So here we are, October 2nd, 2017 and the Twins have just finished up another 100 loss season leaving little to be positive. Already ranked in the bottom 3rd coming into 2017, several top prospects suffered significant re-valuation over the course of the year.
Let's take a look, step by step by position to see what happened and what might be our real issues... or just complain and wallow in self pity that nothing looks particularly rosy right now.
Stephen Gonsalves turned back into a pumpkin against competition with a better eye for strikes. His walk rate reached Alex Meyer like territory and AAA hitters took their time, lighting the promising young pitcher up.
Tyler Jay continued to struggle to find the strikeouts against AA hitters and now looks a lot like Kohl Stewart did leaving the Twins to ponder returning Jay to the bullpen.
Nick Gordon's bat simply didn't play at AA and the error rate continued so the Twins were forced to send Gordon back down to the Miracle for a little more work in hopes of turning things around, but he's likely below Javier on the depth chart at this point. It's not a good outcome for the once SS of the future.
But as tough as a year it's been for the Twins prospects down on the farm, the MLB club looks even worse.
C - Jason Castro proved to be as good at pitch framing as everybody had hoped, but the bat was as recently advertised. He still provided adequate value overall and cemented the position for the Twins as Garver's bat wasn't nearly as impressive at the MLB level as fans like me had hoped. I shudder to think what he rotation's performance could have looked like without Castro's framing talents. If only the rest of the defense was as good as Castro.
1B - Joe Mauer is cooked. Receiving only 100 games this year due to his severe decline in hitting, Mauer was supplanted by Kennys Vargas as the every day first baseman, regardless of Mauer's albatross contract. A .265/.340/.370 triple slash simply made it impossible for Mauer to keep getting starts over the mediocre overall bat of Vargas.
2B - Brian Dozier put together a year we hoped he wouldn't, but regression said was totally realistic. His .232/.300/.436 triple slash looked very similar to his 2015 campaign and after crushing 42 home runs in 2016, Dozier returned to a much more realistic 25 dingers. Dozier obviously lost a step as well as his defense was slightly below average on the year. It comes with the territory, but DeLeon for Dozier straight up is looking pretty good now.
3B - Miguel Sano did manage to play within reason at 3B, posting a UZR/150 of a functional -10.0, but he struggled to really barrel up the ball consistently as he's still working on his approach with breaking balls. There are signs of hope with the walk rate and K rate moving just a bit closer to each other, but he still posted a league shattering 237 strike outs to pair with his good, but far from the elite .785 OPS.
SS - Jorge Polanco was a disaster. I know it. You know it. Everybody knows it, except Molitor who apparently has a new favorite. I get it. Polanco needs to play to get better and he's out of options, but he led MLB in errors contributing to his horrendous -26.7 UZR/150 at short this year. Scouting reports advanced on Polanco, and the once intriguing power dried up resulting in his OPS crashing from 2016's .757 to 2017's reality check of .718. Combined with his mental mistakes on the base paths, it resulted in Polanco's overall contribution of just 1.2 WAR for a full season. In other news, after being claimed off waivers by the Orioles for nothing... kinda like how we gave Hardy up for nothing, Eduardo Escobar returned to his 2014-2015 self at the plate. When Hardy stayed down with back issues, Escobar stepped in, provided above average defense and lent his .732 OPS to the Orioles all season to go along with his 3.4 WAR. FML.
LF - Eddie Rosario & Zack Granite. It was once again Rosario's opportunity to flush in left field, and probably his last opportunity to be considered a starting outfielder in MLB, and flush away he did. As Rosario became increasingly impatient at the plate (trying to keep up with Sano's hitting?), Rosario whiffed his way right out of a job as the strikeouts surpassed 30% and he refused the free pass with an unbelievable 1.8% walk rate. You can't play a guy with a low 600 OPS every day. After a brief stint with Robbie Grossman's now cement shoes struggling to get to balls in the outfield and his limited bat showing clearly why he's better as a umm... minor leaguer roster filler, Zack Granite earned his chance. Without the pedigree or upside of Rosario's super fast hands, the light hitting Granite managed to finish out the season on what was really an extended-extended-extended cup of coffee. With .286/.322/.375 triple slash, his OPS isn't good enough to be starting left fielder, but it was nice to have his range. 2018 LaMonte Wade for LF?
