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  1. Top 20 Minnesota Twins Assets of 2021: Part 2 (11-15)

    First, you can get up to speed on the 'why and how' behind these rankings by reading Monday's introductory post. If you're already hip, proceed to find my choices (and reasoning) for the 11th-through-15th most valuable player assets currently under Minnesota's control as 2021 gets underway.



    15. Miguel Sanó, 1B
    2020 Ranking: 11

    This is the deepest placement yet in these rankings for Sanó, and with good reason. He moved from third base to first. He is coming off a disappointing year, marred by a ridiculous strikeout total. He is currently lined up as the team's second-highest paid player in 2021, with his $11 million commitment trailing only Donaldson's $21 million.

    With all this in mind, I think it's important to remember the qualities that have kept Sanó on this list year after year – all still on display in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. He is an incredibly gifted athlete who hits baseballs as hard as anyone in the world. He acclimated quickly to first base, with his natural skill and instincts shining through. He's only 27 years old, at the heart of his physical prime, and still quite athletic for his prodigious size. While he'll be somewhat highly paid in 2021, the Twins also control him in 2022 at $9.25 million, which will be an amazing bargain if he pulls it together. They also have a $14 million option for his age-30 season.

    Focus on Sanó's flaws all you want – it's valid. But don't lose sight of his strengths. They are in some ways unparalleled.

    14. Tyler Duffey, RHP
    2020 Ranking: 16

    If he hadn't claimed it already, Duffey firmly took hold of the team's "bullpen ace" title in 2020. He was among the league's most dominant relievers, allowing only 19 baserunners via hit or walk in 24 innings, nearly all high-leverage. And because of his sparse previous track record, Duffey remains quite inexpensive in his second turn at arbitration. He's set to earn $2.2 million in 2020.

    In some ways, he epitomizes the volatility and unpredictability of relief arms. Duffey was not present in these rankings two years ago, and in fact was probably on the verge of moving on from the organization at that point. He has since harnessed his full potential out of the bullpen to become an elite force in the late innings.

    How long will it last? That remains to be seen. But the Twins are more than happy to control him affordably for the next two seasons.

    13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP
    2020 Ranking: 8

    The lost minor-league season in 2020 was especially unfortunate for a guy like Balazovic. He entered the year as a fast-rising and highly promising young arm, ready to take on advanced levels for the first time and make a statement. But because he hadn't yet taken this step, and wasn't really within range of a call-up, he was left off the alternate site roster, leaving him to progress on his own, without the benefit of competition or direct coaching. (He did get added to the alternate group late in the season.)

    None of this means Balazovic's outlook has dropped off, especially in a relative context (all prospects just lost a year). But he was at such a pivotal crux in his development – 21 years old, three years removed from being drafted out of high school, set to reach Double-A for the first time – that the disruption weighs a bit harder in his case.

    With that said, he's clearly one of the organization's top pitching prospects – virtually deadlocked with the next guy, from my view – and that makes him one of Minnesota's most valuable assets. Huge year ahead for Balazovic.

    12. Jhoan Duran, RHP
    2020 Ranking: 13

    The Twins acquired the Dominican right-hander from Arizona as part of the Eduardo Escobar deal in July of 2018. At the time, Duran was a middling Single-A starter with big stuff and lackluster results. Upon coming switching organizations, he immediately turned a corner. Since the trade, Duran has posted a 3.38 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 10.7 K/9 rate in 151 innings. His whiff rates are among the best in the system. He's been dominating.

    He's also just about big-league ready. Duran reached Double-A in 2019 and spent 2020 at the alternate site in St. Paul, where he gained consideration for a call-up. His proximity to the majors and proven performance in the upper minors gives him a slight edge over Balazovic in these rankings but as I said, they're practically even in my eyes.

    11. Luis Arráez, 2B
    2020 Ranking: 10

    The strengths and positives that Arráez brings to the table are no secret. He's one of the game's best contact hitters and the definition of a spark plug, with a .331 average and .390 on-base percentage through nearly 500 major-league plate appearances. All this before turning 24.

    But Arráez also has his limitations. He's not a speedy runner, nor a strong defender, and it's dubious whether he'll ever develop enough power to become a well-rounded offensive threat. Overshadowing these shortcomings, all of which he's been able to rise above as a huge difference-maker in his first two seasons, is the one issue that has actually held him back: his health.

    The second baseman missed all of 2017 in the minors after tearing the ACL in one knee, and in 2020 he was bothered all year by tendinitis in the other. Arráez was clearly hobbled most of the time and spent much of September on the Injured List.

    No surgery was planned for this offseason, so he'll focus on strengthening his lower body and shaking off the creeping "injury-prone" rep that threatens to further tarnish his otherwise impeccable asset value as a cheap young core player with five remaining years of team control.

    THE TOP 20 TWINS ASSETS OF 2021

    20. Keoni Cavaco, SS

    19. Brent Rooker, OF/1B

    18. Josh Donaldson, 3B

    17. Taylor Rogers, LHP

    16. Jorge Alcala, RHP

    15. Miguel Sanó, 1B

    14. Tyler Duffey, RHP

    13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP

    12. Jhoan Duran, RHP

    11. Luis Arráez, 2B

    6-10: Coming tomorrow!


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    • Jan 05 2021 09:08 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  2. 5 Surprises in Minnesota’s 2021 ZiPS Projections

    1. Healthy Arraez Heading for AL Batting Title
    2021 ZiPS Projection: .313/.371/.406, 32 2B, 5 HR, 3.2 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: Cecil Travis
    Entering the 2020 season, Luis Arraez was coming off a tremendous rookie year and expectations were even higher for his sophomore campaign. His first 10 games were rough as he hit .212/.289/.502 without a single extra-base hit. He dealt with a knee injury throughout different parts of the season, but he seemed to put it all together over his final 22 games. During that stretch, he hit .367/.398/.481 with nine doubles and 12 runs scored.

    Just like the 2020 projections, ZiPS pegs Arraez to lead the American League in batting average. His 3.2 WAR is also the highest on the team among position players as he finishes just ahead of Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, and Max Kepler. It would certainly be exciting to have a healthy Arraez fighting for a batting title, but the Twins will likely want one of the other star players to lead the team in WAR.

    2. Polanco Bounces Back
    2021 ZiPS Projection: .279/.333/.440, 32 2B, 17 HR, 2.8 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: Buddy Bell
    There has been plenty of discussion this winter about what role Polanco should serve with the 2021 Twins. Will he be the team’s everyday shortstop, or does it make sense to bring in another option and shift Polanco to a utility role? During the last two off-seasons, Polanco has been forced to undergo ankle surgery and that’s a consideration for the team when planning for the future. Last year, Polanco posted career low marks in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage.

    Looking at ZiPS for Polanco and the projections clearly have him inline for a bounce back season. His projected slugging percentage would be six points higher than his career mark and his 17 home runs would only trail his 22 longballs in 2019. Also, he has accumulated 30 doubles or more in every season he’s played at least 130 games. Defensively, there were some improvements last year, but he has finished eighth among AL shortstops in SABR’s SDI in each of the last two seasons.

    3. Maeda Set for Major Regression
    2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.12 ERA, 135 1/3 IP, 154 K, 45 BB, 2.2 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: John Montefusco
    Maeda’s first season in a Twins uniform went about as well as it could possibly go. He finished runner-up in the AL Cy Young Voting after posting a 2.70 ERA, 161 ERA+ and a MLB leading 0.75 WHIP. It was everything the Twins hoped for when they traded for him and the best news is, he is under team control for the next three seasons. His season might have been the most dominant performance by a Twins starter since Johan Santana was traded away.

    It seems highly unlikely for Maeda to be able to replicate his 2020 numbers during the 2021 campaign. The season will include more than 60 games and his 2020 totals were far superior to any previous season in his big-league career. ZiPS has his ERA 37 points higher than his career mark. Another oddity is that ZiPS has him scheduled to make eight appearances out of the bullpen, which would be similar to his time in Los Angeles. Maeda should outperform his ZiPS projections and Twins fans better hope he isn’t needed out of the bullpen.

    4. Pineda Pitches Under 100 innings
    2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.58 ERA, 92 1/3 IP, 84 K, 20 BB, 1.1 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: Dave Eiland
    Pineda’s time in Minnesota has been marked by one season where he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and parts of two seasons where he missed time due to a suspension. Last season, he made five starts and allowed 10 earned runs in 26 2/3 innings (3.38 ERA). Since joining the Twins he has posted a 1.16 WHIP and a 115 ERA+. The 2021 season can mark his first time pitching a full season for Minnesota, but the projections aren’t exactly kind to his performance.

    Injuries have been part of Pineda’s professional career and that’s why ZiPS limits his projected innings pitched. In fact, there are over 10 pitchers projected to pitch more innings than Pineda for the 2021 Twins. His career ERA is 4.02 and he has only posted one season with an ERA higher than his projected 4.58. Another intriguing note is the fact Pineda can be a free agent following the 2021 season. Will he perform better in a contract year? Or will the Twins be willing to work out an extension?

    5. ZiPS Loves Randy Dobnak
    2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.53 ERA, 137 IP, 91 K, 37 BB, 1.6 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: Dick Drago
    Dobnak’s first two seasons in Minnesota have seen some ups and downs. Back in 2019, his rookie season was unbelievable as he posted a 1.59 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP across 28 1/3 innings. This culminated in the team turning to him for a Game 2 start in the ALDS. Last year, his ERA rose to 4.05 and he had a 1.35 WHIP while seeing his strikeout per walk total be cut in half. Eventually, he was optioned to the team’s alternate training site, but he was part of the team’s Wild Card roster.

    In an absence of a minor league season, the minor league writers at Twins Daily held a minor league draft last summer. One of the biggest takeaways from that draft was how much ZiPS loves Randy Dobnak. His projected career WAR total was the highest in the draft and it helped Steve to walk away with the best overall team. Among pitchers, Dobnak is projected to have the team’s third highest WAR as he only trails Berrios and Maeda.

    What other surprises were in the Twins 2021 ZiPS projections? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Jan 04 2021 10:35 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  3. Twins Offseason Status Update: Slow Going

    After signing reliever Hansel Robles for $2 million on Tuesday (more on that shortly) here's a snapshot of Minnesota's projected 2021 roster and payroll:

    [attachment=17012:twinsroster122920.png]


    This accounting does not include the $5+ million that Kenta Maeda is likely to make in incentives, but even still, the Twins are a long way from the $138.3 million mark I had them pegged for in the final update last winter. (They ended up spending a prorated portion of that in the 60-game season.)

    While it's generally believed that 2021 payroll will be down a shade, there have been no indications the Twins intend to scale back dramatically. They might not have $50 million to spend, but they've got absolutely got the means to make some noise.

    They haven't yet. And that's hardly unique among major-league teams. But with spring training (ostensibly) less than two months away, and with the San Diego Padres lighting the Hot Stove afire this week, it's time to start getting serious.

    Here's a rundown on the Twins, and where they stand on several fronts at year's end.

    Hansel Robles Joins Back End of Bullpen

    After non-tendering Matt Wisler and letting three key veteran right-handed relievers walk via free agency, the Twins finally made an offsetting addition on Tuesday, signing former Angels closer Hansel Robles to a one-year, $2 million deal plus incentives.

    The nature of those incentives probably tells us something about how they plan (or hope) to use him.



    Robles can earn bonuses based on how many games he finishes, all the way up to 40. This suggests the Twins will open a path for the 30-year-old to do so – presumably, by filling a role similar to Sergio Romo, and splitting closer duties with Taylor Rogers situationally.

    That's not a bad bet for the Twins if they're confident Robles' abbreviated 2020 season was an anomaly, and he can get back to the form he showed in 2019 as an All-Star caliber bullpen weapon for the Angels. Robles has the stuff, headlined by an upper-90s fastball, and the Twins have a recent track record that inspires confidence. But this is hardly the kind of slam-dunk move that screams "ALL IN!" for a club seemingly on the cusp.

    Is that yet to come?

    Rumblings of a Shortstop Splash

    Where there's smoke, there's often fire, and the flumes surrounding Minnesota's pursuit of an impact addition at shortstop are hard to ignore. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, who's as plugged in as any reporter covering the game, wrote recently about the possibility of a Twins trade for Francisco Lindor or Trevor Story (both those possibilities were discussed in our Trade Targets episode of Offseason Live).

    Rosenthal mentioned another shortstop target for Minnesota: free agent Marcus Semien. More recently, KSTP's Darren Wolfson reported over the weekend of the Twins having "real interest" in Semien.

    In the event they were to acquire a Semien or Story, it's unclear how the Twins would shift their existing pieces of accommodate. The simplest answer is moving Polanco into the utility role formerly occupied by Marwin Gonzalez. But Rosenthal also hinted at the idea of Minnesota trading Luis Arráez and moving Polanco to second. Something tells me this would be a tough sell for the fan base.



    All Quiet on the Nelson Cruz Front

    In many ways, Minnesota's offseason strategy appears to hinge on the Cruz decision. So far, there's been little known movement. He wants to wait to sign until MLB provides clarity on the DH rule for next year, but there's no sign of getting any in the immediate future. How long can the Twins wait, with their offseason plans mired in limbo?

