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Taking Stock of the Twins: Top 20 Assets of 2022 Recap


Over the past couple of weeks, across four installments, we ranked the top 20 players in the Twins organization based on their value toward winning a championship.

Today we'll recap that list in search of trends and takeaways, with an eye on assessing how well the franchise is positioned to achieve that ultimate goal with its current collection of assets.

The intent of this list was to answer a question: Which current players in the organization are most indispensable to fulfilling the vision of building a champion? 

We ranked current MLB players and prospects based on factors like production, age, upside, pedigree, health, contract, and positional scarcity.

Here's how the top 20 shakes out for 2022 (click on the player's name to find his writeup):

20. Matt Canterino, RHP
19. Josh Winder, RHP
18. Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP
17. Gilberto Celestino, CF
16. Chase Petty, RHP
15. Jose Miranda, 2B/3B
14. Jhoan Duran, RHP
13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP
12. Trevor Larnach, OF
11. Luis Arraez, UTIL
10. Ryan Jeffers, C
9. Max Kepler, RF
8. Mitch Garver, C
7. Joe Ryan, RHP
6. Bailey Ober, RHP
5. Austin Martin, OF
4. Royce Lewis, SS
3. Alex Kirilloff, 1B/OF
2. Jorge Polanco, 2B
1. Byron Buxton, CF

If we're treating Kirilloff as an outfielder and Arraez as an infielder, that breaks down to:

  • 8 pitchers
  • 6 outfielders
  • 4 infielders
  • 2 catchers

It's not a bad balance, roughly reflecting the proportions of positions on an MLB roster. However, the Twins do have a few clear areas of weakness and scarcity, as well as some areas of abundance that point to possible trade opportunities. 

We'll explore these along with other noteworthy observations and takeaways as we break down the list, taking stock of the Twins organization as a whole.

Return of the King

When I first took a shot at compiling this list, ahead of the 2018 season, Byron Buxton was at the top. At that time he was 24 years old, coming off a breakout season in which he was (mostly) healthy, a fringe MVP contender, and recipient of a Platinum Glove. It all seemed to be coming together.

If only we knew.

Recurring injuries and progressively diminishing team control have kept Buxton's stock in check since then, to the point where he nearly slipped out of the top 10 in last year's rankings. But all that's transpired since has vaulted him back to the #1 spot at last. 

While still dealing with his share of injuries in 2021, Buxton proved more than ever he's a rare difference-maker, stacking up against any player in franchise history on a per-rate basis. And after the season, Minnesota opportunistically locked him up.

The uniquely team-friendly nature of Buxton's contract extension, which takes him through the entirety of his remaining prime, makes him one of the most valuable assets in all of baseball. 

The Fall of Maeda

In last year's rankings, Kenta Maeda ranked #1. He was an accomplished veteran starter coming off a Cy Young runner-up season, with a highly favorable contract to boot. Maeda was the centerpiece around which the rotation would be built.

Maeda didn't appear in this year's rankings. His dramatic drop-off encompasses the rotation's downfall as a whole. 

The 2021 season really couldn't have done much more to tank Maeda's value: he largely struggled through 21 starts, then underwent elbow surgery late in the season. By the time he returns in 2023, he'll be 35 and in his walk year. 

His team-friendly contract, with only $3M in guaranteed base salary, means Maeda's absence in 2022 won't hurt the team too much resource-wise, which was a big part of his value. But the Twins were counting on his arm for the coming season, and now they'll be without it, as well as that of José Berríos (#4 in last year's rankings). 

In a nutshell, this tees up the immense challenge of building a new starting rotation – from two starting pitchers among the top five assets to zero. On the bright side, Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan (#6 and #7 this year) are both under control for the next six years, so if either or both can affirm their early promise, they are poised to become premium commodities. Notably, neither one cost this front office very much to acquire. 

Power and Parity in the Pitching Pipeline

This franchise's success over the next 3-4 years will be heavily dependent on the fruits of a pitching pipeline this front office has been cultivating since it arrived. 

The disruption of a pandemic stalled progress, but the Twins currently have a huge assortment of high-upside arms nearing MLB-readiness. Those arms are all grouped together around the back end of this top 20 list. 

The last three players we ranked – Simeon Woods Richardson, Josh Winder, Matt Canterino – are all part of this group, and if we extended the list to 30 or 40, several more would show up: Cole Sands, Blayne Enlow, Louie Varland, Chris Vallimont, Drew Strotman. Maybe even Randy Dobnak and Griffin Jax.

