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Article: Report From The Fort: Breaking Down Baldelli's 'A Lineup'

max kepler byron buxton jorge polanco eddie rosario
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 18 March 2019 - 05:49 PM

FT. MYERS, FL – Was Rocco Baldelli's starting lineup on Monday a preview of the one we'll see at Target Field on Opening Day? The manager played coy when asked postgame about the lede dancing through every reporter's head, but given that Baldelli sent out his A-team against Boston and we're only 10 days away from March 28th, the evidence speaks for itself.

Let's examine the merits of each hitter, with respect to his placement in the lineup for Monday's 4-1 win over the Red Sox.Leading Off: Max Kepler

Kepler has started 375 major-league games, and he has batted leadoff in a grand total of zero. In fact, it's the only lineup spot where he's never seen his name written in. But this spring he has found himself atop the order frequently. He was there Monday in Fort Myers, and he will be again Tuesday in Sarasota when the Twins face Baltimore.

In the past, Kepler has profiled as a poor fit for leadoff duties, so it's easy enough to see why he hasn't been used there. But his progression last year – namely in terms of plate discipline and at-bat quality, with his BB-rate rising dramatically – changes things. So does the lack of natural leadoff options elsewhere on the roster.

After the game, Baldelli made it sound like this new assignment might stick. "We saw this as an opportunity to get him into a spot where we could take advantage of some of his strengths," he explained. "He’s taken to it very well, he’s had very positive comments and remarks with all of us on the idea, and I think it’s something that we’re gonna see going forward."

Batting Second: Jorge Polanco

Polanco is the other most logical leadoff option, but as a switch-hitter with excellent contact skills, he might fit better in the two-hole. At least, this appears to be Baldelli's leaning. Polanco leads all Twins hitters in sacrifice hits over the past two years with 10, which is helpful to the extent his manager wants to use that tactic.

Last year at Baseball Prospectus, Aaron Gleeman wrote about the evolving view of #2 hitters around the league, noting that impact bats have replaced the conventional "bat handlers." In a sense, Polanco brings the best of both worlds. He has strong bat control and can lay down a bunt, but he's also a discerning hitter (he led the team in pitches per plate appearance last year, surpassing even Joe Mauer) with some pop.

You really couldn't go wrong with either arrangement of Polanco and Kepler in the top two spots, but I can see the wisdom in Baldelli's thinking.

Batting Third: Nelson Cruz

Pretty simple and straightforward here. Teams usually bat their best hitter and run producer third, where RISP opportunities tend to be most plentiful. Cruz is clearly the Twins' best hitter and run producer, averaging an .873 OPS and 93 RBIs over the past 10 seasons.

He still hasn't gone deep yet this spring – his opportunities have been limited as the Twins have eased the 38-year-old into action – but he came very close on Monday, driving a ball to the deepest part of the park in left-center and settling for an RBI double off the wall. Watching the guy take a few rounds of batting practice will leave no doubt that his prodigious power is still very much intact.

Batting Fourth: Eddie Rosario

Last spring, I noted that Rosario doesn't really fit the physical mold of a cleanup hitter. But Baldelli, like Paul Molitor before him, looks at Rosie and sees one.

He might not have the imposing stature of a Cruz or Miguel Sano, but Rosario's incredible power remains undeniable. He led the Twins in home runs with 24 last year and he's tied for the team lead this spring with four.

Here's how his first at-bat against Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi went on Monday:

Pitch 1: Rosario is just early on a fastball and sends an absolute rocket down the right field line, but it twists foul and sails out of play.
Pitch 2: Called strike
Pitch 3: Rosario drives another one to right, but this one stays fair and travels forever, eventually bouncing off the rooftop of a bar well beyond the fence

He's aggressive and highly dangerous. It also bears noting that Rosario grounded into just three double plays in 133 opportunities last year – the lowest percentage (3%) on the team after Robbie Grossman and Tyler Austin. So that's handy when coming up after potentially your three best OBP guys.

Batting Fifth: Marwin Gonzalez

On the surface, this seems like a somewhat odd choice. Gonzalez isn't the type of pure slugger you often find in the fifth spot in the order, but he does have power – he hit 16 homers last year after launching a career-high 23 in 2017. More importantly, he's a solid all-around switch hitter who's equally effective from both sides (.740 OPS as LHB, .730 as RHB). This creates late-game matchup problems for an opposing manager trying to navigate the middle of Minnesota's lineup.

Wanna go with a righty to try and neutralize Cruz? Okay, the reliever will have to deal with lefties Rosario and Gonzalez next. Want to use a righty against Cruz, then swap in a lefty for Rosario? Okay, now you've got righty-swinging Gonzalez due up, followed by two more RH bats.

