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Bring on the kids


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In my first-ever blog entry, I implied that the Twins couldn't compete for a playoff spot. Moreover, I think they shouldn't worry about it. However, I don't think that means they have to give up on playing competitive baseball...putting a team on the field that fans are willing, even eager to watch. Nothing would make me happier than to watch some high-level prospects test themselves against major league pitchers and hitters. Besides, it gives the team a chance to test the limits of their young talent. Jose Miranda hit 30 homers last year at two different levels in an abbreviated season...so what does he have left to prove there? Why not see how that translates to the bigs, and at the same time let him show if his glove will play.

So, my preferred veteran core is:

  • Byron Buxton - CF - Signed through 2028
  • Jorge Polanco - 2B - Signed through 2025 (including team option)
  • Josh Donaldson - 3B - Signed through 2024 (including team option)
  • Mitch Garver - C - Arbitration eligible through 2023
  • Miguel Sano - DH - Signed through 2023 (including team option)

That leaves four positions to fill, plus (in this day of crowded bullpens) at least three spots for capable backups. For the purpose of this exercise, I'm going to ignore the 40 man roster and assume no trades or free agent signings occur before the start of the season. Ages listed below are for opening day.

  • LF - Austin Martin (23)
    • By most accounts Austin Martin's bat is ready, while his glove may never be adequate for SS. His games were about equally split between SS and CF last year, and with CF blocked by Buxton, why not make the transition now. I've got two real reaches in this lineup (see also SS below), and I'm not expecting Martin to be on the opening day roster; he has only 418 professional plate appearances and will turn 23 just before opening day. That said, I think there is a real need to get him significant experience in the bigs this year.
  • RF - Alex Kirilloff (24)
    • Check the spelling twice, and make sure that name is written into the lineup as much as possible. Obviously Kirilloff's spot on the roster is secure after last year's showing, and while many have him slotted in as our first baseman of the future, I would prefer to see him get a serious look in the outfield during 2022 and start learning the finer points of playing bounces off the limestone in RF. Given our prospective pitching staff, there will be plenty of them. Why not Max Kepler, you ask? I haven't given up on Max, but I firmly believe that it is best to give a young player the majority of his games at a single position, giving him one (or two!) less things to worry about. So let's first see if Kirilloff has the speed and arm to play that RF spot.
  • SS - Nick Gordon (26)
    • It's time for the Twins to either give Gordon a chance to stick at SS or move him. Pressed into service last year in CF, Gordon performed credibly, but surely they would like to see him as a SS after giving him most of his AAA games at the position in 2018 and 2019. He was a feel-good story (for part of) last year, but let's face it, he doesn't carry the bat to maintain an outfield position or 2B, where he is blocked anyway by a host of young OF's or by All Star Jorge Polanco. I think if you had asked the Twins in late 2019 who would be the opening day SS in 2022, they would have picked Royce Lewis. I certainly would have. However, with Lewis first losing 2020 to the pandemic and then losing 2021 to a torn ACL, I can't make a case where he is ready play at the major league level until he has at least seen significant innings at AA. Here's hoping his physical rehab from injury has gone well and he's ready to roar out of the gates and press Gordon (or whoever) for playing time by the second half of 2022.
  • 1B - Jose Miranda (23)
    • What more is there to prove at AAA? Miranda shouldn't be expected to duplicate (or even approximate) 2021 .973 OPS. But that's what this 'development' year is for...so these players can face major league pitching and learn to deal with the travel, the grind, the ups and downs of a 162 game season. With the versatility to spell Donaldson at 3B and Polanco at 2B, all Miranda needs to do at 1B is be a better fielder than Miguel Sano. It shouldn't take too long to see if that's the case.
  • Backup C - Ryan Jeffers (24)
    • There is no guarantee that the Twins sign Mitch Garver beyond 2023, and it's even less likely Garver would still be playing catcher in 2024 at age 33. Jeffers was a head-turner in 2020 and a head-scratcher in 2021, but I think it's reasonable to believe that he will take what he learned last year and turn himself into a better hitter. Unfortunately he and Garver both bat right handed. Much as I would hate to say goodbye to Garver's heart and intensity, I suspect he could draw attention (and a reasonable return) as a trade candidate by mid-season 2022, clearing the way for a future platoon of Jeffers and Ben Rortvedt.
  • Backup OF - Max Kepler
    • I'll come right out and say I'm not a big believer in super-utility players. Max can play all the OF positions and as the 4th OF he should get as many games as any of the regulars. Barring any long-term injuries, Rocco Baldelli will still rest the regulars 1-2 times per week, and Kepler should have the maturity to take the role in stride. 
  • Backup IF - Luis Arraez
    • Yes, Arraez can play three infield positions, and corner outfield in a pinch. No, he's not going to win any games for you with his glove. But it's worth spotting a sub-par infielder in the lineup to give everybody a rest, particularly if he can produce runs. Arraez can also take Sano's spot as DH against tough righties.

