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  1. Alex Kirilloff's first stretch in the majors (not counting his postseason debut in 2020) was a great example of why you shouldn't put too much stock into results over a modest sampling of at-bats, at least without taking a deeper look. He started out his career in an 0-for-15 slump, but it was clear to anyone watching that Kirilloff was hardly overmatched. He wasn't striking out and when he connected he was driving the ball. We all knew the hits were going to come. And they did, in a hurry. The outfielder broke out with a nine-game hitting streak that included three doubles and four home runs. But during that stretch – on May 3rd, while sliding into second on one of those doubles – Kirilloff hurt his wrist. And since then nothing has really been the same. He kept playing for a couple more months but managed only 13 extra-base hits in 46 games the rest of the way before undergoing surgery in July. The hope was that this procedure would correct the wrist issue while also giving him plenty of time to rehab and be ready for this 2022 season. Unfortunately, it hasn't played out like that. At no point this year has Kirilloff really looked like himself. He opened the season in a 1-for-17 slump and unlike that opening drought from last year, this one carried no signs of being a mirage. He admitted his wrist was still causing him "a lot of pain" while swinging and went on the injured list, receiving a cortisone shot. Since returning, little has changed. Statcast, which measures the quality and characteristics of batted balls, paints an almost incomprehensibly grim picture of Kirilloff's performance. His highest exit velocity all year is 100.8 MPH, which puts him in the 9th percentile of MLB hitters for Max AV. Last year he topped that number 35 times. His average exit velocity is down to 85 MPH from 91 last year. He has recorded zero barrels all season, meaning he basically has not once truly squared a ball up. Kirilloff's launch angle is what really tells the story. It's at -14.1 degrees this year, which means he is basically hitting everything directly into the ground. The extreme nature of that figure cannot be overstated – there is not a single qualified MLB player with a negative launch angle this season, much less that deep in the red. Last year there was one player in the negative (Raimel Tapia of the Rockies at -4.4). It's unheard of. Kirilloff's swing is completely broken and that is especially hard to see from a player of his natural talent, who was showing glimpses of letting that talent shine. Kirilloff says he's never been able to swing pain-free since the surgery, and he now sounds like he's just trying to cope with this new reality. "There's still discomfort, and he thinks that his swing does feel different from how it did before the surgery," wrote Do-Hyoung Park for MLB.com. "He's just not able to pinpoint the exact ways in which it feels different. It might be physical. It might be mental. It's likely some combination of both." I wish I could feel confident he was going to head to Triple-A and figure things out in short order. But Kirilloff is just so far from where he needs to be, and the path to getting there is so unclear. Playing in a doubleheader for the Saints on Sunday, he notched four hits – all singles. The former standout slugger still has yet to collect his first extra-base hit through 69 plate appearances in the majors and minors. The Twins need his bat at its full potency. Kirilloff can be a pivotal difference-maker for this lineup, as without him they are severely lacking for left-handed power. They need this swing back: Is it still within him? The 24-year-old is going to try to find something that works over the coming weeks at St. Paul. If another month or so passes without the power starting to manifest, you have to wonder if they'll turn to Plan B: another surgery. Park mentioned in his article that a procedure could be done to create more space between bones where Kirilloff's cartilage has worn away, contributing to the discomfort. He added that this surgery is "more invasive and involves shortening his ulna altogether by breaking and cutting out a section of the bone." Sounds unpleasant and undesirable. But we're now basically sorting through bad scenarios to land on the least bad. And in the meantime, Kirilloff – who already lost a full year of his career to Tommy John surgery – is watching his prime playing days pass by while he wrestles with, in his words, "one long, continuous puzzle to try to figure out."
  2. TRANSACTIONS Following the Twins' game on Sunday, OF Mark Contreras was optioned to St. Paul. Presumably, Kyle Garlick will come off of the Injured List before the Monday series against the A's. SAINTS SENTINEL Game 1 St. Paul 3, Columbus 5 Box Score SP: Bailey Ober - 5 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K HR: Jermaine Palacios (2) Multi-hit games: Alex Kirilloff (2-4), Kyle Garlick (2-4, R, K), Caleb Hamilton (2-2, BB) The Saints played two on Sunday afternoon against the Columbus Clippers. The first game was started by Bailey Ober as he made his rehab start with the team. Ober totaled 72 pitches through five innings for the Saints but did not have the best return to the mound on Sunday. Ober gave up five runs (4 earned) on four hits. He struck out seven without giving up any walks. Even with all of Ober’s efforts, the Saints offense was not able to come through with run support in Game 1 to give themselves a victory. Alex Kirilloff did have a good return to the Saints on Sunday as he went 2-for-4 as the designated hitter in the first game. The Saints mounted a comeback in the top of the sixth thanks to RBI singles from Derek Fisher and Jose Godoy, but the offense was not able to pick itself back up in the seventh to make a comeback. The loss in game one to the Clippers brought the Saints losing streak to six in a row. Game 2 St. Paul 4, Columbus 5 (8 Innings) Box Score SP: Dereck Rodriguez - 4 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K HR: Curtis Terry (4) Multi-hit games: Alex Kirilloff (2-3, R, BB), Curtis Terry (2-4, R, HR, RBI (16), K) Dereck Rodriguez was on the mound for the start in Game 2 for the Saints and his afternoon on the mound lasted an inning shorter than Ober's. The Clippers hitters were able to find the location where many of Rodriguez’s pitches were heading, accounting for seven hits and three runs, all of which were scored in the bottom of the first. As he cooled off from a rough first inning, the Saints' offense put two runs on the board in the top of the second thanks to RBI singles from David Banuelos and Ernie Yake to bring themselves within a run of the Clippers. The game remained scoreless until the top of the fifth when Saint's first baseman Curtis Terry crushed a two-run home run to give the Saints their first lead of the day at 4-3. The Saints had the lead going into the bottom of the seventh to close the game out and snap their losing streak. However, the Clippers were able to tie the game up and force extra innings thanks to a game-tying home run from second baseman Tyler Freeman off of Trevor Megill. The Saints could not amount any runs for a lead in the top of the eighth, the game went into the bottom half of the inning with Megill still on the mound. That worked in favor of the Clippers as they walked off Megill on a sacrifice fly by right fielder Oscar Gonzalez. The second loss in the doubleheader brings the Saints losing streak to seven straight. They will look to break the losing streak on the road Tuesday against the Omaha Storm for their first matchup of the season. WIND SURGE WISDOM Wichita, Northwest Arkansas Canceled The Wind Surge’s series finale against Northwest Arkansas on the road was canceled due to rain. The game will not be made up for future dates as the teams do not meet again during the season’s first half. Casey Legumina was scheduled to pitch for the Wind Surge on Sunday but will piggyback in relief on Tuesday for Matt Canterino who is scheduled to start for the Wind Surge. Wind Surge catcher Andrew Bechtold and Michael Helman had seven-game hitting streaks going into Sunday’s game which they still keep and have a chance to extend on Tuesday against the Springfield Cardinals at home. KERNELS NUGGETS Cedar Rapids 6, Peoria 3 Box Score SP: John Stankiewicz 5 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K HR: Alerick Soularie (2) Multi-hit games: Soularie (2-3, 3 R, 3B, HR, 4 RBI (8), BB, K) The Kernels completed their final game against the Chiefs on Sunday winning in a 6-3 final and taking the series five to one against Peoria. The 6-3 victory for the Kernels was thanks in major part to second baseman Alerick Soularie, who scored three of the six runs for the Kernels and drove in four, finishing the day with his best offensive performance of the season so far. John Stankiewicz got the start for the Kernels making his first start of the season for them after spending all of April in Ft. Myers and making his Kernels debut out of the bullpen a week earlier. Stankiewicz pitched five solid innings for the Kernels allowing two earned runs on seven hits and only one walk while striking out five. In the four innings to follow, the Kernels bullpen only allowed three base runners on a hit, a walk, and an error. The Kernels will return home for a two-week homestand on Tuesday playing their first series against the Lake County Captains. MUSSEL MATTERS Fort Myers 6, Palm Beach 0 Box Score SP: Marco Raya 4 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K HR: None Multi-hit games: Jake Rucker (3-5, 2 R, 2 2B, SB (7), RBI (9)), Noah Miller (2-5, 2 R, K), Emmanuel Rodriguez (2-4, R, 3B, 2 RBI (14), SB (7), BB, K), Kyle Schmidt (2-4, RBI (14)) The Mighty Mussels extended their winning streak to seven games Sunday afternoon completing a six-game sweep over the Palm Beach Cardinals with a shutout. The six-game sweep over the Cardinals became the first-ever six-game series sweep by the Mighty Mussels in franchise history. Marco Raya made his fourth start and threw his second scoreless outing of the season completing four innings in the frame. Raya only allowed one base runner in his four innings of work with a one-out walk in the top of the first. Following Raya in the Mussels shutout was Jaylen Nowlin making his seventh relief appearance of the season. Nowlin went three innings for the Mussels allowing only three base runners on a hit, walk and hit by pitch and registered four strikeouts. The final pitcher to come into the game for the Mighty Mussels Malik Barrington who recorded a six-out save for the Mussels. Barrington did surrender three hits in his two innings of work but retired five of the six outs he needed via strikeout. The Mussels offense had a slow start to the game as it was scoreless through five and a half innings. Then in the bottom of the sixth, the Mussels got the offense going thanks to an RBI single from Kyle Schmidt that scored Emmanuel Rodriguez. The Mussels added more insurance runs in the seventh with an RBI single from Mikey Perez and a bases-loaded walk from Kala’i Rosario. Then in the bottom of the eighth, Jake Rucker had an RBI double scoring Luis Baez and later in the inning, Emmanuel Rodriguez had a bases-clearing triple that brought the score to 6-0. The Mussels will begin their next series on the road Tuesday at Clearwater with a semi-double header. The first game Tuesday is the resumption of a suspended game from May 1 that will start in the top of the 11th inning tied 4-4. The regularly scheduled game against Clearwater will start a half-hour after the suspended game’s conclusion. TWINS DAILY MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS OF THE DAY Pitcher of the Day – Marco Raya (Ft. Myers) - 4 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K Hitter of the Day – Alerick Soularie (Cedar Rapids) - 2-3, 3 R, 3B, HR, 4 RBI (8), BB, K PROSPECT SUMMARY We will again keep tabs on the Twins top prospects. You’ll probably read about them in the team sections, but if they aren’t there, you’ll see how they did here. Here’s a look at how the current Twins Daily Top 20 performed: #1 - Royce Lewis (Minnesota) - 0-3 #3 - Joe Ryan (Minnesota) - 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K #10 - Emmanuel Rodriguez (Ft. Myers) - 2-4, R, 3B, 2 RBI (14), SB (7), BB, K #11 - Noah Miller (Ft. Myers) - 2-5, 2 R, K #15 - Marco Raya (Ft. Myers) - 4 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K #18 - Christian Encarnacion-Strand (Cedar Rapids) - 0-4 TUESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS All Twins Minor League Affiliates are off on Monday and will resume their games on Tuesday, May 17. The only Monday in which there will be minor-league games is July 4th (and some for the Saints in September). St. Paul @ Omaha (6:35 PM CST) - TBD Springfield @ Wichita (7:05 PM CST) - Matt Canterino Lake Country @ Cedar Rapids (6:35 PM CST) - TBD Fort Myers @ Clearwater Game 1, Resuming May 1 Suspended Game (4:00 PM CST) - TBD Fort Myers @ Clearwater Game 2 (5:30 PM CST) - TBD Please feel free to ask questions and discuss Sunday’s games.
