Minnesota Twins Opening Day Projection: Starting Lineup
Center Field: Byron Buxton
As a first-round pick and a top prospect for a team that endured a lot of losing, Byron Buxton has been thrust into the Minnesota and even national spotlight for a few years now. It has taken him some time, experience, and going back and forth between the majors and minors, but in 2018 he seemed to add offense to his incredible defense.
We can look at Buxton’s overall 2017 numbers and it tells one story with his slash line of .253/.314/.413 and 16 home runs, 14 doubles, 6 triples, and 29 stolen bases. Looking at his half-season splits shows us just how much Buxton’s offensive output changed in the second half. Those second half numbers look like .300/.347/.546, 11 home runs, 8 doubles, and 5 triples.
As was showcased in the early part of the season, Buxton will almost always have value based on his ability to field center field at an elite level. Buxton was the top center fielder and finished third overall regardless of position in the majors according to his 24 defensive runs saved in 2017. If Buxton can even perform at an offensive level a notch down from the second half of 2017 he will place himself right in the middle of some All-Star type conversations.
Right Field: Max Kepler
Max Kepler was a young player who didn’t quite take the leap forward with his production in a way that had been hoped. He still was a positive contributor to the 2017 Twins. Kepler also has been viewed highly enough in his current performance, potential, and skill set that he was rumored to be coveted by the Tampa Bay Rays as rumors swirled around about a potential Chris Archer deal.
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Kepler offered solid defense for the Twins in right field as really the third center fielder that the Twins trot out on the field for every game. At the plate he hit .243/.312/.425 with 19 home runs and 32 doubles. What held Kepler back was his struggle in hitting left-handed pitching. In those scenarios, Kepler slashed .152/.213/.240.
Looking ahead to 2018 the attention of Kepler must turn to proving that he can, in fact, hit left-handed pitching. He seemed to begin to turn the corner a bit towards the end of the season and based on the moves made so far this offseason. It appears the Twins are giving him every opportunity to prove he can hit left-handers and continue to take hold of a full-time role as the Twins right-fielder.
Designated Hitter: Miguel Sano
Traditionally the Twins have used the designated hitter position as a rotating position so that they could keep the bat of some of their position players in the lineup but give them a rest from the field. To at least start this season it looks as though Miguel Sano could be taking full-time reps with the questions surround his physical readiness and whther or not he will be ready to field third base.
In an injury-shortened 2017, Sano hit .264/.352/.507 and added 28 home runs to his year-end numbers. What was incredible about Sano’s season is that he seemingly carried the Twins offensively through the first couple months of the season earning him an All-Star selection.
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Going into 2018, the biggest worry has to be Sano’s availability. The Twins need him to be healthy and it would also be great from an on-field standpoint if he would avoid suspension. This is also going to be a season where we start to see if Sano will develop into a great hitter and third baseman by cutting back on some of his strikeouts, or be simply a good power hitter. Sano will always strikeout a fair amount, but at the rate he does now it will hard for him to reach an all-time great status if he doesn’t change something.