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MLB season preview: The Twins are trying to forge their future

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The Minnesota Twins enter 2017 in a funky place. Are they the team that lost a league-high 103 games last year? Are they the team that won a surprising 83 games in 2015 and almost snuck into the postseason?

The Twins are young and talented, with a celebrated group of youngsters that have graduated from top prospects to big leaguers. As is often the case with prospects, though, the group of Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios didn’t completely deliver in 2016.

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So the future of the Twins — both immediate and further down the road — depends on what happens with that trio. Sure, they’ve got some veterans to lean on right now, particularly Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier, who is coming off a monster season and is great trade bait, but that trio of prospects is the real thing to watch for the Twins this season.

The AL Central has enough uncertainty that the Twins aren’t necessarily doomed for the cellar. If things go right, they could surprise us again.

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions:
Jason Castro
Subtractions:
Kurt Suzuki, Trevor Plouffe, Tommy Milone

The Twins weren’t all that active this offseason. The team’s only major add was catcher Jason Castro. While his offense leaves a lot to be desired, Castro is considered an excellent pitch framer. His signing signals a shift in how the Twins are evaluating players. Prior to signing Castro, the team employed Kurt Suzuki, who is regarded as a terrible framer. By letting him go and bringing in Castro, the team has acknowledged that defense behind the plate matters. The move should help their entire pitching staff immensely.

Is this the year Byron Buxton (center) finally breaks out? (AP)
Is this the year Byron Buxton (center) finally breaks out? (AP)

KEY PLAYER
It can be no one but Byron Buxton, the centerfielder that Twins fans (and the Twins organization) have been waiting for since 2012. It’s been nearly five years, and his stats in Triple-A show that he has nothing left to learn in the minors. This season will presumably be his first full year in the big leagues, and if the team is going to start making real progress, Buxton is where it has to start. He struggled mightily in 92 major league games in 2016, hitting .225/.284/.430, but in his last month he showed what he’s capable of. He hit .287/.357/.653 from Sept. 1 to Oct. 2, with nine homers and 17 total extra base hits. Buxton is clearly capable of great things at both the plate and in the outfield, he just needs to find his form and stick with it. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup

1. Brian Dozier, 2B (.268/.340/.546, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 104 R, 18 SB)
2. Jorge Polanco, SS (.282/.332/.424, 4 HR, 27 RBI)
3. Joe Mauer, 1B (.261/.363/.389, 11 HR, 49 RBI)
4. Miguel Sano, 3B (.236/.319/.462, 25 HR, 66 RBI)
5. Max Kepler, RF (.235/.309/.424, 17 HR, 63 RBI)
6. Kennys Vargas, DH (.230/.333/.500, 10 HR, 20 RBI)
7. Jason Castro, C (.210/.307/.377, 11 HR, 32 RBI)
8. Byron Buxton, CF (.225/.284/.430, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 10 SB)
9. Eddie Rosario, RF (.269/.295/.421, 10 HR, 32 RBI)

Rotation
1. Ervin Santana (7-11, 3.38 ERA, 181.1 IP, 149 K)
2. Hector Santiago (13-10, 4.70 ERA, 182 IP, 144 K)
3. Kyle Gibson (6-11, 5.07 ERA, 147.1 IP, 104 K)
4. Phil Hughes (1-7, 5.95 ERA, 59 IP, 34 K)
5. Jose Berrios (3-7, 8.02 ERA, 58.2 IP, 49 K)

Jose Berrios is one of the young Twins players that need to take a step forward in 2017. (AP)
Jose Berrios is one of the young Twins players that need to take a step forward in 2017. (AP)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
After a 59-win season in 2016, there’s nowhere to go but up for the Twins. Even without any major upgrades or retooling, the Twins seem poised to add at least 10 wins based on their own improvement. With the Royals, Tigers and White Sox down a bit too, a 15-game turnaround isn’t out of the question. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
The only truly terrible scenario would be another 100-loss season. That feels like a long shot based on the many factors previously discussed. Then again, no one saw 103 losses coming last season either. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Is Brian Dozier a regression candidate?
We can’t yell “Regression!” and leave the room on Brian Dozier, the game is more complicated than that. But when I see his ADP settling into the mid-30s, I understand the crowd is expecting him to keep more of his 2016 haul than I do. I’m about 12-15 picks away on him, focusing on his production line of 2014 and 2015. Don’t overlook all the batting average risk here, either. At the same position, I prefer Rougned Odor and Daniel Murphy. (Scott Pianowski)

BEST FOLLOW
The Twins have a few excellent follows, but Phil Huges rises to the top. He’s a huge fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, and beyond that, he’s pretty funny.

He also enjoys tweeting pictures of his teammates with interesting captions. He comments on Glen Perkins’ shoes. He also tweeted a picture along with the caption “please don’t throw up on me.” He certainly has his own style of tweeting, but he’s loose, fun and honest. (Roscher)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
In true Midwest fashion, the Twins offer a bloody mary that doubles as a full meal. For a few years now, Hrbek’s Pub has featured insane bloody marys that feature an assortment of garnishes that range from the usual celery and olives to a slice of pizza and a bacon cheeseburger. Last year’s version came with a chicken wing and a slider. The restaurant hasn’t revealed this year’s concoction, but we wouldn’t be surprised if a giant turkey leg came stuffed in the glass. No matter what they come up with, you’ll probably want to drink … er … eat it. (Cwik)

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!