  3. Last Week's Game Results: Game 30 | HOU 5, MIN 0: Verlander Dominates Hapless Twins Game 31 | HOU 11, MIN 3: Astros Blast Twins in Suspended Game Game 32 | HOU 5, MIN 0: Lack of Luck, Lots of Runners Stranded Game 33 | MIN 12, CLE 8: Bats Awaken, Snap Losing Streak Game 34 | CLE 3, MIN 2: Offense Absent, Twins Fall in Extras Game 35 | MIN 3, CLE 1: Ryan Rebounds, Twins Take Series Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/9 through Sun, 5/15 *** Record Last Week: 2-4 (Overall: 20-15) Run Differential Last Week: -13 (Overall: +12) Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (3.0 GA) NEWS & NOTES The list of news and moves from last week is a long one, so let's just try and rattle through it rapid-fire: Carlos Correa, whose bruised finger wasn't improving fast enough to facilitate a speedy return to action, was placed on the injured list for the sake of roster flexibility. He got in some work over the weekend and is expected to be back relatively soon. Luis Arraez was activated from COVID IL, and played throughout the latter part of the week while showing no ill effects. Dylan Bundy, however, remains sidelined as he recovers from his battle with the virus. He wasn't able to go on Saturday so Devin Smeltzer came up to make his 2022 Twins debut, hurling five innings of one-run ball. Alex Kirilloff returned from rehab, basically out of necessity, but looked completely ineffective as his wrist continues to restrict him. The Twins optioned him back to St. Paul on Saturday and he'll stay there until his bat shows signs of life. Meanwhile, Mark Contreras is up from Triple-A and temporarily providing some outfield depth. Danny Coulombe, whose season was off to a magnificent start, suffered a hip injury on Tuesday that forced him to the shelf. It's another blow to this bullpen, which hopes to get a boost from his replacement: 28-year-old Yennier Canó, called up after a strong run at Triple-A. Jhon Romero was moved to the 60-day IL to create 40-man space. Kyle Garlick embarked upon a rehab stint at Triple-A, with his calf apparently healed. He went 3-for-9 with a homer in St. Paul over the weekend and could rejoin the Twins for their coming road trip. They will be happy to get back his lefty-mashing stick. Also due back this week: Bailey Ober, who threw 72 pitches over five innings in a rehab start on Sunday. He struck out seven with no walks, although he did allow four earned runs. The most impactful health development of the week concerned starting pitcher Chris Paddack, but that one is discouraging enough that we'll save it for the Lowlights section. HIGHLIGHTS While the lineup has largely been struggling, a few players are stepping up in a big way. Jorge Polanco is at the head of that list, with his bat catching fire here in May following a fairly quiet first month. He contributed a homer and two doubles last week, and leads the team with 20 RBIs. In a lineup that's seen almost everyone else miss time, Polanco has been a steady and durable force, appearing in all but one of Minnesota's games so far while easily leading the team in plate appearances. His ankle has sometimes impeded his performance but Polanco's been able to battle through and stay on the field, and it's one of his defining qualities. Dating back to 2019 only eight MLB players have amassed more plate appearances. With Correa sidelined, Royce Lewis has been very impressive while filling in on the other side of second base. Although there have a been a few hiccups defensively, he's mostly made the plays and Lewis is swinging a good bat. The past week saw him notch six hits in 22 at-bats, including his first major-league home run – a grand slam that broke things open in Friday's win over Cleveland. It was a really awesome moment for a kid who is extremely easy to root for. Byron Buxton was great as usual when available, launching a pair of homers against Cleveland over the weekend, but he's still bothered by soreness and occasional swelling in his knee, which is keeping him out of the lineup semi-regularly. With that being the case, the emergence of Gilberto Celestino has been tremendously impactful. Celestino went 4-for-11 with a double last week and is now slashing .333/.396/.417 in 52 plate appearances this year. His defense in the outfield has been beyond exceptional (see below). It would've been hard to imagine, given how overmatched he looked as a rookie last year, but Celestino came right back to the big leagues and is giving the Twins everything they could want out of him as a fourth outfielder. On the pitching side, a heaping share of credit is due to Joe Smith, who's been absolutely brilliant out of the Twins bullpen. The front office's lone MLB free agent addition for this unit has been providing absurd value, making frequent yet short appearances and ALWAYS getting the job done. He worked all three games in the Cleveland series, pitching on back-to-back-to-back days and running his season-opening scoreless streak to 12 ⅓ innings. The two couldn't be much different stylistically, but the 38-year-old sidearmer Smith and the 24-year-old flamethrower Jhoan Duran – who worked two scoreless innings last week and rewrote the franchise record for pitch velocity multiple times – are leading the way in a surprisingly reliable bullpen, ranking first and second on the staff in Win Probability Added. LOWLIGHTS The Astros series served as a stark reality check for the Twins, who'd ridden a major hot streak into a multi-game division lead despite all of their injury trials and setbacks. One-run victories over soft competition will be happily banked, but they're not necessarily the most convincing displays. Facing one of the league's truly elite teams, Minnesota was barely competitive. Even at full strength the Twins are probably not at the level of Houston – yet – and all weaknesses were magnified in their undermanned state. Batting Gary Sánchez third in your lineup against Justin Verlander is ... not what you want. Options were limited, unfortunately, and to some extent they still are. Far from giving the lineup a boost, José Miranda has reverted to his old offensive profile – swing at everything, with lots of weak contact – and it's not playing in the majors, as evidenced by a .114/.152/.227 slash line. Meanwhile, the streaky Ryan Jeffers has gone cold again – he went 3-for-16 last week and doesn't have an XBH since his last homer on May 3rd. Sánchez and Gio Urshela have been mostly unproductive outside of the occasional long ball, with each sporting a sub-.290 OBP. The Twins could desperately use a healthy and effective Kirilloff in the middle of their lineup right now, but that simply isn't in the cards. He's in a weird purgatory with his ailing right wrist, where it's not "injured" enough to merit being on the IL, but it's clearly giving him no chance to succeed at the plate. During his time with the Twins, Kirilloff wasn't generating any loud contact. His batted ball metrics were brutal, with exit velos and launch angles ranking at the bottom of the team – not at all what you expect from a hitter of his caliber. Kirilloff still has not barreled a single ball in the majors this year. All the team can really do at this point is send him to a lower-pressure environment and hope the wrist progressively improves, with results turning around in kind. One wonders if it'd be wise to simply give him some time off from swinging. But that's a difficult ask of a 24-year-old who is trying like hell to get his career going. In addition to an offense that was shut out twice and nearly no-hit, the Houston series was also a harsh one for the rookies and reclamation project in Minnesota's rotation, with Joe Ryan, Chris Archer and Josh Winder all struggling to varying degrees. The patience of the Astros lineup proved too much for these starters. Ryan issued a career-high five walks on Tuesday while coughing up four earned runs in four innings. (To his immense credit, he bounced back with a clean and stellar performance on Sunday.) Archer threw just 42 of 75 pitches for strikes on Wednesday and lasted three laborious innings in a loss. Winder was touched up for four runs (three earned) over 3 ⅓ innings in the series finale, yielding six hits and three free passes. Twins pitching was completely outclassed by that of the Astros, with the rotation setting the tone for a lopsided series sweep. It was the type of stretch that leaves you yearning for a steady veteran hand to go along with the youth movement. Seemingly this was a big part of the motivation in acquiring Paddack just ahead of the season, but now that trade has taken a turn for the worse with his elbow issues resurfacing. Paddack exited his last start due to elbow inflammation, and has since been in the process of consulting specialists and gathering information to determine his next move. Having been placed on the 60-day IL, he'll miss at least a couple of months and it seems likely he'll undergo Tommy John surgery, costing him the rest of the season. Last year in San Diego, Paddack was diagnosed with a partial tear of his UCL, which he tried to pitch through and remedy via non-surgical means. As such, this outcome is hardly shocking. The Twins knew the risks involved when they moved on Paddack, and now it looks like the worst-case scenario will be realized: he's going to contribute very little this year while Taylor Rogers is balling for the Padres. Presumably we'll get more clarity in the coming week concerning the plan for Paddack. If you're seeking an optimistic slant, you could take a look at the example of Twins prospect Blayne Enlow, who underwent Tommy John surgery last June and is now ramping up and returning to action, less than one year later. A similar timeline for Paddack could potentially have him back pitching for the Twins in the first half of next year. But again, we'll need to see the details. One way or another, he has a long road ahead of him. TRENDING STORYLINE With Correa set to return soon, perhaps even in the coming week, it will be interesting to see what the plan is for Lewis. He certainly looks like a guy who belongs in the majors and the Twins aren't necessarily in a position where they should feel comfortable losing his spark. But obviously their superstar free agent will resume everyday shortstop duties once activated. Lewis has the speed to be an asset in the outfield and could probably hold his own at third base, where Urshela hasn't been terribly impressive (offensively, anyway – the defense has been quite spectacular). But Lewis lacks much of any experience playing these positions, and you wonder if the Twins are comfortable letting him learn on the fly in the big leagues. I guess we'll find out soon enough. LOOKING AHEAD An extremely soft section of the schedule is underway, and the Twins need to make hay. They'll open the coming week with a trip out west to face the Athletics, who they swept at home a week ago. Then it's off to Kansas City for a match-up against the Royals. The following 12 games are all against Detroit and KC. After that, the Twins will be running through an AL East gauntlet featuring the Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays, and at that point, they'll have a chance to show their mettle against strong competition after falling woefully short versus Houston. But until then, the goal is just to rattle off victories and build some distance in the Central standings. As I publish this, no starter has been officially announced for Friday but that nod will presumably go to Ober. MONDAY, 5/16: TWINS @ ATHLETICS – RHP Chris Archer v. LHP Zach Logue TUESDAY, 5/17: TWINS @ ATHLETICS – RHP Josh Winder v. RHP James Kaprielian WEDNESDAY, 5/18: TWINS @ ATHLETICS – RHP Sonny Gray v. RHP Daulton Jefferies FRIDAY, 5/20: TWINS @ ROYALS – TBD v. LHP Daniel Lynch SATURDAY, 5/21: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Joe Ryan v. RHP Brad Keller SUNDAY, 5/22: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Chris Archer v. TBD
