MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

GM Ryan hoping young Twins fulfill potential

Minnesota figuring on being active at Trade Deadline

GM Ryan hoping young Twins fulfill potential

Terry Ryan can't even look at the standings.

That's how disappointing this season has been for the Twins. They find themselves with the worst record in the Major Leagues after a very encouraging 2015 season, when rookie manager Paul Molitor and a young core of players won 83 games to finish second in the American League Central.

"This hasn't been any fun,'' said Ryan, who is in his 18th season as the Twins' general manager. "It isn't any way to go about a baseball season. I don't even know how many games we are under .500. … I don't even know what we are. I don't look at those standings. I don't want to see those standings.''

Ryan, who pitched for the Twins in the Minor Leagues, has spent the last three decades as a scout or administrator for the organization. He's got the support of the team's ownership and remains fully committed to building the team's next playoff team behind Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and other talented young players.

Kepler's two-run double

But, man, what a year this has been. The Twins started the season with a nine-game losing streak and haven't won more than four in a row at any point. They're last in the AL in scoring while allowing 5 1/2 runs per game, the most in the league.

And when they trained in Florida, Ryan did nothing to slow a consensus of opinion that they could be a postseason team. In a conversation this week at U.S. Cellular Field, he admitted this has been as difficult of a season as he's faced.

"It's a little different than those Metrodome days because we never had much payroll to work with,'' Ryan said. "Those were tough days in the late '90s, mid-'90s because you didn't see a lot of hope. We have hope here. We've got resources we never had. So, in essence, this has been as tough as I remember since the mid-'90s, when we didn't have a lot of hope. We have hope here. It may not look like it on the surface to a lot of people, but we'll be OK.''

After breaking out hitting last season, the 23-year-old Sano was expected to carry the lineup built around three-time batting champ Joe Mauer, but Sano, who was reinstated from the disabled list on Friday, is hitting .235 with only 11 home runs. His 71 strikeouts have come at a rate of more than one every three plate appearances.

Sano has looked awkward at times learning to play right field, but Ryan insists he's athletic enough to be adequate defensively in the outfield.

"I've always said I'm more concerned about his bat,'' Ryan said. "We can put him a number of places and on defense he'll be all right. We also have to get him to hit. He's a huge presence in the middle of our lineup that we desperately need.''

Sano clubs a two-run homer

Buxton, who has been billed as one of the best prospects in baseball, is hitting .193 with one home run in 135 at-bats while playing excellent defense in center field. Ryan remains confident Buxton will be a winning player, if not the next Mike Trout, as some projected.

"He'll be OK because he's a tremendous worker,'' Ryan said. "Forget about [those Trout comparisons]. They're two different kinds of players. This guy is pure speed. Good field. Gap-type [hitter]. Drag bunts. Trout isn't that type of guy. Anybody who would put Trout in the same category, that's not fair to the kid. He'll be OK, but it's been a battle. He's striking out way too much. He'll wind up realizing what he can handle and what he can't. But he's a good, coachable guy, a good teammate. He listens. He wants to be a guy. He gives you everything he's got. He's probably listening to too many people but for the most part he's all right.''

Buxton's wall-crashing catch

Korean import Byung Ho Park came out of the gate as a very productive hitter, but has dipped to .191 with 12 home runs and was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on Friday. He crowds the plate and has had trouble adjusting to pitchers working him inside, resulting in strikeouts at a pace similar to Sano.

"He's struggled,'' Ryan said. "He didn't struggle the first month or six weeks. He was OK. He's struggling now. [Early in the season] he was hitting some home runs, competitive at-bats, did OK defensively. He's a good person, good teammate, good everything. It's starting to crack a little bit.''

There was a buzz when the Twins promoted 22-year-old Jose Berrios to start in late-April but he failed to last six innings in any of his four starts. His ERA was 10.20 when he was returned to Triple-A.

"His last couple of outings he's stepped it up pretty good,'' Ryan said. "He struggled down there when we sent him back. That's not unusual. We know that. They're disappointed they've gone back. … We thought he was ready. I held him to the point we thought he'd be ready, so I brought him up. It didn't go too good. That might be an understatement. The game sped up on him quite a bit.''

The German-born outfielder Kepler, 23, has been one of the few positives. He has been solid in the field and at the plate, hitting .255 with a .771 OPS in June. But Ryan says it's too early to know how good he'll be long term.

Kepler's three-hit game

"I don't want to get too optimistic,'' Ryan said. "I said [great things] about three guys last year, and they're all back in the Minor Leagues. He has done a nice job. He has a very impressive skill set. He can do about everything on the diamond. He's a hard worker. Before we start anointing guys we have to see something over a long period of time.''

The Twins are expected to be sellers at the upcoming non-waiver Trade Deadline but don't appear to have any veterans to move that would yield a large return. But Ryan figures to spend much of July talking to other teams about his inventory of moveable parts, including Ervin Santana, Trevor Plouffe, Eduardo Nunez and Fernando Abad.

"We're still a month away from the Trade Deadline,'' Ryan said. "There's no reason to think we're not going to have a number of guys emerge as [trade] candidates. Hopefully we will, and we're going to have to be active.''

Ryan doesn't seem inclined toward looking to trading power-hitting second baseman Brian Dozier, who hit .191 in April but has climbed to .264 with 13 homers and an .824 OPS. He's in the second year of a four-year, $20-million deal.

Dozier's jack extends streak

"People were talking about Dozier a month ago when he was really going badly,'' Ryan said. "He's turned it around. … A month ago people were saying, 'Why don't you trade a guy like Dozier?' Well, I don't think you want to get in the business of trading a 29-year-old second baseman when he's not going good. You don't want to take 10 cents on the dollar.''

Ryan has been around long enough to know it's almost certainly too late for the Twins to make their fans happy this season. But a winning record in the second half, if not a run back toward .500 would be something.

"We didn't anticipate playing .500 baseball this year,'' Ryan said. "Our expectations were bigger than that. If we could get back to some sort of resemblance of respectability, that would be gratifying.''

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.