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Report from The Fort: Leading Questions

luis arraez rocco baldelli max kepler
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#1 John Bonnes

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 05:37 PM

FORT MYERS - There aren’t a lot of meaningful spring training battle in Twins' camp on the field, but there may be one in the lineup.The pivot point in the Twins' lineup comes early, very early. It’s the leadoff hitter. Go one direction, and the lineup looks one way. Go the other, and it looks very different. For the last two years, that leadoff hitter has mostly been Max Kepler, but coming into the season, there were two significant challenges to that status quo:

Luis Arraez Is Healthy
Arraez is expected to get a lot of at-bats as a multi-positional player. Arraez isn’t exactly a prototypical leadoff hitter because he doesn’t walk a ton, and doesn’t bring a lot of speed to the bases. But he battles and he gets on base: at a .390 clip in his 487 career plate appearances.

Arraez is fearless, and an asset almost anywhere except the heart of the lineup. “He's an on-base machine, a line-drive machine," gushed Twins manager Rocco Baldelli this week. “He's a throwback. You don't see a lot of guys with the skills he does with the bat in his hands.”

An on-base machine would be a logical fit for the top spot in the lineup. Especially when the left-handed hitting 23-year-old would likely bat right in front of right-handed hitting Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz.

Eddie Rosario Is Gone
The Twins have a hole to fill in the middle of their lineup with the departure of left-handed hitting Eddie Rosario. Rosario batted fourth for the vast majority of his plate appearances the last two years. He’ll likely be replaced in the outfield with left-handed hitting Alex Kirilloff, but odds are the Twins would thrust cleanup on a rookie making his (regular season) debut this year.

With Rosario gone, the best left-handed hitting Twins' batter is Kepler. (He probably was before Rosario left, too.) So he makes a lot of sense to bat cleanup, but – follow me here – he’s not allowed to do that if he’s batting leadoff. I know, it’s a silly rule.

In the Twins first four spring training games, Kepler has lead off twice and Arraez has lead off twice. Baldelli is notorious for not tipping his hand when it comes to lineups, and this year is no different. But it’s clear he recognizes the luxury having both affords him.

“Two different hitters, but two guys that can certainly be productive at the top of the order, Baldelli said, talking about Arraez and Kepler. “One thing they both do well is they both see the ball well. They are hitters that see the ball and then react. They're not in swing-first mode like a lot of guys can get into that mode.”

There is not bad answer. Some might wonder since Arraez is slated for a utility role, whether the decision takes care of itself? But Kepler has played in 89% of all the Twins games since 2017, and Baldelli is vowing to make sure that Arraez will get as much run as any other regular. So odds are there is going to be significant overlap in the playing time of the two.

It should also be mentioned that theoretically, Kepler and Arraez are not the only options. Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco have both been in the leadoff spot over the last two years, and it’s possible that would be the case against some pitchers. Byron Buxton, if he ever raises his ability to get on base, would certainly be electric out of that spot. But Kepler and Arraez seem to be the top options, and they’re the only two we’ve seen lead off so far in spring training.

So if you’re looking to track a spring training battle from afar this spring, here’s your chance. Arraez and Kepler haven’t been in the same lineup yet, but one would think that would certainly give a clue to what Baldelli is thinking. Until then, build your lineup, maybe starting in the comments below, and see if you can settle this leading question.

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#2 Twodogs

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 06:45 PM

Byron Buxton I think is ready to be the leadoff guy.

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#3 jkcarew

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 07:14 PM

It’s a good question as we saw time and again how Rocco wanted the left-handed bat in the 4 hole...almost no matter how Rosario was swinging it.

 

Still, Buxton is not an option, even if he ran like Usain Bolt. It’s taken 1500 PA to establish his .289 career OBP (it actually went further in the wrong direction in 2021). How many additional PA with different outcomes would it take for Baldelli to reconsider? A lot...like hundreds, I’m guessing.

 

Depending upon who’s playing (which catcher and whether Arraez is in the lineup and for whom)...

