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  • Twins Fantasy Fix: The Last Hurrah

    Mike Rose

    With the regular season wrapping up, here are some awards for the best fantasy performances by Minnesota players.

    Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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    A week from today marks the end of the regular season, so that makes this the last Twins Fantasy Fix of the year. It’s been a fun ride, and to wrap things up, I want to give out a few awards. Before the season began, I made my pick in four different areas: offensive and pitching MVPs, sleeper and super sleeper. Here’s who I picked back then, and who I’m picking now to end the year.

    Offensive MVP preseason pick: Byron Buxton
    Offensive MVP: Max Kepler

    Crazy as it sounds, Kepler has been the team’s most consistent offensive player for the past several months. That is partly due to injury-plagued, down seasons by both Buxton and Carlos Correa. However, Kepler still deserves some flowers for reaching 22 home runs, which is the second-highest total of his career. His .792 OPS is also his best since the 2019 Bomba Squad season. It’s not been an elite campaign by Kepler, but with the Twins lacking consistent offensive production, I think he deserves the MVP.

    Pitching MVP preseason pick: Jhoan Duran
    Pitching MVP: Pablo Lopez

    Duran has been good for fantasy purposes, but I’ll give this to Lopez in a close race with Sonny Gray. Lopez is slightly ahead of Gray in ESPN’s player rater thanks to his strikeout potential. His career-high 228 strikeouts are currently good for third in the majors. While Gray has been the steadier performer, fantasy players like upside, and Lopez provides that due to the missed bats. 

    Sleeper preseason pick: Max Kepler
    Sleeper: Royce Lewis

    I’d have felt good going Kepler here, but I gave him the offensive MVP nod, so I’ll go with Lewis. I’m calling him a sleeper because he was somewhat off the radar (in redraft leagues, at least) to begin the year due to being out with injury. However, Lewis obviously hit the ground running in a big way. He still remained largely under-owned in fantasy, and now he’s out with a hamstring issue. However, to start the season as an undrafted player and then to go on the run Lewis did is quite impressive.

    Super sleeper preseason pick: Edouard Julien
    Super sleeper: Julien

    Again, purely from a fantasy perspective, Julien wasn’t really on the radar to begin the year outside of deeper dynasty formats. He was just getting his first taste of Triple-A and was no lock to see regular playing time with the Twins. Fast forward a few months, and he’s established himself as an everyday player with a strong .829 OPS. Julien will be a key player for the team again in 2024, and he should move up draft boards quite a bit as well.

    For the final time, let’s now take a look at some key injury updates, plus which Twins have their stock rising and falling from a fantasy perspective due to results from the past week as well as a prospect to keep an eye on. I’ll also take a look at the week ahead and highlight some matchups to target and avoid.

    Twins Injury Updates

    Byron Buxton
    Expected return: This week or 2024

    Buxton remains a mystery man for the Twins. He restarted his rebab assignment in St. Paul on Thursday, so a return could be imminent, but nothing has been officially announced. It’s also possible that the Twins decide to simply shut Buxton down and let him get right for 2024. If he does return to the team in an effort to get him ready for the playoffs, his talent makes him worth keeping an eye on, as he’s shown the ability to string together big games. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that, either.

    Royce Lewis
    Expected return: Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series

    As it stands, the Twins are going to let Lewis rest his hamstring and hope he’s ready for the start of the playoffs. Thus, his strong but abbreviated fantasy season appears to be over. Knock on wood that he’s fully healthy to begin 2024, and if he is, Lewis should go much higher in fantasy drafts.

    Carlos Correa
    Expected return: This week or Game 1

    Correa’s injury status appears to be less murky than Buxton or Lewis. He sustained a tear of the central cortex of the plantar fascia in his left foot, which has led to swelling and some discomfort. The shortstop simply needs to let it rest, and he should be ready for the playoffs, though the Twins may get him into a few final regular season games. His disappointing fantasy season is mostly over.

    Brock Stewart
    Expected return: Any day

    Chris Paddack just returned Sunday and Stewart shouldn't be too far behind, as both players have been on rehab assignments with St. Paul recently. Stewart figures to give Minnesota's bullpen a boost heading into the postseason, though he might not have a ton of fantasy appeal in most formats.

    Stock Rising: Louie Varland
    ESPN ownership: 1%

    The Twins recalled Varland in early September and have used him as a reliever. So far, the results have been promising. He’s allowed just two earned runs across 9 1/3 innings (five appearances) with 12 strikeouts. Varland can of course pitch multiple innings as a former starter, so he stands a decent chance of earning some wins in relief. At the very least, his 2024 outlooks becomes more interesting as a potential setup option in front of Duran. Varland won’t be widely owned in that role, though he could have appeal in deeper formats.

    Stock Falling: Carlos Correa
    ESPN ownership: 66%

    This is due to his injury, which could end his regular season as noted above. From a fantasy perspective, you can move on from Correa, though many fantasy managers already have due to his struggles this season. The hope is that he’s healthier in 2024, and the shortstop could come at a discount on draft day, making him a decent bounce back candidate next year. But for now, Correa’s fantasy stock is down.

    Prospect Spotlight: Kala’i Rosario (High-A Cedar Rapids)
    A late-round pick in 2020, Rosario has moved up the prospect rankings since then, and he was recently named MVP of the Midwest League. The young outfielder turned in 21 home runs and 94 RBI across 118 games, both of which led the league. Rosario is still likely a few years away and the Twins have a crowded outfield situation, but he’s worth keeping an eye on in the long term.

    Upcoming Week Matchup Notes
    3 Games vs Oakland (Paul Blackburn, Luis Medina, Ken Waldichuk)
    3 Games at Colorado (Ty Blach, Karl Kauffmann, Chase Anderson)
    The Twins head to Coors Field for the first and only time this season, which is always worth a look in DFS formats. All of the matchups look appealing this week actually, as Blackburn is the only scheduled starter on the slate with an ERA below 5.00. The only question is which Twins will be in the lineup any given day now that they’ve clinched, but that could unlock some bargain options.

    Two-Start Starting Pitchers
    Kenta Maeda is lined up to start Tuesday and Sunday. The Tuesday matchup against Oakland looks great, as the Athletics are the lowest scoring team in baseball. The Coors Field trip could be a little more dicey, and it’s possible that Maeda’s pitch count is limited if the Twins intend on using him as a reliever in the postseason.

    Twins Fantasy Hitters to Watch
    As noted above, the Twins should be a good DFS stack candidate this week based on matchups, but you’ll want to check on lineups each day. Expect to see plenty of Andrew Stevenson and other regular bench players. That could lead to some interesting lineup combinations and also some value in DFS, particularly during the three games at Coors Field.

    The two players I’m probably most focused on this week are Willi Castro and Kyle Farmer. Both should have regular roles with Lewis and Castro out, and both have had their moments when given the chance this year. I also like taking a flier on sluggers whenever they’re at Coors Field, and Matt Wallner probably fits that bill more than any other Minnesota regular at the moment. He may strike out a ton, but if anyone is going to go deep multiple times in a game, it’s probably Wallner.

    Who are your Minnesota fantasy MVPs this season? Let me know in the COMMENTS, plus post your thoughts on the matchups this week.

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