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2019 a 'prove it' year for Twins' young core

Buxton, Sano looking to rebound, while players like Berrios, Rosario want to build on '18
February 8, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- During a surprise run to the American League Wild Card Game in 2017, this young Twins core of José Berríos, Miguel Sanó, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco showed that it has the potential to anchor a playoff team. That gave Twins leadership some confidence

MINNEAPOLIS -- During a surprise run to the American League Wild Card Game in 2017, this young Twins core of José Berríos, Miguel Sanó, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco showed that it has the potential to anchor a playoff team. That gave Twins leadership some confidence that a window of contention was opening.
So the goal for 2019 is simple: Prove it.
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"I think that we saw, in 2017, a good step forward from a lot of our guys," chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. "Candidly, and no one's running from this, we didn't see that last year. We need that group to take steps forward. We know that. That will be a critical piece to us winning, but I feel like if that happens, good things will happen for this team."
Throughout the offseason, Falvey and general manger Thad Levine have maintained that the team is building for contention, and to that end, they've made several meaningful additions, particularly position players. C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop will bring 30-homer power to the Twins' infield. Nelson Cruz, the team's biggest addition, chose Minnesota in part because he feels the roster has the young talent to contend.

FanGraphs projects the Twins to win 83 games this year, and the annual PECOTA projection from Baseball Prospectus forecasts Minnesota for 81 wins, putting the club on the cusp of playoff contention. Other teams seemingly on the brink, like the White Sox and Reds, have been more aggressive this offseason in seeking major additions to get over the hump.
But with uncertain performance from their core and more top talent soon to arrive from the Minor League system, the Twins don't appear sure that now is the time to push all of their chips in. They're interested in securing a sustained contender, and in an uncertain year, that involves striking a careful balance between adding supporting pieces while maintaining flexibility, and also giving the young talent enough playing time to develop for the years to come.
"I would say our goal is to invest wisely," Falvey said. "'Wisely' is the way to winning more baseball games over the long term, sustainably. I think you have to be careful not to make decisions that will impede the progress you're trying to make."

For example, the Twins could still add a proven bullpen arm, but if they don't get the right value, that could still provide an opportunity for, say, a previously untested closer to emerge.
"Someone needs to grow and mature into that role, and unless someone's given that opportunity, I'm not sure you're always going to know if someone could," Falvey said. "And that's an important step in my mind for this team. It's not just about 2019. It's about, how do we get this group, collectively, over the next number of years, to be competitive?"
Part of how the Twins' front office hopes to help develop that core is by examining all facets of the organization -- strength and conditioning, nutrition, performance, coaching -- and maximizing the resources available to their players while optimizing how those resources are used to help those players.
They made significant internal strides this offseason, including an overhaul of their offseason training camps to have a more specific instructional focus, redoing the structure of Spring Training, elevating a new strength and conditioning coordinator, expanding their medical staff and adding a full-time nutritionist.
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"I think that growth and development of a team comes in a lot of different forms," Falvey said. "For teams that are outside maybe the top few teams in payroll, when you look at it year to year, there's a lot of variation in those clubs in terms of performance. A lot of it has to come from your young players. I think buying wins in your division just through free agency is a little bit of fool's gold. I think you need to really invest in the group you have, and I feel really good about that."
If this core responds well -- perhaps as soon as this season -- the front office has the payroll flexibility to make its move at the Trade Deadine or next offseason. That might be where a splash closer to the size of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper could come into play.

"My view ... is the best time to acquire players of that magnitude is when your window to win is wide open, not when you're got your fingers underneath the window and you're trying to jam the window open," Levine said on a panel at TwinsFest. "I want to do it when we're projected to win the Central, and we're ready to put our foot on someone's throat."
As the Twins wait and see if Buxton and Sano can rebound from a difficult 2018 to support the continued upward progression of Rosario, Kepler and Berrios, they will continue to look for opportunities for younger pitchers like Adalberto Mejía, Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell, Fernando Romero and Gabriel Moya to establish and prove themselves.
"I'll firmly believe this until the day my baseball career ends: the life blood of building and winning in this market and for this team will be the growth of a core of players that are on the front end of their careers, that are in that stage of their development," Falvey said. "We have to count on that. We have to do everything we can to devote our resources to developing those players. Ultimately, that will determine our success."

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.