Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Show 18 Digs In

One of the highlights of each spring training is the annual release of MLB The Show from Sony's San Diego Studios. Following an up and down year in 2017, MLB The Show 18 had some lofty goals to deliver on. With gameplay upgrades being the most integral features needing to be addressed, the team put in a ton of work. For their efforts, MLB The Show 18 comes out looking like a home run out of the box.

First and foremost, the presentation includes notable upgrades. On the menu screens, there's a much cleaner look to finding the avenue of gameplay you'd like to tackle. Not only are things presented better, but they also function at a much higher clip as well. Whether on the main menus or in Diamond Dynasty a season ago, menu lag was rather rampant. This season, everything flows smoothly and quickly, allowing you to easily cycle through your choices.

Game modes stay the same this year for the most part, outside of the exclusions of Online Franchise and Season Mode. In Franchise mode, there's relatively little of note worth highlighting. The reality is that the new "Phases" The Show 18 has introduced really only cuts up the experience into a more bite sized model. If you're a franchise player looking to go in depth with your favorite team, you'll likely find categorizing things into Phases as a somewhat unnecessarily simplified way to disperse information. At it's core, the mode remains the same, and that's a good thing. You can play franchise games in retro mode, as well as having multiple styles to complete games in less than the standard 45 minute window.

In Road to the Show, the RPG element remains, and the storyline starts to expand. No longer are you a top prospect, but instead you must feel the grind of rising through the minor leagues. Gone are the attribute points, and in their place is a system that integrates real time stat boosts reflective of your immediate in game performance. It seems to work just fine, and while there are now caps holding you back from being a 99 everywhere, picking a player type that you deem most valuable only adds to the strategy element of the mode. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but I'd imagine fans of the mode will find the tweaks to be refreshing.

Looking between the lines and on the diamond itself, the team at San Diego Studios deserves some serious commendation. After the hitting engine drew plenty of ire last season, it seems near perfect in this iteration. There's new post pitch feedback which helps to detail how you contacted every single pitch. The ball flight paths have only taken another step forward, and the physics involved mimic real life wonderfully. Outfielders still jog to balls a bit too often for my liking, and there's a premium placed on infield defense that sometimes makes what should be a semi-routine play turn into a base hit, but for the most part it all works.

After taking a massive step forward a season ago, Diamond Dynasty had a large amount of expectation to live up to. Content was king in The Show 17, and that needed to once again carry the mode that San Diego Studios draws in a significant cash flow from. While there's been server hiccups, it's nothing like we saw last year. I've lost a few games and stat missions early, and while frustrating, I'm willing to give a pass on the early innings missteps. 

What I didn't anticipate is that the shear volume of content involved with The Show 18's version of Diamond Dynasty actually feels like a turnoff. As opposed to teasing future missions and programs a season ago, a ridiculous amount of tasks are thrown at you right off the bat this season. The overwhelming feeling of things necessary to collect acts as somewhat of a deterrent. Plenty of players have loaded lineups already, and it's a direct reflection of money pumped into the mode. As someone that completed every single mission, program, and milestone from the mode a season ago (as well as doling out a significant sum of cash), I just find myself ready to take a significant step back from the competition this year.

As a whole, The Show 18 absolutely got it right. The graphics and presentation have taken another step forward, the gameplay is near flawless, and the shear amount of avenues to play is nothing short of great. For me, a more controlled approach to Diamond Dynasty would have been welcomed, but I look forward to diving further into franchise mode this time around. Not just a yearly roster update, The Show 18 is definitely worth a purchase.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Guys Carrying the Twins

We've made it, it's finally here, the last day without meaningful baseball for the next six months has arrived. On March 29th, the Minnesota Twins will kick off the 2018 Major League Baseball season with Jake Odorizzi toeing the rubber against Dylan Bundy and the Baltimore Orioles. Having offered some opinions on the league-wide awards, I figured now would be a good time to dive into my predictions for the hometown club.

Going into the year, expectations are relatively high for Paul Molitor's group. They're coming off a Postseason berth and have the advantage of playing in a weak division. Although the gap may not yet have been closed on the Cleveland Indians, there's no argument that it hasn't been made substantially smaller (at least on paper). If the Twins are going to make noise in the Central, American League, and across Major League Baseball as a whole this year, these are the guys who will be a big part of the process.

Team MVP- Miguel Sano

Despite being the reigning MVP, and entering a contract year, I think Sano overtakes Brian Dozier. Coming off an offseason that saw plenty of ups and downs, the third basemen appears all system go. There's no suspension looming, and the rod inserted into his leg doesn't appear to be holding him back in the slightest. Although the numbers don't mean much, Sano turned in an impressive spring, and they bat is absolutely going to play. I'd bet heavily on this being the first 30 home run season of his career, and pushing towards 50 is hardly out of the question if he can stay healthy. Twins fans have been waiting for his emergence since being a teenager, and Miguel Sano is finally ready to explode.

Pitcher of the Year- Jake Odorizzi

A season ago, Orodizzi posted the worst ERA of his career, was above 5.00 FIP for the first time, and walked a career worst 3.8 batters per nine. Why in the world would he be the best Twins pitcher at 28 years old? Well, I think there's plenty to be made of the back injury that he pitched through for the bulk of the season. Odorizzi isn't going to get much of a defensive boost as he already played in front of a good one with the Rays. I do believe he has middle-of-the-rotation stuff however, and the floor is very high with him. Jose Berrios has the ability to be a better pitcher than Odorizzi, but there's a decent level of volatility there as well.

Rookie of the Year- Mitch Garver

After finally making his debut in September 2017, I believed that Mitch Garver was deserving of a promotion much earlier. He absolutely raked at Triple-A Rochester, and it's his bat that brings intrigue behind the dish. Pairing with Jason Castro, Paul Molitor (won't but) should platoon his two backstops. Garver can dominate left-handed pitching, and he's more than capable behind the plate. He'll throw out his fair share of would be base stealers, and I'd expect him to be a bright spot for Minnesota. Deviating away from the veteran backstop that offers little in terms of offensive upside, Garver has the talent to be a true threat on his own.

Most Improved- Max Kepler

Last season saw the emergence of Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and even Jorge Polanco down the stretch. Miguel Sano has been a known commodity for a bit, even if I believe there's more in the tank. This season though, I think we see Max Kepler really begin to come into his own. For a while I've been of the belief that Kepler could be cut from a similar cloth as Christian Yelich. A good defender with adequate speed that has a real ability at the plate. Thus far Kepler has struggled with lefties, and he's yet to really set himself in the batters box. Hitting the 20 home run plateau for the first time is a good bet, and it's really only the tip of his offensive ice berg.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Here's How It Looks On Opening Day

Back on March 10th, I made some tweaks to my initial Minnesota Twins roster project and dubbed it 2.0. Looking back at that entry, it seems near perfect to me, but there's been a few minor tweaks since that point. With Opening Day happening this week, I figured it a good time to put everything down in pen and make a final suggestion as to what Paul Molitor has available in Baltimore.

