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  • The Top 20 Minnesota Twins Assets of 2023: Part 4 (1-5)


    Nick Nelson

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

    Read on for the final installment, to see where I landed on the top five and find a full recap of the list.

    Image courtesy of David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

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    If you like, you can quickly catch up on the ground rules for this exercise in the first installment. The short version is this that we're attempting to rank Twins players and prospects through a big-picture lens in asking: Which current players in the organization are most indispensable to fulfilling the vision of building a champion?

    Here in this fourth installment, breaking down my picks for #1 through #5: the cornerstones upon which the Twins will aim to orchestrate their success in the coming years.

    First, a recap of the list as it stands, as covered in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3:

    20. Matt Wallner, OF
    19. Louie Varland, RHP
    18. Sonny Gray, RHP
    17. Jorge Lopez, RHP
    16. Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B
    15. Ryan Jeffers, C
    14. Trevor Larnach, OF
    13. Austin Martin, SS/OF
    12. Connor Prielipp, LHP
    11. Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP
    10. Luis Arraez, 1B
    9. Jose Miranda, 3B/1B
    8. Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF
    7. Jhoan Duran, RHP
    6. Bailey Ober, RHP

    Top 20 Twins Assets of 2023: 1 through 5

    5. Royce Lewis, SS

    2022 Ranking: 4

    In some ways, Lewis' 2022 season was obviously a huge setback. To come out on the other end of a long, grueling recovery from reconstructive knee surgery, only to reinjure the same ligament and recommence the very same process ... it's an almost unthinkable level of bad fortune.

    But that's not to say his season was a loss. Far from it. In 46 games between Triple-A and the majors, he showed plenty to solidify his status as a top-five asset in the organization. In 194 total plate appearances he batted .310 with 16 doubles, seven homers, and 12 steals. That includes a debut stint in the majors, filling in for COVID-stricken Carlos Correa, that was so impressive the Twins flipped Lewis' role – from shortstop to utilityman – on the fly in order to rush him back.

    As we all know, calamity struck soon as soon as he returned. And two straight serious injuries to the same knee, with the latest expected to keep him out until midseason, certainly diminishes his stock. But the talent, the electricity, the youth (still only 23), and especially his future importance cement him as a central asset of this franchise. It's really hard to doubt the kid at this point.

    4. Jorge Polanco, 2B

    2022 Ranking: 2

    Polanco's value mainly derives from his steadiness: he's been a reliable, durable, clutch, consistent fixture near the top of the Twins lineup for years, and likely will be for several more. The 29-year-old is entering his final guaranteed year under contract, at a very reasonable $7.5 million price tag, but Minnesota has team options for 2024 ($10.5M) and 2025 ($12M).

    This is more favorable to the Twins than a straight three-year deal because they have the ability to pull out and save millions should Polanco collapse. One could argue there are some concerning signs on that front. He posted a career-high K-rate in 2022, causing his batting average to plummet to .235, well below his career .270 mark. He also ended the season on the injured list, with a knee issue adding to his medley of historical ankle injuries.

    But at the same time, Polanco showed signs of adapting his game to stay productive. His spike in K-rate came attached to a huge increase in walk rate, with an elite 14.4% mark more than doubling his 7.0% rate from 2021. As a result, Polanco posted the second-highest OBP of his career (.346). And while the stat sheet shows a drop-off in power, his batted-ball data was very strong, helping the second baseman produce a stellar .358 xwOB, which suggests his offensive approach is exactly where it needs to be.

    Polanco's getting older and a little more expensive, but remains an excellent star-caliber player and cornerstone for this franchise.

    3. Joe Ryan, RHP

    2022 Ranking: 7

    In large part, these rankings are about upside and ceiling – as you'll see reflected in the top two choices. Players with a real chance to be cost-controlled superstars and top-tier performers at their position are the primest of assets, generally speaking.

