Friday, April 15, 2016

The Twins Looking For A Fix

It began as a sweep, then turned into a franchise record, and has now reached less than unfortunate territory. The Twins opening up the season with a handful of losses as they have has been anything but expected. This was a team looking to take the next step forward, and while that could still end up being the case, they've dug themselves a massive hole. I've taken it upon myself to figure out how to fix it thought.

Short of cloning eight more Joe Mauer's, the Twins need to shake things up a bit. Here's a couple things I see as being helpful to getting this club going in 2016:

A lineup shuffle

Speaking of Joe Mauer, bat him in the leadoff spot. It's been something I've contended as making sense for quite some time, and if there's a time to try it, now would make a lot of sense. The Twins have gone with Brian Dozier for the better part of the past two seasons and mostly because they really don't have a legitimate option. Despite being a respectable OBP guy, Dozier's pop is best served elsewhere.

Mauer owns a career .395 on base percentage, and even in his career worst .265 average season of 2015, he still posted a .338 OBP. Through the first handful of games in 2016, Mauer owns a .387/.487/.581 slash line and has walked (6) more times than he's struck out (4). Forget about the idea that a leadoff hitter has to be a speed guy, you can't steal first and Mauer will get there more often than not.

Start a new outfield

No, this isn't a chance to knock the Sano experiment. There's been some lumps (honestly what in the world was that dive), but for the most part it's going just fine. You're keeping Sano in the mix for his bat, and right field is a fine place to do it. That said, his two outfield mates could afford to be swapped out. Give me Oswaldo Arcia in left with Max Kepler in center.

The Twins brought Arcia north because they aren't stupid. There's no way the Venezuelan slugger would pass through waivers unclaimed, and that's because another team will assume he can hit. Through 9 games (of which Minnesota has lost them all), Arcia has drawn just one start and been given only four at bats. He had a horrid 2015 season at the dish, but he's a year removed from a .231/.300/.452 slash line with 20 homers. If the Twins can scoff at that kind of power production given their current situation, I'm unsure how.

With Kepler you're getting a prospect with some serious upside into the field. Of course he'd be taking over for Byron Buxton, but I'll address that shortly. You'll lose a good amount defensively but Kepler's best position in the field is in center. He'll hit eventually, and if his .318/.410/.520 slash line across High-A and Double-A in 2015 is anything of substance, it'll be sooner rather than later.

Buxton rides the bus

For the most part, I diagrammed why I believe Buxton would be best suited for about three weeks at Triple-A in this piece. It's not a death sentence, and it shouldn't change the belief that he's a top end talent long term. Right now though, he needs to shorten up his swing a bit and generate some significant confidence at the plate.

In 13 games at Rochester in 2015, Buxton hit .400 and picked up at least one base hit in every game. Allow him to go down, settle in, and generate that kind of production again. Buxton has had a eerily similar career beginning to Mike Trout, and although he's never going to hit for that kind of power, wanting the immediate return shouldn't trump him getting the opportunity to contribute when he's ready.

With the Twins having signed David Murphy, someone in the outfield is headed back to Rochester. The veteran isn't going to be on the farm long, and the Twins would be best served to make it Buxton. Of course they could have just started their own players (Arcia/Kepler) rather than signing Murphy, but I digress.

Break Sano and Park off

Right now, the two biggest power threats in the Twins lineup couldn't hit a breaking pitch to save their life. Miguel Sano has made watching early fastballs down the gut a habit, and he's routinely guessed and buckled at the vision of a bender coming in. Byung Ho Park has bailed out on pitches, struggled to keep his head through the sing zone, and has flailed at offspeed stuff far too often.

I'm not sure going down to Triple-A would be a good idea for either of them. Big league benders are going to be what they need to compete against, and forcing them to work through the struggles up top seems the best plan of action. We've seen Sano handle it with the impressive 2015 he had, and it was always (yes you were wrong about Park struggling with fastballs) going to be the biggest change for Park in coming over from Korea.

Maybe the two of them need a heavy dose of offspeed live batting practice a couple of times a week. Maybe their swings need some tweaking. I'm not 100% sold on what the answer is, but breaking balls have been the pair's kryptonite and it needs to end sooner rather than later.

Level with Rosario

When looking at how to shuffle the otufield, I have a hard time suggesting Eddie Rosario not having been the worst of the Twins bunch. Following a successful rookie year that saw him put up numbers despite some really concerning offensive flaws, he's been incredibly out of sorts to start 2016. Not only are his offensive problems coming to light (he's swinging at 50.8% of pitches out of the zone and swinging and missing 19.7% of the time, both worse than 2015 numbers), but he's been awful in the field as well (-2 DRS in just 68.1 innings).

There was plenty of reasons thrown out as to why Rosario struggled as he rose through the minors. His on base percentage dipped and he looked like he didn't want to be there. I know that his disinterest has been noted as the biggest culprit. He's often been suggested as a guy that wanted to be in the big leagues and believed he was above that level. He's probably not wrong, but flipping the switch is a hard task and one he hasn't seemed capable of in 2016.

Right now, I think Buxton has more to gain from a development standpoint by going to Triple-A. If it were plausible though, I'd send Rosario out simply to send a message. His head isn't screwed on right, and it's been pretty apparent.

At the end of the day, when things are going as wrong as they are for the Twins, there's no shortage of things Minnesota can try. Paul Molitor has to right the ship sooner rather than later though. With just a small portion of the 162 game slate accounted for, there's plenty of time left, but it's up to the club to make meaningful use of it.

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