April 3, 2015

Season preview: Are the Twins ready to stop losing?

Paul Molitor

Nearly everyone involved with the Twins, from players and new manager Paul Molitor to general manager Terry Ryan and owner Jim Pohlad, seems convinced the team is poised to take a big step forward. Nearly everyone not involved with the Twins, from national writers and Las Vegas oddsmakers to numbers-driven projection systems and cranky local bloggers, seems convinced the team is headed for another last-place finish and possibly a fifth straight 90-loss season.

Sports Illustrated picks the Twins for last place and 67 wins. ESPN.com picks the Twins for last place and 68 wins. Baseball Prospectus projects the Twins for last place and 71 wins. Bovada sets the Twins' over/under win total at 72.5. FanGraphs projects the Twins for last place and 74 wins. Grantland picks the Twins for last place and "under 75 wins." CBS Sports picks the Twins for last place. Yahoo Sports picks the Twins for last place. You get the idea.

Last year the Twins were 72-90. Then they fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager, handed out the largest free agent contract in team history to 32-year-old Ervin Santana at $55 million over four years, brought back Torii Hunter for a $10.5 million reunion at age 39, signed 33-year-old reliever Tim Stauffer for $2.2 million, and bypassed young talent in favor of veteran mediocrity for every roster spot up for grabs in spring training.

Those are all the moves of an organization that's sick of losing and also sick of their plummeting fan morale and season ticket sales. They spent big on veterans and further delayed the arrival of prospects, leading to an Opening Day roster with just four players who're 25 years old or younger in shortstop Danny Santana, left fielder Oswaldo Arcia, designated hitter Kennys Vargas, and Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham.

This is a rebuilding team in the sense that the Twins have been very bad and are still attempting to get back on track, but it's anything but a young team. Kyle Gibson is the youngest member of the starting rotation at 27. Graham is the only member of the seven-reliever bullpen under 30. Six of the nine starting position players are at least 28. In terms of their collective average ages, the rotation is 30, the bullpen is 31, and the lineup is 29.

When the reality of the Twins' organizational collapse finally sunk in around mid-2012 or so the idea was that they'd be back to contending by now, but injuries ruined those plans. Joe Mauer's concussion derailed his career and turned him from a Hall of Fame-caliber catcher to a mediocre first baseman. Instead of making their MLB debuts Miguel Sano missed all of last year following elbow surgery and Byron Buxton missed all but 31 games with a wrist injury and a concussion.

Buxton and Sano will begin this season as teammates at Double-A, the Twins sent 25-year-old pitching prospects Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Michael Tonkin back to Triple-A rather than trust them with roster spots that went to Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey, and Blaine Boyer, and after back-to-back Opening Day starts in center field Aaron Hicks is back in Rochester too. Toss in Arcia's development stagnating a bit and it's easy to see where the rebuild sputtered.

The good news is Buxton and Sano remain superstar-caliber prospects, Meyer and May still have enough upside to project as impact pitchers in some role, and there's another wave of prospects coming soon led by Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco, and Nick Burdi. The bad news is none of that figures to actually help the Twins win many games before the All-Star break. Sadly, being a Twins fan in 2015 is still more about waiting for help to arrive than watching it play at Target Field.

Brian Dozier; Danny Santana

There's a lot of optimism surrounding the Twins' offense after the lineup produced the fifth-most runs in the American League last season, but building on or even duplicating that performance is hardly a sure thing. For starters, Santana was the only hitter on the team to crack an .800 OPS last season, coming out of nowhere to hit .319/.353/.473 as a rookie after batting .273/.314/.388 in the minors while failing to top a .725 OPS at Single-A, Double-A, or Triple-A.

Santana is good enough, young enough, and skilled enough to buy into reevaluating his upside compared to what his minor-league track record suggested, but his rookie success was still driven by an unsustainable .405 batting average on balls in play and came despite an ugly 98/19 K/BB ratio. The combination of a so-so track record, poor plate discipline, and a high batting average on balls in play makes him a prime regression candidate.

Brian Dozier also needs to fight his track record to show his 2014 was for real, albeit to a lesser extent than Santana. He was the Twins' best all-around position player, hitting .245/.345/.416 with 23 homers, 21 steals, 89 walks, and solid defense to rank among the top half-dozen second basemen in MLB. Clearly the Twins buy into Dozier's age-27 breakout, but prior to 2014 he hit just .240/.297/.384 in the majors and .232/.286/.337 at Triple-A.

