It’s a new era, all right. Given carte blanche to raze the roster, new Twins bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine open the 2017 season with a radically reconfigured club that includes … let’s see … just five players who didn’t play for the Twins last year. Truthfully, Falvey and Levine are probably the most intriguing Twins employees of 2017, as they evaluate their assets and execute their blueprint for a team that has certainly avoided the weight of expectations following a disastrous, 103-loss crash landing. Here’s the team ...
Joe Mauer, 1B .261, 11 hr, 49 rbi
Paul Molitor hinted that he agrees the time has come to move the three-time batting champ down in the order — all the way to cleanup hitter. Regardless of whether that happens, his still-sharp ability to get on base is valued on a low-OBP team, though he will probably get more days off against lefthanders.
Brian Dozier, 2B .268, 42 hr, 99 rbi
Yes, you Twitter doubters, he hears you. He knows you think his 42 home runs were a fluke, that he’s an offensive bubble headed for a burst. Dozier has repeated several times that he intends to prove people wrong, but if he’s successful at it he becomes more likely to be marketed at the deadline.
Jorge Polanco, SS .282, 4 hr, 27 rbi
The second-baseman-in-waiting continues to wait for that opportunity, so the Twins have chosen to occupy the 23-year-old by moving him over to shortstop in the interim. Doubts about his range were dispelled in camp, where he looked more than adequate at his new position, and he showed surprising power.
Miguel Sano, 3B .236, 25 hr, 66 rbi
Some Twins insiders doubt that Sano-at-third-base will go much better than right field, but by releasing Trevor Plouffe, they’ve committed to a keep-Miguel-happy policy. It’s an understandable gamble; if the pitcher-eating monster of 2015 re-emerges, habitual strikeouts and errors will fade into mere annoyances.
Eddie Rosario, LF .269, 10 hr, 32 rbi
His young teammates get far more attention, but Rosario, still only 25, appears more permanently settled into a major league job. Still, his mid-May demotion to Rochester remains fresh, and he says he realizes he needs to gain a better grasp of the strike zone.
Byron Buxton, CF .225, 10 hr, 38 rbi
September was a lost month for the Twins, but not for their top prospect, who accomplished more in those 30 days than in the previous 18 months. His defense alone would keep him in the majors, but his confidence and strength have grown so much at the plate, he’ll hit in the middle, not at the bottom, of the lineup.
Max Kepler, RF .235, 17 hr, 63 rbi
No player has made bigger strides, year to year, than the German outfielder, and Paul Molitor said last week he’s optimistic that Kepler will continue that habit. An understandable streakiness (he’s barely 24) and perhaps his willingness to take unnecessary risks on defense are the deficiencies that need work.
Jason Castro, C .201,11 hr, 32 rbi (hou.)
The Twins’ emphasis on upgrading their defense appears most obvious in the signing of Castro, a catcher tasked with controlling the running game and helping pitchers gain strikes on borderline pitches. He showed encouraging pop at the plate, too, batting .281 with a pair of homers this spring.
Robbie Grossman, DH .280, 11 hr, 37 rbi
Worked hard all spring on improving his defense, but the Twins found a different solution: All of a sudden, he’s a designated hitter. Hard to tell how long he’ll hold that job, but his patience at the plate makes him a valuable bench player, too.
Chris Gimenez, C .216, 4 hr, 11 rbi (cle.)
He could write a book on impressing evaluators and winning jobs, because even at 34 he was an easy choice for backup catcher. The Twins love his versatility — he played left field and first base, too — plus his eagerness to work on his game and help pitchers. A good platoon fit with Castro, he’ll mostly face lefties.
Eduardo Escobar, SS .236, 6 hr, 37 rbi
Another year, another need to win a job. The popular utility infielder wasn’t given an opportunity to keep his old shortstop role, not after a disappointing 2016, and there were doubts about whether he could stave off Ehire Adrianza for the backup job. Injury intervened, but he could use a return to his 2015 form.
