Thursday, March 31, 2016

Problems In The Pen Perkolating?

A season ago, the Minnesota Twins were among the worst in the major leagues when it comes to bullpens. They didn't strike anyone out, the group struggled to hold leads, and they were generally overtaxed having to work long games pitching from behind. Although many of the arms didn't have full seasons of inefficiency, it was generally a tale of two halves for a good portion of them. No one experienced that narrative more than Glen Perkins.

Making a third straight trip to the All Star Game, Perkins owned a 1.21 ERA in 37.1 innings before the break. He allowed opposing hitters to slash a paltry .188/.217/.246 off of him, while notching 28 straight saves. His 8.7 K/9 was getting the job done, and he looked like the best closer in all of baseball. Then it happened...

Upon the calendar turning over to the second half of the season, the train derailed for the Minnesota native. For the second season in a row, he fumbled down the stretch. Pitching just 19.2 innings for the Twins the rest of the way, Perkins owned a 7.32 ERA and converted just four saves while blowing three. He gave up a .360/.394/.674 slash line to hitters, and surrendered seven longballs. To say it was a debacle would be putting it nicely. For the second year in a row, Glen Perkins had disappeared.

Looking at 2016, there was a real need for the Twins to improve their pen. With many pieces being makeshift a season ago, Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor needed more arms they could count on. Heading into the spring, only Perkins, Kevin Jepsen, and Trevor May were guaranteed to be among the group (May, after he was ruled out of starting).

The Twins addressed their bullpen in much of the same way they did going into the 2015 season. Inviting a handful of non-roster guys to compete for jobs, it was always Fernando Abad that looked the most likely to make an impact. The rest of the 2016 pen will be composed of internal options that have previously performed, and there's a host of high-ceiling guys on the way. What remains the glue of everything however, is just how well Perkins contributes to the group as a whole.

Sure, Jepsen filled in admirably for Perkins a season ago, but expecting a career year from him ago may be a fool's errand. There's reason to believe May becomes an elite reliever, but do we really want to be relying on him to close games for the Twins in the upcoming year? Taking some pressure off of everyone would mean Perkins is able to handle his own.

I have seen concern from multiple different outlets. There's been rumblings of a man struggling to stay in shape, wondering where priorities lie, and notions that it may be time to move on. Where I believe things are trending however, is the third time being a charm.

Glen Perkins is a competitor, he's a realist, and he seems to be one of the most transparent players in the big leagues. There's probably nobody more determined to right his wrongs than Perkins himself. Wanting to turn the tide on two down endings, Perkins has worked through different routines in hopes of putting his body in the best position to withstand the rigors of a full season.

The last two seasons, Perkins has seen his fastball dip down into the 93 mph range. After spending 2012 and 2013 throwing right around 95 mph, the dip could definitely be part of the downfall. What Perkins has done this spring however, is show velocity that rivals the numbers posted at the height of his game. In the previous two years, he's struggled to push the radar gun much above the 92 mph range down in Florida. In his recent outings this season, Perkins has pushed up past 94 mph, a very good sign.

In his best years, Perkins has struck out right around 10 batters per nine innings. Using his wipeout slider, he's had batters overmatched more often than not. When allowing the ball to be put in play, Perkins has always given up roughly a third of those batted balls to fall into the hard contact range. The last two seasons, that number has continued to rise. For Perkins, it's about getting back to what he has been capable of previously.

At 33, it's not about reinventing the wheel for the former Gophers standout, but simply returning to what he's capable of. He needs to keep the ball in the yard, seeing a 2% spike in his HR/Fly Ball rate, and he needs to command at bats once again. As much as staying healthy is a big portion of the equation, the solution simply seems to be returning to a pitching style he once was synonymous with.

There's understandable reason to believe that Perkins health has become a detriment to his effectiveness and think that his best days are behind him. The flip side however is that his issues are correctable and making even minor tweaks are the key to him solidifying an improved Twins relief corps.

For now, the problems that the Twins bullpen and Glen Perkins are facing can't be overlooked. What also is fair to suggest is that the situation shouldn't be overblown either. Expecting Perkins to return to his former self, and produce in a full season, is something I feel comfortable with at this point. The unfortunate reality though, is that it's a narrative the Twins must have play out.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Danny Do It All, Santana The Utility Man

Prior to the 2015 Major League Baseball season, there was no Twins player I was more down on that Danny Santana. After exploding onto the scene in 2014, and garnering some AL Rookie of the Year votes, regression was looking him right in the face. Unsustainable production at the plate caused worry, and the fears turned out to be more than warranted. In 2016, there's a different tune however. Santana could be one of the Twins most integral roster components.

In 2015, Santana produced an ugly .215/.241/.291 slash line for the Twins over 91 games at the big league level. His .405 BABIP from 2014 came crashing back to earth, and even swung heavily the other way, ending at .290 for the 2015 season. Given the starting shortstop role out of the gates, he was unpredictably terrible, and was given a much longer leash than imagined. Summarizing, the 2015 season is one that Santana will want to forget.

Nothing could help him move on quicker though than what is to come in 2016. Santana who has been named to the 25 man roster for the Twins, now finds himself in a different role. Moved back to the outfield in principle, Santana has started games all over the diamond for the Twins through spring training. Having shown the versatility to play on both sides of the infield, as well as spelling uber prospect Byron Buxton in center, Santana will have plenty at bats come his way.

Santana's approach at the plate has always been one that could lead to some struggles. Taking walks has never been a big part of Santana's game, and the 2.2% walk rate at the big league level in 2015 was a new career low. He swung at pitches outside of the zone over 43% of the time last season, and missed on swings nearly 13% of the time. Neither of those numbers are ideal (although they are better than 2016 regression favorite, Eddie Rosario), but a late season surge may have seen things begin to click again.

Prior to his promotion back to the big league club to end the season, Rosario tore up Triple-A Rochester in the month of August. He slashed .333/.352/.506 over his final 20 games there. Posting eight extra base hits, with three homers, the Dominican seemed to find his stroke once again.

Through spring training, Santana has once again continued to impress at the plate. Given 52 at bats, he owns a .327/.339/.462 slash line with a homer, and nine runs driven in. Utilizing his speed on the basepaths, he's also contributed five stolen bases to Paul Molitor and the Twins cause.

Comparing things and projecting forward for Santana, trends should be in his favor. The largest detractor to his assumed regression in 2015 was in the form of the inflated BABIP, largely a metric of luck. Santana owned a 26% hard hit rate a season ago, down just 0.5% from the 2014 season. His line drive rate dipped around 6% but there were still not any glaring abnormalities. What the numbers suggest is that Santana simply regressed to the mean, and the ball didn't bounce his way as often as it did the season before. Fortunately for him, it bounced significantly against his way more often than not, and posting that poor of a BABIP once again in 2016 doesn't seem like a good bet.