What is lacking in the above line-up? First of all, spots for Rooker and Larnach. I'm not a big believer in drafting relatively unathletic, hit-first prospects that are immediately relegated to the "we think he can play some corner OF, or perhaps 1B" log-jam. I don't track options closely but I assume both of these guys can ride the St Paul shuttle bus for another year in case of injuries. I don't think either of them should factor into the Twins' long term plans unless or until they show they can crush in the minors...and I mean 2021 Miranda-type numbers. Second, there is no reasonable backup shortstop without sliding Polanco over and slotting in Miranda or Arraez in his place, though I guess Martin could be pressed into service in an emergency. I guess that's the price you pay for a shortened bench (and a lengthened bullpen).

If you made it this far into my babbling, thanks for reading. I'm mostly writing this to sharpen my own thoughts and to pass the time on cold winter days now that the Minnesota pheasant season is over. But I'd love to hear your comments and critiques of my opinions.

 

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I mostly agree with you except for Donaldson. I've never been a fan of his and didn't like the signing. I realize with $50mil or more due him it would be tough to trade him but I still think the future Twins would look better without him now taking a full time spot now.

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Donaldson was a good signing.  He has delivered pretty much what was expected of him.  And he has missed much less time due to injury than the great Byron Buxton.  I think it interesting that the Minnesota sports fan gets made at Players signed to big contracts around here.  Although KAT at 31.5 mil doesn't get it as much.  Somehow people get upset and blame the player for signing for so much money.  Then blame him for everything that is wrong with the team.  Like it's their fault the team gave him so much money that their isn't much left for anyone else.  Look at the crap Cousins takes with the Vikings.  Is it his fault they had the 30 the ranked defense or the 28 the ranked offensive line?  Just be leery if what you wish for.  Inexpensive inexperienced players can lead to just a poor team.  In the Twins position relying on the massive inexperience in pitching will lead to another bottom finish.  

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I see Kirilloff getting a lot of time this season at 1B and RF, with Kepler sliding to CF to rest Buxton on occasion.  I see Martin coming up in May, at the expense of Gordon, and Larnach coming up for an injury to the OF/DH crew.  SS is the problem, with the defense we'd be better off with another season of Simmons (I'm twitching as I type this).  The wild card would be Lewis coming up in May also and being able to play SS at least as well as Gordon, or whatever "old reliable" they find in FA.

This is the fun part, as I'm optimistic about the bats.  The pitching? I don't like to see guys get pounded in the majors for no reason, I'd prefer Winder, Balazovic, et al get some aaa ips. That leaves Bundy, Ober, Ryan, Dobnak, and one of the older kids (ex Strotman) or a resign of someone (Pineda, Albers, trade for Odorizzi, whatever).  I'm not expecting much, sadly...

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I sure enjoyed reading this. It did help crystalize a few thoughts for me. 

