Internal Reinforcements: Which Twins Prospects Appear to Be Most Prepared to Contribute in 2020?
Image courtesy of © David Richard-USA TODAY SportsWorking out trades is still very much on the table, too. But maybe some of the prospects to be involved in them could, instead, effectively fill some of those gaps now. Not giving up much of the organization’s long-term future could be useful in a division full of teams that are investing hard on what lies ahead of them.
First, we should point out the current obstacles the Twins have to become more than a great regular season ball club. I narrowed it down to two major areas, if you will, namely starting pitching and infield defense and gaps. Are there good enough options already in the organization?
After bringing back Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda, two of the most dependable pitchers in the league this year, Minnesota still has two spots to fill. The free agency path hasn’t been taken yet, as multiple targets have signed somewhere else. Hyun-jin Ryu is still available and the Twins are reportedly in on him. There are also plenty of trade targets to be explored, but the Twins have at least one arm that could step up right now.
Lewis Thorpe was among the most dominant pitchers in Triple-A last season. Among the 73 pitchers who logged 90 or more innings in Triple-A last season, Thorpe had the highest K/9 (11.12), swinging strike rate (14.5) and was second in K% (29.5). His first stint in the majors wasn’t exactly brilliant overall, but he did display some very exciting stuff, like his 1.95 FIP and 4.50 K/BB as a reliever. His pitch arsenal needs to be worked at, but he’s already got a Sergio Romo-esque slider, which resulted in a .199 WOBA and 44.6% Whiff%, both better than Romo’s slider itself.
He’s bounced back very well from his Tommy John surgery (2015), logging 336 innings (including MLB) since coming back, in 2017, while posting a 3.91 ERA. Besides, throughout his minor league career, Thorpe has always shown a much-needed feature for this current Twins roster: he can be a serious threat to right-handed batters. If you think of how Wes Johson was able to transform 28-year-old Martín Pérez, however briefly, into a great pitcher during the first half of the season, it becomes fun to imagine what he can shape this 24 year old Ausie lefty into in the near future.
Rumors of a possible Josh Donaldson signing with the Twins heated up these past days. Reportedly, Minnesota is willing to offer him a four-year deal, which would be concluded at his age 37 season and would very likely hit the nine-figure price. Worthy or risky? Your call. The fact is that the competition is fierce and the Braves were seemingly given the benefit of having the final offer. So, what if the former MVP doesn’t land in the Twin Cities?
A couple of options come to mind. Brent Rooker got off to a slow start in Triple-A, but ended up hitting .319/.463/.572 (1.036 OPS) over his final 41 games/177 plate appearances with Rochester. In his three seasons since being drafted out of Mississippi State in 2017, Rooker has never had a wRC+ lower than 124. Even though he’s spent his whole 2019 playing as an outfielder, he spent his 2018 playing slightly more first base. He could fill in nicely there for the Twins, especially after the official departure of C.J. Cron to the Tigers this morning.
But that wouldn’t solve Minnesota’s biggest issue on the infield, which is the weak defense in the left side. While having a great season offensively, Miguel Sanó was worth -5 DRS and -6.7 UZR playing at the hot corner. Jorge Polanco, despite showing some clear signs of improvement on defense, was worth only 1 DRS and -9.1 UZR.
If ultimately Sanó’s presence on third is untenable, there’s a possible solution that could be experimented. Nick Gordon was once one of the club’s most prestigious prospects. But since having a terrible start at Triple-A in 2018, when he slashed .212/.262/.283 (.544 OPS), he’s been somewhat forgotten by a number of fans. He had a tremendous bounce back year in 2019, batting .298/.342/.459 (.801 OPS) in 70 games for Rochester.
He’s played only one game at third base his entire career, but calling him up could give Rocco Baldelli a lot of options, like moving Polanco to second and Luis Arráez to third, where he had his best defensive metrics this year, with 7.8 Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) in 130 innings. Should none of the above be the way to go, Baldelli could make utility player Marwin Gonzalez the everyday third baseman and benefit from his stellar defense at the position (4 DRS, 2.6 UZR, 18.9 DEF).
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