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Buxton, Sano still 'huge components' of Twins' plans

Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) slides into third base during a game against the Kansas City Royals earlier this season. Jay Biggerstaff / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—The Twins' starting lineup the season finale Saturday, Sept. 30, featured four rookies and two other players who weren't on the Opening Day roster, which said as much about what happened in Minnesota this season as it did about MLB's expanded September rosters.

Expected to make a run in the Central Division after breaking into the playoffs with a wild card berth last season, the Twins instead stumbled out of the gate and never recovered—in part because of injuries, in part because bad seasons from players on whom they were depending.

Although the Twins took a five-game winning streak into Sunday's matinee against the Chicago White Sox, they were guaranteed to finish at least seven games off the pace of last year's team, which lost to the Yankees in New York, 8-4, in its wild card game.

"I'm disappointed," manager Paul Molitor said. "I don't get wrapped up in the automatic 'next year will be better and we'll pick up where we left off and take the next step,' but you do think those things, and you imagine that it could happen.

"I don't make any excuses for where we are; we have to claim that. There have been things that have been good and things that we need to get better at, but I think my biggest reaction to the entire year is we're not where we want to be."

Most noticeably absent as the season wound down were center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano, formerly among the top prospects in all of baseball whose seasons were wiped out by injury and inadequacy.

"I think they're still huge components to what we want to do and what our identity will be about," Molitor said.

Sano was limited to 71 games because of injuries to his left leg. He was an all-star in 2017 after hitting .264 with 28 homers and 77 RBIs but only managed a .199 batting average with 115 strikeouts this season, which also included a nearly two-month rehab/conditioning stint with Class A Fort Myers.

Sano, 25, lost between 25-30 pounds but never found his swing upon returning and was lost for the season after suffering a lower-leg injury on an awkward slide Sept. 12 in Houston. He vowed to come back and finish strong but never played again.

Buxton, 24, was placed on the disabled list with migraines after 28 games then broke his left toe during a rehab at-bat. A Platinum Glove winner in 2017, he hit .156 with a .183 on-base percentage and fanned 28 times in 90 at-bats. After suffering a wrist injury at Triple-A Rochester, he was passed over for a September call-up.

"With each year that passes, the obvious questions maybe come up about, 'OK, we've been hearing this for a long time.' Some people are going to wonder if and when that's going to happen," Molitor said. "Our job is to try to draw the most out of those two people that we can.

"They're both on board in terms of understanding where they're at in terms of junctures in their careers and let's hope the leap forward begins with next spring."

Minor league awards

Outfielder Alex Kirilloff was named the Twins' 2018 minor league player of the year, and left-hander Lewis Thorpe minor league pitcher of the year, the team announced.

Kirilloff, 20, hit a combined .348 with 44 doubles, seven triples, 20 home runs and 101 RBIs in 130 games with Class A Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids. The 15th overall pick in the 2016 draft, he led all full-season minor leaguers in doubles and ranked seventh in RBIs.

Thorpe, 22, split the 2018 season between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester, finishing a combined 8-7 with a 3.54 earned-run average, 36 walks and 157 strikeouts.