So if Santana should be expected to be better at the dish, that means half of his game is already looking to be headed in the right direction. As a utility fielder, the Twins are helping to make sure the rest of it follows suit as well.

As mentioned earlier, Santana was given the starting shortstop gig out of the gate in 2015. Across 570 plus innings, he posted a -15 DRS and -8.0 UZR for Minnesota. For some comparison as to just how bad that is, not a single qualified shortstop posted worse than a -8 DRS in 2015, and that was Jose Reyes who played 996 innings to reach that feat. What the Twins found out is that Santana is not a shortstop, or at least in a full time role.

Moving away from Santana at short, the 16 errors that came with it immediately helps the Twins defensively. It helps Danny too however, considering he's posted at least league average numbers in the outfield. Playing over 500 innings in centerfield for the 2014 Twins, Santana held down the spot, even while being a bit below average when consulting range factors. Making a home in the outfield as a rotational type should allow Santana to settle in defensively. Sparing Eduardo Escobar at short, Brian Dozier at second, or even Trevor Plouffe at third is a way to sprinkle Santana's glove into the infield without relying on him heavily.

For the upcoming version of the Twins, a focus on the 25th man will be more heightened than it has in recent memory. While I'm not suggesting that's Santana, the point is that having capable pieces off the bench is a must for a team looking to make the playoffs. Santana operating in a super utility role could be one of the nicest things afforded to the Twins in quite some time. While he isn't Nick Punto defensively, Danny Santana could round into being at least that value with the mix of the bat, flexibility, and compatibility.

If 2015 was the Twins relying on Santana to take a starting gig and run with it, 2016 will be about Minnesota hoping he can reinvent himself by being Danny-do-everything. Expect a jack of all trades, master of none type approach, and thinking it works out is a pretty good bet.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Ricky Shuffle, And Minnesota's Next Moves

The day has come and gone, Tyler Duffey and Ricky Nolasco had their show down as spring training draws to a close, and the rotation has been all but set. With Nolasco not seeming a likely rotation option coming into the season, Duffey opened the door with his tough spring, and the veteran capitalized. Now with the rotation looking set, a few other dominoes will fall into place.

Despite getting a vote of confidence from manager Paul Molitor out of the gate, Duffey did the one thing he couldn't afford to do this spring, be mediocre. As a candidate for regression after a very solid final 9 starts in 2015, the former Rice closer needed to hold serve and the rotation spot was his. While he was looking to add a third pitch to his repertoire, a changeup, it was his command that alluded him most down in Florida.

Although Ricky Nolasco was far from a lights out option this spring, he took the door Duffey left cracked open, and kicked it in. Turning in multiple solid performances on the major league side, the man Minnesota owes $24 million over the next two years forced his way back into the team's plans. Now penciled in to be the club's fifth starter, we can begin to wonder what happens next.

First for Nolasco.

I looked at what needs to go right for the former Marlins ace back in February. He is signed on an over-extended contract given his track record in the lesser national league, and he's coming off two poor seasons for the Twins. First and foremost, he needs to be able to find his confidence once again. Falling behind hitters far too often in his tenure with the Twins, he's generally given the guy at the plate the advantage from the get go. From there, his breaking pitches need to return to what they once were. His curveball has looked sharp this spring, and his slider needs to again be an out pitch. If he can make those tweaks happen, Minnesota may get some use out of their big 2014 expense after all.

The dominoes behind Nolasco are the ones that seem almost more intriguing however. It has often been an uttered sentiment that the Twins best case scenario would be for a brief period of positivity causing teams around the big leagues to check in on Nolasco. In reality, he still has a significant chunk of change tied to his name, and Minnesota would have a tough time swallowing the majority of it. Nolasco going well wouldn't be all bad however.

Considering the shape of the AL Central starting rotations, the Twins would have to figure in no worse than third among the grouping. With a solid front three, the inclusion of Tommy Milone and Nolasco as 4th and 5th options is far from a bad thing. As the season gets underway, the back end of the rotation could then serve as somewhat of a revolving door for Molitor.

Despite being sent down, Duffey is going to resurface with the Twins at some point in 2016. My opinion would be that it's after the debut of Jose Berrios, who I believe is the first man up sometime in early may. Berrios got his feet wet this spring, and while he wasn't lights out, he was always going to be held back for service time reasons regardless.

Considering that injuries and shuffles will take place, there's little reason to bank and the starting five staying in tact for the duration of the season. What Nolasco has done in securing a rotation spot however, should be beneficial down the road to the Twins. In terms of Berrios, he presents a realistic roadblock for the immediate future, and in turn allows Duffey to hone in on his newly developing changeup.

Whether Berrios and/or Duffey are called upon due to necessity, or by pushing for their inclusion at the highest level, the Twins will have an extended evaluation period first. Both Milone and Nolasco should be capable of giving the Twins quality starts to open the season, and in grabbing a rotation spot, Nolasco helps to let the chips fall where they may.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Details Delight As The Show 16 Rounds The Bases

Year after year, MLB The Show remains the gold standard in baseball video games. Developed by Sony San Diego, the first party Playstation title continues to improve upon a formula that has worked on an annual basis. This season however, the leaps and bounds of improvement are felt much more greatly than they were likely anticipated. Regardless of the expectations, The Show 16 is ready to blow you out of the water.

From the into to the title screen, much of what has made The Show familiar remains the same. Your options are all present, whether it be Road to the Show, Exhibition, Franchise, or Diamond Dynasty. Where things begin to develop is by diving keeping into each of the games' offerings.
Regardless of the expectations, The Show 16 is ready to blow you out of the water.
Having never been a huge fan of Road to the Show, I decided to buck my trend and dive into the game's most popular mode from the get go. Much of what has made the climb through the minors to the big leagues remains, but the tweaks are what take the experience to a whole new level.

Road to the Show has now incorporated a true 20-80 player rating scale. Scouts evaluate big league talent on the same scale, and it is now present across MLB The Show. Starting out in a scout spotlight, my Road to the Show player was given a baseline evaluation, with the familiar Prospect Showcase looming. Upon being drafted however, Road to the Show really begins to shine.

One of my biggest gripes with the game mode in previous iterations has been the overall grind of rising through the minor leagues. While it's indicative of the true to life feeling, the experience is at it's core, part of a video game. Sony San Diego has helped to tackle this by allowing gamers to play through an entire series without needing to return to the team menu. In playing a handful of games at a time, getting into the action is much more smooth, and accumulating the previous training points is more rewarding.