Kurt Suzuki was another source of unexpectedly strong offense, hitting .288/.345/.383 to make his first All-Star team at age 30. As with Dozier the Twins bought into his resurgence with a new contract, but Suzuki hit .253/.313/.362 in the second half to resemble his measly .237/.294/.357 line from 2010-2013. Jordan Schafer's track record strongly suggests he'll be unable to repeat his 41-game Twins showing and Hunter is fighting father time at age 39.

All of which isn't to say the lineup lacks the ability to improve in spots. Mauer getting back to his usual self would be huge and he hit .300 with a .400 on-base percentage in his final 55 games. Arcia should take a step forward at age 24 and is capable of breaking out with a better approach. But for the most part more hitters are likely to decline than improve, some by wide margins. Of course, Buxton and Sano showing up in May or June ready to thrive could change everything.

Then there's defense, which has played an overlooked part in the Twins' struggles as the focus tends to be on the "pitching" rather than the run prevention of pitching plus defense. Combined from 2011-2014 the Twins ranked 28th in Ultimate Zone Rating at 90 runs below average and 24th in Defensive Runs Saved at 115 runs below average. They've been horrendous, especially in the outfield, which is doubly bad combined with fly-ball, strikeout-phobic pitching staffs.

Infield defense may not be bad because Dozier is solid at second base, Santana has the skills to be a plus shortstop, Trevor Plouffe showed big improvement at third base, and Mauer is fine at first base. However, the outfield is guaranteed to be a major weakness again. Arcia and Hunter were two of MLB's worst defensive corner outfielders last year and it's asking a lot of Schafer (or Hicks) to cover up their mess when he's actually gotten below average marks in center field.

Phil Hughes Twins

Last offseason the Twins gave a four-year, $49 million deal to Ricky Nolasco and a three-year, $24 million contract to Phil Hughes, and this offseason they took the uncharacteristic pursuit of free agent pitching even further by signing Santana for $55 million. Hughes got three years and $42 million tacked on to his previous deal following a breakout 2014 season and the Twins have Pelfrey and Milone under contract for a combined $8.5 million in 2015.

That's a lot of resources devoted to veteran starters and there's also a hidden cost that comes with having pitchers with guaranteed salaries locked into rotation spots that might otherwise be handed over to prospects. Hughes is signed through 2019, Santana is signed through 2018, Nolasco is signed through 2017, and even though Pelfrey and Milone aren't signed beyond this season the Twins were still hesitant to push them aside.

Hughes was a tremendous find on what was a very reasonable free agent contract that the Twins turned into a much bigger commitment. He logged 210 innings and pitched even better than his solid 3.52 ERA, striking out 186 and walking 16 for the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the history of baseball. Asking for a repeat of that performance is wishful thinking, but Hughes seemed like a truly different pitcher last season and enters this year as a clear-cut No. 1 starter.

Santana was signed to take over the No. 2 spot and what he lacks in upside he makes up for in durability, although he's probably more of a No. 3 starter on a contending team. Nolasco looked like a No. 3 starter when the Twins gave him $49 million last offseason, but then pitched horribly for several months before revealing he was hurt and is now a question mark the Twins no doubt regret signing.

Gibson is the lone homegrown pitcher in the rotation and the former top prospect finally broke through last season to throw 179 innings in 31 starts. He was wildly inconsistent, but the end result was a 4.47 ERA in a league where the average starter was below 4.00. Inducing lots of ground balls helps Gibson make up for a lack of missed bats, but at age 27 and with just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings his upside looks limited to the back of the rotation.

Milone beat out Pelfrey and May for the fifth spot and the soft-tossing left-hander will try to show that his awful post-trade performance for the Twins was due to a benign tumor in his neck that required surgery. Milone was a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for the A's, but Oakland's pitcher-friendly ballpark overstated his effectiveness and helped compensate for a mid-80s fastball. He has a 4.80 career ERA in non-Oakland ballparks.

If the goal was to put together a rotation less likely to be a disaster than the 2011-2014 versions the Twins absolutely accomplished that, but the price tags indicate they have much higher hopes and that may be pushing things. This is the worst rotation in the AL Central even if it's assumed Hughes will avoid turning back into a pumpkin and there isn't much upside unless Meyer and/or May hit the ground running soon. And compared to the bullpen the rotation is a strength.