Right handed starter: Arraez or Kepler with Arraez if they’re both in the lineup. (Polanco’s an option, as well)

Lefty: Garver or Josh Donaldson (or Arraez)

 

How Kirilloff profiles at the major league level (and how soon) will go a long way in deciding what Rocco can do with Kepler.

 

 

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#4 strumdatjaguar

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 07:37 PM

Buxton had better power numbers lately. He put on more muscle in the off-season. He needs a place in the middle of the order (2 thru 6).
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#5 DocBauer

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 07:53 PM

While I can see several variations to the daily lineup...and we will because Rocco mixes it up often...its time for Max and his power to slide down to a "better" RBI slot with his XB power. Arraez and Polanco should/could be at the top of the order based on past history of just being good hitters, decent OB, and good bat control with few SO.

Now, I like Arraez a little better, but both can do the job well, IMO. Personally I'd like to see both at the top of the order most days and have Donaldson move down from the 2 hole. The caveat being just how many days will BOTH be in the lineup? And also, how much do they like Donaldson hitting 2nd, and how much does he really WANT to hit there? I want/believe in having an OB table setter of some sort ahead of the best bats, even in what could/should still be a very deep lineup. That brings us back to a combination of Arraez and Polanco in the #1 spot.

If Donaldson hits #2, there are arguements to be made for Cruz and Kepler in the 3-4 spots either way. Sano probably plugs in at #5.

An interesting thought brought up on a recent Gleeman/Geek podcast was Kirilloff hitting between Donaldson and Cruz if Kepler continues to bat #1. Again, interesting. But I'd rather see him face less pressure as a rookie hitting 6th or so.

Still confused and wondering about Arraez playing at least SOME LF despite rumors they aren't really looking at him there. I think that's a mistake as you need/want him in the lineup most days batting leadoff.
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#6 Dman

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 08:19 PM

While I like Kepler he has had a hard time against lefties.Personally I sense a platoon coming on.Rooker and Garlick have both been hitting well so far this spring and having a right handed bat for Keplers lefty kryptonite seems prudent to me. 

 

I think Arraez will get the leadoff spot.While he might not have the speed you would like out of that spot he has everything else.I could see them mixing in Max as well but I do think that against lefties they will want to work right handed bats into the lineup and Garlick and Rooker seem to fit the bill.Will they be in right or left hard to say but I know they had Rooker in right some last year when Kepler needed days off.

 

I think Buxton operates best out of the nine spot but with Simmons maybe he ends up in the 7 or 8 spot hard to say.Having Buxton in the eight spot would give the Twins two speedsters back to back who if they get on base would have Arreaz to move them over or drive them in.

 

In the end while I know Kepler is fine in the leadoff spot he has really good power and could be more valuable further down the order.Also if he does get platooned then the bat that replaces him will be better off further down the order as well.I think IMO Arreaz ends up in the leadoff spot.

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#7 ToddlerHarmon

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 08:53 PM

It's a trick question, because 1) Rocco doesn't care what I think, and 2) there will not be just one leadoff hitter.

That said, I would love for it to be Arraez the most, followed by Polanco. This keeps Donaldson and Cruz at 2 and 3, and puts the two other high on-base guys at the plate as often as possible.

Kepler and Buxton have not demonstrated the ability to hit for a high enough average to lead off.

An intriguing question is, if you start with Arraez-Donaldson-Cruz, isn't Sano your best bet at cleanup? I know, three righties in a row, but when Sano js hitting, that's three absolute beasts. And can you really say that Kepler or Polanco would be a better choice?
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#8 Darius

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 09:34 PM

I’m an advocate of piling your three best hitters into the top of the lineup to accumulate the most PAs throughout the season. Like many, I don’t believe in old philosophy of #1 gets on base, #2 moves him over, #3-5 are your mashers.

As good as he is, it’s hard for me to justify giving the most PAs (lead off spot) to a guy that may not hit a ball over the fence in 2021 (Arraez).

