The 6 Best Developments for the Minnesota Twins in 2018
Image courtesy of Winslow Townson, USA Today#1: Jose Berrios Blossoms
In some ways, Berrios simply solidified his status after emerging in 2017. His ERA and FIP were nearly identical. His peripherals mainly held steady. There wasn't a huge difference in his overall performance between the two seasons, but backing up his breakout was an accomplishment on its own, especially with Berrios pushing his innings total to a career-high 192.
That last part is very important. Berrios as at a critical juncture for any young pitcher, pushing his body to new limits in assuming a full MLB starter's workload. His arm is responding well to say the least; in his final outing on September 28th, Berrios averaged his highest fastball velo of the year (per Brooks Baseball) while tying his season-high for swinging strikes (17).
He was an All-Star at age 24, and has established a high-caliber baseline with room for growth. In my mind, striking a long-term deal with Berrios is one of the club's foremost priorities this offseason.
#2: Kyle Gibson Officially Turns the Corner
Like that of Berrios, Gibson's story isn't entirely new to the 2018 season. He started figuring it out late last year, but has teased us with glimmers of success in the past. He needed to prove it here in 2018, and did just that.
He threw his fastball and slider harder than ever, pushing his whiff rate to a career-high 11.5%. (Prior to 2017, he'd never reached double-digits.) Like Berrios, he set a new personal record for workload, coming just three frames short of 200. He stayed healthy from front to back, and delivered 18 quality starts in 32 turns.
His persistently mediocre control makes Gibson more of a quality mid-rotation type than a frontman, but that he's better than most in that category. And the Twins conveniently have him under control for 2019, his age-31 season.
#3: Mitch Garver Catches On
The Twins have much vested in Garver. With Jason Castro's contract expiring after 2019, the organization has little else in the short-term pipeline at catcher. They really needed the 27-year-old to show something this year and thankfully he was up to the task.
Our TD panel recently named Garver 2018 Twins Rookie of the Year after he posted a .749 OPS at a position where the AL average was .658. He showed exactly the kind of progressive improvement you hope to see in a first full year, shaking off a slow start to hit .293/.361/.476 in his final 55 games. He also put up a 32-to-18 K/BB ratio during that span. Garver's combination of power and discipline give him a sustainable formula for offensive success going forward.
His defense also came along over the summer, though not quite as convincingly. Garver finished as one of the league's worst pitch framers and committed more than a couple head-scratching mental gaffes. But as he began to see more steady playing time following Castro's knee injury, Garver appeared to grow more adept. Paul Molitor spoke in late August of an "overall sense that my pitchers have gotten a lot more comfortable throwing with him as this season has gone on.”
Of course, Garver's year did end on a bit of a somber note, as a concussion with lingering effects cost him much of September. But he made it back for a couple starts in the final week (albeit not at catcher), alleviating some concern.
#4: Jake Cave Emerges
Narrowly behind Garver in our ROTY balloting was Cave, who also turned in standout offensive production while playing most his defensive innings at a premium position. The outfielder was a pleasant surprise after being acquired in March from New York, where he was squeezed out of a roster already drenched in power.
Cave had turned a corner in that regard last year in the Yankees system, hitting 20 homers after totaling 19 in his first four pro seasons, and in 2018 he proved it legit. In his first exposure to MLB pitching, the 25-year-old tallied 32 extra-base hits (13 bombs) to finish with a .481 slugging percentage in 91 games.
He achieved these numbers through an extremely aggressive approach, striking out 33% of the time with minimal patience, but it worked out for him because – like fellow free-swinging outfielder (and Twins Daily 2018 MVP) Eddie Rosario – Cave hit the ball hard consistently. Only 8.6% of his contact qualified as "soft" (per FanGraphs), lowest on the team.
Already, Cave has established himself as a valuable fourth outfielder and it's not hard to envision him becoming a quality starter. The Twins control his rights for the next five years. Great get.
#5: Top Prospects Elevate
All too often over the past eight years, Twins fans have been sold hope, as the system excelled and the major-league team flopped. So if you're having a hard time getting jazzed up about this, I get it. After all these years, Minnesota's vaunted pipeline still hasn't produced the desired impact, and now we're coming to grips with a realization that some young players who seemed destined for stardom may fall well short.
But don't let that completely douse your enthusiasm over what happened on the farm this year – specifically in Fort Myers, with the organization's top three minor-leaguers. MLB Pipeline has shortstop Royce Lewis and outfielder Alex Kirilloff ranked as the seventh- and 10th-best prospects in baseball, respectively.
The last time the Twins had two of the top 10 overall prospects? Well, it was only five years ago, when Byron Buxton was first and Miguel Sano was fourth, which... isn't gonna help with the dampered enthusiasm. But these are their own players, and they are incredibly talented – as is MLB.com's No. 70 prospect Brusdar Graterol, a fireballing 20-year-old righty.
Any or all of these three could feasibly start next year in Double-A, putting them in range of a 2019 big-league debut. With Buxton and Sano on wayward paths, it sure helps to have another elite wave of youthful upside on the way.
#6: Trevor May Returns Triumphantly
I wrote earlier this week about May's phenomenal return to the Twins bullpen, which produced career highs in velocity, whiffs, K/BB rates, and just about every other metric.
"I’m not a guy who’s gonna sit here and mope about how hard I worked and now it’s not gonna happen,” said a dejected yet determined May in spring of 2017, when his torn UCL was announced. True to his word, he went back to work and he made it happen.
The righty underwent Tommy John surgery, spent about 16 months recovering and rehabbing, then returned to the major-league mound on July 31st. He allowed a run in that game, and then was essentially lights-out the rest of the way (excepting one clunky appearance as "opener").
He finished the year as closer, looking fantastic, and I don't think the Twins would be crazy to just leave him there. But they may opt for a more experienced guy who could slide May into a (potentially more valuable) fireman role. Either way, the 29-year-old surpassed all expectations in his return and his presence makes a huge difference in this bullpen's outlook.
Let's hear your takes. What was the most promising development for the Twins in 2018, from your view?
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