CF - So its looking like September, 2016 was a mirage. Byron Buxton's stock has now fallen through the floor we all hoped and expected, but he's still adequate thanks to an overall bat improvement and excellent center field defense. Buxton's elite defense actually made him the most valuable position player with the Twins, though his 3.8 WAR was hardly elite. It doesn't look like Buxton's hit tool is likely to evolve much, but he's no longer black hole at the plate with his .247/.312/.414 slash line. A .726 OPS from a center fielder? Good enough to hold the position considering the defense!
RF - Max Kepler had that amazing stretch in 2016 where everybody was like, is this guy going to be the next Mike Trout??? Wellll, no. Kepler was still good at the plate this year, posting his and provided excellent defense in right field. The BABIP adjustment was enough to soar Kepler's average to .275 and with his excellent eye at the plate, his OPS of .774 was a nice sight. Kepler could be make another leap next year fans could only hope.
DH - Starting the season in Rochester, Byungho Park didn't make a lot of progress. I think it's apparent to everybody what Park brings to the table and what he doesn't at this point. Poor average, decent walk rate, enormous power when he actually makes contact. Once Mauer was finally benched in favor of Vargas, Park was called up from AAA and stepped in as the DH. While not terrible, his .220/.287/.449 slash line totals up to an uninspiring, but semi-playable, .736 OPS.
We all know the bullpen was functional this year. Kintzler as the closer continued to confuse me all year with Chargois and Reed both looking like superior options, but veterans... I guess? Perkins continued to try and fight his way back from shoulder surgery, but ultimately, the wheels fell off as he was diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury in June, explaining his 4.49 ERA. It seems like we're no closer to solving the bullpen for 2018 than we were for 2017, but Hildenberger/Reed/Chargois could make for an adequate 1-2-3 scenario. May serving long relief was an complete injustice, but the Twins obviously needed somebody to eat up innings after the number of 4-5 inning starts we saw.
As for the rotation... yeah.
Phil Hughes is done, obviously. The ill-advised extension won't be over until two more years of $13.2MM paydays are over. With an ERA and FIP both north of 5.00 (5.21 and 5.63, respectively) he has no trade value and the Twins might have to just consider releasing him for the roster space.
Ervin Santana had one of his signature boom/bust (bust) years following one of his career years in 2016. He was the best starter in the rotation this year, but he still wasn't good. 4.26 ERA and a 4.47 FIP. Molitor left Santana in a lot of games he maybe should have been pulled a little earlier to save the bullpen so it's probably not all Santana's fault. Still, even he couldn't manage more than 179 innings in 34 starts.
Remember back when everybody was excited for Kyle Gibson learning how to strike batters out a couple years ago? Yeah, me too. An essential repeat of 2016, Gibson's 4.95 ERA and 4.23 FIP suggest the ground ball pitcher wasn't helped by the defensive wasteland of Sano and Polanco in the infield, but the 5.9 K/9 has me feeling like calling him a somewhat better Nick Blackburn is pretty accurate at this point.
Hector Santiago, the main return for shuttling off Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer (who made the All Star Team this year...) to the Angels was as all the warning signs predicted. Santiago continued his decline before being moved to the bullpen in long relief after Perkins went down with another shoulder injury and the Twins decided to swap Duffey back into the rotation. I'm not sure why the Twins didn't just release him, though. As a starter, his 6.03 ERA and 6.12 FIP screamed and begged for the Twins to stop trotting him out. Like please, please??? I guess he was better out of the pen, where his ERA squeaked down under 5.00 with a 4.99.
Ryan Vogelsong. Molitor got his veteran pitcher with the now 40 year old 90mph flamethrower. Vogelsong managed to pitch his way into a sub 4.50 ERA with an FIP of 4.77 between injuries to other Twins starters and shuffling from the rotation to the bullpen. He wouldn't have been good enough to stick around on a lot of teams, but this is the Twins, and anything short of a 4.50 ERA is nearing Ace category!
Jose Berrios was once an elite prospect and media darling. That's before discerning MLB eyes viewed his on the edge offerings. Castro definitely helped Berrios more than any other pitcher on the staff, but ultimately, the strikeout rate fell to get the walk rate under control. Still, his 4.68 ERA was like, almost half of last year's 8.02 (GASP!) monstrosity.
All in all... I don't know if the year could literally have gone worse. The farm system is in disarray, it doesn't look like any of the prospects we all had such high hopes for will turn into the superstars we initially dreamed about, the Twins are still on the hook for a couple really bad contracts and there isn't much for veteran trade value. I'm not even sure where to begin on fixing this team.