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4 Creative Tweaks the Twins Can Make to Get Better

With the offseason underway, there is naturally a widespread focus on signings and trades to bring in new talent. But I think we all fundamentally understand that, in order for the Twins to turn things around and reach their potential in short order, it'll need to be driven by drastic internal improvements.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today
Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are the headliners in that discussion, with good reason. Who knows what the future holds for those two. But elsewhere, I see four opportunities for the Twins to work with what they have, get a little creative, and maybe shore up some key areas of uncertainty.

1: Have Max Kepler split time between between the outfield and first base

One of the Dodgers' most valuable players during their run to the World Series this year was Cody Bellinger, whose versatility and strong bat made him a key asset. During the regular season, Bellinger played in every single game, making 85 starts at first base and 50 in center field.

That's a combination you rarely see, because few players possess the skill set to make it work. Bellinger does, and so does Kepler. Although the latter has played first base sparsely in the majors (just 4 1/3 total innings), he made a few dozen starts there as a minor-leaguer. Given his athleticism and coordination, it stands to reason he'd be solid at least and perhaps outstanding.

We already know what he can do in the outfield. Kepler's become one of the league's best defensive right fielders and he's shown quite well during his 500 career innings in center as well. Having him split time between the first base and right field, while occasionally spelling Buxton against righties in center, would enable the Twins to extract big value of from Kepler, even if his offensive production remains somewhat modest.

And if he takes the step forward we're all hoping for with his bat? Well, a season closely mirroring Bellinger's 2018 (.260/.343/.470, 25 HR, 3.6 WAR) is hardly out of the question.

Committing to this arrangement would give the front office much more flexibility in attacking the offseason. With Kepler adding some much-needed left-handed balance to a first base mix that now includes CJ Cron and Tyler Austin, Minnesota can feel better about rostering both (should they desire). And with a bunch of playing time opening up in right field, the Twins can go out and add another RF/DH type who can thump.

2: Use Fernando Romero out of the bullpen

I'm the biggest Fernando Romero advocate you're gonna find. I've been steadfast in my belief he's got the makings of a workhorse, front-of-rotation starter. And I could still see it. But at this point, even I can't deny the obvious logic in activating the righty out of the bullpen.

In a way it feels wasteful to limit Romero to short stints, with his big frame and ability to maintain high-90s heat late into games. But despite having the build and sustainable velocity of a 200-IP starter, he hasn't held up. Romero lost two consecutive years of his development to recurring injuries, and since returning he's been susceptible to late-season breakdowns. He might just be better suited for a relief role.

Luckily, that's not the same diminishment it was once was. As relievers become more and more impactful, a high-powered arm capable of throwing multiple innings is an advantageous weapon indeed.

I'd love to see Romero open the season with the Twins and fill a role similar to the one Jeff Passan envisions here for newly signed Jesse Chavez of the Rangers:



3: Unleash Trevor May as a starter (or "primary")

On the flip side, we have here a current reliever who might be a better fit for the rotation. Trevor May of course finished the 2018 season at closer, and he looked downright phenomenal. I know some might be asking, why mess with a good thing?

That's fair, but I'm just not ready to give up on May as a starter. He was shaping up nicely in that capacity during spring of 2017 before requiring Tommy John surgery. Unlike Romero, he's mostly been very durable and his arm has fared well under a starter's workload (last year notwithstanding). Also: With at least four quality pitches, May absolutely has the repertoire depth to take on lineups multiple times.

Use him as a traditional starter, or as a primary following an opener, as you please. I think May has what it takes to be an effective pitcher over 150 innings. If it doesn't take, they can send him back to the bullpen; it's much easier to make that transition in-season than the reverse. And it feels like if Minnesota keeps May in the bullpen next spring, then it becomes permanent.

That's not necessarily a bad thing given what we saw in the second half. But still, give him one more shot.

4: Give Willians Astudillo 500 at-bats

Yes, I yearn for the sheer joy of watching Astudillo play everyday. Who doesn't? But there's also a solid case to be made for turning the scrappy 27-year-old into a fixture and seeing what he can do.

