2017 Minnesota Twins Season Preview

The Minnesota Twins had an awful season last year -- they finished with a record of 59-103 -- the worst in Twins franchise history and the worst record in the majors last year. This performance by the club prompted a front office overhaul with Derek Falvey hired from the Cleveland Indians as the Chief Baseball Officer and Phad Levine hired from the Texas Rangers as General Manager. Yet, most of the players that were here this past season still remain. Catcher Kurt Suzuki was not re-signed, but was replaced by Jason Castro, a free agent signing to be the Twins starting catcher.  Matt Belisle and former Twin Craig Breslow were signed to add depth in the bullpen. Besides that, not a whole lot has changed except for a couple of members of the coaching staff and the departure of Trevor Plouffe. With the start of the season upon us, I'm going to dive in and break down the Twins roster. I will also make predictions on how I feel this team can do this season.
The Offense
Despite sputtering on fumes at times, the offense was actually the most positive area of the team last year. They were ninth in the American League in runs scored (722), eighth in home runs (200), fourth in doubles (288), first in triples (35) and fifth in stolen bases (91). They were fifth in walks (513) and ninth in slugging percentage (.421). The most glaring area was strikeouts, with 1426, the third most in the AL. The offense also saw the remarkable performance of second baseman Brian Dozier, who clubbed 42 home runs, becoming the first Twins player to hit 40 home runs in a season since Harmon Killebrew hit 41 back in 1970. Dozier’s performance also saw a new American League home run total for a second baseman with 40 of those home runs hit while playing second base. However, both Kennys Vargas nor Byung–ho Park, the two leading candidates to be the Twins designated hitter this season, will not be with the club to start the season. Park will begin the season at Rochester -- that is surprising considering the fact that he led the Twins with six home runs this spring and a .353 batting average. Vargas isn’t with the club as a result of limited play in the World Baseball Classic and also an injury suffered as a result of fouling a ball off of his foot in a spring training game a week ago Friday. Robbie Grossman will be the Twins DH to start the season.
The pitching staff has a couple of question marks heading into the season, both injury related: How will Glen Perkins perform once he returns later this season after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder last June? Also, will Phil Hughes be an improved pitcher after having surgery to remove a rib below his right shoulder last season? As for the performance of the pitching staff, they had an ERA of 5.08, last in the American League. Also, they allowed 479 walks last season, which puts them in the middle of that category. Ervin Santana had the best performance of the starting pitchers last season. In 30 starts, he had a record of 7-11, 3.38 ERA, 149 strikeouts and 52 walks in 181 1/3 innings pitched. Another thing to note about the pitching staff is there are currently eight relievers in the bullpen to start the season. Part of it is due to the fact that the bullpen was overworked last season -- bad starting pitching will do that to you. The Twins kept Justin Haley whom they acquired in the Rule 5 draft last December from the Boston Red Sox. As a result, Haley has to remain on the Twins big league roster or the Twins have to send him back to the Red Sox.
The Twins fielding was the worst in the American League last year. Not only that, but they allowed the most runs with 889. A more positive note on the defense is the Twins did turn 172 double plays, which is more than one double play per game. Miguel Sano had the most errors with 18. A lot of those errors had to do with the fact that the Twins were experimenting with Sano in the outfield early in the season last year before finally moving him back to third base. Although the Twins defense is mostly the same from last year, Castro should be an upgrade to Suzuki behind the plate. Suzuki only threw out 12 out of 64 attempted base stealers for a caught stealing rate of 19%. Castro meanwhile threw out 14 out of 59 attempted base stealers for a caught stealing rate of 24% while with Houston last year. Also, Castro is better at the "art of pitch framing" compared to Suzuki.
The Twins were the worst team in all of baseball last year. I can’t see any reason at all to see a playoff leap this season. With a competitive American League Central, I don’t expect to see the Twins contend for the division title or a playoff spot. However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Twins had something close to an 81-81 record given the talent on this roster. A more realistic record would be 75-87. All it would take is a turn around by the pitching staff and an improvement in the defense. Plus, the offense would have to put up similar numbers to last year. The season will all begin Monday as the Twins take on their division rivals in the Kansas City Royals at Target Field. First pitch is at 3:10 p.m. Ervin Ervin Santana will take the hill for the Twins while Kansas City goes with Danny Duffy. Hopefully we can get a win and start the season off on the right foot.   Images courtesy of: Minnesota Twins -- Matthew Deery -- Keith Allison      

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