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Article: Offseason Primer: The Core Seven (?)

jorge polanco max kepler miguel sano jose berrios byron buxton
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#1 Seth Stohs

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 12:21 AM

At the All Star break in 2017, I wrote up an article discussing the Twins Core Four. During the Twins recent poor seasons, there was a lot of hope tied to these four Twins prospects who were now playing in the big leagues. As the 2017 season was nearing its completion, and the Twins were marching toward the playoffs, I wrote that the Twins might just have a Core Seven. Three other prospects that didn’t come up with quite the hype as the top four, but were still borderline Top 100 prospects too. Here we are, one year later, and the Twins front office has a lot of big decisions to make, and potentially a lot of money to spend. How do these seven players factor into this offseason?Throughout 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.


ADALBERTO MEJIA

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.


JORGE POLANCO

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.


EDDIE ROSARIO

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.


MAX KEPLER

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.


BYRON BUXTON

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.


MIGUEL SANO

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.


JOSE BERRIOS

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.

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#2 theBOMisthebomb

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 05:18 AM

The Twins need most of these guys to fulfill their potential. The most intriguing to me is Kepler and whether he can progress beyond slightly above average status.
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#3 Blackjack

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 06:34 AM

I think trading any of these guys at this point would be foolish, you'd be selling them at their low points, they just need to play, and hopefully keep improving.  

 

For the Twins to contend in 2019, all seven would need to have career years, what are the odds of that happening?? Slim and none. From that standpoint, any players that the Twins bring in via free agency or trades should be young.  Wait until 2020 to break the bank on a major free agent.

 

Good article Seth!!

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#4 rdehring

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 06:48 AM

Is Mejia part of their core?Or will he even be part of the team come opening day?Will be interesting spring for him as I see him in a 7 man battle for the #5 starting spot.

 

In a way, the Twins are screwed.How do you plan for 2019 when you have two players, Sano and Buxton, who could be anywhere from busts to all-stars?Gotta pencil them in as starters, can't trade'em, gotta build in a plan should either or both not play due to injury or failure.Not a clue how the FO is going to handle this.

 

Add me to the list of those who believe that 2019 will be Kepler's break-out year.If not, Kiriloff will replace him in right by 2020 with Kepler moving on or into a backup role.

 

Sign Rosario and Berrios to extensions.Everyone else can wait another year.

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#5 tarheeltwinsfan

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 06:56 AM

The Twins will need a miracle to ever win the pennant in the near future...maybe 3 Miracles will be the keys...Lewis, Kirilloff, and Graterol. If the Twins could get fired up and focused on winning, maybe they could rise up on red wings and fly to the top (Red Wings -Nick Anderson, Jake Reed, Nick Gordon). If these magic things will happen -Look out major league baseball! The Twins have shaken off the blues and are getting ready to yell "Wahoo"! (Lookouts/Blue Wahoos - Brent Rooker, Lewis Thorpe and Andrew Vasquez). Here are some kernels of wisdom for you...Larnach, Davis, Helman, Jeffers andSeverino.That's it...I'm exhausted. My brain is fried. I hereby resign from my position as future TD contributor. Too much work for too little recognition.

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#6 mikelink45

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 07:36 AM

It is no longer a core seven - just an interesting, intriguing, puzzling seven.Rosario and Berrios are the only ones who deserve to be core players, others need to earn it.Polanco needs to field as well as hit, we have big ?s at the other three infield positions. 

 

Rosario anchors the outfield with Jake Cave the only other player who looks good right now.Kepler has settled in at a below par level and can only rejoin the core two if he makes some strides with his bat.How does he do that?

 

Add to the core two Mitch Garver who showed enough this past year to make him a dependable defender and a good bat.

 

Moving to the mound, only Romero, at this point has demonstrated that he has the arm to be core in the rotation.In the BP we have May and Rogers who seem to have figured it out with Hildenberger fried by the end of the season again and the others just mediocre fillers.

 

My core six - Rosario, Berrios, Garver, May, Rogers, Romero.The others have potential, but have not shown enough.

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#7 rdehring

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 08:03 AM

 

It is no longer a core seven - just an interesting, intriguing, puzzling seven.Rosario and Berrios are the only ones who deserve to be core players, others need to earn it.Polanco needs to field as well as hit, we have big ?s at the other three infield positions. 

 

Rosario anchors the outfield with Jake Cave the only other player who looks good right now.Kepler has settled in at a below par level and can only rejoin the core two if he makes some strides with his bat.How does he do that?

 

Add to the core two Mitch Garver who showed enough this past year to make him a dependable defender and a good bat.

 

Moving to the mound, only Romero, at this point has demonstrated that he has the arm to be core in the rotation.In the BP we have May and Rogers who seem to have figured it out with Hildenberger fried by the end of the season again and the others just mediocre fillers.

 

My core five - Rosario, Berrios, Garver, May, Rogers, Romero.The others have potential, but have not shown enough.

