Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Key Twins Quarter-Mark Questions

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson, USA Today Sports
It's hard to believe but baseball has already passed the quarter-mark of the season. What might be even harder for Twins fans to believe is that Minnesota finds themselves in contention. This is a welcome surprise after a tough to watch 2016 season.

There will be some questions facing the Twins in the weeks ahead as there will be plenty of tough decisions left to be made. The future of the franchise could tilt with the first overall pick. However, that player likely won't be making his Target Field debut in 2017.

So what other questions will the new front office have to answer?

Were the 2016 Twins a fluke?
Things certainly couldn't have gone much worse for the Twins in 2016. Following a 2015 seasons where Minnesota was in contention until the final weekend, the wheels came off. Young players like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios struggled to make adjustments at baseball's highest level. Even with those players struggling, the Twins' pitching was their most noticeable flaw. Only Arizona could match the Twins' 5.09 team ERA and Minnesota had the third worst WAR total from their pitchers.

The 2017 version of the Twins look much more comparable to the 2015 squad. Sano has been a dominant force at the plate. Buxton might be the best defensive center fielder in baseball. Ervin Santana might be developing into an ace. Even Berrios has looked like a completely new pitcher. It's hard to know if it will last but it's been a fun ride so far.

What can the Twins do to improve their bullpen?
Brandon Kintzler has been effective so far by converting 11 of his first 12 save opportunities. The Twins were able to pick up the win in his only blown save of the season but it still seems like the team is playing with fire. Besides Kintzler, Tyler Duffey and Matt Belisle have tossed the most innings. Only veteran Craig Breslow and Tyler Duffey have ERA's under 3.00.

Rochester doesn't exactly have a plethora of top-tier relief pitching options. At the end of the last two seasons, Trevor Hildenberger has been named the Twins Daily Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year.  He has a 3.07 ERA and a 16 to 6 strikeout to walk ratio in 12 appearances. Other 40-man options include Buddy Boshers, Drew Rucinski, and Nick Tepesch but none of these guys are breaking down the door to the big leagues.

Can the Twins contend in an wide-open AL Central?
Many national sports outlets expected Cleveland, the defending AL Central champs, to run away with the division. Cleveland's best pitcher, Corey Kluber, is on the disabled list and they've played below .500 at home. The rest of the division also has plenty of questions. Chicago is in the midst of a rebuild. Kansas City's offense has struggled to start the year. Detroit seems to have pitching struggles every year.

The Twins have started 15-11 in the division which has been bolstered by a 7-1 record versus the Royals. Minnesota has 2-4 record against the Tigers and the Indians. If the Twins want to contend in the division, the club will need to improve against the team's in the division.

Are there any prospects fans can expect to see?
With things going well in Minnesota, it's hard to know when the team will need to dig into the minors for some extra help. An injury to an everyday player or a slumping bat could signal the start to any of these player's big league career. Zach Granite was the organization's minor league player of the year and he is already at Triple-A. It's quite possible for Granite to follow in Brian Dozier's footsteps.

Infielders Engelb Vielma and Nick Gordon have a chance to debut this season as well. Vielma was recently promoted to Rochester and he is the best defensive infielder in the organization. Gordon, a former first round pick, is off to a hot start with his bat which could lead to a September call-up.

Will the Twins be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?
With a new front office and a team surprisingly in contention, July could become an interesting month. No one expected the Twins to contend but the new regime will need to add some pieces if they are serious about making a playoff run. There are holes in the bullpen and the team has been rotating through starters in the rotation. Falvey and Levine shouldn't mortgage the farm but some extra pieces will be needed for the stretch run.

What questions do you think the Twins need to answer in the weeks ahead? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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