That said, if Kepler and Polanco don’t return to form, not sure who else fits. Buxton would be ideal if he can stay healthy. The way he’s been accumulating extra bases - slugging over .500 when on the field the last 2 years, an unreal .577 last year - he’d look great at the top of the lineup.

#9 MileHighTwinsFan

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 10:23 PM

I think the answer will be, it depends. I expect a far more fluid lineup from day to day. When Arraez is in the lineup, he is a logical choice. Polanco, who has a career OBP of .335 and OBP above .340 during his last two full seasons could find time there. Kepler will undoubtedly see time there as well. Even Garver, if he returns to 2019ish form, could get a shot in lead off against lefties.

If the name of the game these days is flexibility, then I expect it will extend to the lead off spot.
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#10 MNT1996

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 11:06 PM

 

Byron Buxton I think is ready to be the leadoff guy.

 

Judging by his OBP last year, I don't think he is yet. 

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#11 mikelink45

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 07:18 AM

I think that the top six could/should be lead-off - Arraez(the question is, when he is in who is out).So a lineup has to be fluid if your leadoff hitter (best hitter) is on the bench at least 25% of the time - maybe a third.So to fill out the imaginary lineup that you want to send to Rocco I have to go with the starters:

 

Polanco (if he is healed completely)

Donaldson

Cruz

Kepler (I am not his fan, but no one else fits here)

Garver/Jeffers

Sano (Too many Ks, too many holes in his swing to have him above this to kill rallies)

 

Now the interesting discussion to me is the bottom third.Simmons, Buxton, Kiriloff or Cave or Rooker depending on LF.

 

I think Buxton has earned the 9th spot.He is the proverbial second leadoff batter and his speed fits between Polanco and Simmons.Don't kill speed with slow batters ahead of them.That puts the LF batting seventh. 


#12 terrydactyls1947

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 08:24 AM

I prefer Arraez over Kepler for several reasons. But the primary reason is I would rather have the first batter make the pitcher throw a bunch of pitches right out of the gate than a one-swing lead-off appearance even if it sometimes results in a 1-0 lead. Let the rest of the team see what the pitcher has.
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#13 Channing1964

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 08:40 AM

Let's not forget how effective Polanco is. I could see him leading off with Donaldson or Cruz 2nd, followed by Kepler then the other right hander (probably Donaldson). Baldelli we know, likes to stagger the hitters so then I can see Garver, Kiriloff, Sano, Buxton,and Simmons(if he ever shows up). Being way too right handed will most likely come back to haunt us but that's the price the Falvines have to pay for crapping on Rosario and believing their spread sheets. I dont see Arraez even starting on this team unless you put him in left(major defensive dropoff) or at third base on Donaldson's days off. Rooker needs to go to St.Paul and i guess Cave has to play sometimes. This team is way too heavy with rh hitters. Someone like Bieber or Giolito will most likely dominate them. Bear in mind I do not have the reverse splits in front of me.

#14 Shaitan

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 10:09 AM

Completely off-topic, other than putting together the 1-9 spots.

 

How fast/slow is Simmons? I'd like him at 9 with Buxton at 8. Unless he'll clog the bases ahead of Buxton.

 

As for leadoff, I expect a platoon of sorts between Kepler and Arraez, based on Rocco's previous usage.


#15 Major League Ready

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 10:45 AM

 

Let's not forget how effective Polanco is. I could see him leading off with Donaldson or Cruz 2nd, followed by Kepler then the other right hander (probably Donaldson). Baldelli we know, likes to stagger the hitters so then I can see Garver, Kiriloff, Sano, Buxton,and Simmons(if he ever shows up). Being way too right handed will most likely come back to haunt us but that's the price the Falvines have to pay for crapping on Rosario and believing their spread sheets. I dont see Arraez even starting on this team unless you put him in left(major defensive dropoff) or at third base on Donaldson's days off. Rooker needs to go to St.Paul and i guess Cave has to play sometimes. This team is way too heavy with rh hitters. Someone like Bieber or Giolito will most likely dominate them. Bear in mind I do not have the reverse splits in front of me.

