Jump to content

Providing independent coverage of the Minnesota Twins.

Search Results

There were 147 results tagged with luis arraez

Sort by                Order  
  1. What's Miguel Sano's Role Moving Forward?

    Sano’s Slow Start
    Miguel Sano entered the 2021 season as the team’s first baseman, and he seemed locked into that spot after signing an extension entering the 2020 campaign. Prior to his injury, Sano was trying to find himself at the plate. He is hitting .111/.310/.244 (.555) with two extra-base hits, both home runs. One positive among these numbers is the fact that he has already drawn 13 walks, which is just five fewer than his walk total in 53 games last year.

    Sano is typically among the league leaders when it comes to average exit velocity, hard hit %, and barrel %. During the 2020 campaign, he ranked in the 99th percentile or higher in all three of those areas. This season he is at the completely opposite end of the spectrum with all three being below average. His hard hit % might be the most concerning as that has dipped to the 8th percentile.

    Kirilloff’s Emergence
    For most of his professional career, Alex Kirilloff has played in the outfield, but the Twins have been grooming him to get more time at first base. Sano’s trip to the disabled list has allowed Kirilloff to play first on a more regular basis and he is considered a better defender than Sano. In fact, Minnesota might have one of their best defensive infields in team history with Josh Donaldson, Andrelton Simmons, Jorge Polanco, and Kirilloff.

    It also helps that Kirilloff has been killing the ball even though the results weren’t showing up until this past weekend. Among batters with at least 25 batted ball events, Kirilloff has been barreling up the ball at a higher rate than any player in baseball including Byron Buxton. His hit tool has always been advanced, and he might be putting it all together at the big-league level as a 23-year-old.


    Besides Kirilloff’s emergence, the Twins also need to continue to find regular playing time for another key player.

    The Arraez Puzzle
    Arraez was penciled in as the team’s utility player, but he has become an everyday player. Only two players, Jake Cave and Nelson Cruz, have appeared in more games than Arraez. He has played regularly in the outfield and at multiple infield positions. He started the season on a strong note at the plate, but his bat has cooled off as the first month progressed and now he is heading to the concussion IL.

    Injuries have allowed Arraez to be in the line-up on a regular basis and finding spots in the line-up tends to work itself out over the course of 162-games. Other players are going to get injured, and Rocco Baldelli prefers to give players regular days off. This means the Twins can rotate through players at multiple positions, especially with the team’s defensive flexibility.

    When everyone is healthy, Minnesota’s best line-up doesn’t include Sano. That being said, he will continue to be used at first base and designated hitter as the season progresses. It just might be tough for him to refine his offensive approach if Kirilloff continues to get at-bats at first base.

    What do you think Sano’s role will be moving forward? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • May 04 2021 02:24 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  2. Ranking Minnesota's First Month MVP

    5. Josh Donaldson (0.7 rWAR, 0.5 fWAR)
    .286/.368/.469 (.838), 2 HR, 3 2B, 7 BB, 5 K
    There are plenty of candidates to be on the back end of this ballot. Andrelton Simmons put together some strong numbers, but he missed time due to COVID. Taylor Rogers was a one of the lone bright spots in the bullpen, while Michael Pineda and Jose Berrios provided value in the rotation. However, Donaldson gets the nod after getting on base nearly 37% of the time and having more walks than strikeouts. His current 144 OPS+ is his highest total since the 2017 season. Many Twins fans would like to see him leading this list, but he ended the month healthy and that’s certainly a positive sign <knock on wood>.

    4. J.A. Happ (0.6 rWAR, 0.2 fWAR)
    2-0, 1.96 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 13 K, 7 BB, 199 ERA+
    Other pitchers rank higher than him in WAR, but Happ’s value has come from what he has meant to the rotation this year. Happ took the mound on April 23rd with the team in the middle of a stretch where they had lost nine out of ten games. He took a no-hitter into the late innings and helped the club to their first victory in over a week. Minnesota lost the next four games before Happ took the mound again and righted the ship. He’s been a steadying veteran presence when the team has needed one the most.

    3. Luis Arraez (1.0 rWAR, 0.9 fWAR)
    .289/.400/.373 (.773), 1 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B, 14 BB, 11 K
    Arraez started the season on fire by hitting safely in six of the team’s first eight games including three multi-hit games. On April 15, he almost single-handedly brought the Twins a victory by going 4-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored. Over his last 12 games, things haven’t gone as smooth. He’s gone 10-for-40 (.250 BA) during that stretch with two extra-base hits. Defensively, he’s also being moved all over the diamond including getting accustom to playing in the outfield for the first time in his career. If Arraez would have continued his hot start, he might have been higher on this list.

    2. Nelson Cruz (1.1 rWAR, 1.1 fWAR)
    .321/.375/.655 (1.030), 8 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B(!!), 7 BB, 16 K
    Cruz, the team’s back-to-back team MVP, is right up there in the running again. Oh yeah, he’s also 40-years-old. He’s tied for second in the league in home runs and he is quietly climbing the all-time home run list. His next two home runs will move him into the top-50 all-time. If he ends the year with 30 homers, he’d jump to 41st all-time. If he can hit 40 homers, he’d move into 38th place. Even without defensive value, he provides leadership on and off the field and that’s one of the biggest reasons the Twins wanted to bring him back for the 2021 campaign.


    1. Byron Buxton (2.4 rWAR, 2.3 fWAR)
    .408/.444/.842 (1.287), 8 HR, 9 2B, 3 BB, 17 K
    By many accounts, Buxton just completed the best month in Twins’ history as his 1.363 OPS was higher than Joe Mauer’s (1.338 OPS) in 2009 and Rod Carew’s (1.313 OPS) in 1977. Good news is that Mauer and Carew would both go on to win MVPs in those seasons. Buxton might be on the same path as he leads the American League in WAR and slugging percentage. His defense continues to be otherworldly and his changes to his offensive approach look to be sustainable. Can he stay healthy? Can he play over 145 games? Those are questions that still remain to be answered.

    How would your ballot look at the end of the season’s first month? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • May 03 2021 09:10 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  3. Week in Review: Rise and Shine

    Weekly Snapshot: Thurs, 4/1 through Sun, 4/4

    ***

    Record Last Week: 2-1 (Overall: 2-1)

    Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +7)

    Standing: T-1st Place in AL Central


    Last Week's Game Recaps:

    NEWS & NOTES


    An opening series victory in Milwaukee brought plenty of glowing positives, but also a familiar feeling of dread as Minnesota's two most critical players – Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton – still can't seem to stay on the field.

    Donaldson made it through only one plate appearance before his balky legs acted up once again. A tight hamstring disrupted his stride while he rounded first base on a double in Thursday's opener, and Donaldson was removed before taking the field at third base.

    The diagnosis is relatively encouraging, in that it wasn't calf-related and the Twins emphasized the "mild" nature of the injury ... but still. This is a gutting development right off the bat.



    Buxton lasted slightly longer before being removed from a game, but not by much. He exited Sunday's contest in the third inning, although fans were able to breathe a big sigh of relief upon learning he was lifted due to non-COVID illness.

    Donaldson went on the Injured List and was replaced on the roster by Brent Rooker, who made his season debut on Sunday in place of Buxton. Presumably Buck should be back within the next day or two. Still, to have both players already knocked out of games in a season where the big narrative is "What can the Twins do if they keep JD and Buck on the field for any length of time" is almost unreal.

    What's most unfortunate is that both players looked so good prior to these incidents. Donaldson hit a 112 MPH rocket into the gap in his lone at-bat, and Buxton's been on an absolute tear out of the gates. Which feels like a good place to start the next section.

    HIGHLIGHTS


    Before leaving Sunday's game, Buxton ripped a 98 MPH double in his first AB, tallying his third extra-base hit already. The first was a majestic moonshot on Opening Day that should've sealed a win (longest HR of Buxton's career), and the second home run on Saturday broke up a no-hitter by Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes, ultimately proving decisive in Minnesota's 2-0 victory.



    After slugging .534 with 23 home runs in 126 games over the past two years, Buxton is making an emphatic early statement that his power breakthrough is entirely legitimate. His hot start, combined with the injury to Donaldson and unavailability of Nelson Cruz, quickly elevated the center fielder to No. 3 hitter, and Buck looked the part.

    He wasn't the only one who looked like a natural at a new spot in the order.

    Luis Arraez batted leadoff in each of the first three games, and it sure seems like he's gonna stick there. He reached base nine times in the series, including five times in Sunday's finale. He's sporting a healthy .600 on-base percentage after three games.



    Although his defense at the hot corner may be somewhat questionable, Arraez is an absolute godsend in the absence of Donaldson, allowing the Twins to replace one of their most crucial players in the lineup with an amazing hitter and essential sparkplug. The team's decision to designate him essentially as a 10th man is already looking very savvy, dramatically lessening the blow of Donaldson's loss.

    Beyond Buxton and Arraez, there were plenty of other offensive highlights, including Max Kepler's clutch hitting, Mitch Garver's awakening, and some encouraging signs from Miguel Sanó. But the resounding positive coming out of this series is starting pitching.

    José Berríos was unbelievable on Saturday night, spinning the gem of his career with six no-hit innings and 12 strikeouts. With his fastball pumping 95-96 consistently and his breaking ball giving hitters fits, Berríos retired 18 of the 19 batters he faced, with an HBP the only blemish in his brilliant performance.



    While they weren't quite as overwhelmingly impressive, Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda also deserve credit for high-caliber first turns in the rotation. The fielders behind them weren't always helpful (more on that in a moment), and Maeda especially was not at his sharpest, but both starters were effective, combining to allow just one earned run in 9 ⅓ innings with 10 strikeouts.

    The path to a 100-win season for the Twins this year lies in getting consistently strong starting pitching, day in day out, and letting the rest take care of itself. So far, so good on that front.

    LOWLIGHTS


    The Twins revamped their roster during the offseason with a clear objective in mind: upgrade to a world-class defense that can uplift the pitching staff and cut down on costly miscues. So far, not so good on that front.

    The series in Milwaukee featured a medley of gaffes and blunders. Andrelton Simmons dropped a force-out thrown right into his glove. Jorge Polanco muffed a routine grounder. Alex Colomé committed a mental and physical error with a wayward throw to second on Thursday. Later that inning, Kepler failed to secure a deep drive to right despite getting leather on it.

    Certainly not the hallmarks of a stalwart defensive club, although it's wise not to overreact at this stage, and there were some nifty plays mixed in as well.

    The disappointing glovework, and Colomé's ninth-inning meltdown in the opener, were really the only significant rough spots in this series, since the Twins outplayed Milwaukee quite thoroughly otherwise.

    TRENDING STORYLINE


    We've gotten past the known commodities in the Twins rotation. Maeda, Berríos and Pineda all looked good, but that's nothing new. They powered this starting staff to stellar results last year.

    Now, we'll get a look at the new guys. Matt Shoemaker is set to make his Twins debut on Monday, followed by J.A. Happ on Tuesday. Shoemaker will be looking to shake off a rough spring, where he posted a 6.57 ERA and allowed four homers in 12 ⅓ innings, while Happ will be looking to go as deep as he can following a COVID-shortened ramp-up.

    Expect to see some Randy Dobnak in the days ahead, and possibly some roster moves (position player out, pitcher in?) as the Twins aim to keep fresh arms stocked while escaping from NL rules.

    LOOKING AHEAD


    With interleague play in the rearview (for now), the Twins will welcome Cruz back to their starting lineup on Monday in Detroit, where they kick off a three-game series against the worst team in the division. Of note: in an early-season scheduling quirk, all three games at Detroit are noon starts.

    On Thursday, Target Field will welcome back fans for the first time in 18 months. It promises to be a very special occasion.

    With six games on tap against two of the worst teams in the league, this should hopefully be a chance for the Twins to flex their muscles a bit.

    MONDAY, 4/5: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Matt Shoemaker v. RHP Jose Urena
    TUESDAY, 4/6: TWINS @ TIGERS – LHP J.A. Happ v. RHP Casey Mize
    WEDNESDAY, 4/7: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. LHP Matthew Boyd
    THURSDAY, 4/8: MARINERS @ TWINS – LHP Marco Gonzales v. RHP Jose Berrios
    SATURDAY, 4/10: MARINERS @ TWINS – RHP Yusei Kikuchi v. RHP Michael Pineda
    SUNDAY, 4/11: MARINERS @ TWINS – RHP Chris Flexen v. RHP Matt Shoemaker

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Apr 04 2021 09:37 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
    • Apr 04 2021 07:02 PM
    • by John Bonnes
  4. Twins Following Rays and Cubs with Defensive Flexibility

    Catcher
    Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers are penciled in to get the majority of the innings behind the plate. However, Willians Astudillo is making the Opening Day roster and he can be used occasionally at catcher. Garver and Astudillo’s bats are strong enough that they may be used at other defensive positions as well. Jeffers is the best defensive catcher as his pitch framing skills are among baseball’s best.