    Baldelli made his pitch to the free agent slugger during a media Zoom session earlier this month. "Nelson, if you're watching, which I know you're not, we'd love to see you in spring training, and I'll talk to you soon," he said into the camera with a grin.

    Goofing around? Sure. But it felt like there was almost a knowingness to Baldelli's casual advance. I'm not saying the Twins and Cruz have a handshake agreement in place that any competing offer on a one-year contract will be matched ... but it wouldn't shock me if they did.

    We'll keep covering the news here at Twins Daily as it arises. I hope everyone has a happy, safe and healthy New Year.

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    • Dec 29 2020 09:11 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  4. Projecting Minnesota’s 2024 Line-Up

    Catcher: Ryan Jeffers
    Mitch Garver can be a free agent following the 2023 season, so it seems most likely for the Twins to turn over catching duties to Ryan Jeffers. The 2021 campaign will see Garver and Jeffers splitting time behind the plate. Jeffers is six years younger than Garver and he is a defensive upgrade behind the plate. Another name to consider is Ben Rortvedt who was added to the 40-man roster this winter. He has a chance to join Jeffers on the 2024 squad to be the team’s new catching duo.

    First Base: Alex Kirilloff
    Miguel Sano transitioned to first base in 2020, but he might be relegated to the role of designated hitter by 2024. Kirilloff has experience as an outfielder or as a first baseman and his bat is ready for the big leagues. He will likely take over for Eddie Rosario in the Twins outfield for 2021, but first base might end up being his long-term home. Minnesota has other big bats like Brent Rooker and Aaron Sabato that will need a line-up spot too, so it will be interesting to see how all these players progress in the years ahead.

    Second Base: Luis Arraez
    Arraez didn’t have a perfect 2020 season as he dealt with knee issues, but he was still able to post an impressive .321 batting average with nine doubles in 32 games. His defense is never going to be fantastic at second, but the Twins might help him improve by working on his defensive positioning or getting better defenders around him in the infield. Also, none of the second base options behind him in the organization will be pushing him out of the way. His bat is his ticket to a long-term big-league job and the Twins will still be happy to have him in the line-up in 2024.

    Shortstop: Jorge Polanco
    There is no guarantee that Polanco will even be the Twins starting shortstop in 2021, let alone still be playing the position in 2024. It seems more likely for the Twins to have another option at shortstop over the next couple seasons, which would allow Polanco to shift to a utility role. At this point, there are options in the minors like Royce Lewis, Wander Javier, and eventually, Keoni Cavaco. No, I don’t believe Polanco can stick at shortstop, but I also don’t think the team’s 2024 shortstop is in the organization yet.

    Third Base: Josh Donaldson
    Minnesota would need to pick up Donaldson’s 2024 option for him to make it into this line-up and that might be questionable in his age-38 season. It is a $16 million option, but the buyout is $8 million, which means the Twins will have an $8 million decision to make following the 2023 season. The Twins have some third base options in the minors and there is always a chance the team moves Royce Lewis from shortstop to third base.

    Left Field: Trevor Larnach
    Larnach doesn’t get as much hype as Kirilloff and Lewis, but he would be the top hitting prospect for other organizations. Also, he’s older than Kirilloff and the same age as Jeffers and Arraez. Back in 2019, the Twins named him their Minor League Player of the Year after he hit .309/.384/.458 with 44 extra-base hits. There’s a good chance he makes his debut in 2021 and he has a chance to be part of the Twins line-up for the better part of the next decade.

    Center Field: Royce Lewis
    Byron Buxton is a free agent following the 2023 season, so there a few different ways the team can go by 2024. Lewis has had questions about his defensive future since the Twins drafted him and he showed some positive signs when playing outfield in the 2019 Arizona Fall League. Minnesota is committed to him as a shortstop for now, but the story might be different in four years. Few question his athletic ability and playing another up-the-middle defensive position might be his long-term ticket to the big leagues.

    Right Field: Max Kepler
    Kepler, along with Sano, can fill the role the aging veteran on the 2024 Twins as they will both be in their age-31 seasons. The Twins would need to pick-up Kepler’s $10 million option for the 2024 season or work out a different extension to keep him on the roster. Since the start of the 2019 season, he has an .831 OPS and a 119 OPS+ while being a strong defender in the outfield. He seems like the type of player that can fill a veteran leadership role as younger pieces start to join the core that is already in place.

    Designated Hitter: Miguel Sano
    I was tempted to pencil in a 43-year-old Nelson Cruz as the team’s designated hitter with how ageless he has seemed during his Twins tenure. Sano is the logical choice to be the team’s DH by 2024, especially with his move to first base last year. Minnesota will have better defensive options at first and Sano can concentrate on doing what he does best, hitting monster home runs. Sano is only under team control through 2023, so the Twins will have the option to turn to one of the other big bats (Rooker, Sabato) in the organization as well.

    What do you think the 2024 line-up will look like in Minnesota? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    PREVIOUS YEAR’S PREDICTIONS
    2021 Line-Up
    2022 Line-Up
    2023 Line-Up
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    • Dec 27 2020 11:29 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  5. Twins Future Position Analysis: Second Base

    Current Second Baseman: Luis Arraez
    Arraez burst onto the scene in 2019 with a rookie campaign unseen in Minnesota for quite some time. He hit .334/.399/.439 with a 29 to 36 strikeout to walk ratio. In the batter’s box, he seemed to be able to know what the pitcher was throwing and spit on pitches on the edges. Arraez was never seen as a top-tier prospect, but the 2019 season might have changed that perspective.

    To be clear, the 2020 season saw Arraez play through a knee injury that plagued him during spring training and the team’s summer camp session. With that being said, he still hit .321/.364/.402 with an 11 to 8 strikeout to walk ratio in 32 games. The shortened season certainly impacted his injury and it also impacted the numbers he was able to produce at the big-league level. Arraez should be the Twins present and future, but it’s hard to predict how his knee will react.

    40-Man Options
    Besides Arraez, the Twins have other 40-man roster options to play second base. Travis Blankenhorn is a legitimate option that could surprise some fans in 2021. If the Twins are able to sign another shortstop, Jorge Polanco could move to a utility role to put less pressure on Donaldson and Arraez. Blankenhorn has accumulated over 1900 defensive innings at second base during his professional career which is more than any other defensive position.

    On the Farm Options
    Outside of the options mentioned above, there are other second base options in the minor leagues including some strong prospects.
    [attachment=16992:Second Base Minors.JPG]
    Lin was an intriguing signing this winter and Severino has all the skills to be an impact option at the big-league level. Lin will likely get multiple opportunities to fill-in for full-time players. Also, Severino has been in the Twins system long enough to build up equity with the coaching staff. Arraez might be the current second baseman

    Prato joined the Twins organization as a 7th round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. He split his professional debut between Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids while hitting .268/.373/.730 with 10 extra-base hits in 4 games. Santana played three full seasons in the Dominican Summer League before making his stateside debut. In E-Town, he hit .276/.371/.372 with 10 extra-base hits in 40 games. He should have the chance to debut with Fort Myers in 2021.

    Julien is another intriguing option because of his college experience. Minnesota drafted him out of Auburn in 2019 and he has yet to make his professional debut. The Canadian native could make a big impact on the organization if he is able to move quickly in the years ahead.


    What do you think about the future of second base in Minnesota? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES

    -First Base

    -Shortstop

    -Third Base


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    • Dec 17 2020 09:20 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  6. Week in Review: Stealing the Central

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/21 through Sun, 9/27

    ***

    Record Last Week: 3-2 (Overall: 36-24)

    Run Differential Last Week: -1 (Overall: +55)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central

    Bomba Counter: 91


    Three weeks ago in this column, when I was recapping a week in which Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson both returned from the Injured List and immediately made big impacts, I wrote: "It's crystal-clear that nothing is more important to the Twins' chances of a deep postseason run than keeping Donaldson and Buxton healthy and effective."

    Things were shaping up well on this front heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Then, suddenly, they weren't.

    On Friday night, Donaldson exited following his first at-bat, which ended with him gingerly stepping out of the batter's box after hitting a pop-up to right field. Later in the game, Buxton took a wayward fastball to the helmet, ending his night.

    Donaldson was diagnosed with a right calf cramp. Buxton was said to be experiencing mild concussion symptoms. Neither played on Saturday or Sunday, and their statuses for the first round of the postseason are up in the air.



    The good news is that neither injury seems too serious on the surface, and Rocco Baldelli has expressed optimism that both players could be available on Tuesday. The bad news is ... well, where to begin? Baldelli has had a tendency to downplay injury severity all year (and why wouldn't he in this case?). The specific nature of each injury is concerning due to each player's history (Donaldson with his calves, Buxton with concussions). And most of all, it's just an extremely short window – these incidents occurred four days before an intense playoff gauntlet with no off days.

    All we can do is wait and see. In the meantime, there were plenty of other developments worth tracking in the final week of the regular season, so let's break them down, and then look ahead to the coming playoff tilt against the Astros.

    HIGHLIGHTS


    Minnesota's chances of repeating as division champs looked bleak when they left the south side of Chicago 10 days ago, having dropped three of four and cost themselves a tiebreaker against the White Sox. At that time, the odds were heavily tilted against the Twins, and even a week ago, as I mapped out scenarios for the final seven days, Chicago was in the driver's seat.

    Ultimately, the Sox played poorly enough that Minnesota had to merely take care of business. The Twins did just that, finishing 3-2 at home against the Tigers and Reds while Chicago went 1-6.

    [attachment=15565:playoffscenario.png]


    As a result, the Twins won the American League Central despite dropping the final series against Cincinnati. This marks Minnesota's first time capturing back-to-back division titles since exactly one decade ago, when they did it in 2009 and 2010. Those two teams had a collective winning percentage of .557; the 2019/20 Twins have a collective winning percentage of .617.

    Now, they'll host two or three games of the AL Wild Card Series at Target Field, where the Twins went 24-6 in the regular season. The visiting Houston Astros, meanwhile, went 9-23 away from MInute Maid, and finished two games below .500 overall. It would've been hard to hand-pick a better outcome for Minnesota, in theory, but now they need to go out and slay their postseason demons under these relatively favorable circumstances.

    They'll have a decisive pitching advantage in Game 1, which wouldn't have been the case under any other match-up scenario. Zack Greinke is good, but Kenta Maeda's been much better, and on Wednesday, Minnesota's No. 1 starter made his final regular-season start in preparation.

    While the results weren't great by his own high standards – in six innings, he allowed three runs, matching his highest total of the season – Maeda still looked plenty good while picking up the win and improving to 6-1. He struck out nine and walked none, inducing a season-high 22 swinging strikes.

    In his final two starts of the season, Maeda struck out 17 men with zero walks and nine hits allowed over 11 innings. He's locked in and ready to go, and has earned plenty of confidence. Maeda is unlikely to shrink in the moment because, as our Cody Christie wrote last week, he's no stranger to October.

    Just as Maeda is critical to the rotation's postseason success, Taylor Rogers is a vital bullpen crux. His struggles throughout the season have been a primary source of anxiety for fans, already thinking ahead (and backward) to late-game lapses in the playoffs. Nerves flared up again on Tuesday when Rogers came in to pitch the 10th inning of a tie game and allowed Detroit to pull ahead, singling in the auto-runner from second. It wasn't a terrible outing on its own merit, but another spot where the previously infallible closer failed to deliver.

    Seeking to feed his relief fireman some confidence, Baldelli threw Rogers back into the heat on Saturday, bringing him into the seventh inning of a three-run game with two on, and one out. Once again, Rogers got nipped, yielding an RBI single (on an 0-2 count) and then hitting Aristides Aquino with a pitch (on a 1-2 count) to load the bases. From there, the lefty buckled down, retiring four straight batters with a strikeout and three grounders.

    It was a much-needed glimmer of positivity for Rogers, who threw 75% strikes in his two appearances last week after an oddly erratic showing on the previous road trip. He's restoring some faith, although in terms of leverage Baldelli should pretty clearly have him pegged behind Tyler Duffey, who finished out Saturday's victory in dominant fashion (1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 3 K).

    On offense, although the losses of Donaldson and Buxton were the banner stories for the weekend, one major gain cannot be overlooked: Luis Arráez is back and looking as good as ever. He went off in his return on Saturday night, going 4-for-4 with three doubles, and followed with two more hits on Sunday.

    The second baseman was in vintage form, slashing the ball with lightning-quick wrists and driving liners in all direction, raising his final batting average to .321. Most critically, he was running hard, with no apparent limitations stemming from his knee or ankle ailments.



    Getting Arráez's bat back is huge with a couple of Minnesota's other key left-handed hitters starting to find their strokes in timely fashion. Max Kepler snapped out of his prolonged slump last Sunday, and kept it rolling by going 6-for-20 with a homer, two doubles, and a walk-off single in the final week. Meanwhile, Eddie Rosario went 6-for-19 with a homer and a double, striking out just twice in 22 plate appearances.

    With the Astros figuring to throw at least two right-handed starters in the Wild Card round, and featuring a RH-heavy bullpen, it's good to see Minnesota's lefty sticks finishing in a good place.

