Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Twins 2022 season preview: Projected lineup, rotation and three questions as Carlos Correa joins Minnesota

The Minnesota Twins took a big step backward last season. The club followed up back-to-back AL Central titles (which included a 101-win 2019 season) with a last-place finish in the American League Central. That meant that they finished behind the rebuilding Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals.

But, despite the rapid fall from grace, the Twins will enter the 2022 season with huge aspirations. They did, after all, manage to sign the top free agent in this winter’s class. Superstar shortstop Carlos Correa signed a three-year deal worth $105 million with the Twins that includes opt outs after the first and second seasons. Along with the addition of Correa, the Twins made a handful of moves that prove they want to win and ultimately ended up being one of the more active teams after the owner-imposed lockout was lifted. 

The Twins acquired Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ronny Henriquez in exchange for Mitch Garver in a trade with the Texas Rangers. Then, sent Kiner-Falefa, Josh Donaldson and Ben Rortvedt to the Yankees in exchange for Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela. In that trade, some of the cap space that the Yankees gave them actually helped them pay up for Correa’s deal. They also traded for right-handed starter Sonny Gray, sending right-handers Francis Peguero and Chase Petty to the Cincinnati Reds. And before the lockout, they signed center fielder Byron Buxton to a long-term extension.

Now, let’s preview the upcoming season for the Twins.

Win total projection, odds

  • 2021 Record: 73-89 (fifth in AL Central)
  • 2022 SportsLine projection: 79-83
  • World Series odds (via Caesars Sportsbook): +5000

Projected Lineup

  1. CF Byron Buxton
  2. DH Luis Arraez
  3. SS Carlos Correa
  4. 2B Jorge Polanco
  5. 1B Miguel Sanó
  6. RF Max Kepler
  7. C Gary Sánchez
  8. LF Alex Kirilloff
  9. 3B Gio Urshela 

Bench: C Ryan Jeffers, INF Jose Miranda, INF/OF Nick Gordon, OF/1B Brent Rooker

Last season, the Twins’ offense wasn’t enough to contend. This year, they’re certainly packing a bit more of a punch with Correa. Other offseason additions of Sánchez and Urshela could also figure to help bolster the club’s hitting. With Correa as shortstop, Urshela will be able to play his natural position of third base. Arraez will likely split time at DH, left field as well as second and third base. Sánchez will likely also see time at DH while the 24-year-old Ryan Jeffers gets reps behind the plate. With Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson gone, Minnesota will have to rely on Polanco (33 homers last year), Kepler (looking to rebound after a rough 2021), and Sano (ranked in the top 10 in baseball in max exit velocity) for power.

Projected rotation

  1. RHP Sonny Gray
  2. RHP Dylan Bundy
  3. RHP Bailey Ober
  4. RHP Joe Ryan
  5. LHP Lewis Thorpe

Bullpen: CL Taylor Rogers, SU Tyler Duffey, SU Jorge Alcala, MID Caleb Thielbar, MID Joe Smith, MID Cody Stashak, MID Jovani Moran, LR Griffin Jax, LR Jharel Cotton

While the Twins’ lineup is in solid shape, you could say that the rotation is in a bit of a rebuilding mode. There are plenty of question marks after Sonny Gray. The Twins will also be without Kenta Maeda (recovering from Tommy John) and Randy Dobnak (suffered injury to right middle finger) to start the season with both starters on the 60-day injured list. The bullpen lacks impact arms, as well.

Here are three questions facing the Twins as they head into the 2022 season.

1. How much of an impact can Correa make?

Carlos Correa joining the Twins was a bit of a surprise to most, but the shortstop has been clear on his goals for the club since arriving to Minneapolis. Correa, though just 27-years-old, has an ample amount of postseason experience (301 at-bats in 79 playoff games) and owns a .967 OPS from the last two postseasons in 2020 and 2021.

All together, Correa has played in 16 playoff series throughout his seven-year career, which is one shy of the Twins franchise’s total since arriving to Minnesota in 1961. His goal, according to him, is to help lead the Twins to a deeper postseason run and build a “championship culture.” The Twins own a record-worst 18-game postseason losing streak, and if there’s going to be anyone who could help them move past the first round of the postseason, it would be Correa.

