Overview (Present Rank: 29th | Future Rank: 17th)
Ever since Kirby Puckett’s legendary walk-off home run highlighted Minnesota’s 1991 World Series victory, the Twins haven't been able to return to the Fall Classic one single time. In their only three playoff appearances over the last ten years, they were swept in the divisional round each time. They have also failed to reach the postseason in each of the last five seasons. Ron Gardenhire was finally relieved of his duties after owning a 6-21 playoff record over 13 years as Minnesota’s manager. Considering the Twins couldn't win a single postseason series with Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan on the roster for a majority of those years, it's clear that talent wasn't the issue.
The Twins hired Paul Molitor to right the ship after finishing his Hall of Fame playing career in Minneapolis almost two decades ago. Nobody expected the Twins to come anywhere close to playoff contention last year with such a young roster, but Molitor’s squad managed to finish second in the division behind the eventual World Champs, Kansas City Royals. With an abundant amount of young talent in place, Minnesota is hoping to turn things around quickly and reestablish themselves as World Series contenders.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 2, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
Kurt Suzuki’s lack of offensive upside and defensive ineptitude may be a turnoff to some, but his veteran leadership is what Minnesota really values. Suzuki is nothing special behind the plate, but he gets the job done. He could even mentor newly acquired John Ryan Murphy and prospect Stuart Turner throughout the season. Suzuki will have his team option for 2017 guaranteed if he reaches 485 plate appearances. The only way that Twins management will allow that to happen is if Suzuki stays fully healthy, and John Ryan Murphy hasn’t shown enough progress to take over the position.
Even when playing for (and succeeding with) the Evil Empire, there was never much attention on the 25 year-old Murphy. After two minor stints in 2013 and 2014, Murphy finally broke his rookie eligibility last year with 155 quality Major League at-bats. Over the offseason, the Yankees and Twins made a rare one-for-one player trade with each team attaining a young player at a position of need. With Suzuki possibly entering his walk year, Murphy could take the role over in 2017. The 2009 second round pick has been inconsistent against minor league pitching in his professional career, but his glove has always received enough praise to warrant starting consideration.
It seemed Mitch Garver was going to give Turner a run for his money at becoming the Twins catcher of the future entering the 2015 season. But after struggling in High-A ball as a 24 year-old, his prospect evaluation had to get re-calibrated. Turner though held onto his prospect rating, although it did suffer when he disappointed in Double-A. Turner has two things going for him: his framing skills and a strong arm. At the very least, he’ll be a defensive-minded backup catcher. If he improves with his bat at all, he’ll give the Twins a player they can rely upon on both sides of the ball.
Future Outlook: Find out if Turner or Murphy is the answer
There are a lot of question marks surrounding the future of the Twins’ catching situation. One thing is clear though, and that’s that Kurt Suzuki won’t be a part of it for much longer as he can depart from the team after this season if he doesn’t register 485 plate appearances. Minnesota just acquired John Ryan Murphy over the offseason because of Turner’s disappointing performance at the plate thus far. Stuart Turner could still become the Twins’ future catcher, but he’ll have to improve at the plate. If not, Murphy could take over the role assuming he can shake off the inconsistencies that plagued him in the minors.
Joe Mauer, once one of the best catchers in the game, now finds himself as a below-average first baseman. The move to first base was simple: Mauer was getting injured often, and having to catch everyday weren’t helping his knees get any younger. After Justin Morneau departed the North Star State, Mauer’s move over to first became inevitable. Mauer is now turning 33 years old this year, and has seen his effectiveness at the plate decline in each of the past three seasons. He can still hit well, but a return to the disabled list or any further decline would make an exit after his franchise-record 8yr/184MM contract expires much more likely.
Despite coming in with no expectations as a non-drafted free agent seven years ago, Kennys Vargas has been a disappointment thus far. After a promising debut in 2014 that saw him bat .274/.316/.456 over 53 games, Vargas struggled in his sophomore campaign. Minnesota GM Terry Ryan demoted the 290 lb Puerto Rican all the way to Double-A after the slow start. He posted similarly impressive batting lines in both Double-A and Triple-A, but at 24 years old, Minnesota expected more. At this point, with Mauer, Kepler, and newly imported Byung ho Park all in place for the next three plus years, Vargas has become expendable.
