I'm not exactly predicting this, but if you are looking for a team to take an Astros/Cubs-type leap as those formerly downtrodden franchises did in 2015, the Minnesota Twins are a pretty good candidate to be said club this season. One of baseball's top farm systems is beginning to reap rewards on the big-league level.
Under first-year manager and Hall of Fame player Paul Molitor, who was third in AL Manager of the Year voting, the Twins finished 83-79 last season and second in the AL Central, 12 games behind Kansas City. But Minnesota was in the wild-card chase down to the final days. Alas, the team lost four of its final five games. Those 83 wins were 13 more than 2014's total and Minnesota finished with a winning record for the first time since 2010, which is the last time the team made the playoffs (and won the division).
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I'll just cut to the chase here and say that I don't think the Twins have enough pitching to win the very deep AL Central, but Miguel Sano looks like a future MVP candidate. The jury is still out on Byron Buxton, who at one point was the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.
Minnesota opens the season April 4 in Baltimore.
Twins 2016 Projected Lineup
Minnesota, in part hampered by Joe Mauer's obscene contract, is simply never going to make a huge splash in free agency, and this offseason was no different. The Twins saw outfielder Torii Hunter retire after 19 big-league seasons. Hunter played 12 years with the Twins, including last season when he came back on a one-year deal. He's an all-time fan favorite in the Twin Cities. Minnesota also upgraded tits catcher situation by acquiring John Ryan Murphy from the Yankees for outfielder Aaron Hicks, although Murphy projects as the backup this season. Hicks hit .256 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs in 352 at-bats in 2015.
The Twins used 124 different batting orders last season and no lineup more than seven times. So take this projected lineup with a grain of salt.
The leadoff hitter is second baseman Brian Dozier, who has probably the most power of any at his position in the majors these days as Dozier hit 28 homers and knocked in 77 last year. Then comes Mauer, who is now a full-time first baseman. He will make $23 million this season and the next two. What a disaster that deal has been. Mauer hit just .265 with 10 homers and 66 RBIs last year; those would be great numbers for a catcher but not a corner infielder.
Then comes Sano, who plays right field. This guy is a beast in the Giancarlo Stanton mode. Sano, who turns 23 in May, hit .269 with 18 homers and 52 RBIs in only 279 at-bats last season. He's followed by underrated third baseman Trevor Plouffe (.244, 22 HRs, 86 RBIs) and left fielder Eddie Rosario (.267, 13 HRs, 50 RBIs).
Minnesota's main every-day addition this offseason was signing Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, and he projects to hit sixth and play DH. When you are a small-market team like the Twins, you have to take chances on foreign guys sometimes. Park got $12 million over four years after the Twins won the bidding for him at $12.85 million. The winning bid was the second-largest bid ever paid to negotiate with an Asian position player behind the $13 million the Mariners paid for Ichiro Suzuki. That worked out pretty well. But Park is nothing like Ichiro as Park hit .343 with 53 homers and 146 RBIs last season in the Korea Baseball Organization. He's a two-time MVP of that league.
Shortstop Eduardo Escobar (.262, 12 HRs, 58 RBIs) and catcher Kurt Suzuki (.240, 5 HRs, 50 RBIs) follow Park. And that brings us to Buxton, the center fielder hitting ninth and a five-tool player. He looked a bit overmatched last year as a 21-year-old, hitting just .209 with two homers and 44 strikeouts in 129 at-bats. He's also struggling this spring so it's not impossible he begins the season in Triple-A or is sent down at some point, but the Twins want him to stay up for good.
Twins 2016 Projected Rotation & Closer
Minnesota has had issues with its rotation for a while. The Twins' starters went from posting the worst ERA in the majors in 2014 to the 16th-best in '15, going from a 5.06 ERA to a 4.14 ERA. So if another jump can be made, there might be something here. It's just there's really no true ace.
Ervin Santana (7-5, 4.00) was limited to 17 starts last year because of an 80-game suspension. So obviously another failed drug test and he's gone for a year. Santana's a solid enough pitcher but should be about a No. 4, not a No. 1. He was given a four-year, $55 million contract last offseason, the most money given to a free agent in team history.
Santana is followed by Kyle Gibson (11-11, 3.84) and Phil Hughes (11-9, 4.40). Hughes was a true ace in 2014 and earned a big new extension, but predictably he regressed to close to his career numbers last year. After throwing a career-high 209.2 innings in 2014, Hughes tossed just 155.1 innings in '15 after missing a month with a back injury.
The back end of the rotation will be decided in camp, but it's likely to be lefty Tommy Milone (9-5, 3.92) and maybe Ricky Nolasco (5-2, 6.75), who has been a monster bust since getting a big free-agent deal before the 2014 season. Tyler Duffey (5-1, 3.10) also is in the mix here.
Closer Glen Perkins (32 saves, 3.32 ERA) is solid enough but that's a high ERA for a closer.
Twins Futures Odds
At BetOnline , Minnesota is +4500 to win the World Series, +2200 for the AL pennant, a +900 long shot in the AL Central and has an "over/under" wins total of 79.5, with the under a -125 favorite. Sano is +2000 to win the big-league home-run crown. He has an O/U of 29.5 dingers. No other player props are available yet for other Twins.
Twins 2016 Predictions
FanGraphs projects Minnesota to finish 78-84 and fourth in the Central, eight games behind first-place Cleveland. I'm struggling with this team, to be honest. Molitor appears to be a very good manager, which can be worth something like five wins. I love Sano. Is Buxton ready to be a regular? Can the Twins afford help if they need it? I don't have the answers to those. I'm going under that wins total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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