Friday, July 31, 2015

Does It Matter If Twins Hope Fades?

July comes to a close, the Major League Baseball trade deadline passes, and the dust settles. In the wake of it all, the Minnesota Twins are left with a slim lead in the Wild Card race, and a very small margin for error. Hope has to be waning right? But what if that hope is placed in the wrong things, and it doesn't really matter if the Twins fade?

Coming into the season the Twins weren't a realistic postseason contender, they weren't supposed to be here, and this wasn't supposed to be their time. Sure, it would be great to capitalize on a situation after four straight seasons with more than 90 losses, but at the end of the day, perspective must reign supreme. At what cost does competing now come, and does maximizing a current Wild Card spot sacrifice future years? Maybe hope is best placed elsewhere, after all, Paul Molitor's Twins have provided plenty of areas this season.

Maybe most visible of them all is the emergence and development all along. This was coming, and I've been suggesting it for well over the past year. He's put it all together this season though at a rate even I wasn't prepared for. Owning a .299/.364/.437 slash line, and hitting .365/.443/.608 in July and his five home runs are on pace for a new career high. He's been worth 2 DRS (defensive runs saved) and has a 6.1 UZR (ultimate zone rating) as the Twins centerfielder. Even when Byron Buxton shifts him to right field, the Twins have a solid asset at their disposal.

Another young guy has stepped up in a big way. Going into the season, I suggested Eddie Rosario would be the first Twins prospect called up, and that he could go on to have a Danny Santana (2014) like season. He's batting .294/.316/.462 and has caught fire of late batting .393/.393/.679 since July 10. In the field he's been worth 3 DRS and owns a 3.0 UZR as he looks poised to lock down left field for the Twins into the future.

As has been anticipated for many years, Miguel Sano made his big league debut in 2015. So far he's done everything expected of him and then some. Already with three home runs in his first 21 games, he's also hit for average batting .296/.427/.507. More impressively, he's batting .364/.500/.682 against righties, while hitting just .185/.290/.22 against lefties. In the minors this year Sano was better against lefties slashing .299/.405/.597. He's going to crush lefties at the MLB level, so the fact that he's also seeing righties well early is a great development.

Then there's a guy on the big league roster that has continued to prove it. After an impressive 2014, Brian Dozier has looked the part of an MVP candidate in 2105. The first time All Star is hitting .256/.330/.512 with 22 home runs (good for top 15 in the bigs). He's on pace for career highs in doubles, home runs, runs batted in, and runs scored. On pace to be a 5.0+ fWAR player, Dozier has emerged as the best second basemen in the league.

Outside of the 25 man roster, there has been plenty of great development as well. Jose Berrios looks the part of a big league starter right now at Triple-A Rochester. He owns a 1.35 ERA and an 8.1 K/9 across his last three starts. Stephen Gonsalves has followed in the footsteps of Berrios as a fast riser down in Fort Myers, and first round pick Nick Gordon is now getting it done with the bat. It'd be hard to overlook Max Kepler, who's .337 batting average at Double-A Chattanooga is plain silly. Throw in secondary prospects like Tyler Duffey, Taylor Rogers, and Mat Batts, and the Twins are in a better spot than ever.

So that's maybe where the hope is, or should be. Rather than clinging to what the Twins do or don't do at the deadline, or whether they make the playoffs, or whether they fade into September, it's finally a realistic situation to look ahead.

Minnesota should go into 2016 as the clear second best team in the AL Central, trailing only the Royals. Depending on what pieces are added, and who is promoted when, Terry Ryan's organization should see the future as filled with division championships and playoff appearances once again. 2015 has been a lot of fun so far, but if playoff baseball doesn't come to fruition, there's plenty of reason for hope and excitement to thrive where it should be in the first place.

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