There’s no denying that Minnesota’s front office is currently navigating a way forward without Gio Urshela, and they’ve yet to bring back star shortstop Carlos Correa. That leaves plenty of questions on the dirt, and it’s there that Rocco Baldelli’s team struggled the most a season ago. As much as Jorge Polanco or Luis Arraez may contribute offensively, neither have been particularly valuable on defense.
A season ago the Twins ranked 13th in baseball in terms of defensive runs saved (23). That’s misleading however, as the outfield alone contributed 24 DRS (4th best), meaning the infield was responsible for a -1 tally. Minnesota was also worth 16 outs above average (4th best) in the outfield, but Statcast’s metric had them at -11 OAA overall, meaning the infield was worth a horrid -27 OAA.
It’s not a surprise that the Twins would have a strong outfield defense. Byron Buxton is arguably the best center fielder in baseball, and Max Kepler can lay a similar claim in right field defensively. Left field has been somewhat of a revolving door for Minnesota, especially with injuries to Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff, but the group together is a very solid one. It is imperative that the Twins figure out a way to match that on the infield.
We’ll see somewhat of a different look for Baldelli’s team this season. With Urshela being dealt to the Los Angeles Angels, Jose Miranda is set to be the starter at the hot corner. He was worth -6 DRS and -4 OAA in just shy of 600 innings at first base, but was exactly average in roughly 250 innings at third base. The eye test suggested that Miranda has his deficiencies across the diamond, but it’s clear he has good instincts and the arm can play. Getting full trust their in his second season will give us a better indication of what is to come.
There’s not going to be a change at second base as Polanco is entrenched there. After a solid showing in his new position during 2021, Polanco regressed by advanced metrics standards in 2022. His -1 DRS was down from 3 the year prior, and his -9 OAA was a far cry from the near-neutral -1 OAA in 2021. There had been hope that Polanco could emerge as a strong defender moving away from shortstop, but we’ve yet to see that. With the shift banning infielders from playing deep in the grass, it may help that Polanco’s throw distance is dramatically reduced.
We haven’t seen enough of Kirilloff at first base to make a judgment as to what he’ll be there, and we know that Arraez has his own deficiencies. The latter racked up all of the offensive awards in 2022, but recently told me at the Twins uniform unveiling that his next goal is to win a Gold Glove. Minnesota will continue to make Arraez a utility contributor, but he could be the most consistent first basemen in 2023 without having clarity on the status of Kirilloff’s wrist.
The front office has yet to acquire a starting shortstop, and if it’s not going to be Correa, a strong defender could wind up being the linchpin for the infield. Andrelton Simmons was supposed to represent that two seasons ago, and did provide significant defensive value. Limiting range without a shift is going to require individual contributors to provide the utmost ability. Knowing Polanco’s limitations on the opposite side of second base, Minnesota can’t afford to miss on shortstop.
The goal for the Twins would certainly be to score more runs in 2023, but they also must do a substantially better job at limiting them. Everyone will be tested without the shift, but having a cleaner and more crisp set of fielders on the dirt is imperative. The Twins outfield may be one of envy defensively, but no one has desired what they’ve put out immediately behind the mound in recent seasons. It’s time to fix that.