All he's done lately is hit. In 2017 he batted .342 with a .928 OPS at Class-AAA Reno in Arizona's system, and then he batted .319 in the Venezuelan Winter League. The Twins signed him and watched him post a .782 OPS at Triple-A before finishing with a 22-game stretch in the majors that saw him hit .378/.397/.554 with two strikeouts in 78 plate appearances. Accounting for his first stint with the Twins, Astudillo appeared at five different positions (C, 2B, 3B, LF, CF) while posting an .887 OPS as a rookie. Now, he's back in Venezuela, batting .353 for Caribes with one strikeout in 156 PAs.

When you look at Astudillo and his long-term track record, it's tempting to dismiss his run of success as a fluke. But when a guy literally almost never whiffs, and consistently makes good contact (his soft-hit rate in 2018 was lowest of all Twins other than Jake Cave and Joe Mauer), it's a decent formula for high averages. As we're seeing.

Plus, Astudillo can plug in at catcher, third base, DH and elsewhere when needed. By rotating him around and finding a place for him most days, the Twins can keep other starters fresh and rested – perhaps most importantly, Sano and Mitch Garver. Meanwhile, Rocco Baldelli keeps a pesky spark plug in his lineup regularly. Astudillo is beloved by teammates, cherished by fans, and admired by not-traditionally-athletic types everywhere. His all-out effort and hustle set a great example.

There is of course risk in counting on Astudillo, signed as a minor-league free agent almost exactly one year ago, for such a prominent role. But the Twins are in position to take some risks and this feels like one worth taking.

That's all I've got for now. What say you all? Like these ideas? Hate 'em? Got an outside-the-box notion of your own? Let's hear it in the comments.

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149 Comments

Nice article Nick.Like the love for Astudillo, he could turn into something special.Twins do need versatile players, and also players who could fill in if another player does not perform as needed. 

    • glunn, Cris E, SgtSchmidt11 and 3 others like this
I said several times last summer that the team had a perfect promotion: Astudillo plays all 9 positions. Have some fun at the park and sell a few extra tickets. Fine ideas all around. This club needs to try something different.
    • glunn, beckmt, SgtSchmidt11 and 1 other like this
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Lee-The-Twins-Fan
Nov 27 2018 09:05 PM

Good story. I'm not crazy about moving Romero to the bullpen, but other than that it's hard to argue with your analysis. I like May as a starter as well. We're going to need a lot of starters. I would want to see more reps from Kepler at 1B, but it makes sense to have a lefty at 1B for the batting splits. Maybe if we could get a switch-hitting RF as well, it would be good.

 

    • glunn, nicksaviking and Einheri like this

This was a fun essay - I loved it and I disagree with it.The pitcher recommendations are the opposite of what I would have.Talk about break downs - May has a career of break downs, but he has great talent - that sounds like a relief pitcher. 

Romero is the guy that can take us into the back part of the game - he has the ability and the stuff and I love starters.

 

Astudillo is a really fun story, but there is a prejudice against pudgy guys.They will not do it and I am as sorry as anyone.I love his energy.

    • glunn, wavedog, beckmt and 5 others like this
I’m ok with Romero to the pen.

I guess if they’re putting Cron at first, some ABs for Kepler at first against righties wouldn’t be the worst idea.

But leave May where he is, and everyone needs to take a deep breath on Astudillo.
    • glunn, Danchat, Vanimal46 and 4 others like this
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Nick Nelson
Nov 27 2018 09:15 PM

 

Talk about break downs - May has a career of break downs, but he has great talent - that sounds like a relief pitcher. .

? May had literally never missed time with an arm injury before the UCL tear. 

    • Steve Lein, glunn, nicksaviking and 3 others like this
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ChrisKnutson
Nov 27 2018 09:19 PM
Not against seeing Kepler at 1st, but I’d much rather see Baldelli try Kep at leadoff next year, because I’m curious to see how his increased walk rate would play at the top of the lineup.
    • glunn, Twins33, DocBauer and 2 others like this
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SF Twins Fan
Nov 27 2018 09:45 PM

I'm not really interested in moving Romero to the bullpen or having May start. He's was mediocre as a starter to begin with and has shown a lot of promise in the bullpen.  Plus the Twins have a ton of 4 - 5 type starters so they don't need another one.

 

I'd love to see Kepler at first against righties which would allow Cave to start in right. I would also love to see Astudillo get regular playing time next season. Sounds like he's playing well in during winter ball. 

