First up, we’ve got the Minnesota Twins. We spoke with Brandon Warne from Cold Omaha and Today’s Knuckleball to help us break down the 2017 Twins.
As for my analysis, I’ll start by saying I think the Twins will be a lot better in 2017 than 2016 and could surprise some people. I think the offense will be productive, and I currently have them as my 7th rated offense in the American League.
However, I see the pitching as a different story. I’m not very optimistic on their rotation or bullpen this year, and I have them rated last in the AL. I think there are some decent pieces there in Santana and Santiago, but I’m not confident as a whole they’ll be able to get outs as consistently as they’d like. The defense doesn’t expect to be a calling card for the Twins either in 2017, so I think they’ll be relying heavily on their bats this year.
We asked Brandon Warne a few questions about the Twins this year to get a better perspective from someone who knows the Twins as well as anyone.
The offense looks like they may be able to put some runs on the board. Do you see much promise in the pitching staff?
“I see more promise than most, I'd say. I think the addition of Castro will be big for the pitching staff. After all, which starting rotation has more to gain from a good defensive catcher than the one which finished last in ERA last season? Guys like Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios have a lot to gain from working with an elite receiver, and a full year of Hector Santiago and his weird FIP-beating patterns should help, too. I think it's maybe got a ceiling of ranking at high as 20th in the game. The bullpen has some interesting pieces, and at times last year was really good. I believe it was in July when the 'pen was about 15th in ERA, which is right around what I'd expect for this bunch. That came after guys like Casey Fien and Kevin Jepsen were jettisoned, but before the end of the year tryouts for guys like Pat Light and Alex Wimmers. There's plenty of talent here, and don't sleep on these guys: Ryan Pressly and J.T. Chargois.”
Are the Twins expecting a huge year from Miguel Sano?
“I think so. He's lost a fair amount of weight this offseason and is finally being handed the third base job full-time, something that probably should have been done from the jump last season. He took a step back last season and will always be a three true outcomes guy (TTO, as far as walk, homer or strike out), but he has the physical tools to be a capable third baseman. He moves well for a big guy and has a rocket for an arm. I don't think a .900 OPS and passable third base defense is out of the question.”
Who are some of the younger guys that the Twins will be counting on in 2017?
“Berrios - He didn't show much in his first few stints last season, but has an electric arm that, if reeled in, should provide value in the middle of the rotation. Sano - See above. Chargois - This might be the closer-in-waiting. Chargois flashes and upper-90s fastball with a solid slider, and has made strides in his command, which was the only issue that dogged him after arm surgery. Byron Buxton - This kid was phenomenal in September and looks primed to take a leap as a solid player. Even with a low-.700 OPS, he could be a three or four-win player (via fWAR) due to defense and speed. I think this will be a nice year and the real breakout comes in 2018. Max Kepler - For a guy who is a bit of a late bloomer, he has come on strong. In 2013 he was flailing away against lefties in low-A ball. By 2015 he was winning the Southern League MVP award over Orlando Arcia -- an impressive prospect in his own right -- and by midseason last year he was holding down the starting right field job for the Twins. He'll need to work on his approach against lefties, but he shows extremely impressive polish for such a young player. He may never be a star, but he's damn good.”
Do you see the team as still active looking to make a deal or are they pretty much set? Are there any suitors left for Dozier now that the Dodgers are out?
“Not really. It's been a quiet offseason with the new brain trust -- Derek Falvey and Thad Levine -- because they view the talent on this team as not reflective of a 100-loss bunch. I tend to agree, and so they're going to take this year to evaluate some of the youngsters. It's very hard to compete when young players take a step back together -- as seen in 2016 -- and this year will allow Falvey and Levine to see who they like, who they don't like and also to evaluate manager Paul Molitor, who is a lame-duck manager without a 2018 contract in place. He's managing for his job.”
“As for Dozier, I think the Twins are happy to hold onto him until someone approaches with an offer that suits what his value is at that time. I don't necessarily see that coming along. I thought the Braves made some sense, but Brandon Phillips will pass that torch to Ozzie Albies once he's ready, I suspect. It'll probably take an injury to open up a spot for someone to really want Dozier, which is fine because he has plenty of value to the Twins in the meantime.”
Finally, what are your overall expectations for 2017?
“I wrote a few weeks ago that I thought this was an 80-win team and ruffled a few feathers. Then, Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus released their projections and I was right on. It's going to take some smoothing over from vets like Ervin Santana and Dozier, but I think this can be a decent team. Will they threaten Cleveland this year? I don't think so. But is second place in play? I do think so.” I tend to agree that I think 2nd place is definitely in play for the Twins; outside of the Indians I think this is a wide open division, and a relatively weak one at that."
Vegas has the Twins win total at 70.5 this year and I think they could be looking at the over on that. As I said earlier, I’m not super fond of the pitching staff, but I do think the offense will score enough to keep them in games.
When Santana is on the mound, I think they’ll be a good value team early in the year and you may be able to hit a couple of overs before Vegas adjusts to how good their offense could be.
So for the Twins in 2017, I like the over of 70.5 wins and them to improve on what was a disappointing 2016. I think when it's all said and done you'll see the Twins around 73-89.