The Minnesota Twins' 2017 season is in the books, and it turned out to be quite an exciting affair, ending in the most Minnesotan way possible: losing the one game Wildcard playoff game to the New York Yankees.
Before free agency officially opens this afternoon, let’s review what the players the Twins already have did in 2017.
C - Jason Castro
Castro was Falvine's biggest acquisition last winter, and was brought in for one reason: He has the defensive ability to help a young pitching staff. He delivered in that respect, posting a career high in dWar according to Baseball Reference, and his second most valuable defensive season according to Fangraphs. Castro was one of the many reasons the team was able to shave half a run of its ERA between 2016 and 2017.
Castro also had his best offensive season since his All Star season in 2013. While he hit lefties better than righties in 2017, his career splits point to needing a right-handed backup catcher to spell Castro. Castro's defense, leadership, and average offensive ability points to him starting another 110-120 games next season while batting low in the order.
Grade: B. Castro remains a solid starting catcher
1B - Joe Mauer
He's back, folks. Mauer’s .305/.384/.417 slash line could have been even better if not for a lackluster April. While his power numbers are about as Joe Mauer-ish as possible, that on base ability from the left side of the plate was incredibly important when sandwiched between right-handers Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano.
Mauer also had his best defensive season since switching to first base, although he received no love for a Gold Glove.
Mauer had a higher average against lefties this year; however, a lack of power against southpaws (.377 SLG vs. lefties opposed to .430 SLG vs. righties) necessitates a need for a right-handed bat that can platoon a bit with Mauer and help keep him fresh in his age-35 season next year.
Grade: A-. The perfect hitter between Dozier and Sano, even if he plays 1B
2B - Brian Dozier
He didn't hit 40 home runs this season, but Dozier proved again this season that he is a premier offensive second baseman, and a cornerstone of the Twins offense.
Dozier posted a .271/.359/.498 slash line that maintained a .798 OPS against right handed pitching in 2017. While he hit far better in the second half than the first (.985 OPS second half vs. .745 OPS first half), the only real knock you can have against Dozier is that he got caught stealing too much (only a 69.5% success rate when stealing bases).
The team's resurgence this year likely has killed the chance of the Twins front office moving him this winter. It’s probably more likely that Dozier will receive an extension instead.
Grade: A+. A great season.
3B - Miguel Sano
Miguel Sano strikes out a lot, but he also rakes yahtzees (home runs) like there is no tomorrow. A .264/.352/.496 slash line is incredible production, although those numbers look less impressive if you look at his production after his impressive April. His defense is resoundingly slightly below average, but he is still at a level where shifting across the diamond is not yet a concern. Sano will be back next year, playing third, hitting third, and mashing taters.
As we also know, Miguel Sano is a large human being. While I will not attempt to body shame him like a certain out of touch local newspaper reporter, it is worth noting that Sano has still never played more than 129 games in a professional season. In terms of roster construction, Sano's combination of size, injury history, and overall importance does necessitate having a quality back up third baseman like Eduardo Escobar on the team.
Grade: B+. A good season marred only by injury
SS - Jorge Polanco
Polanco went from the doghouse to hitting third every day in a hurry, and ended up with a respectable .256/.313/.410 slash line despite a dreadful stretch between June and July. Despite posting worse overall numbers than in 2016, Polanco increased his walk rate in 2017 while decreasing his strikeout rate, and was also the victim of some bad luck with just a .278 BABIP. With some positive regression to the mean as well as continued growth in his age-24 season next year, Polanco's bat should prove to be a valuable long term asset.
Polanco's defense is fine and he may improve a little with experience, but as long as his progression continues he will be a bat-first (but still average defensive) shortstop. In terms of roster construction, Polanco should be penciled in at shortstop until someone in the organization (*cough*Royce Lewis*cough) moves Polanco to second and Dozier to third.
Grade: C+. He needs to put it together all year, but a solid season to build on.
LF - Eddie Rosario
Jorge Polanco and Byron Buxton had incredible second halves, but Rosario's season-long efforts were the biggest surprise for me this season. He evolved himself from an okay hitter with some pop into a legitimate power threat with a .290/.328/507 slash line. He increased his walk rate to a respectable 5.9% while dropping his strikeout rate almost 8%. He also increased his batting average despite a dip in BABIP, which was due in part to his increase in home runs.
When Rosario made his debut in the MLB a few years ago he turned heads with his accurate arm and defensive ability. In the two years since he's proven to be more of an average left fielder, but he is more than adequate with Byron Buxton in center.
