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Article: Opening Day Stream Of Consciousness

rocco baldelli nelson cruz jonathan schoop jose berrios byron buxton
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#1 Seth Stohs

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Posted 28 March 2019 - 05:39 AM

Happy Opening Day!

Finally, the offseason is over. Finally, we have games that matter. It has been a really busy offseason for the Twins, starting with the day after the 2018 season when it was announced that Manager Paul Molitor had been fired. Weeks later, Rocco Baldelli emerged as the team’s choice to replace him and lead the charge forward. Soon after, Baldelli announced his new coaching staff which included some interesting choices such as college pitching coach Wes Johnson. They were also able to retain bench coach Derek Shelton who was the runner up multiple managerial hirings.

With Joe Mauer’s contract off the books, along with several other players, the Twins had some money to spend just to get back to the level where they started the season a year ago. They never reached that 2018 Opening Day payroll of about $128 million and will start 2019 with a payroll of approximately $119 million.However, with those funds, they chose to focus on adding some right-handed power bats. CJ Cron was DFAd by the cost-conscious Rays despite hitting 30 homers in 2018 and only having about a $5 million price tag for 2019. The Twins claimed Cron and happily paid him.

The Twins also quickly scooped up Jonathan Schoop who had been non-tendered by the Brewers after joining them in a late-season trade from the Orioles. Schoop began the 2018 season hurt and really just struggled the entire season. But in 2017, he received a lot of MVP votes and ws an All-Star. The powerful second baseman is still just 27 years old.

Next, the Twins outbid several teams to sign slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal with an option for 2020. Cruz has been one of the most prolific power hitters in the game over the past decade and at 38 years old, he should have a couple more strong years in him. Over the last five seasons, his 37 home runs in 2018 was the fewest he’s hit.

And then as spring training started, the Twins added Marwin Gonzalez to the roster with a two-year contract. The versatile Gonzalez can play all around the diamond and provide average, or slightly above average, offense. The versatility immediately proved valuable when Miguel Sano’s leg injury required another procedure and will cost him the first four-to-six weeks of the season.

The offense has a chance to be really good. Without really even stretching reality, one could picture a scenario where eight Twins hitters reach 20 home runs in 2018. 200 home runs could almost be an expectation and the team’s record of 225 homers (set in 1963) could be matched.

And yes, the team is also very likely to set some strikeout records as well.

The Twins added right-handed pitcher Blake Parker this offseason. He had been non-tendered by the Angels despite being pretty good the last couple of years. He had a terrific, breakout season in 2017 as a 32-year-old. He was reliable for the Angels again in 2018 without quite as strong peripheral numbers. If you’re looking for predictions, I think that Parker will lead the Twins in saves in 2019.

Twins fans were less than enthusiastic when the Twins announced the signing of Martin Perez. The 27-year-old free agent was long a top prospect with the Rangers who never quite met the potential many assigned to him. Many, likely including Twins GM Thad Levine who was the assistant GM in Texas as Perez climbed the ranks and reached the big leagues. In 2018, he posted a 6.22 ERA in 2018, though he missed a lot of time early in the season with an injury. Twins fans are now at least intrigued by Perez as he flashed a fastball in the 95-97 range throughout spring training and pitched well. Well enough to earn the fifth starter job. Could Perez be 2019s Anibal Sanchez?

Could the Twins have done more to help bolster their pitching staff? Certainly they could have, and as spring training played out, it looks like maybe they should have. Addison Reed, Matt Magill and Gabriel Moya are all beginning the season on the Injured List. Fernando Romero is beginning the season in AAA Rochester.

While free agent relievers are a complete crap shoot, one can’t help but wonder how much more confident the fan base might be had they invested in one or two of the many available veteran relievers who got $6 to $10 million for a year or two.

Of course, we need to look no further than Addison Reed for a reminder of the reality of signing relievers. Reed came into the 2018 season as one of the most reliable relievers in the game of baseball. Consistently good for years, and as important, healthy. In fact, he was still just 29-years-old. That was about as safe as it gets when it comes to signing free agent relievers. Yet, two months into the season, Reed started struggling from overuse (in 2018 but also in previous seasons) and was hurt.

