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Left Side, Strong Side: The Bar Has Been Raised

The Minnesota Twins have had some pretty notable players take the field for them since the turn of the century. Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, and Johan Santana just to name a few. A struggle for the Twins in that same time span has been to find consistency on the left side of their infield. That may finally be changing in 2020 with Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco set to start the season on that left side once again.
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
As has been noted many times over the years, outside of back-to-back years of Pedro Florimon (2013 and 2014) making the Opening Day lineup the Twins had a different player playing the position ever since Cristian Guzman left the team. Barring any injuries or suspensions, Jorge Polanco should start on Opening Day for the second consecutive season at shortstop for the Twins in 2020 and will have been the starter three out of the past four seasons.

While third base has had a bit more consistency, it can certainly be argued the the performance level hasn’t been quite what it could or should be there either. Trevor Plouffe had some seasons of note while he held down the hot corner from 2013-2016, but it can be argued that the Twins haven’t had a real difference maker consistently at that position since Corey Koskie was playing.

This coming season looks to be the first in a long time the Twins will look to return both starters at those two positions. Both of those players have the potential to be real difference makers on a competitive club. For nostalgia's sake, let's just remember some of the names that have seen some notable time at those positions for the Twins. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Brian Buscher, Mike Lamb, Jamey Carroll, Tony Batista, Joe Crede, and we could keep going but I can hear the cringing as I type so I will stop there.



The 2019 Polanco-Sano pairing could be the best performances from those two positions in a season since the 2001 Koskie-Guzman pairing both attracted MVP votes. There is no debate that offensively Polanco and Sano were as good a duo as any this century for the Twins. Polanco’s .295/356/.485, .841 OPS, and 22 home runs paired with Sano’s .247/.346/.576, .923 OPS, and 34 home runs is something that certainly raises the performance level of those positions.

Positions that often were defense-first when Twins rosters of the past were assembled. Defense may be the one place where we can pick apart this duo in comparison to duos of the past. Now Polanco has done a lot to improve himself. Turning in a +1 DRS in 2019 at shortstop.

It is Sano’s defense that is the biggest blemish of this tandem turning in a -5 DRS in 2019. That is why many of us will continue to wonder if or when the Twins will be forced to move Sano across the diamond to first base. For the time being his offensive production has continued to outpace any defensive liabilities, but when sporting World Series aspirations every little edge needs to be gained and defense at third could be one.

Defensive change or not, we are witnessing something that we haven’t seen for some time. The floor for production of the 2020 left side of the infield is much higher than it has been in for most of the century. That raised level is just one of the many markers that show how far the Twins have come and forms part of the foundation that will allow the Twins to look at making some bigger moves this offseason.

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11 Comments

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tony&rodney
Nov 18 2019 10:54 PM

Both of these players were very exciting in 2019. I did cringe at some of those names. There is reason to be optimistic about improvement from both; they are young, work hard and appear to really enjoy themselves. Additionally, it really seems like these two focus in key spots. Baseball is a game where one must confront failure often and I have enjoyed watching how Sano and Polanco go about their business. Finally, I have wondered about how much we took Joe Mauer for granted at first base. No, I'm not picking on Cron.

    • glunn, 70charger, DocBauer and 2 others like this
Reviewing the players who initially set "the bar", it seems the bar wasn't raised as much as someone finally picked it up off the ground! And I too wonder how much Joe Mauer would have helped the Twins IF? Actually I really don't wonder, I know he would have. :)

As much as people doubt Sano's ability to stick at third base, or perhaps his effectiveness at that position, I'm still not sold on the idea of moving him to first base. What makes anyone think that putting him there will be any better than keeping him at the hot corner? Does he possess the magic hands and quick reflexes that will make him a gold-glove first baseman? Honestly, I think that best strategy would be to wait a year and then let him be the full-time DH after Cruz has left.

    • DocBauer and puckstopper1 like this
Killebrew and Versalles and Gagne and Gaeti are the top duos.
    • Mike Frasier Law, MN_ExPat, JD Green and 3 others like this
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In My La-Z-boy
Nov 19 2019 07:51 AM

The left side of our infield will be a major point of decision this winter. I am not so sure we break camp in 2020 with Sano at 3B? He isn't a DH candidate. He needs his head in the game, and his DH numbers in the past prove he needs a spot on the diamond. 1B is the only other option. I wonder if we make a bid to sign him for a couple more years, or if we receive major interest in him and look to make a trade? Or if we roll the dice and let him play out his remaining 2 years and see what happens? And if we do that is he at 3B or 1B for 2020/2021?

Not exactly sure what I would do? Depends on; 1) Interest in him by other clubs 2) Willingness to reasonably sign extension 3) Readiness of someone else to play 3B 

In any event the poster is accurate in that the left side of our infield is in the best shape its been for quite a while. Polanco keeps getting better with the arm and glove I believe. Maybe Lewis is the future 3Bman? Maybe the future is next year? Maybe we go for broke and sign Rendon? I'm in on us. I am looking forward to 2020 more than any season I can remember.

    • rdehring likes this

Sano at 3B is fine. He probably won't win any gold gloves but he has good hands, a strong arm and athletic ability. I like his offense from the hot corner. As long as he stays in shape and keeps working on his defense, he should have a few more years at 3B.

 

I'm just hoping Eddie has a defensive resurgence in the OF; we can't have him skating around out there like 2019. Maybe put Kepler in LF and Eddie in RF?

    • 70charger, DocBauer and MN_ExPat like this
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puckstopper1
Nov 19 2019 11:50 AM

I say let them start the season with Sano and Polanco in their current roles, and use any $ to sign quality starting pitching.

    • Mike Frasier Law, Heiny and Huskertwin like this

Polanco was one of the lowest ranked defensive shortstops in the majors.  I have seen suggestions of moving Sano to first base, and Polanco to third (a less demanding defensive position which leaves an opening at shortstop?  Even with Royce Lewis's great Arizona Fall League results, he probably needs a little time at AAA.  I am not clear on Adrianza's work defensively as a shortstop, but I recall he put in a lot of games there last year during Polanco's suspension.  He had the best year in his career at the plate with an OPS of 765.  Could he hold up fairly well while we wait for Royce? Phil

You made me look. Zoilo was with the Twins 1961 through 67.
During that time Harmon played less than 200 games at 3B. Mostly played LF and 1B. Rich Rollins played a lot at third those years.

Killebrew and Versalles and Gagne and Gaeti are the top duos.

 

You made me look. Zoilo was with the Twins 1961 through 67.
During that time Harmon played less than 200 games at 3B. Mostly played LF and 1B. Rich Rollins played a lot at third those years.
 

Harmon was the Gonzales of the Twins - LF/1B/3B - but he was most known for 3B which is where he started.I do appreciate your post. By the way, Rollins was a good player!

 

In his career Harmon played 791 games at 3B and 969 at 1B plus 961 in OF, 11 at 2B, and 158 DH.He was more of an all around player than most people remember. 

    • rileyroy and Sconnie like this
Defense has to be the priority.