  4. Box Score SP: Dustin Smeltzer: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K (70 pitches, 50 strikes (71%)) Home Runs: Gio Urshela (2) Top 3 WPA: Devin Smeltzer (.133), Jhoan Duran (.128), Gary Sanchez (.102) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) Makin’ Moves Following Thursday night's game, the Twins announced that they would be bringing up a pitcher to start Friday's game. The pitching staff has been run through and since Wednesday, the clubhouse has lost five pitchers (two starters and two relievers) with either ailment or injury leaving the bullpen to manage the past few games. There was lots of inquiry and speculation, but several fans were elated to find out that Devin Smeltzer would be returning to Target Field to start against the Cleveland Guardians and Shane Bieber. To make room for Smeltzer, first baseman Miguel Sano was sent to the 60-day Injured List (left knee, torn meniscus). Sano is not expected to make it back to the club until at least July, depending on how rehab goes. Outfielder/first baseman Alex Kirilloff was optioned to St. Paul. Kirilloff has been struggling this season with his recurring wrist injury, and while he sounds optimistic on the recovery and return, his hitting for the season between IL-stints has been .172 over ten games (5-for-29) and only two runs scored. Kirilloff has one remaining option left after this transaction, the hope is that he will get more at-bats and a chance to enhance his swing as his wrist improves. Smeltzer, who lost most of the 2021 season with elbow inflammation eventually was sidelined in June with a herniated disc in his neck. Smeltzer has worked hard to get back into shape to get a chance again to start for the Twins. He had a fantastic spring training performance. Devin Smeltzer has thrown in five games and while he carries a 3.86 ERA the stat doesn't tell the whole story of how his discipline has changed. Smeltzer has seen a total of 88 batters, only allowing nine runs in 21 innings, and has struck out 18 of batters faced. Smeltzer gained muscle and command since his last start with Minnesota, looked like his old self, maybe even better. Most of his major-league starts have been against Cleveland. The lefty had a quick first inning striking out one, Smeltzer was charged with just one run over five innings of work. The bullpen came in to relieve Smeltzer and continued to keep the score low, exercising every arm option they had at their disposal to keep the Guardians from adding a run. Battle of the Bats The Guardians did get on the board early in the second when Owen Miller scored on a Franmil Reyes single to center field, but Smeltzer held the Guardians to one run and only three hits in his five-inning start back with the Twins. In the first three innings for the Twins, Bieber struck out four and worked inside to right-handed hitters making it nearly impossible to hit off of him. The bottom of the third, the Twins loaded the bases with Luis Arraez, Jorge Polanco, and Gary Sanchez, bringing up Max Kepler with two outs and a full count. Bieber threw a high cutter to strike out Kepler and leave the bases loaded. In the fourth inning, the bats seemed to start waking up. It looked like it was going to turn around when Gio Urshela stepped into the batter's box and hit a home run to center field to get the Twins on the board and tie up the game. The fifth inning was one of the more disappointing ones with bases loaded and nobody out, after just going through the same thing in the previous inning. Urshela, whose prior at-bat was a solo home run, hit a chopper that turned into a double play, followed by Arraez lining out to third, stranding three runners again. The Twins have a knack for leaving players stranded when in scoring position. Royce Lewis attempted to help out the Twins in the sixth inning with two bunt attempts to bring home a run. The Twins lineup doesn’t bunt nearly as much as other teams and for players like Kepler who are constantly hitting into the shift, this writer thinks bunting would be a greater offensive weapon to assist the Twins to more than one-run wins, but clearly tonight it didn't work. The Twins organization doesn't bunt, and for some, laying out a bunt with Royce Lewis, the Twins number one prospect, seemed odd. Bitter End The tenth inning started out with drama after The Twins and Guardians fought through five scoreless innings. Manager Rocco Baldelli got tossed for arguing with the umpires after Andres Gimenez was granted second base after colliding with Jose Miranda (called for interference rounding first base after a hit). To add to the already mounting stress, during all the excitement, the Guardians were able to bring home Ernie Clement, giving the Guardians a 2-1 advantage. As Jharel Cotton worked his way through the rotation, Myles Straw singled into right, scoring Gimenez before closing out the inning. Urshela, who had two RBIs tonight, helped the Twins in their shot in the tenth inning as he was able to beat out an infield single and bring home Gary Sanchez who was posted on second base as the extra-innings runner.. Where there was a spark of hope, it was quickly put out as the tying run was on base was left stranded once again when Nick Gordon struck out to end the game. While it wasn't the way fans or the Twins wanted to end the game, it was intense and exciting and the Twins still have a chance to take the series before heading out on the road. What’s Next? The Twins finish out their series with the Guardians tomorrow at 1:10pm before heading out to Oakland for a three game series followed by a stop by Kansas City to play the Royals. Pitching matchup tomorrow: Sunday 1:10 pm CST: Joe Ryan (3-2, 2.56 ERA) vs RHP Tristan McKenzie (2-2, 2.76 ERA) Postgame Interviews Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet TUE WED THU FRI SAT TOT Cotton 58 0 0 0 17 75 Jax 0 0 0 50 0 50 Stashak 0 0 46 0 0 46 Thielbar 3 0 23 0 15 41 Duffey 0 0 33 0 5 38 Cano 0 0 36 0 0 36 Pagán 0 0 0 22 9 31 Duran 0 0 0 10 12 22 Smith 0 0 0 4 15 19
  5. Across nearly 300 minor league games, Alex Kirilloff performed admirably. He had an .865 OPS and sat at a solid .317 batting average. Despite missing time due to Tommy John surgery in 2017, and then having minor league action shut down in 2020, Kirilloff earned his call through consistent performance and debuted on September 30, 2020. Thrust into a postseason game for his first big league action, it was hardly an ideal scenario. Maturity has always been something of a significant credit for Kirilloff, and seeing him handle that moment did nothing to change the belief. He’s battled through adversity previously, and that’s the crossroads we’re coming to once again. Last season Kirilloff got off to a slow start but did rip four homers in his first 11 starts. The average wasn’t there, but a .571 slugging percentage was buoyed by three doubles and four dingers. Then it happened... the dreaded wrist injury. A cortisone shot was administered, and he returned to the lineup on May 21, missing just 18 days. From that point forward, in a string of 47 games through July 19, Kirilloff slugged just .387 and hit another four homers. He was the same advanced hitter at the plate, but his body left him no ability to execute. Minnesota opted to have Kirilloff undergo season-ending wrist surgery last summer and the hope was that he’d be ready for spring training. Showing up this season, Kirilloff noted that he shut things down during the offseason due to pain, but then seemed ready to go in March. Once again, he got off to a slow start, and then it was announced that the wrist was again problematic. Sent out on a rehab stint with the Saints following another cortisone shot, Kirilloff suggested the pain still isn’t gone. Unfortunately, the results haven’t changed either. Playing in just seven of the Twins' 29 games this year, Kirilloff is a dreadful 2-for-22, and he’s yet to record an extra-base hit. He’s got a 10/0 K/BB and owns a -31 OPS+. It’s an extremely small sample size, but it’s nothing short of awful. For a guy that has always been seen as an advanced hitter, it’s obvious this is merely a shell of the player we once expected. So, what do the Twins and Kirilloff do from here? That’s a great question, and one without a straightforward answer. When talking to him following a Saints' victory last week, he shared that a check-in with the doctor who performed his surgery revealed nothing new or noteworthy. The wrist was said to be structurally sound and a follow-up procedure wasn’t seen as imminent. It was hoped that this cortisone shot would provide relief, although the announcement of continued pain or discomfort would suggest that hasn’t happened. Following a season where both parties decided to pull the plug and go under the knife, it’s hard to suggest battling through it remains a good process. Right now, both Kirilloff and the Twins probably stand to benefit from a wait-and-see approach. Maybe things take a turn for the better and further healing happens. Maybe some settling in at the plate turns the tide in production. Thrust back into the lineup after a lackluster 5-for-22 rehab assignment at Triple-A though, confidence for all involved has to be waning. There’s no denying that Kirilloff is among the brightest to come through the system in recent memory. It’s frustrating watching him play through something not allowing his abilities to shine. Here’s to hoping there’s a way for positive progress resulting in sustained health, and soon, because no one wants to continue seeing this level of production.
  6. Miguel Sano is under contract through the 2022 season and has a $14 million team option for 2023. Carrying just a $2.75 million buyout, it’s all but certain the front office will move on from Sano. Once ranked as high as the 4th best prospect across all of baseball by MLB.com, Sano now is a big leaguer with nearly 700 games under his belt. Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager, Sano’s initial contract was one of the most contentious topics in the sport at the time. From questions about his true age to decisions regarding which team he’d agree with, a full feature-length film was made about the process. Coming stateside in 2010, Sano has been a part of the Twins organization for over a decade. His minor league numbers were always gaudy. Tabbed a shortstop only through initial athleticism, but with the understanding future size would move him to a corner, Sano put up a .932 OPS in 491 minor league games. Debuting with the Twins on July 2, 2015, Sano became a fixture at the hot corner. He was asked to play right field in an odd move just a few seasons later and has since settled in holding down first base. Across 691 Major League games, Sano has launched 162 career home runs and posted an .809 OPS. His 117 OPS+ is above league average, and while he’s tallied over 1,000 strikeouts, there’s no denying his bat is one of the most explosive in the game. Sano finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting back in 2015, being beaten out only by Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. He made the All-Star Game in 2017 and also competed in the Home Run Derby. Never a strong defender, Sano has been passable at best in the field. Aside from the abomination that was his right field experiment, he’s been far from a butcher but hardly sniffed any sort of accolades. He’s taken to the new role at first base well and has shown a level of athleticism that originally highlighted the opportunity to succeed at the hot corner. He’s fluctuated on the scale and that has also led to both criticism and improved opportunities for success. It’s foolish to believe Sano has played his last game for Minnesota, there will be opportunities when he returns. What capacity the opportunities come from remain entirely linked to those currently holding things down. Jose Miranda is a top prospect with a good bat. Luis Arraez is a dependable utility player. Alex Kirilloff was supposed to be the next mainstay in Minnesota’s lineup. Any combination of those three could take at-bats away from Sano, but at least two of the three have plenty of earning yet to be done. When the dust settles the expectation should be that Sano tacks on a few more home runs. While his production leaves plenty to be desired right now, having just a .379 OPS, there was good reason to believe a patented outburst was coming. A streaky type of player that can break out in a big way, Sano was still looking for the other shoe to drop early on in 2022. There shouldn’t be a career-altering amount of change coming the rest of the way for Sano, however, and that opens the door to evaluation. What has Sano been for the Minnesota Twins? A former top 10 prospect across all of baseball puts up nearly 200 homers and an .800 OPS by the time he turns 28 and that gets evaluated how? His work ethic, character, and play style will likely always drag him further down for some, but have the positives been enough to find yourself happy with the overall trajectory? This is where you chime in. Was Miguel Sano a bust for the Twins, or did he do enough to justify the hype?