By passing up the high end of free agent pitching, the front office has essentially made clear that it's staking itself to this group. If next year's rankings are flush with pitchers from it, that'll be a good sign. If not, then that'll be the most damning strike against this regime yet.

Short on Shortstops

Around the time I first put these rankings together in 2018, people were wondering if the Twins were filling their system with *too many* shortstops. They'd taken Royce Lewis first overall in the previous draft, adding him to a system that already included Jorge Polanco, Nick Gordon, and Wander Javier (all of whom appeared in that inaugural top 20 ranking).

What's happened since shows why it's so damn hard to develop shortstops (and why the great ones are such tremendous commodities). Javier flamed out. Polanco and Gordon have moved to different positions. Lewis is still tenuously considered a shortstop, but the jury is out. 

Outside of him, the cupboard is now bare. With Andrelton Simmons gone, there's no current occupant at the MLB level, though the Twins will presumably sign someone to a short-term deal. In the system, Lewis sorta stands alone as a high-end prospect with legitimate major-league shortstop potential. 

Lacking Left-handers

One commonality among all eight pitchers to appear on this list – and the next handful of honorable mentions – is that they're all right-handers. The most glaring scarcity in this system, without question, is left-handed pitchers.

Were we to extend the list, who would be the top-ranked lefty pitcher? It's an interesting question. Without thinking too deeply about it, it's probably a toss-up between their three top bullpen lefties: Taylor Rogers, Caleb Thielbar and Jovani Moran. But they're all relievers with flaws and limited upside.  

How much does this particular scarcity matter? Hard to say. The Twins aren't short on high-quality arms in their system, but the most valuable and projectable ones are virtually all right-handers. I wonder to what extent this was intentional, and to what extent the team might try to course-correct and add balance going forward.

Top Trade Candidates

One of the most pertinent insights to emerge through this exercise is a clear understanding of where the logjams exist and which areas of strength the Twins are most likely to trade from. That analysis feels especially meaningful in this offseason, because the front office essentially has no choice but to leverage the trade market in order to acquire impact talent, with free agency now picked at key positions.

For me, this is a pretty simple equation: Which players rank lower on this Twins-specific list than they would in other organizations? From this angle, five names stand out (listed roughly in order of what they'd bring back):

  • Austin Martin
  • Max Kepler
  • Luis Arraez
  • Jose Miranda
  • Gilberto Celestino

One could theoretically add Mitch Garver or Ryan Jeffers to this list, although I'm not sure I have enough confidence in either one to feel good about trading the other. Kepler and Celestino are both made somewhat more expandable by the Buxton extension, but the most intriguing redundancy from my view is with Martin, Arraez, and Miranda.

With Buxton now entrenched in center, Martin's most likely destinations seem to be second, third, or left. The same can basically said for Arraez and Miranda (though I suspect left field is considered much less desirable for both).

Second and third are currently occupied by Jorge Polanco and Josh Donaldson, who are under guaranteed contract for two more years.

Trading Donaldson would alleviate this logjam in a big way, but the team's opportunities to do so are much more limited. Martin, Arraez and Miranda are all coveted young players with appealing contract situations. If the Twins want to bring in frontline pitching via trade once the lockdown ends, this would appear to be the path.

What strikes you as you review this evaluation of players in the Twins system? Are you feeling good about the state of the franchise? Bad? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and feel free to catch up on past lists for a trip down memory lane:

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A very good read, however, Gilberto Celestino on the list of assets, but not Miguel Sano?   I view Celestino as a fringe 4th MLB outfielder at best.   Kepler at #9 seems a bit high, especially coming off of back-to-back disappointing seasons.   Kepler has the advantage defensively, but Sano bested Kepler in R, 2B, HR, RBI, and BA last season.   IMO Sano should be on the list.

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Kepler had one very solid major league season and one solid minor league season.  I think "we" have a much higher opinion of his talents than the rest of the league.   If Lewis was not our #1 pick, he would not be on this list at all based on performance over the past 4-5 years (covid and injury aside.)  He has a Nick Gordon 'feel' to him right now.   I sure hope I'm worng on that!

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As I read these recaps and the end of so many lists I have to wonder what you will have to write about if the CBA does not get settled.  Until then these players cannot prove themselves, get traded, or even practice.  What a terrible loss this is.  I posted a forum looking at the lack of Twins in the MLB position rankings by Buster Olney.  I see players like Kepler no where close to being rated and wonder how much value he actually has to the rest of the league.  Same with Arraez, Sano, and these other position assets.  Are we fooling ourselves?