Future Outlook: Three more years of Mauer
The face of the franchise has unquestionably been Joe Mauer for the past decade. Now the franchise icon isn’t as productive as he used to be. He isn’t as valuable either as he contributes his offensive production from first base and not as a catcher anymore. Still, Mauer gets the job done, and sells a lot of tickets doing it. Mauer will have to be on the shelf for a while, or really deteriorate over these next three years for the Twins to not consider extending him for the remainder of his career. Mauer is the type of player the Twins could keep for life. If not though, they have options. Max Kepler is one of the team’s top prospects, and will warrant playing time soon enough. While he could go in the outfield, the Twins already have a wealth of quality, young outfielders they could plug in there. After Mauer’s monster contract expires in 2018, the Twins will have a serious decision at hand.
It’s not everyday a team employs a leadoff Second Baseman who also drills 28 home runs. That’s exactly what Minnesota did last year, and plans to do again this year. Brian Dozier didn’t shy away from the pressure of batting leadoff as he knocked six of his 28 bombs over as the first batter of the game. As a former eighth round pick, Dozier has earned every promotion he’s gotten, and has now emerged as one of the league’s top-10 second baseman. As long as Dozier can shake off the second half slump he went through last year (.639 OPS vs. .841), he could remain one of the better power hitting infielders for Minnesota until his contract expires after the 2018 season.
Eduardo Nunez was another player that the Twins acquired from the Pinstripes, but one whose deal few much more under the radar. Since the trade, Nunez has filled in admirably as a middle infield utility player. After posting a .758 OPS in 2015, he could be on the verge of becoming one of the best utility players in the league. Considering his OPS was .654 in 2014, he’ll have to repeat his 2015 success to be recognized as such. He’ll have at least two more seasons in Minneapolis to prove he belongs in that conversation.
(EDIT: In the midst of a breakout season, the Twins sold high on Eduardo Nunez, trading him to the San Francisco Giants for LHP Adalberto Mejia. Click here to see how the versatile Nunez will fit on the Giants' depth chart going forward [7/28/16]).
Future Outlook: Dozier drops bombs, but he’s a free agent in three years
Brian Dozier has emerged as the biggest power hitter among all second basemen. The Twins have him under contract for the next three years. Eduardo Nunez provides Minnesota with a great utility player for when Dozier needs rest or if players get injured. The Twins have zero second baseman of note in their farm system. They could utilize the wealth of shortstops in their system by putting one on the right side of the infield. Until then, Minnesota would be wise to invest on developing a premium player at the position, whether that be through the draft (five top-100 picks starting at 15th overall) or through the international market. The best alternative might be trading one of their quality shortstops for a player they can plug in at second base.
Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana have been battling for playing time at shortstop for the better part of the last year. Escobar will be handed the reigns to start the season, but any slip up could pave way for Santana to emerge as the starter. Santana was given every opportunity to take over the position the past two years, but a disappointing 277 plate appearances in 2015 has now put Escobar in complete control of his destiny. Neither player has been anything more than adequate at the plate, while Escobar has graded out as the better defender. Once Jorge Polanco establishes himself in the show, Escobar and Santana could both settle into utility roles soon.
Speaking of the Dominican native, his excellent bat speed has elevated him to being the team’s No. 6 prospect (according to Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus). Some evaluators believe the 5’11”, 22 year-old will have to eventually move away from shortstop, but his solid range and above-average arm leave the possibility of remaining at short. Polanco might never hit for much power, but has the contact skills that could play up against Major League pitching today. Polanco might fit better at second base, but after Dozier’s recent emergence, shortstop seems more likely for the time being.
The silver lining to the Twins’ lack of success recently is an abundance of high draft picks. Minnesota has utilized a top-6 pick in each of the last four drafts to select Byron Buxton (MLB’s No. 2 overall prospect; according to Baseball Prospectus), Kohl Stewart (Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect; according to BP), Nick Gordon (MLB’s No. 53 prospect; according to Baseball America), and Tyler Jay (MLB’s No. 81 prospect; according to BA).