  7. Depth is critical when building a big-league roster, especially if a team is in contention. Minnesota planned on two players getting the bulk of the time at first base, but that plan has already needed to shift. Let’s examine what the Twins can do at first base if injuries continue to impact the roster. Injuries: Miguel Sanó, Alex Kirilloff Minnesota’s plan entering the season was to rotate through Sanó and Kirilloff at first base. Sanó was one of the AL’s worst defenders at first base last season, but his height helps him pull in errant throws. Sanó isn’t in the line-up for his defensive ability, as he has posted an OPS+ of 105 or higher in six of his seven big-league seasons. His recent knee injury pushed him to the IL, and this might be a good time for him to reset as he has a .379 OPS in 2022. If surgery is required, he may miss a significant chunk of the season. Kirilloff is currently rehabbing a wrist injury in St. Paul, but there is no timeline on when he will return to the team. It was clear that he wasn’t 100% healthy at the season’s start, as he went 1-for-17 before being put on the IL. Even with his rehab starts, Kirilloff has yet to collect an extra-base hit this season. Last season, he ranked very well on the defensive side of the ball at first base, but he needs to prove he is healthy before taking over a starting role. Plan B: Luis Arraez Minnesota shifted to Plan B, with Sano and Kirilloff out of the picture. Luis Arraez has taken over the everyday starting first base role even though he doesn’t fit the prototypical first baseman mold. Entering the 2022 season, Arraez had minimal professional experience at first base, but injuries have allowed him to shift from a utility role to a starter. He is below average at other defensive positions, so moving to first may help hide some of his defensive flaws. Plus, the Twins want his bat in the line-up as much as possible because he has posted his highest OPS+ since his rookie season. Arraez has dealt with knee issues in the past, so where would the team turn if he gets hurt? Other Options: Gio Urshela, Gary Sanchez, Jose Miranda Twins manager Rocco Baldelli mentioned that other first base options include Urshela and Sanchez. Both players have combined for 10.0 defensive innings at first base during their big-league careers. It seems unlikely for Sanchez to make regular appearances at first since rosters dropped to 26-men, and the team is only carrying two catchers. Miranda might be the most likely player to see time at first as he has played 270 innings at first base throughout his minor league career. He’s one of the team’s best prospects, and this might be a way for him to play every day at the big-league level. Another name to watch at St. Paul is Curtis Terry, who the team signed to a minor league deal this winter. Terry made his big-league debut last season with the Rangers and went 4-for-45 with two doubles and 15 strikeouts. So far this season, he is hitting .261/.378/.464 (.842) with five doubles and three home runs. He is not on the 40-man roster, so it would likely take a long-term injury for him to get an opportunity. Do you feel the Twins need to worry about their first base depth? Can Arraez handle the position? Should Miranda take over at first? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  8. Devin Smeltzer threw 11 innings for the big league club down in Fort Myers during Spring Training this year and gave up just five hits while striking out nine and walking two batters. He was seen as a longshot to make the Opening Day roster, but with a clean bill of health, he looked the part of an arm that may be able to help in 2022. Ultimately, the Twins decided to send Smeltzer to Triple-A, but the strong performances haven’t stopped. Working five innings today, he allowed just a single run, Smeltzer owns a 1.42 ERA through 19 innings and has a 16/6 K/BB. Given how solid Minnesota’s starters have looked thus far, it’s hard to see a place where Smeltzer fits into the rotation. There’s little reason to believe he can’t be of service in another capacity. Right now, the only left-handed arms in Rocco Baldelli’s bullpen are Danny Coulombe and Caleb Thielbar. After being reliable the past couple of seasons, Thielbar has produced lackluster results to open 2022. I’d wager Minnesota wants to see more from Thielbar before making a change, but he does have an option left. With an expected ERA of 3.63, there is reason to believe that with more outings, he will straighten things out. Whether taking over for Thielbar or someone else, it’s good to see Smeltzer making a renewed case for inclusion on the 26-man roster. Talking to Smeltzer after his outing, he suggested "health" is the most significant difference in his performance. “I had some long-term cancer side effects that popped up the past two years, finally got that taken care of. Got the neck taken care of. Everything else has just kind of fallen into place.” Working as a starter at Triple-A but having worked out of the bullpen previously, Smeltzer said, “I always prefer to start. I’m going to do everything in my power to force them to make a move.” A notoriously quick worker, Smeltzer is experiencing the minor-league pitch clock for the first time. He’s certainly not a fan. “I think it’s destroying the game of baseball. I had two strikeouts in my last game on it (granted strikes from the umpire), and it’s ridiculous, honestly. These are guys’ careers. It’ll never happen in the big leagues. I don’t think the union will ever allow it.” Sharing very similar feelings to myself, Smeltzer continued, “It’s not baseball. Shaving off 15-20 minutes of a game isn’t going to pack the stadium. You either like baseball, or you don’t.” On the other side of the ball, there was talented Twins left fielder Alex Kirilloff playing in just his fourth Triple-A game. Having rehabbed for two games with the Saints last season after dealing with the same wrist issue, he was playing left field today after DHing on Tuesday. In his first game back following a cortisone shot, Kirilloff went 1-for-1 with three walks. Making contact in each of his first three at-bats today, he went 0-for-4 while sending two fly balls to left field and grounding out on a ball to second base. The ball found him plenty in the outfield as he recorded the game’s first out on a routine fly ball. There isn’t much concern with his fielding ability, as the problem has always persisted when swinging. Last season, the cortisone shot was deemed helpful for a time before he was shut down and eventually underwent wrist surgery. The hope for both Kirilloff and the Twins would be that there’s not a consistent issue this time around, and things have corrected themselves. After finishing the game, I talked with Kirilloff to check in on the progress and how he was feeling. When asked about continued discomfort in the wrist, he noted feeling it “here and there, but that it’s a lot better than what it was before, so that’s encouraging.” Unfortunately, this is a very similar timeline to when Kirilloff’s wrist began to bother him last year. Asked what about this feels different, he said, “It’s a similar feeling to last year, but the hope is that it does the trick and it’ll last longer than it did last year. Structurally now, it’s better than it was because of the procedure I had done. The surgery did what it needed to do as far as the structure. He (the doctor) thinks it will respond differently this time.” With a history of going through the same situation, Kirilloff played just two rehab games before returning to Minnesota. When asked about the timeline for a return this season, he said, “I feel like I’m close. I haven’t talked to them yet today, but I’ll be able to find out more information when I do.” He said the decision to return would be made collectively. St. Paul continues to play good baseball, and they have some of the top hitting talents in the Twins system. It’s more likely that Royce Lewis will force his way to the big leagues this year, and Jose Miranda repeating his 2021 performance should have him to the next level. Lewis inside-outed a double in the 8th inning before walking it off in the 10th inning. Miranda recorded a double and home run. Keep tabs on St. Paul with plenty to glean for the Twins as the season progresses.
  9. TRANSACTIONS There was just one transaction on the day heading into a new series for each affiliate, but it was a notable one for Twins fans. Twins RF Alex Kirilloff was sent on a rehab assignment with the Saints. He batted second as the designated hitter in their game. SAINTS SENTINEL Nashville 1, St. Paul 4 Box Score Making his second appearance back with the Saints after being with the Twins briefly, starting pitcher Dereck Rodriguez was stellar for the first 4 2/3 innings. He allowed just one run on five hits and a walk, while snuffing the Sounds with six strikeouts. St. Paul had a 2-1 lead when he exited the game as they were able to score a run in each of the third and fourth innings. After a Royce Lewis double to put runners on second and third, Nashville’s pitcher uncorked a wild pitch to score their first run of the game, but they were unable to push Lewis across. In the fourth, three consecutive singles from Curtis Terry, Derek Fisher, and Daniel Robertson got them the second run, but the threat was stifled again when Fisher was thrown out at third on the relay. The teams traded zeroes for three innings after that, with Mario Sanchez delivering 2 1/3 scoreless innings after Rodriguez. He walked one and struck out two. Jharrel Cotton pitched a scoreless eighth, striking out one, and Trevor Megill closed it out for his first save of the season, allowing a single, striking out one, and getting a double-play ball to end the game. The Saints added two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when four consecutive hitters drew a walk to score one. That was followed by a sac fly from Chance Sisco for the second run. Lewis (2-for-5, 2B) and Terry (2-for-3, 2 R, 2B, BB) each had two hits in the win. In his return to the lineup for his rehab assignment, Alex Kirilloff reached base all four times he came to the plate with three walks and a single, batting second behind Lewis as the designated hitter. (Please check out the Brewer Fanatic report on the Nashville/St. Paul game). WIND SURGE WISDOM Wichita 4, Arkansas 10 Box Score On the road in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Wind Surge started their series with right-hander Chris Vallimont going against the Travelers. He pitched around a pair of singles in the first inning, before being greeted with a home run to open the second that put Arkansas out front early. They added another run in the second before a one-two-three third inning, then broke it open in the fourth with four more before Vallimont was lifted. In all, he lasted 3 1/3 innings, allowing six earned runs on nine hits and two walks, while striking out five batters. Evan Sisk was the first reliever summoned, and he escaped the fourth with no further damage along with delivering a scoreless fifth. He walked two and struck out three. Bryan Sammons and Zach Featherstone combined to allow two runs each on five hits and two walks over the final three innings to account for all the Travelers runs in the game. Sammons struck out over his two innings, and Featherstone one in the eighth. In the top of the fourth Wichita was able to cut Arkansas’ early 2-0 lead in half thanks to Matt Wallner’s second home run of the season. That would be as close as they would get, however. In the eighth inning, Spencer Steer and Wallner each drove in a run with a double, and in the ninth they added one more via an Edouard Julien RBI groundout to make the final score 10-4. Wallner was the only Wind Surge hitter with two hits (2-for-4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, K), and Julien drew three walks in the game to lead the way for the offense. As a team, they were just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base. KERNELS NUGGETS Cedar Rapids 3, Beloit 0 Box Score The Kernels got a stellar outing out of their pitching staff in this one, led by starter Cody Laweryson and reliever Andrew Cabezas. They each pitched three innings, with Laweryson giving up just two walks with three K’s, and Cabezas just one hit while striking out four. Bradley Hanner added two scoreless innings, allowing two hits, a walk, and striking out three. Derek Molina was credited with his first save of the season with a one-two-three ninth inning to close out the win. Cedar Rapids took a 1-0 lead in the top of third when Aaron Sabato drove in Anthony Prato with a sac fly. They made it 2-0 in the seventh thanks to a wild pitch that allowed Wander Javier to scamper home after he had doubled to lead off the inning. Their third run was courtesy of an RBI double from Sabato in the eighth that scored Christian Encarnicion-Strand, who had singled in front of him. Hits were in short supply for both teams in the game, as the Kernels had just six versus the Sky Carp’s three. Neither team had a hit with runners in scoring position and they combined to strand just eleven baserunners on the game. Encarnacion-Strand was 2-for-4 with a run scored, and Sabato 1-for-2 with a double and two RBI. MUSSEL MATTERS Clearwater 7, Fort Myers 3 Box Score The Mighty Mussels fell behind early, as starter Steve Hajjar was jumped on by the Threshers for three runs in the first frame. This was largely due to a pair of throwing errors from Hajjar himself. A two-run double and one of those errors led to three runs. He settled down from there and was able to finish four innings with no further damage. In all, he allowed seven hits and two walks along with striking out five batters. The Fort Myers lineup was able to get two of those runs back in the second inning after an RBI single from Ernie Yake, and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jake Rucker. Clearwater answered back after Hajjar’s exit, scoring three more in the fifth against reliever Jackson Hicks on three hits and a walk. Hunter McMahon pitched two innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out three. Lefty John Wilson got the final two innings, giving up just one hit and striking out three Threshers. Outfielder Kyler Fedko continued his hot hitting to start the season, collecting two singles to lead the way for the Mighty Mussels and was the only hitter with more than one hit. Emmanuel Rodriguez was 1-for-3 with a run scored and drew a walk. As a team, they did not have an extra-base hit, had only four at-bats with runners in scoring position, and left just six men on base. TWINS DAILY MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS OF THE DAY Pitcher of the Day - Andrew Cabezas, Cedar Rapids Kernels (W, 3 IP, H, 4 K) Hitter of the Day - Matt Wallner, Wichita Wind Surge (2-for-4, R, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, K) PROSPECT SUMMARY #1 - Austin Martin (Wichita) - 0-for-4 #2 - Royce Lewis (St. Paul) - 2-for-5, 2B #3 - Jose Miranda (St. Paul) - 1-for-4 #11 - Gilberto Celestino (Minnesota) - 0-for-2, K #12 - Matt Wallner (Wichita) - 2-for-4, R, 2B, HR (2), 2 RBI, K #15 - Emmanuel Rodriguez (Fort Myers) - 1-for-3, R, BB, 2 K #18 - Spencer Steer (Wichita) - 1-for-5, R, 2B, RBI, K #19 - Edouard Julien (Wichita) - 0-for-2, R, RBI, 3 BB #20 - Steve Hajjar (Fort Myers) - L, 4 IP, 7 H, 3 R (2 ER), 2 BB, 5 K WEDNESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS Nashville @ St. Paul (1:07 PM CDT) - LHP Devin Smeltzer (1-1, 1.29 ERA) Wichita @ Arkansas (6:35 PM CDT) - RHP Louie Varland (1-1, 4.11 ERA) Cedar Rapids @ Beloit (11:05 AM CDT) - RHP Casey Legumina (0-1, 6.48 ERA) Clearwater @ Fort Myers (6:00 PM CDT) - RHP Pierson Ohl (0-0, 7.71 ERA) Please feel free to ask questions and discuss Tuesday’s games!
