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  • Five Things the Twins Can be Thankful for in 2021


    Ted Schwerzler

    With the calendar turning to November, we have reached the time of the year where a focus is placed on giving thanks. The 2021 Minnesota Twins didn’t see much to be thankful for in the results column, but there’s a few areas worth highlighting along the way.

    Image courtesy of Denny Medley, USA TODAY Sports

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    As the season turned pear-shaped on the Rocco Baldelli led Twins, it became about building for the future. The hope would be a turnaround in 2022, but we have yet to see how the front office will architect the path forward. For now, these are a few key things that Minnesota fans can count as worthy of thanks.

    The Opportunity to Pay Byron Buxton
    There’s plenty of reason to be sad about Byron Buxton routinely falling short of completing an entire season. His injury issues have been well documented, and while some have been undoubtedly fluky, others are a microcosm of the tenacity with which he plays the game. Regardless of his health, it’s become wildly apparent that Minnesota’s centerfielder is among the best players in the game. He posted a 4.2 fWAR in just 61 games this season which totals out to an 11.1 fWAR per 162 game pace. Trea Turner’s 6.9 fWAR paced baseball this season, and only 19 players in history have ever surpassed 11.1 fWAR in a single season.

    The caveat on Buxton is availability, but that’s also the sole reason he’s even an option for the Twins future. If Buxton was healthy and playing at the level he is, a $300 million contract could be waiting for him from a host of suitors immediately upon hitting the open market. Derek Falvey is afforded the opportunity to get an otherworldly talent at a discount entirely because of his injury history. The Twins would have an option to trade Buxton whether they found themselves able to pay him or not, but retaining his services isn’t something this organization should be in a position to do. They are and would be wise to capitalize on it.

    The Development of Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan
    If there’s something that failed Baldelli this season, it was the pitching staff. Starters flopped, then the bullpen flopped, then they took turns. Minnesota has to see development going forward on the bump, and that process started with the emergence of both Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan. The former was an internal draft selection that had quietly risen the ranks and earned his due. Ober’s ability is not a mistake, and as he reached the upper levels, it became clear he had the stuff to compete in the big leagues. The latter was an absolute coup of a return in exchange for just months of Nelson Cruz. Ryan looked the part of a top-half starter, and Minnesota needs arms to restock the rotation.

    There has to be another wave coming for the Twins, and some of their top prospects find themselves housed in that group. Being able to benefit from previously unexpected sources is a massive boost. Either Ryan or Ober would be the front runner to start on Opening Day as things stand, but that should change before the regular season.

    The Debut of Nick Gordon
    I’m not sure what expectations should have been for Gordon at this point, but the debut in the big leagues was a feel-good story. As a former first-round pick, he’s lost luster as much more than a regular contributor. For the Twins, that may be a stretch, but he should have the chops to be a utility man at the very least.

    After suffering through stomach issues, Covid, missed action, and a plethora of other complications, seeing Gordon take the field in Minnesota was worthy of a big smile. He made a solid impression showing an ability to play all over the diamond, but there are still questions about his bat. His minor league track record has displayed an ability to improve in the second year of a specific level. If that can stick in the big leagues, expecting more in 2022 is a fair bet. Gordon will need to hit for average, and while power will never be his game, there’s also the speed asset on the base paths. A long-term home may not be in this organization, but he’s begun to carve out a Major League role.

    The Emergence of Jose Miranda
    It was supposed to be Royce Lewis, and then it was supposed to be Jhoan Duran or Jordan Balazovic. The Twins top prospects were all expected to show out after being hidden commodities during the lost season. None of those realities truly came to fruition, however, and Jose Miranda took the spotlight. This didn’t come entirely out of nowhere, as he was a second-round pick back in 2016. In 2019 though, Miranda posted just a .671 OPS across 119 games. After going unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, he turned on the rocket boosters.

    This season, Miranda picked up the Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Year award and continued his dominance through Triple-A. He looks big-league ready and should be able to contribute on both sides of the diamond. Power potential plays, as does a greatly-improved discipline at the plate, and while his path for playing time is cloudy, I wouldn’t bet against him forcing the Twins hand.

    The Health of Jorge Polanco
    In 2019, Jorge Polanco blasted 22 dingers and posted an .841 OPS while being miscast as a shortstop for the Twins. He flopped hard last season and struggled to the tune of a .658 OPS. Now with healthy ankles after another offseason surgery, Polanco has slid over to second base, and he turned in the most complete season of his career.

    Minnesota opted to bring in a true shortstop affording Polanco both health and defensive focus. He responded with an .826 OPS and a career-high 33 home runs. He’s still settling into the new position defensively, but it suits his arm strength much more favorably, and he’s among the best hitters in the majors at the position. In 2019, Minnesota extended Polanco, and now those vesting options in 2024 and 2025 look much more desirable than they did coming off of last season's results.

    Again, the season couldn’t have gone more awry than it did in the results column, but these are just a few takeaways that should have Twins fans thankful for 2022 and beyond.

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    I don't think Buxton will sign here.  Besides messing with his service time I am sure he does NOT want to spend the prime of his career with a never ending rebuilding team.  I didn't watch much after Berrios was traded so really don't have an opinion on the rest of the players.  Even though we are used to this it would be very disappointing not to see something come of the once highly touted Nick Gordon and Royce Lewis.

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    Love your article.  I love Buxton but I sure get tired of the extreme over hype.  The fact is he is a 7 year career hitter of .248 and in the last few years plays in less than half of the games due to injuries.  MVPs, superstars, and $300 mil contracts are reserved for players who play and produce over the long haul.  I hope he stays.  I hope he finally plays a full season and produces.  Then let's revisit his status as an elite player.  To ignore his vast amount of missed games and take portions of a season(s) and expand those stats into a full season and career to make him out a superstar is a great disservice to everyone involved.  Come on Byron please play a full season.  Please show us those great skills over a full season.  Please Twins sign him to a reasonable contract extension!!

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