    First Base
    Miguel Sano is set to be the primary first baseman, but his long-term role might end up being DH. Reports praise Alex Kirilloff and his athleticism at first, but he is starting the year in the minor leagues. Mitch Garver might be the team’s best back-up option at first until Kirilloff is called up. Max Kepler and Willians Astudillo also have some experience at first, but the Twins can get creative and use other players at first.

    Second Base
    Jorge Polanco has shifted from shortstop to second base, but he certainly isn’t anchored at that position. Luis Arraez will see time at second along with Astudillo. It is going to be intriguing to see how good Polanco can be in his transition to a new position. His previous defensive flaws won’t be magnified as much at second and some think he can be above average at second.

    Third Base
    As Twins fans saw last season, Josh Donaldson might not be able to be in the line-up for 162-games. Baldelli will need to find days off for him to get rest as he continues to age. Sano has the most experience at third among Twins players and the team sounds open to him making periodic starts at the hot corner. Arraez and Astudillo will also get opportunities at third.

    Shortstop
    If Andrelton Simmons is in the line-up, he is going to be the starting shortstop, because he has proven to be one of the best defenders at that position in baseball history. On the Opening Day roster, Polanco is the most likely player to take over if Simmons needs a day off. On the team’s official depth chart, Arraez is listed as the third option at short, but that would be in an emergency situation.

    Left Field
    One of the biggest question marks entering spring was who would take over for Eddie Rosario. Minnesota’s initial answer will be a platoon of Kyle Garlick and Jake Cave. Brent Rooker and Kirilloff were in the mix, but they didn’t make the club. Arraez has a chance to make starts in left, but he has very limited outfield experience and that inexperience showed itself during the spring.

    Center Field
    Much like shortstop, Byron Buxton is the primary center fielder, but he isn’t the club’s only option. Kepler has shown the ability to fill in nicely and he is an underrated defender in center. Also, Cave has experience starting in center even if he is the worst defender of the three.

    Right Field
    Max Kepler is one of the best defensive right fielders in baseball and he should start here on a regular basis. Many of the same options from left field can fill in for Kepler if he is needed in center field or if he needs rest. Garlick and Cave can shift to either corner spot so that adds even more flexibility.

    How many different defensive alignments will Baldelli use in 2021? What’s the team’s best defensive line-up? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Mar 30 2021 11:48 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  5. Who Should Be the Twins Leadoff Hitter in 2021?

    The Incumbent: Max Kepler
    Last season, Kepler batted leadoff in 34 of the team’s 60 games and he was used there for over 100 games back in 2019. There’s a good chance he is the leader in the clubhouse to be the team’s primary leadoff hitter unless his performance struggles significantly. He hit .281/.324/.625 last year in his at-bats as the first batter in the game. That’s quite the punch for opposing pitchers to have to endure out of the gate.

    The Contenders: Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Luis Arraez, Mitch Garver
    Buxton’s raw speed makes him a natural contender to be at the top of the line-up and there has been talk of him filling that role during different parts of his professional development. That being said, he’s only been used as a leadoff hitter in 15 games throughout his career. Obviously, that’s a small sample size, but he has gone 5-for-15 with two home runs and a double in the first at-bat of the game as a leadoff hitter. Overall, as the first batter, he has a .670 OPS and the Twins seem more comfortable having him serve as a second leadoff hitter at the bottom of the line-up.

    If Polanco’s ankles are healthy, he might be able to get back to his strong hitting fans saw back in the first half of 2019. He’s seen time batting in every spot in the order, but the majority of his time has been spent as the number two hitter where he has an .823 OPS. He does have 160 plate appearances out of the leadoff spot where he has hit .284/.313/.351 with a 21 to 7 strikeout to walk ratio. Rocco Baldelli will likely slide Polanco back into the number two spot in the line-up.

    Arraez is adjusting to a new role this spring without a specific spot in the starting line-up. That doesn’t mean that he won’t get regular at-bats and few players bring energy to the batter’s box like Arraez. So far in his young career, Arraez has been most frequently used as the number six hitter. In his 17 games batting in the leadoff spot, he has hit .354/.386/.415 with four doubles. As the first batter of the game, he has gone 5-for-13 with a .928 OPS.

    Garver definitely doesn’t fit the traditional leadoff hitter mold, but Baldelli has loved to use Garver in this role versus left-handed starting pitchers. He’s started 30 games as the leadoff hitter, and he’s compiled some eye-popping numbers. In 141 plate appearances, he’s hit .277/.376/.630 with 12 home runs and four doubles. While those numbers are great, Garver is going to have to prove he is healthy and back to his powerful hitting ways in 2021.

    Who would you bat leadoff? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Mar 09 2021 03:18 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  6. Twins 2021 Position Analysis: Third Base

    Projected Starter: Josh Donaldson
    Likely Backup: Luis Arráez

    Depth: Willians Astudillo, Travis Blankenhorn
    Prospects: Keoni Cavaco, Jose Miranda

    THE GOOD

    A year ago when previewing this position, it was all about the Josh Donaldson hype. The Twins had signed JD to an historic $92 million contract, and fans were still buzzing from this emphatic and unprecedented "all-in" type move coming off a 103-win season. Minnesota's front office went big on the Bringer of Rain, envisioning him as the final piece to put their already upper-tier squad over the top.

    He still can be that. Donaldson may have a missed large chunk of 2020, and gotten another year older, but he's still very capable of being a game-changing weapon.



    That much was evident when he was on the field last year. Though he was probably never really 100%, Donaldson's numbers and underlying indicators lived up to expectations when he played.

    In 107 plate appearances, he slashed .222/.373/.469 with six home runs, which is roughly a 30-HR pace in 500 PA. According to Statcast, he posted new career highs in Exit Velocity, Hard Hit %, and BB % – all categories where he's routinely been elite.


    [attachment=17339:donaldsonstatcast.png]


    If he stays healthy, Donaldson takes this team to another level. If, if, if.

    Fortunately, the team is now better prepared for his absence. In 2020, every start that Donaldson didn't make at third base went to Marwin Gonzalez (.606 OPS) or Ehire Adrianza (.557 OPS). Thus, the position they invested so heavily in proved to be a liability.

    Now, Donaldson's primary backup is Luis Arráez, who is a career .331/.390/.429 hitter in the majors and an indispensable lineup fixture. Is Arráez a prototypical defensive specimen at third base? Not by any means. Can he play the position capably? It seems that way, based on limited data, and the Twins are confidently betting on it.

    THE BAD

    Coming into the 2020 season, if you could pick any scenario that would most severely diminish the luster of Donaldson's gaudy new four-year contract with the Twins, it would be a re-emergence of his calf problems.

    Those calves derailed a Hall of Fame course for Donaldson, who was tapping new levels of dominance as he entered his 30s. Before 2017, when the soon-to-be-chronic issue first emerged, the slugger had made three straight All-Star teams and been a top-10 MVP finisher in four straight years.

    Since then, Donaldson has seen three of his four seasons shortened by calf-related injuries to varying degrees. The other season was an iron-man flex in 2019, when he played 155 games and made 659 plate appearances for Atlanta.

    You'd like to think he still has something like that in him. But given the recurring calf maladies, combined with his age, the 35-year-old can't be viewed as anything other than an extreme injury risk. It's going to be a while before fans stop wincing every time he takes an odd step, or follows through awkwardly on a swing.

    The Twins themselves are clearly attempting to take it easy on Donaldson, who didn't make his spring debut until Sunday. Until we see him continually out on the field, making explosive movements and running without hindrance, day after day, it'll be hard to feel confident in his durability.

    Arráez is a very appealing fallback in some senses, but he'd be stretched defensively as a full-timer at third base. And that's assuming he's not already being used elsewhere. If Donaldson goes down with another long-term injury, I wonder how the Twins might shift things around in response. Move Miguel Sanó back to third with Alex Kirilloff going to first? Slide Jorge Polanco to third with Arráez taking over at second?

    There are some different possibilities, but needless to say, it's impossible to offset the loss of what Donaldson can bring to the table.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    A year ago, we were all pondering how good the Twins could be with Donaldson. Now, we're pondering how good they can be without him. It's just the reality of a player in his mid-30s who has missed more than one-third of his team's games over the past four years, plagued by a specific and chronic physical impediment with no definitive signs of being in the rearview.

    As much as the "injury-prone" label might be overprescribed and oft-inaccurate, it's undeniably affixed to Donaldson. He's going to be a huge question mark for the foreseeable future, meaning the Twins must constantly be cognizant of contingency plans behind him.

    If JD can set the calf issues aside and rebound as he did from 2018 to 2019 – if the 2020 relapse was indeed just a "fluke ordeal" affected by pandemic disruption, as he suggests – then third base can be a tremendous source of strength.

    If he stays healthy, Donaldson takes this team to another level. If, if, if.



    READ OTHER 2021 POSITION ANALYSIS ARTICLES

    • Mar 07 2021 08:23 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  7. Twins 2021 Position Analysis: Second Base

    Projected Starter: Jorge Polanco
    Likely Backup: Luis Arráez

    Depth: Nick Gordon, Travis Blankenhorn
    Prospects: Jose Miranda, Yunior Severino

    THE GOOD

    Jorge Polanco might finally be ready to unlock his potential as a major-league player.

    It still hasn't happened up to this point, mainly because he's always been limited by questionable defensive value at shortstop. Even in his All-Star first half of 2019, Polanco's appeal came more from his bat than his glove, and over the past couple seasons his flaws at short have become all the more evident and impactful.

    Polanco is better-suited for second base. That much was clear to the Twins when they moved him there full-time in Triple-A, prior to his promotion to MLB, where he relocated to shortstop out ot necessity. This winter's signing of Andelton Simmons allows Polanco to finally move back to second, where his skill set is a more optimal fit.

    With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the Twins are very high on Polanco's defensive outlook at the new (old) position. So is he. "I think I can be pretty dang good at second base," the 27-year-old told reporters recently.



    Optimism is warranted. Polanco's shortcomings on the other side of the diamond were primarily tied to his inadequate arm, which led to cascading effects in terms of positioning and rushing plays, in addition to numerous throwing errors. With a shorter distance at second, he can let his strengths – athleticism, quickness, sure-handedness – take center stage. He'll almost surely be an upgrade over the previous tenant, Luis Arráez, who was more limited physically than Polanco.

    It's not just defense that intrigues for Jorge Polanco the second baseman. His bat should also play very well at the position.

    "You want to look at what he's capable of doing offensively and you put him at second, we may be talking about a top-five second baseman in the league," said Twins infield coordinator Tony Diaz (via MLB.com).

    That sentiment might sound a little counterintuitive – he's moving over from shortstop, which is hardly an offensive powerhouse – but it's valid. If Polanco hits he'll be relatively even more of an asset at second than he was at short, based on league-wide norms. In 2020, second base had the lowest production of any position in the American League, with a collective .706 OPS (shortstops were .727). In 2019, AL second basemen posted a .726 OPS, 56 points lower than shortstops and lowest of any position sans catcher.

    Of course, if Polanco hits the way he did last year, when he slashed .258/.304/.354, his bat won't be an asset anywhere. This brings us to his biggest positive at the moment: he's finally healthy. (We hope.)

    Polanco's surgically repaired ankle was never quite right in 2020, and we've come to learn that it was a bigger problem than anyone let on. Polanco recently shared that he contemplated getting surgery during the season. The switch-hitter said he was routinely in pain and that the injury affected him especially while swinging lefty; against right-handed pitching, he slashed a paltry .227/.287/.318, a night-and-day difference from his .306/.378/.513 line verses righties in '19.

    “He’s moving around really well,” Rocco Baldelli observed (per The Athletic). “Looks great. You can see it in his face. It’s been a while since he’s been completely healthy coming into camp. I think there’s an excitement level there for him and all of us to just watch him play and not have to worry about anything health-wise. It’s very nice."

    These kinds of rosy remarks are the norm in early spring training, so they should be taken with a grain of salt, but in Polanco's case it's pretty easy to buy into the hype.

    THE BAD

    Theoretically, Polanco could be a great second baseman. But until we actually see it play out, it's only theoretical. He may have all the tools to excel at the position but the fact is, Polanco has played a total of five games and 43 innings at second base in the majors, and none since 2016. There's bound to be a learning curve as he reacclimates to the differing angles, movements, and mechanics of the position.

