This past off-season we saw another exodus of Black baseball players as the Minnesota Twins traded Aaron Hicks to New York and Torii Hunter announced his retirement after a season back with the club that originally drafted him. As a result, the Twins begin the 2016 season again as one of the Whitest teams in Major League Baseball.
When the club breaks camp this week, second-year centerfielder Byron Buxton is expected to be the only American-born Black player on the Twins.
Minnesota GM Terry Ryan earlier this year told the MSR, “We like a lot of things about Byron. He can really run and throw, but he also has to carry his weight with the bat.”
Buxton initially struggled when he was called up from the minors midway through last season; then he got injured. “He started to look pretty good at the end [of last season] in September,” Ryan pointed out.
Buxton will be joined in the outfield by Miguel Sano, who also joined the club as a rookie last season. Last year, Sano played sparingly in the field, but his bat was in the regular lineup at DH. After the season ended, the team announced that Sano would be converted from third base to right field.
“It will be a transition,” said Ryan of Sano’s conversion. “Obviously his bat is huge to this lineup and his power is huge to this ball club… Moving him out there seems to be the best fit.”
Sano told the MSR that he worked hard in the off-season to make the switch to right field and is looking forward to it.
Although Minnesota finished 2015 with its best record since 2010 and second in the AL Central (83-79), the Twins were dead last in on-base percentage last season (.305) and among the bottom teams in the league in batting and slugging, last in strikeouts, and at the bottom again in defensive efficiency.
“We actually need to score more runs,” admitted Ryan. “We had a little trouble scoring runs last year.” Also, “We need to get that starting rotation deeper into games. That will take a lot of heat off our bullpen,” he noted.
This year’s Twins are an interesting mix, said Ryan. “You like to see Sano, [Eddie] Rosario, [Tyler] Duffey and Trevor May take it to the next level in their sophomore year.”
But when asked who will fill the leadership void that Hunter left, Ryan said, “I think that evolves. A guy like [Brian] Dozier can take some of that on, and [Trevor] Plouffe can take some of that on. Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes, and ultimately Sano can carry some of that once he matures.”
Last season, 2.22 million fans came to the Twins’ downtown ballpark: “We have a fan base here that has been very loyal,” noted Ryan. But despite claims otherwise, the club’s inability to attract more than a few Blacks at home games still persists. For the record, we didn’t ask about improving diversity in the stands mainly because we didn’t need to hear once again the usual response: “We know we can do better.”
Can Minnesota continue to call itself a “small market team?”
“We probably would be considered more a mid-market club,” said Ryan. “But we got a lot of good things going on here, and the stadium provided us a lot of revenue. We’re in decent shape… I think our franchise here is in good standing, and we’ve got stable ownership. We got a lot of good things to look forward to.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org