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Variance is the key word for evaluating the Twins’ 2023 chances. I heard one outside analyst refer to the thought process of Falvey and Levine as “eventually, one year, not everyone will be hurt.” The roster certainly has a different and more optimistic feel to it with the addition of Carlos Correa, but the variance is still high, particularly at the corner outfield spots.

Image courtesy of © Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In "Fun with Player Comps" I look at player comps for 30 current Twins who figure to play a role in 2023, starting with their closest age player from Baseball-Reference.com prior to 2022. Based on each player's general vibe, I then move into the best and worst-case scenarios. Previous installments: middle-infield, centerfield.

With my inclusion of Luis Arraez in the middle infield (what was I thinking?!) that leaves Jose Miranda as the only strictly corner infielder on the roster, so he gets lumped in with the Twins' glut of corner outfielders. Based on Fangraphs depth chart projections, the Twins have average to above-average projections at every position player spot, except the corner outfield spots. Adam Duvall won’t change the calculus much, but there is both talent and upside here. Let’s start with the one corner outfielder that may feature neither:

Max Kepler
Best comp through age 29: Cory Snyder
Never heard of him, but Snyder posted some decent power numbers in his early 20s with Cleveland before falling off a cliff in his late 20s. Instead of a cliff, Kepler’s production has been more of an unattended rickshaw rolling down a mild incline and gaining speed, buoyed only by his excellent defensive work.

Worst case: Andrew Jacob Cave
This feels harsh, but both players hit for low averages, provide nothing against lefties, have average power, and play good corner outfield defense, though Kepler's defense is a solid grade ahead of Cave's. If this scenario holds, let's hope it's with another team, ideally one that greatly overestimates the benefits Kepler will receive from the shift ban, because it isn't likely he will benefit. Sadly, the dumb teams in baseball are starting to invest in more intelligent front offices, leaving only the Rockies as a team that might overpay for Max.

Best case: Jason Heyward
My methodology here is that I assume Kepler gets worse as he ages. If he stays where he is or even if he unlocks something elsewhere, Heyward is a good comp. Heyward was a decent player prior to signing with the Cubs in 2016, providing power, patience, and either elite fielding ability in right field or decent fielding in center. The Cubs, and many others, felt there was more offense to unlock, and even if that didn't happen, they could at least bank on him being a plus defender. He never did figure it out with the bat and was never worth his contract, but he did provide some value; for instance, in his 2019-2020 seasons, he hit for a combined 106 OPS+. 

Were Kepler to post a similar number, his plus defense and baserunning could provide real value. If he was traded to a contender, like the Yankees or Dodgers, he might be more agreeable to a platoon and maximize his impact even further.

Jose Miranda
(No comp available)

Worst case: Willians Astudillo
If Miranda takes a step back, it will be because he gets too antsy at the plate and turns his elite contact ability into a liability, rolling weak grounders off pitches outside the zone. If pitchers don't think they have to throw him a strike, he won't be able to get to his above-average power, and if he doesn't hit for power, he may end up with La Tortuga in Japan. Miranda's path to being a long-term asset rests solely with his bat, as his defense can only hope to grade out as "doesn't kill ya," and his baserunning is uncomfortable to watch.

Best case: Wal-Mart Rafael Devers
Devers is an offensive-minded third baseman with elite bat-to-ball skills and prodigious power. Miranda doesn't have the power or the elite natural gifts that Devers has with a bat, but he isn't that far off if he takes a step forward in 2023. in 2018, Devers' first full(ish) season in the majors, he hit .240/.298/.433 with poor defense and 66 RBI. Miranda just posted .268/.325/.426 with poor defense and 66 RBI. If he improves his selectivity, as Devers did in his 2019 breakout, he'll be a big part of the Twins' future.

Trevor Larnach
(Telling that there are no comps for the next two)

Worst case: Kyle Blanks
Blanks got a lot of chances as a big-bodied right fielder who looked like he could hit coming up with the Padres. But he couldn't stay on the field and was out of the game at 28. Larnach tantalizes with his tools, but it may be fair to wonder if his large frame can handle the rigors of being a major league outfielder. On the other hand, his injuries in 2021 were of the hand and foot variety. Blanks was victimized by back and Achilles issues, among other ailments.

