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  • The Top 20 Minnesota Twins Assets of 2023: Part 1 (16-20)

    Nick Nelson

    With the arrival of a new year, it's time to update my annual rankings of the top 20 player assets in the Minnesota Twins organization.

    This is my sixth year going through this exercise, and I think I can safely say it's never been harder. Read on to see where I landed on #16 through #20 for the list.

    Image courtesy of Rob Thompson, St. Paul Saints

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    These rankings are intended to provide a relative view of Twins players and prospects by appraising their big-picture value to the organization. The goal is to answer this question: Which current players in the organization are most indispensable to fulfilling the vision of building a champion?

    We account for age, contract, controllability, upside, etc. It's not strictly a ranking of trade value, because that would be more team-agnostic, where this list aims to capture a very Twins-specific POV. As such, players at areas of scarcity (i.e. pitching) get elevated while those at areas of abundance (i.e. lefty-swinging corner guys) get downgraded a bit.

    I always find compiling this list to be an interesting offseason exercise – one that surfaces unique conversations about Twins players, how we value them, and where the system's strengths and weaknesses truly lie. 

    What made it so challenging this year is that, by design, these rankings are a snapshot in time – published at the start of January for no other reason than a new year feels like a good time to reset and reassess – and right now, it's very tough to get a read on the state of this organization and its talent.

    For one thing, it feels like we're in the midst of a slow-developing offseason journey with big twists still ahead. I have a strong feeling there will be noticeable changes to this list by March 30th. 

    But even more, there is SO MUCH UNCERTAINTY with the players they already have. A snapshot at this midpoint of the offseason lacks clarity around key health-related details with massive implications. I struggled with many decisions, and they begin to crop up in this first installment.

    For example: If healthy, Tyler Mahle at $7.2 million is tremendously valuable, even with only one remaining year of team control. Can we safely operate under the assumption he'll be healthy and at full strength in 2023? (Spoiler alert: I decided no, and he just missed the cut.)

    Another example: If his latest surgery works and Alex Kirilloff returns to being roughly the player he was before his wrist affliction, he's a centerpiece in the lineup controlled for several years. Can you assume such a rare and complex surgery will take? (Spoiler alert: My cautious optimism got him on the list, but as you'll soon learn, not very high.)

    With that setup, let's kick off the countdown with my picks for the 16th through 20th most valuable assets in the Twins organization. First, you can check out my rankings from the past five years to see how the franchise's talent landscape has evolved:

    Top 20 Twins Assets of 2023: 16 through 20

    20. Matt Wallner, OF

    2022 Ranking: NR

    On a list like this, Wallner has a few key things working against him.

    First, his player type – strikeout-prone LH corner bat with big power – is fairly abundant in baseball, as evidenced by the Twins signing the poster child in Joey Gallo for $11 million. Second, that player type happens to be especially abundant in the Twins organization. So long as Max Kepler remains camped in right field, Wallner lacks a direct path to the majors, even though his skill set looks ready.

    The reason he still makes the list, just barely, is because his abilities within that skill set are SO exceptional. Baseball America rates Wallner as the best power hitter and best outfield arm in the Twins system – tools that were on display during a September debut in the majors. 

    Wallner didn't put up terribly impressive numbers in 18 games with the Twins but had some big moments, and if he's shown one thing during his ascent through the minors it's that he can quickly put a slow start at a new level behind him and start dominating once he gets comfortable.

    The Twins will hope that's exactly what happens to the 25-year-old, who can make a big impact on the team's (near) future as either a slugger in the middle of the order or highly marketable trade chip.

    19. Louie Varland, RHP

    2022 Ranking: NR

    Around this time last year, there was still a degree of widespread skepticism around Varland. Sure, he'd earned Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2021 with some truly dazzling numbers, but was this former 15th-round draft pick out of a D2 college the real deal, or a flash in the pan?

    He backed up his breakout with a 2022 campaign that saw him:

    Named Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year for a second consecutive year, posting a 3.06 ERA in 126 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. 

