Can Jose Berrios develop into a full-time starter? Will Miguel Sano settle in at third base? With he Minnesota Twins set to reconvene soon for spring training, we're breaking down our five biggest questions heading into the 2017 season.
Can Byron Buxton build on his solid last month of 2016?
Center fielder Buxton produced a September (and October) that fans had been waiting for after an up-and-down start to the 2016 season. Before being sent down to the minors in early August, Buxton had struck out 80 times in 197 at-bats and posted a .193 batting average. But when he was recalled in September, it was a different story. The Twins’ top prospect hit .287/.357/.653 in the final month with 29 hits, 24 runs, 22 RBI and nine home runs in 101 at-bats. Whether he hits at the front or back end of the Twins lineup in 2017, they’ll need him to manufacture runs with his speed on the base paths. Perhaps a good spring will propel Buxton to get off to a hot start in 2017.
What will the back-end of the bullpen look like?
One of the biggest storylines in 2017 – and, possibly the biggest question mark, as well – will be the return of former closer Glen Perkins to the Twins’ bullpen. Perkins pitched in only two games last season before being sidelined with a left shoulder injury. But the three-time All-Star is healthy again and will likely regain his closer role, despite the exceptional job by Brandon Kintzler, who saved 17 games in 20 opportunities, in Perkins’ absence. So will manager Paul Molitor have Kintzler pitch the eighth inning to set up Perkins? And where will newly acquired reliever Matt Belisle fit into the picture?
Will Jose Berrios develop into a full-time starter?
To say starting pitcher Jose Berrios had a rough first season in the big leagues might be an understatement. But the Twins’ top pitching prospect showed glimpses of his raw talent through his debut year, striking out 7.6 batters per nine innings and recording his first three career wins. Berrios will likely be a starter for Minnesota heading out of spring training, so further development in his game will be necessary if the Twins aim to contend this season.
Is Max Kepler ready to be the everyday right fielder?
Kepler took over in right field for the Twins in June and really exploded in July, when he hit eight home runs with 23 RBI in 25 games that month. Kepler finished the season with 17 home runs and 63 RBI. However, he tailed off at the end of the year, batting just .207/.255/.283 in 24 games in September and October. The left-handed Kepler didn't hit lefties particularly well (.203/.273/.322) and overall had a low batting average (.235) and on-base percentage (.309) but his power is undeniable and fits into what is usually expected from a right field. At just 24, he has room to improve and will get the shot for regular work off the bat.
Associated PressCarlos Osorio
Can Miguel Sano establish himself at third base?
Minnesota needs Sano's powerful bat in the lineup. That was evidenced when the Twins tried to make Sano their right fielder last season. That experiment ended when Sano returned from the disabled list in July due to a hamstring injury. It didn't help that he never looked comfortable out there and runners were taking advantage of his inexperience. Sano was moved to third base and committed 15 errors in 42 games (.896 fielding percentage), albeit he was thrust there and hadn't played there since appearing there for nine games in 2015 (0 errors in those games, by the way) as in spring training he was concentrating on the move to the outfield. He'll have an entire spring training to work on his play at third this year. Sano has 43 home runs in his first two seasons -- he'll be in the lineup, but Minnesota would prefer him not to be the team's designated hitter. So third base it will be for Sano in 2017. The Twins just don't want it to be another experiment.