The Minnesota Twins have had their fair share of ups and downs the past few years, to say the least. The club went from 103 losses in 2016 to 85 wins and a spot in the American League Wild Card game in 2017. Last season, they finished 13 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, with a record below .500. Not too long after the ’18 season ended, Minnesota announced that they’d be moving on from manager Paul Molitor. Former Tampa Bay Rays coach Rocco Baldelli was later named as Molitor’s successor.

Heading into this offseason, Minnesota had plenty of money to spend and they were able to make use of it by building some depth around the club’s core. They signed impact players in second baseman Jonathan Schoop, veteran right-hander Blake Parker, first baseman C.J. Cron, utilityman Marwin Gonzalez and designated hitter Nelson Cruz.

While the signings look great on paper, if the Twins want to return to the postseason in 2019, they’ll need their group of core players to take a serious step forward. Center fielder Byron Buxton is expected to finally have his comeback season after battling injuries early last season. Third baseman Miguel Sano won’t be on the field until sometime in May after undergoing another debridement procedure on his right leg, but there’s hope that Sano can return to his All-Star form. If the Twins get bounce back seasons from Sano and Buxton, this team has the chance to contend for the postseason.  Now, let’s preview the upcoming season for the Twins.

Probable lineup

  1. Jorge Polanco, SS
  2. C.J. Cron, 1B
  3. Eddie Rosario, LF
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH
  5. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
  6. Marwin Gonzalez, 3B
  7. Max Kepler, RF
  8. Jason Castro, C
  9. Byron Buxton, CF

Bench: Miguel Sano, 3B, Ehire Adrianza, 2B, Jake Cave, DH/OF, Ronald Torreyes INF

Probable rotation

  1. Jose Berrios, RHP
  2. Kyle Gibson, RHP
  3. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
  4. Michael Pineda, RHP
  5. Martin Perez, LHP

Probable bullpen

Closer: Trevor May, RHP, Blake Parker, RHP
Setup: Trevor Hildenberger, RHP
Middle: Taylor Rogers, LHP, Addison Reed, RHP, Adalberto Mejia, LHP, Matt Magill, RHP, Fernando Romero, RHP

Pitching staff has potential

The 2019 starting rotation, led by 25-year-old All-Star Jose Berrios, is no longer a weakness. Berrios and Kyle Gibson are both coming off of breakthrough campaigns, and Jake Odorizzi is a strong addition. There’s plenty of potential upside in Michael Pineda, who will be returning after a season-and-a-half away from the big leagues. Pineda needed Tommy John surgery while with the Yankees, then he tore the meniscus in his right knee after signing with the Twins as a free agent.

Mejia, along with Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, Zack Littell and Gabirel Moya all are young arms on the brink of establishing themselves, and each of them have a chance to play larger roles this season. Whether the role is competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation or being deployed as an opener, at least the Twins now have the added pitching depth that puts them in a better position to compete than a year ago (4.50 ERA, 22nd in the majors).

Healthy, productive Buxton and Sano key

We’re still waiting for former top prospects, Sano and Buxton, to deliver on their potential.

The two players who came up in 2015 have suffered through inconsistent and injury-prone seasons to start their MLB careers, and both hit below .200 last season. Over the past three seasons, Sano and Buxton have played in just 57.7 percent of a possible 972 big-league games for the Twins. If the two finally find their groove in 2019, the Twins lineup will not only be really good but it will be good enough to compete with the Indians in the AL Central. Buxton, 25, has superstar potential, and while his league-best defense and speed on the base paths lived up to the hype, he’s struggled with being able to hit consistently. Buxton did have a good stretch during the second half of the 2017 season in which he hit .300/.347/.546.

As for Sano, he’s shown flashes of his power during the past three years, but the 25-year-old simply struggles to make contact. Sano’s lack of conditioning has been a focal point in the past, but he arrived to spring training this past February slimmed down after incorporating yoga into his offseason routine and having his sister move in with him to serve as his nutritionist. Sano even checked in with Twins strength and conditioning coordinator Ian Kadish via weekly FaceTime calls. If Sano maintains his shape and stays focused on consistency, he could easily become a dangerous power hitter for Minnesota.

Even with the struggles of Sano and Buxton, the Twins finished 13th in the majors in runs scored last year. Minnesota has a number of other members of their young core, like Kepler, Polanco and Rosario, who should continue to grow into solid-hitters in 2019. Since top prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff are still a year or two from hitting Minneapolis, the Twins are going to need more production and consistency out of both Sano and Buxton (and the rest of their young core) if they’re going to give the Indians a better battle this season.

Will the new additions bring power?

The Twins added power this offseason with signings Cruz, Schoop and Cron. The three combined for 88 home runs in 2018. The Twins fixed a right-handed power shortage in a lineup that hit the eighth-fewest (162) homers last season. 

The Twins softened the blow from the loss of Joe Mauer to retirement with the signings of Cruz, to fill the opening for a designated hitter and Cron, to fill in the gap left at first base. Arbitration-eligible Cron, 29, was claimed off waivers from the Rays, manager Rocco Baldelli’s former team, and batted .253/.323/.493 with a career-high 30 homers, 28 doubles and 74 RBIs in a career-best 140 games. Cruz, who turns 39 in July, launched 37 home runs and drove in 97 runs with Seattle in 2018. Over the past five seasons, he has averaged 41 homers and 104 RBIs and his power hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. The six-time All-Star will bring a veteran power bat to the Twins lineup, as well as clubhouse leadership for a team full of still-developing players. Schoop replaces Brian Dozier at second base, and although the 27-year-old had a down year in 2018, his upside remains high. If this trio shows off the power they’re capable of this season, the Twins bounce back becomes more of a real possibility.

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