Hope and renewal are the currency of Opening Day, and while the Twins tried to hawk both Sunday, it’s not clear they have the inventory on hand, not with 103 losses still so fresh.
“There hasn’t been a lot to cheer about, at least very consistently for a while,” manager Paul Molitor empathized. “We understand our fans are looking for hope.”
True. But his players are looking for more than that. The 2017 season might be about long-term development and incremental growth, but not to Brian Dozier. Before participating in Sunday’s Target Field workout, the second baseman made it clear he wants to participate in a few here in October, too.
“I don’t buy into the fact that we’re rebuilding. I don’t buy into the fact that a winning record and still not getting to the postseason could be considered a successful year,” Dozier said.
Pointing at Molitor, Dozier said: “[He] is a world champion. Guys have been to the playoffs. I’ve never been. … I promise you when we take the field, there’s nothing short of the goal of reaching the postseason. And if you don’t, then I don’t consider it a success.”
That’s bold talk, but it’s the magic of Opening Day, too. Yes, the Twins believe they’re a much improved team.
“I’m not going to make any outlandish predictions, and I’m not going to put any limitations,” Molitor said. “Baseball is certainly a game of momentum and confidence. I agree with Brian — if you don’t envision a way you can win, then you shouldn’t be out there.”
The Twins and Royals will be out there Monday, one trying to recapture their recent World Series glory, the other trying to picture it. The Twins will be using one of their youngest lineups in years, with five players 25 or younger. And while Dozier’s exhortations and pledges are well-meaning, there is no way to pinpoint the moment when prospects turn into icons, or at least occasional All-Stars.
Which is why Molitor closed his preseason news conference Sunday with a surprisingly plaintive plea to greater Minnesota.
“Be open-minded,” he suggested. “Come out and see us.”
What will you see? Dozier trying to prove his power surge is real, and Kyle Gibson relying on new mechanics. Jason Castro trying to guide a pitching staff, and Brandon Kintzler blossoming, he hopes, into a late-career closer.
But mostly? Growing pains.
Byron Buxton will be challenged to build on his euphoric September breakthrough. Miguel Sano will be encouraged to reign in his worst impulses and channel his rookie-year self. Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler will be given room to touch up their deficiencies, shortstop Jorge Polanco to adjust to a new and critical position, and Adalberto Mejia (and soon enough, Jose Berrios) will be given a stage to show they belong.
“While ideally, you like to see all young players get to the big leagues and succeed right away, that’s just not the way it happens,” said Derek Falvey, the new Twins chief baseball officer. “You need to afford players a runway to grow and develop. We have some young players that I’m confident will be part of our core moving forward, and we want to make sure they’re given that opportunity.”
Does that mean Buxton stays, even if the batting average doesn’t climb? That Sano remains at third even if he looks like the right field version? That Mejia survives a couple of bad starts, or Polanco a few errors?
Could be. “The reality is, we’re looking to build this into a long-term, sustainable team,” Falvey said. “Making shortsighted decisions can take you off that path. If you cut the cord too early, you may look up later and regret that move.”