- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 28, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - There’s hardly value in finishing 59-103, no full-color brochure touting the benefit to a franchise of losing that many baseball games in a single season.

The Minnesota Twins have no choice but to find some.

They’ll try to use their year-ago ineptitude as a stimulus of sorts, certain they’re better than that abysmal record showed and hopeful the exasperating experience has hardened and exposed enough of their young players to the unforgiving grind of the grand old summer game.

“We will try to use it as a springboard,” said manager Paul Molitor, who described 2016 as the most difficult season he’s endured in any capacity, playing or coaching, over his life in the sport. “It was very challenging.”

Plenty of important players remain from the 2015 team that produced a respectable 83-79 record and stayed in the wild-card race until the next-to-last game on the schedule, so a return to competency and competitiveness isn’t such a far-fetched vision. The blueprint for a turnaround is entrenched in a potentially potent lineup highlighted by the under-25 core of Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano.

“You’ve got to keep learning and learning until you figure things out,” said Buxton, the speedy center fielder and former No. 2 overall draft pick who was twice sent back to Triple-A last year before totaling nine home runs among 17 extra-base hits with 22 RBIs and a .357 on-base percentage over his final 29 games. “I think we started to do that at the end of last season, and hopefully that carries over.”

From Buxton to the bullpen, there’s a fresh outlook throughout the organization following the appointment of 34-year-old former Cleveland assistant general manager Derek Falvey as chief baseball officer. That’s one of the timeworn charms of the sport, the annual optimism that comes each spring.

“There’s a different attitude in how we go about things,” reliever Taylor Rogers said. “You still want to learn from your mistakes, but there is a balance there of having a short memory and forgetting about things but also remembering what got you into that spot that you didn’t want to be in.”

Here’s a rundown of some relevant angles for 2017 regarding the Twins:

FOR STARTERS: Though the Twins eventually had a longer losing streak at 13 straight games through the end of August, starting 0-9 doomed last season before it even got going.

“The attitude was kind of dull, and what happened was kind of established early in the year,” said Rogers, whose major league debut came in that ninth game of the season. “So we really want to stay positive early.”

The Twins face Central Division foes in each of their first 19 games, with only four of those against defending American League champion Cleveland and 13 of them at home including the opener on Monday against Kansas City. That schedule ought to provide a better opportunity to avoid a repeat of 2016.

SPEAKING OF STARTERS: Ervin Santana was the easy pick for Molitor to make the opening day starter for a second straight year, but the rest of the rotation is stocked with uncertainty. Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago figure to pitch better than last season, but by how much? Adalberto Mejia, the prospect acquired from San Francisco in the trade for All-Star Eduardo Nunez, has been one of the standouts of spring training and could give the Twins some young upside in the fifth spot.

CLOSING TIME: The bullpen will be the biggest concern to start the season. With three-time All-Star Glen Perkins not ready to return from shoulder surgery, Brandon Kintzler will resume the ninth-inning role he fared well in for the first time. His career rate of 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings doesn’t bode well for the long term, though. Newcomer Matt Belisle will help set up with Rogers and Ryan Pressly, but there’s scant proven depth during an era when most contenders are rich with power-armed relievers.

LET IT SANO: With Eddie Rosario in left field and Kepler in right flanking Buxton, the Twins have bounds of offensive and defensive potential in their young outfield. Now slugger Miguel Sano can settle in at third base, after an ill-fated experiment in right field to start 2016. The desire to make Sano an everyday position player leaves open the designated hitter spot for ByungHo Park, whose spring performance has been another positive development after a rough debut upon arrival from South Korea.


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