Best case: Paul O'Neill
Larnach has a chance to be a better defender than O'Neill but has less contact ability. O'Neill's career line of .288/.363/.470 looks like something Larnach could achieve in his prime if he stays healthy and reaches his potential. To do that, he simply needs his body to cooperate and to lay off breaking pitches like he did the first two months of 2022 when he posted an .890 OPS and strong defensive metrics.

Alex Kirilloff

Worst case: Nolan Reimold
Reimold teased Orioles fans with a solid rookie season in Baltimore. He was a top 100 prospect who had just posted a .831 OPS in 2009 but couldn't stay healthy. Believing in his potential, the Orioles kept giving him chances. Eventually, they gave up and released him in 2014, only to bring him back a year later, which.. didn't go any better.

Best case: Less patient Will Clark
Clark should probably be a Hall-of-Famer, but he never quite hit for the kind of power that came in vogue among first basemen in the 1990s. Nevertheless, he posted 56.5 bWAR for his career and hit .303. Kirilloff, too, doesn't strike me as the type to post numerous thirty home run seasons even if things break right for him, but his plate coverage and power the other way could allow him to approach Clark's career AVG and SLG numbers.

 Kyle Garlick
(Still no comps for Garlick, who is still with the Twins as of this writing.)

Worst case: Josh Hamilton (with the Angels)
When Hamilton hit free agency after the 2012 season, no one really knew how to evaluate him, similar to how Byron Buxton may have looked to the market if the Twins had not extended him: He's great, but how often? Luckily for Hamilton, the Los Angeles Angels exist and gave him 113M. Unluckily for the Angels, Hamilton didn't offer the hedge that Buxton does, where he can give you four WAR in half a season based on his defense and baserunning. Hamilton provided 2.7 bWAR in total to the Angels. If Garlick posted those numbers over a two-year span, it wouldn't be so bad, but like Hamilton and Buxton, Garlick has an impossible time staying on the field.

Best case: A Good Ryan Raburn year
Raburn was a frustrating player to watch and would frequently alternate .500 and .900 OPS seasons. For his career, however, he hit for a .818 OPS versus lefties and, in his good years, was a force from the right side who was generally healthy.

Matt Wallner
(No comps, he's just a boy)

Worst case: Logan Morrison
LoMo had some hype as a prospect but almost always disappointed, never posting an OPS above .800 until his outlier year with the Rays when he popped 38 home runs. Besides that, Morrison struggled to stay healthy, swung and missed a lot, and provided negative defensive value. His career bWAR was 3.9.

Best case: Joey Gallo
Gallo and Wallner may each have a top-five arm for an outfielder in the game, and Gallo made himself into a strong outfielder despite coming up as a third baseman. He swung and missed a ton, but made enough hard contact to be an All-Star. He may have reached another level in 2019 when he raised his average to .253 and had a .986 OPS in July as a 25-year-old. But he broke his wrist and has never shown that kind of output since. Gallo is a frustrating player type, but Wallner getting to 85% of his peak would be a great outcome for such a low-contact hitter.

Whatever the Twins achieve in 2023 will hinge a lot on what they get from Kirilloff, Larnach, Miranda, and to a lesser extent, Gallo. If the KLM boys stay reasonably healthy, there’s a good chance one of them truly breaks out, which lengthens the lineup considerably and solves the corner outfield problem. If they stall in their development, that puts a lot of pressure on Gallo to rebound, and in the last installment in this series, I compared him to the White Sox era Adam Dunn.

Stay tuned for the next installment, catchers and closers. See previous entries here.

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Q: did comps to Devers and O’Neill recognize that those guys play(ed) in hitter friendly parks?

If Miranda pounds out numbers in Target Field equal to Devers in Fenway, well well well. Same with Larnach in TF and O’Neill in Yankee Stadium. 

Thanks for taking the time to write this article. Comps are very helpful in evaluating players


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