Happy February everyone! Now that the NFL season is over, it is time to look ahead to the Minnesota Twins 2018 Spring Training and regular season!
Pitchers and catchers officially report to Twins training camp on February 13th with the first full-squad practice happening on February 19th. The first spring training game for the Twins is on February 22nd when they take on the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers…but you can check out their full schedule here. We’re less than two weeks away from baseball!
Minnesota Twins official logo, credit: MLB.com
After finishing the 2016 season with a team record 103 losses, the Minnesota Twins began their 2017 campaign with restrained hopes. The Twins revamped their front office leadership with the additions of Thad Levine and Derek Falvey. Their new approach to player acquisitions and front office operations, along with manager Paul Molitor’s AL Manager of the Year coaching job in 2017, helped propel the Twins from losing 103 games into Wild Card berth with 85 wins. The 2017 Minnesota Twins were the first team in Major League history to reach the postseason the following season after losing 103 games.
While the 2017 season was certain a huge step in the right direction for the Twins, there were still several questions plaguing the club. One large leak they found as the season went on was in their starting pitching staff. Anchored by Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios (and sometimes Kyle Gibson), the Twins found themselves a least two pitchers short of a solid rotation. Santana, while a times a very dominant pitcher, is not a staff ace. On other teams, Santana would be slotted in as a #2 or #3 pitcher, not #1 as he is on the Twins.
The 2018 Twins offseason began with the front office pursuing their potential offseason acquisitions during the Winter Meetings. A handful of trades were made, a couple of relief pitchers acquired in Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed but the main headline continued(s) to be the free agent market of starting pitchers.
Up until the day I’m writing this blog, the Minnesota Twins have yet to add a starting pitcher via free agency. Their main target has been rumored to be Yu Darvish, the FA prize this winter. The Darvish Sweepstakes has been leading the MLB headlines. Darvish has yet to make his final choice on which team to sign with. Evidently, he has met with five or six teams but has not met in person with the Twins. The Twins club has tried to calm worries from fans around this interesting non-meeting as being due to Darvish’s prior relationship with Derek Falvey while with the Texas Rangers.
If the Twins aren’t able to land Yu Darvish, they are also interested in pursuing Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. While they aren’t of the same pitching caliber as Darvish, either would be a marked upgrade to a Twins rotation that was ranked 19th in overall team ERA, 26th in opponent team batting average, and 29th in strikeouts in 2017.
The 2018 will be a contract year for several notable players on the Twins club. Both Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier will enter free agency in 2019 if not extended with the Twins. Dozier has expressed his desire to remain in Minnesota. Mauer is coming to the end of an 8-year, $184 million dollar contract…a contract that has not been without it’s issues as far as fans are concerned. He has yet to express his future plans in any direction.
Twins second baseman Brian Dozier has become the leader of this team. A proven power hitter at a traditionally non-power position, Dozier won his first Gold Glove in 2017 and hit more than 30 home runs for the second season in a row and more than 20 for the fourth season running. Dozier’s ability to fire up his teammates may be one of the most important things about his tenure with the Twins. After longtime leader Torii Hunter left the team via trade in 2007, the Twins were without a proven leader for many years. This became even more poignant when former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau departed in 2013.
The Twins organization has said that they are not going to enter into extension talks until spring training begins. Fans should know quickly where things will be going for Brian Dozier. While there is some worth in trading Dozier with his many upsides, I personally believe it would be a major mistake.
As previously stated, the Twins first baseman is entering the final year of his contract in 2018. Without going into too much my personal opinion of him, Mauer’s contract has single-handedly hamstrung the Twins from being able to spend more money on pitching. The return on the investment hasn’t been the best either.
Mauer was offered his 8-year extension after his landmark 2009 season that saw him win the American League MVP award. He batted .365 that season with 28 home runs and 96 RBI. Since signing his massive contract, Mauer really hasn’t been the same since. 2017 was first time in several years that Mauer batted above .277. Never a true power threat, Mauer occupies a traditional power position at first base. The Twins do have other options for the position with more power potential. Among first basemen with similar contracts, Mauer is in competition with men like Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzales. Compare the statistics and you’ll see why fans are upset with this investment. As a side note, Mauer has never eclipsed the 100 RBI threshold in his 14-year career.
Projected Opening Day Lineup
One of the biggest questions going into spring training is who will be in the starting lineup. ESPN has the team depth charts listed for each team. This is my projected starting lineup on Opening Day…barring any injuries or freak poor performances (in batting order):
Byron Buxton – CF
Joe Mauer – 1B
Miguel Sano – 3B
Brian Dozier – 2B
Eddie Rosario – LF
Max Kepler – RF
Kennys Vargas/Robbie Grossman – DH
Jorge Polanco – SS
Jason Castro – C
Visiting the Twins at Spring Training
Credit: Lee County.gov
If you can’t wait for the boys of summer to head north for the season at the end of March, you can always buzz down to Fort Myers, Florida to see the Twins in person. Delta Airlines offers several direct flights from MSP to Fort Myers every day. Southwest Airlines also flies there from MSP as does Sun Country. Sun Country also has direct flights available.
The Twins play at the CenturyLink Sports Complex (Hammond Stadium) in Fort Myers. It is located north of the airport, right off of Highway 75. It is just down the road from the Red Sox training complex so be prepared for some traffic! This link has driving directions from the Twins’ website and also the physical address of the complex for GPS use.
A word to the wise: we’ve purchased our tickets in advance for a spring training game at Hammond Stadium only to have it rained out once the game started. We had no recourse for refund because we bought our tickets online. If you arrive at the stadium early enough, you can buy your tickets there. You can also buy them online the day of if the weather looks good.
I strongly advise double checking the weather before heading to the stadium. Spring weather in Florida is turbulent and can come from nowhere. Always good to check ahead!
I can’t wait for the Twins season to begin…GO TWINS!