    There are also defensive issues he'll need to iron out that supercede the unique challenges of playing shortstop, in terms of consistency and footwork. No matter where he's playing in the infield, he'll rarely see a throw shorter than this one:



    Similarly, the idea of a healthy Polanco rebounding to his stellar level of offensive production from 2019 sounds great in theory, but needs to be tested in practice. He underwent ankle surgery prior to 2020 too, and it clearly didn't help much, so there are no guarantees with the latest procedure. Even if this repair takes, Polanco needs to prove he's a significantly above-hitter because on whole, the evidence suggests otherwise.

    Polanco had an .866 OPS in 2019 when he appeared as the AL's starting shortstop in the All-Star Game. Since then, he has slashed .268/.327/.411 (.738) in 511 plate appearances. Prior to 2019, he had a .272/.329/.420 (.749) line in the majors. So, a preponderance of evidence leads us to conclude Polanco's half-season of brilliance in '19 was more of a fluke than the mediocrity we've seen since.

    If he proves to be more of an average hitter, and an ordinary defender at second, Polanco won't necessarily be a liability, but he won't be any great asset either – perhaps not even an upgrade over the guy he's replacing as the second base starter. If we reach a point somewhere in the season where everyone's healthy and Arráez is outperforming the starter Polanco while in a utility role, it'll be interesting to see how things play out.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    One way or another, Arráez figures to see a fair share of time at second base, filling in while Polanco is hurt, resting, or needed at short. We've grown familiar with what he has to offer at the position. But Polanco presents a very new look, and an intriguing one full of upside. As things stand, the Twins appear committed to him as their mainstay at second this year and beyond.

    It'd be swell if that works out. Polanco is under contract for three more years with a pair of additional team options at the back end, so if this transition takes he could be in line for a Dozier-like reign at second base.

    READ OTHER 2021 POSITION ANALYSIS ARTICLES

    • Mar 04 2021 11:16 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  8. Report from The Fort: Leading Questions

    The pivot point in the Twins' lineup comes early, very early. It’s the leadoff hitter. Go one direction, and the lineup looks one way. Go the other, and it looks very different. For the last two years, that leadoff hitter has mostly been Max Kepler, but coming into the season, there were two significant challenges to that status quo:

    Luis Arraez Is Healthy
    Arraez is expected to get a lot of at-bats as a multi-positional player. Arraez isn’t exactly a prototypical leadoff hitter because he doesn’t walk a ton, and doesn’t bring a lot of speed to the bases. But he battles and he gets on base: at a .390 clip in his 487 career plate appearances.

    Arraez is fearless, and an asset almost anywhere except the heart of the lineup. “He's an on-base machine, a line-drive machine," gushed Twins manager Rocco Baldelli this week. “He's a throwback. You don't see a lot of guys with the skills he does with the bat in his hands.”

    An on-base machine would be a logical fit for the top spot in the lineup. Especially when the left-handed hitting 23-year-old would likely bat right in front of right-handed hitting Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz.

    Eddie Rosario Is Gone
    The Twins have a hole to fill in the middle of their lineup with the departure of left-handed hitting Eddie Rosario. Rosario batted fourth for the vast majority of his plate appearances the last two years. He’ll likely be replaced in the outfield with left-handed hitting Alex Kirilloff, but odds are the Twins would thrust cleanup on a rookie making his (regular season) debut this year.

    With Rosario gone, the best left-handed hitting Twins' batter is Kepler. (He probably was before Rosario left, too.) So he makes a lot of sense to bat cleanup, but – follow me here – he’s not allowed to do that if he’s batting leadoff. I know, it’s a silly rule.

    In the Twins first four spring training games, Kepler has lead off twice and Arraez has lead off twice. Baldelli is notorious for not tipping his hand when it comes to lineups, and this year is no different. But it’s clear he recognizes the luxury having both affords him.

    “Two different hitters, but two guys that can certainly be productive at the top of the order, Baldelli said, talking about Arraez and Kepler. “One thing they both do well is they both see the ball well. They are hitters that see the ball and then react. They're not in swing-first mode like a lot of guys can get into that mode.”

    There is not bad answer. Some might wonder since Arraez is slated for a utility role, whether the decision takes care of itself? But Kepler has played in 89% of all the Twins games since 2017, and Baldelli is vowing to make sure that Arraez will get as much run as any other regular. So odds are there is going to be significant overlap in the playing time of the two.

    It should also be mentioned that theoretically, Kepler and Arraez are not the only options. Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco have both been in the leadoff spot over the last two years, and it’s possible that would be the case against some pitchers. Byron Buxton, if he ever raises his ability to get on base, would certainly be electric out of that spot. But Kepler and Arraez seem to be the top options, and they’re the only two we’ve seen lead off so far in spring training.

    So if you’re looking to track a spring training battle from afar this spring, here’s your chance. Arraez and Kepler haven’t been in the same lineup yet, but one would think that would certainly give a clue to what Baldelli is thinking. Until then, build your lineup, maybe starting in the comments below, and see if you can settle this leading question.

    • Mar 03 2021 05:37 PM
    • by John Bonnes
  9. Report from The Fort: Lewis Thorpe’s Hype Train Stays on Track

    Lewis Thorpe
    Thorpe didn’t have the cleanest first inning – he walked his first batter and hit another in the head - but the pitches that we’ve heard about this spring were all on display. Most noticeably, the velocity that had deserted him last year has returned, as he was consistently throwing his fastball at least 90 mph, reaching 93 mph on occasion. Asked about the variation, he explained “Sometimes I just try to groove [the slower version] in there and if I really want to let one rip, the 93 is in the back of the tank somewhere.”

    His offspeed stuff was similarly impressive. He relied several times on a mid-70s curveball that he threw as a first-pitch-looking strikes to batters. His slider was a little less reliable, but good enough to strikeout the last batter he faced in an efficient second inning. He finished with two strikeouts and no runs over two innings.



    He even made a couple of plays in the field, including tangoing with catcher Ryan Jeffers on a high pop fly that came down two feet in front of home plate. Jeffers ended up on the ground, but on his way there, he watched Thorpe catch the ball over Jeffers’ shoulder.

    It was another encouraging step for the Thorpe. The southpaw still has an uphill climb to the majors as a member of the rotation. He’s certainly behind the five veterans in camp, and maybe also be behind Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer. But it’s clear the team is gaining confidence in him.

    As is Thorpe. “It's fantastic,” he exclaimed after. “To come back with the way I'm throwing the ball right now, it's such a positive leading up to my first outing after that live BP. To be able to pound the zone and get some swings and misses, and know my stuff belongs here, it's a relief, that's for sure.”

    Luis Arraez
    Luis Arraez not only made his debut, but also hit lead off, lacing a line drive off of Rays’ starter Tyler Glasnow, he of the 97 mph fastball. That drive found a diving center fielder’s glove, but Arraez had an even more impressive at-bat in the second inning.

    Glasnow was clearly tiring, but the bases were loaded with two outs. Arraez fell behind in the count 0-2 on two foul balls, but worked the count back to 3-2 and three pitches later worked a walk to give the Twins a 2-0 lead. He was the last batter Glasnow faced.



    What was striking about the at-bat is there was never a point, even down 0-2, that it felt like Arraez was in any kind of trouble. “Luis is not intimidated by really anyone,” mused manager Rocco Baldelli after the game.

    Arraez also made a great running catch ranging into right field, but it left his manager holding his breath:



    Brent Rooker
    Rooker started in left field and batted cleanup. Last year, his season ended shortly after he was called up to the Twins last when he suffered a broken arm after being hit by a pitch. With the Twins having an abundance of left-handed hitting corner outfielders, the right-handed hitting Rooker looks like a valuable piece to have on the 26-man roster this year.

    He certainly didn’t show any ill effects from the injury in his first at-bat of the season. Facing Glasnow he drilled a home run to right-center field to give the Twins and early 1-0 lead.



    Odd and Ends

    Or should I say “an odd end?” We had heard all games would be seven innings, but following the fifth inning, an announcement was made that the game would only be one more inning long. So we got a six inning game.

    The Rays’ stadium was practicing the same type of pandemic crowd control that Hammond Stadium did on Sunday, but the American League’s defending champs’ crowd was so light, there was little reason for concern. Seats were spread out, and I never say any line at a concession stand or for the restroom. There was plenty of distance between the fans.



    Tuesday the Twins will be playing the Braves on the road, and if you would like to follow along, follow @TwinsDaily on Twitter.

    • Mar 01 2021 07:48 PM
    • by John Bonnes
  10. Minnesota’s 5 Best Players Under 25

    MLB.com tried to identify the top players under 25 under an interesting premise. “If you were starting a team today, and you were able to choose only from players under 25 years old -- that’s Major League stars and Minor League prospects, just so long as they aren’t past their age-24 season in 2021 -- who would you pick?” It can be a tough exercise, especially with Minnesota’s deep farm system.

    5. Royce Lewis, SS (21-years old)
    Lewis might be the team’s second-best prospect, but his recently announced knee surgery puts a hold on his development. There were already questions about his swing and his long-term defensive position. Those questions will remain, especially after not playing a professional game in 2020 or 2021.

    The potential is there, the work ethic is there, and he projects to be a building block piece in the future. For now, the Twins are going to be left looking for other shortstop options as they wait for Lewis to return to the field.

    4. Jhoan Duran, RHP (23-years old)
    Minnesota’s front office was confident Duran would debut in 2020, but then the pandemic shortened the season. He worked at the Twins alternate site last season and reports continue to be positive. Here at Twins Daily, Duran is the organization’s highest ranked pitching prospect.

    With a fastball that hits triple-digits and a unique splinker pitch, Duran is one of the most intriguing prospects to come through the Twins organization. He has the making of four above average pitches and the Twins hope he is a pitcher they can build their rotation around for years to come.

    3. Ryan Jeffers, C (23-years old)
    Jeffers is half of one of baseball’s best catching duos and he’s six and a half years younger than Mitch Garver. Because Garver was a late bloomer, the Twins have team control of both players for multiple seasons. Jeffers was Twins Daily’s number four overall prospect and it’s clear to see why people should be excited about him.

    He has some of the best catch framing skills in baseball and it is going to be intriguing to see how his numbers play over the course of 162-games. Jeffers needs to prove his offensive numbers weren’t a fluke from 2020, but he was known as a hitter out of college.

    2. Luis Arraez, UTL (24-years old)
    Arraez is moving to a utility role for 2021, but there’s no question that Rocco Baldelli will find way to insert him into the line-up on a regular basis. Even though he was hobbled in 2020, he still managed to post a .321 batting average, which means he has a career .331 batting average in 124 big-league games.

    On many other teams, Arraez would be in the everyday starting line-up, but he’s only one injury away from finding himself back in a fulltime role. FanGraph’s ZiPS projects him to win the AL batting title and it will be Baldelli’s job to make sure he gets enough plate appearances to qualify.

    1. Alex Kirilloff, OF (23-years old)
    Kirilloff is the type of player any team would like to build their franchise around. He had tremendous make-up and a sweet swing that is hard to ignore. MLB.com will likely include him on their top-25 list entering next season after baseball gets a longer look at Minnesota’s top prospect.

    One of the few questions that remains is whether or not Kirilloff will be on the Opening Day roster. Minnesota’s winning window is open and that’s one of the strongest reasons to have Kirilloff be in the line-up from day one. How good can he be in his age-23 campaign?

    Other Potential Names (Ages): Jordan Balazovic (22), Trevor Larnach (24), Aaron Sabato (21), Gilberto Celestino (22), Matt Canterino (23), Edwar Colina (23)

    Would you put any of these other names on the list? Should Lewis drop off because of his injury? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Feb 28 2021 08:16 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  11. AL Central Rundown: Left Field

    The Rundown
    Left field has become far more interesting ahead of the 2021 season. Every Central team besides the Twins have a good deal of certainty around the position. Ex Twins will man the position for two other Central teams in 2021, while the Royals recently traded for a reclamation project at the position. Let’s see what the division has to offer at left field in 2021.

    Detroit Tigers
    The Tigers recently brought former Twin Robbie Grossman in on a 2 year, $10MM deal. Grossman projects as Twins fans will remember him, a patient gap hitter. Grossman had an excellent season at the plate in 2020 for Oakland, putting up a 127 wRC+, mostly thanks to a HardHit% which improved 7.5% from 2019. Grossman has improved in the field since his Twins tenure, putting up 6 OAA in Oakland in his last two seasons (-15 in the previous 3 in Minnesota). Ultimately, Grossman projects as a slightly above average hitter in 2021 (105 wRC+), and a solid defender. He’ll likely put up 1.0-1.5 fWAR, and is the worst of the bunch in the AL Central.

