Inbox: What are Twins' plans moving forward?

Beat reporter Rhett Bollinger answers fans' questions

August 13th, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins still have 45 games remaining this season, but they have an eye toward 2019 and beyond. It's been a rough year for Minnesota, which aimed to compete, only to fall short and trade away six veterans.
The development of young players will be key down the stretch, and a wave of exciting September callups should be coming in a few weeks. Here's a look at a few of the issues the Twins are facing in this week's Inbox.

Despite selling at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Twins still plan to compete next season, as they focused on trading away players with expiring deals who weren't going to be a part of the future. Only reliever was under control through next year, but the Twins felt they sold high on him for two solid prospects from the Astros. Minnesota tried to put together a contending team this year with several one-year deals for veterans , Zach Duke and , but it just didn't work out.
The biggest thing for the Twins going forward is their financial flexibility, as they don't have any veterans under contract beyond next year. Catcher , right-hander and reliever are the only players under contract for next season, for a combined $24.5 million. So Minnesota can supplement its young core via free agency, with this year's class considered to be one of the best ever. The Twins have to figure out their infield situation, as they traded away and , while Joe Mauer is an impending free agent.
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But the key to being competitive in the short-term will be the continued development of players such as , , Max Kepler, and . It's been a lost year for Buxton and Sano, which is a major reason why the Twins are where they are this season. Buxton seemed to be plagued by bad luck more than anything with his injuries, but again, he has to prove he can hit Major League pitching. Sano has been playing better since his six-week stint in the Minors.

The future of Mauer will certainly be a major storyline this offseason, but it's still a bit too early to predict what's going to happen with him. It's hard to imagine him playing anywhere else, so the Twins could look to bring him back on a one-year deal to play first, along with , who was acquired from the Yankees for Lynn. Mauer, though, dealt with a concussion again this season, and he's batting .269/.349/.355 with three homers and 34 RBIs in 86 games, which is a step back from his resurgent 2017 season. So it's hard to know what the future holds for Mauer, but the best bet is he either sticks with Minnesota or retires.

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Right-hander Brusdar Graterol has continued to shoot up the prospects lists, as he's shown impressive stuff since missing the 2016 season because of Tommy John surgery. Graterol -- the club's No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline behind Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Nick Gordon -- has posted a combined 3.08 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 79 innings between Class A Cedar Rapids and Class A Advanced Fort Myers. The 19-year-old is the closest thing to a future ace in the organization, and he has a fastball that can reach triple digits.

With Dozier and Escobar gone, there's an opportunity for Gordon to take over as a regular, most likely at second base with entrenched at shortstop. But the issue is that Gordon has been slumping at Triple-A Rochester, hitting .214/.248/.294 with two homers, 12 doubles and 23 RBIs in 77 games. He could be a September callup, but it made sense to acquire in the short-term from the Dodgers to play second down the stretch. Forsythe has played well so far, but he isn't likely to be in the club's long-term plans given how close Gordon is to the Majors and with Lewis on the fast track.

Brent Rooker, the club's No. 7-ranked prospect, is having a solid year at Double-A Chattanooga, hitting .271/.344/.506 with 21 homers, 30 doubles and 71 RBIs in 111 games. There's definitely a chance the outfielder will get his first taste of the Majors in September, as he has one of the more advanced bats in the system.

The Twins hold a $14 million club option on for next year, but with his right finger surgery and decreased velocity this season, they're not going to pick it up. Santana still has plenty to prove down the stretch, and he hasn't pitched well enough to be an August trade candidate. There's a small chance he could return on a lesser deal, but he's not likely to remain with Minnesota.

As for , he seems to have settled into his relief role after coming back from Tommy John surgery. He said he's focused on being a reliever now, so he's also not likely to be in the rotation next year.