1-Donaldson's presence is effectively limiting playing time for the mix of Miranda, Arraez, Kirilloff, and Larnach. That's 4 of the players I'm most interested in watching in 2022. JD is still a strong contributor, but he needs to be in the playoff mix or his "competitive fire" skews a lot more negative. I want his attitude around a young, developing team about as much as I want to hire Chuck Knoblauch as a bench coach.

2-I am pretty sure I don't have any interest in watching Nick Gordon tryout as SS. Wouldn't mind if Polanco slid back over there until a better glove pushed him off the position. Maybe a one year contract for a B-level free agent until Lewis can prove he's ready?

3-Garver at catcher is a really good deal for this team isn't it? I'm glad they have that in place. I've heard speculation about moving off him this year, but I think he a great priority piece to keep in place.

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3 minutes ago, PopRiveter said:

I sure enjoyed reading this. It did help crystalize a few thoughts for me. 

1-Donaldson's presence is effectively limiting playing time for the mix of Miranda, Arraez, Kirilloff, and Larnach. That's 4 of the players I'm most interested in watching in 2022. JD is still a strong contributor, but he needs to be in the playoff mix or his "competitive fire" skews a lot more negative. I want his attitude around a young, developing team about as much as I want to hire Chuck Knoblauch as a bench coach.

2-I am pretty sure I don't have any interest in watching Nick Gordon tryout as SS. Wouldn't mind if Polanco slid back over there until a better glove pushed him off the position. Maybe a one year contract for a B-level free agent until Lewis can prove he's ready?

3-Garver at catcher is a really good deal for this team isn't it? I'm glad they have that in place. I've heard speculation about moving off him this year, but I think he a great priority piece to keep in place.

LOL, his ability put him, Twins do not play in the minor league THAT is where the rookies are supposed to learn or fail.

Polanco at SS GOOD GRIEF, he failed miserably there, already.

I wish I had the crystal ball so many here are gazing in when it comes to the rookies, maybe I can take it to a casino.

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The blog begins with the idea that the team can bring a boatload of rookies up and still remain competitive, or am I missing something here?  What exactly is competitive?  Competing for upper levels in the standings?  Or only losing 5-4 instead of 5-1, or 9-4?  Is playing close games competitive, or staying close in the standings?  

As for positions, Kepler is the 4th outfielder while Kirilloff and Martin start?  And why is Kirilloff still in the outfield, when all stats show he is better at 1st than in the outfield, and much better than Sano in that position, while Kepler is a very good right fielder?  Assuming Kepler will spell Buxton on occasion, Kirilloff can move there and Sano can slide into 1st (no, not that way).  But the above is not a best case scenario defensively.  I could go on, but when you use the regular season as a tryout camp for up and coming minor leaguers there is no easy way to write a line up that you have faith in so I will leave that for the time being  I will say putting Kepler and Arraez on the bench to start the season is not the way to begin if, again, competitive is the goal.  I would rather package them in a trade for pitching than use them in reserve/utility status. 

The team, as of today, will not be competitive in the standings; let us just hope they will play competitive games worth watching, or the USFL is going to get more and more of my time this summer.  

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BRAVO!

The Twins season ended for all practical purposed by the end of May last year; starting a bunch of rookies and keeping your fingers crossed they do not stink up the stadium will end Twins season a month earlier this year.

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On 1/10/2022 at 7:12 PM, gman said:

I mostly agree with you except for Donaldson. I've never been a fan of his and didn't like the signing. I realize with $50mil or more due him it would be tough to trade him but I still think the future Twins would look better without him now taking a full time spot now.

Certainly it's hard to like Donaldson's contract given the Twins' current circumstances. I do look at this team at least a season and maybe two seasons away from being over .500, so it seems like wasted $$ at this point. However, since I restricted myself to players currently within the organization, he has to play 3B next year. That's partly why I pushed Kirilloff to RF - so Miranda could get reps at first. If Donaldson's skills have declined significantly nearer the end of his contract, I would hope they have a viable alternative for him.

