2019 Record: 101-61
1st Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 4.18 (9th in MLB)
Team OPS: .832 (2nd in MLB)
What Went Right
The Twins won 100+ games for just the second time in franchise history, completing a 23-win jump from the season before as they cruised to their first AL Central title since 2010. The biggest reason for the improvement was a powerful offense that set a major league record with 307 home runs. Five players reached the 30-homer plateau for Minnesota, which was also a major league record. The club was led by Nelson Cruz and his 41 bombs and career-best 1.031 OPS. Max Kepler (36), Miguel Sano (34), Eddie Rosario (32) and Mitch Garver (31) also hit the 30-homer mark. Garver had to be the biggest surprise of the group, as he needed just 359 plate appearances to hit his 31 bombs in a big breakout campaign. Kepler also had a big power breakout as he went from 20 to 36 dingers and did so in fewer plate appearances. Jorge Polanco clubbed 22 bombs himself, posted a .841 OPS and led the team with 107 runs scored. Jose Berrios reached the 200-inning mark (200 1/3) for the first time, holding a 3.68 ERA with 195 strikeouts. Jake Odorizzi had the best season of his career, posting a 3.51 ERA with 178 strikeouts across 159 frames. Taylor Rogers was one of the best relievers in baseball with a 2.61 ERA and 90/11 K/BB ratio over 69 innings as he notched 30 saves.
What Went Wrong
The Twins had a brilliant regular season, but their year ended on a sour note as they were once again knocked out of the playoffs by the Yankees in an embarrassing ALDS sweep. Byron Buxton showed improvement at the plate in cutting down his strikeout rate and posting a .827 OPS, but injuries continued to plague him as he was limited to just 87 games. His season officially ended in early September when he underwent labrum surgery on his left shoulder. Willians Astudillo had plenty of buzz in fantasy circles in the spring, but he wound up spending time back in the minors and on the injured list and finished with just a .678 OPS. After taking a step forward in 2018, Kyle Gibson took a step back in 2019 with a 4.84 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Perhaps it’s not fair to include Michael Pineda in the “What Went Wrong” section. After all, he rebounded from a rough start to post a 2.96 ERA and 87/17 K/BB ratio over 82 frames covering his final 14 starts. However, he was popped with a 60-game PED suspension in early September that will also keep him out for the first month and a half of 2020.
** Mitch Garver entered the season having hit seven home runs over his first 387 plate appearances in the big leagues. He then went on to belt 31 over the boards in just 359 plate appearances in 2019. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances, only Christian Yelich, Yordan Alvarez, Mike Trout and Nelson Cruz had a higher slugging percentage than Garver’s .630 mark. Garver obviously isn’t going to sneak up on anyone in 2020, but with Jason Castro presumably moving on in free agency, he should be in line to play a lot more. That could help offset any regression Garver might experience.
** Each year it seems like we’re waiting for the big Byron Buxton breakout that never comes. The good news is the former top prospect put up a .827 OPS this season, which was easily a career high. He also dropped his strikeout rate to a much more digestible 23.1 percent. The bad news is that injuries were once again a major issue, as wrist, concussion and shoulder problems limited Buxton to just 87 games. He’s played only 115 games over the last two seasons and has made it through 100+ contests just one time in the majors. Buxton had labrum surgery on his left shoulder in September and could potentially get a late start to 2020. The soon-to-be 26-year-old will remain a major question mark next season, but his draft price should reflect that and he did make strides in 2019 when on the field.
** Luis Arraez was well off the fantasy radar coming into this season, but he was a surprise contributor for the AL Central champs, finishing with a sparkling .334/.399/.439 batting line. Among players that tallied at least 300 plate appearances, Arraez ranked fourth in the AL with his .399 OBP. The 22-year-old has incredible bat control, having finished with just a 7.9 percent strikeout rate and 9.8 percent walk rate. Arraez was a .331 hitter in the minors, too, and he looks like a good bet to continue to be a batting average asset. The question is whether he can offer anything else. Arraez isn’t a base stealer and has hit just 10 homers over 551 games as a pro. His Statcast data this year was similarly underwhelming. It’s possible Arraez could eventually grow into more power, but fantasy owners would be wise to count on him for average and little else for now.
** Could Max Kepler actually be underrated even after coming off a 36-homer season? Kepler didn’t post an OPS lower than .801 or hit fewer than five bombs in any of the first five months of the season, but he stumbled in September after suffering a shoulder injury, putting up just a .493 OPS with zero homers while being limited to only 11 games. Kepler has really upped his flyball and hard-hit rates the last two seasons while at the same time cutting his strikeout rate and raising his walk rate. The left-handed hitter was also better against southpaws for the second year in a row. If healthy, Kepler could be in line for even bigger things in 2020.
** Jose Berrios had a very good 2019 season, ending up with a 3.68 ERA and 195/51 K/BB ratio over 200 1/3 innings. However, he entered August with a 2.80 ERA before putting up a 5.83 mark during the final two months. The right-hander also “only” had a 23.2 percent strikeout rate, which is fine in and of itself but was a step back from his 25.4 percent rate in 2018 even as whiffs around the league continued to rise. Berrios has the pedigree and stuff to be an elite starter, but he seems to always have a few blowup starts and/or inconsistent stretches that hold him back. Hopefully he’s able to eliminate those and take a step forward in 2020.
** When will Brusdar Graterol enter the Twins’ rotation? The 21-year-old posted a 1.92 ERA and 61/23 K/BB ratio over 61 innings across three levels in the minors before being called up to the majors to be used as a bullpen piece down the stretch. While he was broken in as a reliever, all signs point to Graterol’s future being as a starter and he is a potential ace if everything clicks. The Twins certainly need rotation help, which could give Graterol an opening sooner rather than later. However, the youngster has never thrown more than 102 innings during pro ball, so the club is certainly going to be keeping a close eye on his workload.
Team Needs: Rotation help, rotation help and more rotation help. Jose Berrios seemingly is the only one currently locked into a rotation spot for 2020, so that should be the front office’s focus this winter. They were able to patch together a group of starters relatively cheaply in 2019, but owner Jim Pohlad, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and company probably need to step up and spend on rotation help this offseason.