Nick Gordon has distinguished himself by cultivating a variety of above-average tools. Gordon projects to hit for average, run well, be a solid fielder, and have a strong throwing arm. He might not hit for much power, but Minnesota has never asked for that from their shortstops anyways. What he can do is get on base, move around the basepaths well and score some runs. Similar to his brother and two-time All-Star, Dee Gordon, but with the arm strength that is required to play shortstop.
Jermaine Palacios impressed Twins executives in his first full season against professional pitching. Typically, rookie-ball performances don’t mean much, but posting a .939 OPS at any level as a 18 year-old will turn some heads. Palacios’ calm approach helps illustrate his stellar plate discipline which should translate into a plus hit tool at the big league level. Palacios lacks power, but makes up for it with the athleticism to handle multiple infield positions. It might be a while until Palacios makes his debut, but he could emerge as the Twins best infielder come 2020. Unless of course, Wander Javier translates his tools into production by then, but now he’s just a raw teenager with a lot of development ahead of him.
Future Outlook: Plenty of options to choose from
The Twins have been stockpiling talent at shortstop for years, and management is finally about to see that talent prove their worth inside the confines of Target Field. Minnesota hasn’t sent a shortstop to the All-Star game since 2001 when Christian Guzman earned the nod. Even with Eduardo Escobar, Danny Santana, Jorge Polanco, Nick Gordon, and Jermaine Palacios in tact, that streak doesn’t look close to ending anytime soon.
Despite the lack of an all-star presence, the combination of options make for an interesting manifestation. Escobar and Santana may be better suited for utility roles opening up a spot for Polanco to take the reigns. Once Nick Gordon is ready to make his debut, Polanco could make a smooth transition over to second base. Palacios is the wild card here as he has the lowest floor of the bunch, however with a fairly high ceiling. If he makes the right adjustments, he could emerge as the best of the bunch.
Trevor Plouffe is a player that comes with positives and negatives. Driving in 86 runs and scoring 74 more highlight the positives as Plouffe was quite the run producer for Minnesota last season. In addition, his 22 home runs were tied for the ninth most among third baseman in 2015. His miniscule OBP (.307), struggles against right-handed pitching (.242/.293/.434), and decline down the stretch last season represent the key negatives. Plouffe might have to step up his game in those categories if he wants any chance of holding off uber prospect Miguel Sano from taking his spot at the hot corner.
The Twins have loaded up their farm system in recent years with Miguel Sano standing out specifically within the organization. Sano’s successful debut earned him third place in American League Rookie of the Year voting, which is even more impressive considering 2015’s historic rookie class. Even at 22 years old, Sano be a middle-of-the-order bat for the Twinkies in 2016. Sano’s terrible plate discipline (35.5% strikeout rate) will improve as he gains experience which will directly correlate with his offensive production. Sano will never be the greatest fielder, but he has a rocket for an arm that will be needed at third base or right field.
Trey Cabbage and Travis Blankenhorn could eventually suit up in Twinstripes, but each 2015 draft pick is less than a year removed from high school. They both have a lot of developing to go through before the Major Leagues look like a realistic possibility.
Future Outlook: Plouffe is mediocre, but Sano is not
Trevor Plouffe is under team control for two more seasons. Which means the Twins will get decent production at the third base for the next two years. However, Minnesota doesn’t have to settle with decent. Miguel Sano proved last year he was ready to take on Major League pitching, and despite being slated to start the season in right field, third base is his natural home. Minnesota’s crowded outfield situation could force Sano to move back to the hot corner as soon as next year making Trevor Plouffe a trade candidate before he hits the market after 2017.
The 2nd overall pick from the 2012 draft has been a mainstay on prospect lists since entering the league. Byron Buxton was the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball before the 2014 and 2015 seasons according to both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus. After his call-up last year, he was one at-bat shy of losing his rookie eligibility. Keeping the prospect qualification, most evaluators placed him second on their prospect lists heading into 2016 (behind Dodgers SS Corey Seager). His freak athleticism and ability to hit the ball has scouts drooling over his overall potential. Highlight plays on defense, stolen bases, and gap-to-gap power are all what makes Buxton so special. The Twins are looking to make Buxton their starting center fielder heading into 2016. It shouldn’t be long before he becomes a fixture in their lineup, and possibly future All-Star lineups as well.
