Offseason Primer: The Core Seven (?)
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA TodayThroughout the really rough Twins seasons from 2011 through the surprising 2015 season, and then through the equality surprising - and incredibly disappointing - 2016 season, the hope the so many Twins fans held on to involved the highly-touted prospects.
The New York Yankees had their Core Four - Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera. They were the key to those four-straight Yankees championships in the late 1990s. Sure, they had help, but building a core from within is vital to any sort of championship run.
While my expectations for the Twins core of minor league prospects wasn’t going to be for them to win multiple World Series titles, the hope was certainly for them to bring the Twins back to a competitive state. It was for them to get back to the playoffs and be a perennial contender for the World Series.
That core of players came up between 2015 and 2016 and were a big part of the Twins run to the AL Wild Card game in 2017. But then there were struggles by several of these core players, as well as some of the free agents that were brought in to contribute, and 2018 was a disappointing season.
Today, let’s take a look at that Core Seven and see how they’ve done and where they stand going into the 2018-2019 offseason.
Admittedly, Mejia was an add-on to the list. When he came to the Twins from the Giants in a deadline deal with the Giants for Eduardo Nunez, he had recently been named in a midseason Top 100 Prospect ranking by Baseball America. He made the Twins Opening Day roster in 2017, and he had some ups and downs. While he usually struggled to complete five innings, he showed that he had some decent stuff. And, he was just 24 as the 2017 season came to an end.
Mejia didn’t make this roster to start the 2018 season. In fact, he didn’t make an appearance for the Twins until the end of June. He was fantastic for the Red Wings starting in June and July. He made four appearances for the Twins in late July and early August. In those four games, he gave up just two runs over 18 1/3 innings. Over his final three appearances (against Boston, Cleveland and Cleveland), he gave up just three hits (and four walks) over 13 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, he left that game with a sore wrist and forearm and didn’t pitch again in 2018.
Give some thought to which pitchers will comprise the Twins starting rotation in 2019. Where does Mejia fit into that group? Is he part of a Core? Probably not, but maybe as we see more Openers or the Brewer Bullpen strategy, Mejia’s ability to get through three innings might be valuable.
Out of options, the Twins had to keep Polanco in the big leagues throughout the 2017 season. In June, he was hitting just .213 (.570) with little power. Paul Molitor gave him several games off. Over the final two months, Polanco hit .316/.377/.553 (.931) with 15 doubles and 10 home runs. He became the team’s best hitter down the stretch and hit third in the lineup.
There was excitement surrounding Polanco as spring training began, but in mid-March, news came that Polanco had been suspended for 80 games for a performance-enhancing drug violation. He returned to the team in early July. While it took him a little while to get going, he ended up hitting .288/.345/.427 (.773) with 18 doubles and six homers.
Polanco is yet to reach arbitration, so he will be an important part of the 2019 Twins season. Will he play shortstop or second base? That may be a question for the Twins front office to determine. Polanco has another year before he hits arbitration.
Rosario put together an impressive rookie season in 2015. He struggled early in 2016 which earned him a trip back to Rochester for a month, but really since then, he’s been one of the Twins more consistent hitters. In 2017, he hit .290/.328/.507 (.836) with 33 doubles and 27 home runs. In 2018, he hit .288/.323/.479 (.803) with 31 doubles and 24 home runs despite missing the final 12 games of the Twins schedule. He was the Twins Daily choice for team MVP.
Rosario will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason and should get a hefty raise, earning eight-to-ten times as much as he did in 2018. He’s earned it, and he should remain the Twins left fielder.
Kepler signed with the Twins on the same day as Jorge Polanco in 2009. Kepler really didn’t get a lot of prospect fanfare, at least not nationally, until his monster 2015 season in Chattanooga where he won the Southern League MVP and helped the Lookouts to the league championship. That season, he hit .322/.416/.531 (.947) with 32 doubles, 13 triples and nine home runs.
Through his first three MLB seasons, Kepler has been remarkably consistent. Often that is a good thing, but it would be great to see him taking steps forward. His OPS in those years have been .734, .737, and .727. He has hit 17 home runs, then 19 home runs, and on the final day of the 2018 season, he knocked his 20th home run of the season. But it’s also important to remember that his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to fangraphs have been 1.2, 1.4, and it jumped up to 2.6 in 2018.
Kepler should remain a part of the Twins future and at least their 2019 plans. His defense is strong, even when he played centerfield. He has some power, and he remains full of power potential. He is Super-2 arbitration eligible this offseason. So while Kepler has been valuable while making close to league minimum, he may have to start taking those strides forward starting in 2019.
