Friday, March 4, 2016

Twins Set For Opening Day, Sort Of

With the Twins now having played their first spring training home game, Paul Molitor got to run out a group of nine regulars. Playing in front of the Hammond Stadium crowd against the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota started what appeared to be a very likely Opening Day lineup. With a month left prior to that being set in stone, it's fair to question if it works.

Should everything fall into place, meaning players progress as expected, I'd like to see a configuration look like this at some point in 2016. That said, there's little reason to believe that it makes sense for the Twins out of the gate. What Molitor ran out for the spring training home opener has some merit to it, but there's some parts to nitpick at as well.

Going in order, here's how Molitor lined things up in what we can suspect was an Opening Day trial run:

Brian Dozier 2B

The All-Star second basemen got the leadoff nod, and it was far from unexpected. He batted first for the Twins in 102 games last season, and produced a .246/.313/.499 slash line out of that spot. Ideally, I'd like to see Dozier slide to second or third, and utilize his home run potential with someone on base. Until Byron Buxton can assume this spot however, he's going to be here for the Twins (even if Joe Mauer makes ton of sense).

Eddie Rosario LF

Here's the first oddity in Molitor's construction. Rosario is a guy I see as a very likely regression candidate. He owned a .748 OPS in 2015, that was heavily bolstered by a major league leading 15 triples. For me, batting a guy that might have put up a high water mark of a .289 OBP in his rookie year, and struck out 118 times while taking just 15 walks, in the two hole is a bit of a reach. Rosario chases pitches a ton, he swings far too often, and as a lineup table-setter, he's not who comes to mind. Maybe he changes course in year two, but I'd rather find out with him batting in the lower half.

Joe Mauer 1B

This isn't the last place I'd put Mauer, but it's close. My biggest problems here are that Mauer is an OBP-machine (even if that number has taken a dip), but moreso that he pushes Miguel Sano down in the order. If Mauer isn't hitting leadoff for the Twins (a position I believe he'd thrive in), then batting him in the bottom half and allowing his ability with RISP (.352/.466/.456) to play makes sense. Molitor seems set on batting Mauer in the top three however, so Rosario should be the guy who gets bumped.

Miguel Sano RF

In his spring training debut, Sano walked three times essentially being pitched around. For the homer opener, he put the bat on the ball and raked a double off the Hammond Stadium wall. There's little argument to be made that the 22 year old isn't the most feared hitter in the Twins lineup. Cleanup makes sense, but I want him hitting in the first inning guaranteed, bat him third.

Trevor Plouffe 3B

One of the best moves the Twins made this offseason was holding onto Plouffe. Although not ideal having to play positional shifts elsewhere, Trevor's bat has become one of the Twins biggest assets. With over 20 homers a season ago, Plouffe looks the part of a late-bloomer. Batting 5th, he should again produce in the power categories, hit a ton of doubles, and ground into a few less double-plays, further boosting his totals.

Byung Ho Park DH

When the Twins signed Park out of Korea, it was without a doubt for his bat. Having hit over 100 homers the two seasons, Minnesota salivated at the thought of his offensive value. He's going to be a work in progress, but settling in this spring will be big for him. There's probably reason to move him into the cleanup spot if Sano hits third eventually, but for now, 6th continues to let his power play, while not putting too much pressure on him.

Eduardo Escobar SS

Looking at the configuration Molitor decided to go with, Escobar is a perfect fit for the 7 hole. If someday Buxton transitions to hit leadoff, Escobar makes a bit more sense at the bottom of the lineup. Like Rosario, he doesn't walk much, but his 86/28 K/BB ratio is a good deal better. Even if he slides a bit from the 12 homers he hit a season ago, his 30+ doubles each of the past two seasons make him an asset. He's a great piece at the back end of the lineup.

Kurt Suzuki C

Zuk is no doubt going to be the Twins Opening Day catcher. He's a veteran who has the respect of the pitching staff. That said, the Twins won't want his player option to vest, and expecting him to be splitting 50/50 with John Ryan Murphy sooner rather than later is a good bet. Suzuki's not going to be a producer on either side of the game, so hitting him 8th makes sense. Your hope is that he lands somewhere between his last two seasons of production.

Byron Buxton CF

Out of the gate, batting Buxton 9th is the most sensible situation. Yes, his speed plays at the top of the lineup, but as the saying goes, "You can't steal first." Buxton still needs to settle in at the plate. He'll be attacked with a ton of off speed stuff, and so far the results haven't been favorable. He's hit at every level he's been at however, and should come around at the big league level. If he can get somewhere near a .260/.340/.400 slash line, the argument to bat him first should commence.

As a whole, the Twins have a good amount of punch one through nine. Most of the changes that could be offered to Molitor's expected Opening Day grouping are nitpicking at best. Arguably the most necessary move is dropping Eddie Rosario further in the order, but that could be showcased as Rosario regresses on his own. If it doesn't happen, or if things click for the Twins left fielder, you've got a solid case to keep him there.

Minnesota is going to bank on some uncertainties to start the 2016 season no doubt. The best part of it is that each of those areas has a significant amount of upside, and the retread feeling that has been present in the past is no longer applicable with this group.