Jump to content
Twins Daily
  • Create Account

Previewing the Position Player Battle for the AL Central


A couple weeks ago, Twins Daily writers collaborated to bring you a breakdown of each position group in the AL Central for 2021. In reality, only the Twins and White Sox will battle for the AL Central crown so let's take a closer look at how these teams match up.If you based your division winners solely on hype, the White Sox would win the division in a landslide. Not only do they have the reigning MVP at first base, one of the most charismatic players in the game at short, and an up and coming superstar in Luis Robert, but they bolstered their very good bullpen by adding the best reliever in baseball. This has led to them being ranked ahead of the Twins in various power rankings and Vegas making them the odds-on favorite to win the division.

 

On the other hand, the Twins had a nice little offseason themselves adding one of the best defensive shortstops in the history of the game and solidifying the back end of their bullpen by adding Hansel Robles and Alex Colomé. They maybe don’t have the “swag” or big ticket free agent that the White Sox have, but it seems the back-to-back division champions are being overlooked by just about everyone outside of Twins fans themselves. This got me to wondering ... is the hype legit?

 

Let’s take a position by position look at both the White Sox and Twins to see who comes out on top.

 

Catcher: Mitch Garver versus Yasmani Grandal

After bursting onto the scene in 2019, Garver really struggled in 2020 which could be due to an intercostal strain that forced him to miss nearly half the shortened season. I would bet a lot of money that he will be better in 2021 and I would bet the same amount of money that he will not hit as well as he did in 2019. Regardless, he’ll still be one of the best hitting catchers in the game as projections have him providing and above average OPS, while also providing solid defense behind the plate.

 

For years now, Grandal has arguably been the best two-way catcher in the game. He consistently ranks as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, per Baseball Prospectus, and has a career OPS of nearly .800. On top of that, he’s been one of the most durable catchers in the game typically sitting out less than 40 games a season. Despite entering his age-32 season, all of the projection models have him maintaining his durability and level of play in 2021 which will make him a hard out in the middle of a stacked White Sox lineup. The addition of Jonathon LuCroy should allow him to be spelled from behind the plate a little more while still getting at-bats as a designated hitter.

 

Verdict: Grandal based on his consistent track record, but I do think Garver has the higher ceiling.

 

First Base: Miguel Sanó verus José Abreu

I was surprised at how serviceable Sanó looked defensively in his first year at first base and no spring training. I’ve always thought that, for his size, he was a pretty athletic and nimble third basemen and I think we’ll see him become a solid first basemen. Offensively, I’m ready to say that Sano is what he is ... a prototypical power hitter. He swings out of his shoes and hits the ball as hard as anyone else in baseball when he makes contact. He’ll go through swoons where he is nearly unplayable and then he’ll go through a stretch where he crushes everything and, at the end of the day, he’ll end up with an above average OPS but it’ll be a wild ride to get there.

 

Abreu is coming off an MVP campaign where he posted the best slash rates of his career and finished second in all of baseball with 19 home runs. He’s always been a very good and consistent hitter, but has also been one of the worst defensive first basemen in the league. Projection models have him regressing back to his career norms in 2021 which would still make him one of the better hitters in the league where he will be an RBI machine in the three-hole.

 

Verdict: Abreu in a landslide.

 

Second Base: Jorge Polanco versus Nick Madrigal

Polanco is another Twins who really struggled in 2020 after a monster 2019, but we eventually found out that he was hobbled by his ankle and required surgery for the second consecutive offseason. Like Garver, Polanco is better than his 2020 season but probably not quite as good as his 2019 season. Being that he was injured I’m not actually that concerned about last year as his K/BB rate was similar to his career norms but really struggled with making solid contact on the ball, and even better news ... the projection models aren’t concerned either.

 

Madrigal had a really nice rookie campaign batting .340 and boasting a wRC+ of 112 and providing solid defense. Unfortunately, he hit for almost zero power, had an extremely low walk rate, and his savant profile would say that he should have batted almost 40 points less than he did. As big league pitchers get a scouting report on him they are going to be able to attack these weaknesses and I, along with the projection models, think he’ll need some time to adjust in 2021. He’ll still be a good hitter but he won’t be contending for a batting title.