In Road to the Show, the streamlined process can be felt within game action as well. Gone is the monotony of simply pressing buttons to throw fielded balls to bases. Now incorporating showtime, a slowdown effect, a mini-game-like-button-press is initiated, requiring you to remain on top of the action. On the base paths, quick counts are utilized allowing your prospect to advance and stay active rather than drawing out long counts.

With the increased brand presence in The Show 16, the offerings of equipment and unlockables that can be attached to your prospect grows even greater as well. Each new product is brought to life in a gorgeous video game representation, while also allowing your player a slight ratings boost. There's the introduction of consumables on a game by game basis as well, leaving your Road to the Show experience feeling fresh each time you make your way towards Cooperstown. For the first time in MLB The Show, I felt rewarded through the entire mode.

Taking a step back and looking at the gameplay itself, The Show 16 truly shines. It is here that the little things make all of the difference. This season, PBR (physically based rendering) was introduced to the experience. In allowing light to react as it truly would to a surface, stadiums and players come to life more than they ever have before. Despite the stunning visuals the new technology has created, the details go even further.

I couldn't help but feel true satisfaction the first time I cracked a bat at the plate. The new sound mechanics sound more lifelike than ever. The introduction of open and closed roofs is a welcomed addition, and more jerseys (as well as the new matte helmets some teams will don) just go to show the team pulled out all of the stops. Bringing back a handful of classic stadiums, although my beloved Metrodome is not present, is more than satisfying as well.

Then there's the mode in which will spend the bulk of my time going forward, Franchise. This season, it's once again the details that take franchise mode to new heights. While I have never been a big fan of the player morale aspect added into sports games, it works well in The Show 16 and is far from invasive. The new introduction of real-time reaction to player contracts is one that helps to make free agency feel much more lifelike, and truly advances the satisfaction of building your team into a contender.

Furthering the small details in franchise, I couldn't help but to appreciate the expanded stats. Baseball at its core is a game of numbers, and The Show 16 gets that. Now including every player's career stats, production is never a mystery. The calculation of both WAR (wins above replacement) and FIP (fielding independent pitching) are additives that make their video game debut at what seems like the perfect moment.

For MLB The Show as a whole, franchise mode has long been a deep and satisfying endeavor. The minor tweaks and additions made to The Show 16 experience take that to a whole new level.

I was able to continue along with my Show 15 franchise as well, and things flowed very smoothly. I did notice a hiccup in what seemed to be a slight lag after pitches for batters getting readjusted into the box. I attributed that to them being pulled from a previous version of the game. It's bothersome in its annoyance, but far from hampering to the experience as a whole.

Finally, I was able to dive into the new Diamond Dynasty structure. Although the servers didn't go live much before the launch of The Show 16, conquest is already something I can see investing significant time into. While Diamond Dynasty has been The Show's attempt at replicating EA"s Ultimate Team, I've generally left unsatisfied with the experience. This time around however, The Show 16 takes a structure that works and puts its own spin on things.

Conquest allows you to look towards taking over the country by earning fans based upon performance and taking down opposing teams. The growth of your fanbase and the draw that follows is one that will no doubt have me coming back for more.

Playing a brief bit of Battle Royale, I found myself enjoying the fantasy draft structure of the new mode. Designed to take on foes in a double elimination tournament, there's both strategy in game, as well as in how you construct your roster. I have felt that The Show has made significant strides online as a whole in recent years, and unveiling Battle Royale at this point in time seems like a very welcomed addition.

At it's core, baseball is played between the lines, and there's next to nothing that The Show 16 doesn't get right.
At the end of the day, you should come into MLB The Show 16 with expectations already set relatively high. After all, the game has continued to evolve while remaining fresh and relevant for years. What you won't expect however, is that the smallest things may end up providing you the most significant joy. At it's core, baseball is played between the lines, and there's next to nothing that The Show 16 doesn't get right.


  • The Show 16 hits nearly every detail on the head
  • Road to the Show plays better than it ever has
  • Diamond Dynasty is given new modes, and they are great
  • Minor glitches and hiccups with The Show 15 franchise saves

Mauer And The Future That Is Now

This offseason, the Minnesota Twins realized they were closer than ever to a playoff berth. Having just missed out a season ago, the organization realized that top prospects were going to be the key to making it over the hump. Having stayed internal for most of the 25 man roster tweaks, the goal was to put the best club forward on Opening Day. For Paul Molitor, that meant asking 22 year old Miguel Sano to learn right field. Another name came up as a possibility, but what really is next for Joe Mauer?

There's plenty of reason to be skeptical about asking a 270 pound human being to play outfield in the big leagues. The Twins knew they were better with both Sano and Trevor Plouffe in their lineup however, so the hand became forced. While I have significantly less worries about how things turn out for Sano than most, many have wondered why it wasn't Mauer who was asked to make the transition.

At 32 years old, Mauer is fresh off his second season of settling in at first base. Despite being arguably one of the greatest Twins of all time, and being on a Hall of Fame trajectory with his work behind the plate, brain injuries caused him to reinvent his career. In doing so, the last two seasons have seen Mauer work hard at becoming an asset at first base. While the offensive production isn't on par for the position, his defensive runs saved numbers suggest that he's better than league average with the glove.

Had Mauer been moved to the outfield this season, Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor would have been asking their aging star to acclimate to another new role. At this point in his career, it's fair to suggest Mauer is not the athlete Sano is, and therefore would likely have just as many hiccups. In theory, it's understandable to see why the suggestion was presented, but it was never one that needed to play out.

That leads us to where Mauer is now, and what is to come. In my way-too-early lineup projection from back in December, I had Mauer hitting 5th for the Twins, and would have considered 6th as well. My thought process was rooted in Joe being put in a less substantial role, and that helping to spark his resurgence. I'm of the belief that Mauer has something left, and I think there's reason to believe he hits .300 again this season. What needs to be considered is exactly what happens when things don't pan out.

Following 2016, Mauer has two seasons left under contract with the Twins. Signed through 2018, he will be 34 and 35 in those years, and likely eyeing retirement in the not-so-distant future. 2016 remains a very big make or break year for the former catcher, as it should no doubt shape how the Twins position him going forward.

In 2015, Mauer saw his average dip to a career worst .265. His .309 BABIP was the lowest mark of his career, and he was facing defensive shifts now more than ever. Despite improving on his hard-hit contact rate from 2014, it still remained below 30% for the second straight season (a number in which he has always been above outside of his injury plagued 2011). The detractors are fixable, and that provides reason to believe there's more left in the tank. Whether it be sunglasses or some other adjustment that helps to bring forth the necessary improvements, betting against Mauer doesn't seem a wise move.

