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  • Ranking the 15 Most Important Twins Players for the Stretch Run


    Nick Nelson

    The race is on. 

    While many fans are understandably frustrated the Twins haven't put themselves in a pole position, no one can deny the stage is set for a riveting battle in the AL Central. Three teams are separated by three games atop the standings with seven weeks to go.

    If Minnesota is to come out on top, which players will need to carry the load?

    Image courtesy of Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

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    In order to beat out Cleveland (leading the division by one game entering Friday), and Chicago (trailing Minnesota by a game and a half), the Twins will need contributions from across the roster. But they'll really need their cornerstone stars to step up and lead the way. 

    I took a shot at ranking the 15 players who are most critical to the team's success in these final 46 games.

    1. Luis Arraez
    If the Twins are gonna win this thing, they need the offense to do the heavy lifting. Even in a best case scenario, the pitching staff will probably only be good enough to play a supporting role. Arraez is – as they say – the straw that stirs the drink. He might not be as explosive or electric as some others on this list, but he's been the most consistent hitter on the team all year long. Continuing to grind down opposing pitchers day in and day out will be paramount to the Twins playing consistent baseball. 

    2. Carlos Correa
    Is the best from Correa yet to come? That's what the Twins are banking on. Correa's been fairly underwhelming for much of the summer but we all know what he's capable of – it's been demonstrated time and time again. The past couple series have offered hopeful signs that the shortstop is beginning to catch fire; he went 8-for-19 against the Angels and Royals, although seven of those hits were singles, and we're still waiting on some big signature moments. Now is the time for Correa to make good on the front office's $35 million investment.

    3. Byron Buxton
    At full strength, Buxton would be atop this list, but the knee injury that has continually limited his performance and availability figures to be a reality the rest of the way. Buxton's impact is greatly reduced when he's hitting well as a DH as opposed to hitting amazingly as a center fielder. Even still, his elite power and clutchness will be vital. The Twins need him on the field as much as is reasonably possible. 

    4. Tyler Mahle
    The front office spent big to acquire Mahle at the deadline for a reason: they needed a frontline starter who could go toe-to-toe with high-octane lineups. The presence of a similar caliber starter in Sonny Gray somewhat lessens the importance of Mahle in isolation, but both are key, which is why they're right next to one another below the team's top stars. Needless to say, the outlook for Mahle's shoulder weighs heavily right now. 

    5. Sonny Gray
    Gray is arguably a slight step behind Mahle in terms of quality and upside, but they are more or less interchangeable, and about equally important on their own. If this analysis were extended into the postseason, where the impact of top starters is heightened, these two might be #1 and #2 on my list.

    6. José Miranda
    Some will surely argue that I've got Miranda too low. There's no doubt he's crucial to this lineup, and has been the offense's savior for the past couple months. But realistically, we've got to expect a bit of regression, and the team's dependence on Miranda will hopefully be lessened by the top three carrying the load, as well as bats like Trevor Larnach and Kyle Garlick potentially returning to the fold. 

    7. Jhoan Duran
    Another guy who would've ranked much higher on this list before the trade deadline, which speaks to why the front office's moves were so very necessary and so important. Duran remains the team's best reliever – and one of the best in the league – but the team's hopes are not quite so singularly hinging on his continued health and effectiveness with Jorge López and Michael Fulmer in the fold. 

    8. Jorge Polanco
    He's firmly fifth in the pecking order in terms of offensive contributors, but Polanco is a veteran fixture who's shown the ability to get hot and go on torrid runs to propel the offense. I'm not necessarily expecting one now, given that he's been steadily good-not-great this year and is currently dealing with a knee issue, but as a guy who will bat at the heart of the order everyday (if healthy), Polanco is obviously someone the Twins need to perform. 

    9. Jorge López
    Closers are critical during a stretch run. That's a lesson Twins fans have learned the hard way before. (Sorry LaTroy.) López has a unique ability to impact outcomes given his role, though I suspect Duran will routinely pitch in more decisive spots. Obviously López could totally derail things if he blows a few more saves, but the presence of other high-leverage options gives Rocco Baldelli a fallback should trust be shaken.