 

Verdict: A healthy Polanco will easily outhit Madrigal in 2021.

 

Third Base: Josh Donaldson versus Yoán Moncada

We all know what Donaldson can be but it will all come down to if he can stay on the field. At 35 years old and now a recurring calf injury there is plenty to be worried about, although the Twins have set themselves up nicely to get him regular rest and are prepared as they could be if he were to miss more time. More on that later.

 

Like so many all around baseball, Moncada had himself the best year of his short career in 2019, but he followed that up in 2020 by dropping his OPS more than 200 points. Oddly enough his swing rates were around his career norms and he actually improved his walk rate in 2020, but he didn’t make hard contact all season. He’ll be turning just 26 in May and all of the projection models have him rebounding in 2021 but that will likely depend on if he can get back to driving the ball. Both he and Donaldson provide solid defense at their positions.

 

Verdict: For reasons, I’ll address later I’m going to bet on the health of Donaldson and take him over Moncada.

 

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons versus Tim Anderson

Since signing with the Twins, we have published a variety of articles on the signing of Andrelton Simmons. In short, he is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball history but will ultimately settle in the eight or nine spot of the lineup. I don’t want to make it sound like he’s an awful hitter because he’s not, his career OPS is .696 and projection models have him hitting right around there in 2021 which would be considered “below average”.

 

Anderson is the cover athlete for RBI '21 and one of the most charismatic personalities in the game, but is all the attention warranted? He’s not great defensively, but continues to get it done at the plate despite his BABIP and batted ball data suggesting that he’s getting awfully lucky. Although the projection models predicted regression last year and were mostly wrong, they’re back at this year as most are expecting his OPS to drop more than 100 points from 2020. I would expect the same, but I think we all expected that coming into last season.

 

Verdict: Andrelton defense edges Anderson’s bat, especially if he were to regress like he’s projected to.

 

Left Field: Brent Rooker versus Eloy Jiménez

As of right now, I would be surprised to see Kirilloff start in left field on Opening Day as he’s been struggling this Spring and despite what the Twins say I think they’ll use that as an out to save his service time. This leaves the position open to a few players, but I think Brent Rooker would be the primary left fielder. In his short stint in the majors he looked like a professional hitter in 2020 before breaking his forearm on a hit by pitch. He won’t be a great defensive outfielder but he will be serviceable and will provide some good pop in the back half of the line up.

 

I think Jiménez is one of the most underrated young players in baseball as he’s only 24 years old and in his two years in the big leagues he has clubbed 45 home runs over 177 games. He has legitimate power while hitting for a respectable average, although is a poor defender. Like many power hitters who struggle with walks and strikeouts, he’ll end up having some tough stretches throughout the season but at the end of the year his projection models have him continuing to hit the cover off the ball.

 

Verdict: Jiménez easily over Kirilloff/Rooker/etc as he’s already shown he can produce at the ML level.

 

Center Field: Byron Buxton versus Luis Robert

Buxton’s 2020 season at the plate was a bit of an odd one ... his 1.5-percent walk rate and 51-percent fly ball rate are concerning, but then he posted career highs in hard hit data, OPS, and home runs. He almost turned into a power hitter rather than relying on his speed as one of the fastest players in the game, but if his walk rate trend continues he will not be able to sustain any sort of success at the plate in 2021. The projection models do see some bounce back in his walk percentage but also some regression in his OPS, but still see him as an above average contributor at the plate. All of that said, when healthy, Buxton remains the league's premier center fielder and until he starts losing a step that shouldn’t change for many years.