  10. When Alex Kirilloff went down with an injury to his wrist, the club was immediately in good hands, having Larnach step in. While the results last season weren’t exactly promising, plenty of the poor production could be attributed to injury. Now back to full health, and despite a slow start with the Triple-A Saints, Larnach is looking the part for Minnesota. Although it’s an extremely small sample size, Larnach’s batted ball events have been a bloodbath of red on the Statcast exit velocity readings. He hits nothing without serious intent, and seven of the first ten balls he put in play have left the bat at more than 95 mph. Expected outcomes have Larnach’s batting average sitting 50 points higher than it is, at .309, with a 150-point bump in wOBA (weight on-base average) at .408. It’s not new for Larnach to be hitting the ball with authority. As mentioned, that was his calling card when the Twins initially drafted him. Last season Larnach posted a 9.5% barrel rate and a 90 mph average exit velocity. Although not exceptional, his 40.5% hard-hit rate was noteworthy, and the launch angle sat at 13.1 degrees. What has been a constant for Larnach and Kirilloff is that opposing pitchers know they can hit velocity. Larnach saw fastballs just 28% of the time last season, and that’s been an even less 24% this year. The idea is to feed him offspeed and slop offerings to keep him off balance while forcing him to generate the power through his swing. Larnach is chasing roughly half the time he did a year ago, just a handful of games into the season, and he’s dropped the whiff rate by six percent. Those numbers are likely too drastic to hold up throughout an entire season, but steps forward there only increase his ability to drive the ball. It should never be seen as a positive when a player goes down with an injury, but if there’s a place that Minnesota has options, it’s in corner outfielders. Larnach was squeezed off the Opening Day roster as there wasn’t a direct path to playing time every day. With plenty of run in front of him, it should be time for him to shine. Like Kirilloff, Larnach gets off a powerful swing while not being loud with his hands and staying within his process. It’s a beautiful sight at contact, and whether the ball leaves the yard or finds a glove, there shouldn’t be many situations where the result isn’t a loud one. A candidate for 30-plus homers in an entire season, Larnach finding regular at-bats for the Twins should be fun for all involved. Take a look at Larnach’s Statcast profile a few months from now, and don’t be surprised if you see many high percentile rankings. If Kirilloff's injury isn't something long-term, then it will be interesting to see how Rocco Baldelli juggles his lineup and talent. The early returns suggest there will need to be playing time found for all. What do you think about how Larnach has looked in the early going this season? Does he stay with the Twins once Kirilloff returns and how would you get him into the lineup on an everyday basis?
  11. The offense as a whole has failed to match a surprisingly strong start to the season for the Twins pitching staff. Few hitters have shown any kind of consistency, but it’s plenty easy to key in on right-handed slugger Miguel Sano. Every year it’s seemingly the same with Sano. Struggle for the first month or two, make some adjustments, iron out the timing at the plate and finish the season looking like everything has been fixed only for the same cycle to be repeated again. Perhaps in a touching tribute to the banning of pitchers hitting in the NL, Sano has been particularly terrible to begin the season in 2022. Yes, Miguel Sano is yet again approaching the record books after becoming the fastest player in Major League history to 1000 strikeouts at the end of 2021. Through six games it’s been particularly frustrating to watch, which has fans already wondering: What can we do with Miguel Sano? Cut Him As is tradition, the calls to cut Miguel Sano or try to send him to AAA have already erupted. The latter scenario is downright unrealistic. Sano would have to essentially be cut and re-signed in agreement with going to St. Paul, a situation that would never play out. Another team would surely pick Sano up on the league minimum, and he would most certainly prefer to play in the MLB elsewhere than in AAA here. Some would call this an upgrade to the team, but there aren’t any legitimate replacements at first base. Alex Kirilloff is out for the foreseeable future after his recurring wrist issue flared up and players like Jose Miranda who have some experience at first base aren’t the kind of player you ship a veteran out for. Not to mention the fact that the Twins likely would never pay the $9.25m remaining on his deal to play elsewhere. Bench Him An adjustment is likely in order for Sano to catch up to fastballs and barrel up breaking balls again. So why not have him work exclusively on making adjustments with the coaching staff in an environment where he’s not dragging down the lineup? Even if the Twins had an obvious short-term replacement at first base, Sano’s main issue is timing. Perhaps it is a mechanical tweak that helps him lock-in, but tee work isn’t going to do him much good. We saw in 2019 when Sano was struggling to keep his strikeout rate below 40% for the first two months that he benefits from working through his timing issues by getting his reps in during games. There isn’t much substitute for live pitching when it comes to a player with such significant swing and miss tendencies. Ride It Out This leads to the most likely option, the Twins are likely going to ride this out. After all, Sano has shown time and time again that their patience will pay itself off. Taking an at-bat away from Miguel Sano is taking him one step further from breaking out and being one of the better hitters in the lineup for at least some period of time. The second halves of his seasons are always better than the first, and at some point, he’s going to return to being a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat. Is it an ideal scenario to have a player with such crippling gaps in production in the lineup? No. I’d guess the Twins' front office would go back in time and undo the extension they signed Sano to if given the opportunity. It’s also hard to imagine a scenario where they pick up his $14m option for 2023. That being said, Miguel Sano is likely here for 2022 for better or worse. We’ve been watching him since 2015. It’s time to be realistic about the Miguel Sano situation. He’s going to be beyond frustrating until he’s on one of the most ungodly heaters we’ll see from a player this season. It may hurt the Twins' season tremendously, or perhaps he’ll play a large part in them returning to the postseason. Be as frustrated as you’d like, but Miguel Sano likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
  12. Krillioff Knocks Self from Lineup When Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli published his first lineup of the day, Alex Kirilloff was in it, starting in left field. That’s notable as he is a left-handed batter and was set to face off against first-ballot Hall of Famer lefty Clayton Kershaw. However, the bad news dropped not more than an hour after making that decision. The Twins up-and-coming star was headed back to the Injured List. No, this wasn’t for the knee injury that held him out of a Spring Training game, but instead, for the same wrist injury, he dealt with a season ago. That is the wrist he underwent surgery for in July, missed the rest of the season, and didn’t resume baseball activities until October. Immediately I thought of a quote that The Athletic’s Dan Hayes shared back in March. Kirilloff said, “I ramped up to where I was ready to hit a velocity machine, and it just didn’t feel right, so we shut it down for a month in November and then started ramping up in December again. That second time around, it felt better.” The comment caused some pause at the time as it wasn’t great that issues were still present. I tried to tuck it into the back of my mind, but it clearly reared its head again today. Then there’s the frustration of what Kirilloff is really dealing with. Today, MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park tweeted that Kirilloff shared he’s never swung pain-free since the injury. That is a substantial problem, both for the player and the Twins. A season ago, Kirilloff was a prospect looking to establish himself as a big-league ballplayer. Up until his May 3 wrist sprain, he owned a .799 OPS, and it was backed by a seven-game stretch in which he slashed .321/.333/.857. After a cortisone shot and some rehab, Kirilloff returned to play another 47 games but posted just a .703 OPS with virtually non-existent power. At that point, combined with the Twins postseason prognosis, surgery was deemed favorable. Coming into this season, Kirilloff didn’t have anything guaranteed, but the left-field role was his for the taking. This is a Minnesota team looking at a postseason berth, and they were going to count on the former first-round pick to bolster the lineup in a big way. That was until it was discovered, a week into the season, that his wrist hadn’t been pain-free. It’s hard to fault an athlete for wanting to compete, but the 1-for-17 start indicated more than just tough luck. Being put in the lineup even on the day he was sent to the Injured List suggests this was news to everyone but the outfielder. Who knows what could have been done differently, how the roster could’ve been shaped, or how his health could’ve been prioritized before this point, but now the Twins are stuck in a waiting game that is the result of an ineffective surgery and a blindside. Kershaw Flirts With Perfection Watching the game from different spaces within Target Field, it was clear Minnesota had no answer for the Dodgers star southpaw today. Kershaw cruised through each inning with ease, never facing a deep count and with no real contact that threatened the production of a base runner. As the innings drew on and the strikeouts increased, the only thing hot at the ballpark was the future Hall of Famer. After completing his 7th inning of work, on just 80 pitches, Kershaw had thirteen strikeouts and had allowed zero baserunners. When he entered the dugout, manager Dave Roberts greeted him. They high-fived, and it seemed to signify that his day was done. Blake Treinen had been warming in the bullpen, and the Los Angeles manager seemed ready to lift his star six outs from a perfect game. Following the conclusion, Kershaw shared that “it was the right move…it was time.” That’s the response of a veteran not looking to undo his manager's decision, but it’s also the correct one. While it would’ve been amazing to see the legendary arm turn in baseball’s 24th perfect game, there are no guarantees it would happen. More than playing the “what if” game, though, there’s the levity of the situation. Last year Kershaw dealt with an injury down the stretch, and in the Postseason, for a Dodgers team looking at success solely through the lens of a World Series ring. He then didn’t ramp up his throwing program until January, later than usual, providing his body time to heal. Throw in a lockout-shortened Spring Training, and you have an arm that has yet to be stretched beyond 60-70 pitches. For fans, this was a 36-degree game in April. For the Dodgers (and hopefully the Twins), this was a game during the first week of a marathon to the World Series. Perfection certainly would’ve been amazing, and it would’ve kept me at the park for another six outs despite the 6-0 score. Still, there’s also the likely possibility the ramifications would’ve been felt far longer than a magical day in April. Wednesday was dominated by two K’s and maybe three if you attribute a third to Kershaw’s strikeout tally. Both were detrimental for the Twins, and only one of the two situations played out well. Better days ahead.