Danny Santana, OF .240, 2 hr, 14 rbi
Still says he prefers to play the infield, but it may have been his ability to cover ground in the outfield that kept him on the roster. Santana’s speed also makes him useful off the bench, though Grossman’s new role makes it more likely Santana will patrol the outfield a couple of times a week.
The starting rotation
Ervin Santana, RHP 7-11, 3.38 ERA
Even as he begins to show hints of aging, the 34-year-old Santana is by far the Twins’ best, most reliable and most serene pitcher. That makes him unlikely to finish 2017 in Minnesota; anything close to a normal season by the amiable righthander figures to ignite trade rumors.
Kyle Gibson, RHP 6-11, 5.07 era
Give the five-year veteran credit, he wasn’t willing to stay the course and simply hope his mediocre 2016 results improved organically. A new arm angle, buttressed by an unconventional workout regimen, carries some risk, but Gibson remains determined to be more than a back-end-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Adalberto Mejia, LHP 0-0, 7.71 era
A steady if unspectacular spring paid off for the big Dominican lefthander, who watched a series of unexpected circumstances derail one rotation candidate after another. He has strikeout-an-inning stuff and the frame of a workhorse; now in the rotation, he could be difficult to unseat for a long time.
Hector Santiago, LHP 3-6, 5.58 era
A fastball-heavy repertoire for a pitcher who rarely tops 92 mph seems a recipe for trouble, but somehow Santiago makes it work. Clean innings can be scarce, but the fast-working lefty has a knack for working his way out of difficulty by moving the ball around and surprising hitters with offspeed spinners.
Phil Hughes, RHP 1-7, 5.95 era
He’s a post-op patient, one rib lighter, so inconsistent results should be expected. Even healthy, though, his strikeout ability has significantly declined, while home runs have climbed. The Twins would probably be happy if he simply became an innings-eater.
Brandon Kintzler, RHP 0-2, 3.15 era, 17 sv.
He’s no lights-out closer, but he gave up only one run in March and doesn’t appear ready to cede the ninth-inning role. Oddly, the specter of Kevin Jepsen, who couldn’t repeat his success in the job last year, seems to produce the biggest doubts among fans.
Ryan Pressly, RHP 6-7, 3.70 era
Walks are down and strikeouts are up for a reliever who clearly gained Paul Molitor’s trust last year, when he quietly led the Twins in appearances and bullpen innings. At 28, he’s matured into a confident, unflappable presence.
Michael Tonkin, RHP 3-2, 5.02 era
Some preseason fantasy analysts called him a dark horse candidate to pick up saves for the Twins, because of his team-high strikeout rate. But his velocity too often is used against him, in the form of a high home-run rate.
Taylor Rogers, LHP 3-1, 3.96 era
Held lefthanders to a .202 average in 2016, so he’ll get a steady diet of the toughest lefty bats this season. He’s skinny and seemed to wear down in September, so Paul Molitor might focus on keeping him fresh.
Matt Belisle, RHP 0-0, 1.76 era (was.)
A spectacular resurgence the past two seasons earned this 36-year-old a job with the Twins, and he will probably be assigned a bigger role and more innings than he’s been given in a few seasons.
Craig Breslow, LHP 0-2, 4.50 era
People who own Yale degrees in molecular biophysics must find this baseball stuff pretty simple, because an increasingly ineffective Breslow simply engineered himself into a new pitcher. His semi-sidearm delivery has worked even better than he hoped.
Tyler Duffey, RHP 9-12, 6.43 era
Seemingly headed to the minors after losing a battle for a rotation spot, the curveball specialist was granted a reprieve so he can serve as long reliever, at least temporarily. Just being in the majors could get him back into the rotation if anyone falters.
Justin Haley, RHP no mlb experience
The Twins have a habit of keeping Rule 5 pitchers lately — Ryan Pressly and J.R. Graham were most recent examples — so granting Haley a roster spot after an up-and-down spring wasn’t a surprise. He’ll spend the season soaking up major league knowledge but probably pitching mostly in lost causes.