    LOWLIGHTS


    While Maeda was plenty sharp in his final tune-up, the two other projected first-round starters were less so. Michael Pineda saw his control go amiss on Saturday night, when he issued a season-high three walks while laboring through four innings against Cincinnati. He later (hilariously) addressed the uncharacteristic hiccup by referring to himself in the third-person: "I had a little bit of frustration with me because it’s not Big Mike, you know. Big Mike loves to attack the zone."



    The previous night, José Berríos saw his hot streak (4-0 with a 2.14 ERA in six starts) come to an end as he coughed up four runs in five innings. Facing the Reds, he surrendered multiple home runs for the first time all year.

    Neither Pineda nor Berríos looked all that bad necessarily, but it isn't ideal to see two of their greatest strengths – throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park, respectively – fall through at this stage. The margin for error next time out will likely be razor-thin.

    On that note, the pitching staff would benefit from a bit of breathing room, but this will depend on an inconsistent lineup finding itself in a hurry. While lefty swingers like Arráez, Kepler and Rosario are carrying the load right now, it's difficult to envision the Twins exerting their offensive force against Houston without key bats from the right side stepping up. On this front, we haven't been seeing many encouraging signs.

    Donaldson and Buxton are total question marks. Nelson Cruz, who was a trendy MVP candidate for much of the season, saw his performance tail off in a major way down the stretch, as he hit just .171 with one home run and two RBIs in his final 10 games, while missing time in the middle due to a knee issue. In three starts over the past week, Cruz went 1-for-10 with five strikeouts. Given the injury implications and his age, this can't be treated as a passing slump and dismissed as such.

    With that said, Cruz's skid has nothing on that of Miguel Sanó, who was a major drag on the lineup throughout September after carrying it at times in August. Sanó finished 2-for-16 with zero extra-base hits last week, rarely putting together decent at-bats. In September, he slashed .148/.178/.383 with 39 strikeouts and three walks in 84 plate appearances. Hideous.

    Mitch Garver had three hits in 11 plate appearances, including a monster home run and a crushed double, but he also struck out seven times. He hasn't drawn a walk since returning from IL and finishes with a .167/.247/.264 line on the season coming off his Silver Slugger campaign. That Ryan Jeffers starts Game 1 is basically a given at this point – the question is whether Garver will get any starts.

    Minnesota has a top-notch pitching corps, and there are a few promising trends on offense, but seeing all these pivotal hitters in such bad ways heading into the postseason is alarming to say the least.

    TRENDING STORYLINE


    It's time for playoff baseball! Plenty of narratives will be at play as the Astros travel to Target Field for a first-ever postseason meeting between these two clubs.

    Houston is returning to the national stage for the first time since becoming universally villainized by the revelation of their cheating scandal last winter. It's safe to say they'll have plenty more than just Twins fans cheering for their defeat.

    Meanwhile, the Twins are haunted by the specter of 16 consecutive postseason losses. They'll be hoping to vanquish it against the defending AL champs, in an unprecedented best-of-three Wild Card round, aiming to move on and face the winner of A's/White Sox in the bubble.

    Strangeness aside, it's about to get real.



    LOOKING AHEAD


    We know who the Twins are planning to throw in all three games. For Houston, it's less clear. The absence of Justin Verlander, who underwent Tommy John surgery, looms large and leaves a void after the Game 1 starter Greinke.

    It sounds like Lance McCullers Jr. would likely take the hill for a Game 3 if needed. As for Game 2? Right-hander Jose Urquidy, who started Friday, is a possibility. But given the Twins' struggles against lefties this year, it wouldn't surprise me to see Dusty Baker and the Astros opt for southpaw Framber Valdez, who last started Tuesday in Seattle.

    Suffice to say that no matter which direction Houston goes, it'll be Minnesota with the on-paper advantage in every pitching match-up.

    TUESDAY, 9/29: AL Wild Card, Game 1 vs. Houston – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Zack Greinke
    WEDNESDAY, 9/30: AL Wild Card, Game 2 vs. Houston – RHP José Berríos v. TBD
    THURSDAY, 10/1: AL Wild Card Game 3 (if necessary) vs. Houston – RHP Michael Pineda v. TBD

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

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    • Sep 27 2020 08:31 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  7. Travis Blankenhorn Makes MLB Debut, Doubles

    Travis Blankenhorn began the 2019 season at High-A Ft. Myers. After just 15 games, he moved up to Double-A Pensacola where he hit .278 with 18 doubles and 18 homers in 93 games. In his time with the Blue Wahoos, he had the opportunity to see several of his teammates move up and eventually debut with the Twins in 2019.

    “Seeing all those guys up there is awesome.” Blankenhorn said in a Get To Know ‘Em podcast last October. He said was excited to see teammates such as Luis Arraez, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and several other pitchers (as well as one of his best friends Jaylin Davis with the Giants) debut and contribute with the Twins. “Just watching them go up there and have success is awesome. We all love it. We’re all cheering for them. Obviously I think that’s a good motivation that we’re not too far away… It could happen like that.”

    Tuesday night in Chicago, it is Travis Blankenhorn’s turn to make his MLB debut. He batted seventh and played second base in a Twins lineup filled with its regulars. The lineup also included Ryan Jeffers behind the plate and Randy Dobnak on the mound. All three of them began the 2019 season together with the High-A Ft. Myers Miracle.

    2020 has been a unique year, and that is true for players making their major-league debuts too. Normally, a player would be in a minor league clubhouse or a hotel room when their manager would call them to let them know they were needed in the big leagues.

    Blankenhorn was already in Chicago. For the second time this season, he was a part of the Twins taxi squad. He was also part of the taxi squad for the doubleheader in St. Louis. As a taxi squad member, he can work with the team before the game, take some BP, field grounders, etc., but when the game starts, he had to go into the stands.

    So on Monday, Blankenhorn was going about his game-day routine. He said, “I was already here. I was on the field. Took some ground balls. Went out to the outfield to shag and that’s when he (bench coach Mike Bell) came up and told me. So I definitely think it’s one of the more unique ways to find out.”

    Bell shared his version of telling Blankenhorn that something was up, “You know it’s going to happen. It’s really cool. It’s such a unique year. His family’s not here. Those things go through your mind. When it became official, I had to run out on the field. I just downplayed it. I said ‘Hey Rocco needs you. No big deal.” Who knows what he thought. He might have thought he had to drive back home to the alternate site.”

    Blankenhorn said that he ran in to talk to Baldelli. That’s when he got The Call. He was a big leaguer.

    He had some phone calls to make, but very quickly.He called his parents and his fiance. “I couldn’t talk long though because my BP group was up, and I wanted to hit. Short phone call.”

    All this happened about 90 minutes before game time.

    -------------------------------------------------

    I tweeted about a week before the season that it sure would have been great if MLB had found a way to safely allow family at a player's MLB debut.



    Mike Bell agreed that it’s unfortunate, but obviously we understand.

    “One big thing that this whole year has taken away from some of these young guys making their debuts is their families aren’t in the stands. It’s unique. I’m sure they’ll never forget it. I hate it for them, but you just keep going back to what the world’s dealing with. Gosh, there’s just so much going on. We’re all pretty fortunate here.”

    Regardless, Monday was an exciting day for Blankenhorn. “There was actually a point in the game where I thought I could have gone in yesterday. Definitely an unreal moment. Just finding out an hour before the game that you’re not going to be sitting in the stands today. You’re actually going to be in the dugout. It was definitely a good feeling. Crazy. Crazy day, for sure.”

    --------------------------------------------------

    So now to the actual baseball side of things. We all love the human element of a big league promotion and Major League debut, but why was Blankenhorn called up, and how can he contribute to the Twins over the final 11 games?

    First, on Monday, the Twins were without Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano, and Marwin Gonzalez was a late scratch due to illness. The team needed an extra bench bat for the game, and they optioned lefty Devin Smeltzer to add him. It is possible that he could be the player optioned to make room for Jake Odorizzi, who will come off the Injured List on Wednesday and make the start.

    Twins Daily's Matthew Trueblood wrote earlier today that he'd like to see Blankenhorn play... everyday!

    ------------------------------------------------------

    Blankenhorn debuted at second base on Tuesday night, and that has certainly been his primary position in the minor leagues the last couple of seasons.



    As you can see, he played a lot of third base early in his career. In 2019, he added left field to his positions played list. However, there is no question that he has mostly worked in the infield.

    He said that after getting his pre-game infield work done, he goes out to the outfield to shag fly balls and work on reads. At the Twins alternate site in St. Paul, however, Blankenhorn said he has worked exclusively in the infield.

    Before Tuesday night’s game in Chicago, Baldelli said of Blankenhorn, “I think Blank’s strength defensively is the fact that he can do a lot of different things for you. He’s worked really hard in the infield. He’s gotten to the point where he’s a very competent second baseman and you can feel really good about him getting the job done. Our ability to put him in the lineup comes down to him being very proficient in different spots. I’m looking forward to watching him go.”

    --------------------------------------------

    Baldelli also gave a lot of credit to the the Twins minor league coaches and coordinators. He noted that a lot of good work is being done at CHS Field. “Our guys have done a tremendous job over in St. Paul. JP Martinez has run that camp over there flawlessly in a situation that is very, very challenging. Our guys have got a ton of work.”

    Baldelli continued, “ I know he’s spent a lot of time with our player development guys, with our coaches, with Billy Boyer on a lot of different spots all over the infield.”

    Billy Boyer is the Twins minor league infield and base running coordinator. He’s been working with the group in St. Paul this summer. Boyer said of Blankenhorn, “I feel great about where he is with his defense. Blank and our staff have put a ton of time, effort and focus on developing his defensive skill set both at second base and third base. Couldn’t be more proud of him, to see all the time and effort paying off for him.”

    Posted Image

    2020 has been a strange year. Being at the alternate site is not the same as playing a minor league season, but Blankenhorn said that he and the others in St. Paul are putting in a lot of good work.

    “We were all just grinding over there. Everyone knows that there’s a chance. We were all just trying to stay ready. Trying to get our at bats. Trying to get our work in. And going to the field everyday knowing that there’s an opportunity that if something would happen, we would be the guys to go over there (Target Field and the MLB roster). It was definitely a grind trying to stay ready over there.”

    ------------------------------------------------------

    Blankenhorn was the Twins third round draft pick in 2015 out of high school in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He was a great three-sport athlete who could have played any of three sports in college. He was a really good defensive back and kick returner on his high school’s football team. He was a big-time shooter on his team’s high school basketball team. And obviously, it appears, he made the right choice in going the way of baseball.

    But he was a raw, athletic kid when he was drafted. He has had to work hard. He has had to make several adjustments along the way. He has struck out a lot, and then made adjustments. He has added a lot of power to his game as he has matured physically and mentally. It’s all part of the (often quite non-linear) player development path of a prospect.

    “If you look at my swing from when I first got to the Twins until now, I think I’ve changed a couple of times. Picking and choosing what is best for me. I think last year I learned a lot about myself as a hitter and I’m just trying to continue going off of that.”

    In last year’s Get to Know ‘Em podcast, he talked about how valuable his experience in the 2018 Arizona Fall League was for him. He was able to pick people’s brains, get other thoughts and ideas and incorporate it into his game, into his approach, and into his swing.

    As for getting at bats in St. Paul, it certainly wasn’t a typical schedule, but as Baldelli notes, they have been able to get their work in and when they have come over from CHS Field, they have been ready to contribute right away. Because there are only so many pitchers there, there are different schedules. They don’t play regular games. Some days they may get a bunch of at bats. Some days maybe one at bat. Some days they may not get any at bats.

    “They’ve gotten a ton of at bats ultimately. Is it typical? Is it what we’re used to judging guys off of? No. But it’s certainly a spot where we’re getting our guys enough work where we feel really good putting them in major league games when they get over here. We have no hesitation getting Blank out there, and he’s ready to go too. I think you could actually look at it, not from the way we feel about it, but from the way the players feel about it. The players have shown up here throughout, ready to go. Those guys are ready.”

    Blankenhorn added, “If you look at the group of pitchers we had over there, the people that came over, I think we definitely had some quality at bats against some quality pitching. I think that was a big part of staying ready.”

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Blankenhorn recently turned 24. If asked what type of player I think he can be, I would look to Marwin Gonzalez as a relatively good comp. Gonzalez is a switch-hitter. Blankenhorn is left handed only. But I can see a situation where Blankenhorn is a solid hitter with some power who is going to strikeout a bit. Defensively, he won’t be great at any one position, but he will be adequate at third base and potentially in the corner outfield spots, and I think he can be solid defensively on the right side of the infield. He could be a solid regular starter at second base if needed, but a large piece of his value comes from his versatility. It should allow him to play in the big leagues for a number of years.
    It’s a role that Blankenhorn has embraced over the last couple of seasons. He wants to play all over the diamond. “I’m just going to go wherever they tell me to.”

    -------------------------------------------------------

    Blankenhorn's Debut (1-for-3, HBP, 2B)

    In his first at-bat, Blankenhorn popped up the first pitch to third base. The second at bat was a fly out to left field. In his third plate appearance, he was hit by a pitch in the elbow armor. In the ninth inning, Blankenhorn had that moment, connecting for a two-out double over the right fielder’s head.



