James Rowson doesn’t want the Twins moving forward without looking back.
So the team’s hitting coach gathered players during spring training and showed them a highlight film from 2017. Good at-bats. Clutch hits. The video was made with Rick Ross’ “Hustlin’ ” thumping in the background as the Twins enjoyed memories of a robust offense during the second half of last season.
“We talked about the positives,” Rowson said. “For me, it is building and moving forward. It is not forgetting the things we did to get to this point.”
The Twins offense was unspectacular for two-thirds of the season but surged during the final third. With Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario playing key roles, the Twins averaged 6.1 runs a game over their final 54 games after averaging 4.5 runs over their first 108. Their on-base-plus-slugging percentage was .730 through the first 108 games, .848 after it.
Brian Dozier hit .304 with 21 home runs over the final 71 games of the regular season. Joe Mauer batted .305 with a .384 on-base percentage. But what put the Twins over the top last year was the production of their developing hitters.
“They turned a corner,” Dozier said. “They turned the page with a lot of things within the game, learning to be a true professional, sticking to the same things that benefits you.”
Rosario, Rowson said, was the best example of such professional development. The 26-year-old left fielder hit .290 last season — .298 over the final 54 games — by developing a routine that fit him. He lowered his strikeout rate from 25.7 percent in 2016 to 18 percent last season.
“He’s really learning as he goes on,” Rowson said. “He’s maturing as a hitter and understanding of what he wants to see, what the opposing pitcher does, how to watch video correctly.”
Buxton, 24, went to the next level. After hitting .217 over the first 108 games, he had a .305 average with a .913 on-base-plus-slugging percentage the rest of the way.
“You build off that second half he had,” Rowson said. “If he hits that wall again he understands he can get through those tough times.”
Right fielder Max Kepler, 25, who hit .243 with 19 home runs and 67 RBI last season, has yet to break through. Kepler spent time with Justin Morneau and Logan Morrison this spring. Morneau offered advice on preparing for games, and Morrison showed him drills to help him drive pitches that are down and in.
“[Adjustments] have been the case in every aspect of the game,” Kepler said. “I’m prepared for that.”
Third baseman Miguel Sano, 24, returns as the biggest power threat in the lineup. He has 40-homer potential but was on pace for a major league record in strikeouts, so there’s a trade-off.
The Twins will play their first 80 games without Polanco, who hit .215 over the first 108 games but batted .318 the rest of the way with a .941 OPS. The 24-year-old shortstop will serve a suspension for a positive drug test.
“There are a lot of ways offenses roll,” Molitor said. “We’re going to have a few things to keep us going if we happen to be missing any one of our components at any one time.”