But to illustrate the you-never-know reality of relief pitcher free agency, Ryne Harper became the story of spring training. He put up Matt Maloney (circa 2013) numbers for the Twins this spring. Maybe more important, he showcased a couple of breaking balls that had hitters completely off balance, even if they knew it was coming. Harper signed with the Twins before the 2018 season. He pitched great in AA Chattanooga last year, earning a spot on the Southern League All Star team. He struggled to an ERA over 5 in 26 games with AAA Rochester. Who knows? He could be the next Matt Maloney, or he could become the next Blake Parker and simply be a late bloomer.

The Twins will hope to see Taylor Rogers continue what he did in 2018 when he became one of the best, most reliable left-handed relievers in all of baseball. Trevor May ended 2018 really strong and despite some ups and downs in spring will be one of the keys to the Twins bullpen. And despite the move to the bullpen and some spring training struggles, Twins fans should feel really good about the potential Fernando Romero will bring to the Twins bullpen at some point in 2019.

The Twins also were able to work out a couple of long-term contracts with players that they believe can be part of a core over the next half-decade, or longer. The Twins and Max Kepler agreed on a five-year, $35 million contractwith a couple of option years. The also reached terms with Jorge Polanco on a five year, $25 million contract with a couple of option years.

Unfortunately, at least at this point, they have not been able to reach a long-term agreement with All-Star and Opening Day starter Jose Berrios or with outfielder Eddie Rosario. Rosario is entering his first season under an arbitration deal while Berrios will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next offseason. So there is certainly time, and there does seem to be mutual interest in a long-term relationship.

Kyle Gibson figured things out late in the 2017 season and carried it into the 2018 season when he put together the best, most consistent season of his career. He will be a free agent following the season. There were reports that the Twins did talk to him about extending him, but again, sides were unable to reach an agreement.

Last offseason, the Twins signed Michael Pineda to a two-year, $10 million contract. Last year, they paid him $2 million just to rehab from Tommy John surgery. He was set to make a return to the mound in September, but a knee injury required surgery. But he is healthy now and throwing hard and showing that strong sinker. Twins fans should feel really good about his potential.

There is a theme to the 2019 season and that is hoping for guys to return to their 2017 form. Along with Pineda, Jake Odorizzi having a solid 2019 season after struggling through much of 2018 will be very important to the Twins hopes. He has to show he can get through six innings most times out.

But the featured story of the Return To 2017 Form narrative that we have this year is Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.

Miguel Sano put in the work after his demotion last year. He carried that into the offseason. He lost some weight and remained very strong. His efforts allowed him the ability to get some at-bats in the Dominican Winter League where his team won a championship… where he was injured in a fluke accident during the team’s celebration. You know that story and we know that he will miss the first four to six weeks of the season. But Twins fans should remain hopeful that all the work he has put in will prove fruitful and that he can return to the All Star form he was playing at in 2017 before his leg injury.

No one can question the work ethic or desire of Byron Buxton to be great. In the offseason, he worked really hard to become a better player. Whether it was motivation from not being called up in September, or just an internal fortitude that Buxton is known for, he put in the effort. He gained 21 pounds of muscle without losing any speed. He had a strong, solid spring training. And while we all know that spring training stats mean very little, he again put together much better at-bats. And if he can hit something like .250 and get on base 31-32% of the time and continue to show the power that he has, all while playing elite defense, that is a remarkably valuable player. That’s what he did from May 2017 through the end of that season. And that’s why he received MVP votes that year. Last year was a lost year due to injuries. The key for Buxton is to be healthy and play. And getting off to a good start would help too.

The Twins have a talented team. They may have to out-slug opponents at times, but they have a lineup that is capable of that. They are likely going to need to make some transactions throughout the course of the season, but the team does have some quality depth that will start the season in Rochester.