    Kansas City Royals
    Andrew Benintendi’s trade to the Royals marked the final member of the 2018 World Series winning outfield departing the Red Sox. Benintendi has occupied a huge range of outcomes in his short career, putting up a 4.4 fWAR in 2018 and -0.5 fWAR in 2020 (in only 14 games). He’ll likely feature somewhere in the middle of those two extremes in 2021. Steamer projects him to put up 1.6 fWAR and be a marginally above average hitter (103 wRC+). Benintendi is a poor outfielder (-10 OAA in his last three seasons). Despite this, the Benintendi trade made a ton of sense for the Royals, who have a strong young offensive core and excellent organizational pitching depth. While it’s far from a sure thing, Benintendi is young enough to rebound and return to form as an above average left fielder.

    Cleveland
    It seemed almost inevitable that Eddie Rosario would sign with Cleveland after being non-tendered by the Twins. Rosario made improvements in his approach in 2020, adding 5% to a previously criminal BB%. He fills a huge need in Cleveland, where a few similar signings 3-4 years ago could have put them over the top for a World Series. Steamer projects Rosario for 1.6 fWAR in 2021, with a 108 wRC+. Rosario is a horrible defender, which is often overlooked because he has an incredible arm. In 2019 alone he put up -18 OAA, making him easily the worst fielding outfielder of those examined so far (still got to get to Eloy!). Remarkable throws, baserunning blunders, you'll likely see it all again, just in a different uniform.

    Chicago White Sox
    Get used to seeing Eloy Jimenez in left field for the White Sox. He’s signed through 2024 with two further years of team options. Acquired in the deal with the Cubs for Jose Quintana, Jimenez is a classic slugging outfielder. Huge bat, wretched, truly horrible glove. Jimenez mashed 45 HR over the last two seasons, and Steamer likes him to be the best of the AL Central bunch in 2021, projecting him for 3.3 fWAR and a 130 wRC+. It would be remiss not to mention his abjectness in the field, managing -14 OAA in left over the last two seasons. Make no mistake, he more than makes up for it adding another huge bat to a potent Sox offense.

    Minnesota Twins
    There should be a whole article about who will play LF for the Twins. Luckily, Matthew Lenz already wrote it. For the purposes of this preview, I’m going to focus on Kirilloff. While he likely starts in the minors to suppress service time, he’s the heir apparent to the position. Kirilloff is now a consensus top prospect but with only one MLB game, he’s not going to get a ton of love in projection systems.

    Steamer projects a 101 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR in 2021 from around 400 plate appearances. This feels like the floor for Kirilloff, with the eventual ceiling being an All Star outfielder. Kirilloff has averaged a 145 wRC+ in his last two MiLB seasons, and performed well at the alternate site in 2020.

    Rooker has a big bat but is a poor outfielder (-2 OAA) in just 7 MLB games in 2020. He could be a good platoon option with Jake Cave for the first month of the season but is better suited to a DH or 1B role. Cave is a perfect 4th outfielder for the Twins, with a close to league average bat, good outfield defense, and the ability to play all three outfield positions. It's likely Luis Arraez may see time in left, particularly at the beginning of the season as the Twins will give a player projected to be AL batting champion as many ABs as possible.

    Grade ‘Em

    [attachment=17290:Screenshot (32).png]

    Detroit Tigers: D
    Grossman is a solid addition and credit to the Tigers for adding to a poor team. Grossman is a league average hitter and a fine option for Detroit in 21/22 when they won’t be competing for the AL Central.

    Kansas City Royals: C
    Kansas City has had a great winter. Even if Benintendi doesn’t return to his 2018 peak, the Royals have acquired a solid MLB outfield to supplement their strong, young offensive core.

    Cleveland: C+
    There’s no denying Rosario is a good signing for Cleveland. He’s a solid, if streaky hitter but a vast improvement for a Cleveland outfield which has been miserable for years. You’ll get highs and lows. The dynamic of Twins VS Cleveland will be much more interesting as a result.

    Chicago White Sox: A-
    Despite being a horror show defensively, Eloy Jimenez is currently the cream of the crop in the central and probably the AL. He’s going to be a big, problematic bat in a great offensive for at least the next 4 seasons.

    Minnesota Twins: B-
    The Twins are hard to grade here. Kirilloff projects to be an excellent MLB hitter who is ready now. The Twins have enough options to keep his spot warm at a respectable level until he takes over the role full time sometime in 2021.

    The Voice of the People



    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Feb 20 2021 08:49 PM
    • by Jamie Cameron
  12. How the Twins Front Office Addressed Past Playoff Weaknesses

    An AL Central title is almost table stakes for the Twins this year. It says much about this team that the shortened 2020 season felt somewhat disappointing even though Minnesota took the division with a .600 winning percentage.

    That's where we were at. Personally, I'm pretty pleased that the front office has built a club that looks well positioned to fend off a credible threat from the White Sox and defend its budding division dynasty, but I get it – for many fans, the proof is in the postseason pudding.

    While I'm sure Derek Falvey and Thad Levine would agree it's important not to wildly overcompensate for what occurs in the small sample of a few October games, their offseason strategy does suggest that past playoff shortcomings were top-of-mind in their efforts to retool.

    We've seen this play out in a few areas.

    Infield Defense

    There were many contributors to Minnesota's all-too-familiar futility in the 2019 and 2020 postseasons, but defensive lapses in the infield loom large in memory. CJ Cron's failure to secure an off-target DP relay from Luis Arráez in New York was rough ...



    But last year's Jorge Polanco flub at shortstop in the most crucial of moments was even more painful:



    The signing of free agent shortstop and defensive specialist Andrelton Simmons almost feels like a direct response to these two plays specifically. Polanco's inadequate arm at short has cost the Twins on this and plenty of other occasions. And while Arráez wasn't primarily responsible for either miscue ... his limitations didn't help in either instance.

    Now, the Twins install an all-world defender at short, while sliding Polanco over to a position for which he's much better suited. The Twins are high on his fit at second. At the same time, Arráez goes from being a so-so defensive second baseman to a so-so defensive utility man, adopting a role where his bat and versatility become even more valuable.

    It would also be helpful, of course, if Josh Donaldson is healthy enough to play at third in the playoffs. But the Twins are controlling what they can control, and we'll get to planning around JD's risk factor shortly.

    Back End of the Bullpen

    Taylor Rogers was unreliable last year, and he's back. The need for him to get straightened out is obviously paramount. His stumble in a Game 2 appearance against Houston was troubling (albeit ultimately inconsequential).

    But Rogers' postseason struggles with the Twins have nothing on those of Sergio Romo, who had assumed a role as co-closer by the end of 2020.

    In Game 1 against Houston last September, Romo entered to open the ninth inning of a tie game, then proceeded to load the bases and walk in the go-ahead run (an ignominious distinction!) before giving way to Caleb Thielbar who let two more of the inherited Romo runs score.



    It was Romo's first time pitching in the playoffs since Game 3 of the 2019 ALDS, when he let the Yankees pull away with two ninth-inning runs to complete a sweep.



    The irony of it all is that Romo brought with him to Minnesota the mythos of a postseason legend. He's got three rings, and was a renowned late-inning force during San Francisco's amazing run of championships in the early 2010s. It was a surely a big factor in the playoff-bound Twins acquiring him in 2019 (and bringing him back in 2020).

    When push came to shove, Romo couldn't deliver. Now, the Twins turn to Alex Colomé, who similarly centers his approach on a single spinning pitch, and doesn't dominate hitters in a conventional sense. Last year, Colomé's K-rate dropped to a new low, but his performance was as consistent as ever.

    The market at large seems to be betting against Colomé, given his contract. The Twins meanwhile are betting he can be what Romo wasn't: a reliever who lives up to the legend. It's a short squeeze, I guess? I need to stop reading about GameStop and the stock market.

    Based on all available evidence, the Twins are taking a good gamble. For what it's worth: Colomé has thrown two scoreless innings in the postseason, both with Chicago last year.

    Contingency Plans

    The unavailability of Donaldson in last year's playoffs forced the Twins to start Marwin González and his miserable .606 OPS at third base in both games. Meanwhile, the perpetual unavailability of Byron Buxton forced them to start Jake Cave twice in the 2019 ALDS, and to call up Alex Kirilloff with zero MLB experience to start Game 2 against Houston in 2020.

    Donaldson and Buxton will continue to be question marks, and the Twins can hardly count on them being on the field in October. But the team's fallback options have dramatically improved.

    Part of this is just time and development playing out within the system. Kirilloff should be a seasoned big-leaguer by the time this year's playoffs roll around. Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach and others could factor as legit corner outfield depth, giving the Twins an array of quality options should Max Kepler be needed in center.

    Moving Arráez into a floating utility role provides a huge upgrade over the greatly diminished González. While he's lesser defensively than Marwin, Arráez is actually an asset in the lineup and arguably an essential fixture. In general, having a definitively starting-caliber player in that 10th-man role sets the Twins up for a variety of contingencies.

    In the event that everyone's healthy when the playoffs come around ... that'd present an interesting dilemma. But it's a bridge the Twins will be happy to cross when they get there.

    First, they need to get there. A full 162-game season lies ahead and the Twins will face even stiffer competition in the Central, after the much-improved White Sox very nearly clawed the division away in 2020.

    This Twins team is built for success in the postseason, but more importantly, it's built to endure the long haul of a six-month season and come out on top. The improvements above will serve them well on both fronts.

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Feb 17 2021 08:40 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  13. Notebook: Arraez to LF?

    Today, Luis Arraez had his first availability for Twin Cities media ahead of spring training. Arraez may have given a hint of the Twins initial plans for his position in his opening press Zoom call.



    With Alex Kirilloff likely starting the year in the minors to suppress service time, Arraez may see time in left field, along with Jake Cave, and Brent Rooker. This is hardly surprising, the Twins will look to get a bat projected to win the AL batting title into the lineup at every opportunity.

    Additionally, Arraez indicated that he is fully healthy after struggling with knee issues in 2020.



    What do you think of Arraez in left field?

    Hamilton Clear Waivers
    The Twins sneaked Ian Hamilton through waivers Tuesday, and have now added Brandon Waddell and Hamilton as additional upside relief depth. Hamilton will remain with the team as a non-roster invite to spring training. I’d expect to see him in St. Paul and Minneapolis this summer. It’s an interesting strategy to add organizational depth after exhausting payroll budget. While these moves may seem insignificant now, depth is clearly a point of emphasis in all aspects of the roster and organization after a shortened 2020 season.



    Twins Twitter Rages over Offseason Efficacy
    On an otherwise slow news day, Twins twitter debated the quality of the Twins offseason.



    At best I think it’s hard to convincingly argue that the Twins roster has taken a step back from last year. The 2020 squad was decimated by injuries. As a result, the 2021 squad is deeper. The front office has produced another playoff caliber team. How the team takes advantage of that, or not, is why we watch the games.



    Where do you land on the Twins offseason, assuming they’ve wrapped up major moves. Do you think they improved, held serve, or regressed? What does the roster still lack?

    Transactions
    Here’s a roundup of transactions from around the league on Tuesday:

    The Mets signed Kevin Pillar to a deal worth $3.6 MM this year and a complex combination of player and club options.
    The Brewers signed Brett Anderson to a 1 year, $2.5 MM deal
    The Pirates signed Tyler Anderson to a 1 year, $2,5 MM deal.
    The Dodgers traded RHP Josh Sborz to the Rangers for RHP Jhan Zambrano
    The Nationals signed T.J. McFarland to a MiLB deal.
    The Reds signed Cam Bedrosian to a MiLB deal.
    The Dodgers signed Matt Davidson to a MiLB deal.
    The Phillies signed Jeff Mathis to a MiLB deal
    The Yankees signed Robinson Chirinos to a MiLB deal

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Feb 16 2021 08:00 PM
    • by Jamie Cameron
  14. Masters of Efficiency: How the 2021 Twins Acquired Their WAR

    The Twins front office has proven themselves to be masters of free agent spending efficiency. This offseason, they have spent around $37.5MM, accruing an additional 7.2 fWAR (ZiPS). Baseball is not a salary capped sport, but imagine how effective the Twins would be at managing it if it were. I respect the hell out of how the Twins get their WAR. I decided to dig in and compare the makeup of the 2021 roster with previous seasons.

    Not Their First Rodeo
    It’s worth starting before the 2018 season to understand the evolution of the Twins consistent approach to the offseason. Prior to the 2018 season with the Twins, Falvey and Levine waited out the market and signed Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn late in the day. Neither move worked out well. Morrison, coming off an exceptional 2017 season, was hampered by injuries, and Lynn looked sweaty and uninterested on his way to a 4.77 ERA. He was later traded away to the Yankees. This approach however, foreshadowed the organizational approach to free agency which has evolved and improved in each of the seasons following 2018.

    40+ WAR for the Playoffs?
    There is a common maxim in baseball that just north of 40 WAR makes you a playoff contender. When comparing the 2021 and 2019 rosters (the Twins last full season), it’s easy to just make rote comparisons between players, without also examining how the units of infield, outfield, and pitching may function.

