Each year I choose one team to follow in each of MLB’s six divisions. I do not necessarily select the favorite in each division, but rather the team I’m most excited to follow in that particular division. Following a team means I will watch some of their games each week, write and tweet about the team frequently, interact with their fans on social media and even root for them (except when they play my favorite Braves!).
So without further delay, the team I will be following in the AL Central this season is the Minnesota Twins and here are my 5 reasons why I’m excited to follow the Twins this season.
1. An exciting pennant race is looming with the Cleveland Indians
Last season the dominant 102 win Cleveland Indians ran away with the AL Central division as they finished 17 games ahead of the second placed Twins. That’s some gap. However, I believe that that gap is closing. The Indians have lost a few players to free agency during the winter, most notably longtime first baseman Carlos Santana, slugger Jay Bruce, set up man Bryan Shaw and reliever Joe Smith. Make no mistake, the 2018 Indians are still a formidable team and are the overwhelming favorites to win the division. The Twins though have a young core of players that will look to build some momentum from last season’s surprise playoff appearance. The other three clubs in the division are all looking to rebuild, so the AL Central is essentially a two horse race from the get go. So the question going into the 2018 season is, will the Twins’ young core step up and close that gap between the Twins and the Indians? And for that reason, I’m excited to follow the Twins in 2018.
2. Jose Berrios
The 23-year old Puerto Rican right-handler is a potential star in the making for the Twins. After an awful debut in 2016, Berrios bounced back strongly in 2017 posting a 3.89 ERA over 145.2 innings pitched. He struck out batters at an above average rate and walked guys at a below average rate. He looks poised to take the next step and become the bona fide ace of the Minnesota Twins. It will be exciting to watch how he develops given that he is still just 23 years old and he has the potential to be great. The Twins rotation wasn’t great in 2017 (they ranked 19th in ERA) and there will be a lot of weight on the young man’s shoulders.
3. The fortified bullpen
Last year the Twins bullpen was below average. They have addressed (or tried to address) it during the winter by signing a new closer, 40 year old Fernando Rodney and a new set up man, Addison Reed. They also added a veteran in Zach Duke. The bullpen looks solid going into the 2018 season and it will be interesting to see how Rodney goes this season. There’s also an exciting young arm in the bullpen named Trevor Hildenburger. He pitched 42 innings and struck out 44 while only walking six in 2017. One to watch in 2018. Overall, this bullpen will be exciting to watch.
4. Mitch Garver
This one might be a bit unexpected, but I’m excited about Mitch Garver, the Twins minor league player of year in 2017. He’s projected to back up for first choice veteran catcher Jason Castro, but I have a suspicion he might challenge for the starting role somewhere during the season. He’s exciting in that he has a solid bat with decent power. He hit .291/.387/.541 in the minors and then struggled a little when he got called up to the majors late last season. Definitely one to watch as the season progresses.
5. The young core
The reason most people are so optimistic about the Twins becoming perennial contenders are their young core of Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. The performances of these guys were the reason the Twins surprised everyone last season and made the playoffs. The pressure is now on them in 2018 to build on 2017 and take yet another step forward. Most eyes will be on the number 2 overall draft pick of 2012 Byron Buxton to cement himself as an elite player. He’s one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball, so there’s a great reason to watch the Twins in 2018. The question is whether his bat can live up to the hype too. Third baseman Sano is an exciting young slugger. However, the MLB is currently looking into sexual assault allegations against Sano. This could have an impact on his playing time. However, if he’s in the lineup the Twins look dangerous.
So, there’s 5 good reasons to follow the Twins in 2018. Given the weak AL Central division and their exciting young core, the expectations for the Twins should definitely be to make it back to the playoffs and establish themselves as perennial contenders.
In my next post I’ll reveal which team I will follow in the NL Central this season and I’ll give you 5 good reasons why.
Until next time…