The Minnesota Twins finished 2016 with the worst record in baseball. The performance of their potential young studs was largely underwhelming. Outside of Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana, there were no Twins worth more than 1.7 fWAR.
After spending the offseason unsuccessfully attempting to ship Brian Dozier off to a bidder that never bid high enough, the Twins come into the 2017 season looking virtually the same as they did in 2016. The key differences are the addition of Jason Castro via free agency, along with the return of Phil Hughes and a full season from deadline acquisition Hector Santiago. Santiago was obtained in a deal that sent Ricky Nolasco to Anaheim, and the Twins’ other deadline deal sent the flexible Eduardo Nunez to San Francisco for their new fifth starter Adalberto Mejia. Gone, too, are Trevor Plouffe and Kurt Suzuki, who signed elsewhere as free agents.
These will be the pitching matchups in the three games this opening series, which will take place at the following times:
Monday, 3:10 PM CDT / Tuesday, off / Wednesday, 12:10 PM CDT / Thursday, 12:10 PM CDT
Royals at Twins Pitching Matchups
While the Royals don’t have a clear advantage in the Opening Day tilt matching Danny Duffy with Ervin Santana, they certainly would look to have an edge in Wednesday and Thursday’s games. Duffy comes off the best season of his career—one that garnered him a long-term extension—but it wasn’t all that dissimilar from Santana’s 2016 campaign, at least when looking at defense-independent pitching statistics (DIPS) like FIP, xFIP, and SIERA and either measurement of Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Both Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel should enjoy a distinct advantage over their Twins counterparts. Hector Santiago was significantly worse after being traded to the Twins, surprising many by actually finding a way to be worse than he’d been in Anaheim last year. The 4.25 ERA and 5.04 FIP to which he subjected the denizens of Orange County turned into a positively abysmal 5.58 ERA and 5.82 FIP in his 61.1 miserable innings logged as a Twin. Kyle Gibson was just your typical underwhelming Twins starting pitcher, getting by (arguably) on mediocre stuff while pitching to contact. Of modest relief to Twins fans, Gibson has actually fared fairly well against the Royals historically, owning a 3.58 ERA and 5-4 record against Royals since 2013. That success was not present in 2016, however, as the Royals hit him early and often the three times they saw him last season never scoring fewer than four runs against him.
The Twins will commence the 2017 season with two new faces behind the dish. First up, their most significant addition of the offseason, Jason Castro. Known for his skills behind the plate, the former Astro has enjoyed an up-and-down major-league career but seems to have settled into the 1.0-1.5 fWAR player, as his defense carries an underwhelming but not entirely unpalatable (for a catcher) offensive profile. Also in the mix is former Cleveland backup catcher, Chris Gimenez, who beat out the American League Horror Story John Ryan Murphy for the job as a non-roster invitee.
So the Twins have this guy to whom they’re paying a boatload of money who goes by the name of Joe Mauer. His salary has made him a bit of a lightning rod as he’s moved waaaaaay down the defensive spectrum from catcher to first baseman. Over the past three seasons, Mauer’s production has dropped down to the general vicinity of being worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 WAR. ZiPS projects him to be worth 0.7 fWAR, while Steamer has him at an even (and mythical) 1.0 fWAR. With two years remaining on his mammoth contract, it’s hard to see where he’ll be worth the $23M he’ll be paid in each of the next two seasons. He’s probably a nice guy though.
Brian Dozier is coming off a monster year in which he was worth 5.9 fWAR, thanks in large part to the ridiculous season he had against the Royals. Of his 42 dongs hung, 11 demoralizing dongs came off Royals pitchers. That he only slashed .284/.351/.806 against Kansas City could be seen to argue the existence of a merciful God were one to squint hard enough.
It looks as though prospect Jorge Polanco has finally ascended to the role of starting shortstop for the Minnesota Twins, unseating Eduardo Escobar (and sort of Danny Santana) to get the role. Sneaking into the top 100 prospect lists for both MLB.com and Baseball America in advance of last season, Polanco was thought to be a sort of average-across-the-board prospect heading into last year (at least per John Sickels at Minor League Ball) with only power registering a tick below that. Hitting from both sides of the plate, Polanco hit pretty well at nearly every stop in the minors from 2012 onward. He could be a bit of a surprise, and both ZiPS and Steamer like him to be a pretty solid addition of 1.7 and 1.0 fWAR, respectively (though projections are obviously pretty volatile with players as inexperienced as Polanco is).
The Twins’ thinly veiled attempts at trying to see if they had angels in their outfield last year blew up spectacularly in their face as the likes of Miguel Sano and Robbie Grossman were given chance after chance to flub innumerable plays while slotted in positions they really had little business manning. With Trevor Plouffe gone, third is once again Miguel Sano’s, getting his arm back on the field after being largely relegated to designated hitter duties as his misadventures in right dictated. It’s fair to say that Sano’s weaknesses in the outfield are not as likely to be problematic for him at third, and in limited time, he’s been a much better fit there than anywhere else on the field. Sano’s real gift is in his prodigious power. If he finally harnesses that tool in his Age-24 campaign, opposing teams starting with the Royals could be in for a rude awakening.
Perhaps the clearest testament to the Twins’ youth movement of the past few years, the trio of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler will patrol the grass in Target Field this season. Buxton looked every bit the star-in-the-making that his presence atop multiple top prospect lists portended when he returned to the majors for his third stint last year, tearing through opponents like a chainsaw through hot butter over the last month of the season, clubbing nine dongs in 29 games fueling a .287/.357/.653 triple-slash. This might be the superstar everyone thought was there. Kepler and Rosario share a slightly less lustrous prospect sheen than the Twins center fielder, but each was also highly touted. Rosario’s undoing has been his complete lack of plate discipline, somehow managing to walk nearly seldomly as Salvador Perez. Kepler has struggled against lefties but performed fairly well in his 113-game 2016 campaign that saw the then-23-year-old German put up a 1.1 fWAR season. If hope springs at all in Minnesota, the water is bubbling up through the turf in the outfield.
Having grown tired of watching Robbie Grossman misplay fly balls against the Royals (this could have happened), Grossman beat out Byung-ho Park and Kennys Vargas for the designated hitter spot. Grossman actually hit quite well last season, managing a .363 wOBA and 127 wRC+ that when balanced against his atrocious defense allowed him to be worth 0.7 fWAR.
With a 13-man pitching staff featuring the fearsome bullpen of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly, Taylor Rogers, Matt Belisle, Craig Breslow, Justin Haley, Michael Tonkin, and Tyler Duffey, the remaining position players on the Twins’ roster are Danny Santana and Eduardo Escobar. Both are coming off particularly disappointing 2016 seasons. Santana was worth -0.7 fWAR, and Escobar was just a hair less bad at -0.6 fWAR. Escobar was actually more than a win above replacement value the year prior, but Santana has been worth -2.1 fWAR since 2015. With Kennys Vargas and Byung-ho Park having been assigned to AAA - Rochester, there isn’t likely to be much in the way of production being threatened from the bench.
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Royals sweep 3-0
Royals take 2 of 3
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