And, as we get to the All-Star break, it appears that the Twins and their fans, might just be seeing a new core. Hopefully they will be able to lead the Twins back to sustained winning ways.On Monday, I was digging around online, looking for something to write about the Twins first half. As per usual, that meant spending a little bit of time digging around Baseball-Reference.com. Right there on the main 2017 Twins page, it was clear what I needed to write about.
Baseball Reference has its own version of WAR (Wins Above Replacement, or bWAR). Each day, they highlight the top 12 on each team's roster with their mug shots.
The Twins Top 5 Players in 2017 (by bWAR) are:
- Ervin Santana - 3.4
- Max Kepler - 2.1
- Miguel Sano - 2.0
- Byron Buxton - 1.9
- Jose Berrios - 1.7
Terry Ryan may not have been able to lead the big league team to many wins between his return and 2016, but he has always been greatly respected in the industry for his scouting capabilities, for his ability to see high-end talent.
While he would probably never have said it publicly, so as not to disrespect other prospects, but he knew he had something special in Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios.
Those four have all been Top 100 prospects.
THE CORE FOUR
Max Kepler was Baseball America's #30 prospect before the 2016 season. Jose Berrios came in at #36 and then #28 in their pre-2015 and pre-2016 rankings. Byron Buxton was their #10 prospect before the 2013 season, and then was their top prospect before 2014. Before both 2015 and 2016, they ranked him #2 in all of baseball.
Miguel Sano became a regular in the Baseball America preseason rankings. He entered it before the 2010 season at #94. Before 2011, he ranked #60. He was their #18 prospect before the 2012 season. That year, he and Eddie Rosario put together video game numbers in Elizabethton, and Sano jumped up to #9 before the 2013 season. Before the 2014 season, he was BA's #6 prospect. Despite missing that entire season, he still ranked #13 before the 2015 season.
With those rankings come high expectations, fair or not. Each of these players has less than two years of experience in the big leagues. They've all experienced some ups and downs. While there are a few prospects who jump up to the big leagues and experience immediate success, most do struggle.
Sano illustrates both sides of this. He came up in early July of 2015 and hit great the rest of that season. He struggled more in 2016, and still hit 25 homers. So far in 2017, he's put up his 2015 numbers. Now he'll have to show it's for real. While he may hit 40 homers, he may also break the single-season strikeout record.
Buxton has followed the path of the likes of Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer. Those guys moved up and down from AAA to MLB for a couple of years before their careers took off. They had long and very successful careers. At the same time, he has been as good as any defensive outfielder in baseball, and has the ability to change games with his speed and his arm. He showed the type of power potential he has last September, but that hasn't translated to this point in 2017. Yet, we continue to see glimpses of what he will be.
Max Kepler was able to hit lefties almost as well as righties during his breakout season of 2015 in Chattanooga. In the big leagues, he has struggled against right-handers. He's been streaky, but again, you can see the talent. He is a good defensive outfielder with good range and an above average arm. Offensively, he has a perfect swing and often hits the ball real hard. An assumption might be that over time, he'll adjust some and add some lift to those line drives which could produce a lot of home runs.
Fans wanted the Twins to call up Jose Berrios late in the 2015 season. We had to wait until last May, and his 2016 in the big leagues was a mess. He had almost no command of any of his pitches. This year, after spending a month in Rochester to start the season, he has been fantastic. For the most part, he has had much better command of his mid-90s fastball. While still inconsistent, he's shown he is capable of a plus-plus breaking ball and changeup. He's been better than expected so far in 2017.
In other words, it's very exciting to see these four players continue to develop. However, what is most exciting for me is knowing that each one of them still has a lot of room for growth and should continue to get better, even much better, in coming years.
CORES FROM BEFORE
Those '60s teams had a core that included the likes of Killebrew, Oliva, Allison, Kaat, Perry, Pascual and more. Later in the decade, they continued to win while adding Carew and Tovar and then Blyleven.
Those '80s teams had a core of Puckett, Gaetti, Brunansky, Hrbek and Viola. They added some veterans in 1987 and 1991 and won World Series titles.
Then in the early '00s, the Twins had nearly a decade of success, with several division titles. They also had a core of young players, including a season which included nearly 20 rookies. Their core included Koskie, Mientkiewicz, Hunter, Jones, Radke, and it continued with the likes of Mauer, Morneau, Santana, Cuddyer and others who fit in with the original guys.
FanGraphs TOP TWINS
Since we know that they tend to be a little different, I thought I'd look at the FanGraphs version of WAR (fWAR) and see if it showed much different.
Top 2017 Twins according to FanGraphs (fWAR)
- Miguel Sano - 2.2
- Max Keper - 1.5
- Ervin Santana - 1.3
- Jose Berrios - 1.3
- Joe Mauer 1.1
- Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, Eduardo Escobar - 0.9
BUT WAIT... THERE'S MORE
Even more encouraging is that they are joined by a few other young players who are either taking their early-career lumps or working through some AA and AAA development.
Adalberto Mejia turned 24 this year, and he's been a good find. He was at the back end of the Baseball America Top 100 last year at midseason. He's done a nice job, particularly his last four starts. The left-hander has had a couple of clunkers, but watching him shows that he has the stuff and makeup to be a mid-rotation starter. He should be a part of the Twins starting rotation, along with Berrios, for years to come.
Jorge Polanco has had a tough season. He's been better than expected defensively at shortstop, though still average at best. Offensively, he has struggled this year, more than he has in the past in the minors or his stints in the big leagues. He's also just 23, so taking lumps and experiencing a longer slump should not be surprising.
Eddie Rosario is like that basketball player that catches and shoots a 28-footer. The coach yells, "NO!!" and when the ball goes in says, "Good shot!" Rosario can be about as frustrating a player as there is in the game. He doesn't walk enough, wanting to swing at everything. He catches most everything close in left field, and he has a strong arm, but sometimes those throws go to the wrong base, or miss its intended target by a long way. For the last three or four weeks, he's been hitting great, including showing some of the power he's got.
BUT WAIT... THERE'S MORE COMING
And there are more players coming. Later in the week, we'll take a look at the next wave of prospects, several guys who are (hopefully) going to be able to contribute to the next winning teams. While there may only be a couple that fit into the Top 100 type of prospect as The Core Four, there are a bunch who are nearly ready to contribute to the Twins, and contribute to the Twins over the next half-decade.
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