By Adam Brown
Scale up and down the American League Central, you’ll see the star-laden Detroit Tigers. You’ll see the reigning American League Champion Kansas City Royals. You’ll see last year’s rookie of the year, Jose Abreu and his Chicago White Sox. You’ll see the American League CY Young award winner Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Professional baseball club. You’ll see the Minnesota Twins. Not to be disparaging towards the Twins, but top to bottom this division is littered with great players, great pitchers, clubs primed to contain for a pennant…and them. Downtrodden, beaten down and bottom-feeders, the Twins have won 265 games over the previous 4 seasons, and find themselves at the wrong end of the draft order on an annual basis. The question is how long will the club stay in the mire? Is the futility towards its conclusion? And where’s the future success coming from.
According to ESPN.com, the Twins sit in 19th position in payroll, estimated at just over $102million. Whilst this doesn’t scream to be a concern, given how we’ve witnessed the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays have copious amounts of success with a payroll that pales in comparison to the Twins, it is alarming. Joe Mauer, the heartbeat of the organisation, the local boy “done good”, will cost $23million this season, and the same every year until the contract concludes after the 2018 season. Mauer earns just shy of double Ricky Nolasco, the teams second highest priced player will this season ($12m) and over 20% of the teams entire outlay.
If you’ve listened to the “Call To The Bullpen” preview podcasts, you will have heard Ollie and Steven debate the pro’s and con’s of trading Mauer, and how logically it serves the purpose of trimming their budget and allowing them to strengthen in multiple positions. It does also however affect the public relations with fans in the immediate future. However as Ollie put it “they’ll all come back, and be happy once the teams winning”. Trading Mauer would be a difficult task, with him being the wrong side of 30, and with a dwindling performance (WAR dropped from 5.3 to 2.1 from 2013 to last year), however a team with a big payroll could easily be persuaded into a deal as we’ve seen with the Padres taking Matt Kemp and the Dodgers taking Carl Crawford.
Aside from Mauer the team made the peculiar acquisition of Ervin Santana this past offseason. Despite coming off a good year with the Royals in 2013, Santana couldn’t find a long-term deal that winter, and settled on a one year deal with the Braves. An average season with the Braves, where a lot of his peripherals, including BB/9, K/BB, and H/9 all worsened somehow led him to a longer, more expensive contract. The Twins signed Santana to a 4 year $55million contract. A large outlay for a 32-year-old pitcher with a below average career (99 ERA+), made little sense for a team not expected to compete for the immediate future.
Santana then proceeded to test positive for PED’s before the season began, and found himself slapped with an EIGHTY game suspension.
That’s the negative side of where the Twins sit right now, signs of a renaissance in the offing are seldom seen, and they seem destined for a couple more seasons away from contention.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Twins, far from it. This organisation is blessed with an incredible array of young talent in the Minor Leagues. Baseball Prospectus has just the Chicago Cubs ahead of them in terms of farm systems, and MLB.com ranks 6 of their prospects in the top 37 of their annual list of the top 100 prospects.
The farm system is the Twins ticket back to contention, and is headlined by the top prospect in all of baseball, Byron Buxton. Buxton, who at 21 is still being seasoned and will be unlikely to see the Majors this year projects to be a five-tool Centre Fielder. His main strengths are his speed and his defence, which rate at 80 and 70 respectively on the future tools scale. His weakest asset is his power, yet that’s still graded at 60, which is above average. Buxton has been likened to Andrew McCutchen and even Mike Trout, showing the sort of expectancy levels that will be on this young man’s shoulders in the near future.
They also have Miguel Sano, a third baseman with enormous power potential who, like Buxton is more likely to be a fixture in the 2016 Minnesota Twins team. Sano, also 21, is eerily similar to the tools of Pedro Alvarez, with the potential to hit for a better average. Sano projects to be a sub par defensive player at the hot corner, so a transition to First Base doesn’t seem unreasonable to fathom.
The Twins also have highly touted young pitchers to call on as well, led by the giant (6 foot 9) Alex Meyer. Meyer has a huge fastball that sits in the high 90’s, which also demonstrates why he is high strikeout pitcher (10.4 per 9 last season). Meyer, who came over in the Denard Span trade with Washington is 25, and should play a role this season.
Jose Berrios, a young Puerto Rican pitcher has raced through the Minor Leagues, reaching AAA at just 20 years old last season. He projects to be solid across the board with a good fastball, with a change-up and curveball adding complimentary pieces to his arsenal. Berrios could even see himself at in the bigs this season and give Twins fans a glimpse at one of the key cogs in their future.
The farm for Minnesota is deep, and could be likened to the sort of depth Tampa Bay had before their improbable run to the 2008 World Series, or Kansas City before they put it together for a long run last season. When you’re a team who can’t spend limitless amounts of money like the Dodgers or the Yankees, growing your own talent is a cost-effective means of evening the odds.
The current roster has talent as well; we’ve seen the growth of players such as Danny Santana, Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier (who recently signed a 4 year extension), who were worth over 13 wins via WAR collectively last season. With all of them being in their 20’s, and under team control for the forthcoming years, there are pieces in place for the Minnesota revival.