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I think the OP’s analysis is spot on.  We are thin at pretty much all up the middle positions in the system as guys didn’t work out and they have not prioritized those positions in drafting or trades.  Hopefully that will soon change.

While I agree with the 5 players most likely to be traded I don’t see any of them being traded until possibly the trade deadline.  Depending on where the Twins are in the standings, they might be able to dump Donaldson at the deadline.  It depends on a few things like Donaldson staying healthy and keeping that OPS at the 800 level but it can possibly be done.  If he isn’t healthy then Miranda is the best replacement for his bat as he has power and good contact skills.  Trading Miranda who could be a legit 3rd baseman with power under control for 6 years seems like a bad idea IMO.

Arraez seems like the most logical player to be traded out of the list but I would hesitate to pull that trigger too early.  We haven’t seen Martin at AAA yet and Martin could use some time to try and gain more power. If I am the Twins I am waiting to see that I have a guy ready before trading away a 300 hitter with good eye at the plate.  I know Polanco is there already but Arraez can be moved all over and we know his bat plays.

The Twins outfield is unsettled as well.  We don’t know exactly what we have in Kirilloff and Larnach and neither player has the defensive skills that Kepler has.  Again it seems early to trade Kepler to me.  I am not a fan of his pull happy approach but he has been league average with the bat while playing superior defense.  I would wait to make sure Celestino, Larnach and Kirilloff look more ready before trading Max.

I still think the Twins are going to use the same approach they always do grab some FA pitchers with upside and go from there.  They have a ton of young pitching on the 40 man they can’t let those guys be dead weight they need to use them or lose them.  Thus I don’t see them trading for starting pitching at least not to open the season. In fact I don’t see them trading anyone until the deadline.

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First Covid, and now a lockout is doing MLB no favors whatsoever.  And as mikelink45 pointed out, it's hurting EVERY MLB club and their young players who desperately need developmental time.  ALL these young Twins pitchers have had their development disrupted (and injuries haven't helped either).  The same with Lewis and other young hitters.  The Twins still have the payroll flexibility to sign Pineda and then go big with either a Story or Rodon signing.  Pineda is realistic and one of the other two probably a pipe dream.  But trading someone like Arraez, Kepler, Martin or Larnach for young, controllable pitching, like Sixto Sanchez or Max Meyer from Miami or proven big league pitchers like Montas, Bassitt or Manaea from the A's is certainly something the Twins FO has to consider.  You just can't go into next season with Ryan, Ober, Bundy and maybe Pineda/Dobnak.  Competing in 2022 and being competitive in 2023 and beyond are not mutually exclusive goals.  No team should ever be so shortsighted as to be "All IN" on the next season with no regard to the future.  But there are trades the Twins FO could make or at least persue that could benefit the Twins in 2022 and beyond.  Arraez, Miranda and Martin are "somewhat" redundant.  Add in Gordon and Lewis and one or two of these guys can and should be moved.  I don't trade Miranda.  He's on the Twins from day one this season replacing Arraez once he's dealt.  I don't trade Lewis.  I've just simply got to find out what I have and he's currently more valuable to the Twins now, than what he could bring back.  That leaves Martin.  If I had the opportunity to deal Martin straight up for Sixto Sanchez (Martin 30.8 MLB Trade Values and Sanchez 30.0) I'd do it !  The Marlins have a glut of really talented, but really young SP'ing.  We need a guy like Sanchez to build around our starting staff.  Martin would be an extremely valuable addition for the Marlins.  An on-base machine with positional flexibility and years of team control.  Sanchez is READY to pitch in the big leagues, and heading a future Twins staff with Balazovic, Canterino, Winder, Ryan and Ober would be just fine with me.  If I made a trade like this, I'd sign Story in a heartbeat.  Royce Lewis could very well be my SS of the future and Story could move to 3B once the Twins move on from Donaldson.  But Lewis could also be a pretty good LF'er.  How about an outfield of Lewis, Buxton and Kepler ?  Heck, Larnach could take over in RF and nothing would fall with Buxton and Lewis out there.    Assets are just that...assets.  You leverage them to make your team BETTER.

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Excellent series and recap, Nick.  Thanks!

It's a bloody shame what COVID and the players/owners have done to the game we love.  Can't begin to imagine where the Twins pitching situation would be had all those young arms been able to develop during 2020 and 2021. 