Keeping with the previous theme, I'll include the players from roster projection 2.0 and simply strike-through the names no longer expected to make the club. Minnesota has an exhibition with Washington in D.C. on Tuesday the 27th, and then the games count. Here's who I expect them to open 2018 with:

Infielders (9)

  • Jason Castro C
  • Mitch Garver C
  • Ehire Adrianza Util
  • Brian Dozier 2B
  • Eduardo Escobar Util
  • Joe Mauer 1B
  • Jorge Polanco SS
  • Eduardo Escobar SS
  • Miguel Sano 3B
  • Logan Morrison 1B
This group should have remained the same, but Jorge Polanco failed a PED test and will miss the first 80 games of the season. I don't know that I trust Escobar's glove at short, but hopefully the bat plays with some of that 2017 pop. I do think Polanco's second half surge was more indicative of what he can be capable of producing, so not having that upper level talent will hurt. In the end, Minnesota could end up feeling the loss of Jorge most should the make another appearance in the Postseason.

Outfielders (5)
  • Byron Buxton CF
  • Robbie Grossman LF/RF
  • Max Kepler RF
  • Eddie Rosario LF
  • Zack Granite OF
There's no losses in this group, but Zack Granite finds himself as an addition. With the removal of Polanco from the 25 man, an additional bench spot opens up. Ideally, I wouldn't pair Granite and Grossman together. Minnesota is left without a true bat on the bench, could use some right-handed flexibility, and Zack is the far superior option when it comes to defense and pinch-running. There's been few waiver wire names of any intrigue, and while that could change, the Twins would need to add from outside if someone is going to unseat Grossman.

Pitchers (12)
  • Jose Berrios SP
  • Lance Lynn SP
  • Jake Odorizzi SP
  • Kyle Gibson SP
  • Trevor Hildenberger RP
  • Gabriel Moya RP
  • Zach Duke RP
  • Ryan Pressly RP
  • Addison Reed RP
  • Fernando Rodney RP
  • Taylor Rogers RP
  • Tyler Kinley RP
  • Phil Hughes RP
Pegging Kinley for a pen sport over Tyler Duffey back in early March turned out to be solid foresight. The Rule 5 draftee is a hard thrower, and Duffey had struggled mightily this spring. He'll head to Triple-A and gives Minnesota a known commodity in a relief or spot start option should they need one early on. The lone change here comes in the form of Phil Hughes. Although it hasn't been an awful spring, Hughes hasn't been particularly good either. The ball has left the yard plenty, and now he conveniently has an oblique strain. Starting the season on the DL seems to be a good bet, and the Twins can slowplay any decision as to whether or not he still belongs in their future plans. Gabriel Moya found himself in jeopardy of being squeezed due to options, but should now round out the pen even with Kinley in the mix.

Sorting Out Minnesota's Reserves

The Minnesota Twins recently broke camp down in Fort Myers and have since headed to Washington, D.C. to play their last exhibition game of 2018. With the Nationals lined up as the last action before heading to Baltimore, Paul Molitor will have to soon set his 25 man roster in stone. Given that the lineup is all but a guarantee, the bench is really the only area of intrigue.

Right now, there's two givens off the bench for the Twins. Both Ehire Adrianza and Mitch Garver are locked in. The former is a slick fielding shortstop, that has real questions with the bat. His .707 OPS across 70 games with the Twins last year was a career high, but it was also his first true big league opportunity. Without any real power, Adrianza keeping his OBP around the .324 mark of a year ago would be a nice tough. The latter is a former Minor League Player of the Year, and has plenty of thump at the dish. In 2017, Garver posted a .928 OPS at Triple-A, which followed up on a .764 OPS split between two levels in 2016. He has home run power and provides a nice platoon option from the right side with Jason Castro.

From there, things get more uncertain for both the available options and Paul Molitor. The safest bet would be to suggest both Robbie Grossman and Zack Granite are penciled in. Despite reclaiming Kennys Vargas off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds, the plan appears to again be an attempt at pushing him to Triple-A unclaimed. Ryan LaMarre has been nothing short of a superstar for Minnesota this spring, but the reality is 43 exhibition plate appearances shouldn't outweigh a 2-37 big league sample size bolstered by a career .719 OPS in the minors.

So, looking back at Granite and Grossman, the Twins have both a decision and an opportunity. Should both of those players make the club, Minnesota would have a bench of two switch hitters, a lefty, and a righty. Given a lefty heavy lineup, and two of them being corner outfielders, an area of opportunity would come in the form of a right-handed bat that can provide some thump from the corners.

Both Grossman and Granite making the club seems like an odd fit to me. Neither of them profile as hitters first, and that leaves Molitor pretty short handed when looking for something to happen in the late innings. Grossman's calling card has been his on-base prowess, but it dipped from .386 in 2016 to .361 a season ago. The last two years he's gone .696 and .994 respectively vs RHP when it comes to OPS. If the Twins believe the 2016 number is more reflective of his ability, then it makes sense to deploy him as the right-handed bat. If there's uncertainty there though, Grossman is a well-below average outfielder, that has average power, and provides no real baserunning asset.

Obviously the biggest question in going with Granite is in relation to his health. After making a diving catch and coming up with a shoulder contusion, his status is currently uncertain. If he's able to go however, he does provide the Twins with a different skillset. As a speedster capable of playing all three outfield spots, he's a plus-plus defender, and that speed also plays on the basepaths. He'd be valuable as a late inning pinch-runner and has stolen plenty of bases during his professional career. Despite an .867 OPS in 2017 at Triple-A, Granite is more of an on-base guy as well. A strong average is probably going to be his calling card as opposed to a high slugging percentage.

The safest and most expected route for Minnesota to traverse is likely to take both Grossman and Granite with them on the 25 man roster. That plan doesn't rock the boat, and represents the least amount of risk. Should Derek Falvey and Thad Levine be able to find someone either through trade or on the waiver wire, there's an opportunity to be had however. Replacing Grossman with a right-handed bat would allow Molitor to still have a defensive replacement and pinch-runner in the form of Granite, and the Twins would have a true hitting threat at their disposal.

Finding the right player to fill that role remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that the 25th man in Minnesota leaves a bit to be desired.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Best Bets for the 2018 Twins

The Minnesota Twins come into the 2018 Major League Baseball season with high expectations. After making an appearance in the Wild Card game a season ago, Paul Molitor's club is expected to make some waves this year. Following success, this club isn't going to sneak up on anyone, and Vegas seems to be included among that bunch.

