A Big Breakout for Minnesota’s Big Three
Image courtesy of © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsThere’s no denying that baseball isn’t an individual or star driven sport. Every single team in the league should be jumping at an opportunity to ink either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Alone, no player is pushing any team to the postseason, and a World Series is a by-product of a 25-man roster that dominates the opposition. There’s no more integral development than for Rocco Baldelli and the Minnesota Twins to generate the highest level of production out of both Sano and Buxton. Although Berrios was an All-Star in 2018, it’s hard not to think that he probably has more in the tank as well.
Let’s go out on a limb here and suggest that each member of this trio breaks out in a new way for 2019. What does that look like?
Byron Buxton- Finishes with an .800 OPS and generates MVP votes
2018 was a disaster for the Twins starting center fielder. He played in just 28 games at the big-league level, and his .383 OPS was a futile in every sense of the word. Defense is a natural talent of Byron’s and it’s something that doesn’t slump. Bulking up with extra muscle this offseason should help to provide durability for his all-out style in the grass, and you can bet he’ll have a September-sized chip on his shoulder.
Despite a high level of production in multiple Triple-A stints, he has yet to translate that success over an extended period with Minnesota. After returning to the major league lineup on August 1, 2017 Byron turned in a .298/.342/.541 slash line. That 56-game run earned him an 18th place finish in the MVP voting, and was highlighted by a Gold Glove and Defensive Player of the Year award. The best version of Buxton is probably a guy that hits 20 homers while also having a swing-and-miss tendency. The .800 OPS mark is a good baseline for him to enter the conversation of being a star, and that’s where Rocco will need to drive him toward in the season ahead.
Miguel Sano- Crosses the 30-home run plateau
What started out as a slow burn turned into a nosedive for the Twins third basemen in 2018. After finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting during the 2015 season, Sano turned in a .781 OPS for his second trip through the big leagues. In year three, Miguel made his first All-Star Game, and an .859 OPS looked like shades of the player that burst onto the scene during his first 80 games. Then there was the broken leg, and the assault scandal, and an eventual demotion all the way to Single-A. Wipe the slate clean and let’s get going.
New manager, new focus, and running out of chances, 2019 is looking like a real crossroads for Sano. Soon he’ll be 26 years old and there’re no more excuses to hide behind. This offseason the Twins have monitored his workouts and it genuinely appears like he’s in great shape and has been committed to his conditioning program. Baldelli will be tasked with connecting with and getting the most out of the former top 10 prospect. Sano has never played in more than 116 games during a season, but I’ll bank on this being the campaign in which he gets it done.
You won’t ever find a time in which Sano doesn’t have swing-and-miss tendencies. He’s posted his two worst swinging strike percentages in his two best major league seasons. He’s also made a relatively consistent level of contact across the entirety of his career. When he’s been at his best however, his hard-hit rates were career highs as well. As a by-product of crushing the ball, those two years (2015/17) were the only instances in which he’s had a HR/FB ratio north of 26% as well. Simply put, it’s about dialing in for Miguel and connecting when he does so. The Dominican clubbed 28 bombs in 114 games two years ago. Should he get beyond 140 games in 2019, he may clear 30 by double digits.
Jose Berrios- Flirts with a sub 3.00 ERA and earns a second straight All-Star berth
There’s no reason to take anything away from what Jose Berrios did last season for the Twins. As a 24-year-old, he made his first All-Star Game appearance and turned in some truly unforgettable performances. While the flashes of brilliance were great to see, there was still plenty of hiccups along the way. Berrios probably backed into the All-Star Game despite teammate Eddie Rosario looking like the more logical representative. Despite posting four double-digit strikeout games, he owned a pedestrian 4.63 ERA in his final 16 starts. Plenty of promise, yet to breakthrough, that must all change in a big way.
Since making it to the big leagues, Berrios has seen his numbers trend in the right direction. Year-over-year he’s upped his K/9 tally while dropping both his BB/9 and H/9. Home runs have always been sort of a bugaboo, and while he still gave up more than one-per-nine in 2018, he’s worked hard to move away from the 1.9 HR/9 total of 2016.
Having so much movement on his pitches, Berrios has had to home in with command over the course of his time in the big leagues. Although he’s not a finished product, it’s great that he’s not afraid either. Working inside has resulted in 26 hit batters over the past two seasons, and split evenly, that tally led the league two seasons ago. Keeping the base paths clean and avoiding the big inning will need to be areas of focus should he take the next step. Minnesota’s built a stable of starters that all have strong floors. Where Jose can separate himself is by reaching the ceiling of his potential performance.
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