Should your core five be six, Mike?Rosario, Berrios, Garver, May, Rogers, Romero?

 

Not certain if all those are core players, but certainly are six the Twins should be counting on in 2019 if they are to compete.Personally, I would add Polanco to that.I believe everyone is being too critical of what is probably an extra error a month.Especially considering that the kid can hit.

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#8 Dave The Dastardly

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 08:08 AM

 

It is no longer a core seven - just an interesting, intriguing, puzzling seven.Rosario and Berrios are the only ones who deserve to be core players, others need to earn it.Polanco needs to field as well as hit, we have big ?s at the other three infield positions. 

 

Rosario anchors the outfield with Jake Cave the only other player who looks good right now.Kepler has settled in at a below par level and can only rejoin the core two if he makes some strides with his bat.How does he do that?

 

Add to the core two Mitch Garver who showed enough this past year to make him a dependable defender and a good bat.

 

Moving to the mound, only Romero, at this point has demonstrated that he has the arm to be core in the rotation.In the BP we have May and Rogers who seem to have figured it out with Hildenberger fried by the end of the season again and the others just mediocre fillers.

 

My core five - Rosario, Berrios, Garver, May, Rogers, Romero.The others have potential, but have not shown enough.

I agree with everything but your math.

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#9 JLease

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 09:02 AM

Meija looks like a guy who is a trade piece to me right now. If we're looking at guys who could be part of an extended "core", Romero and Garver both look like more likely contenders as guys who are likely to stick with the club and perform at a significant level.

 

Kepler is a useful player, but he needs to advance his hitting. His WAR (bWAR or fWAR) increased this season because he spent substantially more time filling in at CF this year than last. He's a fine defensive player: elite in RF and probably about average in CF, which is really nice and useful. But you really don't want him to be your every day CF and he's not hitting enough for you to be happy with him at RF, and moving him to 1B or DH simply makes the situation worse because it's his hit tool that falling down on him. He needs to hit better or he's eventually going to find himself as a 4th OF, and that's not a core player. I'm rooting for him, but after 3 full seasons...he may be who he is as a hitter.

 

Polanco, Rosario, and Berrios are a good start. Twins need one more guy to really step forward and show they can be a player that can be counted on. Buxton, Sano, or Kepler...who's the most likely candidate? Or is it Romero or someone else on the pitching side?

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#10 mikelink45

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 09:31 AM

 

Should your core five be six, Mike?Rosario, Berrios, Garver, May, Rogers, Romero?

 

Not certain if all those are core players, but certainly are six the Twins should be counting on in 2019 if they are to compete.Personally, I would add Polanco to that.I believe everyone is being too critical of what is probably an extra error a month.Especially considering that the kid can hit.

Since Romero is not up yet I want to include him but have a hard time.I meant to say six, but my internal hesitation must have auto-corrected. 

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#11 birdwatcher

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 10:51 AM

Putting a label such as "core" on players doesn't do a whole lot for me personally because the definition of core is so nebulous and player performance is so volatile.

 

I'd rather ask this question regarding any specific player: does the team have an immediate alternative who can step in and somewhat predictably equal or exceed the production this player is projected to give you?

 

I didn't like the Escobar and Pressly trades. Not because the returns won't be justifiable, but because I want the philosophy to be to never make a move that reduces the quality of the MLB team. Both of those trades weakened the current team. I want Falvey to wait until he has a better alternative for today's game. No more playing for 2020 by compromising 2018. I liked the Duke trade, for example, because I could see Moya equalling or bettering Duke's output immediately. 

 

Mr. Falvey, have a better immediate alternative. You can do that. You're starting from a fairly low base after all. Expend from true expected surplus. Any player, such as Escobar, who can't be replaced immediately with the same or better expectation? Well, label that player "core" for my purposes. Until he's not.

 

Now, back to your core players, Seth. Not a single one of them, IMO is expendable by my definition.I don't see better alternatives under contract with the club. Sadly, they're all "core".

 

If I'm thinking this way as GM, it does three good things to my thought process. First, it disciplines me to prod my evaluators to consistently and constantly have an opinion, a projection, about the players on my roster and any possible alternatives. My goal is not to develop "core" players. My goal is to build up a surplus and make every player possible expendable. Secondly, it reinforces a strategy of being open to a better alternative for every single player on the roster and to be open to every opportunity.

 

Lastly, it forces me to define my thresholds of acceptability by the market, to have an external viewpoint. Does Grossman meet industry standards as a 4th OF? If not, go get Cave. Is Busenitz cutting it as a #7 reliever? If not, see if Magill is a better alternative. Keep the chains moving.

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#12 Rosterman

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 11:56 AM

Mejia is interesting. Too bad they didn't get more out of him. I think he needs to remain on the 25-man. Being a lefty, he will get every chance to break with the team.