    Coming into this offseason, the Twins had a significant amount of holes to fill, with Cruz, Romo, May, Clippard, Wisler, Marwin Gonzalez, Odorizzi, and others becoming free agents. An additional constraint was a moderate (self-imposed) payroll reduction, coming off a year with decreased revenues due to a shortened season and no fans in the stands. The front office didn’t blink.

    In the space of 10 days the Twins signed J.A. Happ, Andrelton Simmons, re-signed Nelson Cruz, and added Alex Colome. Let’s look broadly at the cumulative impact of those moves on each aspect of the Twins roster using the Twins 2019 and 2020 counterparts for comparison.

    Rotation Depth
    J.A. Happ currently slots into the fourth rotation spot where Rich Hill pitched in 2020. Happ is projected 1.6 fWAR in 2021 making $8MM, a similar amount to Hill with his incentive laden 1 year deal in 2020. While Hill didn’t get the opportunity to pitch a full season for the Twins, this move is essentially a wash, with Happ having shown over the last 10+ years that he is a slightly above average MLB starter.

    This pushes Randy Dobnak into the 5th rotation spot. At 1.7 projected fWAR, he is, in fact, tied with Chris Paddack for the highest projected fWAR of any number five starter. The Twins could stand to add depth to their rotation and bullpen and while it remains to be seen if the rotation has enough ceiling to dominate in the playoffs, the pitching staff as a whole is projected to be the 6th best in baseball, per Fangraphs depth charts.

    Bullpen
    There’s a ton of flux in the bullpen for 2021, with May, Romo, Wisler, and Clippard departing. The Twins have added a stable of good velocity fastball, wipeout slider guys to compete for the 8th spot in the pen, but prior to that, made another great efficiency move. The Twins turned down a $5MM option on the soon to be 38 year old Romo for 2021, instead signing Alex Colome, former White Sox closer and five years Romo’s junior for the same price.

    Colome for Romo is another excellent example of the Twins efficiency leading up to the 2021 season, Colome is younger, better, and has outperformed his peripherals in each of his previous eight MLB seasons. Which back end would you rather have in 2021, Rogers, Duffey, Romo, or Rogers, Duffey, Colome? We can assume the latter, and Romo and Colome would have cost the Twins the same price in 2021.

    Infield Improvements
    The infield has seen a seismic shift, adding actual wizard Andrelton Simmons, pushing Jorge Polanco to 2B, where the Twins feel like he can be an above average fielder, and shunting Luis Arraez into a super utility role which limits his defensive shortcomings (and use of his ankles). To illustrate this impact, I compared the 2019 (last full 162 game season) and 2021 occupant of each infield position by projected fWAR in 2021 and compared their OAA averaged over the last 3 seasons at that position (if available). Essentially, I am trying to answer the question; what are the Twins looking at for infield quality in 2021, compared to what they had in 2019? I realize the shortcomings of using projections, but the comparison effectively illustrates the Twins accomplishment in improving both offensive and defensive production from their infield unit as a whole over the last 2 years.

    SS: Andrelton Simmons projected 2.7 fWAR (averaged 9.3 OAA)
    in for Jorge Polanco projected 2.7 fWAR (averaged -10.5 OAA)

    2B: Jorge Polanco, projected 2.7 fWAR (no OAA data for 2B)
    in for Luis Arraez projected 2.9 fWAR (averaged -4.5 OAA)

    3B: Josh Donaldson, projected 3.1 fWAR (averaged 4.5 OAA)
    in for (mostly) Miguel Sano 2.7 fWAR (averaged -3 OAA)

    Util: Luis Arraez, projected 2.9 fWAR (average -4.5 OAA)
    in for Marwin Gonzalez projected 0.9 fWAR averaged (2.3 OAA)

    Net projection: +2.2 fWAR, +15.4 OAA

    Will this is of course, an overly simplistic approach, the projections call for the Twins infield to improve by over two wins in 2021 (mostly subbing Arraez for Marwin). Additionally, they significantly increased the quality of their infield defense. It’s also worth noting that Marwin Gonzalez made a comparable salary in 2019 and 2020 to the one Andrelton Simmons will make in 2021.

    The Other Side of the Coin: The LA Dodgers
    The Dodgers mercifully ended Trevor Bauer’s free agency by signing him to a contract which will pay him $40MM in 2021 (market value-ish for his projected 4.4 fWAR). While loathe to write about Bauer, the Dodgers move is useful in illustrating the opposite of the Twins approach. The Dodgers careened through the luxury tax threshold and paid a premium for their WAR. This is a perfectly fine approach, but given that it’s not one the Twins will be taking anytime in the near future, I hope Twins fans can appreciate the nimbleness of this front office in constructing a consistently excellent, flexible roster. The Twins have likewise continued to prioritize preserving their farm system and the ability to have a sustainable winner over the next 3-5 years.

    What do you think of the Twins roster makeup and balance in 2021? What are areas of concern or areas you believe need strengthening to make a playoff push (or win a single game)?

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    Looking Back: The Glenn Williams Story
    The Twins Interest in Matt Shoemaker is Intriguing
    Twins Daily 2021 Top Prospects: 11-15

    • Feb 11 2021 08:40 PM
    • by Jamie Cameron
  15. Swiss Army Sparkplug: Luis Arráez's New Role

    As rumors circulated of the Twins pursuing a shortstop in free agency, the rationale was clear enough: a two-for-one solution that both addresses a defensive weakness in the infield and fills internally the super-utility role vacated by Marwin González.

    Most of us anticipated it would be the incumbent shortstop, Jorge Polanco, assuming the so-called "multi-positional everyday player" designation in such a scenario. Instead, the Twins are expressing an intent to have Polanco stepping in as new everyday second baseman, with Arráez becoming the new Marwin and playing all around the field.

    In retrospect, maybe this shouldn't be all that surprising. Arráez was ushered into the majors under such a setup, splitting time as a rookie between second base, third, left field, and even a little shortstop. Polanco, meanwhile, had fully transitioned to second at Triple-A prior to arriving in the majors. He'll likely be an upgrade (perhaps a significant one) over Arráez defensively.

    In order to make sense of Arráez's new arrangement, let's ask and answer a few key questions.

    Is this a demotion for Luis Arráez?

    Technically, yes, and I wouldn't blame him for feeling a bit miffed at first. But there will be no shortage of at-bats for the 23-year-old sparkplug. Consider that González ranked fifth among all Twins in plate appearances over the last two years, with 662. That amounts to about a 483-PA pace over a full season, which is a bit less than you'd hope for but still bordering on regular usage. The threshold to qualify for the batting title is 502, which I think is a good minimum target for Arráez and an easily achievable one. Especially if the Twins keep the DH spot open. (More on that shortly.)

    Is Arráez lined up to be the Opening Day starter in left field?

    I think so! Getting Arráez into the Opening Day lineup is about optics as much as anything – we addressed already the perception of a demotion role-wise; on top of that, what does it tell the kid if he's on the bench for this ceremonious occasion after batting .331 through his first two seasons? Left field is the only starting position not currently spoken for, and while I do believe Alex Kirilloff will take it over in fairly short order, he'll probably open in the minors.

    While Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade Jr., and Brent Rooker may all factor into the early-season mix in left, I envision the Twins getting Arráez plenty of action there, including on Opening Day. It's the easiest way to include his essential bat into the lineup, and while he's hardly a defensive maven in the outfield, I'm not sure he's THAT overmatched. One of my distinct memories from Arráez's rookie season was being surprised by how capable he looked out in left, making 18 starts despite having almost zero experience there in the minors. With some time to prep in spring training I think he'll be fine – probably no worse than Rooker and not drastically behind Cave or Wade.

    What are the biggest benefits to having Arráez in this role?

    It plays more to his strengths. Arráez is frankly not a great defensive second baseman, and while he's not necessarily a standout glove anywhere, his ability to hold his own at multiple positions is more valuable than playing a so-so second base. That's true for the Twins and it's ultimately true for Arráez, who can make himself more marketable by proving versatile defensively.

    From Minnesota's standpoint, I think the key is having premium insurance behind some of the team's most critical players. If Josh Donaldson goes down, the Twins can plug in one of their best hitters to replace him. Ditto Polanco. Byron Buxton gets hurt again? Slide Max Kepler to center, put Kirilloff in right, and plant Arráez in left.

    With Arráez in the floating role, the Twins can maintain an A-lineup even while losing almost any major piece, without needing to fall back on a backup of the Marwin or Ehire Adrianza mold in regular duty.

    What are the biggest downsides?

    Aside from possibly damaging the relationship with Arráez, there is the question of whether this assignment is all that well-suited for him. González was so adept at, and accustomed to, playing all over the place that many of us likely came to take it for granted. His cannon arm was a big asset in the outfield and at third base, making up for diminishing athleticism.

    Arráez isn't that much faster, and lacks the big arm in his toolkit. While he should be usable at many positions in short-term situations, it's worth wondering if he'd be truly palatable at third base over a lengthy period, or if his balky knees would hold up with daily starts in left field.

    Does this make it less likely that the Twins bring back Nelson Cruz?

    Gotta say, I think it does. One of the big advantages of having a guy like Arráez in the utility role is that Rocco Baldelli can feel all the more comfortable giving his position players regular rest, in part by rotating them through the DH spot. It also becomes much easier in this scenario to get Arráez his requisite at-bats. If everyone's healthy and rested, just pop him in at DH.

    Granted, that's a "nice problem to have" kind of situation, especially with the Twins' recent health history, but the combination of a highly paid full-time designated hitter (who can't play any defensive position) and a 10th man who should absolutely be playing everyday feels a bit strange on the surface.

    Does this make it more likely that the Twins trade Arráez?

    Again: gotta say, I think it does. Seeing him bumped out of his seemingly entrenched role, one can't help but think back to Ken Rosenthal bringing up the idea back in December: "The potential to deal ... Luis Arraez, creates an interesting scenario in which the Twins could move shortstop Jorge Polanco to second and either sign a free-agent shortstop or trade for a 2021-22 free agent at the position." We've already seen part of that equation play out. Is the other shoe going to drop?

    It's safe to say no Twins fan (or exec) is eager to see Arráez shipped out, but one should also keep in mind the type of return such a trade would bring. We're talking blockbuster talent that would majorly impact another area of the team. If someone comes knocking with a monster offer (and who could blame them?) it's now much easier for the Twins to say yes.

    What do you think of Arráez's fit for the new role? How do you feel it affects other decisions still ahead of the Twins this offseason? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Jan 28 2021 09:34 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  16. Top 20 Minnesota Twins Assets of 2021: Part 2 (11-15)

    First, you can get up to speed on the 'why and how' behind these rankings by reading Monday's introductory post. If you're already hip, proceed to find my choices (and reasoning) for the 11th-through-15th most valuable player assets currently under Minnesota's control as 2021 gets underway.



    15. Miguel Sanó, 1B
    2020 Ranking: 11

    This is the deepest placement yet in these rankings for Sanó, and with good reason. He moved from third base to first. He is coming off a disappointing year, marred by a ridiculous strikeout total. He is currently lined up as the team's second-highest paid player in 2021, with his $11 million commitment trailing only Donaldson's $21 million.

    With all this in mind, I think it's important to remember the qualities that have kept Sanó on this list year after year – all still on display in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. He is an incredibly gifted athlete who hits baseballs as hard as anyone in the world. He acclimated quickly to first base, with his natural skill and instincts shining through. He's only 27 years old, at the heart of his physical prime, and still quite athletic for his prodigious size. While he'll be somewhat highly paid in 2021, the Twins also control him in 2022 at $9.25 million, which will be an amazing bargain if he pulls it together. They also have a $14 million option for his age-30 season.

    Focus on Sanó's flaws all you want – it's valid. But don't lose sight of his strengths. They are in some ways unparalleled.

    14. Tyler Duffey, RHP
    2020 Ranking: 16

    If he hadn't claimed it already, Duffey firmly took hold of the team's "bullpen ace" title in 2020. He was among the league's most dominant relievers, allowing only 19 baserunners via hit or walk in 24 innings, nearly all high-leverage. And because of his sparse previous track record, Duffey remains quite inexpensive in his second turn at arbitration. He's set to earn $2.2 million in 2020.

    In some ways, he epitomizes the volatility and unpredictability of relief arms. Duffey was not present in these rankings two years ago, and in fact was probably on the verge of moving on from the organization at that point. He has since harnessed his full potential out of the bullpen to become an elite force in the late innings.

    How long will it last? That remains to be seen. But the Twins are more than happy to control him affordably for the next two seasons.