 

Looking back at 2019 (because 2020 stats are of questionable substance) the top 3 offensive teams were the Astros / Twins & Yankees. Their L vs R handed top producers with 200+ ABs is as follows.

 

The Astros top 5 were RH. Coming in 6th was Michael Brantley. They had 3 others with a wRC+ above 100. They are all RHed.

 

Among the Yankees top 9 in wRC+ (included Encanacion w/197 ABs) 8 of 9 were RH.

 

The Twins had 3 players that really stood out in wRC+.Cruz at 163, Garver at 155, and Sano at 137. Of course, they are all RH. The Twins did have a good mix among the rest of the contributors. Arraez was next followed by Kepler then Polanco. Cave and Buxton had above average production coming in at 113 and 111. The twins also had 5 players with a league average wRC+.

 

Rosario with a wRC+ of 103 was 9th on the team by this measure.
Adrianza - 102
Schoop - 100
Castro - 103
Cron 101

 

It does not appear that LH balance is essential to a strong offense.

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#16 Halsey Hall

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 09:17 PM

It won’t be Buxton, he will hit a bunch of bombs.

he gone!


#17 Channing1964

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 02:15 AM

Looking back at 2019 (because 2020 stats are of questionable substance) the top 3 offensive teams were the Astros / Twins & Yankees. Their L vs R handed top producers with 200+ ABs is as follows.
 
The Astros top 5 were RH. Coming in 6th was Michael Brantley. They had 3 others with a wRC+ above 100. They are all RHed.
 
Among the Yankees top 9 in wRC+ (included Encanacion w/197 ABs) 8 of 9 were RH.
 
The Twins had 3 players that really stood out in wRC+.Cruz at 163, Garver at 155, and Sano at 137. Of course, they are all RH. The Twins did have a good mix among the rest of the contributors. Arraez was next followed by Kepler then Polanco. Cave and Buxton had above average production coming in at 113 and 111. The twins also had 5 players with a league average wRC+.
 
Rosario with a wRC+ of 103 was 9th on the team by this measure.
Adrianza - 102
Schoop - 100
Castro - 103
Cron 101
 
It does not appear that LH balance is essential to a strong offense.

as usual, i guess you are here to rebut anything 8 say

#18 Channing1964

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 02:24 AM

Looking back at 2019 (because 2020 stats are of questionable substance) the top 3 offensive teams were the Astros / Twins & Yankees. Their L vs R handed top producers with 200+ ABs is as follows.
 
The Astros top 5 were RH. Coming in 6th was Michael Brantley. They had 3 others with a wRC+ above 100. They are all RHed.
 
Among the Yankees top 9 in wRC+ (included Encanacion w/197 ABs) 8 of 9 were RH.
 
The Twins had 3 players that really stood out in wRC+.Cruz at 163, Garver at 155, and Sano at 137. Of course, they are all RH. The Twins did have a good mix among the rest of the contributors. Arraez was next followed by Kepler then Polanco. Cave and Buxton had above average production coming in at 113 and 111. The twins also had 5 players with a league average wRC+.
 
Rosario with a wRC+ of 103 was 9th on the team by this measure.
Adrianza - 102
Schoop - 100
Castro - 103
Cron 101
 
It does not appear that LH balance is essential to a strong offense.

here's the thing, unless Kiriloff becomes all World, all of a sudden, then teams with elite closers like maybe Chicago, or the Brewers, or whoever has an outstanding closer will shut down Cruz(yes i love him but...), Sano, Buxton, Simmons, and or Garver and Jeffers. This young man is part of getting to the next level. I know you want Thad Levine's job but some things are constants in major league baseball...we are on the right track but the learning curve, very unfortunately is determined by your heroes in the front iffice. not by us

#19 Channing1964

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 02:26 AM

i respect all your bull**** analytics but in the playoffs as we have seen for 10 plus years...champions have championship hearts

#20 Major League Ready

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 06:44 AM

 

as usual, i guess you are here to rebut anything 8 say

 

So, in other words, you don't want to be bothered with indisputable facts? 

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