Inbox: Can prospects power up the 'pen?
Fans ask about Sano's shift to outfield, Mauer's future behind the plate
MINNEAPOLIS -- The hot stove is starting to heat up, as the annual Winter Meetings are coming up quickly and will be held Monday through Thursday in Nashville, Tenn.
The Twins were aggressive early in the offseason, but still have plenty of holes to fill going forward, especially addressing the bullpen. With that in mind, here's this week's Twins Inbox:
There's been a lot of talk about free agency or trades to bolster the bullpen, but which Twins prospects could start the season in a power relief role?
-- Eric H., Crookston, Minn.
The Twins have been aggressive in targeting power arms in the Draft in recent years, but have yet to see any of their big-armed relievers such as Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, J.T. Chargois, Mason Melotakis or Zack Jones reach the Majors just yet.
But the Twins did add Chargois and Melotakis to their 40-man roster this offseason and both could reach the Majors this season. Burdi and Reed remain top relief prospects and bolstered their status with strong showings in the Arizona Fall League. Burdi's fastball reached 100 mph in the Fall League and he struck out 11 in eight scoreless innings to shake off some regular-season struggles with Double-A Chattanooga. Reed allowed no earned runs in 10 appearances with three saves.
Trevor May also remains an option to remain in relief after his success in that role last year, but is expected to head to Spring Training with a chance to start. Alex Meyer is coming off a disappointing season, but still possesses a fastball that registers in the high 90s and also could remain in relief again next season.
Minnesota still has right-handers Michael Tonkin and J.R. Graham on the roster, and fellow right-hander Ryan Pressly is expected to be ready for Spring Training after missing the second half of the season with a lat strain. Pressly showed promise before the injury and could see an increased role next year if he can stay healthy.
So the Twins do have some intriguing options in their system, but they still need to go out and get proven veterans who can miss bats, as Twins relievers finished last in the Majors in strikeouts last season.
Is there any chance Trevor Plouffe moves to the outfield instead of Miguel Sano? Seems like Sano needs more reps at third base if that's going to be his future position.
-- John L., Hibbing, Minn.
Paul Molitor was asked just that this offseason, but said it'll be Sano who would move to the outfield and not Plouffe. The Twins believe Sano is more athletic than Plouffe, but also believe Plouffe has turned himself into an above-average third baseman over the last three seasons.
Plouffe has grown comfortable defensively and moving him to a new position doesn't seem to make as much sense as trying out Sano in the outfield. Sano is obviously big for the outfield at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, but moves well for his size. Plouffe played some outfield before becoming an everyday third baseman, but has put on at least 15 pounds of muscle since then and isn't quite as agile.
Of course, this is all moot if the Twins decide to trade Plouffe this offseason, but as of right now, it'll be Sano going to the outfield if they hang on to Plouffe.
Would it be possible to put Joe Mauer back behind the plate? This would allow Sano to play first base and allow Plouffe to stay at third and for Byung Ho Park to be the DH.
-- Josh S., Cold Spring, Minn.
I still get this question a lot, but the easy answer is Mauer is never going to move back behind the plate and risk his career after suffering his season-ending concussion while catching in 2013. It would solve their logjam at first base, but it's just not going to happen. Mauer will never catch again and the Twins like John Ryan Murphy's potential, as they believe he can be their catcher of the future.
I've seen some conflicting reports and wanted to clarify whether Byron Buxton will be eligible to win the Rookie of the Year Award next year. Will he be a rookie in 2016 or not?
-- Mike A., Hudson, Wisc.
Buxton will be a rookie in 2016, as he had 129 at-bats and the rules state that a player loses his rookie status once he exceeds 130 at-bats. So Buxton, who remains ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect by MLBPipeline.com, figures to be a favorite for the award heading into next season.
Buxton struggled in his first taste of the Majors, hitting .209/.250/.326 in 46 games, but he's 21 years old and has all the tools to be an All-Star caliber center fielder going forward. And with Aaron Hicks traded to the Yankees, Buxton has a real shot to be the club's Opening Day center fielder.