In 2018, prospects such as Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves and Zack Littell came up for their MLB debuts. Frankly, they each took some lumps. The hope is that each learned a little something from those experiences and their offseason work and preparation will make them more ready when they are summoned in 2019. Let’s not forget about the debut season of Jose Berrios in 2016 when he went 3-7 with an 8.02 ERA. I’m not saying to expect those three prospects to jump up to Berrios' All-Star form, but each of them has shown enough to think that he has potential be be a decent MLB pitcher, and we should see that in 2019. And Lewis Thorpe is waiting in the wings for his opportunity as well.

On the hitting side, LaMonte Wade had a strong showing in spring training again. He struggled some in his AAA debut last year, but he is a guy that can help at all three outfield positions, if needed. In the infield, Ronald Torreyes, who has been really good for the Yankees in a utility role the last three years, will start the season in Rochester, ready when needed. And the Twins were able to bring back infielder Adam Rosales after releasing him at the end of spring training. So there is depth.

There may not be a lot of MLB-ready depth behind the plate in Rochester, though Tomas Telis has spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues. However, the Twins have their catcher depth. Jason Castro had his best season in four years for the Twins in 2017, but he missed most of 2018 with a knee injury. He returns which is a positive for the Twins and their pitching staff. Mitch Garver was thrust into more playing time because of the injury and over time he earned even more time behind the plate and he improved. He spent the offseason really focused on his defense. He can certainly hit. And Willians Astudillo is just fine as the team’s third catcher, who can also play some third base. And he can stand at several other positions as well. Most important, he can hit.

There certainly are some questions. The Twins are starting the season with 11 pitchers, but they will certainly add another bullpen arm in a couple of weeks when they first need their fifth starter. They start the season with a five-man bench which includes Tyler Austinwho is out of options. As we know, these things tend to figure themselves out, but what happens with that roster spot at the time will prove very interesting.

And I am very interested in how the changes in the coaching staff and with the manager will alter the Twins game. Wes Johnsonhas already seemingly had a positive effect on several pitchers. Known for helping guys add velocity, we have already seen that. But there is more going on behind the scenes that we may or may find out about. He’s very positive which certainly can’t be negative.

Bullpen management was something that Twins fans complained about during the Ron Gardenhire years, and then again through the Paul Molitor years. It’s likely that it would have been something we complained about in the Tom Kelly years too had social media been a thing then.

How will Rocco Baldelli and Wes Johnson run the bullpen? What will it look like if it is something that we don’t complain about? Molitor was often accused of over-using the guys that were reliable. I mean, thinking about that, it’s an understandable offense. Having a deeper bullpen with more reliable arms in it would certainly help so that pitchers don’t get over-used. Will Baldelli and Johnson be able and willing to put somewhat less reliable guys into more high-leverage situations? It may cost them in the short-term, but it may benefit them in the long-term (both with keeping top arms more fresh and developing other arms into high-leverage guys). What does a well-run bullpen look like? And do the Twins currently have the arms to make Baldelli’s potential decisions look right?

Will Baldelli be a speed guy and ask for more stolen bases? Will he use hit-and-runs? From observing spring and even in minor league spring training, it sure appeared that the organization believes in running more. But will that happen in the big leagues?

Baldelli has the analytical background, but he has chosen to focus his managerial style on communication and relationship building. And that’s great. It will be interesting to see how that plays out over 162 games. I think it’s a good thing, but we will see what happens when the Twins go through some struggles, which every team will over the course of the long season.

I’m also very curious to see how Baldelli is with umpires. My assumption is that he may be even more laid back than Paul Molitor, which I know will both some Twins fans who believe that a “fire in the belly” is an important trait for a manager. Frankly, with replay, there just aren’t a lot of opportunities for a good, old-fashioned argument anymore.

All right, this stream of consciousness is coming to an end. I think I’ve rambled long enough. But in summary, I am very excited to get the season started. I do think this is a very talented team. I do think they have the talent to compete with Cleveland or at least for a return to the Wild Card game. I am excited to see which players will take a big step forward in their 2019 season (Kepler!). I think that as important as Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano may be to the Twins 2019 season, that Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda could possibly have a bigger role in framing the Twins 2019 storyline.