 

Lovingly known as “Lou Bob” in the southside of Chicago, he has the potential to be on of the most polarizing players in the game throughout his career. He’s projected to hit for power while providing some speed on the base paths and very good defense in center field. He’s almost what everyone thought Byron Buxton could be with a less speed but more pop. He struggled at the plate in 2020 posting a higher K-rate and and lower OPS than he did at any minor league level, and all the projection models see that continuing in 2021. Lou Bob is going to be a start in Chicago but at only 23-years-old it might just take a little time.

 

Verdict: For now, Buxton because of his defense but Robert is, at least figuratively, on his heels.

 

Right Field: Max Kepler versus Adam Eaton

Kepler, entering his sixth full season as a pro, has established himself as one of the best all-around right fielders in the game. At the plate he can provide an above average bat while in the field providing some of the best defense in the league. If you’re like me, you might have felt like Kepler really struggled last year but in reality he posted an above average OPS and wRC+ although his hard hit data shows that he didn’t connect with the ball as well as he had in the past.

 

Eaton has actually been better and more reliable than I think he gets credit for as he’s really only suffered from two lower body injuries in back-to-back years in 2017 and 2018. He did struggle at the plate last year and then missed a chunk of time with a broken finger which isn’t something that can really be re-occurring outside of freak accidents. That said, Eaton is on the downturn of his career and projected as an average hitter while providing poor defense.

 

Verdict: Kepler and it’s not close.

 

DH: Nelson Cruz versus ???

Obviously, Cruz will be the primary DH in 2021 but as he enters his age 41 season and is coming off a very bad last month of the season you still have to wonder if father time has struck midnight. Despite those concerns, the Twins have options in who can fill-in at DH to give Cruz some extra time off. I expect to see Donaldson, Sano, and Rooker to all get some time at DH to keep Nelson rested and healthy for the grueling 162-game season.

 

I don’t know that even the White Sox know who their DH will be and it could very well be a rotation. As mentioned before, Grandal is getting older and may start need more breaks behind the plate. When he is catching, you might see Jonathan LuCroy as the DH or maybe they give prospects Zack Collins or Andrew Vaughn some AB’s. Like I said, I don’t know that anyone really knows at this point.

 

Verdict: I’ll take Cruz/Donaldson/Sano/Rooker over the White Sox options.

 

Bench: Ryan Jeffers/Luis Arraéz/Jake Cave/Willians Astudillo versus Jonathan Lucroy/Leury García/Danny Mendick/Adam Engel

Here’s where I think the Twins really separate themselves from the White Sox. If the White Sox were to lose a starter they really lose a lot of productivity. Ryan Jeffers excelled last season and we’ll likely see him and Garver split time which should only keep them healthy and rested. With the addition of Simmons, the Twins now move someone who is projected to win the batting title into a fifth infielder which in turn should help keep Donaldson and Cruz healthy and rested, while not sacrificing a ton at the plate. Lastly, Jake Cave inarguably struggled in 2020 after showing some promise in 2019 but projection models have him rebounding a little bit. At some point, he might find himself out of the picture with Rooker, Kirilloff and even Trevor Larnach competing for an active roster spot.

 

All the depth pieces for the White Sox would be significant downgrades if they were to lose a starter, and when you play 162 games in a season ... depth matters. Sure, Lucroy had a couple good seasons but that was five plus years ago. Garcia, Mendick, and Engel will be okay replacements on the defensive side of the ball but will really be weak spots when they are inserted into the batting order.

 

Verdict: Minnesota Twins bench by a lot.

 

Conclusion: Minnesota Twins Position Players versus Chicago White Sox Position Players

Download attachment: Screen Shot 2021-03-20 at 4.15.50 PM.png

We’ll take a look at the pitching staff for each team next week, but I give the Twins position players the advantage over the White Sox. I think their offenses will be pretty equal but I think the Twins defense and depth are clearly better than the White Sox, which cannot be understated in a 162-game season.