  13. The assumption is that Larnach will presumably become the Twins new regular left fielder. But maybe the Twins need to take a closer look at the recently-released Justin Upton. Upton was DFA'd by the Angels last week and cleared waivers earlier this week. The Angels are on the hook for the remainder of his contract. If Upton wants to play major league baseball, he could potentially do it for the Twins for the pro-rated league minimum ($700k). It doesn't take a math genius to figure out that Upton isn't particularly good in left field, nearly every number being preceded by a minus sign tells that story. Of course, having Byron Buxton helping patrol the outfield next to him should help. The other issue, of course, is that if Upton isn't great in the field, he should at least make up for it with his bat, right? Well, you'd hope, but that hasn't been great either. Since his age-31 season in 2019, Upton has put together three straight sub-.730 OPS seasons. But they aren't even full seasons, they're more like Byron Buxton seasons, playing in a combined 194 games, with last year's 89 being a three-year high. So what could Upton provide? He could be an option as a right-handed bat in an outfield that needs it. Maybe you believe in Kyle Garlick. Or maybe you think Gilberto Celestino should fill a part-time role instead of going to St. Paul to play every day. But maybe you think Upton can be worth a look, knowing that you can move on at any time without it being a huge loss. Justin Upton slashed .219/.265/.531 (.796 OPS) in 64 at-bats in 2020 and .225/.355/.483 (.838 OPS) in 89 at-bats against lefties in 2021. Both of those are well off his career .259/.359/.493 (.852 OPS) line, but if believing that Gary Sanchez can benefit from the change of scenery by getting out of the bright lights of New York, can't we believe the same thing about Upton getting out from the terrible contract and underwhelming performance in Los Angeles?
  14. Stop losing sleep over pitching Out of the 16 pitchers on the roster, only three appeared on last season’s Opening Day roster (Caleb Thielbar, Tyler Duffey, Jorge Alcala). This reformation came quietly, with the Twins choosing to promote from within and to sign smaller names in larger quantities. The biggest changes came from trades, which have already reaped some benefits (@ Twins legend, Gio Urshela). This is the most pitchers that Minnesota has carried on their roster in the past five years, with the Twins opting to add exclusively pitching to their expanded roster. The Twins learned the hard way last season that quantity can override quality. This new approach prevents a single point of failure, such as when the Twins were forced to consistently use Alex Colomé after the mass exodus in the bullpen. It doesn’t hurt that the Twins supplemented quantity without compromising quality. Jhoan Duran’s performance made fans forget about Brusdar Graterol and Taylor Rogers. Jorge Alcala is coming into his own, putting away the Mariners in 13 pitches. Going into tomorrow, the Twins have eight completely fresh bullpen arms, which is equal to the total number of pitchers in the bullpen last season. The pitching may not be the best in the AL Central, but the Twins have taken the necessary steps to prevent a nuclear meltdown. Alex Kirilloff will lead the team in strikeouts This is not necessarily a bad thing, with Shohei Ohtani, Randy Arozarena, and Salvador Perez appearing collectively in the top 10 strikeout leaderboard last season. The Twins’ strikeout leader in Miguel Sanó struck out a career-high 185 times but also walked a career-high 59 times last season. He continues to trend in this direction. Gary Sánchez lived a very similar narrative in New York. However, the young rookie has the most to prove in this group. He was on a hot streak before a season-ending injury last year, with some doubting his impact on the team post-injury. Alex Kirilloff wants to be in the elite class of the Buxtons and Correas of the world, and he has the talent to back it up. There is no doubt that Kirilloff will swing for the fences if given the opportunity. Joe Ryan is the real deal The bats were quiet, but Joe Ryan had a good outing in his first Opening Day start and sixth start overall against a much improved, playoff-hungry Seattle Mariners team. Even though his one mistake to Mitch Haniger cost the game, he worked himself out of every other jam. Outside of pitch count, Ryan’s stats today don’t fall too far behind Robbie Ray’s, with Ray collecting one more strikeout. However, Ryan’s composure falls in the footsteps of the Cy Young winner. One of Ray’s biggest assets is his ability to regain control after a mistake on the mound. On paper, Ryan had the worst start of his career, but his ability to minimize damage and regain control are all signs of a future ace like Ray. Today, Ryan showed maturity in his experience beyond his years. The Front Office (probably) knew what they were doing Although it would’ve been nice to have Mitch Garver or Josh Donaldson’s bat in the lineup today, things have shaken out decently thus far. Gio Urshela was the hero of the game, and Carlos Correa was in mid-season form. Promoting Jhoan Duran has given fans someone exciting to root for. As mentioned above, the brand new pitching staff looks to be an improvement from last season. Even though the season is long and many things can still go wrong, the Front Office had done a passable job of addressing some of the biggest concerns from last year. As Penny Lane once said, “it’s all happening.” …and Jose Berríos getting pulled in the first inning didn’t hurt this argument. Fan-favorite Frankie Montas didn’t fare too well either…
  15. After a torrid Spring Training, Byron Buxton was back in Minnesota and stepped up to the podium. The weather wasn’t on his mind as Buxton said the club really hadn’t considered the weather until leaving JetBlue yesterday following their game against the Boston Red Sox. “Sano said he didn’t have a coat, and then the rest of us looked around and realized we didn’t either.” Given his scorching pace this spring, it’s not shocking the weather didn’t deter the Twins centerfielder. While the games don’t factor into the standings, Buxton posted a .469/.514/.1.094 slash line. Talking about what leads to production at that level, he said, “Confidence is pretty high. Knowing I’m here for seven more years as well is a big factor.” Buxton brought up this point multiple times, and manager Rocco Baldelli later said, “There’s comfort in being able to not worry about your family and just playing the game,” After signing with the Twins, during his press conference, Carlos Correa brought up how his focus will be turned towards working on perfection. He brings a winning attitude, has been a winner, and wants to win. That seems to have permeated quickly throughout the clubhouse. Buxton said, “We want to win. Obviously, when I signed, that was a big focus.” He followed up by saying, “It’s very special right now, the things going on in that clubhouse.” Buxton’s confidence isn’t just internal. Knowing the talent of his teammates, he said, “We know we got a great defense. We rake.” As Correa did when meeting the media, Buxton echoed a desire for rings today. This is a team ready to get going, and while Opening Day is delayed by 24 hours, they’re chomping at the bit to show the league what they’re about. The man leading them once again is Rocco Baldelli. Coming off a disappointing season, it’s evident that the skipper sees his club in the same light as his clubhouse leaders. Despite outsiders' questions regarding the rotation, Baldelli said, “I actually like having youth on our pitching staff. Youth can be a very good thing.” He gushed about the confidence in arms like Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober, notably professing the work Minnesota’s staff has seen. In touching on veteran Chris Archer, Baldelli said, “I’ve known Arch for a very long time as a pitcher and as a person. He looked great.” The former Rays starter stayed an extra day in Fort Myers to work another outing with pitching coach Wes Johnson, in which he got in 50-55 pitches. Minnesota is looking to replace a leadership presence in Nelson Cruz, but Correa has stepped in. While Baldelli said each team has a different feel, he came away impressed by “the number of very particular conversations he had with people on day one…he had the charisma and confidence wanting to talk about the Twins, the way we operate, what we need from him, what he needs from us, and how it all comes together.” Carrying over from the Twins time down in Fort Myers, everything about this club continues to be about winning. The Minnesota clubhouse is filled with guys singularly focused on the ultimate goal. “The talk and feel of every guy in our clubhouse revolve around the right things. The number one thing being winning baseball games, winning a World Series.” A couple of additional positives came from Baldelli as he wrapped up his press conference before the players hit the field. Nick Gordon is all systems go after his collision with Max Kepler in the outfield earlier this week. The medical staff hasn’t alerted Baldelli of anything new, and Gordon himself hasn’t suggested there have been any setbacks. That clean bill of health also applies to Alex Kirilloff. Baldelli did say that Kirilloff will play plenty of outfield and first base, “even switching between the two mid-game at times.” Asked about the lack of time in left field, Baldelli said Kirilloff has consistently been rotated through both corner spots, and they are confident with him in either role. This evening, Minnesota is looking to set their Opening Day 28-man roster, likely featuring 16 pitchers. Baldelli said, “one decision will impact a couple of guys,” so the front office and coaching staff continue to work through that. Following today's workout, the Twins will have a quiet day tomorrow before kicking off their 2022 regular season at 3:10 pm on Friday.
  16. I share my motto for the upcoming Twins season with '90's science fiction TV show "The X-Files." I want to believe. However, looking at this pitching staff, I am having a hard time suspending my disbelief to buy in with this team. Who the heck is going to pitch? Who will play in the outfield when Buxton and/or Kepler are inevitably injured at some point this season? Who is the closer? Before the internet, folks would prepare for the upcoming season by reading one of the many preview magazines that cost an arm and a leg at the grocery store. My dad would always say that you could tell how good a team would be by how many times the preview of it said "if." There are way too many "ifs" this year for me to take the Twins seriously. I don't think they will be awful, but I don't think they are in any way a World Series team this season. Of course I am also on record as saying I thought the Wild would stink this season. So it goes. "If" Byron Buxton stays healthy... "If" Bailey Ober can be successful... "If" Dylan Bundy is one of the few reclamation projects this FO has tried that works... "If" Joe Ryan, Josh Winder, etc can be stretched out for a full season... "If" Chris Archer can provide competent innings, let alone return to his all star form... "If" Alex Kirilloff develops into an impactful, everyday player... "If" Gary Sanchez cuts down on his strikeouts... "If" Jorge Polanco can repeat his monster 2021 season... "If" Ryan Jeffers can be a solid full time catcher... There are too many "ifs" this year. I think there will be high points this season and I hope that the team is competitive well into October. But they will need a lot of things to go their way. I have been a Twins fan since I was born, and I always WANT the team to do well. I just don't know how to convince myself that they will be good this season.
