The Twins are up next in MLBTR’s Three Needs series, and while isolating three individual needs for a team with the worst record in Major League Baseball is a tall order, here are three aspects that the organization needs to shore up in order to facilitate a return to relevance in the AL Central…
1. Improve the player development process. There’s been plenty written about the Twins’ lack of embracing analytics, and while hiring a president of baseball operations that will embrace data and statistical analysis more than the preceding regime is indeed important, owner Jim Pohlad and president Dave St. Peter should also be looking to bring in an executive with a strong background in player development. The Twins have long had one of the game’s top-rated farm systems, yet time and time again the fruits of their vaunted minor league ranks struggle tremendously upon reaching the Major Leagues. Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton were rushed, thereby explaining some of their struggles. Buxton is finally showing some promise, but Hicks has already been traded and has yet to develop into a regular player.
No one would make the case that Jose Berrios was rushed, but has been shelled in virtually every start he has made in the Majors this season. The list of Twins prospects that ranked comfortably within the top 100 from outlets such as Baseball America, MLB.com, ESPN and Baseball Prospectus but failed to deliver on that hype at the big league level is long. Kyle Gibson has shown little consistency in the Majors, Oswaldo Arcia has been designated for assignment by three organizations this year and Eddie Rosario hasn’t given any indication that his OBP is ever going to top .300. Alex Meyer has only made four big league starts — three of which have come with the Angels (though shoulder injuries have played a large role in his lack of contribution). Organizational top prospects like Danny Santana, Trevor May and Kennys Vargas have shown glimpses of usefulness but to this point have lacked consistency (Santana, in particular, seems to be at a crossroads).
The best pitcher the Twins have drafted in the past 15 years was Matt Garza, who was traded before ever pitching a full season in Minnesota. Following that, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Gibson are the only starters drafted and developed by the Twins in that stretch that have made any real degree of impact at the MLB level. The Twins took Kohl Stewart with the fourth overall pick in 2013, but his raw stuff has yet to generate strikeouts and his stock has already dipped to the point where he’s fallen off of most prospect lists. For an organization that can rarely spend at high levels on the open market, the complete dearth of homegrown pitching talent is glaring — and it’s probably the chief reason that the Twins have been in the division cellar in five of the past six seasons.
That ties in nicely with the next need on this list…
2. Add to the pitching staff. No, I’m not suggesting that the Twins should dive further down the rabbit hole of mid-rotation arms on the free agent market. From Kevin Correia to Mike Pelfrey to Phil Hughes to Ricky Nolasco to Ervin Santana, the Twins have consistently thrown money at mid- or back-of-the-rotation arms with varying levels of success. Santana has been the best investment of the bunch so far and could be a rather appealing trade chip this winter, while most of the others have flamed out or failed to make an impact whatsoever. (There’s hope remaining for Hughes, who was brilliant in 2014 but struggled in each of the past two seasons before undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.)
The Twins tried to accumulate some future rotation cogs by acquiring Meyer, Trevor May and Vance Worley in a span of a few weeks following the 2012 season, but only May remains with the club, and he looks ticketed for a relief role in the long run (though I’d personally posit that he deserves a long-term look in the rotation). Interim GM Rob Antony deserves credit for plucking Adalberto Mejia from the Giants when he sold Eduardo Nunez at an all-time high, but Minnesota is still in need of some rotation prospects to join Berrios, Mejia, Tyler Jay and Stephen Gonsalves. As an alternative they could look to package some of their own minor league talent in order to land a controllable arm with limited big league service this winter.
In the ’pen, the Twins have strongly emphasized drafting power arms in recent years, but names like Nick Burdi, J.T. Chargois, Jake Reed, Michael Cederoth, Mason Melotakis and other hard-throwing bullpen arms haven’t developed as quickly as hoped. They have plenty of young arms to insert into the mix next season if they wish, but adding some veterans on short-term deals to complement an inexperienced and ineffective 2016 mix of relief pitchers makes sense.
3. Find a long-term catcher. Sending Wilson Ramos to the Nationals in exchange for Matt Capps looms as one of the worst trades in franchise history — Capps was never that much of an upgrade and proved superfluous on a Twins team that won its division by six games, and they doubled down on the mistake by tendering him a $7.15MM contract based almost entirely upon his saves total — and the Twins have been in need of a long-term answer behind the plate since concussions and back injuries forced Joe Mauer from behind the dish. With Ramos gone, the Twins have instead relied primarily on Kurt Suzuki after Josmil Pinto failed to pan out (Chris Herrmann, Ryan Doumit, Juan Centeno and Eric Fryer have also seen time behind the plate). Adding John Ryan Murphy in last offseason’s Aaron Hicks deal hasn’t provided the answer. Former ninth-rounder Mitch Garver could rise to the occasion and give the team a home-grown option after a strong 2016 season, but he’s set to turn 26 this winter and has just 22 Triple-A games under his belt.
I won’t advocate shelling out a five-year deal to reunite with Ramos, but the Twins should be receptive to once again trading for a catcher this offseason — ideally one that, unlike Suzuki, draws above-average marks in pitch framing. Suzuki has hit well in two of his three seasons with the Twins, but a pitching staff that is already lacking in talent doesn’t need a catcher working against them by failing to convert on borderline strike calls. Suzuki has made improvements since his 2014 Twins debut, but he’s nonetheless been below average each season, per both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner.com.