    Debut in the major leagues, where he showed the poise and ability of a seasoned vet. In five starts, Varland posted a 3.81 ERA over 26 innings, completing at least five frames in each turn. 

    Skepticism remains regarding Varland's true ceiling, which is why he doesn't rank higher on this list, but he has solidified his standing as a turnkey mid-rotation starter with six years of team control. His durability and consistency stand out from the field of pitchers in the Twins organization.

    18. Sonny Gray, RHP

    2022 Ranking: NR

    As things currently stand, Gray is the only pitcher in the organization who can credibly be looked at as a dependable frontline starter for 2023. That, in a nutshell, is why I had to include him in these rankings, albeit near the back end because the status of his contract (one year remaining at $12.5 million) and checkered bill of health this past season.

    Gray has been around the block. He's made All-Star teams. He's started playoff games. He's been a featured rotation piece for several teams in a decade of big-league action, and he filled that role pretty well for the Twins last year.

    It was a bummer that recurring hamstring issues limited Gray to just 24 starts and 120 innings, but he doesn't have the same kind of looming health-related questions as fellow veteran starters Mahle and Kenta Maeda. When on the mound, his performance was pretty much everything you'd want: a bulldog who throws strikes, keeping runners off the bases and batted balls in the park.

    To whatever extent the Twins are successful in the coming season, it seems very likely that Gray will play a pivotal role. 

    17. Jorge Lopez, RHP

    2022 Ranking: NR

    As the 2022 season played out, the Twins recognized that in order to take the next step forward, they needed to buttress Jhoan Duran at the back of the bullpen with another dominating force. This revelation pushed the front office to do something they rarely do: invest big in a buy-high relief pitcher.

    The Twins gave up four prospects at the deadline to acquire Baltimore's All-Star closer, who was experiencing an instant breakthrough in his transition to full-time reliever. Lopez shook off his previous struggles as a starter and transformed into a convincing lights-out bullpen ace for the O's.

    His performance in Minnesota after the trade was far less inspiring, but unlike Mahle, there's no reason to believe anything is physically amiss for Lopez. His profile – heavy doses of whiffs and grounders with sinking upper-90s heat – is a pretty reliable formula for success. So long as he can get back to commanding his arsenal Lopez figures to be a key piece during his two remaining seasons of team control.

    16. Alex Kirilloff, 1B/OF

    2022 Ranking: 3

    I'm an affirmed believe in Kirilloff. In five past iterations of these rankings, I've had him in the top five twice, including #2 in 2021 and #3 last year. I view his pedigree, IQ and ability as a hitter to be in a rarefied class. 

    He's flashed it in brief glimpses on the field, and last year AK hammered home his hitting prowess during a hilariously productive month at Triple-A (.385/.477/.725 in 28 games). But on the big-league field, Kirilloff's success has always been fleeting, with each setback tied to a clear culprit.

    The wrist injury that sabotaged his elite swing, and has now required two surgeries, will define Kirilloff's career. He'll overcome it with help from this latest intervention, or join the long list of rising stars fell victim to the brutal physical toll of pro sports – forced to make do rather than make hay.

    I'm bullish on Kirilloff overcoming it. If for no other reason than that the Twins as a franchise, and especially Alex Kirilloff as person, are overdue for a good break. The guy also lost a full year of development to Tommy John surgery, and despite it all, finds himself firmly planted in the majors at age 25. His talent is not in question. 

    A healthy and raking Kirilloff would be a radical difference-maker in the outlook for the 2023 Twins and beyond. Ranking him 16th on this list is an attempt to balance that simmering potential with the cold realities of the human body and its limits.

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    Kirilloff had a lost season in 20, 21 and 22. Although it only takes one believer in a GM, the last 3 years may have dropped his stock 

    Lopez had a career half year. He may bounce back and it wasn’t a fluke. He might not. The last 1/4 of the season would take the shine off the first.  To digress, the real benefit to the trade was they could no longer call up Cano.

