Top prospects must be stars
Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano remain two of the most prodigiously talented youngsters in baseball. Any projected Twins success was based on the two becoming stars. They haven’t, not yet, and that has left the 2016 Twins with a roster filled with average players who are underperforming.
If Buxton had broken through offensively this season, the Twins would have had an incredibly fast run-producer at the top of their lineup, and a Gold Glove-caliber fielder in center. If Sano had hit this season the way he did last summer, the top of the Twins’ lineup might have been fearsome instead of pathetic. If they had taken the lead, perhaps players like Brian Dozier wouldn’t have felt so pressured to produce big numbers.
Buxton and Sano are the Twins’ two most important dominoes, and they’ve fallen the wrong way this season.
Hunter’s absence hurts
Torii Hunter's fire hasn't been replaced
The Twins are on their way to losing 90 games for the fifth time in six years. The only time during that stretch they posted a winning record was with Torii Hunter on the roster. That is not a coincidence.
Hunter not only instigated dance parties into what had been a ridiculously passive and unproductive clubhouse, he brought fire to the dugout. He screamed at teammates who lacked fire. He pushed teammates to study opposing pitchers and dissect the game. He got big hits. He played hard. And his fire allowed Paul Molitor to be his usual, calm self, because Molitor knew Hunter would add heat to his messages.
The only current player who had a chance to take over Hunter’s leadership role was Brian Dozier, who is affable by nature and has never won anything. Dozier’s season-long slump robbed him of a chance to at least try out the role of clubhouse leader.
Dozier has failed
There's no argument: Brian Dozier has hurt more than he's helped
Brian Dozier has led the Twins in home runs for three straight seasons. He was an All-Star last year. He is an excellent fielder and above-average baserunner. He has a winning personality and an admirable work ethic. And he’s failing.
His approach at the plate has left him vulnerable to outside pitches and he has failed to counterpunch, instead too often trying to pull outside pitches to left field. His track record suggests this is just an extended slump and that he will eventually become a dangerous hitter again, but his slump coincided with and helped cause one of the worst stretches of team baseball in franchise history.
With Buxton in the minors and Sano trying to find his swing, the Twins needed Dozier to again be their best player, and he has been far from that.