Again, Happy Opening Day, and let’s enjoy and hope for a great 2019 Twins Season!

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#2 tarheeltwinsfan

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Posted 28 March 2019 - 08:38 AM

Thanks Seth. It will be a fun season, for sure.


#3 brvama

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Posted 28 March 2019 - 08:45 AM

Excellent Seth. It should be an exciting year. It'll be fun to get the answers to all those questions you served up. Every spring we have hope, however, this year that hope seems to have a better chance to become reality. I do think the Twins will at least be in the playoff hunt until their last game.

#4 operation mindcrime

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Posted 28 March 2019 - 01:43 PM

Go Twins! \m/

#5 Jim Hahn

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Posted 28 March 2019 - 05:29 PM

I agree that this team could hit a lot of home runs. Setting a team run record means nothing to me. That 1963 Twins team wasn't very good. The Twins got better in the mid 60's when they added more complete hitters, better defenders and more pitching. I hope this Twins team has enough of those other things, besides home runs.

#6 DocBauer

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Posted 29 March 2019 - 12:39 AM

Tremendous steam of consciousness thread, Seth. And I agree and appreciate everything stated.

1] Positional players and depth is solid and much better than last season. While contact and OB may be a concern, hitting and power production should not be one.

2] There is athleticism and speed on the roster. That doesn't translate immediately to SB. It could mean simply good base running and stretching plays. And the roster could produce this. But I have to wonder, in a new age of launch angle and power, could some small ball and extra bases and SB be the "next thing" for offense?

3] The potential of the starting staff is the best we've seen in some time. Not going to go over the merits and potential of Berrios and Gibson. BTDT. Not yet 30...late 20's where a hell of a lot of pitchers have actually learned how to "pitch"...not sugar coating things...both Pineda and Odorizzi have some good to excellent stuff. History shows what each is capable of. Can at least ONE of them settle in and just pitch to their ability? If so, then we have 3 top SP and at least a decent #4 on hand. And we also have another extension candidate on hand. With luck and a good pitching coach, maybe more. I remain very skeptical about Perez. I have gone from dislike to hopeful on him. And it's not about improved velocity so much as recognition of what he should throw.

4] The bullpen is the problem with this team, more than anything else. I get that FA arms are no guarantee! Reed should show us that! But despite Rodney and Fultz having some early troubles, they were solid. And they were actually worth some sort of trade value. (Even limited).

Rogers is a potential stud. (Imagine some time and patience to make it so). May has all the potential in the world! Parker is solid. The rest is...WTH?

I am NOT a defeatist. I am willing to bet on Hildy and his milb career and first 1 1/2 years of production at the ML level. I am willing to bet on the arms of Mejia and Romero, though each could also refine their stuff enough to slide back in to to the rotation again. I have seen Magill, healthy, with a mid 90FB and tremendous slurve to hope Johnson can help find more consistency. I can bet on Harper, who deserves to be there, with his curve, at various speeds, as long as he can spot his FB.

I can bet on a lot of things. And I'm not a betting man. And I am hopeful for a lot of things to happen. But unless a few guys come forward, or we make a move or two, I think the pen will sink us from a 92-94 win team to 82-84 team

"Nice catch Hayes...don't ever f*****g do it again."

 

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#7 jimbo92107

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Posted 29 March 2019 - 01:56 AM

Moar than a stream of consciousness, Seth. It was a river of objective observations and wisdom. Let us hope this river remains within the banks of reason, and winds slowly to a sea of success. 

 

May the 2019 Twins season offer all of us a reasonable amount of satisfaction, with more good surprises than bad. May the players avoid injury. May sunlight break through clouds to inspire victory. Load the butter churns! Rake the lawn! Ring the six-ton Norwegian cowbells of war! Buy a motorcycle, and ride responsibly! Gooooo Twinnnnsss!

The door opened. A woman screamed. Someday, my mom would learn to knock.


#8 yarnivek1972

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Posted 29 March 2019 - 05:18 PM

Fultz?

He’s been out of the league since the Bush administration.
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