Monday, August 17, 2015

Optimizing In August, Expanding In September

By now, you know the story of the 2015 Minnesota Twins. Minnesota got off to an abysmal start, then something clicked, and a team burst onto the scene a year early. Holding down a commanding lead of a Wild Card spot, the Twins looked to be in good position. Unfortunately, the bottom fell out, and Paul Molitor's squad now finds themselves on the outside looking in. With a few weeks left in August, and the active roster expanding in September, things are about to get interesting.

Right now, Minnesota is still in the hunt, but it's the next few series that will determine their 2015 fate. The current major league roster is far from optimal, but it also appears capable of pulling out some victories. With the AL East as their upcoming competition, the Twins need to stay focused throughout the end of August.

Ideally, roster optimization in August for the Twins would include both Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios in the big leagues. Both are more than capable of providing a boost, and would be a definite asset. Buxton is likely being held back to sometime around the end of the month due to service time, and Berrios has a ticking innings clock. Arguments for both sides are compelling, but operating under the belief that the Twins aren't a playoff team, I'd wait until September 1st on both.

The bullpen is really the only other place the Twins could be looking for a boost in the current month. Things have been in flux of late, and changes have been made. There's a few places that could be considered weak spots, but it's also hard to suggest the replacement arms would be a guaranteed upgrade. Ryan O'Rourke and A.J. Achter have both proven capable at times, while Brian Duensing and Kevin Jepsen have been better of late. Much like the offense, there's little to nothing I'd change here at the moment.

As rosters expand in September, this is where the Twins have the most room to operate through some exciting decisions. First and foremost, Buxton and Berrios need to be with the big league club. Buxton is slashing .404/.440/.532 in his first 11 Triple-A games, while Berrios owns a 2.25 ERA in his last 40.0 IP. Buxton should push Aaron Hicks to right field, rendering Torii Hunter a rotational bat and replacement fielder (his likely 2016 role). Berrios deserves a crack at the rotation, and giving him three starts to end 2015 would be extremely valuable going into spring training 2016.

Outside of the top two, Minnesota has some other must accommodate types. First and foremost, Max Kepler. The German prospect is batting over .330 at Double-A and has been arguably the best hitter in the system this season. Getting him reps at the MLB level prior to 2016 is an absolute must.

Teammate Nick Burdi could also be a consideration from Double-A. The 2014 second round pick has taken his lumps this year, but he owns a 2.05 ERA across his last 22.0 IP. Burdi should be a key part of the 2016 bullpen, and getting his feet wet now (as well as his strikeout punch) is a route the Twins should explore. Jorge Polanco and J.T. Chargois could also be options if the Twins want to open things up a bit further.

Just one level down, Paul Molitor has a few guys at Triple-A that will need a look. James Beresford should be given a tip of the cap type shot for what he has put together this year. The Aussie is slashing .313/.346/.368 and he offers at least a better option than Doug Bernier down the stretch for the big club. Out of the bullpen, Mark Hamburger is an option. The Twins are well acquainted with Hamburger, and his 1.05 ERA since June 16 would seemingly bolster the Twins arms.

For Rochester, Kennys Vargas has pushed himself and worked his way back to the highest level on the farm. He's slashed .316/.519/.421 in seven games since his return to Triple-A, and will be fighting for a 25 man spot to open 2016. On the opposite end of the spectrum, overlooking Oswaldo Arcia might not be a bad idea. He went on a nice home run-filled hot streak, but he's slashed just .100/.200/.157 across his last 21 games. The Twins need to make a decision on Arcia before the upcoming year, but it's gut check time for the powerful Venezuelan.

Looking at what can be done, and how the Twins are positioned, the final few weeks of the season offer plenty of intrigue. At the forefront is a team who is competing for the first time in many years. Secondary though, is a team that has shown up a year early, and offers the organization an opportunity to not rush decisions, but also time to evaluate in meaningful competition.

August shouldn't be a time of much turnover for the Twins, as roster optimization would still more than likely keep them out of the playoffs. September though is a period where the Twins can begin to position for 2016 and beyond, with their being little reason not to get the ball rolling.

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