Batting Sixth: C.J. Cron

Next up is Cron, who's coming off a 30-HR campaign for Tampa. While Austin has commanded much of the attention this spring, with his towering blasts and precarious roster footing, Cron has actually outperformed him with an extremely well rounded effort; even after Monday's 0-for-3, he is batting .333 with a .981 OPS, and his four walks are second only to Kepler (5) among players likely to make the roster.

Last year with the Rays, a majority of Cron's starts came in either the #2 or #4 spots, so if he's hitting sixth for the Twins regularly that's probably a pretty good sign. Last year, the #6 spot in Minnesota's lineup produced a .662 OPS, and in 2017 it was .705. Needless to say, getting a bat like Cron's (.816 OPS in 2018, .772 career) in there regularly could make a big difference.

Batting Seventh: Jonathan Schoop

In 2017, his best season as a big-leaguer by far, Schoop posted a .338 OBP, buoyed by a .293 average. Those were both career highs by a significant margin, so even if he rebounds, it's probably more realistic to expect something closer to his career .294 OBP. He can be a potent hitter when he's locked in, but generally Schoop makes a ton of outs, meaning it's only sensible to keep him lower in the order.

Batting him seventh reduces the impact of all those outs while still enabling his power to shine behind a string of quality bats. Across MLB last year, #7 hitters slashed .240/.307/.390. Schoop seems like a reasonable bet to at least approximate that production.

Batting Eighth: Jason Castro

This is simple enough. Castro is the least proficient hitter in the Twins lineup (though not terrible by the standards of his position), so you hide him near the bottom of the order. There's a case to be made for batting him ninth but, for the time being, I like the approach Baldelli seems to be taking there...

Batting Ninth: Byron Buxton

The #9 spot is sometimes referred to as the second leadoff hitter, because he will frequently bat ahead of your finest bats atop the lineup. Buxton showed again on Monday why he's the kind of dynamic player you want on base for guys like Kepler, Polanco and Cruz – he collected two hits, stole two bases, and also tagged up to take third on a fly ball to right. He's an energizing force at the bottom of the order.

"He's a really talented guy that can just do so many different things," Baldelli marveled after the game.

At some point, he'll hopefully move up to a higher spot. But given Buxton's recent history of struggles and lapses, it makes sense to limit his exposure and pressure out of the gates. And even in a somewhat reduced capacity, Buck can still be the most exciting, riveting, must-watch #9 hitter in all of baseball.

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#2 tarheeltwinsfan


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Posted 18 March 2019 - 06:33 PM

I agree. It is a nice lineup. Q, Which2 teams have the most HR in spring training this year?A. Yankees and Twins

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#3 gunnarthor


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Posted 18 March 2019 - 07:05 PM

This seems like a reasonable lineup. Will be fun to watch. Hopefully we score a few runs this year.

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#4 blindeke



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Posted 18 March 2019 - 07:11 PM

I can't wait!

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#5 TheLeviathan


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Posted 18 March 2019 - 07:11 PM

This is Baldelli getting off on the right foot.Nice lineupconstruction.

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#6 theBOMisthebomb


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Posted 18 March 2019 - 08:00 PM

World Series or bust!
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#7 theBOMisthebomb


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Posted 18 March 2019 - 08:00 PM

This really could be a potent lineup.
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#8 DocBauer


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Posted 18 March 2019 - 09:24 PM

Just a few comments on Kepler hitting leadoff:

1] Maybe he will simply embrace this spot. Different guys react differently where they are placed. His career OB is nothing special, but we've seen a good eye and good contact when he's going well before.

2] I hate to "waste" his LH bat and power potential in RH heavy lineup at leadoff, but in the 40+ years I've followed baseball, there just aren't that many Henersons or Raines to fit an ideal. I've seen a Coleman with low OB but tremdous speed and disruption on the basepaths, and Boggs or Downing provide OB and power. The key is PRODUCTION. For all the negative crap Dozier received, when he was on, he was amazingly productive from that spot. Not his fault his efforts sometimes lacked for no batters were OB for him, or power lacked in the lineup behind him.

Polanco: He is an obvious choice to hit #1 as the team is constructed as of now. But he also SP perfect to hit in the 2 or 3 spot for all the points made.

Cruz: The ideal spot. Period.

Rosario: Perfect! Even with a healthy and productive Sano, this is the way I'd build the lineup. Even beyond something as simple as swapping out RH and LH batters, this guy is powerful, dangerous and exciting. Would you want to pitch to him with runners on base?

Gonsalves: Being honest, he's penciled in here because Sano is out for now. He makes sense here for everything already stated. But I have a question. If he can handle 3B defensively for now...and I think he can...are we better off with the high contact and decent power Astudillo playing and hitting here and letting Marwin just do what he was brought in to do, which is play everywhere?