While Miguel Sano stole most of the headlines, Eddie Rosario quietly had an effective rookie campaign as well. Rosario wasn’t as highly touted as Sano coming up through the ranks, but Rosario’s hit tool was always among the best in the system. Some have questioned his makeup and character in the past, especially after his drug suspension, but he’s proven that to unproblematic. His horrendous plate discipline (24.9% strikeout rate in 2015) might hold him back from reaching that all-star plateau, but Rosario could still fit in a solid all-around contributor.
In addition to Buxton, Sano, and Rosario, the Twins have another young outfielder that is primed to emerge as a cornerstone for this team going forward. However, Oswaldo Arcia’s future outlook has never been cloudier after struggling in both Triple-A and the Majors in 2015. He’s still just 24 years old though, and hopes to put his injury problems behind him. Arcia can play either corner outfield spot which will increase the amount of opportunities he’ll receive to prove himself as an everyday player.
The Twins have yet another player with a top prospect pedigree (currently the team’s No. 3 prospect according to Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus). Max Kepler cruised through Double-A pitching last year with a quick and effortless swing that drove balls to the gaps consistently while simultaneously being able to generate plenty of walks as well. The power in his swing typically causes balls to go to the wall, not over it. However, Kepler could reach 10-15 homers in the Majors with regularity once he adds to his 6’4” frame. Lacking power at first base is uncommon, but if Kepler can keep his OBP up with an excellent approach at the plate along with outstanding contact, the Twins could have a perfect No. 2 hitter in their lineup. Kepler’s athleticism could also work at first base if that’s what the Twins need.
The Twins also have Travis Harrison, LaMonte Wade, Adam Brett Walker, Tanner English, and Daniel Palka all in the lower levels of Minnesota’s system that could eventually make the big league roster. None of these players project to be anything more than a fourth outfielder, but Harrison and Wade’s overall abilities give them the best chance at contributing against Major League pitching.
Future Outlook: Plenty of upside to look forward to
The Twins have five potential impact players that could all man the outfield in Target Field some day. Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia, Miguel Sano, and Max Kepler could all become All-Star caliber players if they reach their full potential. Sano and Kepler have the versatility to play in the corner infield, but Rosario, Buxton, and Arcia are all stuck in the outfield. Buxton is clearly the cream of the crop, but Minnesota’s wealth of quality, young outfielders could elevate the Twins into possessing the best outfield in the league.
While many expected Miguel Sano to retain his role of Designated Hitter, GM Terry Ryan had other plans. Ryan mixed things up by signing Korean standout Byung-ho Park on a 4yr/$12MM deal. An excellent move by Ryan secured a low-risk, high-reward type player that could potentially be a prominent name in the heart of the lineup. Park has decimated Korean pitching by slugging 105 home runs in just the past two seasons combined. The "Barry Bonds of the Korean League” will now have to prove he can do damage against the best pitchers the world has to offer.
Future Outlook: All on Park’s shoulders
The future of the DH position in Minneapolis rests solely on Byung-ho Park’s shoulders. That’s what Terry Ryan made clear when he brought Park aboard on a four-year contract. Park has raw power that is rivaled by few, and 2016 will be a great indicator as to whether Park can capitalize on that or falter as he transitions to a whole new life in America.
Originally a part of the Gio Gonzalez blockbuster, Tommy Milone was then shipped to Minnesota for the services of bench player, Sam Fuld. Milone has seen his value fluctuate, but after a solid season in Minnesota’s rotation in 2015, Milone’s stock has never been higher. Despite the positive results, he’s still the same southpaw that has a high-80’s fastball, and no dominant out pitch to make up for it. A season worth of 140-180 innings with an ERA around 4.00 seems like what the Twins can expect out of the former 10th rounder these days.
Despite throwing over 199 innings last year (including the minors and the Arizona Fall League), Taylor Rogers’ best fit on the Minnesota Twins roster may be in the bullpen. Rogers doesn’t have overpowering stuff on the mound, but his lanky frame and deceptive curveball makes him a tough pitcher to face from a left-handed hitter’s perspective. He’ll likely get a shot to stick in the rotation, but once it becomes clear his changeup isn’t effective enough to get righties out, a spot in the bullpen as a lefty specialist seems ideal for the 25 year-old.