Glen Perkins was one of the elite relievers in baseball for 3.5 seasons before melting down late last year while pitching through an injury. The bullpen desperately needs him to be his pre-injury self or things could get very ugly. Casey Fien is the primary setup man. Brian Duensing, who was a non-tender candidate, is the only lefty. Stauffer and Boyer have prominent roles and the Twins are hoping Pelfrey's one-pitch arsenal fits better in relief. It's an underwhelming group.


This should be the least-awful Twins team since 2010, but that's not saying much and confidence in even that mild statement dropped when they stacked the roster with Pelfrey, Milone, Duensing, Boyer, Schafer, Stauffer, Shane Robinson, Chris Herrmann, and Eduardo Nunez. That's a lot of self-imposed dreck for a team with better, younger options and there's a depressingly strong chance the same "are the Twins ready to stop losing?" question can be asked 365 days from now.

March 18, 2015

When should the Twins call up Buxton, Sano, and Berrios?

Sano and Buxton

Putting an early end to all the "will they make the Opening Day roster?" questions, the Twins sent top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios to the minor-league side of camp. All three players are expected to begin the season at Double-A, where they'll likely be joined by fellow top-15 prospects Jorge Polanco, Nick Burdi, and Max Kepler, so Chattanooga Lookouts fans should enjoy their first season as a Twins affiliate.

After years of hearing about their upside it's understandable that many fans are clamoring to see Buxton, Sano, and Berrios at Target Field as soon as possible, but a little more patience is needed. For one thing, none of them look ready for the majors. Buxton was limited to just 31 games last season due to significant injuries and didn't play very well when in the lineup. Sano missed the entire season following elbow surgery. Berrios has pitched all of 43 innings above Single-A.

There have certainly been instances in which the Twins have kept prospects in the minors too long and in fact 25-year-old Alex Meyer may be a current example, but Buxton, Sano, and Berrios don't fit the description. Buxton and Sano are 21 years old, Berrios turns 21 in May, and all three are on track to reach the majors at some point this season. Opening Day jobs would short-change their development and short-change the Twins' team control of three building block talents.

By waiting as little as a few weeks to promote a prospect to the majors the Twins gain an entire additional year of pre-free agency team control over that player. In other words, if Buxton were in the majors for Opening Day and stayed there for good he would become a free agent following the 2020 season. However, if the Twins waited to call up Buxton until May he would become a free agent following the 2021 season. For better or worse, service time is an important consideration.

Even if you think Buxton, Sano, and Berrios are ready to thrive in the majors--and there's little evidence that's the case--why would a team prefer one month of them at age 21 over an entire season of them at age 28? If the Chattanooga Lookouts are destroying the Southern League in June and the Twins still haven't moved their stud prospects up the ladder there will be plenty of reason to complain, but for now their patience is better for everyone involved.

In the meantime the Twins need to evaluate whether Trevor Plouffe is part of their future plans, either at third base if Sano is forced to shift down the defensive spectrum or at another position. And if he's not, then his first-half performance will help determine if he's able to fetch something via trade or looks more like an offseason non-tender candidate. Similarly, the Twins need to figure out whether Aaron Hicks is a lost cause and could let him keep center field warm for Buxton.

Berrios is somewhat different in that the pitcher keeping his rotation spot warm is likely Tommy Milone or Mike Pelfrey, neither of whom have any real upside, but Meyer is still likely ahead of Berrios on the call-up list by virtue of being four years older with 160 more Double-A and Triple-A innings. Plus, it's a mere 14-hour drive from Minneapolis to Chattanooga and after watching the Twins' future on one field you can stop by the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, which is hosting a Twins season ticket giveaway contest on their website, MNFarmTeam.com.

March 13, 2015

Link-O-Rama

• I'll bet the guys in Lifehouse were super pumped about their super fun plane concert and then they saw Jonah Keri's tweets.

• My dad was on WCCO news being interviewed about getting free tickets from Kevin Garnett.

Stephon Marbury scored 38 points to beat likely top-five pick Emmanuel Mudiay's team in the Chinese league semi-finals.

• Twenty years ago this week Michael Jordan quit baseball. His one Double-A season was a lot more impressive than he gets credit for.

• Just sub "Joe Mauer" for "Joey Votto" and almost any Minnesota newspaper columnist could've written this same thing.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we revealed the details of a straightforward, no-strings-attached contest giving away 20-game Twins season ticket packages to listeners. And also a drunk woman crashed the show until her friend came and got her.

• To wrap up my series ranking the Twins' top 40 prospects I reviewed their entire farm system.

