Mailbag: Wahoos Line-Up, Leadership, Buxton's Progress
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
It’s hard to predict what the organization will want to do with some of the club’s top talent. Prospects like Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff spent limited time in the FSL last year so both will likely end up starting 2019 back in Fort Myers (High A). However, Minnesota could be aggressive with someone like Kirilloff, who destroyed the ball last year. Both Lewis and Kirilloff are expected to spend time in Pensacola (Double A) this season.
If I’m making the Opening Day line-up for the Blue Wahoos, here’s who I’d pencil in:
C: Brian Navarreto
1B: Luke Raley
2B: Travis Blankenhorn
3B: Luis Arraez
SS: Jordan Gore
RF: Alex Kirilloff
CF: Tanner English
LF: Jaylin Davis
DH: Brent Rooker
With Mauer and Dozier out of the picture, I believe the front office brought in Nelson Cruz to provide veteran leadership. This is especially true with the younger players that need to make positive strides next year. “He’s going to set a wonderful example in the way that he prepares for games and just being the person he is,” new manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That alone is going to be an asset for us going forward.” When it comes to the pitching staff, I think Kyle Gibson continues to be one of the best leaders on the team. Other veteran pitchers like Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda could also provide clubhouse leadership, particularly with their experience from other organizations.
Between his flowing locks on the bases and his epic home run last week, Astudillo is quickly becoming a cult legend in Minnesota. Looking at the construction of the roster, one must wonder how he will fit into the club’s plans this year. Jason Castro and Mitch Garver should make almost all the team’s starts at catcher. Astudillo showed his ability to play multiple positions last season so that could make him a unique utility option. That being said, I think Garver will be the starting catcher for the foreseeable future. As fans saw last year, one injury could make Astudillo part of the team’s everyday plans.
To answer the question more specifically, imagine the Twins tied atop the AL Central with the Indians on the final day of the season. Minnesota is down to Kansas City 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Astudillo comes off the bench for a pinch-hit three-run home run to win the division for Minnesota. He pimps the home run more than he did in the Venezuelan Winter League.
I think the team needs Buxton to make the most progress next season. We’ve seen what Sano could be after his All-Star caliber season in 2017 and it would be great to see him get back to that level. Buxton has the chance to impact the game on so many different levels and Sano’s game has always had some limitations. I think Kepler is a good complementary player, but he is never going to be a guy to completely change the game for a club. Realistically, these three players all need to make improvements if the Twins are going to be competitive in the AL Central over the next five years.
Minnesota has been proactive in the minor leagues by utilizing an “opener” at Double A and Triple A more frequently than at the big-league level. That should change in 2019 with new manager Rocco Baldelli. The idea behind the “opener” is that the starting pitcher can avoid the top of the line-up at the beginning of the game. Hypothetically, this would allow the starter to get further into the game. As we saw in last year’s playoffs, the Brewers used Wide Miley, a lefty, so the Dodgers stacked their line-up with righties. Then they removed him after one batter and put in a right-handed pitcher.
From a manager’s perspective, he could create line-ups in a couple of different ways. The first would be to keep in their normal spots the best hitters, no matter who the opponent uses as a starter. Another way to create a line-up would be to make sure there is good balance of right- and left-handed hitters. Would it work to move the club’s three and four hitters to the five and six spot in the order? This would mean fewer at-bats for the team’s best hitters, but they could be in the line-up to face the starter in their first at-bat.
I don’t think paying Keuchel makes sense. There are also some low-risk free agent options that are still on the market. I think players like Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Taylor Rogers, Andrew Vasquez, and even Fernando Romero could get opportunities to serve as an opener in 2019.
What do you think about this week's questions? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
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