With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Twins squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.
MINNEAPOLIS -- After losing a franchise-worst 103 games in 2016, the Twins know that a perfect 2017 season is about much more than where they finish in the standings.
Projection systems such as Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA provide some optimism for the Twins, projecting 79 wins and a second-place finish in the American League Central, but the long-term success of the organization will be determined by more than wins and losses.
The Twins essentially know what they'll get from veterans such as Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer, but the 23-year-old Buxton is the club's most important player, as he's a true five-tool talent who could boost the fortunes of the franchise if he can build on his impressive September that saw him hit .287 with nine homers over his final 29 games. He's been hyped as a potential superstar since his time in the Minor Leagues, and if he can reach that ceiling, he's the kind of cornerstone player a franchise can be built around.
But players such as Sano and Kepler have high ceilings as well, as Sano has as much power as anyone in baseball, while Kepler is an all-around talent like Buxton. A perfect year would see Sano cut down on his strikeouts and reach at least 30 homers, while Kepler would continue to make adjustments at the plate to fare better against lefties and raise his overall batting average.
The pitching, however, is Minnesota's biggest concern this season, and a perfect year would see the rotation make strides after the Twins posted the second-worst ERA in the Majors in 2016. The rotation features several ifs, as much of it hinges on whether Ervin Santana can repeat his impressive '16, Phil Hughes can return from thoracic outlet syndrome, Kyle Gibson can bounce back after a down year and Hector Santiago can cut down on his walks and homers.
So while those veterans will have a major say on how the rotation fares in '17, the long-term outlook will be affected more by the performances of prospects such as Berrios, Stephen Gonsalves, Tyler Jay, Kohl Stewart, Adalberto Mejia and Fernando Romero. A perfect year would see all of them healthy and taking a step forward to reaching the big leagues with pitchers such as Berrios, Mejia and Gonsalves making an impact with the Twins.
Berrios has the potential to be a frontline starter, but posted an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts last year, so regaining his form and translating his success to the Majors will be key for the Twins.
The Twins would also love to see young relievers such as J.T. Chargois, Nick Burdi, Mason Melotakis and Trevor Hildenberger make an impact, which would bode well for the future of the bullpen. It's also a reason why the Twins brought in veterans such as catcher Jason Castro, Belisle and Breslow, as their impact will also be felt in terms of the leadership and mentorship they provide to young pitchers.
So much of 2017 will be about continuing the youth movement for the Twins, and a perfect year would set them up for long-term success, which has been the stated goal of the new front office led by chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine.