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2018 Record: 78-84
Second Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 4.50 (22nd in MLB)
Team OPS: .723 (18th in MLB)
What Went Right
The Twins finished in second place, which seems like a nice accomplishment, but their division was the weakest one in baseball and they probably would have lost a lot more games if they had played in a tougher division. They did have some good fortune though. Eddie Rosario turned in another solid season and proved that his 2017 breakout was not a fluke. He slashed .288/.323/.479 with 24 home runs, 77 RBI and 87 runs scored plus eight stolen bases in 138 games. He has developed into one of the better all-around outfielders in the American League and is under team control for another three seasons. Third baseman Eduardo Escobar played exceptionally well for the first four months of the season and was traded to the Diamondbacks for three prospects at the deadline. In his time with the Twins he batted .274/.338/.514 with 15 home runs and 63 RBI in 97 games and was leading the majors in doubles at the time of the trade. Former Yankees prospect Jake Cave opened some eyes in his rookie season, turning in a .269/.316/.481 triple-slash with 13 home runs and 45 RBI in 91 games played. The centerfielder benefitted from the absence of Byron Buxton and delivered much better results than the much ballyhooed former elite prospect. Kyle Gibson went 10-13 with a nice 3.62 ERA in 32 starts just one year after having a 5.07 ERA in 29 starts in 2017. He registered by far the best strikeout rate (179 Ks in 196 2/3 innings) of his career and did a much better job of keeping the ball in the yard. Jose Berrios battled inconsistency at times but ended up with a nice final stat line: 12-11 record with a 3.84 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He posted career bests in strikeout rate (9/45 K/9) and walk rate (2.85 BB/9). The 24-year-old right-hander continued to develop into one of the best young starting pitchers in baseball. Fernando Rodney pitched well as the Twins' closer until being dealt for a prospect pitcher in early August. The veteran closer recorded a 3.09 ERA with 25 saves prior to the trade. Veteran reliever Ryan Pressly burst upon the scene with a remarkable strikeout rate of 13.03 K/9 in 51 games and was then traded to the Astros for two minor leaguers. He went on to turn in a 0.77 ERA in 26 games for Houston.
What Went Wrong
Coming off of a post-season appearance in 2017, the Twins felt like they were contenders once again but things fell apart almost immediately. Staff ace Ervin Santana suffered a finger injury early in spring training and it required surgery that cost him the first half of the season. In 2017 he went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA. He was able to pitch only five games this year and went 0-1 with an 8.03 ERA in 24 2/3 innings. Once considered the best prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton has experienced nothing but failure since reaching the major leagues in 2015. Injuries have been a major factor but it is impossible to deny his glaring lack of performance. He owns a career .230/.285/.387 slash line with 28 home runs and 99 RBI in 306 games. He does have 46 stolen bases over that time but that is not nearly enough to salvage the high expectations of his fantasy owners. To make matters worse he seems to actually be regressing -- he batted just .156/.183/.200 with zero homers in 28 games this year. That is a very small sample but those numbers extrapolated over a full season would make him by far the worst hitter in the major leagues. He has a high strikeout rate and a very low walk rate, making it seem like a longshot that he will ever develop into a stud fantasy outfielder. Miguel Sano is another former high-profile prospect who has failed to pan out, largely due to his inability to make contact on a regular basis. His career 36.3% strikeout rate is the second highest among all active players behind only Joe Gallo's 38.0% mark. The third baseman had the worst season of his career across the board -- his .199 batting average, .281 on-base percentage and .398 slugging percentage were all the lowest of his four-year career. It is not a good sign when both of your elite young players are getting worse rather than better. Logan Morrison was one of the Twins' biggest offseason acquisitions. Fresh off a 2017 season that saw him hit 38 home runs with 85 RBI and an .868 OPS for the Rays, the Twins signed him to a $6.5 million one-year contract with an option for 2019. He returned the favor by collapsing to a .186/.276/.368 slash line with 15 home runs and 39 RBI in 95 games. He is unlikely to be brought back and will likely have to settle for a minor-league contract with another team. Jorge Polanco got busted for performance-enhancing drug usage during spring training and missed the first 80 games of the season. He hit well upon his return though, slashing .288/.345/.427 with six homers and 42 RBI in 77 games. Brian Dozier's performance took a tumble this year, especially in terms of batting average. His .215/.305/.391 line with 21 homers, 72 RBI and 12 stolen bases was a far cry from the .268/.340/.546 with 42 home runs, 99 RBI, 104 runs scored and 19 stolen bases he registered in 2015. At the age of 31 he seems to be past his prime already. He was traded to the Dodgers in late July. The Twins signed Lance Lynn to a one-year $12 million contract during spring training. The move backfired as the veteran hurler struggled to a 7-8 record with a brutal 5.10 ERA in 20 starts. The Twins unloaded him to the Yankees at the trade deadline.
**Jose Berrios was an elite prospect throughout his minor league career, which is often a kiss of death considering how many top pitching prospects either get hurt or flame out before reaching their potential. Berrios has beaten the odds and is poised to become one of the most reliable starting pitchers in the game. With so many teams turning to the "opener" model of using starters in short stints to get through the opposing batting order just one time, Berrios seems like a bit of a throwback to a more traditional workhorse who can rack up large numbers of innings, strikeouts and wins. He will still be just 24 years old when the 2019 season starts and has already proven himself as a legit major leaguer. He broke the 200 strikeout barrier this year and whiffed more than a batter per inning while also displaying a strong walk rate. He struck out 202 batters against 61 walks in 192 1/3 innings. He is a bit homer prone -- he served up 25 longballs this year -- but he should be able to more effectively keep the ball in the yard as he gains more experience.