However, when things don't pan out as hoped, Minnesota also has other options. A great current area of strength for the Twins remains their outfield depth. Despite Sano being out of position, he seems a plausible fit at first base in the future (although it's another role he has very limited experience in). There there's prospect Max Kepler who seems positioned to push for significant playing time early in the 2016 season. The shift among the three outfielders is going to make Molitor reconfigure his infield.

After inking Byung Ho Park to a multi-year deal this offseason, the Twins have a guy in line for significant designated hitter and backup first base duties for the immediate time being. Whoever comes into the dirt from the outfield is going to be in a place where Park's contributions need to be factored in as well. This all leads us to what may be a (im)perfect storm for Mauer.

Should Joe struggle to trend upwards for the 2016 Twins, the next playoff team in Minnesota (likely 2017) may see him as a rotational guy. Providing days off for starters, and hopefully bringing a consistent professional approach to the plate, Mauer could be destined to play out the final years of his career as a reserve. While less than ideal for both the Twins and Mauer, it is a role that could help him to salvage production down the stretch, and allow him to contribute in a passing-of-the-torch type of way.

For a guy who already has amassed a higher career fWAR than Kirby Puckett and Tony Oliva, it's tough to look back and think of what could have been. However, as the Twins move more towards a new generation of relevancy, the time is coming to figure out just how Mauer fits into it. Again, I believe Joe has the ability to be a significant asset in 2016 and going forward, but if things take another step back, it may be wise for Minnesota to do so as well.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Stacking Up The 2016 Twins With Phil Mackey

After a season in which the Minnesota Twins surprised many around baseball, 2016 presents a whole new opportunity for Paul Molitor and his squad. Now no longer toting the weight of multiple 90 loss seasons, Minnesota looks to expand upon its near playoff performance from a season ago. I have contended often that in 2016, the Twins remain the AL Central team most capable of finishing first just as well as last in the division.

Despite having talked about plenty of narratives this offseason here at Off The Baggy, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Twin Cities baseball mind Phil Mackey. He can be heard weekday mornings on 1500 ESPN Radio doing the Mackey and Judd show. While the topics on their show range across all Minnesota sports, Mackey's wheelhouse in no doubt on the diamond, and he's one of the best in the business when it comes to breaking down the Twins.

Set up in a question and answer format, Phil fielded a handful of thoughts on the 2016 Minnesota Twins, and offered his perspectives and outcomes for each. Take a look:

Off The Baggy: A season ago the Twins were one of baseball's surprise teams. Needing to push the needle further this season, what is the key factor that makes that happen?

Phil Mackey: They need two things, in general: A better bullpen and more top-end talent on the roster. Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and J.O. Berrios could solve the “top-end talent” part of the equation. The bullpen remains to be seen. I love Glen Perkins, and he’s been an awesome contributor to our radio show every week, but can he stay healthy in August and September? Can Kevin Jepsen repeat his performance from last year? I feel pretty good about Jepsen-May-Perkins, if healthy, but the Twins will need guys to really step up and lock down innings 5-7.

OTB: After going into 2015 with a bullpen that should have caused worry, do you feel the same about the 2016 situation or see it as improved?

PM: I think I just answered this question in the previous question, which fits in line with my overachieving personality… The most important thing is for Twins relievers to miss more bats. If I recall, the Twins’ bullpen has allowed more contact that just about any ‘pen in the league over the past couple seasons, which isn’t ideal when we’re talking about holding leads and preventing baserunners from scoring.

OTB: It was pretty apparent Danny Santana seemed ripe for regression last season. What player seems like the most likely to regress in 2016 and why?

PM: Eddie Rosario seems like the obvious answer here, just considering the enormous gap between his strikeout and walk rates… but I’m going to go with Kevin Jepsen. Last year was a career season for him, and I highly doubt that he’ll be able to repeat it. Sort of like Devan Dubnyk with the Wild. Not repeatable. But we’ll see.

OTB: I know you're a big sabermetrics guy. Give me the over/under on some numbers for Eddie Rosario in 2016: 14.0% Swinging Strike, 8 Defensive Runs, Saved 2.0 fWAR

PM: Under on the swinging strike rate… Over on the DRS… Over on the WAR. I think the demise of Eddie Rosario is vastly overstated. He’s a sharp dude with great instincts (do you like those scouting terms in the middle of your saber question?), and I think he’ll find ways to adjust and adapt.

Of course, I just jinxed him. And now he’ll be terrible.

OTB: There should be no shortage of power in the Twins lineup this season, and the club should have a realistic shot at the 200 plateau. Who hits the most longballs for the Twins, and how many does Byung Ho Park tally?

PM: If Miguel Sano stays healthy, he’ll lead the team with 30-something. I’ll say 36. With Byung Ho, I honestly have no idea. Nothing would surprise me. If he plays every day, and if you set the over/under at 19.5, I’d probably take the over. But it’s possible morph into more of a platoon bat (with Arcia potentially on the roster), which could reduce his total. Byung Ho has plenty of pop, but can he adjust to MLB location and secondary pitches?

Which leads me to a mini-rant… Everyone is so fixated on whether Byung Ho can hit “a major league fastball.” That’s not the issue. I don’t care if every pitch is 100 mph – every professional hitter will square it up if he KNOWS it’s coming. Where MLB pitchers differ most from guys in the KBO, the minors and other inferior organizations is A.) location and B.) command of secondary pitches.


OTB: Out of options, and seemingly running out of time, what are your thoughts on Oswaldo Arcia? Is he another potential David Ortiz, or a roster casualty that you're ok losing on waivers?

PM: I think it would be a huge mistake to let him walk for nothing. Oswaldo Arcia will hit 20 or 30 home runs for somebody in 2016 if given enough plate appearances. Not to mention, he already has a track record of destroying right-handed pitching. He’s David Ortiz Light. Or Diet David Ortiz.

OTB: In the rotation, the Twins top three pitchers all have a strong chance to be pretty good this season. Which of the following do you see as the most realistic outcome? Hughes has a bounce back year, Santana pitches like he finished 2015, or Kyle Gibson emerges as the Minnesota ace?

PM: In order of how likely…

1.) Hughes bounces back
2.) Santana pitches like he did in second half
3.) Gibson emerges as the ace

In fact, the Twins’ rotation actually has a lot more upside than people are giving credit. Santana and Hughes have both been able to anchor rotations for long stretches in recent years (when they’re ON), and Berrios could fit that bill too. Now, will ALL of them be lights-out at the same time? Unlikely. But there’s upside.

