what needs to play out for the Twins down in Fort Myers to start 2016 off on the right foot. Coming off a season of exceeded expectations, it's important to keep the momentum moving forward. It's hard to be optimistic without looking at what also could end up being detractors however.
While the AL Central is far from a juggernaut in the year ahead, their should be a good deal of parity. Expecting the Twins to be in the thick of things is probably a good bet, but they also profile as a team ripe for regression. With their win total being set by many right around 77, Paul Molitor will have to do what he can to stave off the step back for his club.
Down in Fort Myers, here's what the Twins need to avoid in order to sidestep a stumble out of the gate:
Another Misstep For Meyer
When Baseball Prospectus released the PECOTA numbers, Alex Meyer was among the Twins names needing to be looked at. His ERA in the low 3.00 range would be a welcomed addition to a mediocre 2015 Minnesota pen. Meyer may not make the club out of Spring Training, but he absolutely has to push the envelope. Now in his age 26 season, this needs to be the year he contributes at the big league level. Florida can't be filled with walks and inefficiency for the former top prospect, it's time for Meyer to break out.
Buxton Goes North...East
There's been a narrative conveyed far too often this offseason, and that's one of Byron Buxton not being the Twins Opening Day center fielders. Should that end up being the case, the Twins (and Major League Baseball's) top prospect would have fallen extremely flat on his face. In a scenario where Buxton goes to Rochester, his spring would've had to have been filled with next to no competent approach at the plate and horrible results. Continuing to suggest the narrative would seem to convey a belief that the worst is ahead for Buxton. At this point, Minnesota (as well as everyone else) should be operating under the belief that it's Buxton or bust, and it needs to be.
Condition For The Haul
The past two seasons, the Twins have watched two of their most important contributors hit massive second half collapses. Both Brian Dozier and Glen Perkins have struggled down the stretch (Perkins really only last year), and that needs to become a thing of the past. Molitor can't afford to have his big bats produce only part of the season. Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, Byung Ho Park, and Miguel Sano need to drive the Twins all season long. Whether getting into a groove or staying in pristine condition, the Twins bats (and their closer) need to put in a full 162.
Keep Surprises Out Of The Picture
At the end of the month long grind that is spring training, the Twins watched their expected ace be nailed with an 80 game suspension in 2015. That set plans in place to have Mike Pelfrey rejoin the rotation, and push the Twins in an uncomfortable spot right out of the gate. While you'd hope another drug related suspension isn't looming, injuries popping up need to be kept at bay as well. In 2016, the Twins will have some depth to their advantage, but it will be best utilized by players pushing each other rather than out of necessity.
A Perfect March, Not November
Sure, spring training is a must in baseball, but it's generally reflective of very little. Under Molitor, the Twins surprised a season ago. The focus needs to be on making that playoff push and getting to November, and that focus starts in spring training. While getting acclimated and conditioned is a must for the entire organization, a March focus isn't going to yield the results Minnesota wants. Keep production in perspective, and understand that the first month is simply a building block for what's yet to come, not the other way around.
It's probably a bit too over the top to suggest the Twins have a playoff team right now for the 2016 season. Considering the possibility for regression though, pushing the win total upwards is a great goal and focus to hone in on. Should the Twins bypass a step backwards, this team may actually be ahead of where it should be with its youth, and set itself up nicely for years to come. It all starts in Fort Myers though, and making sure to cease any of the above narratives from playing out is a very good thing.