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Twins taking advantage of strong outfield arms

MLB.com @RhettBollinger

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins are looking to take advantage of the athleticism and strong arms their young outfielders possess, and they used data from last year to determine that they should play shallower this season in certain situations, especially with runners at second base.

Minnesota's starting outfield is expected to be composed of left fielder Eddie Rosario, center fielder Byron Buxton and right fielder Max Kepler, all of whom can handle center and have plus-arms. In fact, according to Statcast™ data, Twins outfielders project to have the highest average velocity on competitive throws this season, at 92.6 mph.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins are looking to take advantage of the athleticism and strong arms their young outfielders possess, and they used data from last year to determine that they should play shallower this season in certain situations, especially with runners at second base.

Minnesota's starting outfield is expected to be composed of left fielder Eddie Rosario, center fielder Byron Buxton and right fielder Max Kepler, all of whom can handle center and have plus-arms. In fact, according to Statcast™ data, Twins outfielders project to have the highest average velocity on competitive throws this season, at 92.6 mph.

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"We're trying to get these guys to be comfortable playing shallower when the situations dictate it," manager Paul Molitor said. "You just look at all the data we had last year and the positioning, and we're trying to make some adjustments."

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According to Statcast™ data, the Twins already played slightly more shallow than the Major League average last season. Buxton averaged 313 feet from home plate, slightly ahead of the average of 316 feet; Kepler was at 291 feet, compared with the right-field average of 293, and Rosario was 289 feet, against the left-field average of 295 feet.

But it made sense not to play too shallow with Minnesota's struggles on the pitching end, as Statcast™ data shows the Twins were tied for second (behind the Rockies) in allowing the most average distance of non-grounded batted balls.

The Twins, though, expect their pitching to be better this season, and they're counting on the range of their outfielders to make up for balls hit over their head. They're also going to play more shallow only when situations call for it.

"You watch some outfielders in our league, and there's not much room in front, but they're still able to get back to the wall on balls hit deep and balls hit into the gap," Molitor said. "It's percentages and hitters and all those things. If we're up three runs in the fifth, I'm more worried about the bloop than the double."

New outfield coach Jeff Pickler has been working with the outfielders to make sure they're more comfortable with the possibility of playing shallower, working on things as basic as how they position their glove as they get to the ball, first-step reactions and being in better position to make throws.

"He wants me to be more aggressive charging balls," Kepler said. "We've worked on some footwork in the outfield on how to approach ground balls and fly balls differently. With runners on second, we're trying to throw guys out."

Rosario has had the most success throwing out runners, with 16 outfield assists in 2015 and 10 in 2016, while Kepler had nine assists as a rookie last season and Buxton had two. Buxton, though, has the best arm and the best range of the group, and has credited Pickler with helping him make improvements this spring.

"He's making me get on top of the ball to keep the ball straighter," Buxton said. "He's helping me with soft hands when I get to the ball. It sounds like small things, but it all adds up in the long run."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast.

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