    • glunn, LA VIkes Fan, mikelink45 and 4 others like this
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ToddlerHarmon
Nov 27 2018 09:48 PM
Yes, creative, and a good talker, but I only like the Astudillo idea.

All of Keplers WAR value is currently due to being a good outfielder, so you're going to move him to a spot that demands more offense and less defense?

May is too good and needed where he is to mess with. Plus with 2 years of his prime lost to injury, relief would give him a better career.

And Romero is too young with too much stuff to give up on him starting.

If other options develop for outfield or relief pitching, or if Romero fails to develop as a starter, then maybe. But right now each of these players has the potential to be the best on the team at their current position. Why short-circuit that?
    • glunn, Oldgoat_MN, mikelink45 and 6 others like this

 

? May had literally never missed time with an arm injury before the UCL tear. 

Didn't May miss a month with the back injury the year before the UCL tear?but yeah he was a rock up to the back injuries which occurred when he moved to the pen.I like May as a starter but if he isn't starting this year then he will likely be a pen guy from here on out.

 

I would like to give Romero 1 more year of starting before moving him to the pen.Though that move is on the table.Just if we can make him a top of the rotation starter we need to go that route.Romero does have that potential.  

 

I like the idea of Astudillo on a 4 man bench with 1 OF 2 IF and a C with Astudillo being the 2nd IF. 500 AB may be a bit much but 300-400 would be possible if he is producing around an .800 OPS.Also I do think it would be good for us to have him earn his way back on the team.Meaning we have other options too.  

 

If Kepler is near Gold Glove in RF then maybe Cave or Grossman if keep him should learn to play 1B.I would rather have some areas where we do have great defense.especially if we get more flyball pitchers.(see Sonny Gray)

 

from an internal prospective we currently have Gordon, Cave, maybe Wade, Rooker, Astudillo and maybe Reed as being ready or almost ready to come up and be a reserve or injury replacement,.pending any AAA FA we sign or waiver claims made in spring training (am I missing anyone here?)

    • glunn, Cris E and SF Twins Fan like this
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Old Twins Cap
Nov 27 2018 10:07 PM

 

I said several times last summer that the team had a perfect promotion: Astudillo plays all 9 positions. Have some fun at the park and sell a few extra tickets. Fine ideas all around. This club needs to try something different.

 

If Astudillo is playing all nine positions in a game, the Twins are a lousy team for sure.If you thought Cesar Tovar looked funny in catching gear, imagine what Astudillo would look like in CF.We'd be better off putting him in a Duluth Pack and having Buxton cover two positions while portaging him.

    • glunn, Cris E, gbg and 1 other like this
It is probably worth noting that Trevor May requested to return to the bullpen. I am still laughing picturing Buxton portaging Astudillo.
    • glunn and beckmt like this
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IndianaTwin
Nov 27 2018 10:51 PM
Romero only got to 145 innings last year. I think a plan that targets more than 165 or so is unlikely to come to fruition. If he’s in the rotation for 32 starts, that’s only 5 innings per start, which is less than ideal.

In an earlier post, I suggested using him as the designated reliever for Odorizzi’s first 10 or so starts, with the intention of him finishing the game. Assuming he’s been effective, then slide him into the rotation at the next appropriate time (the next injury or suckage on the part of one of the starters). It may take a couple of starts to restretch him out from 3-4 innings to being a full-time starter, since he was probably throwing about 60 pitches or so, but that’s not insurmountable. Maybe a time or two in those first 10 games, you pull Odo after 4 innings to keep Romero stretched out a bit.

That’s probably about 35 innings in relief, leaving about 130 innings for the remaining 22 times through the rotation, which is close to 6 innings per start, closer to what we’re looking for. It also holds out the opportunity of him still being available in a playoff run. If he’s in the rotation from the beginning, I don’t think it’s realistic to have much left in October if we get there.

Berrios, Odo, Pineda, Gibson, Mejia, by the way. I’ve separated Berrios and Gibson since they are the most likely to go deep enough to give the bullpen a break. I’d be glad to upgrade from Mejia. I’d also be okay with targeting this group as the rotation for the first 50 games or so, which gives enough time to see whether it’s worth going after a rental.

