There's no denying that the 2018 Minnesota Twins fell short of expectations. This club came into the year having played in the Postseason a season ago, and they were looking to target the Cleveland Indians at the top of the AL Central division. Winning just 78 games, that didn't happen, but there was plenty for this group to hang their hats on.
Obviously a season in which we saw Paul Molitor's squad take a step backwards, there's a few key areas needing improvement. Before getting into those narratives however, we need to take a look at which positive launching points could loom large for the offseason and year ahead.
Mid-way through the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season, it looked as though the former 1st round draft pick would be a non-tender candidate at the end of the year. Then things clicked, and he posted a 3.76 ERA over his final 13 starts. What's only made it look better, is that Gibson has carried the strong performance into 2018.
He wrapped up the year trailing only Jose Berrios in terms of fWAR among Twins pitchers, and his 3.62 ERA was easily a career best. The FIP and xFIP numbers suggest there's some room for regression, but it isn't too worrisome. Another key development is that Gibson showed a heightened ability to get batters out on his own. With a career high 8.2 K/9, his strikeout numbers were notable for the first time in his career. Thanks to the emergence of Gibson, and presence of both Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, the Twins rotation is in a good place.
In baseball, you are rarely afforded multiple significant opportunities to make an impact. After being pulled from the Yankees glut of outfielders, the Twins afforded Cave an opportunity and he ran with it. As a 25 year-old rookie, he's a bit past the typical prospect shine. That said, he posted a more than enticing .797 OPS and showed plenty of power potential.
Right now, he's locked in as nothing lower than the 4th outfielder for the Twins going into 2019. Cave took the run likely tabbed for Zack Granite coming into the season, and he could very well push Robbie Grossman out of the organization as well. If there's an area to focus on when it comes to development, it's easily plate discipline. A 102/18 K/BB ratio leaves plenty of room for a higher level of on-base prowess to rear its head.
Losing a bullpen piece like Ryan Pressly was going to create opportunity for another arm to step up, and Rogers did in a big way. Leading the Twins in fWAR out of the pen, Taylor posted a career best 2.63 ERA. It was the third straight season in which he's lowered his ERA, and he finished with a career best 9.9 K/9. Although velocity isn't his game, he gets pitches by batters, and doesn't give up free passes.
On top of being dominant as a whole, Rogers wasn't simply a LOOGY either. Sure, he nuked lefties to the tune of a .428 OPS, but he only allowed righties to post a .643 OPS against him in the process. Across over 68 innings this season, he only allowed three longballs, and he pitched his way to the back of the Minnesota pen.
Spanning the group of exciting prospects that rose the Twins ranks together, it's probably a bit surprising that Rosario has emerged the most. That said, we're absolutely at that point in their collective development. After an .836 OPS season in 2017, Rosario solidified his ability by performing at an All-Star level in 2018.
From where I sit, I don't think there's much more to the ceiling of the Minnesota left fielder, but the floor shouldn't be significantly lower either. A guy that has a cannon in the outfield, and can hit as a middle-of-the-order threat, he's going to be a guy that makes sense for a long term extension. Rosario can be a star for the Twins, and that came somewhat out of nowhere.