Twins preview: Hopes high for Buxton's leadership, Correa's bat, young pitchers

Star Tribune baseball writer Megan Ryan on keys to the season

Buxton completes his swing and watching the ball fly away.
Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins hits a solo home run against the Kansas City Royals in 2021.
David Berding | Getty Images file

The Minnesota Twins kick off the 2022 season, hosting the Seattle Mariners for the home opener at Target Field Friday.

Star Tribune baseball writer Megan Ryan joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer on Morning Edition to provide a glimpse into what baseball fans can expect from the team this year.

Hear the full conversation by using the audio player above.

Let’s start with the Twins’ season opener. What kind of team should fans expect to see playing today against the Mariners?

I think a reinvigorated team and a somewhat new team in a lot of ways. They made a very big signing in the offseason with Carlos Correa. He was the top free agent. He's a World Series-winning shortstop with the Houston Astros. And that was the signing that, while the Twins did need a shortstop and that was an obvious thing, I don't think people thought that they were gonna go after that caliber of guy. But they did and honestly, the rest of their offseason moves have been pretty expansive.

There's a whole new starting rotation. They actually just added a pitcher yesterday who is a starting caliber in Chris Paddack from the Padres. So there's a lot of new kinds of faces around the team, a lot of exciting new players that I think people are going to be really interested in seeing. And I guess we'll just have to see in the game, how it goes.

What does the Twins’ pitching rotation look like?

Well, it's brand new. If you look at the start of last season and who they had, which was also a pretty new rotation, this [rotation] is completely, 100 percent different from that. The opening day starter is somebody named Joe Ryan. His opening day start today is going to be only his six Major League Baseball start. He did debut with the Twins late last season.

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He was pitching for the U.S. Olympic team in the Tokyo Olympics. So they got a silver medal. And then he got traded in the midst of that from Tampa Bay to Minnesota. And so he kind of started his rookie campaign last year, but this is going to be a full season up in the bigs. And he's a younger guy, 25, 26 I think and he's got good stuff. But obviously the question: How is he going to handle the pressure of being the opening day starter?

Another rookie who debuted last year for the twins is Bailey Ober and he's going to be someone that is also probably going to slot into that starting rotation somewhere. Then to kind of finish out the last [pitchers] is Chris Paddack who just signed yesterday from the Padres. [He is another] 25-year-old guy. And is also someone who’s got really good stuff but also has youth.

They signed a couple of free agent guys, [including] Dylan Bundy, ahead of the lockout. And [signed] Chris Archer in camp. And then they signed Sonny Gray from the Cincinnati Reds. And he's someone who has been in the majors. I think this is his 10th season.

He's had a lot of success but kind of waned a little bit when he was traded to New York and then re-found himself a bit when he was with Cincinnati. And then now he's here. And he's going to be someone that [the Twins] are really going to look to lead this rotation, despite the fact that he's not starting opening day.

Because of the lockout, spring training was pretty short. So a lot of these pitchers are not up to the normal number of innings that they would like to be. So the rotation is a little jumbled here in the beginning, but I think [Archer] is going to emerge as one of the top [pitchers] once we get into the season.

Let me ask you about Byron Buxton. He's obviously one of the leaders of this team. If he stays healthy, do you think he would have a case for Most Valuable Player in the league this year?

I think so. I remember last year in April, people were chanting MVP at him. So it's never too soon to dream, I guess is what we're saying here.

Buxton, he's talented. I think everybody knows that. The thing with him is just, he gets these injuries. And it's not necessarily that he's injury prone or that it's the same thing, reoccurring. He gets these kinds of fluke [injuries]. Like last year, it was his hand. He broke his hand because he got hit by a pitch. And those kinds of things can happen in baseball, but I think if you look at his numbers last year, if he had played the whole season, and had put up those same numbers he was putting up in April before he dealt with all the injuries, he would have been MVP.

The cool thing with Byron this year is that the Twins were able to lock him down on his contract extension so he knows he’s here for the next seven years. That’s a weight off your shoulder sometimes for guys. You don’t have to worry, am I gonna be here tomorrow? Am I gonna get traded? Is this my team?

The Twins believe in [Buxton]. They know that he’s the guy. Even Carlos Correa yesterday, as a big name player coming in, said, “this is Byron Buxton’s team.” So he knows all that. He’s got that on his shoulders. I don’t think it’s a pressure or like a burden situation. I think it’s more of something that he gonna really take to and realize, ‘this is my team’, and see where it goes from there. So hopefully he stays healthy.

Hear the full conversation using the audio player above.