Lewis Thorpe and Mason Melotakis were both brought into the Twins organization in the middle of 2015. Coincidentally, both underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2015 season as a result. Now, each player is trying to bounce back to his old, dominant ways. Thorpe’s successful run in Single-A ball was much more impressive as a 18 year-old than Melotakis’ solid 2014 season in High-A ball as a 23 year-old. Many evaluators see Malotakis’ future role in the bullpen because of a high effort delivery and season-ending surgery already on his resume. Thorpe’s future outlook is more up in the air, but he has the better chance to stick in the rotation.
The two left-handed gems the Twins expect the most out of, Tyler Jay and Stephen Gonsalves, will both be starting the year in High-A ball. Tyler Jay was a dominant reliever at the University of Illinois, and will be looking to translate that success into the pro’s. The Twins had enough faith in the 21 year-old southpaw to take him sixth overall in last year’s MLB draft. They believe his curveball and changeup will eventually develop into major league caliber pitches. He could become a quality mid-rotation starter if he can harness the command of those offspeed pitches. If not, he still has the floor of a dominant relief pitcher with a plus fastball and plus-plus slider already a part of his arsenal.
Stephen Gonsalves on the other hand throws three average/above average pitches as a 21 year-old with a chance to add a slider to the mix as well. He is bound for the rotation one way or another as his development over these next few years will be the difference in him being a No. 2 starter or a No. 5 starter. The only reason he fell to the fourth round in 2013’s draft was due to a high school suspension. Standing at 6’5”, Gonsalves has the projectable frame scouts love. The Twins have been working with him on tweaking his mechanics. It’ll be interesting to see if fixing those logistics will elevate Gonsalves into a legitimate starting pitcher once he reaches the bigs.
(EDIT: The team added to it's pair of promising lefties with Adalberto Mejia from the San Francisco Giants in the Eduardo Nunez swap. Click here to read more about what Mejia will bring to the Twin Cities [7/28/16]).
Future Outlook: Jay and Gonsalves could become two quality lefties
The Minnesota Twins thought a lot of Tyler Jay to select him sixth overall and ink him with a $3.9MM signing bonus (the full slot value). His fastball and slider would play up in the bullpen, but if he can develop his curveball and changeup, Jay would become an enticing starting pitcher. Gonsalves fell to Minnesota in the fourth round of his respective draft due to makeup concerns after a high school suspension. He has proven those concerns to be irrelevant as he has succeeded against every level of competition in his professional career. Lewis Thorpe could also join the duo in the future rotation if he can come back from Tommy John surgery. Tommy Milone is nothing special in Minnesota’s present day rotation, but Jay and Gonsalves have all the makings of potential superstars at the next level.
Besides Milone, the rest of Minnesota’s 2016 rotation throws from the right side starting with Kyle Gibson. Gibson was the only Twins pitcher to eclipse 160 innings last year as he finished the season with 195. As Gibson enters his age-28 season, the Twins are hoping he can finally evolve into the pitcher they envisioned when they selected him 22nd overall in 2009. After finishing in the bottom-10 in strikeout rate, Gibson finally struck out over 17% of the batters he faced in 2015. Less use of his average fastball, and a heavier reliance on his offspeed pitches were the main ingredients in Gibson’s improvement. If he can keep those numbers trending upward, the Twins could finally have an ace caliber pitcher, instead of naming someone their ace because of a lack of competition.
While the Twins are hoping Gibson can step into the ace role this year, Ervin Santana was the man leading Minnesota’s pitching staff down the stretch last season. Santana has built a reputation as one of baseball’s most inconsistent pitchers, and that continued in 2015. Santana owned ERA’s of 3.78, 7.11, and 1.88 in the months of July, August, and September showcasing how boom or bust the 33 year-old can be. Before last year’s suspension, he went five straight seasons of pitching 175+ innings including three seasons of 210+ innings of work. If he can stay healthy and avoid suspension, expect Santana to have another season of 175+ innings with an ERA between 3.50-4.00.
