The Minnesota Twins were one of the many feel-good stories of 2015, finishing 83-79 after four consecutive 90-loss seasons. Most of that success, however, was locked into one hot month -- they went 20-7 in May -- when the Twins were especially efficient with runners in scoring position, hitting .280 compared to an overall average of .247. That efficiency can't be counted on in 2016, which means the Twins will have to improve just to win 83 games again.
What do they need: A strikeout pitcher who can be a No. 1-type starter on a team that hasn't really had an ace since Johan Santana. The Twins finished last in the American League in strikeouts for the fifth straight season. If they are ever going to return to the postseason, they're going to have to develop some pitchers who can send batters back to the bench. Yes, they compensate by not walking many batters, but they ranked just ninth in the AL in runs allowed. In the lineup, the biggest hole was veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki, who hit .240/.296/.314 and is viewed as one of the worst pitch framers in the league. Unfortunately, he is signed for $6 million and likely returns as the starter. They'll need a right fielder to replace the retired Torii Hunter, but Hunter's value was more elder-statesman wisdom than actual production.
On the rise: Miguel Sano's ascension wasn't exactly a surprise, but it had been put on delay after he missed all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery. He was a monster in 80 games as a rookie, hitting .269/.385/.530 with 18 home runs, including several memorable blasts. He drew 53 walks, showcasing his patience, but also fanned 119 times in 335 plate appearances. It's scary to imagine what he can do if cuts down the K's. If the Twins sign Korean first baseman Byung Ho Park, that could signal the return of Sano back to third base.
Prospect to anticipate: Byron Buxton managed to retain his rookie eligibility for 2016, and his performance will be a key to the Twins' performance. Rated the No. 1 overall prospect in the game by most outlets heading into 2014 and by some heading into 2015, Buxton was exposed in his major league trial, hitting .209 with 44 strikeouts and six walks. His Double-A and Triple-A numbers were more encouraging, but a couple of more months in the minors wouldn't hurt.
Winter action plan: If Minnesota signs Park, you have to think that opens up trade possibilities for Trevor Plouffe, unless the Twins go to a four-guys-for-three-spots platoon with Plouffe, Park, Sano and Joe Mauer (with Sano playing somewhere every day). That's not a bad idea, as Mauer wasn't of much value in 2015, a first baseman who hit .265/.338/.380. Only $69 million to go until Mauer comes off the books!
With Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson and Tommy Milone all returning, plus potential depth in Trevor May, Alex Meyer and Tyler Duffey, the Twins probably avoid the free-agent market for starting pitching, even if that group doesn't inspire. They're more likely to add bullpen depth to improve a pen that ranked 21st in the majors in ERA and -- no surprise -- last in strikeout rate.
Maybe the Twins finally have developed the strikeout pitcher they desperately need. Jose Berrios fanned 175 in the upper minors last season and could break camp with the team. He throws hard, throws strikes and projects as the team's best starter since Johan Santana.
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