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  • In a Sprint of a Season, Is Speed the Only Missing Cog for the Minnesota Twins?

    Patrick Wozniak

    It’s not easy to find a weakness in the 2020 Minnesota Twins, but one thing they do lack is speed. With the increase in home runs and downturn in stolen bases not having a ton of team speed isn’t all that problematic, but in a 60-game season when every game matters, having a speedy runner on the bases late in the game could be the difference between a win and a loss.

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    With the magnitude of each game heightened, teams will be less likely to throw in the towel on any given day, and more teams in contention will mean more competitive games. Minnesota went to extra innings in twelve games last season (and didn’t fare well at 5-and-7), but could very well see an increase in the percentage of extra inning games due to more teams being in it to win it and fighting through all nine innings.

    With the MLB adopting the MiLB rule of starting off every extra inning with a runner at second base, speed could become even more significant. The runner who is placed at second will be the batter who made the last out of the previous inning, so unless Byron Buxton made the last out, the Twins will probably end up with a less than ideal base runner.

    It’s not only extra-inning affairs in which a speedy runner would come in handy. In any close game having a burner who can steal a bag or take an extra base is extremely valuable. A fast base runner also gives the pitcher one extra thing to worry about, and every little advantage will matter in 2020.

    Teams do have the opportunity to pinch run, and with a 30-man bench to start the season, filling in a roster spot with a speedster who could be a pinch run specialist makes some sense. Teams such as the Dodgers (Terrance Gore), Giants (Billy Hamilton), and Astros (Myles Straw) have done just that, but does Minnesota have anyone who fits the bill?

    One player with a bit of speed who is likely to make the team due to the roster expansion is OF LaMonte Wade Jr. According to Baseball Savant, Wade Jr. trails only Buxton (30.3 ft./sec.) and Jorge Polanco (28.2 ft./sec.) with a Sprint Speed of 28.1 ft./sec. While that’s better than average, Wade Jr.’s not exactly a burner.

    The next fastest bench option would be Jake Cave, who comes in just behind Max Kepler (27.7 ft./sec.) at 27.6 ft./sec. That’s still above average and would make sense for replacing someone like Nelson Cruz or Miguel Sano on the bases, but it’s hardly the late inning speed that would strike fear into opposing hurlers.

    Minnesota will also have the remainder of the 60-man roster nearby in St. Paul and ready to be called upon. There are at least a few names who could provide some value for the big league team, if only as a speed option. Interestingly, Minnesota recently invited OF Aaron Whitefield to join the group.

    Whitefield spent the majority of 2019 in high-A Fort Myers where he didn’t exactly set the world on fire with just a .607 OPS. He finished the year at AA Pensacola and his numbers were even worse, but he has elite speed and managed to steal 30 bases on the year. While his bat doesn’t warrant being on the 40-man, the Twins might consider utilizing his speed or possibly his defense as he plays a really good center field.

    Two other possibilities would be Gilberto Celestino and Royce Lewis. Like Whitefield, Celestino is a center fielder who would be capable of filling in for Buxton defensively, but has only played eight games above low-A, and while speedy isn’t quite the base stealing threat that Whitefield is. Lewis, who is widely considered the Twins top prospect, has yet to be added to the 40-man roster but does offer elite speed.

    If Minnesota doesn’t want to mess around with calling up a prospect primarily to be a pinch runner, it’s also likely that someone like Billy Hamilton would be available when teams begin to fall out of contention (which shouldn’t take long for the Giants) and might even be available on the waiver wire.

    All in all, the Twins are in great shape and there’s rightfully a lot of excitement for the season that’s about to get underway. Not having elite speed on the bench isn’t a reason to damper this excitement, but winning the margins is ever imperative in a 60-game sprint, and a little extra speed could be crucial in crossing the finish line first.


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    well thought out, and you might be right. It only takes a couple extra-inning close plays at the plate to be worth the roster spot, and we'll generally have a good hitter or two on the bench to sub in if it doesn't work. 

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    So if Buxton is up in the 9th with 2 outs and the game going to extras can he purposefully make the 3rd out to kinda net himself a free double starting the 10th on 2nd?


    Obviously that is risky because you have to pitch another inning but Buxton on 2nd is a dangerous weapon.

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    So if Buxton is up in the 9th with 2 outs and the game going to extras can he purposefully make the 3rd out to kinda net himself a free double starting the 10th on 2nd?


    Obviously that is risky because you have to pitch another inning but Buxton on 2nd is a dangerous weapon.

    Not if he gets intentionally walked :).

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    Interesting conversation.


    Yes, the Twins active roster looks to have only one burner. But isn't Buxton as good as anyone in baseball, assuming he can stay on the field? You pointed out that players such as Polanco, Rosario, and Kepler are all quicker than league average. That makes four of nine better than the average, or nearly half the lineup.


    Although this group may not be big on stealing bases, lets remember that Rosario is as good as anyone in the game at taking that extra base, most of the time.  And do you really want to take Sano or Donaldson or Cruz out of the lineup if they are starting the 10th on second base? Could be terrible decision should you not score and they would come up with two outs in the 11th.

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    If Buxton gets walked with two outs in the ninth to avoid having him start the tenth on second, he could run on every pitch. If he makes it that puts him on second for a potential RBI. If he gets thrown out that's the last out and he starts the tenth on second. It's win-win.

    When Buxton walks can't he just keep running until they tag him out.   That would still make him the last batter I think.     I wouldn't advocate making outs on purpose.  Have Buxton swing for the fences maybe or as suggested have him try to steal 2nd early.   The odds of scoring a run with two outs and one on is still preferable to the odds that having a speedster at 2nd to start an extra inning is going to make the difference.   I really miss speed being a big part of the game and having home runs be special.   In my ideal world you would expand the fences and deaden the ball.  Not a lot but enough that you actually have to hit the sweet spot on the bat.

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    One thing I want to point out, speed does not equal good base runner, and good base runner does not equal speed.  That being said, it can help, but good base runners will do little things to help out with any lack of speed.  Some speed guys will make mistakes that their speed makes up for.


    Paul Molitor was always a great base runner, but never known to be a speed guy.  Good base runners will read hits quickly to know if they should take off or stay put.  Good base runners will know when to steal or when to run on certain out fielders, how to slide.  They also know when not to take chances.  Buxton for example is not a great base runner, just fast, but he makes mistakes on when he tries to advance bases.  


    Also good base runners know how to approach bases best to cut down distance, some guys will take too big of a round when going through bases and they increase the distance to the next base.  


    Of course, if you are slow, you are slow and you can only do so much to run bases well.  However, if you are average speed the little things can make a huge difference.  I would not say the Twins lack that much speed overall, but agree they lack much burners.  However, in the few games that would go to extra innings I doubt in the grand scheme of things that will make a huge difference.  Yes, each game matters and not having a speed guy on 2nd may lead to a loss, but hopefully that will not make the difference between playoffs and not. 

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