Reasons For Optimism
Image courtesy of Marilyn Indahl, USA TodayNOT OVER THEIR HEADS
The Twins are eight games over .500 and yet they aren’t being led by any players who are playing over their heads. Looking at the stat sheet, there are some players having solid 2015 seasons, but not to a point where it seems unsustainable. Only three players – Brian Dozier (.835), Trevor Plouffe (.826), and Torii Hunter (.796) – have an OPS over .720.
Brian Dozier’s not going to hit 35 home runs (most likely) this season, but we know he can hit 20. Torii Hunter could hit 20, and so could Trevor Plouffe.
Joe Mauer has been OK (.712 OPS)
It is fair to say that the Twins can get more from Oswaldo Arcia. Kennys Vargas was already sent to AAA to become more productive, and Danny Santana certainly could return to Rochester at any point. It’s not surprising that those two sophomores are slumping, or regressing, if you prefer.
Center field was always going to be a stopgap position with Jordan Schafer. He was putting in time until the team deemed Aaron Hicks ready to return. That happened recently and although he hasn’t hit yet, he has played some really strong defense.
On the pitching side, Glen Perkins has shown he is healthy and he’s been one of baseball’s best closers all season. That isn’t something that I would consider over his head. His fastball/slider combo is devastating, and he is an All-Star.
The bullpen has performed well. Aaron Thompson was very good in the first month, and Blaine Boyer has been far better than expected. However, the Twins have been successful in recent years with signing relievers to minor league contracts, giving them a chance and seeing success. That was the case with Jared Burton and Casey Fien. Speaking of Fien, he hasn’t been a part of the bullpen most of the season, and he’s been very good the last two years.
The Twins starting rotation has been the big reason for the team’s success. They are giving up about a run less per nine innings and that difference has been huge to the Twins success. Ricky Nolasco has won five games in a row since a clunker in his first game and a DL stint, but he hasn’t pitched out of his head. He’s had good success in the past. Kyle Gibson may not post a sub-3.00 ERA all season, but there has always been at least some belief from many that he could be a successful ground ball pitcher. Mike Pelfrey hasn’t been good for several years, and he’s not going to post a 3.00 ERA, but he is finally healthy. Phil Hughes has a 4.50 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. He certainly can be better. And, Trevor May has been all right, and better of late.
As important as anything, it's important to note that the manager, Paul Molitor, does not appear to be in over his head. I know some were concerned since he had no game-managing experience at any level. However, he's been involved in the game for nearly 40 years and knows it well.
For a team to win and win over the course of the season, it must have depth. We know that a team won’t go through a season with only five starting pitchers. The Twins have already used six. Odds are, they will need more. Injuries are part of the game. Demotions and promotions are part of the game.
The Twins minor league system has been touted as one of the best in baseball the last couple of years. Some of those prospects are getting close to being ready to contribute.
This time, let’s start with the starting rotation. The current starting five has been solid. There should be no question that Tommy Milone is a big leaguer. He is a solid back-half of the rotation starter. He’s toiling, and dominating, in Rochester right now. He should be up, but he’s going to have to bide his time until needed.
I also believe that if it came down to it, the Twins could get competent starts from the likes of non-roster pitchers Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers. Who knows? By the end of the season, it’s possible that J.O. Berrios could debut in 2015.
In the bullpen, AJ Achter and Lester Oliveros have been terrific in Rochester. Caleb Thielbar has been struggling with his control some in Rochester, but Logan Darnell and Ryan O’Rourke are also pitching well out of the Red Wings bullpen as well. Zack Jones has clearly been Chattanooga’s top reliever, though both Nick Burdi and Jake Reed have been significantly better since the calendar turned to May. Those last three guys can all hit 96+ mph consistently. And now, Alex Meyer is pitching out of the Red Wings bullpen. If he can go with his elite fastball and slider, dropping the other pitches and re-finding his control, he can be an upper-echelon reliever in time too.
Look around the diamond too. If there were an injury at any position, there would be someone who could come in and not hurt the team. Prospects could also come up and gain experience. Eddie Rosario is a good example of this. He has shown some glimpses of what he can become, but he’s also had moments that show that he’s got more improvement to make before coming up full time.
At catcher, Josmil Pinto and Eric Fryer are at AAA. Pinto is slumping, but the general belief is that he will hit. Stuart Turner is in AA.
At first base, Kennys Vargas is now at AAA. The Twins signed Ryan Wheeler last week to a minor league deal. He’s still just 26 years old and has big league time in each of the last three seasons.
At shortstop, Eduardo Escobar could take over should the Twins decide to send Danny Santana back to AAA. Jorge Polanco is producing well in that stacked Chattanooga lineup. He could play shortstop or second base if needed.
Miguel Sano has been on fire since the beginning of May. His defense could aptly be called spotty, but he can make the plays and has the arm to play the position. He would likely strike out a ton if called up for a couple of weeks or a month, but he could also hit a few home runs.
In the outfield, Rosario and Hicks are already there. Oswaldo Arcia is starting a rehab stint in Rochester now. Byron Buxton appears to have come out of his slump recently. He’s been really streaky this season, but his athleticism and talent have been on display. He could be an option at some point this season too.
The Twins have been one of the bigger surprises so far during the 2015 season. There are still a lot of question marks with the roster, but it’s not hard to be more optimistic than we have been in recent years. Aside from some bullpen guys, where variability should be expected, there aren’t a lot of Twins performing way over their heads. And should some players struggle or get hurt the organization now has some depth that should help it overcome. And finally, some of that touted, elite prospect talent is starting to get close.
If nothing else, isn’t it nice for Twins fans to have reason for optimism?
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