Originally published at The Tenth Inning Stretch
This is my last Spring Training Notes piece for this season. As with the previous seasons I finish my Spring Training notes with a prediction of how the Twins will do this season based on what I have seen this Spring.
I think that 2018 will be an interesting season for the Twins. They improved a lot in the off-season addressing some of their glaring weaknesses, namely starting and relief pitching. On the other hand, there are some situations that can be disrupting for the team. Here is a closer examination:
Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn are light years ahead of the likes of Bartolo Colon (15 starts), Hector Santiago (15 starts), Phil Hughes (9 starts), and a whole lot of others (16 starts) who started in 2017. Ervin Santana is a question mark and that was even before his injury that seems to be lingering into May. On the other hand, I believer that improvement from Jose Berrios (primarily) and Kyle Gibson (secondarily) as well as potential positive contribution by Trevor May, will offset the loss and regression of Santana. Based on what I have seen, Fernando Romero might be the best pitcher of the Twins at this point, and if healthy he can make a tremendous contribution in the second half of the season.
The Twins did improve in the bullpen. Part of it was addition, part of it was subtraction. The question is whether they improved enough to have a top bullpen. Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney, and Zach Duke are useful players with varying degree of usefulness. However, does any of them strike fear in opposing batters? Would any of them have a place in one of the top bullpens? Maybe Reed, as far as the second question goes. Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers were hit hard and often in the Spring and not sure how this will translate into the season. Other than Gabriel Moya, and maybe John Curtiss and Jake Reed, there are not many reserves who project as "lights out". And that is what the new and improved Twins' pen misses. Maybe the aforementioned May, the injury-nursing Phil Hughes (who is projected in long relief, but way back in the day was Mariano Rivera's successful set up man.) or possibly Michale Pineda might jump into that role. Alternatively, depending on the team's record come July, a trade for a "lights out" arm, might be in the works. All in all an improved bullpen, but in no means a top bullpen. It is hard not to improve one of the 5 worst bullpens in the league, but still it needs work.
The Twins' young core seems much improved from last season: Miguel Sano who has the allegations now behind him and can focus 100% on baseball will play with a chip on his shoulder and will make some damage. Byron Buxton is a much better hitter than I have seen him be previously, and based on what I saw this spring, he will finally bring his speed on the table. Max Kepler is also improved. He is taking meaningful PAs against LHPs, something that was not true last season. Jorge Polanco's head was in his positive test all Spring and it showed. Hopefully he will come back ready in the second half. Logan Morrison will be a good addition and if he hits behind Sano, he will give him the protection he did not have in 2017. Eddie Rosario was hurt most of the Spring and I did not have much of an opportunity to form an opinion, but if he repeats 2017, and there is no reason he could not, the Twins will be happy. With Eduardo Escobar moving into at starting SS at least for the first half of the season, you have a Twins' 2018 double play combination that hit 55 HRs in 2017, second only to Cleveland. His double play partner, Brian Dozier, and his free agency status might be a distraction this season. He talked a lot about it, as he did about the decreased FA compensation this off-season. He also did not do very well with the bat this Spring. Not sure whether the two things are related or not, and hopefully it will not carry into the season. The same with the other upcoming free agent, Joe Mauer. Mauer's situation is different and Mauer has not been vocal about it and I don't think that it will affect him. It will be great if Dozier and Mauer will speak with their bats regarding their upcoming free agency.
Do you remember when the Twins' reigned over a weak AL Central, other than times when one of the other teams was super competitive and they were neck to neck? This season the AL Central will look a lot like that with Cleveland staying about the same on paper and the improved Twins, the only teams with a winning record in 2017 and the rest of the division weakening. Maybe not the White Sox, if the young players surprise, but Detroit and Kansas City are in full rebuild mode. According to fangraphs, the Twins have the second easiest schedule (on paper), but this should not be much of a relief, because Cleveland has the easiest.
The 2017 team won 85 games, but overachieved. I think that the 2018 Twins will finish with a record of 90-72, securing at least a wild card spot, and the AL Central will come down to the wire between the Twins and Cleveland. Unfortunately, unless there is major improvement (or surprises) in the bullpen , this does not seem like a team that will move deep into the post-season, unless the bats go crazy. And this can happen.
So you have it. This is my last Spring Training Notes post, since the Twins start the season this Thursday at Baltimore, after they play an exhibition game in Washington against the Nationals. To see all the notes and coverage of the 2018 Twins' Spring Training, including my daily live reports from Fort Myers in the second half of March, please visit here