Minnesota Twins Offseason Weekly Reaction: Breakout and Bounce Back Projections
Last season Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton received a call-up during the middle of the season. Sano took off and finished in the top three for the American League Rookie of the Year award. Sano hit well enough to appear in 80 games for the Twins. Slashing .269/.385/.530 and hitting 18 home runs, he became an extra source of power in the Twins lineup. He finished 2015 with a WAR of 2.1, good for fifth highest on the team. The trouble area for Sano was his fielding. During a particular game last season, Sano botched a play at third. Later in the same inning he made a diving backhand stop and made an on target throw to first. Somehow the miscue was not an error. The point being that his fielding needs more consistency in 2016, especially now that he’ll be asked to play in the outfield.
Buxton, unlike Sano, struggled mightily. He struck out a lot. 31.9 percent of his at-bats were strikeouts. Many pointed out that Mike Trout struggled at the plate when he first got a taste of the majors. For Buxton, the defensive tools are already present. He has incredibly speed and a strong-arm for a center fielder. His Range Factor per 9 innings was 3.22 last season, when the league average RF9 for center fielders was 2.68. Furthermore, Buxton’s runs from fielding was 4 while his runs batting was -7. These numbers reflect what is already stated, struggles at the plate but providing above average defense.
John Ryan Murphy received votes in the poll but not anywhere close to Buxton or Sano. This could be due to the fact that not many fans are familiar with him yet. The main focus areas to stay aware of involve his slash line, caught stealing percentage and how he grows in his fourth big league season. Last season, Murphy slashed .277/.327/.406 in 172 plate appearances. He threw out 28 percent of base runners in 29 chances. With an increase in playing time, Murphy has continued to improve in both areas. What to watch for is how well he connects on with the pitching staff like Kurt Suzuki has and if he continues to develop into a starting catcher.
My Pick: Byron Buxton
ESPN picked Sano as the breakout hitter numerous times. Steamer projections have Sano hitting 31 home runs with 90 RBI. ZiPS has him hitting 26 home runs with 76 RBI. It is too easy to pick Sano here because there is a lot of upside. However, I remain skeptical of Sano because of his temporary transition to the outfield. Therefore, I will pick Buxton as the Twins breakout hitter in 2016.
It is encouraging to see that Buxton started to have some success in the last month of the season. Even with a limited number of games batting lead-off Buxton displayed his potential. He seemed to feel relaxed and comfortable at the plate in the waning weeks of 2015. ZiPS projects Buxton will be one of top defensive Twins players (13 defensive runs above average). I see Buxton taking many strides forward and cutting down his strikeout rate. It may not happen right away but as the season progresses he will soon be batting lead-off every game.
Next: Breakout Pitcher