• On a related note, here is some hardcore pornography for Twins fans:

And a little more, just in case:

You're allowed two cigarettes now.

• If my hypothetical rankings of non-sports prospects this kid would be the easy No. 1 pick.

Nicole Curtis answers the age-old question: What's worse, tearing down an old Minneapolis house or sending an online mob after a woman?

• This isn't such a big deal compared to the Twins giving $9 million to Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Manute Bol's son is a 6-foot-10 high school basketball player struggling to find stardom.

Rihanna is singing about whiskey now, because sometimes dreams really do come true.

• Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo opened up about how close he was to being chosen as the Twins' new manager over Paul Molitor.

Johan Santana signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays, including an opt-out clause.

Pat Neshek wanted to stay with the Cardinals, but they didn't want him.

Kevin Correia, fresh off a two-year, $10 million contract with the Twins, signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners.

Nick Punto is sitting out the season and probably retiring despite signing with Arizona.

Paul "Meatsauce" Lambert ran the 40-yard dash in the KFAN offices while wearing boots and a sweater:

Still faster than me, guaranteed.

• Congrats to friend of AG.com Brad Fischer for coaching the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh women's basketball team to a second straight conference title.

• I highly recommend "The Overnighters" on Netflix, which is a fascinating documentary about the North Dakota fracking boom and pastor Jay Reinke. It starts heavy and gets heavier.

• HBO's six-part documentary "The Jinx" is great. Strong mix of facts, drama, weirdness, and mystery like a television version of what "Serial" was hyped up as.

• Baseball Prospectus has been sold to Jim Walsh, formerly of Maple Street Press.

Rob McElhenney from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" was fun on Marc Maron's podcast.

• My favorite podcast is "Stop Podcasting Yourself" and they had back-to-back great episodes with guests Todd Glass and Andy Kindler. Choose one and become a fan.

• I loved my first time at Travail Kitchen, which offers a 15-course tasting menu and now takes pre-paid reservations rather than everyone waiting in line for tables every night.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Sid Hartman net worth"
- "Minnesota Twins blog sites"
- "Where is pitching coach Rick Anderson now?"
- "How much is Jon Taffer worth?"
- "Top tweeter city"
- "Justin Morneau shirtless"
- "Glen Perkins arrogant"
- "Chicago White Sox jokes"
- "Bumped into Kate Mara"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Hanging By A Moment" by Lifehouse:


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, which is hosting a Twins season ticket giveaway contest on their website, MNFarmTeam.com.

March 4, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Also in this series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Kohl Stewart | Starter | DOB: 10/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-     6      3     1.69      16.0      12      0      16      3
         RK+     1      1     0.00       4.0       1      0       8      1
2014     A-     19     19     2.59      87.0      75      4      62     24

Considered the top high school prospect in the 2013 draft, the Twins selected Texas right-hander Kohl Stewart fourth overall after college stars went 1-2-3. On draft day scouting director Deron Johnson described Stewart's ceiling as "unlimited" and he signed for $4.5 million, bypassing a chance to follow in Johnny Manziel's footstep as Texas A&M's quarterback. Stewart had a great pro debut with a 1.35 ERA and 24/4 K/BB ratio in 20 rookie-ball innings.

He moved up to low Single-A last season and on the surface Stewart had similar success, posting a 2.59 ERA in 19 starts and holding opponents to a .233 batting average. However, he managed just 62 strikeouts in 87 innings, struggled to maintain peak fastball velocity, and was shut down with shoulder problems. High school pitchers make risky top-10 picks for a reason and Stewart failed to crack Baseball America's annual top-100 prospects list after placing 52nd last year.

Along with the sub par strikeout rate he did induce plenty of ground balls and allow just 17 total extra-base hits in 360 plate appearances, so if the shoulder issues prove minor Stewart's first full season was hardly a disaster. If not for the hype attached with being a top-five pick simply holding his own against low Single-A hitters as an 19-year-old with 20 post-high school innings under his belt would be very encouraging.

4. Alex Meyer | Starter | DOB: 1/90 | Throws: Right | Trade: Nationals

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18     18     3.10      90.0      68      4     107     34
         A+      7      7     2.31      39.0      29      2      32     11
2013     AA     13     13     3.21      70.0      60      3      84     29
2014     AAA    27     27     3.52     130.1     116     10     153     64

Acquired from the Nationals in exchange for Denard Span two offseasons ago, Alex Meyer was the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Kentucky and the 6-foot-9 right-hander with a mid-90s fastball has a 3.14 ERA with 420 strikeouts in 364 innings as a pro. Last year he made 27 starts at Triple-A and struck out 153 in 130 innings, leading the International League in strikeouts and strikeout rate. Yet he's already 25 years old and hasn't debuted in the majors.