After posting a betting primer for the 2017 season, a follow up only made sense. Last year however, offshore online bookmaker Bovada had a much lesser offering when it came to available Twins bets. Given their success a season ago, the opening options include a whopping 14 possibilities this season. Keeping in line with the 2017 blueprint, here's the best six future bets for Minnesota this year, and a confidence rating for each.

Brian Dozier O/U 30.5 HRs

A season ago, the number was 29.5 and Minnesota's second basemen was coming off a 42 long ball effort. In line for some regression, the under seemed feasible, even if it was going to take a dip of 13 home runs. Instead, Dozier garnered even more MVP votes, launched 34 long balls, and picked up his first Gold Glove (in part as a reflection of his offensive prowess). Going into a contract year with plenty at stake, it's hard for an argument to be made in favor of a significant slide. Over the past few seasons, Dozier has established himself as arguably the best second basemen in the game not named Jose Altuve. The power is real, and the bat has been more than productive. If this number was closer to the 34 from a season ago, I'd have a bit more hesitancy. ZiPS sees a 31 homer effort, and I find that to be a solid baseline. Take the over.

Over 30.5 HRs 3*

Eddie Rosario O/U 24.5 HRs

In the minor leagues, Rosario was always carried by his bat. After not working out as a middle infielder, he quickly shifted to the corner outfield and became somewhat of a hybrid. Not the slow and hulking type, he was more than capable of driving a ball and watching it sail over the fence. In 2017, 27 long balls were registered to his name and it came as somewhat of a surprise. With a .268 AVG and .735 OPS to his name over his first two big league seasons, the .290 AVG and .836 OPS was rather uncharacteristic. Despite having pretty static contact percentages and fly ball numbers, it was a 16.4% HR/FB rate that jumped off the page. It's probably a decent bet that the number settles in closer to 20 this season, and so that suggests we take the under.

Under 24.5 HRs 2*

Fernando Rodney O/U 25.5 SVs

Like wins, saves are a silly stat and extremely volatile. That being said, there seems to be some value here for the Twins closer. As a full time closer, Rodney has made 25 saves look like an easy benchmark to clear. He's coming off a 39 save performance with Arizona last year and even posted 25 in a season split between two teams in 2016. It's definitely fair to note that Rodney is an experience, but his blueprint forever has been effectively wild. While there's walks sprinkled in, he's still throwing gas and getting batters out on his own. By the end of the year, a different closer may emerge for Minnesota, but I'd imagine Rodney hangs onto the role longer than this line suggests. Minnesota should generate no less than 40 saves in 2018, and I'd take Rodney to account for 3/4 of them.

Over 25.5 SVs 4*

Jose Berrios O/U 12 Ws

Against better judgment, making a play on wins here seems to be worthwhile. In 2017, it was Ervin Santana a season ago with a 10.5 number and I thought the under seemed like a decent bet. He blitzed by that number and was Minnesota's best starter for a decent portion of the year. In 2018, Berrios will get his first crack at starting the year with the Twins, and he should push towards 200 innings. Last year, 145 innings were turned into 14 wins for a squad that won 85 games. Again, while wins are a volatile stat, there seems to be some value here. A larger opportunity should only bolster Berrios' chances, and I wouldn't be entirely shocked if he settles in as a true top-of-the-rotation starter in 2018. ZiPS has him pegged for 14 wins, and I'd take that as the low water mark.

Over 12 Ws 3*

Logan Morrison O/U 25.5 HRs

One of the more surprising offseason acquisitions for the Twins was the addition of left-handed slugger Logan Morrison. Surprising is used only in the sense that his addition seemed to be a nice bonus piece for Derek Falvey. Nabbed on a team friendly deal, and coming off a 38 HR power showing, Paul Molitor's DH spot immediately got a nice boost. Now the 38 long balls represented a significant career high, but it also came with a change in philosophy intended to put the ball in the air. Regression seems a fair argument given the significant spike in production, but the new process should continue to yield more positive results. In my mind, seeing Morrison dip should still end up with a number in the high 20's. This is yet another over for me.

Over 25.5 HRs 2*

Minnesota Twins O/U 82.5 Ws

A season ago, Molitor's club rebounded to the tune of 85 wins. Following up the disastrous 2016 with that effort only highlights to relative unpredictability of youth. Minnesota watched the maturation of players like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Eddie Rosario carry them at different parts of the season. Fast-forward to 2018, and the club has no real losses to speak of while adding significant pitching and hitting talent. The AL Central should be a small dumpster fire at the bottom, and the Cleveland Indians stoop pat and allowed Minnesota to close some of that gap. It's fair to argue that Molitor's club played above their true talent level a season ago, and that they were more of a .500 team. Believing that should suggest a floor of 81 wins for the current year however, and that seems like a bare minimum. Before the addition of Lance Lynn, this group looked like an 87 or 88 win team to me, and now I'd be far from shocked to see them grab 90.

Over 82.5 Ws 5*

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Twins Next Important Coach

A season ago, the Minnesota Twins brought in James Rowson as their hitting coach. Following the dismissal of Tom Brunansky, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine handpicked a candidate of a lesser known name. WIth what he had done with some of the hitter in the Yankees organization however, there was excitement regarding potential results. Fast forward a year, and the growth with some young Twins hitters was incredible. In 2018, Minnesota will be looking for more of the same from their new pitching coach, Garvin Alston.

The Twins are coming off a 2017 that saw records in starting pitchers used (16), and arms as a whole (36). Knowing this club is coming into 2018 with high expectations and again focused on the Postseason, getting more consistent results on the mound is a must. In that regard, there's no coach more integral to Minnesota taking the next step forward than Alston.

A pitcher for the Colorado Rockies during his brief MLB career, Alston has spent almost the entirety of his coaching life with the Oakland Athletics. He was twice a minor league pitching coach, while serving as a pitching coordinator in 2015. During the 2016 season, worked as the bullpen coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and then he headed back to the Bay Area to serve in the same capacity for the A's a season ago.

Much like Rowson was able to help players like Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco foster success down the stretch a season ago, Alston will be tasked with growth in 2018. Kyle Gibson may be the area for greatest success, but there should be no shortage of impressionable arms looking to reach the next level.

Among all Twins starters, no one is looking to replicate their second half as much as Gibson is. The 3.57 ERA across his final 12 starts (and 2.92 ERA across the final 8) would position him as a treue middle-of-the-rotation arm. After scuffling hard out of the gate, and looking like a non-tender candidate halfway through 2017, Gibby officially turned it around. With the offseason in his rear view mirror, and a solid spring training under his belt, Gibson will need to replicate his late season efforts in hopes of bolstering the Twins chances.