OTB: Wrapping up the conversation, the Twins should have three realistic rookie of the year candidates. Who do you see making the strongest push between Park, Buxton, and Berrios?

PM: Byron Buxton has the best shot. He’ll start at a premium position and will play every day, immediately. And he doesn’t need to be great at the plate to make a huge impact. If he plays top-notch defense, steals bases and does marginal damage at the plate, he’ll be in the mix. I think his worst-case projection is B.J. Upton.

There you have it, Phil might have started to agree with me on Rosario, but I really like the suggestion of Jepsen being a name to cause some pause. I think the Twins bullpen has the chance to be better than we saw a season ago, although I'm not sure strikeouts will improve a vast amount. Regardless of where the numbers fall across different positional groups on this roster, there's no arguing that the 2016 version of the Minnesota Twins has the most intrigue of any team in recent memory.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

OOTP 17 Simulates 2016 Twins

Recently, Out of the Park Baseball 17 launched for PC and Mac. The yearly gold standard in baseball simulators is once again a great time, I reviewed the newest version here. With the review out of the way however, I thought it fun to go hands off and run through a season to see where initial projections from the game see the 2016 version of the Twins.

After hanging around the .500 mark for most of the season, a late year fall marked Minnesota's doom. There was handful of injuries I saw pop up, and when the dust settled, the Twins finished with just a 67-95 record. Of the numbers produced by the simulation of the 2016 season, that record seems to be the one least likely to come to fruition.

Across baseball, OOTP 17 had both the Diamondbacks and Indians finishing with 101 wins. Other division winners included the Orioles (86), Astros (96), Nationals (98), and Cardinals (93). The defending World Series champion Royals finished the season with an 81-81 record.

Looking at the Twins team statistics, there's plenty to be interested in however.

Miguel Sano finished the year with an .841 OPS bolstered by his 28 home runs. Driving in 86 runs, he led the team in RBI as well. Behind Sano in the home run category was Byung Ho Park (24), Brian Dozier (22), and Trevor Plouffe (22). Dozier was also the club's doubles leader posting 40 on the season.

Baseball's top prospect will draw plenty of attention for the Twins this season. In the OOTP 17 sim, Byron Buxton owned a .247/.287/.393 slash line along with 25 doubles, five triples, 10 homers, and 53 runs batted in. In total, he was worth 2.6 WAR trailing only Dozier (4.0), Plouffe (3.2), and Sano (2.8).

On the pitching side of things, it was Tommy Milone who paced Minnesota in ERA with a 3.94 mark. His 11 wins tied for a team best alongside Kyle Gibson. Only Phil Hughes pitched over 200 innings (204.1) for Minnesota, while Glen Perkins tallied 38 saves for the club. Hughes also led the club with 147 strikeouts, but it was Tyler Duffey's 6.76 per 9 that made up the best ration on the team.

Looking at some of the youth, there were plenty of impressive performers. Alex Meyer posted a 3.51 ERA while notching 153 strikeouts (between AAA and MLB). Jose Berrios tallied a 4.11 ERA mark but pick up 12 total wins on the season. The minor league home run trophy didn't go to Adam Brett Walker (who hit 20 longballs), but instead was handed to Daniel Palka who blasted 35 dingers.

Spending most of the season on the farm, Jorge Polanco's .283 avg, 14 homers, and 61 runs batted in pushed him to be a 4.6 WAR player. Needing an opportunity that didn't come on the big league level, he handled his business in the minors. Down at Cedar Rapids, Lewis Thorpe dazzled to the tune of a 2.92 ERA to go with 170 strikeouts. Other top pitching prospects Kohl Stewart (3.28) and Stephen Gonsalves (3.61) enjoyed nice seasons at their respective levels as well.

It appears, at least as OOTP 17 sees it, that the big league club is still a little ways away. With plenty of pop and talent, things should come together in short order. There's no doubt that the prospects were looked upon fondly however.

Again, check out Off The Baggy's review of Out of the Park Baseball 17 here, and go buy the game today.

Twins Ready To End The 20 Year Drought

The Minnesota Twins have not been to the Major League Baseball playoffs since 2010. Following the 3-0 series sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, Minnesota went on an ugly four-season run losing 90 or more games each year. Having begun to turn the corner in 2015 with a near playoff run, the 2016 squad appears poised to end another long drought. This one focuses on the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Marty Cordova was the last Twins player to take home AL Rookie of the Year honors, and he did so following the 1995 season. A 10th round pick by the Twins in the 1989 draft, Cordova earned the award seemingly against all odds. His 1995 season included a .277/.352/.486 slash line with 24 homers, 27 doubles, four triples, and 84 runs batted in. On a terrible Twins team, Cordova was a bright spot.

For the 2016 version of the Twins Rookie of the Year candidates, the narrative should be much different. A team that's going to be in a spot to compete, and a player with some impressive pedigree, it would appear that one of a handful of options could emerge as the front runner. With a pitcher, an infielder, and a couple of outfielders factoring into the equation, Minnesota should have no shortage of suitors.

Jose Berrios

My favorite to take the title for the Twins won't even begin the season on the big league roster. Berrios has been demoted mainly for service time reasons, but could use the first month to get settled in at the Triple-A level. He dominated Rochester a season ago, and has all the makings of a top-of-the-rotation starter. As I've mentioned before, it's hard not to think of him as capable of replicating what Jacob deGrom did in his rookie season.

For deGrom, the NL Rookie of the Year was capture thanks to a 2.69 ERA and a 9.2 K/9 while issuing just 2.8 walks per nine. That season, deGrome allowed only seven longballs and tallied 140 innings for the Mets. Last season at Triple-A, Berrios improved upon his Double-A Chattanooga numbers. The Puerto Rican posted a 2.62 ERA (owning a ridiculous 1.08 ERA across his final four starts). Starting 12 games at Triple-A, Berrios struck out double-digit batters twice, and nine another two times. Expecting him to make a splash at the big league level seems like a pretty good bet, and he's no doubt my odds on favorite.

Byron Buxton

Baseball's best prospect saw his flames fanned some after struggling in his first 138 plate appearances in 2015. The flip side of that thought process however is exactly that total, having just 138 plate appearances under his belt. Just 22 years old and still with tools oozing everywhere, this season should be the one that things start to come together.

A season ago at Double-A, Buxton was slashing just .252/.312/.472 through his first 138 plate appearances. He had tallied three doubles, six triples, and four homers in that 30 game span. While the numbers weren't horrible, they also weren't indicative of what he was capable of. His next 28 games at Double-A (prior to his big league promotion) saw him hit to the tune of a .316/.392/.509 line with 12 extra base hits. Then following an injury with the Twins, Buxton went on to hit in all 13 Triple-A games he played in, owning a .400/.441/.545 average.

