Monday, December 12, 2016

Setting The 2017 Twins Lineup

Last winter, I tried my hand at projecting the upcoming lineup right around this same timeframe. With Paul Molitor back as manager of the Minnesota Twins for 2017, much of the same can be expected lineup wise, but he'll need to make some adjustments if he's going to overcome his own deficiencies from a season ago. There's no doubt that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine want to turn this thing around, but it'll be a process.

Right now, we know that the Twins have lost a couple of pieces from 2016, and there could be a few more changes along the way. I wouldn't expect them to make many waves in terms of offensive additions, so now seems as good of a time as any to set the lineup. With that out of the way, let's get into it.

1. Joe Mauer 1B

The unfortunate reality with Mauer is that his defense is Gold Glove caliber but the bat and offensive production is just a shell of what it once was. Recently I touched on the blueprint to get the best out of Mauer. Play him sparingly, split time with Park and Kennys Vargas, and even look at platooning him to remove some at bats against lefties. If Molitor can wrap his head around Mauer being what he is, rather than what he wants him to be, the Twins will be better for it. He's not going to bat .300, but hitting .280 using a similarly structured plan seems like a good bet. If you're not going to bat him leadoff, hitting him sixth or seventh makes a lot of sense.

2. Brian Dozier 2B

There's really no reason to be disappointed about being able to keep your best player. In not dealing Dozier, the Twins did just that this offseason. He's not going to hit 40 homers again in 2017, but settling in somewhere between his 2015 and 2016 season is a realistic ask. He should be a 3.0+ fWAR player, and will once again drive the Twins. He can allow Mauer's on base skills to add to his RBI total as well.

3. Max Kepler RF

At points during the 2016 campaign, it appeared that Max Kepler might run away with the Rookie of the Year award. In 31 games from the middle of July through the middle of August, Kepler posted a .912 OPS and cracked seven homers. His smooth swing and quick trigger through the zone should continue to allow him the ability to succeed at the plate. There may be less highs and lows for Kepler in 2017, but a year of consistency would be more than welcomed. He's got a realistic shot at 20 longballs this year and can be among the Twins best hitters.

4. Miguel Sano 3B

With the Twins non-tendering Trevor Plouffe, it's become time that Sano slots in as the full time third basemen. Realistically, he isn't a great fit there as the accuracy issues with his arm remain a real concern. Until things sort themselves out though, a move to full time DH or first base just doesn't appear in the cards. After a strong rookie year, Sano took steps backwards in 2016. The hope should be that his OPS rests somewhere in the mid .800 range and he can push towards 30 homers. Having played just 116 games a season ago, remaining in shape and healthy will be contributing factors towards Minnesota getting the most out of their young slugger.

5. Byungho Park DH

Brought over from the KBO as one of the best players that league has ever seen, Park's rookie year in the big leagues didn't go well. The Twins got just 62 games from Park and he was sent to Triple-A for the remainder of the year. Posting just 21 walks with 80 strikeouts, the swing and miss issues were definitely there for the Korean slugger. I believe that the wrist injury that eventually required surgery was a bigger deal than he let on, and if healthy, a big bounce back in 2017 is very plausible. Wipe the slate clean and give me at least 20 bombs in 130 games for the Twins from Park in the year ahead.

6. Byron Buxton CF

A year ago I found myself making excuses to try and get by Buxton's disappointing debut season. While he's still young, his 92 games in 2016 weren't great either. What Buxton did do though was bolster expectations for 2017 with a strong finish to the season. From August 5 through the end of the year, Buxton had a 30 game sample size in which he posted a .992 OPS while slugging an incredible .641. He's not going to hit nine home runs in a month all too often, but betting against baseball's former top prospect isn't something I want to do. Let him start in the middle, with a move to the top of the lineup being a quick possibility.

7. Jason Castro C

Signed to a three year deal this offseason by the Twins, Castro is being brought in first and foremost for his defensive acumen. Despite posting just a .684 OPS with the Astros last season, it was his best mark since his .835 OPS All Star season in 2013. If he can trend towards a .700 OPS for Minnesota as a defense first backstop, Molitor will have to be happy. Castro has totaled double-digit homers each year since 2012, and getting some pop from the catching position is something the Twins will welcome. His floor shouldn't be too low, and Castro's ceiling is probably the best the Twins have seen at catcher since Joe Mauer.

8. Eddie Rosario LF

If there was someone that did themselves no favors in 2016 it was Rosario. Not only did he take steps backwards defensively, but his approach at the plate looked awful far too often. A free swinger that chases out of the zone, Rosario shaved nearly 30 points off of his OPS and again posted an ugly K/BB (91/12) ratio. He needs to be more patient at the dish and come up with a better plan. In the field, Minnesota needs the guy that was worth 10 DRS in 2015, not the one that was worth zero last season. This spot also gets interesting if the Twins do in fact pull off a Brian Dozier trade. If Yasiel Puig is a part of the return, Rosario could find himself as the odd man out.

9. Jorge Polanco SS

With Brian Dozier remaining a member of the Twins for the 2017 big league season, Polanco is destined to stay at shortstop. It's not an ideal spot for him defensively, but the Twins frankly don't have another option. His bat should help to alleviate some of the defensive gaffes, and expecting him to tote the lumber is a good bet.

Last year, the Twins terrible season was a by-product of a team that couldn't pitch at all. The offense took far too long to get going out of the gates, but showed in multiple stretches that it's capable of competing. In 2017, the pitching probably isn't going to be significantly better, but the offense normalizing will likely spell the difference. Not a .500 team still, an offensive uptick should have the Twins winning somewhere north of 75 games.