Phil Hughes was a disappointment in the Big Apple after being a first round draft pick. The Twins saw enough of the former Yankee to give him a 1yr/$8MM deal. After having a resurgent year in 2014 that earned him Cy Young Award votes thanks to the best strikeout-to-walk rate in MLB history, Minnesota gave him a 5yr/$58MM extension. He inevitably took a step back in 2015, but still showed the command that made him successful in 2014. The pitcher-friendly Target Field is the perfect place for him to pitch, so perhaps he can keep the resurgence going.
After a terrible major league debut that included six earned runs, one strikeout, and two walks in two innings, Tyler Duffey settled down to have a terrific rookie season. Duffey wasn’t a polarizing name in the Twins minor league system since none of his pitches jump off the page. However, Minnesota’s player development department deserves some praise for working with Duffey in fixing his mechanics that allow him to command his pitches much better. Duffey induces a lot of fly balls, so having a future outfield of Rosario, Buxton, and Arcia in the sizable Target Field could help Duffey keep the good performances coming.
After a strong contract year in 2013, Terry Ryan thought enough of Ricky Nolasco’s skillset to sign him to a 4yr/$49MM contract. Nolasco has been a gigantic disappointment so far in his two years playing for Minnesota. Nolasco has pitched 196 innings over the last two seasons registering a 5.64 ERA, and the lackluster peripherals to match. There’s not much hope around the league Nolasco will ever go back to the workhorse that averaged 199 innings a year from 2011-2013. Now, Twins fans are forced to watch the opposing offense have a field day every fifth day when Nolasco takes the hill.
The three notable righties in Minnesota’s farm system are Jose Berrios, Alex Meyer, and Kohl Stewart. Berrios is the only one of the three that is listed on national prospect rankings cracking the top-30 on Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, and MLB.com’s top-100 lists. The 2012 first round pick has excelled at every stop on his journey to the show. His most recent success includes a minor league-leading 175 strikeouts over 166 innings in Double-A and Triple-A. Berrios’ mid-90’s heater combined with his deceptive changeup and devastating curve give him three pitches that should all be above-average. After some seasoning in Triple-A, Berrios could become a prime Rookie of the Year contender in 2016.
Alex Meyer was looking like a possible Rookie of the Year contender going into the 2015 season, but a steep decline in production which culminated in a demotion to the bullpen suppressed those rumblings. Meyer still has the same height (6’9”) and velocity (94-98 MPH) to intimidate Major League hitters. However, his shaky command, and lack of quality secondary offerings beside his lethal curveball make it likely he comes out of the bullpen in the future. Meyer has the fastball-curveball combination that could elevate him to being one of the game’s top closers if he can just harness his command more.
Taken after Mark Appel, Kris Bryant, and Jon Gray, Kohl Stewart was the first high school player selected in the 2013 MLB Draft. Twins scouts thought enough of Stewart’s electric fastball and plus-slider to take him over Clint Frazier and Colin Moran, two highly regarded prospects in their own right. Stewart’s stock took a dip after failing to register even a 5.0 K/9 over 129 innings in High-A ball. Stewart is still young, and could re-emerge onto MLB.com’s top-100 prospect list with a bounce back year in 2016. After 2015’ struggles, Stewart’s ceiling is now more in the middle of the rotation instead of as a future frontline starter.
Future Outlook: Berrios saves this from being a potential disaster
Minnesota’s rotation is already below-average in today’s MLB. Kyle Gibson likely won’t get much better, Tyler Duffey is stuck as back-end option, and the rest of the starters are already in their 30’s or will be by Opening Day 2017. With a need for an infusion of young talent, GM Terry Ryan thought he had three youngsters (Berrios, Meyer, and Stewart) that would all be a fixture in future Minnesota rotations. Instead, Meyer looks more like a reliever, and Stewart had a down year in 2015 clouding his future outlook. Other arms like Ryan Eades and Felix Jorge could emerge, but they have a long ways to go. Jose Berrios on the other hand didn’t decline in 2015 like his peers. Instead, he took another step in the right direction, and looks poised to headline the Twins’ rotation for years. For a team needing an impact starter, Berrios could fill that role sooner than later.
