One of the few questions surrounding the Twins with under three weeks to Opening Day in Oakland is the health of their outfield.
Byron Buxton and Max Kepler are both working their way back from offseason injuries, and while Kepler has played in three games in spring, Buxton has yet to make an appearance.
But Twins President Dave St. Peter said that all indications are that Buxton will be ready after hitting a career-high .262 last season with 10 home runs, 46 RBI, 30 doubles and an .827 OPS in just 87 games.
“He looks great. He’s coming off of surgery that he had, remember, and he followed that plan to a ‘T’ and he looks incredibly strong,” St. Peter said of the Twins’ Gold Glove center fielder. “I know [manager] Rocco Baldelli is going to ease him into games here in the near future, and we expect him and certainly believe he will be full-go going into the season on March 26 in Oakland.”
Kepler, meanwhile, posted career highs across the board with a .252 average, 36 homers, 90 RBI, 98 runs scored, 132 hits and an .855 OPS.
“We liked the way he conducted his business,’’ St. Peter said of Kepler this spring. ‘‘He had a huge breakout year last year mainly playing center field, and I think he’s excited to return to right field, where he’s incrementally more comfortable,” St. Peter said. “We know what he can do with the bat. Again he will be in the lineup in spring training here in the days to come, but he is healthy and ready to go.”
Should reach 2.5 million
The Twins drew 2.3 million fans last season, a figure that trailed only the Yankees, Angels, Red Sox and Astros in the American League, and also marked the Twins’ highest ticket sales since 2013.
“We’re excited about where we are with the ticket sales side, we’re going to be up on season tickets by probably 10 or 15 percent. … For the home opener on April 2nd, we’re approaching a sellout,” St. Peter said. “We’re gunning for total attendance hopefully more so in the 2.5 million range, which would be a couple hundred thousand more fans from what we drew a year ago, which was 2.3 million. We’re feeling good. Tremendous interest in Twins baseball and certainly our fan base is excited for the season.”
Donaldson leads off the field
One of the biggest reasons for that excitement is that the team went out and made multiple moves to try and improve on a squad that won the American League Central last season.
The biggest addition was third baseman Josh Donaldson, and St. Peter said the impression the former American League MVP has made with the club has been fantastic.
Donaldson has played in five games in spring training, hitting .250 (4-for-16) with two doubles.
“Josh Donaldson has been everything we could have asked for and more. He is tremendously supportive of young players, he has made a great impression with his work ethic and with the way he goes about his business. He is a dynamic individual,” St. Peter said. “He’s an intense competitor but also, from our point of view, a great teammate. He came to the Twins because we wanted him in Minnesota, but he ultimately sees this as a path to compete for a world championship.
“He is going to help us win, and he’s going to have high expectations about those around him having the same aspirations about winning every single day. That is a great addition to our culture over time.”
Pitching staff nearly set
Last season the Twins finished fifth in the American League in ERA at 4.18, and the front office of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine made a big effort to improve that group. St. Peter said four of the five starters should be in place.
“I would be surprised if Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi and Homer Bailey, certainly Kenta Maeda, didn’t form four-fifths of our starting rotation,” St. Peter said. “I know there is competition for that fifth spot, understanding that Michael Pineda is not going to be ready to go until the month of May and Rich Hill won’t be able to go until the month of June, at the earliest. There is a number of arms competing for that fifth spot, whether it be Devin Smeltzer or Randy Dobnak or Sean Poppen or Jhoulys Chacin, who is a free agent we invited to camp who has had success with Milwaukee of late.
“We have great competition in camp, and I think Rocco Baldelli and [pitching coach] Wes Johnson are very much encouraged that not only will we have a tough decision to make for that fifth starter but we’ll have the depth that we need over the course of the long season.”
St. Peter has been with this club for 29 seasons, and he said the expectations around both the front office and the team have never been higher.
“I think that this year’s team at spring training is probably incrementally more confident than we were a year ago,” he said. “Frankly, expectations are higher both internally and externally. That’s something that we welcome.”
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