In short, even without his bat Buxton has the ability to be an above average talent due to his defensive prowess. What should be expected though is for a slow-starter to settle in and eventually contribute in a big way at the highest level. If someone is going to take the Rookie of the Year honor from Berrios, it may well be his own teammate.

Byung Ho Park

It may be somewhat unfair for a 29 year old Korean superstar to be considered a rookie, but here we are. Park is fresh off two straight 50+ homer seasons in Korea, and has acclimated nicely to the big league game. Though it's a small 36 at bat sample size through spring thus far, he's already made some nice adjustments.

After being overmatched and likely overwhelmed in his first spring training game, Park has settled in nicely. He's the owner of a .306/.333/.611 slash line and has knocked three balls out of the park while picking up another two doubles. His 10 strikeouts in 36 at bats aren't ideal, but he will likely push his walk rate higher as his power plays and he becomes more comfortable at the plate. If Park pushes anywhere close to 30 homers for the Twins this season (and I expect him to do so) there's absolutely room for him to be considered for the award.

Max Kepler

If there's a long shot in this group, Kepler is no doubt it. That being said, it's also not fair to discredit the realistic probability that he factors into the equation. I'm of the belief that Kepler will get more run that assumed at the big league level this year, and he has the talent to be an All-Star level player.

Healthy after getting a late start to the 2015 season, Kepler went on to pick up Southern League MVP honors. At Double-A Chattanooga, all the German born prospect did was hit. Owning a .322/.416/.531 slash line, he posted 34 doubles, 13 triples, and nine homers while driving in 71. His speed and power combo made him an immediate gap threat, and that will no doubt play well at the expansive Target Field. He's seen an incredible amount of run throughout big league spring training, and it's not at all a mistake.

Kepler's opportunity hinges on the performance of Miguel Sano in right field, along with Eddie Rosario at the plate. If he continues to rake to start 2016, and the Twins need a boost in the outfield, expecting Kepler to be it is a good bet.

It's been an incredibly long time since the Twins have had so much promise amongst their youth. Sano put together a very strong rookie campaign a season ago, but was outdone by the likes of Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. In the year ahead, the only players outdoing each other could very well be from the same organization. Cordova is long past due in being overtaken as the last Twins Rookie of the Year, and 2016 is shaping up to be the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

OOTP Baseball 17 Rounds The Bases Again

When it comes to baseball simulators, Out of the Park Baseball is the gold standard. With the latest iteration having just released, things haven't changed much for OOTP 17. When you have a formula that many fans of the series crave as the beginning of the regular baseball season, there's little reason to make much of an overhaul.

As a managerial simulator, OOTP 17 understands what it is and does it very well. Instead of being focused on graphics and in game controls, the representation of the game is much more focused on the in's and outs of the sport. This season however, OOTP 17 has added another level of realism thanks to the introduction of 3D Live-Action gameplay. Stadiums are realized in a better way than OOTP 17 has ever done before, and it enhances the in-game experience greatly.

Looking at the next big change for this year's version of OOTP, the game has been given even further credibility with the inclusion of both MLBPA and licenses. Thanks to the inclusion, minor league rosters now date back accurately all the way to 1919. What was already an incredibly deep game, got even more so with the expanded options.

The rest of this season's changes come in with a much lesser overall hype to them, but the impact is almost as significant. In OOTP 17, there's a very real focus on helping to simplify whatever task you're taking on with your team. When cycling through menus and working through your simulation, interfaces have been streamlined helping to smooth out the next move you'd like to make.

Of course, OOTP 17 remains a very deep game, and it's going to be relatively overwhelming for new players. Thanks to the menu changes and redesigned interfaces however, there's a real feel of being walked through the process as you get used to the experience.

One of my biggest gripes from OOTP 16 was the trades that took place during any given season. The AI logic seems to have been improved this year however. While there will still be some head scratchers that come across your message box, more often than not, you'll end up seeming impressed with the moves other organizations make.

At the end of the day, there's very little hope in being able to highlight everything OOTP 17 brings to the baseball. It remains the most realistic baseball simulation on the market, and is a must buy for fans of the series and new entrants alike. Whether looking to experience the coming years with your favorite franchise, or dig into the teams of yesteryear, OOTP 17 hits another home run with this season's offering.

Socre: 9/10

25 Set To Head North For Twins

Back in January, prior to the kick off of spring training, I ran through a 25 man roster projection for the 2016 Minnesota Twins. I have long operated under the belief that very few positions were up for grabs, and continue to stick by that. Ricky Nolasco was never a realistic rotation option and Byron Buxton was never headed back to the farm. That puts my positioning from January in a pretty good spot. With that being said, there are still a couple of tweaks I'd like to make.

Now with just a handful of spring training action left, it's fair to suggest that the Twins have all but solidified who will be going north and starting the season with the big league club. Let's take a look at where that puts Paul Molitor's squad.

Rotation (5)

  • Ervin Santana
  • Phil Hughes
  • Kyle Gibson
  • Tyler Duffey
  • Tommy Milone
Santana should be expected to get the Opening Day nod. He finished the 2015 season on a tear, and would have gotten his first Opening Day start in 2015 had it not been for a PED suspension. A rebounding Hughes will follow him, leaving Gibson, Duffey, and Milone to round out the group. I'm extremely high on Gibson this season and expect him to have a very nice year. One of either Duffey or Milone will transition out early as Jose Berrios is going to get his chance sometime in early May.

I have some concern about Duffey replicating his 2015 success. Unless his curve remains incredibly sharp, he'll see some regression. With Milone being out of options, it could be an interesting decision when it comes time to open up a rotation spot.

Starters (9)
  • Kurt Suzuki C
  • Joe Mauer 1B
  • Brian Dozier 2B
  • Eduardo Escobar SS
  • Trevor Plouffe 3B
  • Eddie Rosario LF
  • Byron Buxton CF
  • Miguel Sano RF
  • Byung Ho Park DH
No changes here, and nothing unexpected. Minnesota was never going to go away from Buxton on Opening Day unless he had an absolutely abysmal spring. 129 at bats is far from something to tie his numbers to, and the top prospect is going to need to be a difference make for the Twins this season. Park has seemed to acclimate well thus far through spring, and there's no reason his bat won't be present on Molitor's first meaningful lineup card.