  17. Projected Starter: Max Kepler Likely Backup: Alex Kirilloff Depth: Trevor Larnach, Jake Cave Prospects: Matt Wallner, Kala'i Rosario THE GOOD It's the same story as usual with Max Kepler in right field: stellar defense and so-so offense. It's easy to focus on the latter, especially in the wake of a truly lackluster season at the plate, but the value of Kepler's glove should not be ignored. Statcast had him in the 95th percentile for Outs Above Average last year, ranking second among right fielders (behind only Manuel Margot) with eight. FanGraphs had him sixth at the position in Defensive Runs Saved, with nine. No matter the source or metric, Kepler is a top-tier defensive player in right, bringing a center fielder's range to the position along with a solid arm and good instincts. When both he and Buxton are in the outfield, it's extremely difficult for opposing hitters to land a fly ball anywhere in their expansive territory, which will certainly be appreciated by young fly-ball pitchers like Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. At the plate, Kepler is not great – especially given the offense-oriented position he plays – but far from horrible. His 2021 season was frustrating because it harkened back to his unfulfilling pre-2019 norm, but not because it was abjectly terrible. Kepler's baseline is "slightly below average hitter" (he's posted an OPS+ between 95 and 98 in four of five full seasons), but that's also been his floor. Even at his worst, he'll contribute enough home runs and walks to be reasonably productive. At his best, Kepler is a legitimate star. He hit 36 home runs in 2019 while holding his own against left-hander pitchers. With a 4.5 fWAR he was our pick for team MVP. It'd be easier to gravitate toward the possibility of that upside returning if we'd ever seen it outside of one brilliant, juiced-ball-aided season. Alas, he's still only 29. THE BAD In his first four MLB seasons, Kepler's home run totals jumped from 17 to 19 to 20 to 36. It appeared he had turned a corner, especially when he opened up the very next one with homers in first two at-bats against Lucas Giolito. And yet, since that first game of 2020, Kepler has managed only 26 home runs with a .410 slugging percentage in 169 games. Among 29 right fielders with 600+ PA over this span, Kepler ranks 25th in wOBA and wRC+. He's a poor hitter at a position with a high offensive bar, and unfortunately Rocco Baldelli has magnified the negative impact by routinely having Kepler hit at key spots in the lineup, as well as by starting him against lefties. Over the past two seasons, the outfielder has slashed .148/.236/.235 against southpaws. He needs to be platooned. Unfortunately, the Twins don't have a natural fit to platoon with Kepler in right. Brent Rooker could theoretically fill that role, but Baldelli doesn't like using Rooker in the outfield and seems to prefer him in left when he does. Also, Rooker has hardly shown to be a lefty masher, with a .222/.325/.375 line in 83 plate appearances. Kyle Garlick was supposed to fill a role like this for the Twins last year, and it's very possible he could resurface quickly, although he's not currently on the 40-man roster. Otherwise, as you look through the right field depth, both short-term and long-term, you find a whole lot of lefty bats: Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Jake Cave, Mark Contreras, Matt Wallner, Willie Joe Garry. THE BOTTOM LINE The shortage of viable platoon-mates means the Twins are probably staying committed to Kepler as an everyday starter for the time being. As long as he keeps providing premium defense in right field, the team can live with his sub-par offensive production at the position. He's under contract for $6.5 million this year, and $8.5 million in 2023, with a $10 million team option for the following year. I'd be very surprised if he plays through the end of his contract in Minnesota. Catch Up on the Rest of Our 2022 Previews: Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base Position Analysis: Third Base Position Analysis: Shortstop Position Analysis: Left Field Position Analysis: Center Field
  18. Projected Starter: Alex Kirilloff Likely Backup: Nick Gordon Depth: Trevor Larnach, Brent Rooker Prospects: Emmanuel Rodriguez, Alerick Soularie THE GOOD Among all positions for the Twins last year (aside from pitcher), left field saw the most different names rotate through: a total of eight players made at least one start there. This speaks to their depth of usable corner outfielders, which remains intact – seven of those players are back in camp this spring. (Minus Rob Refsnyder, who signed with the Red Sox during the offseason.) When Eddie Rosario departed, Alex Kirilloff was lined up as his replacement in left, a natural opening to be filled by the organization's MLB-ready top prospect. And yet, Kirilloff ended up ranking fifth in starts at the position, spending much more of his time (pre-surgery) at first base while Trevor Larnach led the team in left field starts with 51. I would imagine that still represents the front office's long-term vision: Kirilloff at first, Larnach in left. Two former first-round draft picks and impact bats entrenched at the positions for which they are best suited. However, it's probably not a feasible path forward in the immediate future, both because Miguel Sanó is occupying first base and because Larnach's late-season plunge in 2021 cast doubt on his readiness. Hardly the worst thing in the world. Left field might not be Kirilloff's BEST position, but it's certainly one he can play. And the most important thing is getting his bat into the lineup. With his surgically repaired wrist appearing to be in the clear, it's time to once again let loose the purest swing in the organization. I assume the plan is to trot him out regularly in left, because there are no other obvious paths to everyday playing time for him, and no other obvious answers out there. But the Twins have not operated like a team prepping him for such an assignment. THE BAD Do the Twins actually want to use Kirilloff in left field? Unclear. There's no reason to think he can't play a perfectly solid left field, and he's looked fine during his opportunities there. But for whatever reason, those opportunities have been far and few between. Last year, as the Twins sorted through a multitude of different players to fill in, Kirilloff drew only 11 total starts at the position. In a minor-league career that spanned 281 games, he started in left field a total of 10 times. He started more times in center! The team's lack of interest in seeing Kirilloff play left field shows no signs of dissipating. He has started only two games there this spring. It certainly suggests that the Twins aren't planning on using Kirilloff regularly in left field for any extended length of time. Once you move past him, the options at the position become significantly less exciting, at least in the short-term. The club now seems firmly committed to keeping Luis Arraez (who started 24 games in left last year) in the infield. Brent Rooker's glove is not be trusted. Jake Cave and Kyle Garlick are uninspiring non-roster options. Nick Gordon is a pure plug-and-play backup who lacks the bat to be an asset in a corner outfield spot. Larnach is the one who holds the key. While there's plenty of reason to remain bullish on his future, it's hard to imagine the Twins are going to plug him right back into the Opening Day lineup after the way his rookie year concluded. Following a good start with the Twins, Larnach got thoroughly dominated for two months. From June 15th through August 15th, he slashed .193/.279/.298 with a 38.3% K-rate. He was then demoted to Triple-A, where he posted a .611 OPS in 10 games before being shut down. When major-league pitchers spot a weakness, they take advantage, and that's what happened here as they began to unload an endless bevy of breaking balls and changeups on Larnach, who mashed fastballs (.296 BA, .512 SLG) but struggled mightily against offspeed (.143 BA, .179 SLG). THE BOTTOM LINE Assuming Larnach goes back to Triple-A to build confidence and prove he's ready, Kirilloff should be in line for the lion's share of playing time in left field from day one. Unless the Twins have other plans. Which their behavior suggests they might. With only 10 days until the regular season gets underway, they are running short on time to orchestrate their final designs. Catch Up on the Rest of Our 2022 Previews: Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base Position Analysis: Third Base Position Analysis: Shortstop
  19. In 79 games for the Twins last year, Larnach slashed .223/.322/.350. The on-base percentage isn’t a negative, and while the average isn’t where you would like to see it, the most glaring issue was Larnach’s slugging percentage. During Larnach’s age-22 season in 2019, he played 127 games between High-A and Double-A. That year he blasted 13 long balls and owned a .458 SLG. He was one of the best prospects to play at the 2020 alternate site, and his bat has always been his best tool. Larnach has plenty of pop, and his game power carries over just as much as the raw stuff displays. Where it was evident that something was off came following the demotion to Triple-A St. Paul in 2021. Despite dealing with struggles in acclimating to big-league life, Larnach went to the Saints for his first Triple-A exposure and slashed just .177/.323/.373 in 14 games. Once again, his eye and plate discipline hadn’t left him, but the power presence was virtually gone. Larnach was plunked by a pitch on his left foot in late May last season. As a left-handed batter, that leg is his load side, or basically where all the weight is distributed initially when swinging. The injury immediately left him in a walking boot, and manager Rocco Baldelli said, “He's just not moving around great.” Up to that point, admittedly a small sample of just 20 games, Larnach had an .845 OPS with his first three major league home runs to go with it. Returning to the lineup just days later, Larnach went on to play another 59 games for Minnesota, in which he posted just a .622 OPS. As a rookie looking to establish a regular cadence towards playing time, fighting through injury is a tale as old as time. While the injury is certainly not the sole factor in Larnach’s struggles, it’s probably a pretty significant influence. When the dust settled last year, Larnach finished with just a 33.5% hard-hit rate, and he put balls on the ground 46% of the time. His average exit velocity checked in at 90 mph, and the max came with a whopping 116 mph clubbing. The barrel percentage was just 9.5%, and it all goes back to a guy showing less than what was initially expected. Coming into 2022 with a clean bill of health Larnach can be a bit looser. Although he’ll need to work for at-bats, likely staring at Triple-A, with Alex Kirilloff slated to start in left field. If something is going against him, it’s that the Twins outfield is so dominantly left-handed, and therefore he doesn’t bring any sort of platoon advantage to the lineup. In just a 13 at-bat sample size this spring, Larnach is undoubtedly making his claim for a turnaround. He’s generated two separate three-run blasts and owns a 1.067 OPS. It’s hard to take too much away from games that don’t count with pitchers working on specifics rather than complete dominance, but it’s more than clear to see this is a hitter with his feet under him. I’m not sure how Baldelli will manage the playing time in the outfield. Designated hitter is now less of a revolving door with the addition of Gary Sanchez, so that takes away from opportunity as well. Expect Larnach to force Minnesota's hand in St. Paul though, and a cross-town promotion will come sooner rather than later. No matter what, banking on anything but the impressive emergence from the former Beaver seems like a bad bet for the year ahead. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  20. Projected Starter: Miguel Sanó Likely Backup: Alex Kirilloff Depth: Curtis Terry, José Miranda Prospects: Aaron Sabato THE GOOD Miguel Sanó is capable of putting forth production that would make him a prototypical slugging first baseman. We saw it in 2017, and in 2019, and at times last year. After shaking off a rough first two months in 2021, Sanó slashed .246/.325/.493 with 21 homers in 97 games starting on June 1st. He continues to hit the ball as hard as anyone in baseball, ranking in the 97th percentile for average exit velocity, 98th in max EV, 99th in hard-hit percentage, and 97th in barrel percentage. That's a guy who intimidates not only opposing pitchers, but also everyone around the infield who might get a drive sent their way. Sanó rebounded somewhat from a disappointing shortened 2020 campaign, although his overall numbers still left something to be desired – especially the .223 average and .312 on-base percentage. The 28-year-old hasn't since come close to replicating his 15.8% walk rate and .385 OBP as a rookie in 2015. Rediscovering a sense of selectiveness and discipline at the plate – sustainably, rather than in sporadic bursts – holds the key to resuscitating his dormant potential. If you've given up on that ability ever showing through again, I don't blame you. It's been a rough go. But as his batted-ball metrics illustrate, he still has it within him to be a dominant power hitter if he can rein in the strike zone control. And Sanó is now more fundamentally motivated than ever to do so. Pending a $14 million team option for 2023, he's due for free agency after this season, and as things currently stand Sanó will struggle to drive a market for his services. He could alter that outlook significantly with a season that harkens back to 2019, when he posted a .923 OPS with 34 home runs and 2.8 fWAR in just 105 games. This is a career-defining season for him, which helps explain why he openly committed to getting in better shape during the offseason. He looks pretty good physically in camp, but of course, the proof will be in the pudding. If Sanó can get back to the level of hitting we know he's capable of, he'll become a stellar complement to Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, and (maybe) Gary Sánchez as standout righty