Twins May Pick a Postseason Specialty
Image courtesy of © David Richard-USA TODAY SportsAs the Houston Astros and New York Yankees battle back and forth for the number one seed, it’s the Bronx Bombers that Minnesotans should be welcoming. History can be cast aside as no one currently on this roster cares about previous futility. Aaron Boone’s squad has plenty of warts on the bump and the Twins lineup can go toe-to-toe with anyone. No matter who they face though, what happens in a late game situation when Baldelli needs to work some magic? Is it speed, or is it patience?
Minnesota acquired Ian Miller from the Seattle Mariners in early August. He was a 14th-round pick in the 2013 draft and had yet to debut in the big leagues at 27-years-old. Not a top prospect by any means, Miller provided outfield depth on the farm but this move was about a specific asset. He’s fast and can steal a base. Even before Byron Buxton had his season come to an end due to shoulder surgery, the likelihood that he’d be available in a late game situation off the bench isn’t good (because he’d be starting). Miller fits the mold of a Terrance Gore type, and that’s exactly why the speedy outfielder (Gore) finds late season opportunity again in 2019, with the Yankees.
Miller has stolen 243 bases in the minor leagues while being caught 51 times. That’s a success rate of 83% and puts him into the threshold of the additional 90 feet being a worthy gamble. Unfortunately he also has just a .340 OBP on the farm and isn’t typically heralded for his ability to get on base. Taking over on the basepaths may be beneficial, but could come at the cost of an additional at-bat later in the game. Despite being capable in the outfield there are a good deal of question marks outside of his ability to swipe bags. The aforementioned Gore has been inserted into nine playoff games over seven seasons. He’s stolen five bases, being caught once and has scored three runs.
The Twins made the prudent move by adding him to the 40-man roster. He’s now eligible for the postseason, and they continued down their forward-thinking path at the beginning of September. Baldelli’s squad has stolen just three bases since the All-Star break though, and a team so capable of scoring from first base may not deem the gamble to second as a risk worth taking.
On the flip side of the coin, I can’t help but be reminded of the at-bat Luis Arraez took in mid-July against Edwin Diaz. Regardless of the closer’s struggles this season, Minnesota’s rookie stepped in at an 0-2 count against a dominant arm and took a walk. Having the ability to generate a very strong at-bat against some of baseball’s best pen arms could prove invaluable during a big situation in October. Fortunately for Minnesota Arraez has worked his way into the starting lineup, but LaMonte Wade could represent a similar asset to consider.
Despite missing a significant portion of his big league time this year due to injury, he hasn’t missed a beat in the time that he has played. Wade owns a career .389 OBP in the minors and has walked in 20% of his big league plate appearances. He’s struck out just three times in 41 opportunities, and has faced three-ball counts 32% of the time he’s stepped in. Despite a .161 batting average, he’s bolstered it with a .366 OBP and routinely makes pitchers work.
Like Miller, Wade too plays the outfield and could take over for a starter as a defensive replacement. He’s got the ability to play all three outfield spots, and despite not being a speedster, can hold down all three roles at an above average clip.
The decision here is an interesting one because it deals with two parts of the game that Minnesota has left largely unattended in 2019. The Twins have the fifth best OBP in baseball, but they’ve taken only the 18th most walks in the game. When constructing this lineup over the winter it was apparent that power production was a focus, and we’ve seen that play out at a record setting pace. No one has stolen fewer bases than Minnesota’s 26, and is postseason play the time to start looking for 90 extra feet?
Both of these players probably found themselves on the outside looking in when the outfield was in its healthiest state. Now with some holes, the Twins will look to create opportunity through utility on the fringes. Miller and Wade present opportunity, but which way will Minnesota go, and will they consider either of them at all?
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