 

Still the core 7. Will be given part of 2019 to prove they belong or...adios!

 

The question is: do you offer 2-3-4 (or option year) contracts to Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers (along with Berrios and Rosario NOW) to keep them a part of the future team...and for how much!

 

If a player isn't suited for the team in 2020 and beyond, you have to start thinking of them as a commodity NOW and trade piece. Hopefully for something equal (younger) and better.

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#13 mikelink45

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 12:03 PM

 

I agree with everything but your math.

Math is now corrected!Thanks for the note. 


#14 y2jjj54

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 12:27 PM

I feel like Adalberto Mejia should be a guy that we look to move into the bullpen to see if his stuff plays up.He always seems to struggle to get through 5 innings.Maybe he could be a guy in the bullpen that we could look to get 2 or 3 innings at a time out of.

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#15 puckstopper1

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 12:49 PM

Great article, but extremely depressing.It is difficult to identify even a handful of players who can be relied on next season on this roster.It gets even more depressing when you compare the Twins "core" to the other teams that made the playoffs (or were even competitive) this season.

 

Quite the change in outlook after a season where they were on the rise and made the playoffs.

That Twins 2nd baseman - #29 - he doesn't run, he "ca-rew-zes" - Earl Weaver


#16 Sconnie

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 01:22 PM

 

I feel like Adalberto Mejia should be a guy that we look to move into the bullpen to see if his stuff plays up.He always seems to struggle to get through 5 innings.Maybe he could be a guy in the bullpen that we could look to get 2 or 3 innings at a time out of.

following the Brewers lead, pair Mejia with Odorizzi as a tandem and change who starts/who relieves but pairing them in starts could get you 7-9 strong innings per turn through the rotation and mitigate platooning. 

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#17 LA VIkes Fan

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 01:32 PM

I don't see Kepler as a "core" player given his consitent mediocrtiy for three (!) full time seasons. He was outplayed by Cave last year - Cave, 13 HRs, .269/.318/.481 (.797)1.5 WAR in one half seasonr, Kepler .224/.319/.408 (.727) 2.6 WAR in a full season. Kepler doesn't deserve to start next year unless he moves to 1B and/or beats out Buxton for a starting OF job. I really don't understand why this board is still so high on him.I understand why everyone was 2 years ago or even going into last year but he hasn't taken that necessary step forward at the plate to be starting on a good team. Guys who perform like Kepler has the last 3 years are the 4th OF on a good team and we may have found someone better in Cave. We need to find out what Cave can do - we may already know what Kepler can do and it's not good enough unless he takes a major step forward.

 

Conversely, I could see Garver as a "core" player as a better than average bat at a premium position. He has to work on his defense but it did get better over the season.I still would love to trade AAA pitching for Realmuto but that's probably a pipe dream. 


#18 IndianaTwin

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 02:19 PM

I remain pretty intrigued with Mejia.

 

Once a top-100 prospect. Good minor league numbers, while always significantly younger than the league average. Good, but short, starts in Minnesota this year. Left-handed.

 

Though they shut him down, the injury was described as minor, and there was really no point to rushing him back, other than for tryout purposes. I'd rather he be fully healthy for 2019.

 

(Also, that I was the last one on the Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey bandwagons should not be held against Mr. Mejia.)

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#19 SF Twins Fan

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 02:22 PM

 

I don't see Kepler as a "core" player given his consitent mediocrtiy for three (!) full time seasons. He was outplayed by Cave last year - Cave, 13 HRs, .269/.318/.481 (.797)1.5 WAR in one half seasonr, Kepler .224/.319/.408 (.727) 2.6 WAR in a full season. Kepler doesn't deserve to start next year unless he moves to 1B and/or beats out Buxton for a starting OF job. I really don't understand why this board is still so high on him.I understand why everyone was 2 years ago or even going into last year but he hasn't taken that necessary step forward at the plate to be starting on a good team. Guys who perform like Kepler has the last 3 years are the 4th OF on a good team and we may have found someone better in Cave. We need to find out what Cave can do - we may already know what Kepler can do and it's not good enough unless he takes a major step forward.

 

Conversely, I could see Garver as a "core" player as a better than average bat at a premium position. He has to work on his defense but it did get better over the season.I still would love to trade AAA pitching for Realmuto but that's probably a pipe dream. 

 

Let's see Cave do what he did this season for a full season before we dub him some special player. He hit fairly well but he isn't anything special in the field.

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#20 Doomtints

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Posted 16 October 2018 - 02:22 PM

Right now it sort of feels like Berrios and Gibson are Scott Baker-types. This isn't terrible but it's rather meh.

 

I have been high on Berrios and I hope he continues to improve, but I'm also rather bored of typing around here that I hope someone on this team will continue to improve.

 

But back to the topic ... yes, these are the guys who have to perform well for the team to have a chance.

Edited by Doomtints, 16 October 2018 - 02:23 PM.

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