    10. Max Kepler
    This feels like a big moment for Kepler. He's been with the Twins for seven seasons. He's had his ups and downs, with some legit high points, but has been a complete zero in the postseason (0-for-15 in the 2019/20 ALDS). Following a good start this year, he's fallen into a dire midseason lull, slashing .199/.281/.290 since the end of May. Kepler could really put a new spin on his legacy here by flipping a switch and making a big positive difference the rest of the way. Of course, I don't expect it, based on his recent track record, and that's why he's 10th on this list despite his potential for two-way impact.

    11. Joe Ryan
    I've cooled quite a bit on Ryan, who has a 4.73 ERA/4.63 FIP since the end of April, and hasn't gotten through six innings in a start since July 1st. He's a mid-rotation starter with strikeout stuff and a propensity for giving up hard contact. The righty is clearly not on the same level as Mahle or Gray, but also a clear cut above Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer, making him integral to the rotation's sustainability – especially if Mahle has to miss time.

    12. Caleb Thielbar
    After seven appearances this year, Thielbar had a 15.19 ERA. It doesn't get much worse than that. Since then he has a 2.43 ERA and 51-to-11 K/BB ratio in 37 innings. It doesn't get much better than that. His last two appearances have demonstrated Thielbar's ability to play the fireman role, and right now he's got more trust than any Twins reliever not named Duran or López. He also brings the unique ability to neutralize lefty hitters, who have a .499 OPS against him this year.

    13. Michael Fulmer
    Fulmer is a very solid setup man, and having him fourth in your bullpen hierarchy is a major luxury. You've got to have guys who can reliably bridge the gap from the middle to late innings if you want to rattle off wins, and thus Fulmer's veteran stability is very valuable. 

    14. Griffin Jax 
    Everything stated about Fulmer above basically applies to Jax, except that he's a rookie who's been struggling lately. Given how much the Twins lean on their bullpen for innings, they simply need all of these relievers to get it done in the final weeks. One thing I really appreciate about the deadline deals is that they took some pressure off of Jax, who's still acclimating in his first year as a full-time reliever.

    15.  Nick Gordon
    Circumstances have pushed Gordon into an everyday role, more or less – and he's been capitalizing, with a .309/.356/.489 slash line since the start of July. That's as good as anyone could have reasonably expected from Royce Lewis or Alex Kirilloff, whose voids the fellow first-rounder has been left to fill. If he can keep doing so, he'll be an instrumental factor in the team's success.

     

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    I would add Emilio pagan to the list not because he's great but because he's going to be used and we can't afford to have more meltdowns from it. If he can just work his way through lower leverage situations and keep from blowing up that will go a long ways towards helping the season and well

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    The 3 starting pitchers of Mahle, Gray and Ryan being solid every start from here forward they should be 2,3,4 Arraez continuing to hit is 1.  They will need a big month from at least  one of Kepler Correa or Polanco to have a chance. 

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    I think Buxton has to be on top of this list.  An effective Buxton is such a game changer for this team.  Even at DH, the lineup is much better with him than without.  I probably put Correa at 2 given his experience and leadership role with Arraez right behind him.  Those three are catalysts for the club.

    I'm basically just as worried about the bats as I am the pitching going down the stretch.  This team would likely be in much better position if the bats were more consistent and/or able to tack on some insurance runs late in games.  

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    Great article! I agree completely! A question I have comes from a discussion with my neighbor, wondering if Pagan would improve if he was told he would be a 2 inning reliever? Would he back off a bit and sacrifice MPH for better control? If he could do that I would rate him higher on this list.

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    I tend to agree with the last poster. For this team to get hot play .600 baseball for a month, which is what they need to do to win this division, either the rotation or the offense needs to take a step up. Well I think the rotation to marshmallow you prove, I think it’s much more feasible and likely for the office to take that next step. In order to do that, Arraez, Gordon and Miranda have to continue to play the way they have and 2 of Correa, Buxton and Polanco Have to get hot. I would make those three the most important because I think that’s the most likely way to win the division.