Rosario did not hit lefties as well as Paul Molitor likes to think (a .682 OBP vs lefties compared to .906 OBP vs. righties), so the combination of Rosario and Max Kepler should prod the Twins into acquiring a legitimate right-handed outfield bat (a.k.a. not Ehire Adrianza).
I still need another season's worth of plate discipline to completely buy in to Rosario, but I'm optimistic.
Grade: A. Just a great year
CF - Byron Buxton
Worth a team best 5.1 WAR according to Baseball Reference, and ranking second on the team with 3.5 WAR according to Fangraphs, Byron Buxton had an insane year considering, especially his first two months offensively. I've always said that Byron Buxton would be the league's best center fielder so long as he can hit .250, which he was able to do this year thanks to a .300/.347/.546 slash after the All-Star break.
Defensively, Buxton deserves his first Gold Glove. End of paragraph on defense.
Buxton has always been a slow starter, so don't expect him to set the world on fire next April. Still, if Buxton can take another step next year — watch out. He is just 24 next season.
Grade: A. So long as he carries an OPS over .650, Buxton will get an A from me for his defense alone.
RF - Max Kepler
Mr. Germany Kepler took a lateral step this season, increasing his OPS by a whopping .003 points. If a .243/.312/.425 slash line is Kepler's plateau, he’s still a useful player, but I think there is more in the tank for the young German.
Kepler did struggle against lefties this year, but I honestly don't know if Molitor was correct to platoon him or if he hurt Kepler’s progression in doing so. In the short term, platooning him is probably the right choice since he has a .520 OPS against lefties in his career, but he hasn't really gotten a chance to improve. I am the first person to criticize Molitor, and frankly, did not want him rehired, but if this is the beginning of the Twins’ window, getting a legitimate platoon partner for Kepler and Rosario should be a priority for the Twins this offseason.
Grade: C. A .737 OPS is pretty average, and Kepler still has room to grow.
DH - Robbie Grossman
Robbie Grossman takes a lot of walks. You know this, I know this. While his .246 average was hurt by his .287 BABIP, and his .380 SLG% leaves something to be desired, a 14.7% walk rate is an incredible asset to bat in front of Miguel Sano or Brian Dozier.
I don't know if Robbie Grossman is the best option at DH if the Twins want to win a World Series. However, with improved defense this season in left field and a career .274/.359/.395 slash line against lefties, he does seem to fit the roster as a platoon player to spell Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler against lefties.
Grade: C. Grossman can get on base, but lacks the pure power to fill his LF/DH defensive ability.
Backup Catcher - Chris Gimenez and Mitch Garver
Gimenez was everything you want in a backup catcher this season: He was solid defensively, while not being too easy of an out as a hitter. The only real knock against him is that he is blocking the promotion of Mitch Garver, who is likely the backup of the future (a designation that only exists for catchers and quarterbacks).
If the Twins want to improve next year, I think the roster only has room for one of these players. Garver does have two options remaining if the Twins want to keep Gimenez's leadership and attitude on the roster (and arm in the bullpen.)
Grade: C. For backup catchers, a C grade is all you need
INF - Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza
Eduardo Escobar hit 21 home runs while playing solid defense at three infield positions. He also hits lefties well, which allows Miguel Sano to fill in at 1B for Joe Mauer against lefties. He will be due for a raise this season, but as long as Miguel Sano is our starting third baseman, I want Eduardo Escobar to back him up. I do think that Escobar is at his best when he makes you put him in the lineup, not when he needs to be in it, so I'd like to find a way to lower his 17 starts at DH for next season.
Adrianza is a great fielder at every infield position, and was even solid in left field this season, but I do not expect him to ever post a .707 OPS again. I don't think he necessarily deserves 186 plate appearances next year. I certainly don't mind him as the 4th man on the bench, but that is all.
Grade: B+. A combination of power and defense for two important bench spots
Fourth Outfielder - Zack Granite
Zack Granite destroyed at Triple-A Rochester in 2017. He has the speed to be at least an average fielder at each outfield position, and he has value as a pinch runner. Still, his low power approach isn't enough to take up legitimate at bats, and as a lefty, he likely doesn't add much as a platoon option. He is the best backup center fielder on the team, ahead of Max Kepler, but Kepler is capable in center once every two weeks.
Grade: D. Small sample size, but Granite did little and doesn't project to fill the Twins' holes.
The Twins scored the 4th most runs in the American League last year, and should be able to bring back the same roster of position players next year if they so choose. If they do so, they will retain a noticeable weakness against left-handed pitching in their starting nine while lacking a legitimate fourth outfielder on days that Robbie Grossman is their designated hitter.
Stay tuned later today when I take a look at what position players the Twins could sign to help bolster the offense for 2018.