Glen Perkins has been a staple in Minnesota’s bullpen for the past decade. He was elevated into the closer role full-time three years ago, and has earned an All-Star appearance in every season since. Perkins matches the Twins’ overall identity in keeping a calm demeanor, and not being too flashy. He doesn’t blow it by anyone often (93.7 MPH fastball), but he still racks up strikeouts (9.8 K/9 over last three years). Closers can be very volatile, especially without a true out pitch, but he has showed no signs of slowing down as he enters his enters his age-33 season. Expect Perkins to keep his run of 30+ saves and sub 3.70 ERA going as one of the low-end closers in the league.
Just because Perkins leads the ship doesn’t mean the rest of the bullpen follows suit in lacking explosive stuff. The player Terry Ryan acquired just before last year’s trade deadline featured a 96+ MPH fastball just a couple years ago that toned down more in the 94-95 MPH range last season. He combines it with a nasty curveball that keeps hitters modest. Considering Perkins has struggled down the stretch in back-to-back seasons now, Kevin Jepsen could take over the closer role soon like he did last year racking up 10 saves in the process.
If Jepsen is 1-A to filling in for Perkins if he were to struggle or get injured, Trevor May is certainly 1-B. It’s been well known May has struggled with command issues, but in 2015 he put those issues to rest with a sparkling 2.0 BB/9 in 115 innings for the big league club last year. May’s four-pitch mix could put him on the hill to start games if Minnesota deals with multiple injuries at the position. If not, May’s three-pitch combination of fastball-curveball-changeup is enough to keep games close in high-leverage situations.
Casey Fien, Fernando Abad, Ryan Pressly, and Micheal Tonkin all provide Minnesota with decent middle relief options going forward. None of the quartet will compete with May, Jepsen, or Perkins for high-leverage situations, but they can still pitch effectively in close games. They’re each under control for at least two more years, with only Abad being eligible for free agency before 2018. J.T. Chargois and Yorman Landa aren’t there yet, but once they reach the bigs in the next year or two, they could join Fien, Abad, Pressly, and Tonkin in the middle of the Twins’ bullpen for years to come.
Other than Alex Meyer and Tyler Jay who are still trying to make it as starters, Nick Burdi has the most potential of any reliever in Minnesota’s system. Taken out of the second round in 2014, Burdi brings a rocket of an arm (averages 97 MPH on his fastball) and a power slider to the Twins organization. After dominating hitters in the Arizona Fall League (0.00 ERA, 11K/1BB in 8IP), executives believe Burdi has an outside chance at joining the big league club sometime this year, most likely as a September call-up. If Burdi can show that he has finally gotten control of his pitches, he could establish himself as one of the league’s better setup men.
Future Outlook: The bullpen is the epitome of this entire team
The Minnesota Twins are a very young team primed for future success. It might take a couple of years to get there, but they already have the pieces in place to become a perennial contender. The same thing can be said for the bullpen. Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen, and Tyler May are three reliable relievers now, but not enough. However, Minnesota has Tyler Jay, Alex Meyer, and Nick Burdi all on the verge of bolstering the bullpen themselves. With only $14MM committed to the 2019 payroll, the Twins will have the money to add to the already stout list of backend relief options under control for at least the next four years. Minnesota’s bullpen could emerge as one of the game’s best over the next few years, just like this Twins team as a whole.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: An empire is being built in the Twin Cities
Don’t look now, but Minnesota is slowly building a team that’s on the brink of establishing themselves as perennial contenders. It might not be in 2016, or 2017 for that matter, but don’t be surprised if this Minnesota Twins team becomes a legitimate threat in the AL Central as the decade dwindles down. Joe Mauer's contract ends after the 2018 season, but coincidentally that's likely the time this team becomes an American League powerhouse. The most impressive thing about Minnesota’s collection of young talent, is they could have a premium player at every position besides catcher come 2020. The pitching staff will have to be upgraded between now and then, but GM Terry Ryan has multiple offseasons to address those needs. 2016 and 2017 might be rough for Minnesota fans, but the Twins can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the light is shining brighter than ever.