    But you also need to weigh the probabilities and assign proper value to those who can reliably provide essential services to the team. Thus, Ryan finds himself in the top three.

    Is he an ace-caliber arm with the tantalizing potential of a Connor Prielipp? No. But what's great about Ryan is that he has no more rungs to climb, no more hurdles to jump, nothing left to prove. He's a bona fide major-league starter with a tremendous track record of durability and consistency on the mound across all levels.

    For an organization that has no other young pitchers who can rightly say the same, and no veteran starters under control beyond the 2023 season, these qualities make Ryan – who won't be eligible for free agency until after 2027 – an indispensable building block for the rotation going forward.

    2. Brooks Lee, SS

    2022 Ranking: NR

    To say the Twins think highly of Lee would be a mighty understatement. They were thrilled to get him with the eighth overall pick in last year's draft, and were so eager to move him through the organization that he concluded his half-season pro debut at Double-A. 

    The baseball world at large is also taking notice. His stellar performance as a 21-year-old pro fresh out of college – .303/.389/.451 with a 20-to-16 K/BB ratio in 139 PA between three levels – quickly earned him distinction as the organization's top prospect in the eyes of many. 

    Not only is the Cal Poly product flashing advanced hitting skills that could push him to the majors quickly, but he's also showing the defensive ability of a guy destined to play at least some shortstop once he gets there.

    No matter where he ends up on the diamond, Lee figures to be a central contributor on the Twins for many years. 

    1. Byron Buxton, CF

    2022 Ranking: 1

    The 2022 season was, in many ways, more of the same for Buxton. Many people would say that in a derisive way – immediately pointing to the injuries that sidelined him for much of the second half – but I mean it in a positive way. When on the field, the center fielder continued to solidify his status as a premier MLB player, earning his first All-Star nod and turning in the third 4+ fWAR season of his career (and second in a row). He set a career high in home runs with 28 while posting a 135 OPS+ and continuing to grade as one of the league's best defensive outfielders. 

    Since 2019, Buxton ranks 36th among all MLB position players in fWAR, which is remarkable when you consider that he's played in literally half of his team's games during that span. (51%, to be exact.) He's one of the highest-impact players in baseball, without question.

    I am mindful of the factors detracting from Buxton's value as an asset, of course. Namely the injuries, which came roaring back in full force last year, as well as the steps being taken to mitigate those injuries (more days off and DH duty), which take away a bit of what he offers.

    But, as the aforementioned stats illustrate, he's still offering plenty. And as I wrote last year, his highly favorable contract accounts for all that risk. Even as his annual base salary escalates to an ongoing rate of $15 million annually this year, that's still a huge bargain for what he already provides, let alone the massive upside he brings to the table. I mean, we just saw the White Sox sign Andrew Benintendi to a five-year deal with the same annual rate. Benintendi has once in his career (2018) posted a 4.0 fWAR or better, which Buxton produced in 92 games last year.

    If the knee issue that tormented Buxton throughout 2022 proves chronic and recurring, that will impact his ability to remain atop this list going forward. For now, I'm keeping that possibility on the back-burner. If he can finally find a way to shake off the injuries and stay somewhat healthy, Buxton will rise to become one of the most valuable player assets in all of baseball.

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    While I enjoy watching Ryan pitch, he has struggled some against the top teams. Joe still has to prove himself against the top lineups.

    Lewis and lee are all the future hope and I'm ready to see both play at Target Field this summer.

    Meanwhile, Jorge and Byron are proven performers and we hope to see them play often in good health.

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    Thanks again Nick for your evaluations and I can understand all of them except Jeffers. I think you ranked him according on how important his role is to the Twins rather than his true value. 

    Hoping that facing only LHPs his offensive #s will improve but that doesn't negate the fact he can't hit RHPs. Also his above avg. framing doesn't negate his poor arm. Also the fact that SPs preferred him over Sanchez isn't saying much.

