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Inauspicious Beginning - A Minnesota Twins preview

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A look ahead at our archrivals, who have yet to win a game this season

Lord Byron, whilst penning "Away, Away, Ye Notes of Woe"
Lord Byron, whilst penning "Away, Away, Ye Notes of Woe"
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs have recently illustrated the benefits of spending several years stockpiling a core group of talented young players at the expense of fielding a competent major league team. The Minnesota Twins have done something similar over the course of this decade and have paid their dues to the tune of four consecutive seasons with 70 or fewer wins. After finishing over .500 for the first time since winning 94 games in 2010, the second half of the decade will determine whether the juice was worth the squeeze.

The Twins do indeed seem poised to compete in the near future, but in order to do so they'll need to fix an issue that's been a serious problem for years: the pitching staff. Minnesota's crew of hurlers was close to league average last season, but over the last five years, no team has received less value from their pitchers. A big part of the problem has been a dated philosophy of pitching to contact, limiting walks, and placing less emphasis on getting strikeouts. Even if that's allegedly a thing of the past, improvements in that department have yet to show up on the big stage. Here's the strikeout rate per nine innings for Minnesota's five most-frequently used starters in 2015:

  • Phil Hughes (the "ace"): 5.4 K/9
  • Kyle Gibson: 6.7 K/9
  • Mike Pelfrey: 4.7 K/9
  • Tommy Milone: 6.4 K/9
  • Ervin Santana: 6.8 K/9
For some perspective, the White Sox had four starters that eclipsed all five of these guys in strikeouts per nine innings, including Chris Sale at 11.8 K/9. Chris Sale is awesome.

Now, there are some redeeming factors in play here. Hughes had the lowest walk rate in baseball last season, Gibson does an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground, and as any White Sox player over the last five seasons will tell you, it's not actually possible to score runs against Tommy Milone. Pelfrey somehow priced himself off of the Twins despite the lack of whiffs. For the time being, walking dumpster fire Ricky Nolasco will take the 5th starter job (though to his credit, he pitched well yesterday), but we can expect to see top prospect Jose Berrios and his outstanding changeup in the mix sometime soon. Converted reliever Tyler Duffey may also re-enter the picture at some point after his strong cup of coffee in 2015, but he'll be a two-pitch pitcher until his change takes a step forward.

Though the Twins' starting pitchers remain thoroughly underwhelming, they boast an exciting core of young position players that could keep them in the playoff conversation. We've been hearing about 23-year-old Miguel Sano since he was just 16 and he arrived on the big stage last year in a thunderous way. The hulking behemoth whiffed a lot last year and hasn't established a clear defensive position yet, but he's going to murder so many baseballs that no one will really care. Also arriving in 2015 was center fielder Byron Buxton, who was baseball's top prospect for a couple years running. Unlike Sano, pitchers flat out embarrassed Buxton last year, so it seems there will be a bit of a learning curve. However, Buxton has the raw tools to become an elite defender in center with some pop at the plate and speed on the basepaths. It's not hard to envision him becoming a monster despite the rough start.

Elsewhere, Brian Dozier led all second baseman in home runs last year by a country mile and third baseman Trevor Plouffe proved that his breakout 2014 was no fluke, as his improved defense is here to stay along with his 20-homer power.  Out in left field, Eddie Rosario hit 15 triples and 13 home runs while leading the American League in outfield assists.  Rosario's a dynamic player that doesn't need to improve a lick to be a productive regular, but he could become a serious force if he could upgrade his plate discipline from "woeful" to "bad".  These guys have made themselves into part of the Twins' core, which has been a welcome help amidst floundering from other promising players, such as Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, and Kennys Vargas.

As if the Twins needed any more power in this lineup, they splurged for 29-year-old Korean Byung-ho Park to rotate with Joe Mauer between first base and designated hitter.  It's unclear at this point just how well Park's offensive stats will translate, but he hit 52 and 53 home runs in his last two seasons in Korea, so even heavy regression points to some semblance of a productive bat unless his astronomical strikeout rate gets the better of him stateside.

Regardless of how the Twins finish this year, it's practically a guarantee that they're going to play a brand of fun, high-scoring baseball with a crop of players that are loaded with eye-popping physical tools. To get here, they've followed a pretty similar path to that of the Cubs and Astros, but it's an open question just how this story will end. Will Minnesota serve as further evidence that a complete teardown and rebuild is a great strategy for building sustainable success? Or will they be a cautionary tale, illustrating that sucking for years (in part by design) could simply lead to more frustration and mediocrity? With the best prospects in the system having arrived and the team coming off an 83-win season, 2016 will be a pivotal chapter in Minnesota Twins history.

Projected Record and Finish: 74-88, 5th place, AL Central

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Monday, April 11: Jose Quintana vs. Kyle Gibson
  • Wednesday, April 13: Carlos Rodon vs. Phil Hughes
  • Thursday, April 14: Mat Latos vs. Ervin Santana

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Brian Dozier - 2B

SP1. Ervin Santana - RHP

2. Joe Mauer - 1B

SP2. Phil Hughes - RHP

3. Miguel Sano - RF

SP3. Kyle Gibson - RHP

4. Trevor Plouffe - 3B

SP4. Tommy Milone - LHP

5. Eddie Rosario - LF

SP5. Ricky Nolasco - RHP

6. Byung Ho Park - DH

CL. Glen Perkins - LHP

7. Eduardo Escobar - SS

RP1. Kevin Jepsen - RHP

8. Kurt Suzuki - C

RP2. Trevor May - RHP

9. Byron Buxton - CF

RP3. Casey Fien - RHP