 

MORE FROM TWINS DAILY

— Latest Twins coverage from our writers

— Recent Twins discussion in our forums

— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

 

Click here to view the article

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Recommended Posts

I believe there is a good measure of home bias in this report which is fun, but does not mean we are really that much better.  The Twins can win when their bats wake up, but here are my differences:  

 

I do not know what Garver's upside is.  He may have already plateaued so Grandal is by a landslide just like Abreu over Sano.  Please Miguel wake up to the fact that a Home Run merely needs to clear the fence and all that exit velocity means no more than the one run a HR is entitled to.  However, controlling the bat, less K's, more hits could make you into the value we all hoped for.

 

Polanco vs Madrigal is a wash.  Not enough to call it.  Same with defense versus offense at SS.  I believe in D, but let's see how it plays out.  The Twins are much better, but Anderson has really caught the public's eye with his play.  

 

Donaldson should be the better 3B, but let's check out his health before we declare a winner.  Another wash. 

 

Luis Robert does look like what we hoped Byron could be.  Buxton just has not lived up to the hype yet and Luis looks like he is going to continue to build his resume.  I give this a wash too, but lean towards Robert.

 

RF is probably Kepler, but I am not happy with either choice.

 

LF is difficult.  Probably Eloy, but I watched some Sox games in ST and he butchers the defensive side of the OF.  I am not as big a fan as most are because I want some balance between O and D.  However at this stage the sox have to win because we don't know who will be in LF.

 

DH - Cruz crushes everything including the competition.

 

And the bench with Arraez looks like the best. 

 

I put the lineups as equals based on my perspectives above.  Now its time to look at the pitching staff.  As usual the arms are what win.

 

 

After I wrote this the Athletic came out with their fantasy rankings so I thought I would look at how that compares the positions:

Grandal 3 - Garver 8

Abreu 3 - Sano 15

Madrigal 28 - Polanco not on the 2B list (24 in SS list)

Moncada 9 - Donaldson 15

Anderson 8 - Simmons 36 (I know defense does not play fantasy)

Eloy - 14, Robert 15, Eaton 82 - Buxton 24, Kepler 38, Kiriloff 74

No DH - Cruz 3

 

The Sox definitely win on this list.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If Buck can stay on the field he's the choice, but I don't know how much I would bet on that.

 

Jiminez in LF reminds me of Canseco back when I used to sit in the outfield in Oakland. You wonder if he's just that bad or if he's not even trying. He's ahead of Rooker, but there will be some cheap hits and extra bases at his expense.

 

I keep waiting for Anderson to quit hitting but it isn't happening so far. His defense is suprisingly uneven- this might be a good year to compare what's better, the great-field (we hope) and adequate-hitting shortstop vs. the polar opposite.

 

Great discussion of bench strength. I hadn't realized the difference, which I agree strongly favors the Twins.

 

Then there's the LaRussa factor...at best I think he will be an average manager overall. We'll see.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sano gets no respect. Sure Abreu was phenomenal during  last year's 60 game season. Let's not forget that just two years ago Sano's wRC+ was 20 pts higher than Abreu and Abreu is at the age where he will likely start to decline. Just saying that portraying it as a landslide ignores that Sano has already had 2 seasons that were better than Abreu. Sano is also in his prime and Abreu is 34. Would I bet on Sano over Abreu? Heck no but I would not be shocked if Sano bounced back to 2019 form. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think 3B is close. If healthy all year, probably Donaldson, but that's not a given either. Moncada is good. 

I think SS goes to Anderson fairly handily. 

I think CF is really close, but remember Robert won the Gold Glove, even with Buxton eligible. Again, if healthy, I think Buxton is the guy but it's close. 

 

I wonder when Andrew Vaughn will take over as the DH for the White Sox. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Very optimistic.

 

The assumption that Donaldson and Buxton will be healthy is a big one. But, even if that were true, I don’t think it’s a given that Donaldson is better than Moncada in 2021, and certainly not that Buxton is better than Robert.

 

People overvalue Polanco based off of his inflated 2019 first half, IMO. I think he comes around this year, but I don’t think we’ll ever see 2019 Polanco again. It’s also interesting to me how highly we think of Arraez around here, but then knock on Madrigal for his inability to hit for power. Madrigal hit .340 last year.....that’s incredible. He also played much better defense than Arraez or Polanco.

