3 Reasons the Minnesota Twins Should be Excited about 2018
- Hope (Youth) Springs Eternal
The close of the 2017 season saw the young core of often hyped players finally come in to their own. Byron Buxton led the youthful surge as he broke out offensively in the second half, slashing .300/.347/.546 with 11 homers and 13 stolen bases over the final 57 games. If Buxton can continue his development offensively and replicate anything close to those numbers in 2018, he could find himself in the MVP discussion given his unmatched defensive prowess in the outfield. The new regime in the front office has made it clear that they want to extend the contracts of guys like Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Jose Berrios, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario. Predicting how young players will do early in their careers is a fool’s errand, as inconsistency on offense can continue, but keeping this group in tact for the long haul can only be a positive for this organization.
- Veteran Sage Additions (Duke, Rodney, Pineda)
While the addition of Michael Pineda does not do much for the Twins in the upcoming season, it does fit the plan of future building that the front office has set in motion. Pineda is coming off Tommy John Surgery, but was a solid middle of the rotation type of pitcher with the Mariners and Yankees. He has pitched on the biggest of stages and will be a great source of knowledge and experience for the young arms in the organization. The Twins are clearly looking for him to rehab and jump back into that No. 2 or No. 3 role in 2019, and given the financial commitment on his 2-year deal, it could reap a substantial return on investment.
Among all pitchers with at least 150 innings of relief between 2014-2017, only five guys had a strikeout rate above 25% and a ground ball rate above 50%: Zach Duke, Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, Pedro Strop, and Fernando Rodney. The Twins signed two of those guys in Duke and Rodney, each on one-year deals. Even at 41 years old, Rodney should stabilize a closer role that saw seven different Twins record a save in 2017. Duke will presumably slide in to the set-up position and form a 7th/8th inning platoon with sidearming right-hander Trevor Hildenberger, who had a strikeout rate of 25.9% and a ground ball rate of 58.8% as a rookie in 2017. The Twins were a top 5 team defensively in 2017, and if this trio of bat missing, ground ball inducing relievers can keep the ball in the ballpark in the late innings, the Twins should be able to come out on the positive side of the win-loss column most nights.
- Momentum is a Real Thing
This one is easy. The Twins needed to play above .500 baseball the final two months of the 2017 season to clinch their Wild Card spot and first trip to playoffs since 2010. While the record from the All-Star Break to the end of the season (39-34) did not set the history books ablaze, the number that stands out the most is the fact that they rattled off 34 of those wins in the months of August (20 wins) and September (14 wins) when they needed them most. If you ask anyone who has played meaningful games at any level, momentum is a real thing. The constant ebbs and flows of each game, week to week and month to month are dependent on teams seizing moments where they can shift the fate of one game or multiple games in any week. The Twins will be carrying a lot of confidence in to 2018 after taking the baseball world by storm by making the playoffs one year removed from a 103-loss season. Only time will tell, but with the accelerated development of a young group of prospects and a front office shift in personnel and overall approach, this club is looking to make that jump from cute little surprise to legitimate contender this season.