    13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP
    2020 Ranking: 8

    The lost minor-league season in 2020 was especially unfortunate for a guy like Balazovic. He entered the year as a fast-rising and highly promising young arm, ready to take on advanced levels for the first time and make a statement. But because he hadn't yet taken this step, and wasn't really within range of a call-up, he was left off the alternate site roster, leaving him to progress on his own, without the benefit of competition or direct coaching. (He did get added to the alternate group late in the season.)

    None of this means Balazovic's outlook has dropped off, especially in a relative context (all prospects just lost a year). But he was at such a pivotal crux in his development – 21 years old, three years removed from being drafted out of high school, set to reach Double-A for the first time – that the disruption weighs a bit harder in his case.

    With that said, he's clearly one of the organization's top pitching prospects – virtually deadlocked with the next guy, from my view – and that makes him one of Minnesota's most valuable assets. Huge year ahead for Balazovic.

    12. Jhoan Duran, RHP
    2020 Ranking: 13

    The Twins acquired the Dominican right-hander from Arizona as part of the Eduardo Escobar deal in July of 2018. At the time, Duran was a middling Single-A starter with big stuff and lackluster results. Upon coming switching organizations, he immediately turned a corner. Since the trade, Duran has posted a 3.38 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 10.7 K/9 rate in 151 innings. His whiff rates are among the best in the system. He's been dominating.

    He's also just about big-league ready. Duran reached Double-A in 2019 and spent 2020 at the alternate site in St. Paul, where he gained consideration for a call-up. His proximity to the majors and proven performance in the upper minors gives him a slight edge over Balazovic in these rankings but as I said, they're practically even in my eyes.

    11. Luis Arráez, 2B
    2020 Ranking: 10

    The strengths and positives that Arráez brings to the table are no secret. He's one of the game's best contact hitters and the definition of a spark plug, with a .331 average and .390 on-base percentage through nearly 500 major-league plate appearances. All this before turning 24.

    But Arráez also has his limitations. He's not a speedy runner, nor a strong defender, and it's dubious whether he'll ever develop enough power to become a well-rounded offensive threat. Overshadowing these shortcomings, all of which he's been able to rise above as a huge difference-maker in his first two seasons, is the one issue that has actually held him back: his health.

    The second baseman missed all of 2017 in the minors after tearing the ACL in one knee, and in 2020 he was bothered all year by tendinitis in the other. Arráez was clearly hobbled most of the time and spent much of September on the Injured List.

    No surgery was planned for this offseason, so he'll focus on strengthening his lower body and shaking off the creeping "injury-prone" rep that threatens to further tarnish his otherwise impeccable asset value as a cheap young core player with five remaining years of team control.

    THE TOP 20 TWINS ASSETS OF 2021

    20. Keoni Cavaco, SS

    19. Brent Rooker, OF/1B

    18. Josh Donaldson, 3B

    17. Taylor Rogers, LHP

    16. Jorge Alcala, RHP

    15. Miguel Sanó, 1B

    14. Tyler Duffey, RHP

    13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP

    12. Jhoan Duran, RHP

    11. Luis Arráez, 2B

    6-10: Coming tomorrow!


    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Jan 05 2021 09:08 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  17. 5 Surprises in Minnesota’s 2021 ZiPS Projections

    1. Healthy Arraez Heading for AL Batting Title
    2021 ZiPS Projection: .313/.371/.406, 32 2B, 5 HR, 3.2 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: Cecil Travis
    Entering the 2020 season, Luis Arraez was coming off a tremendous rookie year and expectations were even higher for his sophomore campaign. His first 10 games were rough as he hit .212/.289/.502 without a single extra-base hit. He dealt with a knee injury throughout different parts of the season, but he seemed to put it all together over his final 22 games. During that stretch, he hit .367/.398/.481 with nine doubles and 12 runs scored.

    Just like the 2020 projections, ZiPS pegs Arraez to lead the American League in batting average. His 3.2 WAR is also the highest on the team among position players as he finishes just ahead of Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, and Max Kepler. It would certainly be exciting to have a healthy Arraez fighting for a batting title, but the Twins will likely want one of the other star players to lead the team in WAR.

    2. Polanco Bounces Back
    2021 ZiPS Projection: .279/.333/.440, 32 2B, 17 HR, 2.8 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: Buddy Bell
    There has been plenty of discussion this winter about what role Polanco should serve with the 2021 Twins. Will he be the team’s everyday shortstop, or does it make sense to bring in another option and shift Polanco to a utility role? During the last two off-seasons, Polanco has been forced to undergo ankle surgery and that’s a consideration for the team when planning for the future. Last year, Polanco posted career low marks in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage.

    Looking at ZiPS for Polanco and the projections clearly have him inline for a bounce back season. His projected slugging percentage would be six points higher than his career mark and his 17 home runs would only trail his 22 longballs in 2019. Also, he has accumulated 30 doubles or more in every season he’s played at least 130 games. Defensively, there were some improvements last year, but he has finished eighth among AL shortstops in SABR’s SDI in each of the last two seasons.

    3. Maeda Set for Major Regression
    2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.12 ERA, 135 1/3 IP, 154 K, 45 BB, 2.2 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: John Montefusco
    Maeda’s first season in a Twins uniform went about as well as it could possibly go. He finished runner-up in the AL Cy Young Voting after posting a 2.70 ERA, 161 ERA+ and a MLB leading 0.75 WHIP. It was everything the Twins hoped for when they traded for him and the best news is, he is under team control for the next three seasons. His season might have been the most dominant performance by a Twins starter since Johan Santana was traded away.

    It seems highly unlikely for Maeda to be able to replicate his 2020 numbers during the 2021 campaign. The season will include more than 60 games and his 2020 totals were far superior to any previous season in his big-league career. ZiPS has his ERA 37 points higher than his career mark. Another oddity is that ZiPS has him scheduled to make eight appearances out of the bullpen, which would be similar to his time in Los Angeles. Maeda should outperform his ZiPS projections and Twins fans better hope he isn’t needed out of the bullpen.

    4. Pineda Pitches Under 100 innings
    2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.58 ERA, 92 1/3 IP, 84 K, 20 BB, 1.1 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: Dave Eiland
    Pineda’s time in Minnesota has been marked by one season where he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and parts of two seasons where he missed time due to a suspension. Last season, he made five starts and allowed 10 earned runs in 26 2/3 innings (3.38 ERA). Since joining the Twins he has posted a 1.16 WHIP and a 115 ERA+. The 2021 season can mark his first time pitching a full season for Minnesota, but the projections aren’t exactly kind to his performance.

    Injuries have been part of Pineda’s professional career and that’s why ZiPS limits his projected innings pitched. In fact, there are over 10 pitchers projected to pitch more innings than Pineda for the 2021 Twins. His career ERA is 4.02 and he has only posted one season with an ERA higher than his projected 4.58. Another intriguing note is the fact Pineda can be a free agent following the 2021 season. Will he perform better in a contract year? Or will the Twins be willing to work out an extension?

    5. ZiPS Loves Randy Dobnak
    2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.53 ERA, 137 IP, 91 K, 37 BB, 1.6 WAR
    No. 1 Player Comp: Dick Drago
    Dobnak’s first two seasons in Minnesota have seen some ups and downs. Back in 2019, his rookie season was unbelievable as he posted a 1.59 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP across 28 1/3 innings. This culminated in the team turning to him for a Game 2 start in the ALDS. Last year, his ERA rose to 4.05 and he had a 1.35 WHIP while seeing his strikeout per walk total be cut in half. Eventually, he was optioned to the team’s alternate training site, but he was part of the team’s Wild Card roster.

    In an absence of a minor league season, the minor league writers at Twins Daily held a minor league draft last summer. One of the biggest takeaways from that draft was how much ZiPS loves Randy Dobnak. His projected career WAR total was the highest in the draft and it helped Steve to walk away with the best overall team. Among pitchers, Dobnak is projected to have the team’s third highest WAR as he only trails Berrios and Maeda.

    What other surprises were in the Twins 2021 ZiPS projections? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Jan 04 2021 10:35 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  18. Twins Offseason Status Update: Slow Going

    After signing reliever Hansel Robles for $2 million on Tuesday (more on that shortly) here's a snapshot of Minnesota's projected 2021 roster and payroll:

    [attachment=17012:twinsroster122920.png]


    This accounting does not include the $5+ million that Kenta Maeda is likely to make in incentives, but even still, the Twins are a long way from the $138.3 million mark I had them pegged for in the final update last winter. (They ended up spending a prorated portion of that in the 60-game season.)

    While it's generally believed that 2021 payroll will be down a shade, there have been no indications the Twins intend to scale back dramatically. They might not have $50 million to spend, but they've got absolutely got the means to make some noise.

    They haven't yet. And that's hardly unique among major-league teams. But with spring training (ostensibly) less than two months away, and with the San Diego Padres lighting the Hot Stove afire this week, it's time to start getting serious.

    Here's a rundown on the Twins, and where they stand on several fronts at year's end.

    Hansel Robles Joins Back End of Bullpen

    After non-tendering Matt Wisler and letting three key veteran right-handed relievers walk via free agency, the Twins finally made an offsetting addition on Tuesday, signing former Angels closer Hansel Robles to a one-year, $2 million deal plus incentives.

    The nature of those incentives probably tells us something about how they plan (or hope) to use him.



    Robles can earn bonuses based on how many games he finishes, all the way up to 40. This suggests the Twins will open a path for the 30-year-old to do so – presumably, by filling a role similar to Sergio Romo, and splitting closer duties with Taylor Rogers situationally.

    That's not a bad bet for the Twins if they're confident Robles' abbreviated 2020 season was an anomaly, and he can get back to the form he showed in 2019 as an All-Star caliber bullpen weapon for the Angels. Robles has the stuff, headlined by an upper-90s fastball, and the Twins have a recent track record that inspires confidence. But this is hardly the kind of slam-dunk move that screams "ALL IN!" for a club seemingly on the cusp.

    Is that yet to come?

    Rumblings of a Shortstop Splash

    Where there's smoke, there's often fire, and the flumes surrounding Minnesota's pursuit of an impact addition at shortstop are hard to ignore. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, who's as plugged in as any reporter covering the game, wrote recently about the possibility of a Twins trade for Francisco Lindor or Trevor Story (both those possibilities were discussed in our Trade Targets episode of Offseason Live).

    Rosenthal mentioned another shortstop target for Minnesota: free agent Marcus Semien. More recently, KSTP's Darren Wolfson reported over the weekend of the Twins having "real interest" in Semien.

    In the event they were to acquire a Semien or Story, it's unclear how the Twins would shift their existing pieces of accommodate. The simplest answer is moving Polanco into the utility role formerly occupied by Marwin Gonzalez. But Rosenthal also hinted at the idea of Minnesota trading Luis Arráez and moving Polanco to second. Something tells me this would be a tough sell for the fan base.



    All Quiet on the Nelson Cruz Front

    In many ways, Minnesota's offseason strategy appears to hinge on the Cruz decision. So far, there's been little known movement. He wants to wait to sign until MLB provides clarity on the DH rule for next year, but there's no sign of getting any in the immediate future. How long can the Twins wait, with their offseason plans mired in limbo?

    Baldelli made his pitch to the free agent slugger during a media Zoom session earlier this month. "Nelson, if you're watching, which I know you're not, we'd love to see you in spring training, and I'll talk to you soon," he said into the camera with a grin.

    Goofing around? Sure. But it felt like there was almost a knowingness to Baldelli's casual advance. I'm not saying the Twins and Cruz have a handshake agreement in place that any competing offer on a one-year contract will be matched ... but it wouldn't shock me if they did.

    We'll keep covering the news here at Twins Daily as it arises. I hope everyone has a happy, safe and healthy New Year.

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Dec 29 2020 09:11 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  19. Projecting Minnesota’s 2024 Line-Up

    Catcher: Ryan Jeffers
    Mitch Garver can be a free agent following the 2023 season, so it seems most likely for the Twins to turn over catching duties to Ryan Jeffers. The 2021 campaign will see Garver and Jeffers splitting time behind the plate. Jeffers is six years younger than Garver and he is a defensive upgrade behind the plate. Another name to consider is Ben Rortvedt who was added to the 40-man roster this winter. He has a chance to join Jeffers on the 2024 squad to be the team’s new catching duo.

    First Base: Alex Kirilloff
    Miguel Sano transitioned to first base in 2020, but he might be relegated to the role of designated hitter by 2024. Kirilloff has experience as an outfielder or as a first baseman and his bat is ready for the big leagues. He will likely take over for Eddie Rosario in the Twins outfield for 2021, but first base might end up being his long-term home. Minnesota has other big bats like Brent Rooker and Aaron Sabato that will need a line-up spot too, so it will be interesting to see how all these players progress in the years ahead.