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    Really great and timely article, Nick. Thanks.  I do feel Gio's contributions are over-looked. He needs a shout out. I would rank him as being tied with Gordon at #15. In view of the many variables to be considered when deciding when to pull a starting pitcher and which reliever to put in, and who to use as subsequent relievers, and when to use them...I feel this article helps point out the importance of the decisions Rocco must make with this pitching staff. If Rocco could get just league average innings per game out of the starters, it would go a long way to strengthen all the critically necessary relievers. I think we are going to start seeing the starters pitching longer in games as the Twins approach the finish line. It is almost time for the "distance runners"/starters to begin their kicks to the finish line.

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    Considering defense, the importance of position & how well they play their positions. There is no doubt that Buck & Correa should be on top. I'd also rate Gordon higher because of his (& Celestino) substitution of Buxton in CF is a game changer. They have narrowed the chasm between Buck & his subs which made the difference between a loss to a win now & through out  our journey to the post season. 

    It's very difficult to rank some of these lower players, because they all have potential but haven't lived up to it yet this season. Polanco usually comes alive in the second half with clutch hits & walk offs to help carry this team.

    I'm excited about this team in what they are capable of, Go Twins!

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    12 hours ago, dxpavelka said:

    Interesting that Eddie Rosario's in Atlanta and Nick Gordon is the only one of  the dozen left fielders we've used since he left that's on your list.

    As far as left field defense goes, they are similar, only Eddie's strong arm is missing.

    Gio should be on that list, any one else at 3rd is huge drop.

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    Interesting. You are clearly ranking based on the expected ability to be the star, but I expect if the Twins excel in September that looking back it will be someone from the lower part of your list or even not on the list who will be regarded as crucial. Getting key production from unexpected places is often as (or more) important than the big guns doing what we expect them to do. Eddie in the postseason last year is a good example.

    I'd say that if Bundy and Archer (and/or whoever returns from injury to replace them) is at least as critical as the more lauded starters on your list. Sanchez and Urshela similarly can make a huge difference and, like Kepler, have higher ex-ante uncertainty than the hitters at the top of the list.

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    I actually think we are seeing Miranda's regression to his current mean right now, and that is an .850 OPS hitter with solid 3B defense. His defense at 3B has impressed. Don't let the ugly 1B defense, which is a footwork issue, taint your view of his defense at 3B. It's essentially a lateral move from Urshela to Miranda on defense, and Miranda bangs.

    Arraez and Miranda are the lynchpins of the offense. Buxton is like a bonus when he's in there and not striking out. 

     

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    Will second the above comments about Gio.  Also believe that Miranda just might keep hitting like he has.

    with that said, am going to throw two more players into the mix.  A healthy Trevor Larnach playing like he was before the injury would be huge, especially with AK out for the year.  The other name is Sandy Leon.  Love his D and how he handles the pitching staff.  Just might be worthy of being relatively high on this list.  Also love how he has gotten those bunts down in key situations.  

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    43 minutes ago, Minny505 said:

    I actually think we are seeing Miranda's regression to his current mean right now, and that is an .850 OPS hitter with solid 3B defense. His defense at 3B has impressed. Don't let the ugly 1B defense, which is a footwork issue, taint your view of his defense at 3B. It's essentially a lateral move from Urshela to Miranda on defense, and Miranda bangs.

     

    What is your definition of good.

    image.png.d792dfcdea282a4e707f6193f3b00c16.png

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    15 hours ago, dxpavelka said:

    Interesting that Eddie Rosario's in Atlanta and Nick Gordon is the only one of  the dozen left fielders we've used since he left that's on your list.

    Are you suggesting Rosario being gone is a problem.  He has a negative WAR.  His OPS is an awful .546 and his wRC+ is 48.  We do not have a player on the team with 100 ABs that does not have an OPS 100 points higher.   It sounds like you are complaining we did not keep a guy who is playing horribly.