    Following the game, his manager said, “It’s a huge moment for any player. Anyone that’s been in the big leagues and had an opportunity to have a first like that... It’s certainly a moment and an emotion that you always remember. Sometimes you don’t remember every aspect of your first game, or every aspect of your first hit, but there are certainly some snap shots that he will never forget, and he gets to take with him wherever he goes. We know he’s a good offensive player, a good young offensive player, and seeing him put a good swing on the ball like that is very nice.”

    Blankenhorn said later that it was "an unreal moment, getting on that field for the first time. That's what I've been dreaming about since Little League."

    He continued, "Getting that first hit out of the way on the first night was definitely nice. (I'm) going to find a case for that baseball and keep it somewhere safe!"

    More on Travis Blankenhorn

    • Sep 16 2020 11:44 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  8. Twins Problem Solved through Infield Issues

    Although the 2019 roster produced a record setting number of homers, adding Josh Donaldson to the mix this winter seemed like a no-brainer. Sano could slide across the diamond and Minnesota could use some of their available cash flow to lock down a superstar for the immediate future. He brings even more pop to an already potent lineup, but the Gold Glove caliber defense at the hot corner should’ve been expected to make a difference.



    Back in July I tweeted about the impact of Donaldson’s defensive prowess at third. Using 2019 numbers alone, it was surmisable that Rocco Baldelli’s infield corps would take a step forward. The Twins have utilized shifts over 40% of the time this season (up from 35.5% a year ago). Remaining in the top ten across baseball, positioning has helped Minnesota pitchers to take away hits from parts of the field otherwise left vacant.

    It’s hard to discern what impact the inclusion of Donaldson has had in regards to the specific improvements for the rest of his teammates, but it’s worth noting that the longtime Blue Jays slugger has played just 19 games having battled calf issues. Even without him being a constant in the lineup, the Twins infield has gone from being worth -18 outs above average (OAA) to a +5 OAA and 5th best in baseball this year.



    Most notably of all players in the Twins infield is the guy that’s been run out there on a nightly basis. Jorge Polanco looked like a miscast shortstop in the last few seasons, but you can hardly make that claim now. He went from ranking 35th out of 35 in OAA last year to posting a +1 OAA leaving him 14th in 2020.

    There’s no doubt that numbers can bog us down sometimes, and the reality is the games aren’t played on paper. Our eyes don’t deceive us in watching Polanco, however. He’s vastly improved when charging the ball, and area he struggled mightily with a season ago. After posting a -11 OAA in those instances during 2019, the improvement is to the tune of a +3 mark and 14 out improvement.

    Despite having to play so much of the shortened sprint without efforts from Byron Buxton or the aforementioned Donaldson, Minnesota owns the 5th best defensive runs saved mark in baseball. At 21 DRS, they are third in the American League and trail just divisional foes Cleveland and Chicago. A year ago, they were the final team to post a positive DRS and finished 18th overall in the majors.

    What we’ve seen is intentional preparation for regression and an assessment for constant improvement by the front office and coaching staff. Expecting another 300+ home run outburst was unlikely (and even moreso having just 60 games to do it) but finding ways to improve on other weaknesses was a worthy venture.

    Although we’re running out of action in the regular season this lineup hasn’t been consistently healthy and clicking yet. Making sure the defense doesn’t slump in the interim is a controllable pursuit. It’s one the front office set forth to ensure during the winter, and it’s one that Rocco needs to remain on top of into the Postseason.

    This club is far too good to string multiple nights of missed opportunity together. When the floodgates open, the defensive improvements will be there to slam the door.

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    • Sep 15 2020 05:32 PM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  9. 3 Questions Left to Be Answered Before the Playoffs

    1. Can the line-up get healthy?
    Two of Minnesota’s scheduled regulars, Mitch Garver and Luis Arraez, are both on the injured list. The good news is Garver has been getting at-bats and working behind the plate at the team’s alternate training site in St. Paul. Rocco Baldelli told the media that Garver could join the team on the road trip if everything continues to go well. Ryan Jeffers has done more than hold his own with Garver out as his pitch framing has been outstanding and his has a .819 OPS.

    Arraez has been fighting with knee issues that date all the way back to spring training. He has been playing through the issue and this is the first time he went on the injured list this season. He can’t come off the IL until September 19 which will give him a little over a week to get ready for the playoffs. Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza can fill-in at second but both have been struggling offensively.

    2. How will the team line-up the rotation for the first round?
    It’s clear that Kenta Maeda will be starting in Minnesota’s first game of the playoffs. He’s been the best starting pitcher on the staff, and he has plenty of playoff experience from his time with the Dodgers. He’s currently projected to start on Thursday to close out the White Sox series and then he should get one more start before the regular season concludes.

    Outside of Maeda, it seems likely for the Twins to give Jose Berrios the nod in the second game of the playoffs. He had a shaky start to the season, but he seems to be getting back to form as of late. In his last four starts, he has held batters to a .183 BA and he has struck out 31 in 22 2/3 innings. He has been trending in the right direction and hopefully he is peaking at the right time.

    The third spot in the playoff rotation isn’t as clear, but it might be Michael Pineda’s spot to lose at this point. Randy Dobnak was terrific to start the year, but his last start was a little concerning as he hit two batters and allowed five runs on only two hits in one inning. Rich Hill has seen his strikeout totals increase in each of his last two starts, but he has yet to pitch more than five innings. Jake Odorizzi is coming back from injury and the team might not trust him in a winner-take-all game.

    3. What’s the bullpen pecking order?
    Even with some recent struggles, Minnesota’s bullpen was outstanding to start the season. However, managing a bullpen in the postseason can be a little trickier. Baldelli seems to be set on Taylor Rogers being used in the closer role even though he has given up 21 hits in 16 1/3 innings. Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard continue to get work in the late innings.

    Tyler Duffey might be the bullpen’s best pitcher and Baldelli has show flexibility to use Duffey in a variety of situations. Matt Wisler has been outstanding in nearly every role he has been given. Jorge Alcala has shown some of the flame throwing ability that made him one of the team’s top pitching prospects. There could also be some bullpen spots for starters that don’t make the playoff rotation. This could add even more depth to an already strong relief core.

    How do you think the Twins will answer these questions? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Sep 14 2020 06:04 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  10. Too Many Twins Hitters Are Sacrificing Power for Contact

    Under the terminology of MLB's Statcast system, a "Barrel" is defined as "a well-struck ball where the combination of exit velocity and launch angle generally leads to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage." In other words, it is the highest quality of contact.

    In 2019, the Twins led all of baseball in Barrel % at 10.1%. In 2020, they rank 21st in baseball at 6.6%. They've dropped from third to 13th in Average Exit Velocity (AEV).

    What is causing this drop-off in detonations for the Bomba Squad? One might surmise it is the result of injuries forcing lesser players into the lineup, and that is certainly a partial factor, but hardly the driving force. The biggest problem is that many of Minnesota's key sluggers from a year ago are hitting the ball with minimal authority, seemingly because they are sacrificing power for contact.

    The prime example is Jorge Polanco. He's been one of the toughest hitters in the majors to strike out, ranking in the 97th percentile for both K-rate and whiff rate. But his Barrel % and AEV are both in the 7th percentile. His Hard Hit % is in the 5th.

    [attachment=15052:polancostatcast.png]


    Last year, Polanco piled up 69 extra-base hits and slugged .485. This year he's at eight and .388. He has improved his zone coverage and is making more contact, but there's little evidence that he's benefiting from it.

    Next up: Max Kepler, who often accompanies Polanco at the top of the lineup. Kepler too has been tough to fan this year – he's in the 89th percentile for whiff rate and 72nd for K-rate. But he too has lost some punch. His Barrel % is below average (48th percentile) and his AEV (36th percentile) and Hard Hit % (30th percentile) are around the bottom third of all hitters. Last year he was solidly above-average in all three categories.

    [attachment=15053:keplerstatcast.png]


    Even Eddie Rosario, who sometimes reflects the embodiment of a "grip it and rip it" approach, has really come to profile as more of a slap hitter. He's been very tough to strike out (87th percentile for K-rate) and doesn't have much swing-and-miss in his game (71st percentile for whiff rate) ... but every Statcast measure rates his quality of contact as low. He's 24th percentile in Barrel % and around the bottom third for AEV and Hard Hit %. His xwOBA, xBA, xSLG ... all well below average.

    [attachment=15054:rosariostatcast.png]


    Finally it's worth mentioning Luis Arráez. His profile this year is more typical and expected, but it's worth calling out the stark contrast: 95th/99th percentiles for strikeouts and whiffs, 22nd/4th percentiles AEV/Hard Hit %.

    [attachment=15055:arraezstatcast.png]


    Whereas Miguel Sanó and Nelson Cruz are both swinging out of their shoes, striking out frequently but plastering the ball upon contact, nearly every other Twins player falls starkly on the other side of the spectrum. The result, as we're seeing, is an offense that has not been particularly threatening or intimidating on whole.

    Many fans have wondered whether the change in hitting coaches may be a contributor to the team's offensive drop-off. The answer, based on these insights: maybe. James Rowson seemed to be a champion of the aggressive approach that spurred the lineup's success last year, but that's not to say Edgar Varela isn't.

    One way or another, several Twins hitters could benefit from taking a page from Cruz and Sanó – often the lineup's only productive players of late – and sacrificing some contact for power.

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    • Aug 31 2020 11:13 AM
    • by Nick Nelson
  11. Ranking the Twins' Current Injury Concerns

    The Twins are nearly guaranteed a playoff in MLB’s restructured playoff format. It would take a massive collapse over the rest of the season for the Twins to finish out of the playoff picture. That being said, Minnesota needs to get healthy and be playing well over the course of the next month.

    Here’s how the Twins rank in relation to their current injury concerns:

    5. Homer Bailey, RHP
    Injury: Biceps
    Bailey hasn’t pitched over 200 innings since the 2013 campaign as he has dealt with a multitude of injuries. He rebounded last year to post a 4.57 ERA and a 149 to 53 strike out to walk ratio in 163 1/3 innings. As of this weekend, Rocco Baldelli told reporters that Bailey hadn’t resumed throwing. Even with these concerns, Bailey was always going to be penciled in near the back of the Twins rotation. Luckily, Randy Dobnak’s continued success has made it easier to handle Bailey’s absence from the rotation.

    4. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
    Injury: Back Strain
    Odorizzi made his first start of the season over the weekend and he allowed two earned runs on four hits over three innings. Back injuries can be tricky and it’s certainly easy for them to flare up with little to no notice. Odorizzi will be a free agent at season’s end so he is going to want to prove his value on the field this season. He has already missed multiple starts this season and it will be tough for him to prove his value if his back flares up.

    3. Rich Hill, LHP
    Injury: Shoulder
    Hill hasn’t been a workhorse in his career as he has only pitch more than 140 innings once in his career. However, he has been one of baseball’s best pitchers when he has been able to be on the mound and he has made 12 postseason starts. Even if he misses multiple starts, Hill might be able to come back and be a strong pitcher down the stretch and help the Twins to win in October. He turned 40 back in March and any injury at his age is a concern.

    2. Luis Arraez, 2B
    Injury: Knee
    So far this season, Arraez clearly hasn’t been himself at the plate as he is hitting .233/.320/.256 (.576) with one extra-base hit. He left one of the team’s intersquad when his knee was bothering him. He missed two games at the end of last week, but he was back in the line-up over the weekend. Arraez and others talked about the possibility of him hitting .400 this season, but the Twins would likely be happy with him getting closer to where he was hitting in his rookie season. This seems like an injury that could be nagging throughout the season even if he continues to play.

    1. Josh Donaldson, 3B
    Injury: Calf
    Dondaldson has a history of calf injuries and this might have been one of the reasons more teams weren’t interested in his services on the free agent market. Minnesota was well aware of his previous injury history when they signed him, but that’s the risk a team takes when signing a player his age to a multi-year contract. Donaldson knows his body well and his routines include preparing his calves to be ready for the riggers of the season. The Twins need him ready for the end of September and the team’s possible postseason run.

    Which injury concerns you the most? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Aug 10 2020 08:21 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  12. Twins Bats Have Struggled Early

    We all remember. The 2019 Minnesota Twins offense, the Bomba Squad, hit .270/.338/.494 (.832) with 318 doubles and 307 homers.

    Then this offseason, the Twins added former MVP Josh Donaldson coming off of a season in which he was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year. He hit .259/.379/.521 (.900) with 33 doubles and 37 home runs.

    However, through just 14 games, the Twins offense just has not clicked. The Twins have had several big innings in which they scored as many as five runs. But most nights we have seen the offense put up a lot of zeroes.

    Nelson Cruz is hitting .365/.411/.596 (1.007) with three doubles and three homers. Max Kepler and Marwin Gonzalez, along with backup backstop Alex Avila, have posted an OPS over .800.