“To add one of the best players in the game to your group, he’s going to elevate a lot of things here,” manager Rocco Baldelli told MLB Network after Correa’s arrival in spring training. “The way he talks about the game already is pretty amazing to be a part of. … We’re happy to have him.”

Correa will be one of the veterans for the Twins, along with franchise staple Byron Buxton (28 years old, entering 8th MLB season) Gary Sánchez (29, entering 8th season), Gio Urshela (30, entering 7th season) and Max Kepler (29, entering 8th season), Correa and Buxton were the No. 1 and 2 overall picks in the 2012 MLB Draft. The 2012 draftees each have the potential to put up MVP-quality seasons this year. 

There’s plenty of youngsters on the roster that could benefit from the veteran leadership and guidance. For Correa, in particular, he could serve to help Twins top prospect, 22-year-old shortstop Royce Lewis. Lewis is still looking to make his mark, and Correa could be a mentor for the young shortstop. 

“It’s very important to me to be able to come here and show the young guys how to build a championship culture in the clubhouse,” Correa told MLB Network. “That starts from the moment we take the field at practice. building that championship mentality in the clubhouse, team chemistry, going out for team dinners and all that. That’s something I want to implement here in order for us to go out and there and compete for a championship.”

2. Can Buxton stay healthy?

Center fielder Byron Buxton has only played past 92 games once in his seven-year MLB career. Injuries and underperformance have stopped Buxton from reaching his full superstar potential. Last season, Buxton hit .306/.358/.647 with a career-high 19 home runs in just 61 games before missing most of 2021 with a hip injury and a fractured hand. When he’s healthy, Buxton has shown MVP upside. Despite seemingly always catching the injury bug, the Twins signed Buxton to a seven-year, $100 million extension before he had a date with free agency.

The 2022 season poses the same question for Buxton: Can he stay healthy?

“That’s going to be a big issue for me to stay on the field,” Buxton told MLB Network. “Make sure that I’m there for my teammates, I got their back. The only way for me to do that is for me to be on the field. I [added] some smarter ways — not necessarily take away my aggressiveness [on defense] — but be a little bit smarter on diving or plays on the wall. I’m healthy, I feel good. I know I did better things over the offseason to help me sustain to go the full season.”

3. Can the Twins contend with their current pitching situation?

The short answer to this question is probably not. This is where it wouldn’t be crazy to predict the Twins falling from contention again. While Minnesota went out and added depth to their lineup, there just isn’t enough depth in the rotation even after the additions of Sonny Gray and Dylan Bundy. We won’t know for certain how the back half of the rotation will perform since there are so many question marks, but if they’re shaky, trading for Oakland A’s starters Frankie Montas or Sean Manaea could be an in-season option. Although, the Twins might be forced out of the market for them since they don’t have many prospects to offer up in a potential deal. 

Gray, 32, should continue to be a reliably above-average starter with the Twins. Over the course of the last three seasons, he’s posted a 136 ERA+ and a 3.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 68 starts. Bundy, 29, posted a 6.06 ERA in an injury-shortened 2021 season (19 starts) but he finished ninth in AL Cy Young voting in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, with a 3.29 ERA, 138 ERA+ and 4.24 strikeout-walk ratio over 65 2/3 innings. 

The starters who fall more in the question mark category of not sure what to expect would include right-hander Bailey Ober (26-years-old, made his MLB debut last season) right-hander Joe Ryan (25, also made his MLB debut last season) and left-hander Lewis Thorpe (26, 5.76 ERA in 59 1/3 innings over past three seasons). Ober has a 4.19 ERA in 20 career starts while Ryan owns a 4.05 ERA in five career starts. It’s been reported that Thorpe might be pushed out of a starting role this season and pitch out of relief given his injury concerns. Thorpe appeared in just 11 games last season between Triple-A and the majors (32 1/3 innings combined) mostly due to a shoulder injury. All of this to say, once again, there are a lot of question marks in this Twins rotation. 

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