The Minnesota Twins and Brian Dozier agreed on a four-year contract extension earlier this week, locking up one of baseball’s best second baseman for years to come as the team tries to complete a rebuild and return to the top of the American League Central.
Dozier has become a clear part of the team’s future with his new contract, which could turn out to be a steal for the team as some believe that the former Mississippi State standout could have earned a bigger payday if he ever reached free agency. With him locked up, general manager Terry Ryan now has one less piece to worry about when it comes to building a winning team once again.
The future of the Twins is very bright with a number of elite prospects who all seem close to finally breaking into the big leagues and several young sluggers already making an impact at the Major League level, including Dozier.
The news of this deal paints a picture of what the Twins lineup may look like three years from now, when the team easily has a shot to be competitive once again. Since becoming an everyday player in the middle of the 2013 season, Dozier has primarily been used in one of the top two spots in the batting order.
Placing Dozier in the second spot of the order seems like the more likely scenario going forward; so who will be leading off for the Twins down the road? Shortstop-turned-center fielder Danny Santana surprised many in his rookie season last year, hitting .319 and looking strong in his role as the lead-off hitter in the second half of the season. At just 24-years old, it’s easy to expect Santana to be a strong option as the team’s long-term lead-off man, especially if he builds off a successful rookie campaign, but most Twins fans will tell you they expect top-ranked prospect Byron Buxton to assume the lead-off spot once he is Major League ready.
There is so much upside to what Buxton can bring to the table and he drew praise earlier this week from Minnesota’s oldest and most experienced veteran, Torii Hunter, who told reporters that he was “Mike Trout 2.”
Buxton would not only take over the leadoff spot, but he’d also take over in center field. This doesn’t mean Santana is out of a spot in the starting lineup, though, as he has already been making the move back to his natural position of shortstop this spring, where he is fighting with Eduardo Escobar for the starting job. Escobar, who came to Minnesota in the Francisco Liriano trade in 2012, had a breakout season in 2014, batting .275, which was well above his the .228 career batting average that he entered the season with.
There is only one starting spot for the two players. It’s possible that both players outdid themselves last season and the one who can prove 2014 was not a fluke will be the shortstop the Twins look to in the future. If they can continue to produce strong averages and on-base numbers then either one of them will be a strong option towards the bottom of the order.
Nick Gordon, who was picked fifth overall this summer by the Twins, is just 19 years old right now but is already the 34th ranked prospect according to MLB.com and the sixth ranked shortstop. He’ll also be a major player for that spot if he can become Major League ready quickly.
With a potential All-Star in Buxton at the top of the order, fans in the Twin Cities should be very excited for what the middle of their order will look like behind him down the road. Hometown hero Joe Mauer is coming off an ugly year after making the full-time jump to first base, but he should be well supported in years to come, especially when Miguel Sano makes the jump to the Majors.
Like Buxton, Sano is also among the best prospects in baseball and has the tools to become one of the more dangerous cleanup hitters in the sport. He missed all of 2014 with an elbow injury, but displayed his power in full effect the season before, crushing 35 home runs in the minors. Surrounding Mauer and the young third baseman in the lineup will be designated hitter Kennys Vargus and outfielder Oswaldo Arcia, who have also each shown great power hitting ability in their short times in the majors.
Vargas, 24, hit nine home runs in just 53 games as a rookie last season and was on a 162 game pace for 28 homers and 116 runs batted in. In two seasons, the 23-year old Arcia is also slugging at a 28 home run pace over 162 games.
This leaves the Twins future lineup without a catcher and a second corner outfielder. Current backstop Kurt Suzuki is coming off a career-year and just signed an extension that keeps him in Minnesota through the end of the 2016 season, but at 31 years of age, it would be easy to assume that he isn’t in Minnesota past that, especially if the veteran fails to reproduce his shocking All-Star season.
Minnesota could turn to 25-year-old Josmil Pinto to be the starting catcher down the line. Pinto has seen playing time in each of the past two seasons and won’t even become arbitration eligible 2018, meaning the team will be able to hold onto him for well past Suzuki’s contract. He dominated as a September call-up in 2013, blasting four homers in just 21 games and hitting .342 over the stretch, but he failed to build on that with a bigger sample size last year. Pinto batted just .219 in 57 games and he has many struggles on defense.
Should Pinto prove himself as the team’s backup over the next few years, it’s easy to see the team handing him the starting job at the start of the 2017 season, or even sooner if he begins to outplay Suzuki, but if a better catcher does happen to become available to the Twins, it’s also very easy to see the team capitalizing on the opportunity.
Torii Hunter currently holds the second corner outfield spot but at 39 years old and on a one year contract, it’s absurd to see the fan-favorite in the team’s long-term plans.
Center fielder Aaron Hicks, 25, could make the switch to a corner spot. Hicks has frustrated Twins fans the past two years after showing much promise coming up through the minors, only to hit .201 at the Major League level. He is very fast and a possibly one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball but he’s going to need to show the franchise that he isn’t a .200 hitter before getting handed any starting job on a hopefully competitive team.
Minnesota doesn’t have many eye popping outfield prospects after Buxton, but names that a fan could watch out for include Eddie Rosario, Adam Brett Walker and Max Kepler.
Having the team fill it in free agency is easily an option. The team’s projected middle-of-the-order looks outstanding and the top of the order looks fantastic as well so they won’t need to break the bank as they’d most likely be trying to find somebody who can hit in one of the bottom three spots in the order. Any cost-efficient outfielder who plays strong defense and can get on base would be a great fit for the Twins.
One last in house name that could fight for a spot as a starting outfielder is Trevor Plouffe, the team’s current starting third baseman.
His days as the starting third baseman for the Twins are clearly numbered with Sano getting so close to the Majors. Drafted as a shortstop, Plouffe struggled to find a position in the Majors and has played 30 games in the outfield as well as a number of games at all four positions in the infield.
Plouffe’s days in the outfield were short lived as fielding was an issue but he could make another run at is, especially with his current job in major jeopardy.
This is a team that has suffered 90 or more losses each of the last four seasons afters a decade of dominating their division, but right now, the next few years look a lot better than the last. The future offense of the Minnesota Twins looks extremely promising on paper but there is a lot of time between then and now. Players could be signed, trades could be made, stud prospects could fail to develop and unknown farmhands could blossom into superstars.
But with this future lineup, you’d have to feel pretty good about yourself if you’re a Minnesota Twins fan.
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