Twins hoping for our "open-mindedness" this season
Amid the standard you-never-know exhortations and things-will-be-different pledges, Twins manager Paul Molitor closed his preseason news conference Sunday with a surprisingly plaintive plea to greater Minnesota.
“Be open-minded,” Molitor suggested. “Come out and see us.”
So begins one of the oddest and most capricious seasons in recent Twins history, the unpredictable intersection of promise and disaster. Opening Day is about hope and renewal, and while the Twins gamely try to hawk both, it’s not clear that they have the necessary inventory on hand, not with the pain of 103 losses still so fresh.
“There hasn’t been a lot to cheer about, at least very consistently for awhile,” Molitor empathized. “We understand our fans are looking for hope.”
It’s scarce right now, no doubt. Yet there is a case to be made that the Twins on Monday, when they open the 2017 season against the Kansas City Royals, could be straddling one of the great pivot points in franchise history.
Be open-minded, indeed. But few voyages are as gratifying and satisfying to a fan base as the gradual, incremental growth of green young prospects into historic icons, or at least occasional All-Stars. And the Twins are committed this season to a group of young position players that rates, on paper at least, among the most promising to reach Minneapolis in more than a decade.
Byron Buxton will be challenged to build on his euphoric September breakthrough. Miguel Sano will be encouraged to reign in his worst impulses and channel his rookie-year self. Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler will be given room to touch up their deficiencies, and Adalberto Mejia (and soon enough, Jose Berrios) will be given a stage to show they belong at this level.
The Twins will live with mistakes, and brace yourself for plenty. But the payoff, they believe, is finally within sight. It’s just hidden, you see, behind all those losses.
“While ideally, you like to see all young players get to the big leagues and succeed right away, that’s just not the way it happens,” said Derek Falvey, the new Twins chief baseball officer. “You need to afford players a runway to grow and develop. We have some young players that I’m confident will be part of our core moving forward, and we want to make sure they’re given that opportunity.”
Does that mean Buxton stays, even if the batting average doesn’t climb? That Sano remains at third base even if he looks like the right-field version? Could be. Falvey is thinking bigger than a temporary, short-term turnaround.
“The reality is, we’re looking to build this into a long-term, sustainable team. Making shortsighted decisions can take you off that path,” Falvey said. “If you cut the cord too early, you may look up later and regret that move.”
Chatter about incremental steps doesn’t sit well with everyone, though. At the team’s first Target Field workout Sunday, Brian Dozier made it clear he wants to be playing games in October, too.
“I don’t buy into the fact that we’re rebuilding. I don’t buy into the fact that a winning record and still not getting to the postseason could be considered a successful year,” he said. Pointing at Molitor, Dozier said “[he] is a world champion. Guys have been to the playoffs. I’ve never been. … I promise you when we take the field, there’s nothing short of the goal of reaching the postseason. And if you don’t, then I don’t consider it a success.”
That’s bold talk, but it’s the magic of Opening Day, too. Yes, the Twins believe, they are much improved.
“I’m not going to make any outlandish predictions, and I’m not going to put any limitations,” Molitor said. “Baseball is certainly a game of momentum and confidence. I agree with Brian — if you don’t envision a way you can win, then you shouldn’t be out there.”