As the Chattanooga Lookouts prepare for today's media festivities at AT&T Field and tonight's exhibition game against Chattanooga State, four recent Lookouts alums were in the starting lineup Monday for the Minnesota Twins.
Center fielder Byron Buxton, right fielder Max Kepler, shortstop Jorge Polanco and third baseman Miguel Sano comprised half of the starting position players for Minnesota, which opened with a 7-1 win over visiting Kansas City. Polanco had two hits, while Sano homered.
Buxton, Kepler, Polanco and Sano were members of the 2015 Lookouts, who wound up winning the Southern League title.
"It's been great to see those guys come through Chattanooga to continue their development and eventually get up to the big leagues and start helping us in Minnesota," Twins player development director Brad Steil said. "That's the number one goal of what we do here — trying to produce major league players. Those guys are still young and are still learning in the big leagues.
"They went through some growing pains last year, but I expect all those guys to take a step forward this year in Minnesota."
Kepler turned 24 in February, with the other three set to turn 24 later this year.
All four of those former Lookouts have experienced highs and lows since bidding farewell to AT&T Field. Buxton, who progressed through Minnesota's farm system as the No. 1 organizational prospect, hit .209 in 46 games for the 2015 Twins following his big-league promotion and was hitting .193 last season when he was sent down for a second time in early August.
When Buxton was called up again on Sept. 1, he hit .287 with nine home runs in 29 games, shedding the overrated perception.
"I read some of the stuff that was written in the national media, and it bothered me," Buxton told reporters in February. "I felt I was still trying to establish myself in the major leagues. Everybody doesn't come to the big leagues and just tears things up.
"A lot of guys have had to go back to the minor leagues to make some adjustments. I never gave up on myself."
Kepler, the 2015 Southern League MVP, hit .247 with 16 homers from June through August last season, but he tailed off in September and finished with a .235 average in 113 games. Sano hit .236 in 116 games last season after hitting .269 in 80 games two years ago, combining for 43 homers in the process.
Polanco fared the best at the plate last year, hitting .282 in 69 games.
"You need to afford players a runway to grow and develop," Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey recently told reporters. "We have some young players who I'm confident will be part of our core moving forward, and we want to make sure they're given that opportunity. The reality is we're looking to build this into a long-term, sustainable team."
The Twins finished 59-103 last season, setting a Minnesota record for defeats. They went 83-79 in 2015, showing a lot of promise for the years ahead.
Whether the Twins resemble the 2015 team or last year's version will be up to third-year manager Paul Molitor and his slew of Lookouts alums, but it will not be up to Steil. His objective will be overseeing a farm system highlighted by a new Lookouts team that could further stock the big-league roster in the not-too-distant future.
"We're hoping we can develop this next wave of players in Chattanooga," Steil said, "because I think we have a lot of the same type of guys."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.