The Minnesota Twins are expected to be below .500 again this season, one year after finishing with the league's worst record and cleaning house with the front office. They have 120-1 odds to win the World Series, although long odds in the past haven't stopped the Twins
Prediction systems like PECOTA have projected the Twins to improve upon last season's debacle, mainly because there's nowhere to go but up, but also because the team has plenty of young talented players with the potential to break out. Health will obviously play a major part as well.
Players like Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios and Max Kepler all have tremendous potential and should help bring the Twins back into contention over the next few seasons. Any of them is capable of breaking out in a big way. However, I think the Twins player most likely to have a breakout season this year is center fielder Byron Buxton.
The former #2 overall pick and top prospect in all of baseball, Buxton's been viewed as a future star for years after excelling in the minor leagues on both offense and defense. With the team's new front office regime focused much more on pitching and defense, the constant back and forth between AAA and the big leagues for Buxton last season should come to an end regardless of his early season performance.
The 23-year-old super athlete is already among the game's best defensive center fielders and will only improve as he gains more experience. His elite speed allows him to make up for poor reads, and when he gets a good read it allows him to run down fly balls that nobody else could even get to.
What will separate Buxton from other speedy, defensive center fielders though is his bat. He has the potential to be one of the league's better all around hitters, as well as an elite base stealer. In 325 minor league games, despite always being one of his league's youngest players, Buxton has put up a very impressive slash line of .302/.380/.501 while stealing 101 bases in 128 tries, a 79% success rate.
Buxton's month of September last season once he was recalled to the big leagues was impressive and could be a sign of things to come, but it's important not to overvalue a small sample size. Factoring in that it came in September with expanded rosters, meaning more watered down pitching, is important as well.
However, Buxton's minor league history and pure talent makes him a likely candidate to have a breakout season offensively. If he can put together a .280/.340/.470 season with his gold-glove caliber defense, he'd be one of the league's most valuable players and could potentially lead the Twins into contention much sooner than anyone anticipates.
And while the team will need a breakout year from almost every young player to truly contend, a Buxton breakout season would go a long way toward the future. Building a talented roster around a superstar young center fielder is about as easy as it can get in the big leagues, and by the end of this season, Buxton may very well fall into that category. He's going to be a delight to watch for years.