Most Valuable Pick To Win The AL Pennant
The calendar has turned to March and Spring Training games are fully underway. Opening Day is scheduled for Thursday, March 28th, so it’s time to get those MLB futures bets locked in. For this article, I’m going to give you the most valuable pick to win the 2019 AL Pennant based on best odds. The American League doesn’t have as strong of contenders as the National League does this year, but there is one team in the AL that has some great odds to potentially pay dividends at season’s end.
MINNESOTA TWINS (+2500)
2018 Record: 74-88 (2nd in AL Central)
Notable Additions: DH Nelson Cruz, INF Marwin Gonzalez, 1B Lucas Duda, 1B C.J. Cron, 2B Johnathan Schoop, P Martin Perez and P Blake Parker
The Minnesota Twins have one word to describe their upcoming 2019 season and that’s potential. The only issue with saying that is the fact that “potential” has been surrounding this team for a couple of years now. Can they finally live up to it?
The Twins made a manager change this past offseason by firing former skipper Paul Molitor in hopes that the change will help the younger players. In doing so, they went ahead and hired Rocco Baldelli, who is now the youngest manager in baseball (37). Fun fact, Baldelli is the first manager born after 1980 to be hired in his current position.
The biggest offseason addition made by the front office was signing veteran Nelson Cruz, who just happens to be one year older than Baldelli (38). However, the more important number to focus on here is the amount of home runs Cruz has hit the past five seasons, which is 203. He’s averaging just over 40 home runs per year. Keep in mind, he’s doing this in his late 30’s. His contract is very reasonable, bringing him in on a one year, $14.3 million deal with a team option of $12 million in 2020. If Cruz can get anywhere near 40 home runs, the Twins will be ecstatic.
A few more key additions the front office made were the signings of ex Astros utility man Marwin Gonzalez, as well as C.J. Cron, Johnathan Schoop, Martin Perez and Blake Parker, all who can come in and give meaningful production. This team undoubtedly improved with these ultra-savvy moves.
Let’s take a look at the projected starting lineup to start the season, courtesy of RotoChamp:
Projected 2019 Lineup
Now this is just a projection, it is not set in stone. Many factors could shuffle this order around before the season’s first pitch. One of those factors being Byron Buxton, who’s crushing Spring Training so far. In 14 at-bats he’s collected six hits, three home-runs, 11 RBI’s and an average of .429. Not mention his OPS (On-Base plus Slugging) is 1.643. If he continues to prove he can get on base like he has as of late, he will likely assume the leadoff spot.
Another thing to consider is that Marwin Gonzalez will likely have everyday duties filling in any slot where a player needs rest. His ability to play basically any position is a huge asset to this club and to the lineup. A player that is a little bit of a wild card for this lineup is Miguel Sano. He had an awful 2018 season, but when he’s seeing the ball well, the Twins are going to want him in the top four spots. However, that comes with no guarantees based on his sporadic play in his career.
Lastly, on paper this lineup has flexibility. Eddie Rosario is best for the two or three holes, and that could stay that way if Sano struggles and if Buxton assumes leadoff duties. That also could perhaps toss Polanco into the bottom of the order for more stability. Any way it’s drawn up, this lineup is very powerful. Every hitter in this order besides Outfielder Jorge Polanco and Catcher Jason Castro has 20-homer potential. Don’t be surprised if this is the year that these guys put it all together and contend up with the big boys (Yankees/Dodgers) in the home run department.
It’s no secret the Twins lack true star power in their rotation, but that doesn’t mean they’re not effective in this area. Ace pitcher Jose Berrios had a solid season last year posting a 3.84 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He also whiffed 202 batters. Those are solid numbers for a top young arm, but there are some improvements he could make. Let’s take a look at his Home/Road Splits:
|JOSE BERRIOS HOME/ROAD SPLITS|
|YEARS||HOME ERA||ROAD ERA|
A majority of the leagues starting pitchers are better at their home park, with that being said, true ace pitchers find ways to get it done on the road as well. If Berrios can improve his splits this season, he will have a big breakout party and will be able to place his name at the top of the list of the league’s best young pitchers.
Taking a look at the projected starting rotation for the Twins this season, it should look like this 1-5:
1. Jose Berrios
2. Kyle Gibson
3. Michael Pineda
4. Jake Odorizzi
5. Martin Perez
This starting rotation should be solid near the top, but the production falls off from there. Pineda used to have a lot of upside, but his ERA and WHIP were not strong in this time with the Yankees. Will he produce for the Twins? That question is definitely up in the air. Martin Perez was rocked in 22 games last year with the Texas Rangers, posting a 6.22 ERA and 1.78 WHIP. His career 4.63 ERA is a bit frightening and doesn’t necessarily instill a bunch of confidence to hold up the bottom half of this rotation. Taking everything into consideration, the Twins still have some time before the season to add another pitcher, potentially free agents Dallas Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez, both whom would certainly boost this rotation. If there’s anything that is going to hold this team back from taking the division from the Indians, it’s this rotation.
All in all, the Twins actually do have a decent core of bullpen arms. Blake Parker was a very solid addition, coming off of two nice seasons with the Angels, posting a combined 2.90 ERA and some closing experience (22 total saves). He also posted an 11.5 K/9 over those seasons. Taylor Rodgers has developed into a great left-handed reliever and quite possibly one of the tops in baseball after he posted a 0.94 ERA in the second half of the 2018 season. Trevor May is another solid arm with prior experience closing out games. However, this group is missing that one proven big-name reliever to hand the ball to in big situations in the late innings of games. Addison Reed was supposed to take that role, but many questions are rising after a tough 2018 season. Could the Twins surprise everyone and get Craig Kimbrel, one of baseballs best shutdown closers? Or Adam Ottavino the big reliever out of Colorado? Both will be looking to collect big paydays, but it could be worth it to this club.
This is a major selling point here. The AL Central is a bit of a mess. It should be one of, if not, the worst divisions in baseball this season. As things sit right now, it should be a two-team battle between the Indians and Twins. The two teams sit at different stages in the current moment. The Indians have a scary pitching staff that finished top five in all of baseball last season with a combined 3.39 ERA. That type of staff is not what the Twins have to offer, ranking in the bottom half in 2018. As it sits, the Indians should win the starting pitching side while the Twins should win the offensive side despite Cleveland having two MVP type players in Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor.
This is the time for the Minnesota Twins to take advantage of a good situation. The AL Central is wide open and ready to be overtaken. If the Twins can take the division title this year, it will bring some excitement back to a city that desperately needs it. At +2500, I’m taking this bet and rooting for this club to land in October.