Bench (4)
  • Danny Santana Util
  • John Ryan Murphy C
  • Oswaldo Arcia OF
  • Eduardo Nunez Util
Again, no changes here either. Santana and Arcia have not had a good time at the plate during spring training, but both are out of options. For Santana, the ability to play all over the diamond makes him valuable, and there's still plenty of hope that he can be a serviceable utility player. Really the only potential player to unseat Arcia would be Carlos Quentin. Aside from Arcia being out of options, the Twins also don't have to make a decision on Quentin until June 1, his opt out date. This gives Minnesota a couple of months to see Arcia at the big league level again. For a guy that would undoubtedly be claimed on waivers, there's no reason not to hope the 20 home run production of 2014 returns.

Bullpen (7)
  • Glen Perkins
  • Kevin Jepsen
  • Trevor May
  • Casey Fien
  • Fernando Abad
  • Ricky Nolasco
  • Ryan Pressly
In relief, only one change has been made since the initial roster projection. Alex Meyer failed to grab onto a pen role this spring, and is now headed back to the Triple-A Rochester rotation. In his place, Ryan Pressly takes over after proving to be effective while healthy once again. Unfortunately for the Twins, the misuse of Michael Tonkin a season ago has him in a situation of unknown production, and despite being out of options, his poor spring is probably going to have him passed over. The Twins could have afforded themselves at least one more pen spot in deciding not to offer arbitration to Fien (who's also been bad this spring), but that didn't play out.

At the end of the exhibition schedule, the Twins roster is going to be much as it originally seemed. With the influx of young talent, and already determined veterans, there wasn't much wiggle room for Terry Ryan and Molitor. There's no doubt a handful of fringe guys that will make the initial 25 man, and the development of top prospects so close to the big leagues ensures that lack of production should result in replacement.

A surprise team a season ago, Minnesota shouldn't expect to be taken lightly in the year ahead, and the team has positioned itself to compete. With the regular season just around the corner, the numbers will begin to matter soon.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Twins Outfield And Its Shape

No nearing the end of March, the Minnesota Twins have played the majority of their spring training games. With the outfield being one of the most intriguing positional groupings for Paul Molitor's squad, it has been interesting to grab takeaways from each day's action. As the regular season gets underway though, the outfield may shift somewhat drastically from how it begins on Opening Day.

It was all but locked in from the beginning of Spring Training that Minnesota would go with Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano in the outfield from left to right. Buxton was never realistically going to lose the centerfield role, Rosario was coming off of a nice rookie year, and Sano was being asked to field as well as hit. What isn't locked in, is just how the group may shift over the course of the year.

Looking back at how Rosario posted the numbers he did, the Puerto Rican appears to be a significant regression candidate in the year ahead. His defensive ability is definitely going to make it hard for the Twins to pull him from the starting lineup, but his bat no doubt could force the decision.

On the other side of the equation, Molitor is dealing with Sano learning an entirely new position. Having made a few misplays this spring, there's no doubt more to come as meaningful games commence. Whether or not the Twins stick with the hulking Dominican or not probably depends on quite a few different factors.

The storylines however led me to this question:

It appears the belief is that Rosario will no doubt remain in the outfield throughout the upcoming year for Minnesota, while Sano has some significant question marks. It was no mistake to introduce prospect Max Kepler into the situation either, and it appears the belief is that he will only get his shot in due time.

On the surface, it surely doesn't appear that the results of that poll would be too far off base. However, I'm willing to contend that there's some reason to believe things could be flipped. I'd be far from surprised to see the total starts in the outfield at seasons end among those three look like this: Sano, Kepler, Rosario.

Taking a look at Rosario first, I've done plenty of background work on his offensive detractors. His on base percentage has dipped ever since reaching the upper levels of the minors, and his free swinging tendencies are worrisome. In 2015, his OPS was significantly inflated by a major league leading 15 triples, and it's hard to expect that to replicate. In short, expecting the regression on offense to dictate Rosario's playing time is just half of the equation.

The other side of Rosario's dwindling playing time rests in the hands of Max Kepler. The German born prospect has the makings of an All Star at the big league level, and there's a reason he remains a late part of big league camp for the Twins. When healthy, Kepler's ceiling has always been sky high, and his .318/.410/.520 line in 2015 did nothing to discredit that. On both sides of the game, Kepler is a contributor, and there's little reason to believe he can't supplant Rosario on his own merit.

Kepler's time also factors into the equation when taking a look at Sano, who I expect to be better than anticipated. Playing right field for the Twins, his value is almost solely tied to offense, but that's far from an isolated case. Two of the three top American League right fielders in terms of fWAR (Nelson Cruz and Jose Bautista) posted negative DRS (defensive runs saved) numbers in 2015, and have done so throughout their careers. A season ago, Torii Hunter was Minnesota's right fielder tallying a -8 DRS while being worth a measly 0.5 fWAR. For Sano, the new position shouldn't provide enough hiccups to make the thought process make sense.

There's no doubt going to be issues with ball tracking, and occasional gaffes here and there in the new role. What Sano brings is a big arm, and the offensive firepower. Trevor Plouffe being afforded a lineup spot with Sano in right makes the Twins better as an offensive whole. Should Sano post a manageable negative DRS number while continuing to hit, the Twins no doubt did the right thing. Kepler can spell him as needed, but I'd guess Molitor sticks with his big man much more seriously than anticipated.

When the dust all settles, I suppose the results of the poll could no doubt be spot on. Eddie Rosario may again produce despite an approach that doesn't lend itself to doing so. Sano could bomb and Minnesota would have tough decisions to make. Kepler may have to wait his turn, and do so longer than expected. At the end of the day though, I don't see it being that cut and dry.

The situation is set up to be one of the more intriguing storylines of the Twins season, and putting Molitor in a position for guys to earn their role is something Minnesota can be excited about.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wednesday From The Fort

On Wednesday, I spent the majority of my day over at the Lee County Sports Complex and Hammond Stadium taking in different aspects of spring training. With the Double and Triple-A teams taking on the Orioles in the early afternoon, as well as the Twins battling the Red Sox at night, there was plenty of action taking place.

Upon arriving for the day, the most necessary definition was to make my way to the back fields. Knowing that the high level minor league teams would be competing at home for the day, I was looking forward to seeing a handful of guys I've developed relationships with over the past year. While I was plenty early and beat most of the players to the field, I posted up in position to take in the Double-A action.

Although the Orioles don't have the minor league farm system that Minnesota does, the Double-A team still has a good amount of talent. Notably, Chance Sisco, one of Baltimore's top prospects, was behind the plate for them. On the Twins side, former first round pick Levi Michael was starting at second next to defensive wizard Engelb Vielma. No doubt the star of the show however was the starting pitcher, Tyler Jay.