Cron/Schop: Simply, might depend on matchups and who is not. Buxton could easily slide in to one of these spots and be dynamic. But setting aside OB, these two can hit and easily produce 20+ HR each. Both are dangerous.

Castro: Here is where I have a question mark. I like Castro as a catcher. I think we missed him more last season than anyone wants to admit. While inconsistent and not great, he's a decent hitter for a catcher with double digit HR power. But is really the #1 guy here? Garver showed a lot of improvement the second half last season. And his bat plays very, very well. (We all know ST numbers only matter so much). IF Castro is #1 coming out of spring, I think his hold is tenuous at best.

Buxton: Despite his impressive spring, this is perfect for him. For now at least. Especially if he appreciates his position here. Not only less pressure, but the opportunity to produce and still be a tablesetter for the top of the lineup.

Things will be fluid. But I really like Rocco's thinking thus far.
"Nice catch Hayes...don't ever f*****g do it again."

--Lou Brown

#9 joemama


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Posted 18 March 2019 - 10:27 PM

I'm guessing Cron & MarGo swap spots if we're facing a lefty SP.

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#10 Channing1964


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Posted 19 March 2019 - 02:00 AM


this may sound dumb but what fun it must be for the manager to tinker with all these awesome weapons every day. i am super excited for this!! ....LETS DO THIS!!!
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#11 diehardtwinsfan



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Posted 19 March 2019 - 06:10 AM


Gonsalves: Being honest, he's penciled in here because Sano is out for now. He makes sense here for everything already stated. But I have a question. If he can handle 3B defensively for now...and I think he can...are we better off with the high contact and decent power Astudillo playing and hitting here and letting Marwin just do what he was brought in to do, which is play everywhere?


Converting a pitcher to a starting 3B is pretty impressive in my opinion.... Going to go out on a limb and say it doesn't work out :)

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#12 diehardtwinsfan



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Posted 19 March 2019 - 06:13 AM

There's a nice amount of power in the middle of the order, and with Cron and Schoope behind Gonzalez, I have to think he sees a lot of good pitches... 


Castro is probably going to be a black hole... I'm not expecting much from him this year. Hopefully, Garver makes enough defensive strides that Castro finds himself more of in a backup role as time goes on. 


If Buxton and Kepler can finally break out... that will be a nasty lineup. 

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#13 luckylager


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Posted 19 March 2019 - 07:05 AM

Looked like a formidable big league lineup against the Red Sox yesterday. Should score a lot of runs and be very fun to watch.  I'm starting to get, dare I say, optimistic.  

#14 Doctor Wu

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Posted 19 March 2019 - 07:45 AM

I know it's only spring training, and he hasn't had that many at-bats compared to other players, but I'll feel a lot better (oh, that pulse rate!) when Gonzalez starts getting some consistent hits.

#15 howieramone2


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Posted 19 March 2019 - 08:13 AM

I'm going to start bringing my glove to the park again.

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#16 woolywoolhouse


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Posted 19 March 2019 - 08:20 AM

Max Kepler will become the German Jacque Jones. (1-0, pronounced "Eins-Null.")

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#17 DocBauer


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Posted 19 March 2019 - 08:24 AM

Converting a pitcher to a starting 3B is pretty impressive in my opinion.... Going to go out on a limb and say it doesn't work out :)

Lol. I just love auto correct!
"Nice catch Hayes...don't ever f*****g do it again."

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#18 nicksaviking


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Posted 19 March 2019 - 08:35 AM

I'll ride with Kepler at the front of the ship for now, but it would be really nice if Buxton finally becomes what people have been hoping for or it would be great if Wade or somebody else breaks out. If Kepler was hitting like he did last year I don't think he's productive or consistent enough to leadoff and if he finally realizes his potential, he'd probably be better served in the middle of the lineup.

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#19 gman


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Posted 19 March 2019 - 08:46 AM

While Kepler will lead off the game once, he has the opportunity to hit behind Buxton 4 times a game. Hopefully Buxton will be on base more often this year and with Kepler and Polanco following him, this should give him his best opportunity to utilize his speed.

The lineup looks like we could see 20 or more homers from every position. I count Castro/Garver as one position. Polanco may be stretched to get there, but hitting in front of Cruz he may see more fastball strikes which he can handle.

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#20 JD Green

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Posted 19 March 2019 - 08:50 AM

If Garver and Austudillo are able to be more consistent with their bats (which I expect to see) compared to Castro, plus picking up well on the new framing/receiving as discussed in a previous article, I see it possible that Castro gets traded to a team who has their catcher go down to injury.

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