Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Must Happen For Twins In Florida?

Baseball fans, you've made it. At this point in the winter, the offseason is nearing its conclusion, and you are about to be rewarded with the month long grind that is spring training. For the Minnesota Twins, a team coming off of a breakout season a year ago, there's some key steps to be taken in the month ahead however.

As pitchers and catchers embark on sunny Fort Myers, the Twins will soon be in full swing over at the CenturyLink Sports Complex. Now in his second season as manager, Paul Molitor will have a few narratives he needs to force playing out. Should Terry Ryan's relative inactivity this offseason fail to hurt the Twins, it will be because of the internal scenarios making the best of themselves.

Here are the key areas of focus for the Twins as they build towards their return to Target Field.

Cement for the pen

A season ago, you'd have been hard pressed to find a bigger problem area for Molitor's club than in the relief arms it employed. Going into 2016, the only guarantees in the pen are Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen. From there, the expectation would be that Trevor May and Casey Fien are included in the group. Fernando Abad is the likely lefty, and Michael Tonkin is out of options. Ricky Nolasco probably figures into the situation as well. When camp breaks, Minnesota absolutely must have answers in relief.

Sano falls smoothly in right

Terry Ryan was hesitant to trade Trevor Plouffe, and for good reason. Minnesota held onto their third basemen, and that forced Miguel Sano to find another way into the field. Bringing Byung Ho Park into the fold, just bringing a bat to the park was a thing of the past for the Twins slugger. Now expected to take over for Torii Hunter in right field, Sano needs to make it work. A good athlete, and less than large defensive shoes to fill, Sano could very well succeed in his new role. Down in fort Myers, the Dominican native will need to do everything he can to push himself and get the stumbles out of the way prior to games counting.

Have bat, will travel for Byron Buxton

The Twins uber prospect Byron Buxton made his big league debut in 2015, and it was anything but ideal. His defensive prowess showed immediately, but his offensive game left Twins brass hoping for mediocrity. In his second big league season, Buxton will need to flash the offensive tools he's displayed on the farm. During spring training, Buxton will need to put balls in play, get on base, and cause havoc on the basepaths. It needs to be a big step forward for baseball's best prospect, and it'll start down in Florida.

Welcome Park to the big leagues

Terry Ryan shocked much of the baseball world this offseason when his Twins made the winning bid for Korean slugger Byung Ho Park. After two seasons in which he hit a combiner 100+ homers in the KBO, his power has to be his saving grace in the big leagues. Adept with the glove, it's the offense that Minnesota is relying on Park for. His average can dip, and with the strikeouts, it will. Park needs to get a couple of longballs under his belt down in Fort Myers, and his transition to the MLB game needs to happen as smoothly as possible.

Non-roster, non-issue

Almost more than any other season of memory, the Twins non-roster invitees for 2016 spring training are compiled of a star studded list. From Jose Berrios to Nick Burdi, the group is definitely pitcher heavy this time around. Considering the Twins are looking for front running rotation talent as well as bullpen arms, that's a good situation to be in. Down in Fort Myers, the non-roster guys need to step up. Berrios could do some serious work in regards to pushing himself closer to the 25 man, and Nick Burdi or Jake Reed could begin to force the Twins hand sooner rather than later.

Health above everything

Although depth is something this Twins team may have more than any other in the past, relying on it early isn't a good plan. Considering there's plenty of position and roster battles that will play out throughout the year, the last thing Paul Molitor wants is to see things decided by injury. Whether on the field or off of it, Minnesota needs to leave the Grapefruit League as healthy as they entered it.

The 2016 Minnesota Twins do not need to see all of these key areas play out to perfection to accomplish big things in the year ahead. However, the more they can count on out of the gate, the better chance they'll have to build on what was a successful 2015. We're almost there, and the smell of the freshly cut grass is more than apparent.

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