Jay, Minnesota's 2015 first round draft pick, warmed up about 30 minutes prior to gamete. I found this interesting as starters are generally out on the field earlier. However, coming from a relief background, it's completely plausible that his routine is significantly shortened. Regardless, he took the mound in the first, and it was up to the Orioles batters to figure them out.

After a rocky start in which Jay threw just 11 of 20 strikes and gave up an earned run, he settled in. Through four complete innings pitched, Jay pumped 38 of 54 pitches for strikes, registered eight of 16 first pitch strikes, struck out five, walked one, and gave up two earned runs. All in all, his first and fourth innings were the only thing keeping him from a rather crisp start. Sitting at 95 virtually from start to finish, the velocity from the lefty is something incredibly enticing now working as a starter.

Hitting was virtually non-existent in the Double-A game. Orioles pitchers had Twins hitters generally grounding into routine outs and not doing much with the ball in play. Jay was really on hit hard in the fourth, and had the Baltimore batters swinging well after the ball was in Joe Maloney's glove prior to that. For a handful of pictures from the game, check out my Twitter account here.

Making the short walk from one field to the other, I caught a brief bit of the Triple-A action as well. Upon viewing that game, Travis Harrison blasted a homer (which caused some fun ribbing from Adam Brett Walker) before Marcus Walden came on to work his final inning. Up in the Twins half of the inning, Stephen Wickens put a charge into a ball just before Shannon Wilkerson launched a mammoth home run to left field. No idea where the game stood at that point, but the Rochester guys were putting the bat on the ball.

I stuck around a bit to watch Jake Reed come on in relief. He had recently been reassigned from big league camp, and I believe this was his first appearance on the minor league side. He hit his first Orioles batter, and then settled in. Reed has flashed some nice stuff, and consistency is going to be the name of the game if he's going to debut for the Twins this year.

For the nightcap, Boston brought a handful of regulars over to Hammond Stadium to face what looked like the Twins "A" lineup. Byron Buxton was scratched late due to being sick, but regulars were all over the rest of the field. With Mookie Betts, Pablo Sandoval, Dustin Pedroia, and Hanley Ramirez all in the Red Sox lineup, Kyle Gibson would have his hands full.

Gibson gave up a solo shot to Betts in the game's first at bat but then settled in nicely. He worked a 1-2-3 second inning getting both Ramirez and Chris Young on stickers. His third inning was another 1-2-3 and featured strikeouts of both Jackie Bradley Jr. and Betts. The Twins got homers from both Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario putting them up 7-1 in the 6th, which is when it became to call it a night.

Minnesota now leads the Crosstown Cup 3-1 on the season with six games remaining. Knocking off the Red Sox in the 2016 series would even up the All-Time record at 12 a piece. I plan on heading over to Jet Blue to take in the second Twins and Red Sox matchup of the week on Friday.

For more until then, make sure to stay tuned @tlschwerz

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Past Never Dictated 2016 Twins Future

Coming into spring training, the Minnesota Twins had a couple of players to keep their eyes on. With the majority of the 25 man roster being fleshed out, it was going to be a battle for a few final inclusions. While the role of the 5th starter in the rotation may have been up in the air, it was no doubt largely decided, and so too was the man that would man the middle of the outfield.

Somewhat surprisingly this spring, there has been a decent amount of articles written regarding Byron Buxton and him closing in on the Twins centerfield role. After sifting through the level of backwards thinking that train of thought employs, it should be apparent that Buxton was never closing in on anything.

What Buxton did in his first big league season was struggle. He slashed a paltry .209/.250/.326, struck out over 30% of the time, and was used as a defensive replacement down the stretch. What's also worth noting is that being somewhat of a slow starter, Buxton has taken to adapting rather quickly. After all, you don't elevate yourself to baseball's top prospect without that ability.

Coming into the 2016 season, Buxton was the odds on favorite for the starting centerfield job, regardless of what some may have thought (example 1, example 2). It's a silly narrative to believe the Twins were ever closing in on giving Buxton the gig, when in reality it was his to lose.

Having put up four defensive runs saved in just 35 starts for the Twins, defensively Buxton has the makings of the best centerfielder in the game. On that alone, Paul Molitor would have been best served to go with his top prospect. Then considering that secondary options included a list of players such as Danny Santana, Ryan Sweeney, and Darin Mastroianni, it should have been all but a foregone conclusion.

With spring training numbers what they are (Buxton currently slashing .200/.261/.561), the month of March was always going to be more process than results. Barring a complete ineptitude at the plate, the only storyline worthy of contemplating would be one in which Buxton had actually lost his grip on the role. Having shown a solid approach at the plate, and being able to square pitchers up, Buxton has done nothing to put that storyline into play.

At the end of the spring, Buxton is the Twins centerfielder to open the season, and that ever being in doubt seems more fodder than fact.

That leads us to another situation that previous Twins teams may have handled differently. Despite the idea that Ricky Nolasco (and even Trevor May) was competing for a rotation spot, the reality has always been that he's working to pitch for this club at all.

Gone are the Twins rotations including Cole DeVries, Jason Marquis, and Kevin Correia. No longer is a contingent of five hurlers thrown out there and asked to duck their way back into the dugout. In fact, Minnesota's group is arguably going to be one of the better bunches in the entirety of the AL Central.

A season ago, Nolasco pitched hurt, and the year before that, he was simply ineffective. Through three spring outings, he's been a detriment as well. Aside from the numbers, and they aren't good (7.36 ERA 11 H 6 ER 7 K 3 BB in 7.1 IP), his process has been equally poor. Failing to get ahead of hitters, not finding the zone, and putting himself in less than advantageous situations, Nolasco has done nothing to warrant any consideration for the roster, let alone a starting spot.

Unfortunately, that leads us to the ugly reality that Minnesota will owe Nolasco over $24 million through the next two seasons. It is this number that has some believing Ricky had an insider track to a rotation spot. Again, the narrative should be that number giving him a leg up on a roster spot ahead of the more deserving competition.

There was little reason to believe an ineffective veteran was ever serious consideration for a starting role on a team with significantly better options. While a former Twins way of thinking may have seen that play out, it more reasonably would have been the by-product of circumstance (less than advantageous pitching), than desired practice.

It's completely understandable to view the current Twins team in the context of what has previously taken place. The context provided by the situation however is that the 2016 squad is coming off a near playoff year, as opposed to spending the season in the doldrums of the Central losing 90 games. For a team looking to take a step forward, even Terry Ryan isn't silly enough to turn away his best centerfielder or hand over the keys to his car loving, but unworthy starter.

Buxton's story was written long before the seemingly backwards notions were unveiled, while Nolasco will continue to hold onto his thread a little while longer. When this club goes north however, expect for the most sensible outcomes to play out, as they have been brewing all along.