    Overall he's more of a liability than an asset. It's very sad that FO thinks he's our future. We need to cut bait on him while he still has good trade value. Again before he has no trade value. This year with the rule changes his weaknesses will become very obvious. We need to find a soon MLB ready top catching prospect to actually be our bona vide future catcher.

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    Should there be just a smidgen of fear for the future if an innings eater, yes, but someone who still needs to show he can get someone other than Detroit out, a guy with two major knee injuries by age 23, a guy who has had ankle injuries serious enough to move him to a safer position and has slumped to  .235 average (his walk increase not withstanding) and now has added a season altering knee injury to the mix, a guy who we just drafted last year and has only had a taste of AA ball so far (though he has done well), and an injury prone guy who, yes, has power to infinity when he connects, but only hit .224 otherwise and only played the field in 58 games, are the top 5 assets in the organization?  Kind of looks like the 3 areas of life insurance (as the commercial goes):  price.....price.....and price.  If you have a team friendly contract and show flashes of greatness when you can stay on the field, you are worth your weight in gold.  

    I am not criticizing anything here, just pointing out the fears each one brings to the table along with the great potential.  Just wish one would come without quite as much as the other.  

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    I really liked this entire series and the ability to discuss and debate these values.  I think Lewis and Lee deserve to be in the top five with Ryan #1 right now.  Until we see some movement on SP he is what we have for the future which makes him more valuable than his talent level would suggest.  I would then move Duran to #2 because this team uses the BP every game for almost half the game.  Without a strong BP we are destined to be a losing team.

    Lee would be next for me and I think he is one of the phenoms like Rodriguez in Seattle (and hopefully our own Rodriguez #6). Lewis is  probably #4 because SS is so important and he showed so much talent before getting shut down. Buxton is #5 with potential to soar to number one if he gets healthy (how many years have we written that?).

    At 7 and 8 would be Arraez and Miranda who should be our primary offensive drivers. I know that Polanco was in your top five, but I think he has peaked and his value is dropping for me.  I hope I am wrong but for this exercise but I put him at #9 right now.

    At this point Ober, Richardson, Prielipp, Varland, and Gray should start the second half of the listing with Gray at the head because he has to lead the rotation this year and can be signed to an extension or used to get the kind of prospects we have been trading away.   I would then put Mahle for the same reason - we need him to be what the tream dreamed of or to be high value trade bait.

    #15 Is Alcala who showed so much promise before the injury (I hate to have to use that word again) and could be the second arm in the BP.  I drop Lopez - he has to show me some talent - he and Pagan both are disappointments.

    #16 I put Kiriloff and Larnach in a tie - we need both of them and continue to wait to see them on the field.  Again and again injury makes this list look like a roll call at General Hospital.  But both of these players have so much potential.

    #18 - Vasquez.  We need a catcher who is at least league average to keep our pitching staff moving forward as well as getting a few hits.  (with his tutelage maybe Jeffers could crawl back into my list).

    #19 - Julien with Lewis, Arraez and Polanco having injury issues we need to have another player in line to fill in.

    #20 - I like Wallner, but I fear that Gallo just pushed him out of the picture.  I prefer Wallner.   I don't know where Austin fits in, but I would put him in a tie for 20.

     

     

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    Your article is well thought out.  I think relying on Buxton as a number 1 asset is foolish.  This continues to be a Twins FO mistake.  That is to assume he will come back and play a full season and perform like an MVP.  They dont give MVP to part time players.  For the Twins to count on a part time player to finally do something is ridiculous.  This is where the FO must realize that you can't count at all on Buxton.

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    Question for Nick (and I really only want his opinion).

    In your write-up on Lee, you say that he is showing defensive ability that will allow him to play some SS at the major league level.  I've read on this site many comments about his defense and they usually are just the opposite of yours.  I have never seen him play (except for short clips used to prove a specific point).  Have you actually seen him play enough to support your statement?  I'm not disagreeing with you.  I am just trying to find an informed evaluation of his ability rather than an opinion based on "I've heard that" or "many people say" reasoning.  Thanks in advance.