It's not just veteran arms Alston will be tasked with maximizing though, in fact the vast majority aren't veteran arms. Jose Berrios looked the part of a good starter last year, but there's real star potential there and he'll be trying to harness that on an every start basis. Eventually pitchers like Felix Jorge, Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, and Zack Littell will find their way onto the Target Field mound. Keeping command in focus and not allowing the moment to be too big, Alston will be forced to challenge the young arms while also keeping them in check.

For Minnesota, a retooling of the starting rotation was needed, and pitchers like Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi fall more under the notion of tweaks rather than full-scale hand holding. The bullpen also was bolstered with reinforcements, and guys like Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney should be cut from a similar cloth as their veteran starting counterparts. In relief though, Garvin Alston will oversee a guy in Trevor Hildenberger who had a breakout 2017 and became one of Minnesota's best relievers.

Through spring training thus far, Hildenberger has seen results anything but reflective of his 2017 exploits. A reminder that the slate is wiped clean and a 9.4 K/9 along with a 1.3 BB/9 came out of that arm a year ago will go a long ways to determine how the Twins handle late innings. Taylor Rogers will be expected to take a step forward, and eventually Jake Reed, Tyler Kinley, and any number of other arms could be called upon to get meaningful outs.

While there's a good argument to be made that most managers misuse or at least under-utilize their bullpens, it will be on Alston and Molitor to find a blueprint that gets the most out of their club. The 46 year old pitching coach will need to dance between relating to players not much his junior, and a manager significantly his senior.

Evaluation of a pitching coach is relatively difficult, and even more so in a small sample size situation. We may not know what Alston is capable of or has become for the Twins after 2018, but you can bet than a significant positive impact would go a long ways towards success. Seen as a pitching guru, Falvey tabbed Alston his guy, and giving him a staff that has a little bit of everything should provide plenty of opportunity to grow. Minnesota needs pitching to become a strength, and Alston pioneering that movement would be massive.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Bomb in the Middle Means Twins Must Rally

The Minnesota Twins had made it through 24 days of their spring training game schedule. Although Ervin Santana needed surgery, the timeline looked favorable and the organization had seen no other hiccups. Free agents were being amassed in droves, and the 2017 Wild Card team looked like it was eyeing an opportunity to close the gap in the AL Central. Then it happened, March 18th came.

If St. Patrick's Day is about luck, the day following saw Minnesota have next to none. Ervin Santana reportedly can not yet make a fist, let alone grip a baseball. That reality puts a May 1 return to the mound in serious jeopardy. The bigger bomb came in the early evening however, as starting shortstop Jorge Polanco was popped with an 80 game suspension after testing positive for PEDs.

When looking at the Twins 2018 outlook, it's unquestionably the loss of Polanco that impacts the club most. Despite suggesting he unknowingly ingested the banned substance Stanozolol (which coincidentally was the PED of choice for Santana back in 2015), the reality is he made a poor judgement in failing to fact check what a trainer in the Dominican may have handed him. Ideally there would've been a greater level of ownership, removing the "unknowingly" caveat, but he's decided to bypass an appeal and serve the suspension immediately. For the Twins and Paul Molitor, the question becomes where the club turns from here.

As I profiled just last week, Polanco was set to become the first shortstop since Pedro Florimon (13/14) to start back-to-back Opening Day's for Minnesota (and just the second since Cristian Guzman in 2004). Now, Molitor will likely turn the reigns over to Eduardo Escobar, who last owned the job during the 2016 season.

Escobar has played a solid utility role for the Minnesota Twins during his tenure following the swap that brought him over from the Chicago White Sox. The 1.6 fWAR a season ago was a nice rebound from the -0.6 fWAR he posted in 2016. The problem however, is that the negative number came with Escobar assuming the role of everyday shortstop.

Across 579 innings at short in 2016, Escobar was worth -7 DRS. Stretched out to a full season's worth of games (579 innings accounted for 66 starts), Escobar would be staring at a -17 DRS. Dating back to 2002 (where Fangraphs data begins), only 16 shortstops have posted a worse DRS over a full season. In fact, a -18 DRS was posted in 2012 by a 38 year old Derek Jeter, just to provide a visual for what that may look like. In short, it's not much of a surprise why the Twins played Escobar at short in just 16 games a year ago, even with the emergence of Polanco.

For Eduardo, his calling card with Minnesota has been and will continue to be his bat. His positional flexibility is relative, given that he can play many but is below average (-5 DRS in 600+ innings at 3B in 2017) at all of them. Coming off a career best .758 OPS with 21 homers, it's hard not to like the idea of his bat getting more reps. What both Molitor and the front office will have to evaluate is whether or not the negative cost in the field is outweighed by the boost his bat brings.

If not for Escobar, then Minnesota has three options currently. First would be secondary utility man, Ehire Adrianza. Profiled as a relative opposite to Escobar, Adrianza is slick with the glove and leaves something to be desired at the dish. Logging just over 200 innings at short for Minnesota last year, Adrianza was worth 1 DRS. His .707 OPS was a career best, and a massive jump from the .598 OPS he'd compiled across his first 145 career games. Having been used out of position some since joining Minnesota, Adrianza looked disinterested or lost at times while playing left field or even third base. Defensively, shortstop is his home, but his bat must prove worthy of consistent starts.

Brought in as Miguel Sano insurance, veteran Erick Aybar is now all but guaranteed a 40 man roster spot with Minnesota. Barring a Sano suspension, or injury to start the year, Aybar likely would've been looking for a new team. At 34 years old, Aybar is hardly a spring chicken, and he cuts the duo above somewhere down the middle. A .685 career OPS is reflective of a guy that's basically all average, with little boost from on-base or slugging skills. Unfortunately for him, 2015 is the last time his average was at .270 or above, and would need to be a relative baseline for acceptable production. With the glove, he's played at least 790 innings at short every season since 2009, but he's been no better than -3 DRS since 2012. Not the abomination Escobar is, calling him slick with the glove would be a stretch as well.

Rounding out the options for the Twins is a name that's not currently present. No, Nick Gordon isn't ready to fill in at the big league level on an every day basis yet (and there's valid concerns about him at SS anyways), and both Royce Lewis and Wander Javier are too far away. The "not currently present" designation would need to apply to a player outside of the organization. Veteran J.J. Hardy is currently a free agent still (though he's arguably a worse option than any of the internal trio), and the trade market has any number of fits. For Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to explore that path however, it'd likely need to be more of a stop gap player with upside, than some sort of drastic move that changes future projections.