    Second Base: Luis Arraez
    Arraez didn’t have a perfect 2020 season as he dealt with knee issues, but he was still able to post an impressive .321 batting average with nine doubles in 32 games. His defense is never going to be fantastic at second, but the Twins might help him improve by working on his defensive positioning or getting better defenders around him in the infield. Also, none of the second base options behind him in the organization will be pushing him out of the way. His bat is his ticket to a long-term big-league job and the Twins will still be happy to have him in the line-up in 2024.

    Shortstop: Jorge Polanco
    There is no guarantee that Polanco will even be the Twins starting shortstop in 2021, let alone still be playing the position in 2024. It seems more likely for the Twins to have another option at shortstop over the next couple seasons, which would allow Polanco to shift to a utility role. At this point, there are options in the minors like Royce Lewis, Wander Javier, and eventually, Keoni Cavaco. No, I don’t believe Polanco can stick at shortstop, but I also don’t think the team’s 2024 shortstop is in the organization yet.

    Third Base: Josh Donaldson
    Minnesota would need to pick up Donaldson’s 2024 option for him to make it into this line-up and that might be questionable in his age-38 season. It is a $16 million option, but the buyout is $8 million, which means the Twins will have an $8 million decision to make following the 2023 season. The Twins have some third base options in the minors and there is always a chance the team moves Royce Lewis from shortstop to third base.

    Left Field: Trevor Larnach
    Larnach doesn’t get as much hype as Kirilloff and Lewis, but he would be the top hitting prospect for other organizations. Also, he’s older than Kirilloff and the same age as Jeffers and Arraez. Back in 2019, the Twins named him their Minor League Player of the Year after he hit .309/.384/.458 with 44 extra-base hits. There’s a good chance he makes his debut in 2021 and he has a chance to be part of the Twins line-up for the better part of the next decade.

    Center Field: Royce Lewis
    Byron Buxton is a free agent following the 2023 season, so there a few different ways the team can go by 2024. Lewis has had questions about his defensive future since the Twins drafted him and he showed some positive signs when playing outfield in the 2019 Arizona Fall League. Minnesota is committed to him as a shortstop for now, but the story might be different in four years. Few question his athletic ability and playing another up-the-middle defensive position might be his long-term ticket to the big leagues.

    Right Field: Max Kepler
    Kepler, along with Sano, can fill the role the aging veteran on the 2024 Twins as they will both be in their age-31 seasons. The Twins would need to pick-up Kepler’s $10 million option for the 2024 season or work out a different extension to keep him on the roster. Since the start of the 2019 season, he has an .831 OPS and a 119 OPS+ while being a strong defender in the outfield. He seems like the type of player that can fill a veteran leadership role as younger pieces start to join the core that is already in place.

    Designated Hitter: Miguel Sano
    I was tempted to pencil in a 43-year-old Nelson Cruz as the team’s designated hitter with how ageless he has seemed during his Twins tenure. Sano is the logical choice to be the team’s DH by 2024, especially with his move to first base last year. Minnesota will have better defensive options at first and Sano can concentrate on doing what he does best, hitting monster home runs. Sano is only under team control through 2023, so the Twins will have the option to turn to one of the other big bats (Rooker, Sabato) in the organization as well.

    What do you think the 2024 line-up will look like in Minnesota? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    PREVIOUS YEAR’S PREDICTIONS
    2021 Line-Up
    2022 Line-Up
    2023 Line-Up
    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Dec 27 2020 11:29 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  20. Twins Future Position Analysis: Second Base

    Current Second Baseman: Luis Arraez
    Arraez burst onto the scene in 2019 with a rookie campaign unseen in Minnesota for quite some time. He hit .334/.399/.439 with a 29 to 36 strikeout to walk ratio. In the batter’s box, he seemed to be able to know what the pitcher was throwing and spit on pitches on the edges. Arraez was never seen as a top-tier prospect, but the 2019 season might have changed that perspective.

    To be clear, the 2020 season saw Arraez play through a knee injury that plagued him during spring training and the team’s summer camp session. With that being said, he still hit .321/.364/.402 with an 11 to 8 strikeout to walk ratio in 32 games. The shortened season certainly impacted his injury and it also impacted the numbers he was able to produce at the big-league level. Arraez should be the Twins present and future, but it’s hard to predict how his knee will react.

    40-Man Options
    Besides Arraez, the Twins have other 40-man roster options to play second base. Travis Blankenhorn is a legitimate option that could surprise some fans in 2021. If the Twins are able to sign another shortstop, Jorge Polanco could move to a utility role to put less pressure on Donaldson and Arraez. Blankenhorn has accumulated over 1900 defensive innings at second base during his professional career which is more than any other defensive position.

    On the Farm Options
    Outside of the options mentioned above, there are other second base options in the minor leagues including some strong prospects.
    [attachment=16992:Second Base Minors.JPG]
    Lin was an intriguing signing this winter and Severino has all the skills to be an impact option at the big-league level. Lin will likely get multiple opportunities to fill-in for full-time players. Also, Severino has been in the Twins system long enough to build up equity with the coaching staff. Arraez might be the current second baseman

    Prato joined the Twins organization as a 7th round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. He split his professional debut between Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids while hitting .268/.373/.730 with 10 extra-base hits in 4 games. Santana played three full seasons in the Dominican Summer League before making his stateside debut. In E-Town, he hit .276/.371/.372 with 10 extra-base hits in 40 games. He should have the chance to debut with Fort Myers in 2021.

    Julien is another intriguing option because of his college experience. Minnesota drafted him out of Auburn in 2019 and he has yet to make his professional debut. The Canadian native could make a big impact on the organization if he is able to move quickly in the years ahead.


    What do you think about the future of second base in Minnesota? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES

    -First Base

    -Shortstop

    -Third Base


    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Dec 17 2020 09:20 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  21. Week in Review: Stealing the Central

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 9/21 through Sun, 9/27

    ***

    Record Last Week: 3-2 (Overall: 36-24)

    Run Differential Last Week: -1 (Overall: +55)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central

    Bomba Counter: 91


    Three weeks ago in this column, when I was recapping a week in which Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson both returned from the Injured List and immediately made big impacts, I wrote: "It's crystal-clear that nothing is more important to the Twins' chances of a deep postseason run than keeping Donaldson and Buxton healthy and effective."

    Things were shaping up well on this front heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Then, suddenly, they weren't.

    On Friday night, Donaldson exited following his first at-bat, which ended with him gingerly stepping out of the batter's box after hitting a pop-up to right field. Later in the game, Buxton took a wayward fastball to the helmet, ending his night.

    Donaldson was diagnosed with a right calf cramp. Buxton was said to be experiencing mild concussion symptoms. Neither played on Saturday or Sunday, and their statuses for the first round of the postseason are up in the air.



    The good news is that neither injury seems too serious on the surface, and Rocco Baldelli has expressed optimism that both players could be available on Tuesday. The bad news is ... well, where to begin? Baldelli has had a tendency to downplay injury severity all year (and why wouldn't he in this case?). The specific nature of each injury is concerning due to each player's history (Donaldson with his calves, Buxton with concussions). And most of all, it's just an extremely short window – these incidents occurred four days before an intense playoff gauntlet with no off days.

    All we can do is wait and see. In the meantime, there were plenty of other developments worth tracking in the final week of the regular season, so let's break them down, and then look ahead to the coming playoff tilt against the Astros.

    HIGHLIGHTS


    Minnesota's chances of repeating as division champs looked bleak when they left the south side of Chicago 10 days ago, having dropped three of four and cost themselves a tiebreaker against the White Sox. At that time, the odds were heavily tilted against the Twins, and even a week ago, as I mapped out scenarios for the final seven days, Chicago was in the driver's seat.

    Ultimately, the Sox played poorly enough that Minnesota had to merely take care of business. The Twins did just that, finishing 3-2 at home against the Tigers and Reds while Chicago went 1-6.

    [attachment=15565:playoffscenario.png]


    As a result, the Twins won the American League Central despite dropping the final series against Cincinnati. This marks Minnesota's first time capturing back-to-back division titles since exactly one decade ago, when they did it in 2009 and 2010. Those two teams had a collective winning percentage of .557; the 2019/20 Twins have a collective winning percentage of .617.

    Now, they'll host two or three games of the AL Wild Card Series at Target Field, where the Twins went 24-6 in the regular season. The visiting Houston Astros, meanwhile, went 9-23 away from MInute Maid, and finished two games below .500 overall. It would've been hard to hand-pick a better outcome for Minnesota, in theory, but now they need to go out and slay their postseason demons under these relatively favorable circumstances.

    They'll have a decisive pitching advantage in Game 1, which wouldn't have been the case under any other match-up scenario. Zack Greinke is good, but Kenta Maeda's been much better, and on Wednesday, Minnesota's No. 1 starter made his final regular-season start in preparation.

    While the results weren't great by his own high standards – in six innings, he allowed three runs, matching his highest total of the season – Maeda still looked plenty good while picking up the win and improving to 6-1. He struck out nine and walked none, inducing a season-high 22 swinging strikes.

    In his final two starts of the season, Maeda struck out 17 men with zero walks and nine hits allowed over 11 innings. He's locked in and ready to go, and has earned plenty of confidence. Maeda is unlikely to shrink in the moment because, as our Cody Christie wrote last week, he's no stranger to October.

    Just as Maeda is critical to the rotation's postseason success, Taylor Rogers is a vital bullpen crux. His struggles throughout the season have been a primary source of anxiety for fans, already thinking ahead (and backward) to late-game lapses in the playoffs. Nerves flared up again on Tuesday when Rogers came in to pitch the 10th inning of a tie game and allowed Detroit to pull ahead, singling in the auto-runner from second. It wasn't a terrible outing on its own merit, but another spot where the previously infallible closer failed to deliver.

    Seeking to feed his relief fireman some confidence, Baldelli threw Rogers back into the heat on Saturday, bringing him into the seventh inning of a three-run game with two on, and one out. Once again, Rogers got nipped, yielding an RBI single (on an 0-2 count) and then hitting Aristides Aquino with a pitch (on a 1-2 count) to load the bases. From there, the lefty buckled down, retiring four straight batters with a strikeout and three grounders.

    It was a much-needed glimmer of positivity for Rogers, who threw 75% strikes in his two appearances last week after an oddly erratic showing on the previous road trip. He's restoring some faith, although in terms of leverage Baldelli should pretty clearly have him pegged behind Tyler Duffey, who finished out Saturday's victory in dominant fashion (1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 3 K).

    On offense, although the losses of Donaldson and Buxton were the banner stories for the weekend, one major gain cannot be overlooked: Luis Arráez is back and looking as good as ever. He went off in his return on Saturday night, going 4-for-4 with three doubles, and followed with two more hits on Sunday.

    The second baseman was in vintage form, slashing the ball with lightning-quick wrists and driving liners in all direction, raising his final batting average to .321. Most critically, he was running hard, with no apparent limitations stemming from his knee or ankle ailments.



    Getting Arráez's bat back is huge with a couple of Minnesota's other key left-handed hitters starting to find their strokes in timely fashion. Max Kepler snapped out of his prolonged slump last Sunday, and kept it rolling by going 6-for-20 with a homer, two doubles, and a walk-off single in the final week. Meanwhile, Eddie Rosario went 6-for-19 with a homer and a double, striking out just twice in 22 plate appearances.

    With the Astros figuring to throw at least two right-handed starters in the Wild Card round, and featuring a RH-heavy bullpen, it's good to see Minnesota's lefty sticks finishing in a good place.

    LOWLIGHTS


    While Maeda was plenty sharp in his final tune-up, the two other projected first-round starters were less so. Michael Pineda saw his control go amiss on Saturday night, when he issued a season-high three walks while laboring through four innings against Cincinnati. He later (hilariously) addressed the uncharacteristic hiccup by referring to himself in the third-person: "I had a little bit of frustration with me because it’s not Big Mike, you know. Big Mike loves to attack the zone."



    The previous night, José Berríos saw his hot streak (4-0 with a 2.14 ERA in six starts) come to an end as he coughed up four runs in five innings. Facing the Reds, he surrendered multiple home runs for the first time all year.

    Neither Pineda nor Berríos looked all that bad necessarily, but it isn't ideal to see two of their greatest strengths – throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park, respectively – fall through at this stage. The margin for error next time out will likely be razor-thin.

    On that note, the pitching staff would benefit from a bit of breathing room, but this will depend on an inconsistent lineup finding itself in a hurry. While lefty swingers like Arráez, Kepler and Rosario are carrying the load right now, it's difficult to envision the Twins exerting their offensive force against Houston without key bats from the right side stepping up. On this front, we haven't been seeing many encouraging signs.

    Donaldson and Buxton are total question marks. Nelson Cruz, who was a trendy MVP candidate for much of the season, saw his performance tail off in a major way down the stretch, as he hit just .171 with one home run and two RBIs in his final 10 games, while missing time in the middle due to a knee issue. In three starts over the past week, Cruz went 1-for-10 with five strikeouts. Given the injury implications and his age, this can't be treated as a passing slump and dismissed as such.