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    1 hour ago, PDX Twin said:

    Interesting. You are clearly ranking based on the expected ability to be the star, but I expect if the Twins excel in September that looking back it will be someone from the lower part of your list or even not on the list who will be regarded as crucial. Getting key production from unexpected places is often as (or more) important than the big guns doing what we expect them to do. Eddie in the postseason last year is a good example.

    I'd say that if Bundy and Archer (and/or whoever returns from injury to replace them) is at least as critical as the more lauded starters on your list. Sanchez and Urshela similarly can make a huge difference and, like Kepler, have higher ex-ante uncertainty than the hitters at the top of the list.

    This is a fair perspective. I guess the way I approached it was "which of these players would be most painful/devastating to lose" and ranked them that way. Which is not to say we won't look back in October at some of the lower guys as being more consequential. 

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    It all starts with the stars of the team, Buxton and Correa. Another 1.000 OPS month out of Buxton would go a long way towards winning the division. Correa’s only had 1 super star caliber month this season. The pitching and offense need to compliment each other like they did in May. Way too often the last 2.5 months good pitching is offset by a stifled offense, and vice versa. 

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    4 hours ago, RpR said:

    As far as left field defense goes, they are similar, only Eddie's strong arm is missing.

    Gio should be on that list, any one else at 3rd is huge drop.

    I'm focusing on heart.  You know, that thing that can't be measured but is sorely missing on this squad.  And actually, your guy Gio might be the one that actually does have it.  Probably why he'll likely be elsewhere next year.

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    2 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

    Are you suggesting Rosario being gone is a problem.  He has a negative WAR.  His OPS is an awful .546 and his wRC+ is 48.  We do not have a player on the team with 100 ABs that does not have an OPS 100 points higher.   It sounds like you are complaining we did not keep a guy who is playing horribly.

    Complaining we didn't keep a guy who played with heart.  Get used to it.  Correa and Urshela are the only guys on this year's team that do and will probably both be gone next year too.

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    30 minutes ago, dxpavelka said:

    Complaining we didn't keep a guy who played with heart.  Get used to it.  Correa and Urshela are the only guys on this year's team that do and will probably both be gone next year too.

    Do you want players who perform well or who are enthusiastic but perform terribly because he is performing horribly by any measure?   He was one of my favorite players but that changed with the frequent horrible ABs and defensive mistakes.  His plate discipline has been among the very worst of the league.  I can't stand watching those horrible ABs and defensive mistakes because he is an excitable player.  I love enthusiasm too but definitely not when it leads to terrible decisions and horrendously poor approach at the plate.  Regardless of any of these preferences, if we had 8 position players like Eddie this would be 110 loss team so if the premise we are missing Rosario very misguided.

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    3 hours ago, roger said:

    The other name is Sandy Leon.  Love his D and how he handles the pitching staff.  Just might be worthy of being relatively high on this list.  Also love how he has gotten those bunts down in key situations.  

    What he has provided so far makes what the team will do with him when Jeffers is due back an interesting and tough decision. Expanded rosters may make it easier to carry a third catcher.

    44 minutes ago, dxpavelka said:

    Correa and Urshela are the only guys on this year's team that do and will probably both be gone next year too.

    Urshela is arbitration eligible next year, making him both a viable choice to stay and a valuable trade piece.

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    Buxton and Correa are 1a & 1b on my list of most important players going forward. Buxton is the de facto face of the franchise and Correa was signed for his playoff experience and performance. Both are showing signs of life recently has Buxton has a .276/.364/.569 = .933 OPS slash line with 5 HR in 16 games since the All-Star break and Correa has quietly put together an 8 game hitting streak with .357/.472/.464 = .937 OPS  with 1 HR.

    After that 2a, 2b, & 2c are Gray, Ryan & Mahle and 3a, 3b & 3c are Fulmer, Duran and Lopez. 

    Fill in the rest with the rest. 

    Cheating? Maybe, but this is how I see it. The Big 3 in the rotation have got to keep the team close through 5 or 6 and the Big 3 in bullpen can't give it away.