At the end of the day, my hope would be that the Twins play it safe here. A lot of work has been done to increase the overall ability of the roster this season, and wavering too far on one side or the other could throw of a lineup or defense with an immense amount of talent. Escobar is a risk at a vital position, while Adrianza has all the makings of a rally killer. Start Erick Aybar, know what you've got, and inject both the utility men on a semi-regular basis. Escobar has thrived in that role before, and Adrianza was productive enough a year ago. It's not at all flashy, but if I'm Molitor, Aybar gives you the least opportunity to be exposed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On Buxton, Defense, and the Competition

In 2017, Byron Buxton won what should be the first of many Gold Gloves. He also won a Platinum Glove (fan voted), and the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award. In short, his efforts for the Twins in centerfield have quickly become noticed by a national audience. The speed, ball tacking, and spectacular plays are all just a bit more routing for the Georgia native. What's worth wondering is whether or not he's already the greatest defensive centerfielder of all time.

Rather than dive into a debate across eras, I think it's safe to work under the assumption that the greatest current players would probably hold up working backwards. In short, Mike Trout would compare with Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth. In that sense, Buxton and his competition would hold up well in comparison with great defenders of yesteryear. For the purpose of this piece, there's only one other player that currently holds a candle to the Twins star. Needing no introduction, it's Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier.

The bar to surpass for Buxton is the blueprint that the Rays defensive stalwart has already put forth. With an extra couple of years under his belt at the big league level, Kiermaier has two Gold Gloves and got edged by Byron for the first time in 2017. Moving outside of the awards though, it's the metrics that truly show how great Kevin really is.

Over the course of his five year big-league career, Kiemaier has played over 1,000 innings just once. Having dealt with injuries, he's only surpassed the 110 games played plateau one time, and has been under 100 games played once as well. During the 2015 season he put up a nutty 42 DRS and 30.0 UZR along with a 24.2 RngR. Dating back to the inception of Fangraphs metrics in 2002, the next closest number is 33 DRS by the Mariners Franklin Gutierrez in 2009. Those two players are also the only ones to ever post a UZR in CF at 30.0 or above (Gutierrez was at 31.0 in 2009). To put it simply, Kiermaier's 2015 was a defensive campaign for the ages.

What's important to note however, is that Kiermaier wasn't simply a flash in the pan or one-year-wonder. In 2016, he posted 25 DRS and a 12.3 UZR, and a season ago he totaled 22 DRS and 2.8 UZR. Given the sample size of those previous two campaigns coming in no less than 46 games shy of his 2015 output, the production only had room to rise. At nearly 28 years-old, Kiermaier should be well of from and decline, and he'll be pushing for the title of best defensive centerfielder for years to come.

Turning our attention to the Twins star, there's a very obvious asset that really can't be taught: speed. In the newly developed spring speed leaderboard from MLB's Statcast, Buxton is the fastest runner in baseball clocking 30.2 ft/sec. He's trailed most closely by Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton (30.1 ft/s) and Kiermaier's 28.9 ft/s check in at 13th among centerfielders. That elite top end speed allows Buxton to cover both gaps, and very realistically, make up for any route deficiencies he may have.

Being the Statcast darling that he is, you don't need to go far to find Buxton's name atop another leaderboard. Minnesota's man tops both the Catch Probability and Outs Above Average charts. In 2017, he was worth 25 outs above average, or better than every team in baseball aside from his own. No player, at any position, made more "4 Star" outs than Buxton's 26. His 89.7% conversion rate on plays deemed to have a 26-50% likelihood of an out is truly astounding. In summarizing his efforts, Statcast deemed that Buxton's expected catch percentage in 2017 was 87%. Instead, he posted a 93% mark and added unexpected outs 6% of the time.

Unfortunately, Statcast's data only dates back to 2016, so comparing Kiermaier's exceptional 2015 in the same realms is not possible. From a Fangraphs perspective, Buxton has room to grow. Last season, his DRS total checked in at 24 with a 9.9 UZR and 12.6 RngR. If there's an area most easily picked apart in Buxton's defensive game, it's his arm.

Buxton doesn't have a weak arm by any means, in fact he pitched at over 90 mph in high school. What he does lack at times from the outfield, is accuracy. Far too often in 2017, throws to bases were off line, and while the ball may have provided an opportunity for an out, the positioning was no longer there. The metrics seem to agree with those sentiments as well. Last season, Buxton's efforts were worth -2.4 (outfield arm runs above average). For comparison, Kiermaier's 2015 saw a 6.8 ARM rating. DRS is a metric that encapsulate's each piece of a defender's ability and displays a total defensive value. Posting a negative or lacking ARM tally will do no favors when calculating the overall production.

What I think is easy to suggest is that baseball fans are currently watching two of the greatest defensive centerfielders to ever play the game. While Kiermaier would benefit by staying on the field more, Buxton has a workable avenue to increasing his own production, and the battle will be a fun one to watch for years to come. Byron has yet to match Kevin's 2015 by some advanced metrics, but others are quite clearly in awe of how much he brings to the game with his glove.

It is on defensive merit alone that Buxton will be a yearly candidate for the All Star game in years to come. Should his bat display what it flashed down the stretch for the Twins, Minnesota has an MVP candidate waiting to happen, and a superstar in the making. At the end of the day, Twins fans should have plenty of fun watching their man go and get it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Polanco, Shortstops, and Stability

Over the past 13 seasons, dating back to 2005, the Minnesota Twins have started 11 different players at shortstop on Opening Day. Through those years, only Pedro Florimon has been given the nod in back-to-back seasons (13-14), and Jason Bartlett is the only other player to appear twice (05 & 07). To put it simply, consistency at the shortstop position isn't something that the Minnesota Twins have had in over a decade. With Jorge Polanco settling in to change that notion, it might be time to give it some real thought.

To know where the Twins may be going, we'll first take a look at where they've been. Before the revolving door got started in 2004, the last point of stability was none other than Cristian Guzman. From 1999 through 2004, the Dominican native started every Opening Day for Minnesota, and racked up 841 games played. A fixture in the Minnesota lineup, Guzman was a serviceable option that allowed speed to carry his game.

At the dish, you could argue that Guzman was a relatively replaceable asset. Owning just a .685 OPS with Minnesota, and averaging just a .303 OBP over his six-year tenure, there was nothing that jumped off the stat page. Leading the league in triples three times, and stealing double-digit bases in five straight years, quickness was highly valued at a time in the game where advanced analytics had yet to break in.

In the field, Guzman was as acceptable as it gets. Defensive data at Fangraphs only goes back to 2002, but over the three seasons accounted for, Guzman provided two at a net zero outcome. Both in 2002 and 2004, a total of 0 DRS was the result in over 1,200 innings. He displayed solid zone ratings, and above average range at the most demanding position in the infield however. In short, Guzman was the option for Minnesota because he did just enough to warrant the job, but also never really pushed the needle.

As the game has evolved, shortstops are among the most premier players on the diamond. To have a guy with an OPS south of .700 and be worth nothing more than league average defensively, you'd be hard-pressed not to insert the Pedro Florimon's of the world as a replacement. Fortunately for Minnesota, looking at stability this time around provides something of a significant advancement in the form of Jorge Polanco.

