Twins hope for steady improvement in 2017

The Minnesota Twins finished their 2016 season with a 59-103 record, worst in franchise history. The all-time record is 113, by the Washington Senators, who turned into the Minnesota Twins in 1961. However, the positive side to the Twins finishing at the bottom of the standings for 2016 is that they will get the first draft pick in the first round for 2017. Last time the Twins had a first pick in the first round, they ended up with Joe Mauer in 2001, which has worked out pretty well for them.

The good news is the Twins have a lot changing, including the hiring of their new General Manager, Thad Levine. Levine is helping to advance the Twins using his background with statistics to get the club to start using analytics. The 44-year-old came to the Twins from the Texas Rangers, where he worked for the past 11 seasons. The University of California-Los Angeles graduate also has experience in player acquisitions, roster composition, contract negotiation as well as statistical and financial analysis. Compared to Ben Zobrist of the Chicago Cubs, Levine brings versatility, knowledge and exceptional experience to the team.

Derek Falvey also joined the Twins’ front office as the Chief Baseball Officer. Falvey took over from Terry Ryan on October 3, the day after the regular season ended. Like Levine, Falvey intends to expand the Twins’ analytics department and use the advancement of statistics and analytics to rebuild the franchise.

Another key for the Twins in having some success and hopefully turning the franchise into a championship contender is the development of their young players. 24-year-old Max Kepler will be one to watch during the season. The 6’4”, 220 lb. Berlin, Germany-native finished the 2016 season with a .235 batting average with 20 doubles and 17 homeruns in 113 major league appearances. A 30th ranked prospect, he has posted an impressive .318/.410/.520 in 2015 between his High-A and Double-A appearances.

ByungHo Park is another name to watch. With a spring training that can easily be described as nothing short of impressive, Park has managed to put up a .362 average, 10 runs batted in (RBI) and five homeruns in 47 at-bats. The 30-year-old South Korean native finished the 2016 season with a .191 average with just 24 RBI in 215 major league at-bats.

With a middle-of-the-pack offense, the Twins will need Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton to make consistent contact throughout the entire 2017 season. Buxton, who was called up in September, had a decent year, finishing .287/.357/.653 with six doubles, two triples and nine home runs. He also put up 22 RBI and 24 runs and had a .357 on-base percentage. Only 23-years-old, Buxton still has time to improve.

Sano had a very impressive half of a season in 2015, and unfortunately regressed in 2016. He finished with 25 home runs in 437 at bats and a .236 average and .319 on-base percentage.

Minnesota will need to ensure that their pitching staff remains healthy and productive. With Phil Hughes coming back from surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, and young phenom Jose Berrios primed to make some noise, the starting pitching staff has plenty of room to improve. Starter Kyle Gibson has also showed big steps of improvement during Spring Training. Closer Glen Perkins is returning from a procedure that re-attached his labrum in his left shoulder to the bone, so the Twins may need their relievers to step up into a closing role if Perkins is no longer an option.

The Twins open up their regular season at home on Monday, April 3 against the Kansas City Royals. First pitch is slated for 3:05 p.m.

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