Saying the Minnesota Twins were bad in 2016 would be an understatement. They were coming off of an encouraging 2015 season on the backs of rookies Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Byron Buxton. Jose Berrios and Max Kepler would join them at the start of 2016, and the Twins had high hopes to start the season.
Things would fall apart very quickly for the Twins, starting the season with nine straight losses, and never left the cellar in the American League Central. They went on to finish with a 59-103 record, the worst in baseball. The Twins will look to put last season behind them, and their shot at redemption starts with spring training. Games are underway, and here are three guys you should keep an eye on as we get closer to Opening Day.
- Jose Berrios – The Twins’ former top pitching prospect showed signs of raw talent in 2016, striking out 49 batters in 58.1 innings. However the 22-year-old’s first stint in the major was disastrous. In 14 starts, Berrios went 3-7 with an 8.02 ERA and 1.869 WHIP. The strikeouts were there, but he failed to show the solid control that propelled him through the minors. His 1.4 K/BB ratio was an unpleasant surprise for the Twins, as was his 1.9 HR/9. That being said, don’t write Berrios off as a bust just yet. His swing and miss ability and natural control made him a highly touted prospect for a reason, and it doesn’t just go away at the drop of a hat. Berrios will have every shot to make the Twins’ rotation this spring, making him one of my top guys to watch.
- Max Kepler – The young outfielder put together a solid rookie campaign last season. In 113 games, Kepler slashed .235/.309/.424 with 17 homers and 63 RBI. The 24-year-old out of Germany crushed Double-A pitching in 2015, and forced his way into the lineup in April of 2016. He hit 12 homers and knocked in 31 runs in the month of July, despite averaging just 304 feet fly-ball-distance, according to Statcast. Kepler has experience at all three outfield spots, basically guaranteeing him a spot on the Opening Day roster. He’s had a history of shoulder injuries in the past, and his defense isn’t spectacular, but Kepler’s bat makes him a budding-star and a guy to watch this spring.
- Byron Buxton – After two stints in the major leagues the past two seasons, the former top prospect in all of baseball has yet to reach his potential. Buxton has been labeled a future star for years now, but his .220/.274/.398 slashline across 427 major league at-bats hasn’t been what the Twins were hoping for. Buxton’s stats haven’t been great, but his game changing speed on the basepaths and in the outfields are not tools that go away. He has shown some pop in the minors, and should develop more over time. Buxton is still due for a breakout season, and will look to prove that he can live up to the hype starting with spring training.
The Minnesota Twins were not as bad as their record suggests, and will look to set the tone for the season as spring training games get underway. Keep an eye on these guys, as any one of them are poised for a breakout season in 2017.