And while I’m at it, I’ll take David Robertson (3/$33M) as my highest priority and one more from among Familia, Britton, and Ottovino (same), plus a flier on Soria (1/$10 + option 1/$8M).

Offensively, success largely rises and falls on Buxton and Sano, so my primary focus is on 2B with Cron in the hopper.
    • glunn, Han Joelo, birdwatcher and 1 other like this

I get that Austudillo is a fun guy to have around.So was Mickey Hatcher.Coincidence that we won a World Series AFTER Hatcher left?

 

    • jud6312 likes this

Pretty wild idea's. You may be able to sell me on 2 and 4.  IMHP Kepler doesn't have any value at 1st and May is already a failed starter, so I can't go along with 1 and 3.

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

 

 everyone needs to take a deep breath on Astudillo.

That could fog him up.

 

 

    • ashburyjohn, Han Joelo, Cris E and 5 others like this

Nick - Thanks for starting an out-of-the-box conversation.

I would like to suggest using May as an Opener every 3rd day. Our pitcher with arguably the best stuff against the top of the other teams lineup. That would be fun to see. Use him for 2 innings, then 2 days off. Spend some money to sign a closer. If the new closer doesn't pan out, May can move back.

I also like the Kepler thought. I'm surprised that Molitor didn't use him at 1st more.

I hope they give Austidillo a fair shot. I'm rooting for the underdog. Who isn't?!?

And let's let the young guys play. These aren't the same caliber of mid and late '90's guys we suffered through. Let 's roll with the kids and let the other teams deal with the Machado and Harper sized egos and paychecks.

    • glunn and birdwatcher like this
Great article with sound thinking! Going to agree and disagree with the following: 1] Kepler, with his pure athleticism at 1B just makes so much sense we shouldn't even have to debate it. I remain a steadfast believer in his potential and truly feel 2019 will be the year his splits even out, and his rocket line drives will lead to the production we all hoped for. Not saying a career year, but we will start to see what he can really do. Regardless of any further acquisitions, (FA OF I pine for), this increases roster and lineup flexibility. 2] Romero. Nope. Nada. No way. His stuff and potential are just too good to place him in the pen at this point. You stated the argument yourself as to him missing 2 seasons. And yet, he has vaulted to a ML debut, practically passing AAA initially, and flashing his potential. My goodness, he's still ,learning how to pitch! 3] May was badly mishandled by Gardenhire. He was showing real promise, despite 1 Really bad start, when they/he made the misguided decision to move May to the pen instead of Pelfrey. Fast forward, the Twins were smart to put him back in the rotation for 2017. And he looked really good in ST before his elbow gave out. Back in 2018, he actually requested he go to the pen as he felt he could perform and contribute better there on his comeback. And then and there he was outstanding, and largely the same with the Twins. This reminds me of Aguillera. Traded for as a SP, he moved to the pen, was moved back again to the rotation, but was meant to be a RP. I think May has the stuff to start and be, at least, solid. But I think time, opportunity, and his own mindset now has him as a reliever. 2018 was still his recovery year! Imagine how good he could be fixated on a pen role in his first full year back. 4] Astudillo. Said it before and will say it again, his biggest problem has always been other teams didn't realize what they had simply because he didn't fit some idea of what they wanted him to be. He has averaged .300+ for his entire milb career with contact. He showed/shows some budding power. I watched at catcher and 3B for the Twins in 2018 and wondered what could possibly be wrong with this guy? (I never got to actually see him play 1B, 2B or OF). Unless he actually starts/plays every day somewhere, I doubt he gets 500AB. But his hit tool is legit. His defense seems solid, at least. I believe in depth, and competition for roster spots. But right now, I would be fine with him and Adrianza as my utility players.
    • glunn, Cris E and gagu like this

Great article with sound thinking!

Going to agree and disagree with the following:

1] Kepler, with his pure athleticism at 1B just makes so much sense we shouldn't even have to debate it. I remain a steadfast believer in his potential and truly feel 2019 will be the year his splits even out, and his rocket line drives will lead to the production we all hoped for. Not saying a career year, but we will start to see what he can really do. Regardless of any further acquisitions, (FA OF I pine for), this increases roster and lineup flexibility.

