Any prediction for 2016 must first acknowledge that I wrote off the Twins’ 2015 season after one horrible week, only to see them vying for a playoff spot with a week to play. One of the pleasures of baseball is the length, and corresponding unpredictably, of the season. Key players will suffer injuries and players you haven’t heard of will become important cogs. Last year, for instance, we awaited impact from Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. The former fizzled, while the latter amazed, but no one predicted the impact of Eddie Rosario, who almost led the league in triples and outfield assists. Who will surprise us this year, and how? That’s the fun – and the reason my ramblings here are nothing but that.
I do like the 2015 Twins chances for two reasons: they seem to have developed a solid pitching rotation that will give them a chance to win (almost) every game, and the Royals have been so good there is a good chance they will flounder. That’s just the way things work in sports. I put a parenthetical “almost” in the above sentence because Rickey Nolasco begins the year as the Twins’ fifth starter. He will not be by the time we get to June, or latest July, but we don’t know whether his spot will be taken by Tyler Duffey (whom no one had heard of last year) or Jose Berrios (the Buxton of pitching). It will be nice if Glen Perkins regains his All-Star form, but Kevin Jepsen is back and something will work out there.
The Twins’ offense is the most formidable of recent memory, although Sano has to prove himself over a full season. Being overweight and playing out of position are red flags, to be sure. It would be especially nice if Buxton can figure out Major League pitching and we can anoint him a worthy successor to Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter in centerfield and make us look less jealously at the exploits of Denard Span and Ben Revere as they play elsewhere. I am optimistic about Trevor Plouffe as a cleanup hitter and Brian Dozier at leadoff. They have experience and the requisite confidence. The rest of the lineup is serviceable – and this includes former MVP Joe Mauer at first – which, again, is enough to keep the Twins in a lot of games. If Byung Ho Park hits more than 20 homers or Mauer bats over .285 I’ll be okay. Interestingly, the two best Twins in spring training were Danny Santana, who doesn’t have a position, and Darin Mastroianni, who is in the minors. They should get used – but how? Oswaldo Arcia, out of minor league options, is on the roster on a trial basis, and I don’t see how he fits, unless Park or Sano falters.
Perhaps the best news is how young and far from free-agency these Twins are. Mauer, Nolasco and Kurt Suzuki are the only ones on the downslope of their careers. Maybe this will be a run-up year. Maybe they are a Berrios or Max Kepler away from making their run. All I know for sure is that there will be surprises. That’s what makes it fun.