    However, most of the Twins hitters haven’t yet taken off. Mitch Garver is just 3-for-27 (.111) with 13 strikeouts in 27 at bats (34 plate appearances). Luis Arraez is hitting just .216. Miguel Sano is 5-for-37 (.135) with two walks and 18 strikeouts. Jake Cave had two of the biggest hits early in the same (two-run, first-inning single on Opening Day, and a grand slam), but he’s just 3-for-23 with 10 strikeouts. Donaldson was off to a slow start, hitting just .182 with a .614 OPS in seven games before injuring his calf.

    But as a team, how are the Twins doing relative to other American League teams? Is this a Twins issue, or has the offense struggled around the league?

    Overall, the Twins are hitting .236/.316/.414 (.731) with 68 runs scored. They’ve hit 20 home runs in the first 14 games.

    As of Saturday morning, here is how those numbers rank relative to the 15 American League teams:

    Batting Average (.236): ranks 7th
    On-Base Percentage (.316): ranks 6th
    Slugging Percentage: (414): ranks 7th
    OPS (.731): ranks 6th
    Home Runs (20): ranks 3rd
    Runs Scored (68): ranks 2nd

    Runs/Game (4.68): ranks 3rd, behind the Astros and Yankees
    HR/Game (1.43): ranks 4th, behind the Yankees, Angels and Tigers

    So, yes, the Twins offense has struggled early in this season. But relative to the rest of the league, the Twins remain in the upper-half of the league.

    Again, that’s not to say that they’ve been good. Instead, it speaks to the struggles of the bats across baseball.

    While the Twins twice scored 27 runs in their opening series against the White Sox, they have now scored 41 runs over their past 11 games, an average of just 3.73 runs per game which would rank only ahead of Cleveland, Texas and Toronto among AL teams.

    One of the big talking points as the season started was that the pitching would be ahead of the hitting. Aside from that first series, that statement has generally proven true.

    Look at what the Twins have done with their pitchers. The starting pitcher may work through the lineup twice, and then in comes relief arm after relief arm. In many cases, those are big arms with sharp sliders.

    No question that the uniqueness of the 2020 season has played a part as well. There was spring training. Then the players were quarantined for three months, much of that time not knowing when or even if they would play a season. While pitchers can work on things in the bullpen and maintain their arm strength, it’s not quite the same for hitters. While they can work on tees, off pitching machines and occasionally against some live pitchers, it’s different. It’s not game speed or situations.

    If this was a ‘normal’ season, it might be a little concerning, but we would be less than 10% into a long season. We wouldn’t be worried about to any great extent, trusting a player’s track record.
    However, when the Twins/Royals game is complete on Saturday night, the 2020 regular season will be 25% over. 14-15 games is still a small sample, but when so many want to note that each game is theoretically worth 2.7 games, it might be easier to get worried, to press, to try to do too much.

    But now, it’s still important to remember that 75% of the season remains. There is time to turn things around for the players and as an overall offense.

    While Josh Donaldson was off to a slow start in his seven games, his track record certainly suggests that he will be able to turn it around soon. That is, if he can get on the field following his stint on the Injured List.

    Luis Arraez has been playing on sore knees. He still has more walks than strikeouts, so his approach is still the same. That should lead to good things in time. Likewise, Mitch Garver continues to see lots of pitches. He has done a nice job of not expanding the strike zone. He has also hit several bullets right into the opponents’ shifts. For those two players, the league has made some adjustments. Now those players will work to adjust to those adjustments.

    Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton have been streaky hitters throughout their careers, even when healthy. Both missed significant time through the three-week Summer Camp and started slow. Sano has struggled with contact, but he’s hit some mammoth homers. Byron Buxton has a double and two home runs over his past three games, and he may have been robbed of another homer.

    In the meantime, the Twins pitching and defense have been even better than expected, and because of those things, plus some very timely hitting and some clustering of the hits that they have had, the Twins are 10-4. That’s the best record in the League.

    But hopefully soon the Twins offense will take off and become what we hope they become, and if that happens, this team can be scary good.

    • Aug 08 2020 09:24 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  13. Miguel Sanó Tests Positive for COVID-19

    Sanó was tested as part of the standard intake policy for camp and has been quarantined. He did not participate in the first workout at Target Field yesterday or on Saturday.

    There have not been any specific reports on how Miguel is feeling, but we wish him the very best in his recovery. Baldelli said that he will be talking to Sano and Willians Astudillo on Saturday afternoon.

    UPDATE: Sano is feeling well and is not experiencing any symptoms.



    Baldelli said that he's heard reports from players noting that, "Miguel is chomping at the bit to get out here. He's talking to different people." He continued, "As soon as we get the clearance, he's going to be out here. We know he's been working hard. So I'm looking forward to seeing him."

    Per MLB's safety protocols, a player who tests positive will be isolated from his team until he tests negative twice at least 24 hours apart, shows no symptoms for a 72-hour period and is granted approval to return by a doctor and a joint MLB/MLBPA committee.

    "I think whether we're talking about our team or anyone else, I think when you see anyone you know, people you're familiar with, friends and family, affected by this, it really does hit home. 100 percent. It becomes very real when you see it first-hand. When it's only something you see on television or people discussing around town or it's on the news, I think someone could look at that and not feel like it's as big of an issue. I personally believe that this is a huge issue that we're all dealing with and I know the importance of it. But everyone might not have the same exact perspective. I do think that when it does it home is when it affects the people around you."

    Baldelli held the team's meeting, "spread out in the outfield."

    "One thing that we talked about was making sure that the guys know that they have a voice. We want to know how they're feeling. It's very important for all of us and for all of them to feel very open and free to talk about these things. Whether they feel good about things or they feel apprehension. It helps us, but more importantly, it helps the player to be able to say these things. We aren't going to be able to help until we have that open dialogue going. We have a good group for that. Our guys are really good about feeling good about talking about whatever they want to talk about."

    The one other notable absence from Friday’s workout was Luis Arráez, but here he is taking batting practice at Target Field today.




    Additionally, Rocco Baldelli noted that Byron Buxton is expected to fly to the Twin Cities on Sunday morning. He will go through his intake testing, but Baldelli also noted that there would be another round of testing. So all players have


    OTHER NOTES
    • Official practices at CHS Field will begin on Sunday. Some of the players were at Target Field earlier this week, and they were all tested. They'll start in the morning and Baldelli will address the group tomorrow as well. The last two days, they haven't been able to do anything. They set up CHS.
    • At the end of the team meeting this morning, Cruz was honored for his Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award. Cruz then had some words for the group. "He told our guys that we have no excuses. We're going to go out there. We're going to prepare. We're going to do our jobs. We could look at this pessimistically, but we're not going to. We're going to look at this in the most optimistic way we can. We're never going to make an excuse. We're going to go out there and get the job done, and that was his message to the group. It was great."
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    • Jul 05 2020 09:25 AM
    • by Tom Froemming
  14. Projecting the Opening Day Roster: 29-Players! Yes, Please.

    Major League Baseball was already planning on expanding rosters for the 2020 season from 25 players to 26 players. Now, it sounds like MLB will add even more roster protections with rosters being expanded to 29 players, at least for the beginning of the season. So how does that impact the Twins. Let’s find out.

    Editor's Note: The originally posted article did not include a designated hitter spot. The author went back and added Nelson Cruz and took a pitcher out of the bullpen.

    Catchers (3): Mitch Garver, Alex Avila, Willians Astudillo

    With a likely scenario that includes multiple doubleheaders and possibly back-to-back doubleheader days, it will be critical for the Twins to carry a minimum of three catchers. My original plan included Astudillo heading to Rochester to start the year, but that won’t be possible now. Garver and Avila could rotate through a regularly scheduled season like Garver and Jason Castro did in 2019. Astudillo has an option remaining so he could be sent down later in the year if roster sizes change as the season moves on.

    Infielders (5): Ehire Adrianza, Luis Arraez, Josh Donaldson, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano

    Minnesota’s infield projection is pretty clear with four regulars and Ehire Adrianaza serving as a replacement for players when the need an off-day. Marwin Gonzalez is another middle infield option, but Adrianza is a far superior defender and Gonzalez can be used in the outfield as a replacement. Minnesota might have the best offensive infield in the American League, and it will be fun to see what these players can do in a shortened season.

    Outfielders (5): Byron Buxton, Jake Cave, Marwin Gonzalez, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario

    Byron Buxton was a question mark for the original Opening Day, but a delayed start means he should be healthy and ready to go. Max Kepler is looking to build off a tremendous 2019 campaign and it’s hard to know if Eddie Rosario will be on the Twins beyond 2020. After Sano’s spring injury last year, Gonzalez found himself in a starting role. That likely won’t be the case this year and he will have to slide into a bench player role, especially in a shortened season.

    Designated Hitter (1): Nelson Cruz

    Cruz will be entering is coming off a year where he was named the team's MVP, but he is only under contract through the end of the year. Can he match last year's production, even if the season is shortened?

    Rotation (6): Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, Jhoulys Chacin

    Major League Baseball hasn’t clarified how the 29-man roster would be designated. It seems likely for there to be fewer off-days and more scheduled doubleheaders. This will make it important to carry more starting pitchers, especially with Michael Pineda still serving his suspension. This allows Rich Hill and Jhoulys Chacin to slide into Minnesota’s newly created six-man rotation. Hill won’t be ready until June, at best, but MLB baseball might not be ready until that time either. Other players in the bullpen could also fill in for a spot start if doubleheaders are expanded.

    Bullpen (9): Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Sergio Romo, Zack Littell, Tyler Clippard, Cody Stashak, Matt Wisler, Devin Smeltzer

    This bullpen is good; like really good. It’s too bad a shortened season is going to take away from the impact this bullpen could have over a 162-game season. That being said, this group could be lights out in the post-season. Taylor Rogers was one of the most reliable bullpen arms in 2019. The trio of Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Sergio Romo were dominant at season’s end. Adding the other arms listed above will make this bullpen fun to watch no matter how many games are played in 2020.

    How would this roster fare in the newly proposed division realignments? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Apr 13 2020 11:53 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  15. Royce Lewis Is Putting It All On Display

    Although not all minor league players develop at the same rate, it’s become clear that Lewis is knocking on the door to the big leagues. He’s not a realistic shot to crack the major league roster for 2020, but a debut this season is trending more towards a possibility.

    Having enjoyed plenty of run in big league camp thanks to an injury sustained by starter Jorge Polanco, Lewis has been provided ample opportunity to show what he’s capable of. More than in any other instance, the results on Tuesday in Clearwater provide a strong depiction of what’s currently taking place.

    In his first at-bat Lewis stepped in and cranked a homer way out to left field. The wind was blowing in that direction, but with a distracted focus, my immediate reaction was to drop a four-letter word in simply saying, “Holy s***.” He got every bit of the pitch and cranked in over the Tiki bar down the line, eventually leaving the stadium. Although not seen as a hulking power threat, it was in that swing that Lewis displayed his advanced ability to send the pill on a ride.



    Not long after his exploits at the dish, Lewis was making an impact in the field. Over the course of his day in the field it appeared there was a level of comfort between he and second baseman Luis Arraez (and a nice heads up prior to his home run). Fluid double plays were turned, and a level of communication seemed apparent. It was on a grounder deep in the hole, inducing a throw that Hall of Famer Derek Jeter would’ve been proud of, that we saw Royce’s defensive skill on display.



    Plenty has been made about both his leg kick at the dish and the ability to stick at shortstop. It’s in instances like the two big contributions made against the Phillies that should give pause to any concerns. His home run came against big ticket free-agent acquisition Zack Wheeler, and the defensive effort was put up against a respectable runner in Adam Haseley. If we dream on an extrapolation of those results, it’s easy to see why he’s touted as one of baseball’s best prospects.

    The flip side introduces us to the potential pitfalls of Lewis’ projection. He played a sound game defensively so there was nothing to be concerned with there. However, it was at the dish that we saw the negative effects of timing induced by a pronounced leg kick. There were not any strikeouts today, but his third at-bat included a lunge I’m sure he’d rather not replicate.



    When utilizing a leg kick to work through rhythm and timing, a heavy emphasis must be put on getting that foot back down. If there’s a guess made to the pitch selection then any sort of incorrect thought process will likely result in a substantial weight transfer, wider base, and lack of impact at the point of contact. You’re certainly going to be fooled at times as a hitter, but the door left open for a pitcher to exploit it more often can be opened wider with a leg kick or moving hands at the plate.

    Overall, this game was a very good representation of where Lewis is right now. The athleticism and talent are legit, he’s got the ability to be a bona fide star. There are a couple of refinements still be added however, and that will dictate his timeline to the big leagues, and his eventual impact when he arrives in Twins Territory.

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    • Mar 11 2020 07:36 AM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  16. Is Luis Arraez Really Just Ben Revere?

    Twins Daily’s Nick Nelson recently workshopped a couple of ideas on Twitter regarding the Minnesota second basemen. Chief among them was that his hard-hit rate was in the 4th percentile, he posted a 19th percentile exit velo, and he didn’t cover the inside part of the plate. Coupled with defensive questions, and those exist to the tune of a -8 DRS at second, you’ve got a light-hitting combination of mediocrity.