Buxton has been highly-touted since the Twins used the #2 overall pick in the 2012 draft on the athletic outfielder. He was the #1 overall prospect in all of baseball two years. He was rushed up to the big leagues in 2015. Since then, he has endured long slumps. He has had a variety of injuries, many caused by how hard he plays the game or slamming into walls. He has bumped up and down from the Twins to Rochester and back and forth several times.
In 2017, he played in 140 games, and he showed exactly why so many are so excited about. After a slow start through his first 18 games, he hit .274/.333/.452 (.785) with 12 doubles, six triples and 16 home runs over the final 122 games. Add in that he is the best defensive center fielder in baseball. He won the AL Gold Glove and the AL Platinum Glove (best overall defensive player in the league).
But 2018 was a major disappointment for Buxton. He got off to a slow start, and then he had a migraine. He fouled a ball off of his foot, and broke his big toe. He missed a little time, but he came back before the bone had healed, and the struggles continued to affect him. He went on the DL later in the season and stayed in Rochester the rest of the year. As we know, he was sent home rather than joining the Twins for September.
So what does that mean for 2019, especially considering Jake Cave came up and hit very well. It should be obvious that the Twins should not trade Buxton. At 25, he still has the world of potential. He just needs to get healthy and stay healthy. Plus, it would be selling very low on Buxton. Don’t give up on Buxton. 2019 is Buxton’s first of potentially four years of arbitration.
Sano was a consensus Top 10 overall prospect in national rankings as he climbed the ladder. He may have been up in the big leagues in 2014, but Tommy John surgery ended his season. He came back in 2015. He was called up to the Twins in July, and had a huge rookie season. In fact, the Twins media voted him as not only the Twins rookie of the year but also their MVP. In 2016, he took a couple of steps backwards and missed time with a couple of injuries. In 2017, he had a big first half and made the All Star team and was runner up to Aaron Judge in the home run derby.
His 2017 season ended early with a leg injury that resulted in a titanium rod being placed in his leg. During the holidays, he was accused of assault. He was not suspended, but his reputation took another hit. He started the season in a big slump, filled with strikeouts. He went on the DL in late April for a month. He returned, and he really struggled, looked lost at the plate. The Twins made the decision to option him all the way to Ft. Myers. He returned in late July, looking different, but the play was the same. He played in just one of the team’s final 24 after a late slide re-aggravated his leg injury. And, just over a week ago, he was detained for an incident in the Dominican Republic that was deemed an accident. The Rise and Fall of Miguel Sano has been incredible, and we certainly hope that there will be another rise in the equation.
Like Buxton, trading Sano should not be an option. He’s still young and still has talent and huge power potential. It would be selling very low. Can Sano stick to his plan and maintain his weight loss? Can he play third base, or should he shift to first base? Can he find a way to strike out at a reasonable clip?Those questions all still need to be answered. Sano is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason.
Berrios was the Twins supplemental first-round pick (32nd overall) in 2012. He gradually moved up prospect rankings and his hard work became a social media marvel. He continued to pitch well and move up. He was the Twins Daily Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2014and 2015. He debuted with the Twins in 2016 and really struggled. He came back in 2017 and was much improved. He went 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP.
In 2018, he was even better, especially in the first half when he earned his first All Star appearance. On the season, he went 12-11 with a 3.84 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. He ended the season with 202 strikeouts in 192 1/3 innings. He was the choice for Twins Daily Pitcher of the Year.
While he may not be a Justin Verlander-like ace, the Twins should be excited about the potential of the hard-throwing Berrios. Along with counting on him for 2019, the Twins should consider locking him up to a long-term contract extension to keep him at the top of the Twins rotation for years to come. He has one more year before he becomes arbitration-eligible.
It started with The Core Four, and by the end of 2017, it became somewhat of a Core Seven. 2018 created more question marks regarding most of these players than it provided answers. How many from this group do you feel remain part of the organization’s core? How many should? Who should be handed jobs heading into 2019? Who should be on the potential trade block?
These are some of the questions the Twins front office will have to answer in the offseason. You'll be able to go through the Twins 40-man roster, consider potential free agents and trade targets and develop your own blueprint by using our 2019 Offseason Handbook, which is available for preorder. Claim your copy now, get it before its official release. Yesterday we revealed the front cover and our star-studded lineup of guest authors.
- Cory Engelhardt, mikelink45, dbminn and 2 others like this