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On 1/11/2022 at 6:17 PM, RpR said:

BRAVO!

The Twins season ended for all practical purposed by the end of May last year; starting a bunch of rookies and keeping your fingers crossed they do not stink up the stadium will end Twins season a month earlier this year.

Well, I think the Twins 2022 season got pushed to the brink when they traded Berrios and went over the cliff when Maeda went down. And sure, some of these youngsters will struggle...but I'd much rather go see our core group of players surrounded by a group of high-potential youngsters than a cast of low-ceiling veterans. Not that Twins management is calling for my opinion...

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On 1/11/2022 at 11:18 AM, Gatormandd said:

 

This is the fun part, as I'm optimistic about the bats.  The pitching? I don't like to see guys get pounded in the majors for no reason, I'd prefer Winder, Balazovic, et al get some aaa ips. That leaves Bundy, Ober, Ryan, Dobnak, and one of the older kids (ex Strotman) or a resign of someone (Pineda, Albers, trade for Odorizzi, whatever).  I'm not expecting much, sadly...

Agreed, I think you do need to see the pitchers get smoothed out further in the minors. Hitters can get in the cage every day and work on mechanics or hitting the velocity machine, but pitchers have to get by on way fewer reps. Frankly, I'm not even sure where to start on the pitching. I'm not convinced Pineda is a viable option as an innings-filler, though he pitched his heart out while working around various nagging injuries last year. It really feels like it could be a cast of dozens to get us through the year.

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On 1/11/2022 at 3:59 PM, Mark G said:

The blog begins with the idea that the team can bring a boatload of rookies up and still remain competitive, or am I missing something here?  What exactly is competitive?  Competing for upper levels in the standings?  Or only losing 5-4 instead of 5-1, or 9-4?  Is playing close games competitive, or staying close in the standings?  

As for positions, Kepler is the 4th outfielder while Kirilloff and Martin start?  And why is Kirilloff still in the outfield, when all stats show he is better at 1st than in the outfield, and much better than Sano in that position, while Kepler is a very good right fielder?  Assuming Kepler will spell Buxton on occasion, Kirilloff can move there and Sano can slide into 1st (no, not that way).  But the above is not a best case scenario defensively.  I could go on, but when you use the regular season as a tryout camp for up and coming minor leaguers there is no easy way to write a line up that you have faith in so I will leave that for the time being  I will say putting Kepler and Arraez on the bench to start the season is not the way to begin if, again, competitive is the goal.  I would rather package them in a trade for pitching than use them in reserve/utility status. 

The team, as of today, will not be competitive in the standings; let us just hope they will play competitive games worth watching, or the USFL is going to get more and more of my time this summer.  

Mark, you're making good points....let me see if my defense has a leg to stand on...

By competitive, I do mean that I think we can stay in games by scoring runs when we pitch well enough, but I really think this team will be pressed to win more than 70 games.

Regarding Kirilloff, I think his play at first base (and really anywhere in the majors) has a pretty small sample size. Part of my reasoning for starting him in the outfield was to open up 1B for Miranda, who is blocked at 2B by Polanco (for whom the SS experiment should be over) and at 3B by Donaldson.

Arraez and Kepler get tagged as utility players because they can actually play multiple positions. I don't see them as bench players though, I see them playing 4-5 games a week as they spell multiple other players. That's the way Rocco likes to play it, and I see those two as being the most adaptable of the bunch.

Meanwhile, Miguel Sano plays DH. Every dang day. I suspect (hope?) that he will achieve more consistency at the plate once he doesn't have to think about playing the field.

I don't think this is a tryout camp situation. The young players I've named here are ones that the Twins have committed to, or even traded for. All of them have a shot at being good major leaguers and I think the way to get them there before the end of Polanco's contract and while Buxton is in his prime years is to start playing them in major league games as soon as possible.