    An immediate response would be to look at the track record of Arraez in the minors. He posted a career .799 OPS formed almost entirely by average and on-base skills. That same line of thinking could be applied to Ben Revere, who posted a .777 OPS across nearly 2,000 minor league plate appearances. The parallels are more than evident from a production standpoint, but their athletic profiles begged us to dig a bit deeper.

    Before we get to the good stuff it’s worth noting that results had similar parallels at the big-league level as well. Although we’re working with just 366 MLB plate appearances for Arraez, he posted a 7.9% strikeout rate, 2.8% whiff rate, and 26.9% chase rate last year. Revere was at 9.2%, 3.4%, and 26.8% over the course of his career. Again, nearly identical. Looking for a differentiator, it’s time to turn results on their head and look at process (which also would incorporate athletic style).

    In his final two seasons Revere averaged just north of 27 feet per second on the basepaths. Arraez held his own at 26.9 ft/sec last year but has never been considered the burner Ben was early on in his career. Couple the thought process with approach and this is where the paths change. Revere posted just a 17.9% hard hit rate over his career while generating line drives only one-fifth of the time and hitting ground balls a whopping 61.3% of the time. Conversely, Arraez owned a 34.7% hard hit rate, 29.4% line drive rate, and only a 41.5% ground ball rate in 2019.

    In short, Luis understands that the path to success is solid contact on an upward trajectory.

    [attachment=13527:Luis Arraez.png]

    Although Arraez hasn’t yet developed into much more than a contact hitter, Matthew Taylor recently outlined why that isn’t a narrative to be shocked by should it come to fruition. Despite his lighter hitting profile, Arraez generated a .336 xwOBA in 2019 while Revere’s best season (2015) produced a .305 mark. Further exemplifying his desire to lift baseballs, Arraez owned an 11.4-degree launch angle last season, while Revere never was above 4.4-degree dating back to Statcast’s inception in 2015.

    There won’t be any point in Arraez’s career that he becomes the second base version of Miguel Sano. He’s also not the swinging bunt player that the Twins traded to acquire Trevor May. Ben Revere and Luis Arraez posted nearly identical slash lines during their time on the farm, but the how they got there couldn’t be more different.

    Obviously the 100th percentile of Arraez is in reaching the heights of those to whom he’s been compared. What he’s done from a statistical measure is much more than the comparison to Revere however, and that floor (Revere) is one he should remain well clear of, barring significant change. Ben Revere was a tough guy to get it past, but Arraez is a disciplined bat with a workable plan that can be implemented and projected for consistent success many years into the future.

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    • Mar 04 2020 07:25 PM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  17. Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Second Base

    Projected Starter: Luis Arraez
    Likely Backup: Ehire Adrianza

    Depth: Marwin Gonzalez, Willians Astudillo
    Prospects: Travis Blankenhorn, Nick Gordon

    THE GOOD

    Arraez's rookie season was a smorgasbord of remarkable moments and accomplishments. He arrived in Minnesota as a 22-year-old with little experience above Double-A, and proceeded to lead the American League in batting average (.334) after the date of his call-up (May 18th). He showed amazing plate discipline and contact skills, striking out at the lowest rate in the majors while walking at a solid clip to buoy an outstanding on-base percentage. He held his own defensively at second base in spite of a limited physical toolset, and he even went out and played a capable left field now and then for good measure.

    Despite his greenness and lack of prestige, Arraez performed brilliantly, both when it counted and when the count was against him:

    • In "Late & Close" situations, he slashed .346/.404/.442. (MLB average: .237/.320/.404.)
    • In "High Leverage" situations, he slashed .429/.481/.531. (MLB average: .253/.327/.432.)
    • In ABs where he fell behind 0-2 against opposing pitchers, he slashed .286/.314/.327. (League average: .165/.197/.267.)
    Because of all this, Arraez – a relative unknown at the start of the year – was able to wrest away the starting job from Jonathan Schoop, a veteran making $7 million and enjoying an altogether productive season. Late in the season, Arraez suffered a scary-looking ankle injury while fielding a fly ball, and the crushingly dismayed reactions that poured out from fans, players, and coaches alike at the time says all you need to know about how indispensable the second baseman made himself in a mere 92 games.

    Needless to say, second base belongs to him going forward, and that's something to feel good about. He probably won't hit .334 perpetually, but his approach at the plate is conducive to steadily remaining in the three hundreds. Sure enough, all five projection systems on FanGraphs having him batting between .309 and .312 this season, with an OBP in the .370 range. That'll play anywhere in the order, but it'd be surprising if Arraez doesn't hit near the top.



    He doesn't run that well, nor does he produce a ton of pop, but he's a very functional piece in this Twins lineup, which offers plentiful power and speed elsewhere. Defensively he will probably never be a true standout but he's adequate, with the chance to grow some more.

    Still 22 on Opening Day and under team control through 2025, Arraez has suddenly turned into a heck of an asset for the Twins.

    THE BAD

    It was only 92 games. Arraez's first season in the majors was about as convincing as it gets, but the fact remains: it's a small sample and he hardly has the bona fides to back it up.

    It's true that Arraez's .334/.399/.439 slash as a rookie is almost eerily consistent with his .331/.385/.414 line in the minors, but there was always a valid skepticism around his ability to translate that production to the highest level, thus explaining his absence from the national prospect radar (and even our own Top 20 list) ahead of his debut.

    Arraez is not unathletic. No one in the big leagues is. But he doesn't possess the physical gifts of a Schoop or Jorge Polanco. The stubby 5-foot-10 second baseman isn't a burner, doesn't have a big arm, and isn't a musclebound specimen like those surrounding him in the infield.

    So he has to make up for it in other ways. He excels in the mental aspects of the game, with a sophisticated understanding of the strike zone and stunning level of confidence for his age. His technique enables him to get the bat on the ball almost anywhere in the zone, producing a 2.8% swinging strike rate that was the league's lowest.

    This isn't to say he was making especially hard contact, however. As the Statcast data reflects, Arraez ranked near the bottom of all MLB hitters when it comes to exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and expected slugging percentage.

    [attachment=13524:arraezstatcast.png]


    Maintaining his level of production will require Arraez to keep making the absolute most of his skill set, while fending off counter-adjustments from the best pitchers and scouting departments in the world. One thing we can probably expect in his first full season is a heavier dose of pitches on the inside part of the plate, where he was clearly less effective.

    [attachment=13525:arraezzone.png]


    As long as he keeps laying off non-strikes, while connecting on everything in the zone, Arraez has a fairly high floor. But we might've very well seen his ceiling as a rookie. It's awfully difficult to routinely prop an MLB batting average well above .300, especially when you're more reliant on batted-ball placement than propulsion. Arraez's game is essentially dependent on this.

    Then again, he's 22. At the same age, Brian Dozier was a light hitter in A-ball, mustering a .349 slugging percentage. If Arraez muscles up and adds a bit more power while aging into his mid-20s, all bets are off.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    Arraez is locked in. Seeing how well he can back up his sensational rookie season will of course be the most interesting and important story to track this year, but I'm also curious to see how things shake out with Nick Gordon. The combination of Polanco and Arraez, both controllable through 2025, presents a seemingly impenetrable middle-infield barrier for the former fifth overall draft pick, who is 24 and made a case for his readiness with an .800 OPS in Triple-A last year.

    A prolonged absence, or total unraveling, from Arraez is essentially Gordon's only path to a major-league opportunity with this organization. That's nice insurance to have in place, I suppose, but the Twins do already have Gonzalez and Adrianza available and are without starting positions in the majors. I feel a little bad for Gordon, whose diminished stock doesn't erase an outstanding pedigree and solid record of minor-league production through Triple-A.

    Which is all a long way of saying that the meteoric rise of Arraez has fundamentally reshaped Minnesota's outlook at second base, creating an abundance of depth that is actually a tiny bit problematic. (Gordon's 40-man roster spot could soon come under scrutiny.)

    A good problem to have, as they say.

    ~~~


    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Catcher
    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: First Base

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    • Mar 02 2020 10:00 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  18. 2020 Twins Breakout Candidate: Sean Poppen

    About a week ago, I posted a tweet asking people to tweet me their choice for Twins breakout player in 2020. I defined that as someone who has not yet established himself as a big leaguer. It’s a loose definition intentionally, but the general idea is someone who hasn’t played in the big leagues or has very limited time who becomes a key contributor for the Twins in 2020.

    I received about 50 responses to that tweet, and over 20 players were mentioned. Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and Ryan Jeffers were mentioned most frequently. Jake Cave was also mentioned a lot, though he’s got two half seasons of solid contribution to the Twins big league club under his belt.

    The funny thing is, at least in my opinion, that the player that I would pick was not mentioned by anyone. Not even once. That tells me that my choice certainly fits the category of being an unexpected contributor to the 2020 Twins. However, I expect that once he gets a shot, he has the ability to be really good.

    My choice is right-handed pitcher Sean Poppen.


    The Background

    Poppen, a Virginia native, was the Twins 19th-round draft pick in 2016 out of Harvard where he was a starter for four years. His majors? Chemistry, Physics and Engineering Studies. In other words, he’s smart.


    The Stats

    2016: Elizabethton/Cedar Rapids: 12 G, 11 GS, 53.1 IP, 3-4, 2.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 9.6 K/9
    2017: Cedar Rapids/Ft. Myers: 25 GS, 139.0 IP, 9-4, 3.17 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1.6 BB/9, 7.9 K/9
    2018: Ft. Myers/Chattanooga: 26 G, 20 GS, 127.2 IP, 6-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 8.7 K/9
    2019: Pensacola/Rochester: 20 G, 16 GS, 89.2 IP, 7-4, 4.01 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9, 10.7 K/9
    2019 Twins: 4 G, 0 GS, 8.1 IP, 0-0, 7.56 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 5.4 BB/9, 9.7 K/9


    The Stuff

    While the MLB stats don’t look that great, he provided the Twins with some innings when they needed them. He became part of that Rochester-to-Minnesota pipeline. In my opinion, Poppen passes the eye test in terms of stuff.

    First, his fastball is electric. When he was drafted, he was touching 91 mph at times. When I saw him in Cedar Rapids in 2017, I saw him hit 92 and 93 at times. With the Twins in 2019, he was 93 to 97 mph. And more important than just the velocity, he gets a ton of movement, arm-side run that darts in on a right-hander.

    In addition, he has a very sharp, mid-80s slider that he threw about 40% of the time. As much as his fastball darts in on a righty, his slider is sharp and darts away from a right-hander. If he is able to tunnel his pitches at all, the combination of those two pitches could be a nightmare for opposing hitters.

    Poppen also throws a changeup. If he is to progress as a starter, that will be a key pitch for him. It is low-to-mid 80s but it has been inconsistent at times.

    One thing that immediately impressed me the first time I saw him pitch was how quickly he was able to adjust within a game.


    The Role?

    That is the question, to be sure. Because of all of the Twins starting pitching depth, I think it would be difficult for Poppen to get an opportunity as a starter.

    (Berrios. Odorizzi. Maeda. Bailey. Chacin. Thorpe. Dobnak. Smeltzer. Pineda. Hill.)

    Right now Poppen likely finds himself behind all of those guys. As a four-year college player who has slowly developed and moved one level per season, he will turn 26 years old in mid-March.

    While I am generally one to advocate using pitchers as starters as long as possible, now might just be the time for Poppen to become a reliever. While he is a quality starting pitching prospect, he is a max effort pitcher who might just be better suited for shorter stints. While I think his dynamic stuff could make him a great one-inning guy, his ability to go three or four innings might be exactly what the 2020 Twins need.


    Concerns

    Poppen has never really worked out of the bullpen in pro ball. I think this is pretty minor in terms of concerns.

    Another concern could certainly be his command. With as much movement as he gets, being able to control, much less command, his pitches has to be a challenge. Big leaguers will make him throw strikes.

    Poppen was placed on the Rochester Injured List on August 13th because of a right elbow contusion. On September 1st, he was promoted to the Twins and placed on the 60-day injured list. The move allowed the Twins to add another player to their 40-man roster.

    However, Poppen appears to be 100% now. In fact, on Saturday, he struck out two batters over two perfect innings.

    Summary

    I don’t expect Sean Poppen to make the Twins Opening Day roster. However, I think he will get a shot at some point during the season to come up and work out of the bullpen. I think he’s got the kind of stuff that could make him a force out of the Twins bullpen.

    And just for fun... here is his bio in the 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. You can get your copies here. It's a great tool for Twins fans, especially during spring training when prospects play in big-league games. Prices have been dropped for both the paperback version and the electronic version (immediate download).

    What do you think of Sean Poppen as a 2020 Twins Breakout candidate?

    Posted Image

    • Feb 22 2020 07:24 PM
    • by Seth Stohs
  19. Twins Daily 2020 Top Prospects: #1 SS Royce Lewis

    Age: 20 (DOB: 6-5-1999)
    2019 Stats (GCL): 566 PA, .236/.290/.371, 26-2B, 4-3B, 12 HR, 49 RBI
    ETA: 2021
    2019 Ranking: 1

    National Top 100 Rankings
    BA: 26 |MLB: 9 | ATH: 15 |BP: 21


    What’s To Like
    A lot.

    Oh, you want more than that. OK, there’s plenty.