Poor control and some nagging arm issues have certainly delayed Meyer's arrival to the majors, but when a last-place team has a top-50 prospect make 27 starts at Triple-A as a 24-year-old that rightfully raises eyebrows. For some context: In the majors last season 750 games were started by a pitcher younger than Meyer and he's less than six months older than Madison Bumgarner. Meyer is a very good prospect who's almost too old to be considered a very good prospect.

Meyer has an overpowering fastball that approaches triple-digits, his slider and knuckle-curveball receive praise, and his changeup is said to be improving. And coming from a 6-foot-9 frame adds a little extra to every pitch. If he can stay healthy and harness his dominant raw stuff Meyer has top-of-the-rotation potential, but shifting to the bullpen to unleash his fastball even further gives him a late-inning relief role to fall back on if needed.

3. Jose Berrios | Starter | DOB: 5/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-     8      1     1.08      16.2       7      0      27      3
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0       8      1      22      1
2013     A-     19     19     3.99     103.2     105      6     100     40
2014     A+     16     16     1.96      96.1      78      4     109     23
         AA      8      8     3.54      40.2      33      2      28     12

Jose Berrios was the Twins' "other" 2012 first-round pick, going 30 spots after Byron Buxton in the compensatory slot received for losing Michael Cuddyer via free agency. He's six-foot-nothing on a good day, but Berrios regularly works in the mid-90s with his fastball and complements it with a good curveball and changeup. Not yet 21 years old, he spent much of 2014 at Double-A, made a cameo at Triple-A, and was named the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year.

Berrios dominated high Single-A hitters to begin last season, starting 16 games with a 1.96 ERA and 109/23 K/BB ratio in 96 innings while holding opponents to a .218 batting average. He was one of just three 20-year-olds to make at least 15 starts in the Florida State League and then in July he moved up to Double-A, where he was the youngest pitcher in the Eastern League to throw more than 40 innings.

Even with a poor season-ending start at Triple-A included his overall numbers were brilliant for a 20-year-old, with a 2.77 ERA and 140/38 K/BB ratio in 140 innings. Berrios is often overshadowed within the Twins' system, but he'd be the No. 1 prospect for a lot of teams and could be knocking on the door to the majors in the second half. It's subjective, of course, but Berrios' mix of upside and polish makes him arguably the Twins' top pitching prospect since Matt Garza in 2007.

2. Miguel Sano | Third Base | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     A-     553     .258     .373     .521     28     60     80    144
2013     A+     243     .330     .424     .655     16     33     29     61
         AA     276     .236     .344     .571     19     37     36     81
2014

As a 20-year-old Miguel Sano destroyed Single-A and was one of the best hitters at Double-A in 2013, hitting .280/.382/.610 with 35 homers and 65 walks. Last spring he arrived in Fort Myers on the verge of the majors, but elbow problems that first popped up during winter ball worsened early in camp and Sano underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire season, losing a crucial year of development at age 21, and must now re-establish himself as an elite prospect.

Sano's chances of sticking at third base always seemed iffy given his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame and now his arm strength, which had been his main asset defensively, may be diminished by the elbow surgery. The good news is that Sano's upside offensively is high enough that even being forced to move from third base to right field or first base would leave plenty of room for stardom, although he certainly also has lots to prove at the plate following a lost year.

You won't find prospects with more power potential than Sano, but his .268 batting average and 286 strikeouts in 252 games above rookie-ball are possible red flags. Or at least reasons to pause dreams about Sano turning into the next Miguel Cabrera. There are only six active right-handed hitters with a batting average below .270 and an OPS above .800: Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Carlos Quentin, and Mike Napoli.

1. Byron Buxton | Center Field | DOB: 12/93 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK-    102     .216     .324     .466      4     11     11     26
         RK+     87     .286     .368     .429      1      8      8     15
2013     A-     321     .341     .431     .559      8     33     44     56
         A+     253     .326     .415     .472      4     16     32     49
2014     A+     134     .240     .313     .405      4     10     10     33

This time last year Byron Buxton was MLB's consensus No. 1 prospect after hitting .334 with 49 extra-base hits, 55 steals, and 76 walks between two levels of Single-A as a 19-year-old. Then a spring training wrist injury that was supposed to be minor knocked him out for most of the first half. He returned to Single-A for 30 games and hit just .240, at which point the Twins promoted him to Double-A and he suffered a concussion from a brutal outfield collision in his first game.