 

I’m not ready to say Kepler is head and shoulders better than Eaton. Kepler is another guy that gets massively overvalued by Twins fans because of 2019z. His ceiling is higher, sure. But, Eaton has a career OPS+ 10 points higher than Kepler.

 

Maybe I’m the only one, but I’m not expecting Cruz to be as good as he’s been. Vaughn is also a very, very highly thought of prospect. I still would take Cruz for 2021, but I don’t think it’s a slam dunk due to Cruz’s age.

 

I’d love for the Twins to be dominant over the Sox, but I just don’t see it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

I think 3B is close. If healthy all year, probably Donaldson, but that's not a given either. Moncada is good. 

I think SS goes to Anderson fairly handily. 

I think CF is really close, but remember Robert won the Gold Glove, even with Buxton eligible. Again, if healthy, I think Buxton is the guy but it's close. 

 

I wonder when Andrew Vaughn will take over as the DH for the White Sox. 

We all know the Gold Glove does not necessarily go to the best fielder.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We have too many "if healthy" verdicts.  Don't like that.  This would be even more fun to read if Twins Daily collaborated with the Sox writers again.  Much like a brewery collaboration.  Then see the how the Sox conclusion tally would end up.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Authors may need to challenge themselves to be a bit more objective in this series.

 

As a club, the White Sox lineup was significantly better offensively than the Twins was last year. Significantly. And they have more, not fewer, key young guys with additional upside. Do the Twins have relative advantages among lineup players? Yes....and maybe. But, it’s not even remotely as one-sided as suggested by the author.

 

I shudder to think of the upcoming pitching comparison...where the Twins were actually way better than Chicago last year, and still figure to have an advantage.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

Very optimistic.

The assumption that Donaldson and Buxton will be healthy is a big one. But, even if that were true, I don’t think it’s a given that Donaldson is better than Moncada in 2021, and certainly not that Buxton is better than Robert.

People overvalue Polanco based off of his inflated 2019 first half, IMO. I think he comes around this year, but I don’t think we’ll ever see 2019 Polanco again. It’s also interesting to me how highly we think of Arraez around here, but then knock on Madrigal for his inability to hit for power. Madrigal hit .340 last year.....that’s incredible. He also played much better defense than Arraez or Polanco.

I’m not ready to say Kepler is head and shoulders better than Eaton. Kepler is another guy that gets massively overvalued by Twins fans because of 2019z. His ceiling is higher, sure. But, Eaton has a career OPS+ 10 points higher than Kepler.

Maybe I’m the only one, but I’m not expecting Cruz to be as good as he’s been. Vaughn is also a very, very highly thought of prospect. I still would take Cruz for 2021, but I don’t think it’s a slam dunk due to Cruz’s age.

I’d love for the Twins to be dominant over the Sox, but I just don’t see it.

Vaughn may be a highly thought of prospect, but he hasn’t had a single AB at AA or higher. Maybe he’ll be great, but to think that he could be comparable to Cruz who has had an wRC+ hovering around ~150 5 the past 6 years is nonsense.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's the Fangraphs Depth Charts WAR projections:

 

C - CWS 4.3, MIN 2.7

1B - MIN 1.9, CWS 1.6

2B - MIN 2.7, CWS 2.4

SS - MIN 3.4, CWS 2.7

3B - MIN 4.0, CWS 3.2

LF - CWS 3.1, MIN 1.3

CF - MIN 3.7, CWS 3.5

RF - MIN 2.9, CWS 1.3

DH - MIN 2.5, CWS -0.2

 

In total, MIN 25.2, CWS 21.9

 

Andrew Vaughn at DH is a real wild card. Fangraphs expects him to play (546 PA) but I doubt he'd be allowed to play that much if he's the -0.8 WAR performer they also project.

 

In short, pretty close! Should be fun.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

Featured Video

×
×
  • Create New...