Souhan: Crack of Twins’ bats should be loud and lasting this season

The 2023 Twins transformed their offensive production after the All-Star break last season with the oldest trick in the book: They got better players.

The Twins were so inept at the plate for the first half last summer that you could have fairly deduced that something must be wrong with their hitters' preparation or plans. Then the All-Star break passed and a cadre of young hitters made them one of the best offensive teams in baseball.

Before the break, they ranked 16th in walks, 25th in on-base percentage, 20th in slugging percentage, 24th in runs and 22nd in OPS.

After the break, they ranked first in walks, fourth in OBP, third in slugging, fifth in runs and third in OPS.

Royce Lewis, Matt Wallner and Edouard Julien performed like stars, making up for subpar offensive seasons from Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, who were limited by injuries.

Of the Twins expected to be outstanding offensive performers this season, only one — Correa — got more than 410 plate appearances last year (580). Julien had 408, Buxton had 347, Ryan Jeffers had 335, Lewis had 239 and Wallner had 254.

A full, relatively healthy season from that group would give the Twins a deep and imposing lineup. Add in solid seasons from Alex Kirilloff, Carlos Santana and Max Kepler, and factor in that the Twins' top four prospects are all expected to be excellent offensive players, and the Twins might be able to more than survive their early season pitching injuries.

Last year, the Twins gave 332 plate appearances to Joey Gallo, who contributed heavily to the Twins leading the majors in strikeouts.

Overall, the Twins finished third in the majors in home runs, and seventh in slugging and OPS despite all of their injuries and slumps.

There are legitimate concerns about the bottom of the Twins' rotation, the prospective health of the rotation and early season injuries to All-Star closer Jhoan Duran and Caleb Thielbar, but the Twins' lineup, if relatively healthy, could carry the team.

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The Twins have built such a reservoir of young offensive talent that they were able to trade two of their best hitters the last two offseasons without damaging their offensive capabilities.

Last year, they sent batting champ Luis Arráez to Miami for ace Pablo López. This winter, they sent Jorge Polanco, one of their most professional hitters, to Seattle. The public face of the deal was now-injured starter Anthony DeSclafani, but the best talent in the deal was outfield prospect Gabriel Gonzalez, who now ranks fourth on the Twins' top prospect list behind phenom Walker Jenkins, close-to-the-bigs infielder Brooks Lee and phenom hitter Emmanuel Rodriguez.

The Twins' willingness to part with Polanco demonstrated how this team's offensive standards have changed.

Polanco was long considered one of the Twins' best hitters. His career OPS is .780.

Here are the OPS totals of some of the Twins' players who made Polanco expendable: Lewis .913, Julien .839, Wallner .842 and Lee posted .814 in the minors.

Last year, when injuries forced the Twins to rely on depth, they gave at-bats to reserves Michael A. Taylor, Willi Castro and Donovan Solano, all of whom performed well.

Castro is back, and if the Twins need offensive reinforcements this season, they will likely turn to Lee, who has much greater upside than Taylor and Solano, even though Solano became one of the Twins' best situational hitters.

Replacing Gallo's occasional power and frequent strikeouts is Carlos Santana, who upgrades the Twins' fielding at first base and can serve as DH. Gallo had a 43% strikeout ratio; Santana's was 15%.

Here's a theoretical everyday lineup, one you could see as early as Thursday's season opener in Kansas City:

Eddie Julien, 2B; Carlos Correa, SS; Byron Buxton, CF; Matt Wallner, LF; Royce Lewis, 3B; Max Kepler, RF; Ryan Jeffers, C; Carlos Santana, 1B, and Alex Kirilloff and others serving as DH.

Lewis is poised to become a superstar. Buxton is as talented as any player in the big leagues who isn't involved in a gambling investigation. Correa is poised to return to his career standards. Wallner and Julien could quickly become stars.

The Twins' offensive depth and capabilities have accomplished the improbable: Making Buxton's contributions more of a luxury than a necessity.