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Reasons for Optimism for Minnesota Twins Fans in 2016

With an 83-79 2015 and being in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, there are reasons for optimism for Minnesota Twins fans in 2016.

The 2010s have been a rough decade for the Minnesota Twins. Whereas the team captured five American League Central crowns in the 2000s and went to the ALCS in 2002, four straight losing seasons from 2011-2014 showed that brighter years were in the past. Fast forward to an 83-79 2015 that found the Twins in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, and all of a sudden brighter years appear to be in store for Minnesota Twins fans.

Their offense will be led by Miguel Sano, my prediction for next season’s American League MVP. He didn’t make his MLB debut until last July, so only have a small sample size to look at. Yet the first months to his career began auspiciously. Eighteen home runs and fifty-two RBI in eighty games, accompanied by a .385 on-base-percentage, forces one to wonder how his numbers would look had he played a full season. Despite only playing roughly half the year, he was good enough to finish third in the A.L. Rookie of the Year balloting behind Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. His WAR, according to was 2.1, quite impressive for someone who only played eighty games.

Sano was part of a duo of highly touted prospects in Minnesota. The other was Byron Buxton. Buxton raises the biggest question mark because his effectiveness was the polar opposite of Sano’s. He’s topped prospect lists for quite some time now, and there’s plenty of room to grow at 22. His slash line and walk rate need to go up. His strikeout rate needs to go down. While it’s not unusual of rookies to strike out at a high rate, there is plenty of room for adjustment in Buxton’s case. Not everybody can be Mike Trout, but when Trout got his first taste of big league action in 2011, his numbers disappointed and he was sent down. Following a 2012 recall, the rest was history. Perhaps Buxton worked some things out in Triple-A Rochester.

Speaking of which, there’s an arm that is going to crack the roster some time this year. Jose Berrios is another component of the abundance of young talent the Twins have strung together. The 21-year-old Pueto Rican righty looked tremendous upon his promotion to the Red Wings. His 6-2 record and 2.62 ERA in 75.2 innings, with a 0.965 WHIP and a 9.9 batters per nine innings strikeout rate, show that his call up is inevitable. If it’s not straight out of Spring Training, then it’ll be quite soon. He certainly has what it takes to boost a squad that recorded 4.07 team ERA, which ranked 19th out of thirty teams last season.

Another person to watch out for is Byung-Ho Park, formerly of the Korean Baseball Organization. It is always interesting to see how international stars adapt to the majors. There is certainly no shortage to Park’s accolades overseas. During his time with the Nexen Heroes, he won consecutive league MVP awards, three straight Golden Gloves, and four straight home run and RBI titles. Park’s contract is for four years and is worth $12 million. Something that ought to encourage Twins fans is that Park was teammates with Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung-Ho Kang in Nexen. Kang, who signed a four-year, $11 million deal with the Bucs in 2015, finished third in the N.L. Rookie of the Year ballot last year.

It doesn’t hurt having one of baseball’s most consistent closers in recent years. Glen Perkins recorded his third straight season with at least thirty saves in 2015 and made his third All Star appearance in as many years. Perkins also posted a 125 ERA+ and 1.193 WHIP. He’s not quite as good as he was in 2013, though he still got the job done the previous two years. As long as he and his teammates can improve on last year, it’s likely Paul Molitor will be filling out line-up cards for meaningful games in October.

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