The Twins emerged from the darkness this year, breaking a string of four straight 90-loss seasons by adding 13 wins to their 2014 total.
Many good things happened to make this possible. Here are five worth focusing on.
1. Miguel Sano showed MVP-caliber hitting ability.
We knew Sano, a top prospect and big performer in the minors, was going to be an impact player in the lineup. It was hard to anticipate him being quite this good, this fast.
Sano played 80 games for the Twins this year – about half a season's worth. If you double his production, you get 36 home runs, 34 doubles, 104 RBI and 106 walks. Among players that logged 300 or more plate appearances in the majors, his OPS (.936) ranked 11th and his walk rate (1.56 percent) ranked sixth. He did all this as a 22-year-old coming off an entire missed season and getting his first taste of the majors.
Sano will enter the 2016 campaign as a 23-year-old with a bit of experience under his belt, and as the unquestioned cornerstone of the Minnesota lineup. He'll be a popular preseason MVP sleeper among analysts, regardless of what position he's playing.
2. Eduardo Escobar locked up the shortstop position.
Shortstop has been a constant problem area for the Twins for many years. Over the last decade they have had nine different Opening Day starters at the position, and with few exceptions, all have been bad.
That's why Escobar's strong season was such a revelation for the franchise. If there were questions about the legitimacy of his breakthrough offensive performance in 2014 (.721 OPS and 35 doubles in 133 games), he did plenty to silence them with an even better 2015. After taking over shortstop from Danny Santana for good at the end of July, Escobar hit .278/.337/.505 with eight homers in 56 games.
He did that while providing a steady and reliable glove at shortstop, committing only four errors there on the season (compared to 16 for Santana). Escobar has piled up 90 extra-base hits in 260 games. His power is a rare commodity at shortstop, where the average AL player slugged .380 this year, lowest of any position. His .445 slugging percentage on the season would have ranked second among MLB shortstops, ahead of Troy Tulowitzki.
Escobar turns 27 in January.
3. Jose Berrios maintained his luster at the highest levels.
In 2014, Berrios had a monster season that saw him climb from Single-A to Triple-A, while also climbing prospect lists and establishing himself as a clear cut top-tier talent in the minors. His 2015 season was better by leaps and bounds.
The right-hander basically replicated his production from a year ago, but did so while spending the entire season in Double-A and Triple-A. Despite being one of the youngest players to throw a pitch in the International League, he dominated it as he has every other, posting a 2.62 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with a phenomenal 83-to-14 K/BB ratio in 75 innings.
The huge season was rendered all the more crucial by Alex Meyer's unraveling. Berrios now stands as the lone pitching prospect in Minnesota's high minors with true top-of-the-rotation potential. Fortunately, he's a hell of a prospect. He's the best young arm the Twins have brought along since Francisco Liriano, and he seems capable of making a similar impact based on his demolishment of opponents at every level.
4. Trevor May excelled in two different roles.
Following his disastrous seven-walk MLB debut in Oakland, May posted an excellent 44-to-13 K/BB ratio in his final nine appearances last season. Though his 7.42 ERA didn't show it, he was on the right track.
This year, May took a big step forward, with the results backing up the rock-solid peripherals. He showed steady improvement as a starter through the first half, and was just hitting his stride in June before being sent to the bullpen as victim of a numbers crunch. There, May showed the makings of a lock-down reliever.
He gives the Twins a dynamic weapon on the pitching staff, and one they sorely needed. He looks like a solid mid-rotation starter with potential to be more, or else a dominating late-inning reliever. He's young and will be cheap for many years. Major asset.
5. Eddie Rosario's exceptional athleticism paid big dividends.
I'll admit to being a little skeptical of Rosario due to his production drop-off in the high minors and his questionable plate discipline. The latter was on display during his rookie year but it didn't seem to matter a whole lot. Rosario displayed stunning power for his smallish frame, racking up 46 extra-base hits – including a league-leading 15 triples – after being called up in early May. While his approach at the plate was anything but patient, his quick wrists and coordination enabled him to make hard contact with tough pitches.
With his speed and strength, if he starts to get a better handle on the strike zone he has All-Star upside, especially since he's a fantastic defender in the outfield corners.
These five players, all under the age of 28, present five reasons that Twins fans should feel very good about the team's future.