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2 hours ago, Franz said:

Mark, you're making good points....let me see if my defense has a leg to stand on...

By competitive, I do mean that I think we can stay in games by scoring runs when we pitch well enough, but I really think this team will be pressed to win more than 70 games.

Regarding Kirilloff, I think his play at first base (and really anywhere in the majors) has a pretty small sample size. Part of my reasoning for starting him in the outfield was to open up 1B for Miranda, who is blocked at 2B by Polanco (for whom the SS experiment should be over) and at 3B by Donaldson.

Arraez and Kepler get tagged as utility players because they can actually play multiple positions. I don't see them as bench players though, I see them playing 4-5 games a week as they spell multiple other players. That's the way Rocco likes to play it, and I see those two as being the most adaptable of the bunch.

Meanwhile, Miguel Sano plays DH. Every dang day. I suspect (hope?) that he will achieve more consistency at the plate once he doesn't have to think about playing the field.

I don't think this is a tryout camp situation. The young players I've named here are ones that the Twins have committed to, or even traded for. All of them have a shot at being good major leaguers and I think the way to get them there before the end of Polanco's contract and while Buxton is in his prime years is to start playing them in major league games as soon as possible.

Very thoughtful discourse; thank you, I enjoy it.

I do not argue with the players in your scenario, per se, as they do appear to be the players the FO has decided to begin with in their youth movement.  But, (you knew there was a but coming, didn't you?:)  as you said yourself the sample size is small, or none, in all of the players being talked about.  Hence the belief on my part this is becoming a tryout year for a large part of the lineup, and we haven't even gotten to the pitching half of the roster.  Anytime a lineup of 9 players has 4 rookies, or very close to it, and a still fairly unproven (at the plate) back up catcher that amounts to approx. half your lineup.  

The consensus appears to be that Arraez has limitations at any one position, so he has been used as a utility player, and if everyone stays healthy he may stay in that role.  Kepler, on the other hand?  He plays right field and occasionally spells the center fielder; not exactly a utility player, per se, and he really doesn't fit the typical role of a 4th outfielder, having never played left (at least that I know of).  He is a natural right fielder, and a good one with the glove, so I just don't see anyone taking right field short of trading him.  (Unless, of course, Buck goes down again for a time)  I have a pretty strong preference to keeping him there if he stays with us at all.  I am beginning to lean more and more toward a package deal, maybe including both Kepler and Arraez, to gain better pitching which will automatically open up positions for the up and comers.  And you are surely right about moving Sano to DH for your above stated reasons.  

Overall, I am not a fan of bringing players up because of a potential bat in the lineup that has never faced major league pitching, and just finding a position for them to play (musical chairs, anyone?) just to see their bat.  Find the position they play the best and put them there.  If that position is filled, that's where trades come from (or at least used to).  Sano is the perfect example of a hitter being put in positions on the field he is not good at and it affecting his hitting.  No young player just coming up should be put into a new position, or one he does not excel at, just to get his bat in the line up for those exact reasons.  Having said all of that, I am very aware that is not how this FO and manager think, so I am beating my head against a wall there.  At the end of the day, I am still of the opinion that we appear to be on the verge of asking far too much from far too many young players, both on the field and on the mound.  I sure hope it works out, and maybe your scenario might be the one that does, but I still cringe quite a bit.  

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C -  Garver

1B - Kirriloff

2B - Polanco

3B - Miranda

SS - Story

LF - Martin

CF - Buxton

RF - Larnach

DH - Sano/Donaldson spelling 1B/3B

Kepler/Arraez  packaged for SP

Gordon - utility IF/CF

Jeffers - backup C

Billy Hamilton - backup OF/with Celestino and Rooker in minors ready to contribute.

