MINNEAPOLIS — After watching the Yankees embrace on the Target Field infield, celebrating their American League Division Series sweep Monday night, Oct. 7, at Target Field, Twins players were back in a relatively quiet clubhouse.
Some hugged, saying goodbyes. Others started packing their belongings from their lockers into boxes. And yet others were surrounded by scrums of media members.
“We’re all better for having been through this, and I think it’s a huge step in the right direction. (In) 2016 we lost 100 games. Fast forward, now we’re here. A lot of guys were on that team that lost all those games, and I think there’s a huge positive feeling,” reliever Tyler Duffey said. “Obviously, we’d love to win a game at all (in the ALDS), but we’re going to be great next year. Guys are growing and getting better every year, and I think we’re looking forward to next season already.”
Duffey was one of those guys who showed significant improvement, developing into an important piece for the Twins’ bullpen and finishing the year with a 2.50 earned-run average in 57 2/3 innings after beginning the season with Triple-A Rochester.
The same goes for Trevor May, who posted a sub-3.00 ERA for the first time in his career, and in the final two months of the regular season, gave up just four runs in 26 innings. Taylor Rogers proved himself to be a bonafide closer, recording 30 saves. Starter Jose Berrios, despite a shaky showing in month of August, was an all-star for the second time in his career.
A host of rookie pitchers — Zack Littell, Randy Dobnak, Brusdar Graterol, Devin Smeltzer and Cody Stashak, among them — performed well as they acclimated to the majors.
“There’s a bunch of guys who got their feet wet and had a lot of success in their rookie years,” May said. “They’re going to take it into their sophomore seasons and build on that.”
And that’s not even to mention 22-year-old Luis Arraez, who had the best rookie season of all. Arraez forced his way into a starting role by the end of the season and continued his strong performance into the postseason despite being hobbled by a sprained ankle.
Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, who the front office gave contract extensions to in February, produced their best seasons to date, rewarding that faith. Polanco became a first-time all-star, and Kepler was second on the team with 36 home runs, most from the leadoff spot in the lineup.
Mitch Garver hit one home run in every 11.6 plate appearances while improving his defense behind the plate. Garver, Kepler, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario each hit 30 home runs for the first time in their careers. And Byron Buxton, though his season ended with surgery, flashed glimpses of his dazzling potential.
“We didn’t want to lose in the first round. But, like, 70 percent of the players or more are going to be here next year,” veteran utility player Marwin Gonzalez said. “This is a young team, and it’s going to be interesting.”
Gonzalez, who the Twins signed to a two-year deal last offseason, will be back for 2020. And the team has a club option on age-defying, 39-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz that will certainly be picked up.
The makings for another successful season are in place. The Twins need to address certain positions — starting pitching especially — but in 2019, showed glimpses of a team that figures to be a force moving forward.
“Just like I’m going to take a lot out of this and learn a lot from what we just experienced, I hope all of our players do, too,” rookie manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Hopefully we’re in this position again next year and again after that.”