2] Romero. Nope. Nada. No way. His stuff and potential are just too good to place him in the pen at this point. You stated the argument yourself as to him missing 2 seasons. And yet, he has vaulted to a ML debut, practically passing AAA initially, and flashing his potential. My goodness, he's still ,learning how to pitch!

3] May was badly mishandled by Gardenhire. He was showing real promise, despite 1 Really bad start, when they/he made the misguided decision to move May to the pen instead of Pelfrey. Fast forward, the Twins were smart to put him back in the rotation for 2017. And he looked really good in ST before his elbow gave out. Back in 2018, he actually requested he go to the pen as he felt he could perform and contribute better there on his comeback. And then and there he was outstanding, and largely the same with the Twins.

This reminds me of Aguillera. Traded for as a SP, he moved to the pen, was moved back again to the rotation, but was meant to be a RP. I think May has the stuff to start and be, at least, solid. But I think time, opportunity, and his own mindset now has him as a reliever.

2018 was still his recovery year! Imagine how good he could be fixated on a pen role in his first full year back.

4] Astudillo. Said it before and will say it again, his biggest problem has always been other teams didn't realize what they had simply because he didn't fit some idea of what they wanted him to be. He has averaged .300+ for his entire milb career with contact. He showed/shows some budding power. I watched at catcher and 3B for the Twins in 2018 and wondered what could possibly be wrong with this guy? (I never got to actually see him play 1B, 2B or OF). Unless he actually starts/plays every day somewhere, I doubt he gets 500AB. But his hit tool is legit. His defense seems solid, at least. I believe in depth, and competition for roster spots. But right now, I would be fine with him and Adrianza as my utility players.

Sorry for the double and confusing post. Sometimes I get this big blob with no breaks and I edit and it comes out OK the second time. For some reason, I got this mess tonight.
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ToddlerHarmon
Nov 28 2018 05:46 AM
Hmmm Buxton portaging Astudillo. More momentum when he hits the wall, but also more padding. It checks out.
    • KidBro likes this

I've been wanting the Twins to try Kepler at 1B for about a year and a half.
 

    • birdwatcher, Mike Sixel and Dr. Evil like this
if getting more flexibility from Kepler is a priority he would provide more value playing more CF than 1b.

As for Astudillo, I’m all for giving the man a shot. Give him as many ABs as he earns.

Pitching wise, May and Romero don’t really need labels. Be more flexible with piecing it together and those two could provide very valuable multi-inning appearances coming into the game at a number of scenarios. Romero, Littell, Gonsalves and Mejia are all players that need to take a step towards being a quality mlb pitcher in ‘19. Romero looks really promising, Mejia looks pretty sure of a back of rotation type. No clue on Gonsalves and Littell.
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Major League Ready
Nov 28 2018 06:42 AM

Kepler's OPS is as low as Mauer's so he would be no improvement offensively and I seriously doubt he would be Mauer's equal defensively so I don't see how how Kepler at 1B makes us better. His value is that he is a plus defender as a corner OFer and can be used in CF when needed. Putting him at 1B negates his primary contribution so I see this as a step backwards. We not only get worse at 1B we weaken our OF defense.

 

Romero struggled in AAA last year. His control / command has to improve before he is of value in any role at the ML level. He would be more valuable as a starter so I rather they keep him at AAA until he improves his command.

 

I could go either way on May. More innings has more value but I am not convinced he can perform as a starter or stacker. However, it might be worth giving him one more shot.

 

I love Astudillo but let's not get ahead of ourselves. He too needs to prove himself beyond what is a relatively small sample size from last year.

    • Cris E, Sconnie, Vanimal46 and 1 other like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Nov 28 2018 07:20 AM

1) Yes...Kirilloff is coming; 2) YES...Romero needs to be in the majors in the pen now Itwill benefit the team and him; 3) No...leave May in the pen...relievers are becoming more and more important in today's game; The Twins are OK on starters now;A BP consisting of May, Rogers and Romero with a revitalized A. Reed and LOGY Vasquez and a correctly used Hildy has real potential; 4) YES, YES, YES...Play Astudillo and get him 500 at bats. This team needed a spark last year and will need one this year as it fights for first place in the AL Central.

    • birdwatcher, Teddy and caninatl04 like this

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