Twins' young core to be counted on in 2016

Twins' young core to be counted on in 2016

MINNEAPOLIS -- After a surprising 2015 season that saw them remain in contention for a spot in the postseason until the final weekend of the season, the Twins have their eyes on loftier goals in 2016.

The Twins are aiming to return to the postseason for the first time since 2010 and have a young core in place, as prospects such as Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Tyler Duffey and Max Kepler all made their Major League debuts in 2015.

They added Korean slugger Byung Ho Park this offseason and traded outfielder Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy in attempt to add some offense to a club that finished tied for 12th in the Majors in runs scored.

The Twins believe they can be a better team in 2016, and beyond, with their young talent and highly regarded farm system, but plenty of questions still remain, especially in a strong division that has the reigning World Series champs in the Royals. So with that in mind, here are five questions to consider as Minnesota heads into 2016.

1. How will the corner-infield logjam play out?

Ideally, Sano will be able to handle the outfield, which would leave Trevor Plouffe at third base, Joe Mauer at first base and Park as the designated hitter. But it's still not a sure thing, as Sano is trying to slim down to roughly 255 pounds and has never played outfield as a professional. The Twins have been adamant about not wanting to trade Plouffe to open up third base for Sano, as they feel they can't afford to lose Plouffe's bat and defense at third base. But it'll be interesting to monitor how Sano handles the transition to the outfield.

2. How will Park's stats translate to the Majors?

Park was one of the best players in the Korean Baseball Organization, combining to hit 105 homers with 270 RBIs over the last two seasons. But it's an offense-friendly league that doesn't feature pitchers with the kind of velocity seen in the Majors. The Twins, though, are hoping Park has a similar transition as Pittsburgh's Jung Ho Kang, who had a slow start but ended up finishing third in the balloting for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015. So the Twins will try to be patient with Park, but believe he has legitimate power.

3. What will the outfield look like in 2016?

The Twins traded Hicks because they believed they had enough outfield depth with youngsters such as Buxton, Rosario and Kepler, as well as Sano. The starting job in center field is ready for the taking for Buxton, who struggled in his first taste of the Majors but remains MLB's No. 1 overall prospect, according to Rosario figures to be in the mix after an impressive rookie season, while the Twins aren't sure whether Sano fits better in left or right field. Kepler is coming off a monster year in the Minors, but has yet to play at Triple-A Rochester, so he might not be on the Opening Day roster.

Kepler's first career hit

Oswaldo Arcia is coming off a tough year but is out of Minor League options and still has plenty of power from the left side. And Danny Santana is expected to be used as a super-utility player and see time in the outfield as well as the infield.

4. Who will emerge as solid relief options to join Perkins and Jepsen?

The Twins like the back end of their bullpen with closer Glen Perkins and setup man Kevin Jepsen, but will need others to step up. Casey Fien and Ryan Pressly both return, while Trevor May could remain in relief after his success there last year. Michael Tonkin showed some promise last year, while Alex Meyer remains an intriguing arm despite his struggles as a starter in 2015. The Twins are still looking to add an arm or two this offseason, but have several young hard-throwing relievers who are close to the Majors, such as Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, J.T. Chargois and Mason Melotakis.

May strikes out Gutierrez

5. Who will be part of the Opening Day rotation?

The Twins finally have some starting-pitching depth, but it also means there should be an interesting competition in Spring Training. Kyle Gibson, Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes are essentially locks in the rotation, but there are a slew of other candidates such as Duffey, May, Ricky Nolasco, Tommy Milone and top prospect Jose Berrios. Duffey was arguably Minnesota's best starter down the stretch, while May still has plenty of potential and Milone was a solid option from the left side in 2015. Nolasco is more of a wild card after his two rocky seasons, but still has two years and $25 million left on his deal. Berrios is ranked as the No. 20 overall prospect by, but with so many other options could start the year at Triple-A Rochester.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.