    For the third straight year, Royce Lewis is the top Twins prospect according to Twins Daily, and most other Twins prospect rankings. And for Lewis, who doesn’t turn 21 until June, it’s still about the tools. In fact, among Twins prospects Baseball America ranked Lewis the Best Athlete, Fastest Baserunner and Best Power Hitter. That’s a pretty good starting point.

    The surprise might be the Best Power Hitter, and yet Lewis has always had good strength. He’s got an approach and a swing that could be conducive to providing a lot of power. And, as Dan Hayes tweeted on Sunday afternoon, Lewis said he gained 25 pounds over the offseason. He ended the 2019 season at about 190 pounds. So, if he’s able to spend most of the 2020 season north of 200 pounds on his 6-2 frame, it should keep him strong throughout the season.



    As impressive, he hasn’t lost any speed with his increased power. He remains one of the fastest players in the organization. More importantly, from a baseball standpoint, he also runs the bases well. He has been successful on 76% of his base stealing attempts. He goes from first to third, or to home, really well. It’s instinctive.


    On defense, he has good range at shortstop. Due to the logistics of the Arizona Fall League rosters, Lewis had the opportunity to play other positions beyond shortstop. He had played a lot of third base in high school, and plays it well. He got some time at second base. He also showed really good range in center field as well. While he got nearly 1000 innings at shortstop during the season with a fielding percentage of 95%. He is capable of making the great play, though sometimes he has struggled with more routine plays. Having that versatility will be important for Lewis and the Twins as we don’t know where the Twins will have a need when Lewis is deemed ready.




    What’s Left To Work On
    There is no denying that 2019 was a disappointing season offensively for the Twins top prospect. He hit just .236 across two levels and got on base just 29% of his 566 plate appearances. He struck out 123 times and walked just 38 times. He will have to control the strike zone better. Many also continue to question the big leg kick that he employs.

    There are also still questions (or at least varying opinions) on whether or not he can stay at shortstop. While I think that he can, at this stage it may simply depend on Jorge Polanco’s continued development at shortstop, or Byron Buxton’s ability to stay on the field, or Luis Arraez’s ability to avoid a sophomore slump. Consistency will be the key for Lewis, and then about opportunity.


    What’s Next
    After playing 94 games for the Miracle last year, he moved up to Double-A Pensacola where he played 33 more games (and a couple of playoff series). He will begin the 2020 season with the Blue Wahoos, likely with many of the other Twins top prospects who also ended 2019 there. In fact, it is likely that the Twins updated Top 6 prospects will all begin the season in Florida’s panhandle.


    Twins Daily 2020 Top 20 Prospects
    Honorable Mentions
    20. Jose Miranda, 3B/2B
    19. Cole Sands, RHP
    18. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/LF
    17. Misael Urbina, OF
    16. Edwar Colina, RP
    15. Matt Canterino, RHP
    14. Matt Wallner, OF
    13. Wander Javier, SS
    12. Gilberto Celestino, OF
    11. Lewis Thorpe, LHP
    10. Blayne Enlow, RHP
    9. Brent Rooker, OF
    8. Keoni Cavaco, SS
    7. Ryan Jeffers, C
    6. Jhoan Duran, RHP
    5. Jordan Balazovic, RHP
    4. Brusdar Graterol, RHP
    3. Trevor Larnach, OF
    2. Alex Kirilloff, OF
    1. Royce Lewis, SS

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Get to know more about Royce Lewis and about another 170 minor league players including each of our Top 20 Prospects (and two Dodgers prospects) in the 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook.

    ORDER NOW: 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook (paperback, $14.99)

    ORDER NOW: 2019 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook (eBook, $9.99)

    The 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook goes in-depth and provides player bios, scouting reports, statistics and much more on about 170 Twins minor leaguers.

    • Feb 19 2020 11:36 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  20. Betting on a Batting Title for the Twins in 2020?

    Last season Arraez played in 92 games posting a .334 average. While OPS will always reign supreme, it’s the batting average and on-base prowess that draws interest for light-hitting types. Known for his ability to command and control the strike zone, the Venezuelan posted a .399 OBP drawing 36 walks while striking out just 29 times. He hasn’t had larger deficiency between strikeouts to walks than three since 2018 with Fort Myers, and he’s walked more times than whiffing in five of his eight affiliated stops.

    A career .331 hitter in the minors, his .334 average at the big-league level should hardly be a surprise. Sure, against the best in the game there’s expectation of some regression, but his approach is one that should translate to almost all situations. Power isn’t his thing, and the four homers he hit for the Twins nearly trumped the six he’d launched in 459 professional games previously. Being able to place the baseball and go with pitches he’ll run into some doubles, but he’s more than content utilizing what is offered.

    From an upward trajectory standpoint, Arraez won’t often find substantial benefit in splits between average and BABIP. Given the process, results often will be earned and seldom stolen. He’s not driving the ball high into the air, but does a good job elevating enough off the ground. A 20-point difference between the two was present last year, and that’s the exact same amount Steamer projections see for 2020. It’s consistent with career norms and means we should have a relatively well-assumed set of expectations.

    The recipe for success with Arraez is a formula that won’t need tweaking. He hit the ball with what’s designated as medium exit velocities just over 50% of the time and had his soft contact percentage in the doldrums at 12.3% (top 15 in baseball). He utilizes all fields to nearly an exact one-third split, and then we get to his discipline. A 2.8% whiff rate was the lowest in baseball and only 28 qualified hitters expanded the plate more than Arraez’s 26.9% chase rate.

    From a summarization standpoint, that leaves us in a very good place. Luis Arraez is a contact hitter that is choosy with what he attacks. He executes within himself, has an incredible eye, and has an established track record of not deviating from these norms. The inputs are there to produce a result no Twins player has had since Joe Mauer in 2009.

    Now, with an award handed to one of hundreds, there’s also going to be a certain component of luck. Take the White Sox' Tim Anderson for example. He captured the American League batting title in 2019 with a .335 average. He entered the year as a career .258 hitter and enjoyed a Danny Santana-esque .399 BABIP. No AL champ has worn the crown with an average south of .330 since Joe Mauer captured his second in 2008 with a .328 mark. Conversely, Christian Yelich has picked up the nod in the National League each of the last two years being at .329 and .326 respectively.

    It’s hard to prognosticate what bar will need to be cleared in order to win the American League crown in 2020. It’s not outlandish to suggest the number will be at least north of .325. Projection systems have Arraez between .309 and .311 in year two, which could prove correct as opposing pitchers adjust to his abilities. I’m not going to be against a guy that’s cracked the .340 mark in multiple stops however, and certainly not one that debuted as well as he did.

    Minnesota’s second basemen may not be the favorite, and ultimately 2020 might not wind up being the year, but immediately or in the not-so-distant-future I’d be more than comfortable suggesting it’s a matter of when and not if.

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    • Feb 14 2020 07:13 AM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  21. A Bigger Twins Problem Than Pitching

    Last season Minnesota’s starting rotation ranked seventh across baseball, and fourth in the American League, when it came to fWAR total. While not glowing in any one specific category, the sum of all parts was representative of a strong unit. There’s no denying that Randy Dobnak was in a tough spot for an ALDS game, and that Rocco Baldelli doesn’t have the horses other teams do. That needs to be addressed, but what happens when the ball is put in play?

    The Twins ranked 21st defensively in 2019 and their 26th overall infield outs above average valuation was even worse. The posted a -14 number when it came to the newly unveiled Statcast metric, and that number is buoyed by performances by the since departed C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop. With only Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, and Luis Arraez locked into the infield configuration prior to signing Josh Donaldson, they'd have been one of the worst units in baseball.



    From an individual standpoint, Sano and Arraez both fare poorly on their own. It’s shortstop Polanco though that ranks dead last, 138th, with -16 outs above average. He’s joined in that position by none other than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is seen as a surefire designated hitter, and maybe by the time he’s 22-years-old.

    [attachment=13419:Polanco.PNG]

    Before there’s consideration regarding the deficiency having to do with shifts, it’s worth understanding that infield OAA takes starting position into account. Polanco posted his worst metrics while beginning in the SS hole, as opposed to being adequate when shifted to the second base side of the diamond. Sano struggled the most when needing to guard the line, likely because of the additional ground placed between him and the shortstop. For Arraez’s efforts, he saw the largest slide when playing in the hole but staggered either to the left or right at second base. What the sum of all parts continues to point to is a glaring hole on the left side.

    Enter Josh Donaldson!

    Donaldson posted the 12th highest DRS in baseball a season ago. His 8 infield OAA ranked 18th in baseball, and the 15 DRS tally trailed only Matt Chapman (18) among all big-league third basemen. The mark posted at third base nearly doubled the efforts of Nolan Arenado and did double up the abilities of Alex Bregman. To put it simply, he’s not only a very good hitter.

    Now to be fair, Donaldson would doesn't solve all of the issues facing the Twins, but he’s certainly the type of player that can assist them. In an ideal world Minnesota would have a better defensive shortstop (more on that here). Moving Polanco off that position gets tricky with Arraez currently manning second base. Neither Jorge nor Luis have the arm to play third, and that leaves more bodies than opportunities.

    Derek Falvey and Thad Levine landed a strong defensive third basemen to assist Polanco in range and positioning. If Jorge can play more up the middle and a bit further in, there’s ability for Arraez to benefit on his side as well. By driving up the baseline of the group the hope would be that everyone starts with a better chance to succeed.

    Jorge Polanco wasn’t the worst shortstop in baseball by any means in 2019; heck he even posted a posted 1 DRS. The problem is that his -9.1 UZR was dead last (of 128 players to record an inning at the position), and his -8.4 ErrR is reflective of a guy who struggled to throw more often than he didn’t. Arm strength and positioning has been an area of development since Polanco assumed the role full time, but mediocrity seems to be the ceiling there.

    We don't yet know what Miguel Sano looks like as a full time third basemen. We have no idea if Polanco and Arraez are capable of taking further steps forward. We do know that Minnesota just addressed their worst unit in a massive way, and Donaldson should be a key cog in any sort of a real turnaround.

    • Jan 14 2020 07:48 PM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  22. Top 20 Minnesota Twins Assets of 2020: Part 3 (6-10)

    First, to reiterate the parameters and stipulations:

    • Things that are factored into these rankings: production, age, upside, pedigree, health, length of team control, favorability of contract, positional scarcity (within the system, and generally).
    • Players are people. Their value to the organization, and its fans, goes well beyond the strictly business-like scope we're using here. But for the purposes of this list, we're analyzing solely in terms of asset evaluation. Intangible qualities and popularity are not factors. (Sorry Willians.)
    • The idea is to assess their importance to the future of the Minnesota Twins. In this regard, it's not exactly a ranking in terms of trade value, because that's dependent on another team's situation and needs. (For instance, Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade, Jr. would be more valuable to many other teams than they are to the Twins, who are rich with short-term and long-term corner outfield depth.)
    • This is a snapshot in time. Rankings are heavily influenced by recent trends and where things stood as of the end of 2019.
    • Current major-leaguers and prospects are all eligible. The ultimate goal here to answer this question: Which current players in the organization are most indispensable to fulfilling the vision of building a champion?
    Any questions or quibbles, holler in the comments. Let's continue the countdown.

    TOP 20 MINNESOTA TWINS ASSETS OF 2020 (6-10)

    10. Luis Arraez, 2B
    2019 Ranking: NR

    Last offseason, the Twins briefly considered exposing Arraez to the Rule 5 draft but thought better of it, adding him to the 40-man roster one day after doing the same for Nick Gordon and LaMonte Wade, Jr. It was a wise decision to say the least.

    The scrappy and perpetually overlooked Arraez raked everywhere in 2019. He batted .342 at Double-A, .348 at Triple-A, and most impressively, .342 during a 92-game major-league debut that saw him finish sixth for AL Rookie of the Year. At age 22, Arraez was a disciplined OBP force, bringing balance to an aggressive and power-laden lineup. He showed solid defense at second and even looked capable in left. The upward trend with his power – he hit four homers with the Twins after totaling six in 367 minor-league games – hints toward offensive upside yet to be tapped.

    9. Alex Kirilloff, OF
    2019 Ranking: 4

    Kirilloff didn't have a bad year in 2019. Taking on Double-A as a 21-year-old, he batted .283 with a .756 OPS in 94 games. Perfectly solid numbers given the context. But he didn't nearly match the excellence of his breakout 2018 campaign, and lost extensive time to a wrist injury, which is a tough developmental blow for a young player who missed all of 2017 due to Tommy John.

    Kirilloff remains the best pure hitting prospect in the organization, but the luster has worn off slightly and his indispensability has diminished somewhat with the continued rise of Trevor Larnach and others. This explains why Kirilloff ranks as a Top 10 asset rather than a Top 5 asset this time around, but he's still plenty valuable and exciting.

    8. Jordan Balazovic, RHP
    2019 Ranking: NR

    The same thought process that led to Jhoan Duran ranking 13th applies here: "Pitching prospects with high ceilings that are close to the major leagues are valuable to every franchise, and especially to the Twins in this moment." Balazovic is a bit further from the majors than Duran, having finished at High-A in 2019, but he's on a higher prospect tier. In fact, Balazovic is the best pitching prospect in the system who has yet to reach the majors.