The former top-100 prospect will be entering his second full season as the Twins everyday shortstop. He's coming off a .723 OPS and a -1 DRS across 1,119 innings played. The sample size compiled thus far is incredibly small, but given a brief taste in 2016, we can quantify improvement. In the field across 69 games in 2016, Polanco owned a -8 DRS across 406 innings. With questions regarding his arm at short, the initial showing did nothing to dispel the notion that he wasn't fit to play anything but second base at the highest level. Displaying substantial improvements across the board, and a positive RngR factor last year though, Polanco put forth an effort reflective of lots of extra offseason work.

Regarding Polanco, it's always been the bat that was expected to carry him. After bottoming out at a .572 OPS on August 4th last season, a corner was turned. Over his final 53 games, Polanco posted a .942 OPS that saw him launch 10 homers and pick up another 14 doubles. Everything from launch angle to pitch recognition was maximized, and the turnaround was more reflective of the player Minnesota expected to have coming out of their minor league system.

Knowing baseball is a mental game, the loss of Polanco's grandfather likely weighed on him at points of the season. Widely reported as a father figure to the 24 year old, it's hardly unfathomable that performance would dip as his mind struggled to stay engaged. On the field, locking back in to a disciplined approach that produced career bests in SwStr% and chase rate no doubt aided the turnaround.

Looking ahead, Polanco should be in a position where he can secure the shortstop role to the point that a challenger needs to wrangle it away from him. The revolving door has stopped spinning at this moment, and by the time Royce Lewis or Wander Javier are ready for the next step, Polanco should allow Minnesota an opportunity to make them earn it. It's not far off that an up-the-middle tandem of Polanco and Nick Gordon can be seen as reality, but there should be little question in regards to who's best suited at short among that duo.

For any number of organizations across the big leagues, having answers on the mound, at short, and in center remain of the utmost importance. More often than not, the Twins have done well in center, and they've begun to right the ship on the mound. Polanco taking steps forward to own shortstop is a much-needed revelation, and it's one that he's only begun to own into. Obviously the sustainability of a .900+ OPS isn't great, but a full season of Polanco contributing with both the bat and the glove seems to be more expectation than hope at this point.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Who Goes North 2.0

Back on February 27 I took a first look at what the Minnesota Twins 25 man roster may look like on Opening Day. Now roughly halfway through spring training, and with some roster changes to boot, it's time to take another stab at what Paul Molitor will have at his disposal in Baltimore. You can read the original projection here, but changes will also be reflected below.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have definitely outdone Minnesota offseasons of recent memory, and coming off a Postseason berth, they had plenty of incentive to supplement an up and coming squad. This club looks like it's going to make noise in both the Central and the American League as a whole. No matter where you look, there isn't a lot of obvious deficiencies in any of the positional groups.

With that groundwork laid, let's get into it:

Infielders (9)

  • Jason Castro C
  • Mitch Garver C
  • Ehire Adrianza Util
  • Brian Dozier 2B
  • Eduardo Escobar Util
  • Joe Mauer 1B
  • Jorge Polanco SS
  • Miguel Sano 3B
  • Logan Morrison 1B
This group remains the exact same. I'm still operating under the belief that Miguel Sano starts the season with the Twins. A suspension seems increasingly unlikely, and all spring indications have suggested his health is in a good place. Erick Aybar remains the fallback option if Sano isn't penciled in however. This group is very good, will be the backbone of the lineup, and was only aided by the inclusion of another slugger in Morrison.
Outfielders (4)
  • Byron Buxton CF
  • Robbie Grossman LF/RF
  • Max Kepler RF
  • Eddie Rosario LF
If it were up to me, I'd prefer Robbie Grossman be replaced by Zack Granite. As a fourth outfielder, Granite does significantly more for Minnesota than Grossman is able to. His speed is an asset off the bench, and he's well above average defensively. There's a slight downgrade in on-base skills with Granite, but that's still something his track record in the minors categorizes as an asset. With options remaining though, it's hard to see the Twins simply casting aside Grossman from the get go. They could make the move at any point, and from the start, seems best reasoned that they'll stick with the veteran.

Pitchers (12)

  • Jose Berrios SP
  • Lance Lynn SP
  • Jake Odorizzi SP
  • Kyle Gibson SP
  • Trevor Hildenberger RP
  • Phil Hughes RP
  • Zach Duke RP
  • Ryan Pressly RP
  • Addison Reed RP
  • Fernando Rodney RP
  • Taylor Rogers RP
  • Tyler Kinley RP
  • Adalberto Mejia SP
  • Tyler Duffey RP
With the recent addition of Lance Lynn, it's the pitchers where the most shuffling takes place for the Twins. Molitor has noted the club intends to go with a four-man rotation until Ervin Santana returns, which makes sense. That means Phil Hughes is pushed out of the group, and aside from a DL stint or DFA, he's destined for long relief. All spring, Minnesota has talked about stretching Tyler Duffey out and looking at him as a starter again. Given where things are currently, and with Duffey having an option remaining, a trip to Rochester doesn't seem that unlikely. It would get Rule 5 pick Tyler Kinley on the 25 man, and save the Twins from having to make an immediate trade with Miami in order to retain his rights. Taking the trip to Rochester with Duffey would be Mejia. He's probably the first man up among starters, and gives the Twins an added layer of depth before needing to call upon Fernando Romero or Stephen Gonsalves.

Glancing at this group, I think it's pretty clear that the 2017 areas of concern have been addressed, and 2018 should be a bright year for the guys at Target Field.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rotation Overhaul In Overdrive

With the news of the Minnesota Twins signing Lance Lynn to a one-year, $12 million deal today, the overhaul of the starting rotation going into 2018 is complete. Despite the big fish of the offseason being Yu Darvish, it's hard not to see the avenue that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took as equally impressive. Coming off a Wild Card appearance, Paul Molitor's club has something it hasn't in years: a rotation worthy of praise.

Going into the winter, Minnesota's front office new that the area of focus needed to be starting pitching. Coming off a season in which 16 different pitchers made starts (a club record), and 36 different arms were used, getting more meaningful innings from the jump was a necessity. Although the crop of free agents left something to be desired, Darvish was there at the top and he had some quality options lined up behind him. You can fault the Twins for not matching Chicago's six-year deal, but it may not have mattered anyways. In the end, for a team desiring depth, this outcome almost seems better.

When the Twins leave Fort Myers at the end of March, their starting rotation will feature Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson. Ervin Santana is due back sometime in April or May, and the group at the top is backed by names such as Adalberto Mejia, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, and Zack Littell. Solely by the letters on the backs of the jerseys, that group is much stronger than one featuring options such as Tepesch, Melville, and Wilk. What's more intriguing though, are the numbers that names bring with them.