    With that said, Cruz's skid has nothing on that of Miguel Sanó, who was a major drag on the lineup throughout September after carrying it at times in August. Sanó finished 2-for-16 with zero extra-base hits last week, rarely putting together decent at-bats. In September, he slashed .148/.178/.383 with 39 strikeouts and three walks in 84 plate appearances. Hideous.

    Mitch Garver had three hits in 11 plate appearances, including a monster home run and a crushed double, but he also struck out seven times. He hasn't drawn a walk since returning from IL and finishes with a .167/.247/.264 line on the season coming off his Silver Slugger campaign. That Ryan Jeffers starts Game 1 is basically a given at this point – the question is whether Garver will get any starts.

    Minnesota has a top-notch pitching corps, and there are a few promising trends on offense, but seeing all these pivotal hitters in such bad ways heading into the postseason is alarming to say the least.

    TRENDING STORYLINE


    It's time for playoff baseball! Plenty of narratives will be at play as the Astros travel to Target Field for a first-ever postseason meeting between these two clubs.

    Houston is returning to the national stage for the first time since becoming universally villainized by the revelation of their cheating scandal last winter. It's safe to say they'll have plenty more than just Twins fans cheering for their defeat.

    Meanwhile, the Twins are haunted by the specter of 16 consecutive postseason losses. They'll be hoping to vanquish it against the defending AL champs, in an unprecedented best-of-three Wild Card round, aiming to move on and face the winner of A's/White Sox in the bubble.

    Strangeness aside, it's about to get real.



    LOOKING AHEAD


    We know who the Twins are planning to throw in all three games. For Houston, it's less clear. The absence of Justin Verlander, who underwent Tommy John surgery, looms large and leaves a void after the Game 1 starter Greinke.

    It sounds like Lance McCullers Jr. would likely take the hill for a Game 3 if needed. As for Game 2? Right-hander Jose Urquidy, who started Friday, is a possibility. But given the Twins' struggles against lefties this year, it wouldn't surprise me to see Dusty Baker and the Astros opt for southpaw Framber Valdez, who last started Tuesday in Seattle.

    Suffice to say that no matter which direction Houston goes, it'll be Minnesota with the on-paper advantage in every pitching match-up.

    TUESDAY, 9/29: AL Wild Card, Game 1 vs. Houston – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Zack Greinke
    WEDNESDAY, 9/30: AL Wild Card, Game 2 vs. Houston – RHP José Berríos v. TBD
    THURSDAY, 10/1: AL Wild Card Game 3 (if necessary) vs. Houston – RHP Michael Pineda v. TBD

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
    — Latest Twins coverage from our writers
    — Recent Twins discussion in our forums
    — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

    • Sep 27 2020 08:31 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  22. Travis Blankenhorn Makes MLB Debut, Doubles

    Travis Blankenhorn began the 2019 season at High-A Ft. Myers. After just 15 games, he moved up to Double-A Pensacola where he hit .278 with 18 doubles and 18 homers in 93 games. In his time with the Blue Wahoos, he had the opportunity to see several of his teammates move up and eventually debut with the Twins in 2019.

    “Seeing all those guys up there is awesome.” Blankenhorn said in a Get To Know ‘Em podcast last October. He said was excited to see teammates such as Luis Arraez, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and several other pitchers (as well as one of his best friends Jaylin Davis with the Giants) debut and contribute with the Twins. “Just watching them go up there and have success is awesome. We all love it. We’re all cheering for them. Obviously I think that’s a good motivation that we’re not too far away… It could happen like that.”

    Tuesday night in Chicago, it is Travis Blankenhorn’s turn to make his MLB debut. He batted seventh and played second base in a Twins lineup filled with its regulars. The lineup also included Ryan Jeffers behind the plate and Randy Dobnak on the mound. All three of them began the 2019 season together with the High-A Ft. Myers Miracle.

    2020 has been a unique year, and that is true for players making their major-league debuts too. Normally, a player would be in a minor league clubhouse or a hotel room when their manager would call them to let them know they were needed in the big leagues.

    Blankenhorn was already in Chicago. For the second time this season, he was a part of the Twins taxi squad. He was also part of the taxi squad for the doubleheader in St. Louis. As a taxi squad member, he can work with the team before the game, take some BP, field grounders, etc., but when the game starts, he had to go into the stands.

    So on Monday, Blankenhorn was going about his game-day routine. He said, “I was already here. I was on the field. Took some ground balls. Went out to the outfield to shag and that’s when he (bench coach Mike Bell) came up and told me. So I definitely think it’s one of the more unique ways to find out.”

    Bell shared his version of telling Blankenhorn that something was up, “You know it’s going to happen. It’s really cool. It’s such a unique year. His family’s not here. Those things go through your mind. When it became official, I had to run out on the field. I just downplayed it. I said ‘Hey Rocco needs you. No big deal.” Who knows what he thought. He might have thought he had to drive back home to the alternate site.”

    Blankenhorn said that he ran in to talk to Baldelli. That’s when he got The Call. He was a big leaguer.

    He had some phone calls to make, but very quickly.He called his parents and his fiance. “I couldn’t talk long though because my BP group was up, and I wanted to hit. Short phone call.”

    All this happened about 90 minutes before game time.

    -------------------------------------------------

    I tweeted about a week before the season that it sure would have been great if MLB had found a way to safely allow family at a player's MLB debut.



    Mike Bell agreed that it’s unfortunate, but obviously we understand.

    “One big thing that this whole year has taken away from some of these young guys making their debuts is their families aren’t in the stands. It’s unique. I’m sure they’ll never forget it. I hate it for them, but you just keep going back to what the world’s dealing with. Gosh, there’s just so much going on. We’re all pretty fortunate here.”

    Regardless, Monday was an exciting day for Blankenhorn. “There was actually a point in the game where I thought I could have gone in yesterday. Definitely an unreal moment. Just finding out an hour before the game that you’re not going to be sitting in the stands today. You’re actually going to be in the dugout. It was definitely a good feeling. Crazy. Crazy day, for sure.”

    --------------------------------------------------

    So now to the actual baseball side of things. We all love the human element of a big league promotion and Major League debut, but why was Blankenhorn called up, and how can he contribute to the Twins over the final 11 games?

    First, on Monday, the Twins were without Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano, and Marwin Gonzalez was a late scratch due to illness. The team needed an extra bench bat for the game, and they optioned lefty Devin Smeltzer to add him. It is possible that he could be the player optioned to make room for Jake Odorizzi, who will come off the Injured List on Wednesday and make the start.

    Twins Daily's Matthew Trueblood wrote earlier today that he'd like to see Blankenhorn play... everyday!

    ------------------------------------------------------

    Blankenhorn debuted at second base on Tuesday night, and that has certainly been his primary position in the minor leagues the last couple of seasons.



    As you can see, he played a lot of third base early in his career. In 2019, he added left field to his positions played list. However, there is no question that he has mostly worked in the infield.

    He said that after getting his pre-game infield work done, he goes out to the outfield to shag fly balls and work on reads. At the Twins alternate site in St. Paul, however, Blankenhorn said he has worked exclusively in the infield.

    Before Tuesday night’s game in Chicago, Baldelli said of Blankenhorn, “I think Blank’s strength defensively is the fact that he can do a lot of different things for you. He’s worked really hard in the infield. He’s gotten to the point where he’s a very competent second baseman and you can feel really good about him getting the job done. Our ability to put him in the lineup comes down to him being very proficient in different spots. I’m looking forward to watching him go.”

    --------------------------------------------

    Baldelli also gave a lot of credit to the the Twins minor league coaches and coordinators. He noted that a lot of good work is being done at CHS Field. “Our guys have done a tremendous job over in St. Paul. JP Martinez has run that camp over there flawlessly in a situation that is very, very challenging. Our guys have got a ton of work.”

    Baldelli continued, “ I know he’s spent a lot of time with our player development guys, with our coaches, with Billy Boyer on a lot of different spots all over the infield.”

    Billy Boyer is the Twins minor league infield and base running coordinator. He’s been working with the group in St. Paul this summer. Boyer said of Blankenhorn, “I feel great about where he is with his defense. Blank and our staff have put a ton of time, effort and focus on developing his defensive skill set both at second base and third base. Couldn’t be more proud of him, to see all the time and effort paying off for him.”

    Posted Image

    2020 has been a strange year. Being at the alternate site is not the same as playing a minor league season, but Blankenhorn said that he and the others in St. Paul are putting in a lot of good work.

    “We were all just grinding over there. Everyone knows that there’s a chance. We were all just trying to stay ready. Trying to get our at bats. Trying to get our work in. And going to the field everyday knowing that there’s an opportunity that if something would happen, we would be the guys to go over there (Target Field and the MLB roster). It was definitely a grind trying to stay ready over there.”

    ------------------------------------------------------

    Blankenhorn was the Twins third round draft pick in 2015 out of high school in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He was a great three-sport athlete who could have played any of three sports in college. He was a really good defensive back and kick returner on his high school’s football team. He was a big-time shooter on his team’s high school basketball team. And obviously, it appears, he made the right choice in going the way of baseball.

    But he was a raw, athletic kid when he was drafted. He has had to work hard. He has had to make several adjustments along the way. He has struck out a lot, and then made adjustments. He has added a lot of power to his game as he has matured physically and mentally. It’s all part of the (often quite non-linear) player development path of a prospect.

    “If you look at my swing from when I first got to the Twins until now, I think I’ve changed a couple of times. Picking and choosing what is best for me. I think last year I learned a lot about myself as a hitter and I’m just trying to continue going off of that.”

    In last year’s Get to Know ‘Em podcast, he talked about how valuable his experience in the 2018 Arizona Fall League was for him. He was able to pick people’s brains, get other thoughts and ideas and incorporate it into his game, into his approach, and into his swing.

    As for getting at bats in St. Paul, it certainly wasn’t a typical schedule, but as Baldelli notes, they have been able to get their work in and when they have come over from CHS Field, they have been ready to contribute right away. Because there are only so many pitchers there, there are different schedules. They don’t play regular games. Some days they may get a bunch of at bats. Some days maybe one at bat. Some days they may not get any at bats.

    “They’ve gotten a ton of at bats ultimately. Is it typical? Is it what we’re used to judging guys off of? No. But it’s certainly a spot where we’re getting our guys enough work where we feel really good putting them in major league games when they get over here. We have no hesitation getting Blank out there, and he’s ready to go too. I think you could actually look at it, not from the way we feel about it, but from the way the players feel about it. The players have shown up here throughout, ready to go. Those guys are ready.”

    Blankenhorn added, “If you look at the group of pitchers we had over there, the people that came over, I think we definitely had some quality at bats against some quality pitching. I think that was a big part of staying ready.”

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Blankenhorn recently turned 24. If asked what type of player I think he can be, I would look to Marwin Gonzalez as a relatively good comp. Gonzalez is a switch-hitter. Blankenhorn is left handed only. But I can see a situation where Blankenhorn is a solid hitter with some power who is going to strikeout a bit. Defensively, he won’t be great at any one position, but he will be adequate at third base and potentially in the corner outfield spots, and I think he can be solid defensively on the right side of the infield. He could be a solid regular starter at second base if needed, but a large piece of his value comes from his versatility. It should allow him to play in the big leagues for a number of years.
    It’s a role that Blankenhorn has embraced over the last couple of seasons. He wants to play all over the diamond. “I’m just going to go wherever they tell me to.”

    -------------------------------------------------------

    Blankenhorn's Debut (1-for-3, HBP, 2B)

    In his first at-bat, Blankenhorn popped up the first pitch to third base. The second at bat was a fly out to left field. In his third plate appearance, he was hit by a pitch in the elbow armor. In the ninth inning, Blankenhorn had that moment, connecting for a two-out double over the right fielder’s head.



    Following the game, his manager said, “It’s a huge moment for any player. Anyone that’s been in the big leagues and had an opportunity to have a first like that... It’s certainly a moment and an emotion that you always remember. Sometimes you don’t remember every aspect of your first game, or every aspect of your first hit, but there are certainly some snap shots that he will never forget, and he gets to take with him wherever he goes. We know he’s a good offensive player, a good young offensive player, and seeing him put a good swing on the ball like that is very nice.”

    Blankenhorn said later that it was "an unreal moment, getting on that field for the first time. That's what I've been dreaming about since Little League."

    He continued, "Getting that first hit out of the way on the first night was definitely nice. (I'm) going to find a case for that baseball and keep it somewhere safe!"

    More on Travis Blankenhorn

    • Sep 16 2020 11:44 AM
    • by Seth Stohs