Twins

What Do We Need To See From Minnesota's Brain Trust In 2023?

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

With another disappointing season winding down, it appears there won’t be significant changes for the Minnesota Twins.

President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey told reporters over the weekend that he will not replace Rocco Baldelli as manager. It also seems like ownership is not changing the current infrastructure of the front office heading into next season.

But even if Falvey, Levine, and Baldelli avoid getting fired for one more year, 2023 is a critical year. If the team doesn’t improve, a change could be on the horizon. So what exactly do we need to see from the organization next season?

When you look at the current state of the Twins, fixing the pitching staff is the top priority this offseason. The Twins enter next season with Joe Ryan as a lock and should be getting Kenta Maeda back from Tommy John surgery. The Twins also have Chris Paddack, but he probably won’t be ready until midseason as he recovers from elbow surgery.

If Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy don’t re-sign with Minnesota, the emphasis will be on developing young arms. When Falvey arrived from the Cleveland Guardians, he preached the importance of developing his own pitchers. Bailey Ober and Josh Winder have made their way through the Twins system, but the rest of the organization is lacking when it comes to homegrown starters.

That makes Jordan Balazovic‘s development one of the biggest storylines heading into next year. The 2017 second-round pick came into the season as one of Minnesota’s top pitching prospects, but he posted an 0-7 record and a 7.81 ERA at Triple-A St. Paul.

If Balazovic rebounds while Ober and Winder become serviceable starters, the front office can point to this group as an example that their approach works. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do more than add a couple of homegrown arms to make this happen.

The bullpen has been a disaster the past two seasons, and it starts with their approach. Given the variance of relievers, it wouldn’t make sense for the Twins to drop a high-priced contract on a set-up man. Instead, they may also have to hope that improvement comes from within.

Jorge Alcalá showed signs of developing into a high-leverage reliever before spending the entire 2022 season on the shelf. Matt Canterino‘s high strikeout numbers and injury history in the minors also hint at a potential relief role once he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

If the Twins can hit on a couple of these prospects, their bullpen should improve. Jorge López was one of the best relievers in baseball before sliding into a tailspin in Minnesota. They should also think about bringing Michael Fulmer back. With Jhoan Durán capable of shutting down lineups in the ninth, this should be an effective group, but there’s still work to be done.

This is where the injuries came into play. No team spent more time on the injured list than the Twins this season, so better luck could mean more improvement.

Coming off his first ACL surgery, Royce Lewis looked like an explosive superstar worthy of being a former No. 1 overall pick. His second ACL tear is a concern, though. The front office needs him to bounce back.

They also need several of their young stars to return to health. Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach were just some of the young players that landed on the injured list. There were also regulars like Jorge Polanco and Byron Buxton, high-priced stars hampered by injuries.

But the Twins have also created some of their bad luck. The Paddack trade came after the New York Mets nixed a potential deal over concerns about his elbow. A few weeks later, Paddack was heading under the knife.

Minnesota’s midseason trade for Tyler Mahle was supposed to bolster the rotation, but a quick stay on the injured list in July turned out to be a long-term issue. Mahle made just four starts before the Twins shut him down.

Every acquisition has risk, but the Twins seem willing to take more on when acquiring a player. Part of that is the nature of the business, but Minnesota can’t keep acquiring injured players.

The Twins’ biggest flaw has been their unwillingness to adapt to circumstances. They treat every game like a May game against the Detroit Tigers, leading to a laissez-faire attitude.

Baldelli’s laid-back managerial style isn’t going anywhere, but the Twins would benefit from leaning into a little additional risk. Occasionally, they should let a pitcher go through the order a third time. Or occasionally stealing a base. Maybe it means pivoting away from a struggling pitcher like Tyler Duffey or Emilio Pagán.

These decisions have contributed to a disappointing season, but it’s also important to remember that this current brain trust has made some good decisions.

We mentioned that Lewis looks like a future star, and signing Nelson Cruz helped jumpstart the Bomba Squad in 2019. Trading Josh Donaldson‘s massive contract paved the way to sign Carlos Correa. Several homegrown players like José Miranda have become key fixtures in the lineup.

These are things to consider when evaluating the current regime, but it will mean nothing if the current one can’t find a way to adapt.

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