While not a totally lost season like Miguel Sano experienced, Buxton played poorly when not sidelined by two significant injuries and now faces the same post-concussion question marks that loomed over Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span. The good news is Buxton is still just 21 years old. He'll begin this season as one of the youngest players at Double-A or Triple-A and could be the first 21-year-old with 100 plate appearances for the Twins since Mauer in 2004.

Thanks to the rough 2014 he's no longer MLB's consensus No. 1 prospect, but Buxton still claims the top spot on several prominent lists and holds a top-three spot everywhere. Upsides simply do not get much higher than a Gold Glove center fielder with a middle-of-the-order bat and 50-steal speed, and before the injuries he showed more plate discipline and power than expected in the early stages of his development. He has franchise-lifting talent if he can just stay healthy.


For a lengthy discussion about what to expect from Miguel Sano following a lost season, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

January 21, 2015

ZiPS: When bad projections for the Twins aren’t so bad for the Twins

Sano and Buxton

Dan Szymborski of ESPN and FanGraphs has a projection system called ZiPS that is consistently among the best and most detailed around. As discussed on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode, he published the Twins' projections for 2015 and ... well, it ain't pretty. I'm sure most fans will focus on that, because the thing about projections is that every year every team's fan base thinks they're too low. Doubly so in this case, since ZiPS thinks very little of the Twins.

But here's the thing: Who really cares about the 2015 projections? Certainly everyone wants to see the Twins show significant improvement on the way to hopefully avoiding a fifth consecutive 90-loss season and maybe even approaching a .500 record. But in the grand scheme of things it matters little whether the Twins win 72 games or 78 games in 2015. They're unlikely to be a very good team, may continue to be a very bad team, and remain focused on rebuilding.

It'd be nice if ZiPS (or other projection systems) pegged Brian Dozier for an .800 OPS instead of a .720 OPS or had more faith in Ervin Santana being worth a $55 million investment or thought Torii Hunter was worth any kind of investment, but the numbers are the numbers and even an optimistic set of 2015 projections would probably have the Twins looking like at best an 80-win team. And deep down most fans presumably knew that, with or without the projections.

What matters more in the big picture is how their young talent develops and within the ugly 2015 projections there are actually positive signs. For instance, even after missing all of last season following elbow surgery Miguel Sano is projected to hit .218/.288/.441 if he reaches the majors. Obviously the batting average and on-base percentage stink, but a .441 slugging percentage and .223 isolated power for a 22-year-old prospect coming off a lost season is extremely promising.

Here's a list of every 22-year-old to surpass a .425 slugging percentage and .200 isolated power since 2010: Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward. That's it. That's the entire list. Sano has played a grand total of 67 games above Single-A and played zero games last season, yet ZiPS still thinks he has that kind of elite power potential at a time when power is down across baseball.

ZiPS projects Byron Buxton to hit .251/.315/.386 if he reaches the majors in 2015. Those aren't eye-popping numbers until you consider he's a 21-year-old center fielder with exactly one career game above Single-A and, like Sano, injuries wrecked his 2014. Or, put another way, if Buxton is called up to the Twins this season and hits .251/.315/.386 everyone should be thrilled because 21-year-old center fielders who hit .251/.315/.386 usually become stars.

According to ZiPS' projections for the overall offensive levels in MLB for 2015 a .251/.315/.386 line translates to an adjusted OPS+ of 95. Here's a list of every 21-year-old center fielder to top an adjusted OPS+ of 90 since 1980: Mike Trout, Rocco Baldelli, Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds. So that's two inner-circle Hall of Famers, one near Hall of Famer, the current best player in the world, and a good player whose career was derailed by health problems.

Sano and Buxton need to get healthy, stay healthy, and pick up developmentally where things left off for any of it to matter, but if their big-league careers start the way ZiPS projects the Twins will have accomplished something in 2015 no matter the standings. Quibbling with projections is fine and comes with the territory of being a fan, but the numbers simply represent the team's current lack of high-end talent. And those same projections suggest that's about to change soon.


For a lengthy, player-by-player discussion of this year's ZiPS projections for the Twins, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

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