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    1 hour ago, Major League Ready said:

    Do you want players who perform well or who are enthusiastic but perform terribly because he is performing horribly by any measure?   He was one of my favorite players but that changed with the frequent horrible ABs and defensive mistakes.  His plate discipline has been among the very worst of the league.  I can't stand watching those horrible ABs and defensive mistakes because he is an excitable player.  I love enthusiasm too but definitely not when it leads to terrible decisions and horrendously poor approach at the plate.  Regardless of any of these preferences, if we had 8 position players like Eddie this would be 110 loss team so if the premise we are missing Rosario very misgutided.

    I see nothing wrong with his at-bat numbers; his defense in Left Field with the Twins was - not good - by his numbers but oddly his Left Field defense was all positive last year with Rtot/yr of 17.

    Leaving the Twins changed something, maybe the coaches.

     

    image.png.0cfe9742f5709afb0ab47e01e244ce6d.png

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    The second paragraph asks, "If Minnesota is to come out on top, which players will need to carry the load?" The last paragraph of the intro says it's looking to see who is most critical to the team's success.

    Not quite the same question. To the former, the studs are always going to carry the load. So, yeah, Arraez, Buxton, Correa, Gray, etc. To the latter, a winning team always needs role players and guys who don't screw things up. So, yeah, many of the names which were suggested for various reasons, including Pagan righting himself, Mahle missing no more than a start, Maeda chipping in, etc. My personal keys/hopes on the latter are Lopez being the monster we hoped for, Fulmer putting out fires, and Sanchez going on a tear. 

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    9 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

    Do you want players who perform well or who are enthusiastic but perform terribly because he is performing horribly by any measure?   He was one of my favorite players but that changed with the frequent horrible ABs and defensive mistakes.  His plate discipline has been among the very worst of the league.  I can't stand watching those horrible ABs and defensive mistakes because he is an excitable player.  I love enthusiasm too but definitely not when it leads to terrible decisions and horrendously poor approach at the plate.  Regardless of any of these preferences, if we had 8 position players like Eddie this would be 110 loss team so if the premise we are missing Rosario very misguided.

    And yet he has more World Series rings than we have playoff wins in two decades.

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    9 hours ago, mnfireman said:

    What he has provided so far makes what the team will do with him when Jeffers is due back an interesting and tough decision. Expanded rosters may make it easier to carry a third catcher.

    Urshela is arbitration eligible next year, making him both a viable choice to stay and a valuable trade piece.

    Like I said, he has heart.  Something this team seemingly places little value on.  Likely gone.

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    19 hours ago, RpR said:

    What is your definition of good.

    image.png.d792dfcdea282a4e707f6193f3b00c16.png

    I never said good. I said solid and a lateral move from Urshela.

    Miranda:image.png.d4a1f97d013db56b8e460effddc679d8.png

    image.png.a05ae43b37629a4f6c63d22d8a2b5b3d.png

     

    Urshela:image.png.f55055134f593157d8c3ae0cdb25d399.png

    image.png.8c0031418c921c709876de541e608e92.png

     

    Looks like a lateral move to me.

    That said, this is far too small of a sample size for Miranda to draw any solid conclusions. However, Urshela has a long history of being an average-ish 3B, which is what I mean by solid. 

    And based on what we can possibly glean from this data, they look like pretty comparable fielders.

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    20 hours ago, RpR said:

    I see nothing wrong with his at-bat numbers; his defense in Left Field with the Twins was - not good - by his numbers but oddly his Left Field defense was all positive last year with Rtot/yr of 17.

    Leaving the Twins changed something, maybe the coaches.

     

    image.png.0cfe9742f5709afb0ab47e01e244ce6d.png

    The discussion had absolutely nothing to do with his performance when he was here so I don't know why you are showing me his numbers from when he was here.  There have been a couple of people who complain he's not here now and his present offensive performance is absolutely horrible, so the point was complaining he is not here now is absurd.  I mean really, complaining we don't have a guy who has negative WAR.  

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