade before the deadline, because he only has 1 year left under contract. Some are saying that May could be the guy for the 7th but that only works if you run your bullpen like the Royals last year, no matter the match up it would be May, Jepsen, Perkins. I just don’t see the Twins doing that, but hope I am wrong. Fien will be back. Meyer will more than likely be out there too. Along with a couple of the cast offs from the SP battle.

My projected opening day lineup and what I wish it was, left and right respectively:
CF – Buxton                                  2B – Dozier
2B – Dozier                                   1B – Mauer
1B – Mauer                                    RF – Sano
RF – Sano                                      DH – Park
DH – Park                                     3B – Plouffe
3B – Plouffe                                   LF – Rosario
LF – Rosario                                  C   – Murphy
C  – Suzuki                                     SS – Santana
SS – Escobar                                  CF – Buxton

They reasoning on Bux at the bottom is to let him develop at the beginning of the season. As he gets the hang of it, move him to the top. I would go Murph behind the plate only because of Kurt showing a half of a good season in the 2 that he has been here. Some of my other picks would change but this is also because of who I am guessing will break camp with the team. The rotation will and should be:

SP1 – Gibson                        Gibson
SP2 – Hughes                      Hughes
SP3 – Santana                      Santana
SP4 – Nolasco                      Duffey
SP5 – Milone                        Berrios
SP6 – Milone

I would add a 6th starter for the first couple weeks only in name. I would have Duffey in the pen for a couple rounds of the rotation and then switch Berrios to the pen for a bit, just to see how Jose handles big league hitting, and the atmosphere. Im off loading Nolasco in any deal that is made. As for the bench and bullpen:

Santana                               Santana
Kepler                                  Kepler
Arcia                                    Arcia
Murphy                               Suzuki

Perkins                                Perkins
Jepsen                                  Jepsen
May                                      Fien
Meyer                                   Tomkin
Fien                                      Pressley
Tomkin                                Best Lefty Reliever left

Now my favorite part, picking break out prospects that will make the Show this year and create havoc on preseason projections. These are the guys that could shake up everything for the Twins this year.

I know he isn’t really an unknown but he could play into someone who can’t be held back anymore.

Adam Brett Walker
Has been a beast in the minors and depending on how everything shakes out in the outfield, he could make an impact.

Nick Burdi
Drafted in 2014, many analysts thought he would get called up late last year. Should see time this year at some point.

I also feel that a few of our veterans are in make or break seasons, or they get out right dealt. I see this as the last try for Arcia. Nolasco should be gone if anyone gets dealt. I like Plouffe but just think that at almost 30, if he starts the way he played for most of last year, he will be moved to make room for Sano at 3B. I feel this could be proving year for all of the shortstops because you have Polanco, who the staff has shown trust in, and Gordon waiting in the wings. If they play like they have, Santana will become a casualty, Escobar will be the utility, and I just don’t see Nunez making the impressions that he needs to. May and Meyer are getting what could be their last shots at Starting in the Majors before getting entrenched in the bullpen. Vargas, and I hope I am wrong, might not even get another chance to prove himself. I hope the Twins can keep him long enough to convince Joe to retire.

Here is where the title ties in. Most human analysts are picking the Twins to finish last in the Central and it isn’t even close. Most are picking a regression from the young hitters, a lack of development of quality starting arms, and a bullpen that hasn’t been improved at all. To them, I say not all hitters will regress, at least 1 new starter will develop, and I don’t see how the bullpen can really get any worse.

Computers are putting Minny in a solid 4th in the division with us beating KC to escape the cellar. They are thinking much the same as the humans but still think we can do better than the reigning World Series Champs?!?! Weird, that they have KC somewhere around 10-15 games under .500 and not playing as a team. This is where I guess where some of the SABR metrics fall apart, you have a great “team” that has made it to the World Series for 2 straight years, won it last year, and you are looking at a forecast of barely 70 wins.

Me, I put Minnesota in a solid battle for 2nd in the division, battle for the Wild Card in the AL, and overall another solid season. I still think that Ned Yost will have his team on point in KC. I see a rebound from Detroit as they had a full off season to get over injuries while also adding a couple pieces. Cleveland is improving and has a great young talent in Francisco Lindor, but I just don’t see them getting over the dark cloud hanging over their lack of performance the last couple years. Chicago will not allow themselves to be as bad as they have been, but are fighting against a stacked deck.

Final 2016 Forecast:
Kansas City – 95 wins
Detroit – 88
Minnesota – 86
Cleveland – 82
Chicago – 79

I am picking the Central as the toughest division in MLB this year from top to bottom. Analysts will poopoo the records cause, like usual, we will beat up on each other. We won’t have any one team or even part of team stand out like the Mets starting rotation, or others’ top to bottom lineup either. The closest to a stand out squad will be KC in the bullpen again because they are so well coached and managed. I don’t see Miggy getting back to Triple Crown stats, or MVP either. I don’t see any Cy Young winners either in the Central. I am seeing teams that will be coached up to play a team game where the sum is more than the parts. The Central is known historically for teams that represent 1+1+1=5. Teams that play small ball better than sending out a Yankees lineup. Doesn’t mean that they don’t try to play the big money game, just that the most successful teams out of the Central are “complete teams” that don’t have holes and love playing the game for the guy next to them.

League Projections
AL Division Winners:
New York
Kansas City

AL Wild Cards:
Los Angeles (Win the play in game)

NL Division Winners:
New York
St. Louis
San Francisco

NL Wild Cards:
Chicago (Win)

KC over LAA
NY over Houston
Cubs over STL
NY over SF

KC over NY
Cubs over NY

I am picking the Cubbies to hit their stride just in time to make the run to the Series and take it home in 7 game battle with KC. I see KC finally breaking down in the bullpen and see some in fighting that will start the break up. Theo Epstein will cement his enshrinement into Cooperstown by breaking the curse of the Billy Goat.

AL Awards:
MVP: Trout
CY: Zimmerman
ROY: Buxton (call me a homer)
Coach of the Year: Yost (again)

NL Awards:
MVP: Kris Bryant (nothing against Harper, just see a nagging injury during the 2nd half keep him out)
CY: Kershaw
ROY: Seager (Dodgers beast of a SS prospect)
COY: Matheny

All of those predictions are just gut feelings based on my own perceptions, so if you are going to put any money on them, go against. If you are fans of the teams or players listed, I am sorry because I am usually wrong more often than not on projections. Think about it, if I was any good at this, than I would be talking about my opinions on TV for a living. Speaking of, if any network needs someone to analyze and talk baseball, I can be had for a very affordable price.

I will see you guys on the eve of Opening Day and throughout the year. Until next time, get down and dirty cause its not a day at the park until someone hits the dirt.

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