In Odorizzi and Lynn, Minnesota has added two players capable of striking out batters at an 8.0 K/9 clip or better. A season ago, only Jose Berrios entered that territory, and the Twins haven't had two pitchers best that mark in a season since 2006 (Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano). Last season, 12 of the Twins 16 starters took the ball a combined 54 times to compile a -0.2 fWAR. Despite a down year for Odorizzi (0.1 fWAR in 2017), he's consistently earned around a 2.0 fWAR on an annual basis. In his first year back from Tommy John surgery, Lynn posted a 1.4 mark. Both should help to significantly raise the water level as a whole for the staff, which is really what this boils down to.

Talking yourself out of missing on Darvish is foolish, but there's also a level of realism to it. While Yu is a bonafide ace, he can only take the ball once every five days. Minnesota was in a place where Kyle Gibson would be relied upon too much, and Phil Hughes needed to be counted on as well. In adding two arms, the Twins push the latter out completely, and allow the former to be bolstered by the strong depth on the farm behind him. By gaining a 40% improvement in the rotation, the Twins effectively overhauled their greatest weakness, and dare I say, turned it into a strength.

It'd be relatively silly to suggest that Lynn, Odorizzi, or even Michael Pineda (if and when he returns healthy) are going to make the Scherzer's or Kershaw's of the world blush. For an organization that's been starved to figure out who can be relied upon for multiple turns in the rotation on a yearly basis for over a decade though, you've done more than alright. Minnesota's blueprint when attacking the rotation was to grab talent that could help, and let what was already on board fall in line. By executing it this way, there should be competitive and reliable outings on a daily basis, and the depth is now a luxury as opposed to a necessity.

Given what Falvey and Levine have done to Molitor's starting staff, and what Minnesota already had going for it, you'd be hard-pressed to argue that this team isn't going places. A strong lineup and good defense is now supplemented be a talented pitching staff (both starters and relievers) and that should put not only the Cleveland Indians, but the rest of the American League, on notice.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

An Outfield Up For Grabs

For the most part, the Minnesota Twins 25 man roster is easy to project. I tried my hand in projection 1.0 at the end of February and feel pretty much the same about that group here at the beginning of March. That being said, I think there remains one position battle of intrigue when it comes to the position players. As Logan Morrison has entered to fill the regular DH role, there's a two man race for the fourth and final outfield spot.

The incumbent is none other than Robbie Grossman. Signed off the scrap heap by the Twins back in 2016, he was an answer while Minnesota was having to send out the young Eddie Rosario. In his first 99 games with the club, Grossman put forth the best numbers of his career. An on-base machine, Grossman's .280/.386/.443 slash line in his debut year for the Twins was easily a high water mark. As an encore last season, the .741 OPS was fine for a guy that provided rotational flexibility and assumed DH duties on a semi-regular basis. While nothing jumped off the page in the average or power categories, it was again a .361 OBP that could be noted as the strongest asset.

When looking at Grossman's time with the Twins, it's never been his presence at the plate proving to be a deficiency. In the field however, it's been another story altogether. In his first 637.1 innings spanning across 2016, abysmal doesn't even begin to categorize the output. Worth -21 DRS and with a UZR of -15.2, Grossman's performance was bad enough to make even Delmon Young and Josh Willingham blush. Knowing it needed to improve, Grossman made strides a season ago. Despite roughly half the amount of innings (357.0), the numbers checked in at -3 DRS and -3.3 UZR. Robbie isn't ever likely to be above average in the field, but in 2017, he proved he can be better than a black hole as well.

That's really what the Twins have to weigh when it comes to filling out their 25 man roster. Grossman leaves an immeasurable amount to be desired in the field, and a potential replacement would be a virtual opposite. Zack Granite is a blazing (albeit not Buxton-like) centerfielder, with the ability to track balls down from well out of his reach. Arm strength isn't anything of note, but it's hardly a downfall either. In just 174 inning sample size, Granite was worth 4 DRS and 1.2 UZR for Minnesota per Fangraphs.

At the plate, Zack has just 107 major league plate appearances under his belt. Making his debut a season ago for the Twins, Granite posted a .237/.321/.290 slash line. A .611 OPS isn't ever going to get it done at the highest level, but there's plenty of reason to believe he can acclimate. At Triple-AA Rochester for the first time in his career, Granite played 71 games and grabbed 313 plate appearances in 2017. He turned those opportunities into a .338/.392/.475 slash line. While those numbers are definitely gaudy, they follow the trend of a guy who's posted consistent on-base numbers while being more average than power over the course of his professional career.

For Granite to really round into form, he'll need to display a strong level of plate discipline over the course of his big league time. At Triple-A last season, he struck out just 34 times in 284 at bats, while drawing 24 walks. Jumping up a level, he actually posted just nine strikeouts for the Twins while drawing 12 free passes over his 93 at bats. Another good sign is that a strong knowledge of the strike zone has never left him. With just a 1.9% swinging strike rate, and a 95% contact rate, no one in baseball (with at least 100 plate appearances) posted better numbers.

Paul Molitor and the Minnesota Twins will likely let the battle run it's course through the end of the spring. Granite has options left, while Robbie Grossman would need to be DFA'd to make room. As things stand currently, that's probably the biggest feather in the cap for the latter. The Twins could certainly opt to go with Grossman out of the gate, and then call upon Granite as soon as they've seen enough. If they're looking at bringing the best or most ideal 25 north however, Zack definitely has a case to be made.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Romero Ready and Waiting for Twins

Coming into spring training 2018, there were two key names on the mound when it came to up and coming Twins prospects. Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero were the guys to watch, and thus far, they’ve both been appointment viewing. For Romero, the ceiling is that of a big league ace, and thus far he’s done little to dispel that notion.

It’s hard to glean much from such an incredibly small sample size, but the process is just as imperative as the results. First by the numbers, Romero has appeared in three games pitching a total of five innings. He’s tallied six strikeouts, given up zero hits, and has walked just one batter. If that were stretched out over a considerable amount of any given season, he’d be staring at the business end of a Cy Young award and some big league records.

As it stands, the numbers are just a small flash in the pan allowing Twins fans to dream of what could one day be. That being said, it was his latest outing that might have been the most promising and indicative of the ceiling those within the organization hope he reaches. Against the Phillies in Clearwater on March 5, Romero worked the bottom of the 7th inning facing Dylan Cozens, Roman Quinn, and Pedro Florimon (all big league bats). Starting out at 94 mph with his fastball, he topped out at 96 mph on his 19th offering of the inning. Striking out the trio swinging, Quinn and Florimon flailed at sliders biting their heels after facing straight heat.  The outing included 21 pitches, 15 of which were strikes, 88 mph sliders, and 96 mph fastballs.

