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Minnesota Twins 2018: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Expert Insight

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

The last time the Twins made a double-digit improvement in wins, going from 70 in Ron Gardenhire’s last year to 83 in Paul Molitor’s first, they immediately face-planted en route to a franchise-worst 103 losses in 2016.  


How they follow up a 26-win improvement and the end of a six-year postseason absence will go a long way toward determining how much of the current roster is still around when the new baseball leadership group achieves its stated goal of a long-term, sustainable winner. A top-seven offense that scored just three fewer runs than the Cleveland Indians now must find ways to close the gap on the mound with the two-time reigning American League Central division champions. 

Opposing Scouts Size Up the TWINS

“They surprised themselves last year, but when you look back, a lot of the nucleus was already in place. Jason Castro was a guy who could stick with the game plan and take advantage of all the information from their new front office. They re-emphasized advance scouting, shifted more on defense, and it paid off with a Wild Card. They still need pitching, though; Kyle Gibson was much more aggressive late in the year, but his track record is mixed, and it’s hard to trust any starters after Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios. Fernando Rodney was a good value buy as a closer. He’s 41, but he still throws hard and has a double-plus changeup. Their best player by far is Byron Buxton, who is a true five-tool guy. They had a lot of under-the-radar contributors, and it seems like everyone but Joe Mauer hits for power. I’d look for Max Kepler to add to that power; he has a line-drive swing, and a lot of them go over the fence, so if he increases his launch angle, watch out.”

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Blazer

En route to the first Gold Glove Award of his budding career, Byron Buxton registered a top sprint speed of 30.2 feet per second, a tenth of a second faster than Cincinnati Reds counterpart Billy Hamilton. Buxton’s highlight catches were supported by Statcast data that credited him with 25 outs above average, 31.5 percent higher than runner-up Ender Inciarte of the Atlanta Braves. 

Archery

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Fernando Rodney knows his game-ending save celebration (firing an imaginary arrow toward the heavens) tends to have twin outcomes: It fires up the home crowd and his teammates while angering those on the other side. Yet, the 41-year-old closer doesn’t have any plans to rein things in now that he’s moving on to the ninth different team of his big-league career. Seemingly done two years ago after a trade to his adopted hometown Miami Marlins, Rodney now trails only Francisco Rodriguez and Huston Street among active saves leaders. Don’t be surprised if he outlasts them too.

Republicans

 While four Twins helped Team Puerto Rico reach the championship game of last year’s World Baseball Classic, the organizational flag is now planted even more sturdily in the talent-rich Dominican Republic. Ace Ervin Santana and slugging third baseman Miguel Sano represented the Twins at the All-Star Game in Miami. Shortstop Jorge Polanco, who grew up in the same town as Sano, enjoyed a breakout second half. Bartolo Colon, signed in desperation after the Braves released him in June, reminded everyone why he’s still “Big Sexy,” even at 44. And, of course, Rodney remains immensely popular back home as well.

Proud American

When popular utility man Eduardo Escobar completed a lengthy process toward earning his U.S. residence last summer, Twins teammates celebrated with an American-flag cake, party hats and patriotic music. Escobar, who grew up in strife-torn Venezuela but now makes his offseason home in Miami, enjoyed a power surge down the stretch.

Honing In

In his first two big-league seasons, outfielder Eddie Rosario chased pitches outside the strike zone at least 44 percent of the time, ranking in the bottom four in both years. In his first year under hitting coach James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez, however, Rosario slashed his chase rate to 39.9 percent, slightly better than that of Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius. Career bests of 27 homers, a .507 slugging percentage and a .328 on-base percentage followed. 

Projected Lineup

LINEUP
2B     Brian Dozier (R)
1B     Joe Mauer (L)
DH     Miguel Sano (R))
LF     Eddie Rosario (L)
SS     Jorge Polanco (S)
RF     Max Kepler (L)
3B     Eduardo Escobar (S)
C     Jason Castro (L)
CF     Byron Buxton (R)
BENCH
OF     Robbie Grossman (S)
C     Mitch Garver (R)
UT     Ehire Adrianza (S)
OF     Zack Granite (L)
ROTATION
RHP     Ervin Santana*
RHP     Jose Berrios
RHP     Kyle Gibson
LHP     Adalberto Mejia
RHP     Phil Hughes
BULLPEN
RHP     Fernando Rodney 

RHP     Addison Reed

RHP     Trevor Hildenberger
LHP     Taylor Rogers 
RHP     Alan Busenitz
RHP     Tyler Duffey
LHP     Zach Duke

*Ervin Santana underwent surgery on the middle finger of his throwing hand on Feb. 6 and is expected to miss 10-12 weeks.