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    @Nick Nelson Thanks for putting this together.

    Thoughts on where you would put Mahle?    E. Julien?

    I understand these are value of our assets, which means despite his injuries, Buxton is always going to be high on these.  His value, his production (WAR) in relationship with his contract will always scream high value.

    EVERYONE, not just Twins fans, would love to see a 140-160 game season from BB.

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    If he can finally find a way to shake off the injuries and stay somewhat healthy.

    Isn't that like saying if Miguel Sano didn't strike out so much he would be a great player? Instead he finds himself looking for a job.

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    18 minutes ago, terrydactyls said:

    In your write-up on Lee, you say that he is showing defensive ability that will allow him to play some SS at the major league level.  I've read on this site many comments about his defense and they usually are just the opposite of yours.  I have never seen him play (except for short clips used to prove a specific point).  Have you actually seen him play enough to support your statement?  I'm not disagreeing with you.  I am just trying to find an informed evaluation of his ability rather than an opinion based on "I've heard that" or "many people say" reasoning.  Thanks in advance.

    Based on my understanding, the general knock on him is that he's too big to play SS long-term, which is valid. But then again he's about the same size as Royce Lewis. Lee has excellent hands and a strong (albeit not amazing) arm. I don't think he'll be an everyday SS in the majors or anything but I think he's more likely to make some appearances there than, say, Austin Martin.

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    7 minutes ago, Nick Nelson said:

    Based on my understanding, the general knock on him is that he's too big to play SS long-term, which is valid. But then again he's about the same size as Royce Lewis. Lee has excellent hands and a strong (albeit not amazing) arm. I don't think he'll be an everyday SS in the majors or anything but I think he's more likely to make some appearances there than, say, Austin Martin.

    Lee is smaller than Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez.  They both did okay when they were in their 20's.

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    3 hours ago, Doctor Gast said:

    Thanks again Nick for your evaluations and I can understand all of them except Jeffers. I think you ranked him according on how important his role is to the Twins rather than his true value. 

    Ah, but that's the point of the exercise! From Part 1:

    "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."

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    Again, the injury wagon. Who's on it, who is not.

    Is Polanco winding down his career as a Twin? What is his future status on the team as he is pushed out by younger talent.

    Be interesting to watch Joe Ryan in 2023. Can he adjust?! When he controls the rhythm of his game, he is an Ace. But when he slows, or gets flustered, watch out.

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    49 minutes ago, jjswol said:

    If he can finally find a way to shake off the injuries and stay somewhat healthy.

    Isn't that like saying if Miguel Sano didn't strike out so much he would be a great player? Instead he finds himself looking for a job.

    No? Because strikeouts weren't what prevented Sano from being good. He had roughly the same K-rates during his All-Star hay-day as during the past three years. 

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    2 hours ago, Nick Nelson said:

    Ah, but that's the point of the exercise! From Part 1:

    "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."

    Thank you for responding. When I stated Jeffers value I didn't mean trade value but asset value. And I assumed you meant "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." in your evaluation. And I understand that. But I disagree by my assessment, judging strictly on a liability/ asset basis. And that deciding Jeffers as our future catcher by our FO doesn't cut it. Also looking at both Vazquez & Jeffers in a 3yr window, Vazquez is our starting catcher & Jeffers as back up. Vasquez is a more valuable asset.

    IMO areas of weakness & strengths should be addressed differently than individually, Catching depth present & into the future are in shambles so the best way to address that is to trade from our strength corner OF/ 1B/ DH lefty bats. My suggestion is Endy Rodriguez (PIT)

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    1 hour ago, terrydactyls said:

    Lee is smaller than Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez.  They both did okay when they were in their 20's.

    Cal was the person I was thinking of, but I think he is anomaly.

    How does he compare size-wise to C4?