As it stands today, I see their starting rotation as Ryan, Ober, Bundy, Dobnak and Jax.  Although it is extremely unlikely they will be the starting five come opening day, whenever that will be, I see most of that group being on the hill that first week.  I believe the FO is cobbling together this year's rotation with an eye on getting their young arms onto the team as soon as early summer. 

I understand your discussion of Maeda having been removed from your top 20.  Although you are correct, I expect that a lot of his problems last year were the result of dealing with the injury that eventually sidelined him.  I haven't heard anything about his recovery, but recall there was some talk he could be back as soon as August.  Heck, the season may not be starting until then.

Thanks again, Nick.  Loved this series. 

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4 hours ago, old nurse said:

Taylor Rogers, All Star reliever has limited upside and not an asset. Perhaps his flaw is that he is a pending free agent and over 30

Don't forget that he had a serious finger injury last year and no knows how that will work out.

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2 hours ago, miracleb said:

Kepler had one very solid major league season and one solid minor league season.  I think "we" have a much higher opinion of his talents than the rest of the league.   

Correction: he's had 5 solid major-league seasons and 1 great major-league season. I actually think reality here is the opposite: Twins fans have a lower opinion of Kepler than the rest of the league, and they generally underrate his trade value. That contract, for a 28-year-old whose floor is basically "quality regular," is quite appealing. 

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 no lefthanded starting pitcher ..

it is important to the teams starting rotation ...   helps keep the oppositions hot  hitters off balance  ... Can't keep throwing right-handers day after day ...

making batters adjust to hitting with a different arm slot  ,,,

 

rodon would be a terrific lefthanded addition for a few years since we have no left hander at any level  that are prospects  ...  

We just resigned Buxton who is injury prone to a large risky contract ....

Pohlad and Front office needs to be courageous and sign a pitcher that coukd be injury prone ,,,,,, I don't exactly know if he is but I do know if he is healthy  rodon  would win a playoff game 

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19 minutes ago, Nick Nelson said:

Correction: he's had 5 solid major-league seasons and 1 great major-league season. I actually think reality here is the opposite: Twins fans have a lower opinion of Kepler than the rest of the league, and they generally underrate his trade value. That contract, for a 28-year-old whose floor is basically "quality regular," is quite appealing. 

I would have to agree with miracleb on this one. Kepler has had 1 season with a batting average above ,250. 1 season with a slugging percentage above .500. 1 season with a HR total above 30. 1 season with an on-base-percentage above .330. All of them happened in 2019. Outside of that season he's been pretty much average to below average at best.  

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48 minutes ago, rv78 said:

I would have to agree with miracleb on this one. Kepler has had 1 season with a batting average above ,250. 1 season with a slugging percentage above .500. 1 season with a HR total above 30. 1 season with an on-base-percentage above .330. All of them happened in 2019. Outside of that season he's been pretty much average to below average at best.  

Twins leaders in fWAR since 2018:

1. Jorge Polanco (10.1)
2. Max Kepler (10.0)
3. Nelson Cruz (8.0)
4. Byron Buxton (7.8)
5. Mitch Garver (6.3) 

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10 hours ago, miracleb said:

Kepler had one very solid major league season and one solid minor league season.  I think "we" have a much higher opinion of his talents than the rest of the league.   If Lewis was not our #1 pick, he would not be on this list at all based on performance over the past 4-5 years (covid and injury aside.)  He has a Nick Gordon 'feel' to him right now.   I sure hope I'm worng on that!

You're wrong on Lewis.

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Great article Nick. Hope a lot from Kepler and Sano' but at this point they're a big ?. How well we do this season will depend how they perform along with how well FO fills our holes. Agree with your assessments of how to approach our necessity of who to trade. 

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9 hours ago, Nick Nelson said:

Twins leaders in fWAR since 2018:

1. Jorge Polanco (10.1)
2. Max Kepler (10.0)
3. Nelson Cruz (8.0)
4. Byron Buxton (7.8)
5. Mitch Garver (6.3) 

Unfortunately Kepler is trending downward while Polanco, Buxton and Garver are going up or staying about even. Cruz is gone so he doesn't matter. 

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Even me, I want Kepler to make some adjustments to become the AL All Star RF. Nevertheless, Max is a really good player for the Twins. If you watch every at bat and every play you will suffer through the frustration of feeling that he could make a few changes to be a more effective offensive force. Then you watch him run the bases and play in the outfield and you wonder who could be an improvement. Kepler is underrated in my opinion.

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