Thursday, November 19, 2015

Twins With Unprecedented Success Ahead

Earlier this week, the Rookie of the Year awards were unveiled. In the IBWAA balloting, Carlos Correa picked up the AL honors. However, it was Miguel Sano who finished in 3rd place with 172 points and seven first place votes. Looking at the BBWAA balloting, Sano once again finished third with teammate Eddie Rosario coming in 6th. An impressive finish for the two however, is merely a foreshadowing of what is to come.

The last Minnesota Twins player to win Rookie of the Year honors was Marty Cordova. That honor was bestowed well over a decade ago, back in 1995. Looking ahead to 2016 however, it's probably fair to argue that the home team has the deck stacked in their favor.

First and foremost, the odds on favorite, Byron Buxton. Retaining his rookie status by a single at bat (Buxton compiled 129 of the 130 needed ABs to exceed rookie status in 2015), baseball's top prospect enters 2016 still under the rookie and prospect designation. Having played in 46 games during a playoff driven 2015 season, the Twins youngster has a handful of experience under his belt.

Although Buxton struggled to the tune of a .209/.250/.326 line in his first tour of the big leagues, brighter horizons lie ahead. Forget the Mike Trout first-to-second-year comparisons, Buxton has done plenty on his own. He's the owner of a .301/.383/.489 minor league line, and he recorded a hit in all 13 of his Triple-A games during 2015 (accumulating a .400/.441/.545 line). With an offseason to prepare, the offensive expectations for the Twins superstar should be through the roof for the season ahead.

On the off chance that Buxton doesn't quite do enough to nab Rookie of the Year honors though, the rest of the possibilities are equally as impressive. Considering the Twins have at least three more players that should be considered for the award, the emerging presence of this team is no doubt going to be felt.

Staying in the outfield, Max Kepler is a name that likely will be on many watch lists. Despite not having the same top tier pedigree as Buxton, Kepler has impressed nearly everywhere he's been (when healthy). He was healthy in 2015, and went on to win the Southern League MVP while leading the Chattanooga Lookouts to a Double-A Championship. Kepler slashed .322/.416/.531 while ripping 13 triples and launching nine homers. He's got an outside shot to start the year in the big leagues, and he should contribute when he gets there.

Then there's the overseas addition (or expected one). Minnesota has not yet agreed to a contract with Byung-Ho Park, but belief is that a deal gets done. The Korean Baseball Organization superstar should fill in as the Twins everyday DH. His 53 home runs in the KBO are going to come down a bit in the big leagues, but this guy is a star. After seeing Jung-Ho Kang struggle, then got hot, and eventually finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting this past season, Park's expectations are through the roof. He's a superior talent, and at 29, should be right in the middle of his prime to show it off.

Rounding out the group, a step onto the mound is made. If Kepler dominated minor league pitching, Jose Berrios laid waste to hitters through the minors. Across two levels a season ago, Berrios owned a 3.03 ERA and compiled a 2.85 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts. His 9.5 K/9 has blown away hitters, and while walking just 2.1/9, Berrios has proved incredibly tough to beat. Despite the Twins pitching depth, Berrios should be mentioned amongst the highest tier, and he should be expected to show that off at the MLB level relatively early.

Regardless of the fact that, as with many awards, the Rookie of the Year is an individual honor, this list alone highlights a great thing for the Twins. Coming off an 83 win season, Minnesota is in position to add at least four players to the big league roster, that could be among the best in the game for their age. The organization is in position to turn the corner in a big way, and the aforementioned parties should be front and center in that revival.

When it comes to the 2016 Rookie of the Year award, it may not be addressed to Byron Buxton, but Minnesota has a pretty good shot of it being delivered to 1 Twins Way.

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