SP - Rodon, Pineda, Ober, Ryan, Bundy/Dobnak - depending on whether we can get a SP for the Kepler/Arraez trade.

RP - Rogers, Duffy, Alcala, Garza, Stashack, Thielbar, Thorpe.  With plenty of arms in the minors for injuries and tryouts.

This means we need to be active in the leftover FA market, but I think these are all do-able.  And I also think this is a team that can compete for the division.  And no, I don't drink or smoke dope.

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On 1/11/2022 at 1:59 PM, PopRiveter said:

I sure enjoyed reading this. It did help crystalize a few thoughts for me. 

1-Donaldson's presence is effectively limiting playing time for the mix of Miranda, Arraez, Kirilloff, and Larnach. That's 4 of the players I'm most interested in watching in 2022. JD is still a strong contributor, but he needs to be in the playoff mix or his "competitive fire" skews a lot more negative. I want his attitude around a young, developing team about as much as I want to hire Chuck Knoblauch as a bench coach.

2-I am pretty sure I don't have any interest in watching Nick Gordon tryout as SS. Wouldn't mind if Polanco slid back over there until a better glove pushed him off the position. Maybe a one year contract for a B-level free agent until Lewis can prove he's ready?

3-Garver at catcher is a really good deal for this team isn't it? I'm glad they have that in place. I've heard speculation about moving off him this year, but I think he a great priority piece to keep in place.

I agree with you about Donaldson. Thanks for saying what I am thinking.

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Well, there many options and different directions for the Twins to go coming out of the lockout. Perhaps the team is short on money and wants to keep the rostered squad around $100 million. I have no idea.

c) Ryan Jeffers & Ben Rortvedt

1B) Alex Kirilloff

2B) Jorge Polanco

3B) Josh Donaldson

SS) Taylor Walls

LF) Joc Pederson

CF) Byron Buxton

RF) Max Kepler

DH) Miguel Sano

Others) Jose Miranda, Nick Gordon, and Kyle Garlick

SP) Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Edward Cabrera, Bailey Ober, Joe Ryan, and Kenta Maeda (IL)

RP) Rogers, Bundy, Thielbar, Jharel Cotton, Moran, Alcala, Jax, Thorpe, Colome (option declined)

Is this my preferred team? No. But it comes in below $100 million and is better than the current roster.

Prospects still in milb: Lewis, Martin, Wallner, Urbina, Miller, Rodriguez, Sabato, Palacios and Balazovic, Canterino, Winder, Sands, Petty, Enlow, Raya, Varland, Povich, Hajier.

A budget of $140 million changes the calculus quite a bit, but this keeps prospects and saves Pohlad $SS.

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12 hours ago, Rosterman said:

I would trade Sano in this situation, as well as Donaldson, if possible.

 

I don't put much time into trade evaluation. What do you think would be a desirable, yet realistic return for a Sano trade? Could it be similar to perhaps the Eduardo Escobar trade?

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I like your thoughts. Bottom line is we have a lot of holes to plug and get some looks by some young players to see where they are at. The lineup isn't dominated by great players, and our starting pitching even looks worse. 

Miranda is a lock and load and see what he can do at MLB level. Kirilloff bat tells me he needs to be playing very frequently try. Larnach should be plugged in occasionally and I think is written off more than should be. Initially his bat looked nearly as good as Kirilloffs but he eventually faded. Slot him in RF occasionally. Gordon needs time and can be a utility but I don't see as much more than that. Arraez is tough but needs to play regularly too. 

Rooker is a wildcard but feels like a pure DH when we finally give up on Sano (2022). 

The conclusion is that over 2022 and 2023 we are going to get a lot of guys coming up to see if they can be apart of the puzzle going forward because 2022 looks like a 90+ loss season- Easily. 

Its not fun to talk non-competitive before the season starts, but its easy to see this team isn't going anywhere with the current pitching and has more than a couple holes to fill in the field before we can come back to competitive ball.

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