Cellar dwellers or AL Central contender? A preview of the 2019 Minnesota Twins

On Monday, February 18, the Minnesota Twins held their first team workout in preparation for the 2019 season. Coming off of a disappointing season in 2018, that resulted in a 78-84 record and the firing of coach Paul Molitor, expectations plummeted. The franchise’s two rising stars, third basemen Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton, both had horrific seasons, spending much of the season injured or in the minor leagues.

The critical step for the Twins is rejuvenation; not just for the likes of Buxton and Sano, but for the whole team. This was the same team that just two years ago made it to the American League Wild Card game. The revival comes in the form of emphasized youth, including Molitor’s replacement, former player Rocco Baldelli. The 37-year-old is the youngest skipper in the majors. According to an ESPN roster analysis, the Twins age the 11th youngest team in baseball, with an average player age of just under 26 years old. With more talent like Alex Kiriloff and 2017 number one overall pick Royce Lewis developing in the minors, the Twins could get even younger.

Minnesota also had a busy, yet cheap offseason. In a free agency pool with the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the Twins instead decided to boost their lineup, with less splash. Some major transactions include:

-On November 26, the Twins picked up first baseman C.J Cron off of waivers from the Rays. Cron hit .253 with a career-high 30 home runs for Tampa Bay in 2018, providing the Twins with much needed pop from the corner infield position.

-On December 6, they signed free agent second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Schoop was an All-Star with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017, batting .293 with 32 home runs and 105 runs batted in. However, he followed up his career campaign with a forgetful one, batting .233 with the Orioles and Brewers.

-On January 2, they signed longtime long-ball slugger Nelson Cruz. Cruz has hit at least 37 homers in five consecutive seasons, and the expectation is he can once again hit that plateau, even in Target Field, a pitcher’s ballpark..

-On February 22, they reached a deal with versatile veteran Marwin Gonzalez, who can play every position put pitcher and catcher (at the moment). There wasn’t a gaping need for another infielder, but Gonzalez’s range and hitting ability was enough for the Twins to pull the trigger.

Thomas Breach is the “Voice of Huskies Baseball.” Along with his play-by-play work, he is an assistant for the university’s baseball team. According to Huskies Athletics, several assistant responsibilities include assistance with scouting and day-to-day operations. Along with carrying these responsibilities, he follows the Twins, maintaining that he follows the Twinkies “religiously.”

Breach has shown approval of the off-season moves the team have made.

“I see Nelson Cruz as a huge producer for the Twins,” said Breach. “He’s about as good as it gets as a middle-order bat, and his leadership ability for (Miguel) Sano will be critical.”

Breach even had a prediction for the Dominican designated hitter. “A slash line of .270/.365/.535 with 35 plus nukes would be a good expectation,” he said.

Not to be forgotten in the managerial shuffle and the new faces is the loss of the side-burned face of the franchise, Joe Mauer. After appearing in 15 seasons for the Twins, the longtime captain said farewell to the baseball diamond, leaving behind a storied career that saw him make six All-Star Games and win five Silver Slugger awards, along with being the 2009 American League MVP. It only further stresses the Twins as a ball-club with a shifting identity from what they’ve been in the past.

One thing remains the same after the organizational shake-ups: pitching concerns. Noticeably missing among major signings is the addition of pitching help; the Twins have signed former Texas Rangers starting pitcher Martin Perez and former Angels reliever Blake Parker, but in a free agent market with big names such as Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel and the Twins still hovering slightly over the $100 million dollar salary projection, one could have expected more push for pitching help. In Breach’s opinion, these concerns are not as serious as many others believe.

“I think a lot of people have overvalued pitchers on the market in years past,” said Breach. “In reality, the only thing missing from the staff is a ‘true ace.”

While a “true ace” may not exist, the Twins do have proven talent at the top of their rotation, with Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, and Michael Pineda making up a majority of the expected starts for the Twins in the upcoming season. All have pitched to a sub-4 earned-run-average in a season in the past, and there’s not a lot of reasons for skepticism, with the exception of Pineda coming off of Tommy John surgery. There’s also a new sheriff in town for pitching management, in the form of pitching coach Wes Johnson, who Breach has a high opinion of.

“He [Johnson] is a guy who truly knows pitcher development and understands how to make the data he utilizes easy to understand for his arms, said Breach. “Stephen Gonsalves is a perfect example; Wes already has him up to 95 after living at 90-92 last season.”

The Twins will begin the season at Target Field against the defending division champions, the Cleveland Indians, on March 28.

Overall, the Twins could be a promising young team with several fresh new faces to push them to a playoff spot. However, they could also be muddled by pitching woes and inconsistency that has kept them in the American League Central cellar for almost a decade. Vegas odds have the Twins at 83.5 wins, which is in the top half of baseball. However, it was similar expectations from last year, and most fans remember how last season went.

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Evan Michealson

Evan Michealson enjoys writing (duh), watching superhero movies, drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee, and, of course, sports!

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