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    1 hour ago, Nick Nelson said:

    No? Because strikeouts weren't what prevented Sano from being good. He had roughly the same K-rates during his All-Star hay-day as during the past three years. 

    Sano's power!!!

    I just wish he had panned out with his health and improved his swing a bit.

    But D@MN could he hit the ball a MILE and a HALF.

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    1 hour ago, Rosterman said:

    Be interesting to watch Joe Ryan in 2023. Can he adjust?! When he controls the rhythm of his game, he is an Ace. But when he slows, or gets flustered, watch out.

    Very true but remember this past year he was a rookie.

    I think he has the right mentality, maybe competive-ness is the right word, to be a #1.

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    Thanks again for putting the list together for all to tear apart:

    Asset Value is a difficult term, & to not have a bunch of subjectivity rolled into each choice, is nearly impossible. Most needed - best hitter - health - age/experience - potential - power - defense are all variables along with another 4-5 attributes I’m not listing.

    IMO comments:

    - Vázquez should be there via some metric or point of view.

    - A healthy Mahle could be a solid extension candidate or a trade piece later this summer.

    - I’ve beaten to death that Arraez should be in Top 4.

    - Last, how do we have 2 SS in the system that are viewed as guys in our Top 5 of assets in the organization & still have a large % of fandom in these posts think “we need a SS” - “we’re desperate for a SS”. Don’t get it???? Farmer is fine until somebody is ready…..even if not until ‘24.

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    5 hours ago, Mark G said:

    I am not criticizing anything here, just pointing out the fears each one brings to the table along with the great potential.  Just wish one would come without quite as much as the other.  

    You are not wrong in your assessment. The best players usually have some degree of risk. The Twins have totally eschewed the risk of long term contracts for their own reasons, right or wrong not being important, which will mean a list such as Nick has put together. The balance of healthy/unhealthy makes us question the probability of success for the team at the very least.

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    58 minutes ago, EGFTShaw said:

    Very true but remember this past year he was a rookie.

    I think he has the right mentality, maybe competive-ness is the right word, to be a #1.

    Maybe, but a #1 has to be able to beat a #1.  He has to be able to go through the lineup at least at 3rd time and even get his toes wet into a 4th time.  And he has to be able to do it more than just a handful of times a year, but enough times to make your team believe you can do it when it is needed the most.  

    Do you believe Ryan has that ability?  Now, or as he goes through his career?  I sure hope so, but do we believe that.........really?  Time will tell, and I hope you are right.  I really do.  

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    Joe Ryan is a top ten asset, in my opinion, because he could be a very consistently good pitcher. We could see another five years of seasons as good or better than last year from Ryan. That said, I do view him as an excellent #4 or decent #3 pitcher in a starting rotation. If the Twins can acquire or develop a pitcher with more than two years of control remaining to slot into the #1 or #2 positions, they would  be among the team's best assets. 

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    2 hours ago, EGFTShaw said:

    Cal was the person I was thinking of, but I think he is anomaly.

    How does he compare size-wise to C4?

    From Baseball Reference..... 

    Brooks Lee:.  6'0" an 205 pounds 

    Carlos Correa:  6'4" and 220 pounds 

    Cal Ripken:.  6'4" and 200 pounds 

    Alex Rodriguez:   6'3" and 230 pounds

     

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    1 hour ago, terrydactyls said:

    From Baseball Reference..... 

    Brooks Lee:.  6'0" an 205 pounds 

    Carlos Correa:  6'4" and 220 pounds 

    Cal Ripken:.  6'4" and 200 pounds 

    Alex Rodriguez:   6'3" and 230 pounds

     

    Out of curiosity, I gathered the height and weight data for all MLB shortstops who had 300 or more plate appearances (I used MLB.com and baseball-reference.com).  The average height of this sample was just a shade under 6'1" and the average weight was 195 pounds.  Brooks Lee seems to me to be an average size MLB SS.

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