Twins Trying to Sustain Excellence
Image courtesy of © Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY SportsMiguel Sano and Byron Buxton create a duo that rivals almost any other organization's best prospects to hit the big leagues together. Both finished their prospect tenure within the top 10-15 players across all of baseball. While Sano exploded onto the scene as a rookie, it was late in 2017 that Buxton had his coming out party. At the current juncture though, neither has lived up to his potential and both have plenty of questions to answer.
Should everything break right, Buxton and Sano could combine for something like 10.0 fWAR during any given season. That would make both players more than relevant during MVP discussions, and it’d certainly have the Minnesota Twins eyeing the top of the AL Central Division standings. Right now, that is the peak, but it’s about getting them there that the Twins in 2019 will focus on.
It’s not just that pair when it comes to future success, however. Max Kepler has long been one of Minnesota’s heralded young stars, and it’s time he found consistency of his own. A guy that has been vocal about rebelling against the launch angle revolution, Kepler seemed to make a change in 2018. Although the numbers left him in the same middle state he’d finished in since his debut in 2016, the process seemed to be one worth building upon.
Looking back at Kepler’s 2018 season, he posted a career high fly ball rate (46.2%) and married to with a career low 37.8% ground ball rate. His 37.1% hard hit rate was also a high-water mark, and his strikeout rate was below 20% for the first time (15.7%). Hitting the ball higher and harder is a great start, but a .236 BABIP on a .224 average suggest his trajectory has plenty of work left to be done. Turning more of the fly balls into line drives should open avenues for more pop outs to become extra base hits or home runs.
Plate discipline is something Max has consistently improved upon since reaching the big leagues. He was at his best across the board last year, notching impressive totals for chase rate, swinging strike percentage, and contact numbers. Again, it’s just another notch on the checklist of a process being committed to. What both Kepler and hitting coach James Rowson now need to unlock is the results.
There’s no denying Minnesota’s future and sustained success relies on the backs of Sano and Buxton. Those two alone aren’t going to be able to carry the burden for the club however and having other key contributors in a similar age bracket is a must. Jose Berrios can anchor the rotation, and Eddie Rosario’s ability will be utilized as long as it lasts. Kepler has the tools to be a big-time star as well though, and the only thing holding him back is the unlocked potential of the entire tool arsenal at his disposal.
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine should certainly be ridiculed if they fail to spend appropriately this winter. The money is more than available, and opportunity is on the table for Rocco Baldelli’s club. It’s understandable that they’d be a bit hesitant at making the big moves before seeing how some key guys already within the organization respond when backed up against a make or break situation. Bringing in new talent only to suffer another year of internal flops would be anything but ideal, but a commitment to supplementing, and a realization of actual value by those currently here, could lead to something truly special for the hometown nine.
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