    Options rather than these 2 for your list? Can’t say because there are others might be higher on the list, might not.

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    Excellent start to your assessment of the 2023 Twins player assets Nick. Looking forward to the rest of the posts.

    I think you are right on with Wallner as a wild card to adjust. Varland looked quite comfortable on a MLB pitching mound in his brief trial. Gray has been a really good pitcher and projects to be the best Twins starting pitcher if he is still on the team in April. Lopez could go just about any direction but I think he could rebound with a vengeance. Finally, Kirilloff is rightfully lower on the list due to his injuries but it is entirely possible that a fully healed wrist unleashes those St. Paul numbers on MLB pitchers. 

    "For one thing, it feels like we're in the midst of a slow-developing offseason journey with big twists still ahead. I have a strong feeling there will be noticeable changes to this list by March 30th." This line from the post most exemplifies the current state of the Minnesota Twins; things are in flux.



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    The two vets downgraded for injuries and injury potential is a sad situation and he is joined by Mahle and Maeda as "?" for the year.  Let's hope Gray holds up and demands a big contract because of real production.  Lopez I am not sold on - not injury, just the BP uncertainty.  Shine in the first half, poor in the second - I hope he rebounds, but he has no history to rely on.

    Wallner lost his spot with Gallo signed and is a reason signing Gallo was a poor decision. 

    You are wading in a turbulent pool and I look forward to your next list.  

    I do hope Varland can continue his rise! With Ober another health issue is he next in line?

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    TY Nick!
    It can get tricky when you are talking asset versus prospect.  I would always look at it as "how would another team value this guy."  I am very high yet on Alex K but I can't imagine many other teams would be thinking positively after having the 3 "lost years".......so as an asset....... I can see why you don't have him ranked very high!

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    Always enjoy this exercise, Nick, thanks.

    Understand your injury concerns, but I believe Mahle and Maeda are both going to be healthy and strong members of next year’s rotation.

    Where I may differ is I believe this FO doesn’t plan on any big moves.  Maybe a reliever, but this team may be the one they go to war with.

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    Until Kiriloff is proven heathly I would leave him off this list.  My guess is that it is a 50-50 probability.  I am much higher at this time on Laurach, at least we know what his issues were and they are fixable.  Rest of the list should be interesting.

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    5 hours ago, DJL44 said:

    Seems like this could be expanded beyond players in the system. When I think of organizational assets I think of Target Field, next season's first round draft pick, goodwill for the Twins brand, their television contract, etc.

    Interesting idea! I've thought about something along the lines of a "Twins Big Draft" that would involve this kind of scope in selections. We'll think on it! (The Athletic did something along these lines last year, I think a Twins-specific version could be very fun.)

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    2 hours ago, Nick Nelson said:

    Interesting idea! I've thought about something along the lines of a "Twins Big Draft" that would involve this kind of scope in selections. We'll think on it! (The Athletic did something along these lines last year, I think a Twins-specific version could be very fun.)

    Where would you rank Falvey, Lavine and Pohlad on that list?

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    9 hours ago, DJL44 said:

    Seems like this could be expanded beyond players in the system. When I think of organizational assets I think of Target Field, next season's first round draft pick, goodwill for the Twins brand, their television contract, etc.

    I was going to say something very similar. I also think it is a bit dehumanizing to refer to players as assets. I get what’s being said and appreciate the article even so, but it just struck me differently. I was expecting the list as you said it, and not of human beings.

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    Kirilloff being this low on the list is a bit of a disaster for this franchise.

    Talk about not being able to have nice things.  Kubel, Mauer, Morneau were all derailed by injuries….now Buxton, and we’re going down that road with Lewis, and Kirilloff.  

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    Excellent point about Kirillof's baseball IQ.  I recall multiple times when he was on base and reacted immediately and decisively taking the extra base in a ball in the dirt.  This is instinct not learned behavior.  Big hopeful fan!

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