Over the course of those 21 pitches thrown to three Phillies batters, Romero showed exactly why he’s viewed as a top of the rotation arm. The velocity was there, the breaking pitches were devastating, the efficiency in the zone was displayed, and a mound presence well beyond his years was apparent. If every outing went like that one, Romero would find himself paired with Jose Berrios as a one-two punch for Minnesota out of the gate in 2018.

When it comes to the greater picture, Romero’s deficiencies lie where many like him find fault. Reaching Double-A Chattanooga for the first time last season as a 22 year old, command issues returned for the first time since his Tommy John surgery in 2014. Striking out 8.6 per nine across his 125.0 IP, he also allowed 3.2 BB/9. In 2016, his first season back from the surgery, Romero had sat down hitters at a 9.0 K/9 clip and walked just 1.5 per nine over 90.1 IP at two levels. If there’s an area of focus for the 2018 season, it will be in seeing how the free passes add up.

Looking back on his time as a pro, Romero has never been bit hard by the home run bug, and he’s generally kept his H/9 numbers to a minimum. As he continues to rise levels, potentially starting at Double-A Chattanooga to open 2018, seeing refinement in some integral areas will be a consistent focus. It’s in how the development with command and control shakes out that will eventually determine if Romero can assume a spot at the top of the rotation, or if he’s destined for a relief role.

At the end of spring training, it would be a virtual shock to see Romero break the 25 man headed up to Minnesota. The Twins would most likely prefer he break into the big leagues as a starter, and while he could see time first in a relief role, that coming directly out of spring seems incredibly unlikely. That being said, the clock has absolutely begun to tick, and there will be knocks on the major league door sooner rather than later.

Outside of the player acquisitions this offseason, pitching guru Derek Falvey has developed an infrastructure that should foster internal development. Task number one will be unlocking the highest possible percentile of Fernando Romero, and if achieved, could mean the Twins have the ace they’ve been craving since the days of Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Buxton Extending Into the Future

Over the weekend, Jim Bowden of The Athletic tweeted that the Minnesota Twins and star centerfielder Byron Buxton have a mutual interest when it comes to figuring out a long-term extension. Quickly, local names like Mike Berardino and Darren Wolfson noted that while true, that's quite a ways from happening. Although things could come together quickly, it's worth wondering what a deal may look like, and whether or not it makes sense for both sides.

As players like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, and some of the other developing youngsters push towards extensions, the Twins crossroads is an interesting one. It's at the end of 2018 that star second basemen Brian Dozier sees his four-year, $20 million extension run out. As John Bonnes from Twins Daily reported last week, the Mississippi native believes he's headed for free agency. Minnesota wasn't able to buy into Dozier's free agency years, and retaining him now would require a new deal to be worked out.

For a player like Buxton, the ideal scenario for the Twins would be to lock him up for a considerable amount of time. Obviously on Byron's end, he'll be foregoing arbitration induced pay raises, and will want to be compensated fairly. At 24 years old, and arbitration eligible for the first time in 2019, the clock is ticking. When looking for some level of comparison, another young outfielder comes to mind.

Enter Mookie Betts.

Although Betts doesn't play centerfield, he's a decent case study when it comes to Buxton. Betts won his second straight Gold Glove for the Red Sox in 2017, and posted his fourth straight season with an OPS north of .800. Across all of baseball, only Betts had more DRS (31) in the outfield than the Twins Buxton (24). The Red Sox right fielder's UZR more than doubled the Twins centerfielder's, and his RngR factor also checked in slightly higher. The breakout was hardly a one year thing either, as Betts posted dazzling digits across multiple defensive metrics in 2016. Even before reaching tallies of 32 and 31 DRS the last two years respectively, Betts owned marks of 5 and 10 in his first two seasons.

On the offensive side of the diamond, there's little argument to be made that Betts hasn't been the far superior player. In his worst season, an .803 OPS still shines amongst an All Star caliber resume, along with a third straight year of MVP votes. For Buxton, the .728 OPS in 2017 showed part of the promise that made him the number on prospect in all of baseball, but it was still an early season swoon that weighed down his overall numbers.

For Buxton to reach the overall impact that Betts has for the Red Sox, Minnesota will need to see a full 162 games worth of the .796 OPS tallied from June 1st through the end of the season. As Buxton legitimately broke down his swing and rebuilt it at the big league level under James Rowson a season ago, it's an expectation that doesn't seem too incredibly lofty. What is an All Star candidate based upon a lackluster OPS and his glove alone, is an MVP threat for multiple years in a row when reaching his peak potential.

So knowing they similarly stack up, Betts is a bit further into the process of being paid. While having not been extended by the Red Sox, he's seen raises from $514.7k to $566k, and then further to $950k a season ago. Being arbitration eligible for the first time this season, Betts' case went to a hearing. The Red Sox offered him $7.5 million, while he believed in being worth more. After having the case heard, the outfielder came out on top and will make $10.5 million in 2018. Over a 10x increase on his 2017 salary, Betts has three more years of arbitration induced salaries before he'll hit free agency.

That $10.5 million Betts was awarded comes in as the second highest salary for a player in their first year of arbitration eligibility, and it was only beaten by Kris Bryant in this same offseason ($10.85m.) It was in this same offseason that Blue Jays third basemen Josh Donaldson set the record for the largest arbitration contract in history, checking in at $23 million. Toronto had worked out a deal to give Donaldson cost certainty each of the past two years with a deal that paid him a total of $28.65 million. Having run out the year before he hits the open market however, the new number is a hefty one.

What the numbers above suggest is that Byron Buxton could have the Twins in a place where they see some really inflated numbers rather quickly. After making $535k in 2017, Buxton's increase is a modest one to $570k. This is the last deal that will be consummated without the intervention of the arbitration system unless a long-term agreement is struck however. If Byron continues to let nothing fall but raindrops, and the bat is in the place it appears to be, the dollar signs should roll in rather quickly. Minnesota could be looking at numbers like $8m, $10m, $12m, and 15m over the course of the next four seasons. Having yet to earn a seven-figure yearly salary, the Georgia native could be staring at the business end of $45 million in a few short years. While that would still pale in comparison to the value he'd bring in that scenario, a more economically focus route could be beneficial for the Twins.

The current front office wasn't in place when Minnesota agreed to keep Brian Dozier around for $20 million over the course of four-years. That being said, this astute collection likely sees the value in a similar cost-certainty model for their superstar centerfielder. Dozier was 28 at the time of his first multi-year deal, while Buxton just turned 24 last December. There's plenty of factors at play, but the numbers seem to suggest that giving up a sense of certainty for a level of security is a good play for both sides.

I'm not entirely sure what the numbers would look like, but something like $30-35 million through four years of arbitration could be a nice get for all parties involved. No matter what the dollars say however, it appears to make sense, for both Buxton and the Twins, to pencil each other into plans for the immediate future.