The 2017 season presents plenty of new storylines, and while the team wants to wipe clean the slate after a 100+ loss season, it will take some bounce back performances to do so. Last year I went with six over/under predictions and hit on just one of them. Attempting to go out on a limb with the categories rather than to play it safe tends to turn the tide that way, but nonetheless, let's hope for a better effort with the 2017 offering.
With the groundwork laid, let's get into it.
Stephen Gonsalves over/under 6 MLB starts:
Last season, Jose Berrios was in this category, and the number he needed to reach was 20. I took the over and he came in with just 14. Berrios struggled and went back and forth between Rochester and Minnesota quite often. For Gonsalves, I think the bouncing around will be less, but so should the opportunity. Yes, Gonsalves is currently the Twins best pitching prospect, but he's not of the same tier that Berrios was. After last season, Gonsalves had pitched just 13 games at the Double-A level. His 2016 sparkled with a 2.06 ERA to go with a 10.0 K/9. The downside for Gonsalves is that he doesn't have any overpowering big league pitches, and he's still struggled some with command (walking 3.7 per nine at A/AA in 2016). I believe he's going to be a solid mid to back end starter for the Twins, but believe his opportunities come closer to September. I suggested he'll debut in July, but think he sticks at the end of the year.
Players to hit at least 27 home runs over/under one:
Operating under the belief that Brian Dozier is not going to play for Minnesota in 2017 takes away a player that hit 42 longballs (43 technically) a season ago. That leaves the next closest slugger at 25, coming from Miguel Sano. I believe a season that doesn't have Sano jumping all over the field should see him play more games (116 in 2016) and reach the 30 HR plateau for the first time in his career. Among the guys that could join him at that number include Max Kepler and Byungho Park. I'm a Kepler fan, and I love his swing, but I think the power is more a by-product of execution than it is a concentrated effort. Park should be in line for a nice bounce back year, and a guy that hit 100 homers in Korea over the course of two seasons should be a good bet to start launching them in Minnesota.
Twins will run out over/under 9 starters in 2017:
A year ago, the Twins had the worst pitching staff in the big leagues. They had no one that could offer consistent innings, no one that could keep them in games, and no one that could strike any batters out. By all measures, it was a disaster. What made it worse was that production and injuries caused them to allow 11 different players to make a start. In the year ahead, Paul Molitor will have plenty of options at his disposal, but I think the number that actually start will be considerably less. Sure, Trevor May, Adalberto Mejia, Tyler Duffey, and a couple others should all compete for rotation ending starts, but I'd hope Minnesota doesn't double up on the amount of arms required for a full turn again. I feel like a safe number here is that about eight different pitchers will start a game for the 2017 Twins.
Minnesota will win over/under 77 games:
After going 59-103 in 2016, 77 wins would be an 18 game improvement for the Twins. While that number seems like a significant amount, internal adjustments alone should help to make up for a large amount. Minnesota shouldn't expect to be the worst pitching team in the big leagues for a second year in a row, and the offense can be expected to carry a bigger load over the entirety of the year than it did a season ago. Even a small improvement on the pitching front should help the Twins, as the offense is relatively sound when things are status quo. Combine those factors with the White Sox going for an all out prospect team, the Royals trading away pieces, and the Tigers again, and you find yourself with a Twins team that benefits from the step back taken by division competitors. The Indians will be good, and they'll be at the top of the Central, but the Twins actually played them quite well a season ago. This group isn't going to make the Postseason, but they shouldn't expect a second straight number one overall pick.
Glen Perkins will record over/under 10 saves for Twins in 2017:
Pitching just two innings a year ago, Perkins succumbed to surgery on his shoulder. His effectiveness has been trending downhill for quite some time, but finally getting the issue addressed could help to turn the corner. Once among the American League's most underappreciated closers, Perkins will need to reclaim his role with the Twins. I don't have much belief that he's ready by Opening Day, and labrum surgery as intense as his sounded doesn't bode well for him to regain his past greatness. If the Twins can get any sort of return to former prominence out of Perkins I'd be thrilled, and look to flip him at the first opportunity. More realistically though, I think we've seen the beginning of the end, and he'll be relegated to lower leverage situations in a best case scenario.
Byron Buxton finishes over/under 10th best in MLB by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) measures:
During the 2016 season, Byron Buxton played 92 games (88 starts) in the outfield for the Minnesota Twins. He was worth just three defensive runs saved, and elevated his career total to just 7 DRS over the past two years. It's a by-product of his offensive ineffectiveness, inability to stay healthy, and some rust in the outfield. When things are clicking, it's absolutely fair to expect a Kevin Kiermaier level of defense from Buxton, and he's more than capable of deservedly taking home a Gold Glove. The threshold for the top 10 in DRS a season ago was 15 DRS. Among the top 10 in DRS were Mookie Betts (32), Kiermaier (25), Kevin Pillar (21), Colby Rasmus (20), Adam Eaton (20), Jarrod Dyson (19), Jason Heyward (18), Jake Marisnick (18), Starling Marte (17), and Ender Inciarte (15). Buxton's arm is a true asset, and his speed is easy to categorize as a weapon. If he can stay healthy (a must), and contribute at the plate (hopeful), he shoudl have ample opportunity to be among the best five outfielders in MLB.