The Twins aren’t going to make the playoffs in 2018. While this may not be a mathematical certainty at this point, it is indeed a qualitative reality. For the die-hard fans, this is obviously disappointing considering the expectations for the season, but in terms of viewership these types will still tune in because baseball is a a great sport and literally anything can happen on any given day that you’ve never seen before. Even when the kids go back to school and the first SKOL chant rises out of U.S. Bank Stadium, baseball won’t be far from reach.
But what about those who need more concrete reasons to continue showing up at Target Field or flipping to FSNorth? The folks who desperately want to take something out of the back end of a lost season besides simply “enjoyment of baseball”?
In a word: “tryouts”.
During the final stretch of the 2018 season, there are plenty of interesting battles or players to watch that will have a definite impact on the 2019 roster. Sure, it would be more exciting to be watching the start of a playoff run (like what happened in 2017), but these are some areas that, at the very least, might be interesting to watch play out down the stretch.
Let’s start with the offense...
-Two outfield spots look to be locked with Rosario & Buxton (and even the latter of those could really bolster his resume with a solid September call-up). While it once looked like Max Kepler was going to be a fixture in right field, his performance this season has cast some doubt on that. With Jake Cave hitting home runs into “The Catch” bar and Alex Kirilloff having potentially fast-tracked himself to the majors by absolutely mashing the ball in the minors all season, Kepler is no longer guaranteed his corner spot once Buxton steps back into CF. A strong September from Kep could go a long ways towards cementing himself in the future plans.
-Can Mitch Garver play himself into the backup or at least platoon catcher role? Next season, either Jason Castro will be back or the Twins will go out and find another backstop. Whereas at the beginning of this season (when Castro was lost for the duration) most of the starts were going to Bobby Wilson because of his slick defense, in recent weeks Garver has really improved in that regard (and gotten more starting shifts because of it). Since Wilson cannot hit well enough to justify continued major league playing time, the pop in Garver’s bat would be a boon to this club if he continues to improve behind the plate.
-Figuring out the corner infield spots. The future of Joe Mauer will likely have the biggest effect on this area, but I would anticipate Miguel Sano getting plenty of time at both corners (third and first) through September to see where he is the most comfortable and if the team feels comfortable putting him at either spot. I’d also anticipate seeing a lot of Tyler Austin (either at 1B or DH) as the team evaluates his potential to provide some pop off the bench going forward.
On to the pitching side of the equation...
- It sure does not look like Ervin Santana will have his option picked up, so that leaves Berrios, Gibson, & Odorizzi as the only inked-in starters for 2019. As such, players like Michael Pineda (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery), Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, and Kohl Stewart might get starts in September for evaluation purposes. Even guys like Mejia, Littell, & Slegers could be in that mix, although I believe there are injury concerns surrounding each of them at this time.
- Right now, the bullpen looks like this: Hildenberger, Rogers, Reed, Magill, Moya, Duffey, Busenitz, May, Drake. All of those players have shown potential, while none of them have ever really carved out a niche for themselves longer than a few months here or there. On a team that will almost certainly supplement the bullpen with more free agent arms in 2019, the rest of this year is really kind of a battle royal for roster positioning when it comes to the pen.
Like I said, in a perfect world we’d be packing Target Field to the gills for a playoff run right now. Sadly, that was not to be in 2018. So, the above-mentioned position battles and player-watches will have to suffice for the rest of the way in terms of things to watch and evaluate.
Do you have a specific player or position battle you’re keeping an eye on?