In 2001, the Minnesota Twins were a team on the rise. After going 69-93 the previous year under Tom Kelly, they had improved vastly under new manager Ron Gardenhire and a young core of players including Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Christian Guzman, Brad Radke, Matt Lawton and a 22 year old relief pitcher named Johan Santana. They started out 56-33 before fading in the second half, ultimately winning 85 games and missing the playoffs. But it didn't matter that they didn't make it. They had set up a good foundation for the future. They went on to win the Central the next three years with much of the same group.
I bring up that '01 team because the Twins probably aren't going to make the playoffs this year. And that's ok. They weren't supposed to be good this year, and just the fact that they're near .500 right now is a success. Going into the season 78 so-called experts at ESPN made their predictions. Zero had the Twins winning the central. Just about all had them finishing last.
While it's frustrating that the Twins have seemingly forgotten how to pitch, hit or do anything remotely competently, that wasn't for this year. We're still in the developmental stages of this team.
We'll get a closer look at Buxton later this month and Sano has already proven he can hit in the big leagues. As he gets more at-bats he'll cut down on the strikeouts but he already looks comfortable at the plate. He lays off breaking balls in the dirt which most 22 year olds swing through like Arcia, Vargas, and Buxton.
Hicks has vastly improved. After two miserable seasons to begin his career he seems to have finally figured it out, batting .285/.342/.425 and covering more ground in center field than Charles Barkley at a buffet.
Eddie Rosario has looked very comfortable as well. I could go on for awhile just about his sheer awesomeness but I'll keep it short. He looks more like a rookie than Sano, but his flashes of brilliance are better than anyone else's. His eight triples are one away from Tony Oliva's franchise record for a rookie. There are times where he looks lackadaisical in the outfield and overpowered at the plate, but there's enough there to be optimistic.
Of course, it hasn't been all good. Phil Hughes has plunged back toward mediocrity. Kennys Vargas and Danny Santana both disappointed after promising rookie seasons and Oswaldo Arcia got Wally Pipped by Rosario. But the good far outweighs the bad.
They also have a loaded farm system, headlined by Jose Berrios, Nick Gordon and Jorge Polanco. They could've cashed in any one of those assets, but as I've said before, this wasn't their year. It doesn't make sense to trade anyone when they might not even be a wild card.
With the Twins falling out of the race after Toronto, Houston and Kansas City loaded up at the deadline, it's easy to criticize Terry Ryan, but by waiting now, they have the chance to be one of the best teams in the league in just a year or two, which is a lot better than selling the farm for maybe a one game playoff.