    Duran has great stuff, but he lacks the consistent results to back it up. This is where Balazovic separates. Since joining the organization as a fifth-round pick in 2016, the right-hander has simply performed, registering a 3.32 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 10.0 K/9 rate through his first 228 innings as a pro. At 6'5" and 214 lbs, he's a big sturdy athlete with a mid-90s fastball and advanced command. He was absolutely sensational in 2019, with a 2.69 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 12.4 K/9 rate between two levels of A-ball at age 20, so his stock is riding high. Can he build upon it?

    7. Byron Buxton, OF
    2019 Ranking: 3

    A healthy Buxton can be one of the most impactful difference-makers in Major League Baseball. This was the premise for ranking him No. 1 two years ago, and No. 3 last year. It was reinforced in 2019 when he was on the field, as the center fielder accrued 2.7 fWAR in just 87 games with an .827 OPS, 44 extra-base hits, 14 steals, and almost unparalleled defensive value.

    Alas, the overriding story of Buxton's season was, once again, injury. And it's one that spills over into 2020, as the 26-year-old is currently in the process of rehabbing from significant shoulder surgery. He's opened four different seasons with the Twins and played 100 games in only one of them. The mounting physical uncertainties make it impossible to trust his reliability going forward, making him feel like more of a bonus factor than centerpiece crux. And while free agency is still three years away, it's no longer a tiny blip on the horizon.

    With that said, if he can find a way to make it happen, a full healthy and productive season from Buxton will be more pivotal to Minnesota's championship hopes than any ace pitcher the Twins could sign or trade for. I firmly believe that.

    6. Mitch Garver, C
    2019 Ranking: 11

    Is Garver the best catcher in baseball? Is he one of the best offensive backstops in MLB history? Will he be an MVP contender for years to come? Based entirely on the sample of his 2019 season, the answer to all those questions would be "yes," and he'd be No. 1 in these rankings with a bullet. But that sample amounts to only 93 games, and is so wildly out of line with his previous track record that it's tough to know exactly how to weight it.

    Garver has shown a knack for improving himself and disproving doubters, transforming from ninth-round draft pick to fringy catching prospect to bona fide big-league starter, but the leap last year was drastic by any standard. Thirty-one homers and a .995 OPS in 93 games, from a CATCHER (one with noticeably improved defense), is nuts. But it remains to be seen whether Garver was playing out of his mind for six months with a juiced ball, or setting a new norm. It bears noting that he turns 29 next week, making him the oldest player in this Top 10 by a sizable margin, and the only one who's not on the front end of his physical prime.

    Regardless, Garver has clearly established himself as a long-term building block, with four years of team control remaining.

    RECAPPING THE RANKINGS SO FAR:

    20. Ryan Jeffers, C
    19. Eddie Rosario, OF
    18. Michael Pineda, RHP
    17. Nelson Cruz, DH
    16. Tyler Duffey, RHP
    15. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
    14. Trevor Larnach, OF
    13. Jhoan Duran, RHP
    12. Taylor Rogers, LHP
    11. Miguel Sano, 3B
    10. Luis Arraez, 2B
    9. Alex Kirilloff, OF
    8. Jordan Balazovic, RHP
    7. Byron Buxton OF
    6. Mitch Garver, C

    Check back in tomorrow for Part 4.

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    • Jan 08 2020 02:36 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  23. Projecting Minnesota's 2023 Line-Up

    C: Mitch Garver
    Garver has been my pick for starting catcher in each of the last three years (see links below) and he did nothing to change those projections this season. By 2023, he will be 32-years old, so it will be interesting to see how his body handles the rigors of catching. The Twins are in search of a first baseman and there’s a chance Garver could spend more time at this position. This would keep Garver in the line-up on a more regular basis and it could help him keep his legs fresh.

    First Base: Alex Kirilloff
    Kirilloff started playing more time at first base last season. This will give him more defensive flexibility and allow him to reach the big leagues sooner. He has one of the best hit tools in the Twins system, but he saw his numbers dip a little last season after putting together a monster 2018 campaign. He has a good chance to make his big-league debut in 2020 and by 2023 he should be well entrenched as a regular in the Twins line-up.

    Second Base: Luis Arraez
    Arraez is one of the easiest picks for any future Twins line-up. The 22-year old burst on the scene last year and hit .334/.399/.439 (.838) across 92 games. He was a revelation in the batter’s box as he seemed to know the strike zone like a 10-year veteran. One of his most memorable at-bats came after he was a pinch hitter and entered the game with an 0-2 count. Arraez is never going to have huge power numbers, but he has been able to hit at every level where he has played.

    Third Base: Royce Lewis
    Royce Lewis was drafted by the Twins as a shortstop, but there are some that question whether he will be able to stick at that position long-term. To move to third base, Lewis is going to have to make some changes on the offensive side of the ball. He has a big leg kick and a lot of unnecessary movement with his hands. Minnesota has some time to tweak his swing before he debuts, and Lewis is athletic enough to make the changes.

    Shortstop: Jorge Polanco
    Polanco was the starting shortstop for the American League in the All-Star Game and he is under contract through at least 2023. That being said, he had a negative ranking according to SABR’s Defensive Index, which ranked him eighth among qualifying AL shortstops. He made improvements last year, but he will be 29-years old in 2023. Will he have lost a step by that point? Would the Twins be able to move him to another defensive position?

    Left Field: Trevor Larnach
    Larnach had one of the strongest seasons among Twins top prospects. Between High-A and Double-A, he hit .309/.384/.458 (.842) with 44 extra-base hits. Because of his college experience, he is actually older than Alex Kirilloff and he is the same age as Luis Arraez. Like Kirilloff, he has an opportunity to debut in 2020, but it would likely have to be the result of an injury to one of the regular outfielders.

    Center Field: Byron Buxton
    Buxton will be in an interesting spot by 2023. Can he find a way to stay healthy for an entire season? Will last year’s offensive improvements continue? He has a lot to prove during the 2020 season, but fans can hope he clears up any doubts before 2023. He would be entering his age-29 season, which should put him at the peak of his value. Speed is a big part of his game and he will need to show that he can adjust as Father Time starts to slow him down.

    Right Field: Max Kepler
    Kepler was given the opportunity to be the Twins lead-off hitter last season and he certainly proved the team made the right choice. He compiled an .855 OPS on the way to cracking 36 home runs and 32 doubles. By 2023, Kepler could be one of the team’s leaders on and off the field especially after the team signed him to an extension last off-season. His contract does have a team option for 2024, so Kepler could be amid a contract year in the 2023 season.

    Designated Hitter: Miguel Sano
    Sano has seen some ups and downs throughout his Twins tenure and it’s interesting to think about what the future could hold for the burly third baseman. There’s a chance the 2020 season will be his last season on the defensive side of the ball. Nelson Cruz is under contract for one more year and then Sano is the likely choice to take over the DH role. There is no guarantee he will be with the Twins in 2023 since he can be a free agent in 2022. Could someone like Polanco take over this spot if Sano doesn’t re-sign with the club?

    What do you think the 2023 line-up will look like in Minnesota? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    PREVIOUS YEAR’S PREDICTIONS
    2020 Line-Up
    2021 Line-Up
    2022 Line-Up

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    • Dec 23 2019 01:36 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  24. Minnesota’s Next Luis Arraez Emergence

    At 22-years-old Arraez had played in 329 minor league games. He was not a top 100 prospect, and though he appeared on the fringes of all top Twins lists, his game was focused heavily around a single skill. His ability to hit for average by combining strong pitch recognition with impeccable plate discipline had pushed his career slash line to .331/.385/.414. Starting the year at Double-A Pensacola, he made a three-game pit stop in Rochester and then it happened.



    In the early morning hours of May 17, Mariana Guzman of Twins Latinos reported that Arraez was on his way to the big leagues. He quickly proved that his strong bat to ball skills would work at the big-league level and began a full court campaign on taking over the starting second base role for Minnesota. Expecting anyone else to jump from nondescript prospect to the second coming of Tony Gwynn in 2020 is lofty at best, but we can take a stab at a similar success story.

    Given the depth employed by Minnesota on the farm, projecting another emergence isn’t necessarily groundbreaking. If there’s a player positioned to fulfill the role however, it’s Travis Blankenhorn in my eyes.

    A third-round pick back in 2015, Blankenhorn was grabbed out of Pottsville High School. He’s now 23-years-old and coming off a strong Double-A debut. After posting an .850 OPS in his second pro season, he trended downwards at both Low and High-A the next two seasons. Reaching Pensacola, he re-established himself and earned a spot on the 40-man roster this winter.

    Blankenhorn couldn’t be more different from Arraez when comparing skillsets. He’s got some swing and miss to his profile and the .325 on-base percentage across 462 games isn’t earth-shattering by any means. He’s clubbed 56 career dingers, 19 of which came last season. The pop should play at multiple positions, and that’s where a good deal of his value lies. After splitting time between second and third to start his career, he ventured to the outfield a good amount last season. This isn’t a super utility player, but he’s not going to be stretched by moving around the diamond.

    When trying to nail down someone that looks the part of an unexpected riser, something that would seemingly need to be present is opportunity. The path created by a 40-man roster spot blazes that trail, and the flames are fanned by the prospect of additional utility. Given the 26th spot on 2020 major league rosters, and the fringe utility types that the Twins may employ, Blankenhorn represents a strong backup plan. It was Jonathan Schoop and Ehire Adrianza that presented holes for Arraez to fill last season, and the latter could once again offer up an opening.

    The largest wrench in any sort of continued steam for Blankenhorn would be his strikeout rate. After a .343 OBP at Cedar Rapids two seasons ago, he’s posted a .299 mark at Fort Myers and just a .312 tally in Pensacola. The power is nice to see, but his promotion will come on the back of an expectation that he can hold his own against big league pitching. If that takes another step forward, and the defensive utility remains strong, then the only thing holding him back should be playing time.

    Andrew Vasquez was the first selection from the 2015 draft to make the majors, and LaMonte Wade Jr joined him last season. Jaylin Davis debuted for the San Francisco Giants, but it’s Blankenhorn that could be the first (maybe only) top five selection to accomplish that feat. He’s a name to watch in the year ahead, and another Arraez-type breakthrough would certainly be a great development in Twins Territory.

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    • Dec 19 2019 09:40 PM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  25. Was Luis Arraez for Real in 2019?

    Playing in 92 games for the Twins in 2019, Arraez posted a .334/.399/.439 slash line. He ripped 20 doubles, notched a career best four homers, and showed plate discipline to the tune of a 29/36 K/BB. Throughout his six-year professional career Arraez has earned the calling card of a tough out that has hit at every level. He’s never owned a batting average south of .300 over the course of a full season, and his .298 tally in 48 games at Double-A Chattanooga was the low-water snapshot.

    Initially promoted in somewhat of a surprise move, Arraez quickly acclimated himself to the starting lineup. As the Twins experienced injuries through their lineup, Luis added value wherever he was slotted in. Starting most of his games in the six hole, he was able to provide solid at-bats behind Minnesota’s big boppers. With Max Kepler shelved for a time, he also grabbed 13 starts in the leadoff spot, posting a .339 average ther.

    Obviously, a guy with so little power is never going to substantially benefit from home run-inducing changes to the baseball. That said, finding out whether the Twins have the next 3,000 hit candidate or a guy primed for regression is worth investigating.

    Often times a lofty average can be picked apart through the BABIP lens. Fortunately for the Twins second basemen, his BABIP checked in at .355 (just 21 points higher than his .334 bating avg). A 34.7% hard hit rate is somewhere among the upper tier of modesty, and the 29.4% line drive rate is suggestive of a guy who knows his strength. 29.1% of batted balls registering as “fly” doesn’t hurt someone who doesn’t leave the yard, and the 41.5% ground ball rate isn’t egregiously negative either.

    Everything about the batted ball profile suggests that we aren’t getting any significant amount of luck, and then we take a look at the plate discipline. This is where Arraez really shines, and how he’ll continue to see success going forward. From that first at-bat against Edwin Diaz on, the Venezuelan prospect has dictated the action. He posted just a 2.8% whiff rate and chased only 26.9% of the time. No one in baseball (min 350 PA) missed less and the 93.3% contact rate also topped the charts.

    As we’ve seen with his Twins teammate Willians Astudillo, there’s more to a great contact hitter than plate coverage. The goal isn’t simply to impact the ball, but do so with the optimal pitch, in a location that you can do something with it. Unlike the man fondly known as The Turtle, Arraez can discern which pitches are worth his attention, and then also adequately attack them. He combines plate coverage with discipline and recognition, making the trio a truly lethal combination.

    In just over 360 career games at the minor league level Luis Arraez posted a .331 average. He ended up trumping that tally with a .334 debut at the major league level. His 109 hits in 92 games would put him near the 200 mark over a full season, and we should get every opportunity to see that in action during 2020. We may never see Arraez hit four homers in a season again, but betting against him remaining in constant contention for a batting title seems foolish at best.

    • Nov 19 2019 06:35 PM
    • by Ted Schwerzler