**Miguel Sano's fantasy owners were riding high halfway through the 2017 season when he made the All Star team after batting .276 with 21 homers and 62 RBI before the break. But the warning signs were already obvious -- he struck out in 120 of his 301 at-bats. His performance collapsed in the second half and he suffered a stress reaction in his shin in mid-August that cost him the rest of the season. Sano's ability to adjust to major league pitching is going to go a long way toward determining the Twins' success in future seasons. He has the talent but thus far has not learned to use it on a consistent basis. He's already let his body go and it is only going to get worse as he reaches his mid-to-late twenties. Sano underwent ankle surgery last November and was unable to work on his fitness and conditioning in the offseason. That caused him to enter the 2018 season out of shape and it showed on the field. It got so bad that the team had seen enough in early May and demoted him to their Ft. Myers spring training facility for six weeks to rehab a hamstring injury and to work on his fitness. He lost 30 pounds in that time and was then recalled to the majors. His performance did not improve -- he finished the season with a .199 batting average with 13 home runs and 41 RBI in 71 games. The Twins are looking for a new manager this offseason, perhaps a new coaching staff can get the most out of Sano and his unbridled power. If he can learn to put the barrel on the ball more consistently he may yet become a star.
**It is easy to see why Byron Buxton was the top prospect in baseball for multiple years: elite speed, great defense in center field, the ability to hit for plus power and the ability to hit for average. So why after 306 major league games does he have an extremely poor .230/.285/.387 slash line? Perhaps he was promoted too aggressively -- he is still just 24 years old but has already played four seasons in the majors. He has also been ravaged by injury. He was limited to only 28 games this year due to a broken toe and ended the season with a .156/.183/.200 triple-slash with zero homers and four RBI. He has stolen 46 bases in his career and has been caught only five times, which goes to show if he can ever put together a healthy season with a good on-base percentage he could easily lead the majors in stolen bases. His elite defense (he won the Platinum Glove Award as the American League's best defender at any position in 2017) will keep him in the lineup until he develops at the plate.
**Kyle Gibson seems to have finally harnessed his talent. After registering identical 5.07 ERAs in both 2016 and 2017 he put up a quality 3.62 mark in 2018. He turned in career-highs with 8.19 K/9 and 196 2/3 innings pitched at the age of 30. The Twins have him under contract for one more year and will lean heavily on him as they look to rebound in 2019. If they struggle in the first half he will be a valuable trade chip in July.
**Max Kepler is another top hitting prospect who seems to have plateaued in his early twenties. He hit 20 home runs for the first time in 2018 but has been unable to hit for a decent enough batting average. He sank to a .224 mark this year despite striking out only 15.7% of the time. Observers might blame that on an "unlucky" .236 BABIP but it seems to be a chronic problem for him -- he has a career .257 BABIP in 1633 plate appearances, which is more than enough to conclude it isn't bad luck but rather an inability to hit sharp line drives that is causing the problem. He is another player that may benefit from a new coaching staff to help him bust out and reach his potential.
**Jake Odorizzi struggled to a 7-10 record and 4.49 ERA in 32 starts during his first season with the Twins. That ERA is quite a bit higher than he ever registered in his five seasons with the Rays. Part of that can be blamed on pitching in an environment less favorable to pitchers in Minnesota. There are some reasons for optimism though. His 8.87 K/9 was the second best strikeout rate of his career and is plenty good enough to be a successful starter in the major leagues. He also did a fine job of limiting home runs -- his 8.9% HR/FB was sixth-best in the major leagues this year. He is a good bet to have a bounce-back season in 2019, especially if the Twins improve their defense -- a healthy and productive Byron Buxton would be a big defensive upgrade.
**Royce Lewis is the Twins' best prospect and one of the top five in all of baseball. The 19-year-old shortstop was the first overall pick of the 2017 draft. He reached high Single-A in 2018 and likely won't reach the majors until at least 2020. He profiles as an offensive-minded player who can hit for average and power while also stealing bases. He is a must own in dynasty and keeper formats.
**Alex Kiriloff is a 20-year-old outfielder whom the Twins took with their first-round pick in the 2016 draft. He missed all of the 2017 season with an injury and then had an explosive 2018 season that saw him rapidly climb top prospect charts. He is a near-universal top-20 prospect at this point. He profiles as a high batting average hitter with plus power as well. He is not a base stealer. He will likely make his major league debut in 2020.
Team needs: The bullpen is a wreck. The trade of closer Fernando Rodney to the Athletics created an opening for Trevor Hildenberger to take over the ninth inning and he did not perform well at all, registering a 5.42 ERA and blowing four of his 11 save chances. Veteran reliever Addison Reed missed a big chunk of the season with an elbow impingement injury and turned in a mediocre 4.50 ERA over 56 innings. The team is likely to scour the market for proven relief arms over the winter, either via trade or free agency. The Twins fired manager Paul Molitor and will seek a new coaching staff that can help their large contingent of young talent live up to their potential. They traded Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar this summer and don't have promising replacements for them at second base and third base. The likely departures of Joe Mauer and Logan Morrison will create voids at first base and designated hitter. Miguel Sano will occupy one of those slots and the other will need to be filled this winter. The team has a solid rotation core of Berrios, Odorizzi and Gibson with former Yankee Michael Pineda likely to grab the fourth slot if he is healthy after missing the 2018 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. They may look to fill the fifth slot via free agency. They have one of the better minor league systems and could decide to deal some farm talent to make a run at the weak American League Central Division this coming season.