power bats in the lineup. If Sanó falls back into one of this familiar ruts, the Twins may accelerate their plan to move on and entrench Kirilloff at first base, given the lack of future commitment. It's a nice fallback to have available, because Kirilloff clearly has enough bat for the position and his defense looked terrific there during brief glimpses last year. THE BAD The Twins were already in the process of writing Sanó out of their plans last summer. He'd essentially been demoted to part-time player status by June, with Kirilloff drawing regular starts at first as the team's clearly preferred option. From June 18th through July 18th, Sanó started 12 of Minnesota’s 24 games, including just nine at first base. Then Kirilloff underwent wrist surgery, and Sanó regained the starting first base job by default. To his credit, he made the most of it, slashing .250/.346/.504 from the date of Kirilloff's surgery to the end of the season. That's nearly identical to the line he put forth during an All-Star 2017 campaign (.264/.352/.507). It's unclear Sanó can afford another start like he got off to in 2021, when he slashed .141/.295/.256 through mid-May while the team tanked into an inescapable early hole. As things stand, however, the Twins need Kirilloff in left field. Maybe Trevor Larnach re-establishes himself to negate that need, or the Twins add another veteran outfielder, but right now they're somewhat reliant on Sanó at first. THE BOTTOM LINE The long-term outlook at this position is strong with Kirilloff waiting in the wings, but for now things are in flux. Will Sanó shake off his consistency struggles of the past two seasons and reaffirm his status as a cornerstone for the Twins? Doing so would not only give him a chance to hang on at first base this year, but also potentially extend his tenure with the club for another year (perhaps as a DH?). If not, we may be reaching the end of the road for Sanó and Minnesota, and dawning a new era at first base. Catch Up on the Rest of Our 2022 Roster Previews: Position Analysis: Catcher MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email — Become a Twins Daily caretaker
  21. Even those fans who can't make it down to Fort Myers this spring will have plenty of opportunities to catch the team in action, with 12 of 16 Grapefruit League games slated to be televised. If you get a chance to tune in, keep an eye on these players as they look to rebound from various injuries and setbacks. Taylor Rogers' finger Rogers hasn't pitched in a game since he walked off the mound shaking his finger last July 26th at Target Field. His status has been a major source of uncertainty in Minnesota's planning and outlook. They badly need him to return as the bullpen stalwart of years past. But can they count on it? Theoretically, Rogers should be well clear of the middle-finger sprain that ended his season. The injury took place almost eight months ago and didn't require surgery. But Twins fans who've watched middle-finger issues dramatically affect other slider-reliant pitchers like Ervin Santana and Randy Dobnak can't take for granted that Rogers will be the same guy as before – especially given that he's now 31 at the volatile position of relief pitcher. The Twins will be in big trouble if Rogers can't get back to his previous level or close. It'll be interesting to see how comfortable he is letting loose after the long layoff, as well as the more measurable aspects like velocity, spin, and results. Good news so far: Rogers is throwing in camp with no apparent hindrance. Dobnak will be worth watching for the same reason, given that he's also coming off a finger injury that mostly ruined his season. But he's not nearly as vital as Rogers to the team's plans this year. Royce Lewis' movements and defense Seeing Lewis on the field in general will be a sight for sore eyes. Coming off a season lost to a major knee injury, it will be especially interesting to see how the 22-year-old is running and moving, given how much of his value and upside are tied to his special athleticism. Is the top-end speed still fully intact? Is he moving laterally with comfort and ease? Most importantly: how does he look at shortstop? Lewis' ability to stick at the position was already in question before the missed time and injury. Yet he remains the best long-term hope in the organization, and as of now, the door is wide open. Alex Kirilloff's swing After joining the Twins last year, Kirilloff started 0-for-14 in his first five games. Then his potential shined through, as he slashed .327/.346/.674 in his next 12 games while showing remarkable power – four home runs and five doubles in 52 plate appearances. The rest of the way, Kirilloff was largely hampered by a wrist injury that sapped his power, managing just four homers and a .382 slugging percentage in his last 42 games. It was fairly evident from watching him swing the bat that he just wasn't quite right. The Twins eventually shut him down and he underwent season-ending surgery on July 23rd. We haven't seen him since. Well, Rocco Baldelli has, and he likes what he sees. That Kirilloff appears unrestricted is a good sign. He's now almost eight months removed from a procedure said to require about eight weeks of recovery, so he should be totally good in that regard. But there are no guarantees for hitters coming back from significant wrist surgeries. I'll be keeping a close eye on how his swing looks and how loud the contact is. Tyler Duffey's velocity Last spring, Duffey came to camp and raised some eyebrows with his reduced velocity, working in the high 80s after dominating with mid-90s heat the previous two seasons. For his part, the reliever downplayed any concerns, but his spring was a precursor to a 2021 season that saw his velocity drop to new lows as a reliever – with performance tailing off in tandem. Like Rogers, Duffey's success carries outsized importance in a bullpen full of question marks. Can he find that 96-MPH fastball again or is he a low-90s guy (or worse) now as he ages into his 30s? Those extra couple of ticks make an enormous difference for him. The radar gun in Fort Myers could provide key early indicators. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  22. There’s no denying that the 2021 club failed to meet expectations. Coming off two-straight American League Central Division championships, the thought was that the club would contend for a third. Unfortunately, they wound up as cellar-dwellers instead, and 2022 stands as an opportunity to right the ship. All was not lost individually, though, as a handful of solid performances were tallied. Looking at a few key guys, here are some expectations in relation to where they finished a season ago: Byron Buxton OVER 4.2 fWAR Of the numbers below, this one gets the most tricky when considering lost games. WAR is a compiling stat, and the less runway a player has, the more difficult it becomes to accumulate. That said, Buxton played at an MVP level last season and posted a 4.2 fWAR in just 61 games. I’d be relatively shocked if the regular season isn’t something like 120 games, and he should blow by that number. Buxton’s performance wasn’t a fluke last season, and his injuries have gotten to the point where they may be. Whatever the season length is, give me a full year of health for the newly-extended centerfielder and watch this all-encompassing stat be gaudy. Miguel Sano OVER .778 OPS Suggesting the slugging first basemen had an awful start would be putting things lightly. He tallied a .675 OPS through the first two months of the season, and it seemed like his bat couldn’t catch up to a fastball. After June 1, a period of 97 games, Sano turned things around to the tune of an .817 OPS. From July 1 onward, that OPS rose to .824. It’s not as though Sano will all of a sudden stop striking out, but he remains a relatively disciplined hitter within the zone. If he can shed even a month of the slump, we have seen him streak through in recent years, an above-average .800 OPS should be well within his reach. Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff OVER .750 OPS Two of the best hitting prospects Minnesota has seen in a long time; both flopped in their rookie seasons. Larnach was demoted with a .672 OPS, and Kirilloff wound up needing surgery after owning just a .722 OPS. The former dealt with an ankle problem that no doubt impacted his base in the box, and the latter was sapped of his power after playing through a nagging wrist that had previously been a problem in his career. Both tore up the minors when healthy, and their advanced eye combined with a strong approach at the plate bore plenty of fruit. I’d be far from shocked if we don’t see a substantial turnaround from both given a clean bill of health. Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober UNDER 4.00 ERA Projection systems seem to like Ryan quite a bit, and if that’s the case, he stands to improve upon the 4.05 ERA from his first five big league starts. Ryan will likely surrender his fair share of longballs without much velocity on his fastball. The ability to miss bats and stinginess of allowing walks can’t be overstated, and that proved to be a recipe for success last season. Ober gave up a hefty amount of dingers on the flip side, but a handful came in droves. Like Ryan, Ober limits free passes while mowing down the competition, and the impact of that combination is significant. Neither should be expected to be aces, but something in the mid-to-high threes from an ERA standpoint seems logical. If we were dealing with a traditional season and counting stats were easier to evaluate, Jorge Polanco and Jorge Alcala make sense in this space. As much as Polanco has broken out from an offensive standpoint, a repeat of his 33-home run performance seems unlikely. It’s not as though he hasn’t previously displayed that power, but the big number would prove hard to replicate. I like Alcala to pick up plenty of save opportunities in the bullpen. Minnesota has had multiple guys shine in the closer role over the past handful of years, and a double-digit tally for the blossoming Dominican seems pretty fair. What do you think? Are there any rebound candidates I missed? MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  23. Not all of these players are going to play at an All-Star level, but the amount of talent on this roster is hard to ignore. From hitters to pitchers, the 2018 Kernels had it all. 2018 Kernels Hitting Prospects Many top position players on the 2018 Kernels have made their big-league debuts in the last two seasons. Players included on that list are Akil Baddoo, Ryan Jeffers, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and Ben Rortvedt. Baddoo's big-league success has come in a Tigers uniform after being selected in last winter's Rule 5 Draft. Last season, the outfielder hit .259/.330/.436 (.766) with 40 extra-base hits and a 113 OPS+ in 124 games. Luckily, the other names on the list are still in the organization. Jeffers has proven his defensive value over the last two seasons, even when his bat struggled at times. During the 2020 season, his framing skills ranked in the 90th percentile. Kirilloff exhibited his strong hitting talent in his rookie season, but a wrist injury sapped his power. He had surgery, but he should return to form in 2022. Larnach had an up and down rookie campaign, and many still believe he can develop into an above-average big-league hitter. Like Jeffers, Rortvedt has some solid defensive skills that can make him a surprising help to the team moving forward. Two of the team's top prospects also spent time with the 2018 Kernels. Jose Miranda is coming off a breakout season where his stock is rising more than any other Twins prospect. The former number one overall pick, Royce Lewis, had knee surgery last spring and missed the entire 2021 season. Many national rankings have dropped him from their top-100 lists because of the development time he has missed the previous two seasons. On that 2018 team, Miranda and Kirilloff tied for the team lead with 13 home runs. Lewis had 23 doubles, and Baddoo added an eye-popping 11 triples. As 19-year olds, Baddoo and Lewis both added 22 or more steals. Kirilloff had a team-best .999 OPS, and Baddoo led the team with 183 total bases. Baddoo's final numbers were truly impressive. He hit .243/.352/.419 (.770) with 44 extra-base hits, 83 runs, and 24 stolen bases. 2018 Kernels Pitching Prospects There have been six pitchers from the 2018 Kernels that have already made their big-league debuts on the mound. Bailey Ober and Randy Dobnak are the two that figure to most prominently help the 2022 Twins. Ober is penciled into the starting rotation on the heels of a tremendous rookie season. Ober's expectations are high, but there might be some sophomore struggles to overcome. Dobnak signed an extension last winter and produced his worst professional season as he tried to pitch through an injury. Jovani Moran figures to get an opportunity in Minnesota's bullpen, especially with his dominant change-up. Brusdar Graterol, a teenager at the time, was still a starter in 2018. Minnesota traded Graterol to the Dodgers for Kenta Maeda, and he has transitioned to a reliever role at the big-league level. The Rangers claimed Edwar Colina off waivers from the Twins earlier this offseason. He had multiple procedures on his elbow last year, and Minnesota took him off their 40-man roster. Johan Quezada made three appearances with the Marlins in 2020, and he is currently on the Cardinals' 40-man roster. Two of Minnesota's top pitching prospects, Jhoan Duran and Blayne Enlow, also pitched for the 2018 Kernels. Duran was limited to 16 innings last season before being shut down with a strained elbow. Now, he needs to prove he can be healthy and get back on track in 2022. Enlow had Tommy John surgery in June, which has pushed him down Minnesota's prospect rankings. Dobnak led the team in innings pitched, and games started while posting a 3.14 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. Colina was still a starter, and he had a 2.48 ERA with team-high 95 strikeouts in 98 innings. Moran led the team with a 14.2 SO/9, but he also struggled with 5.5 BB/9. Dobnak won 10 games, while Balazovic, Ober, and Colina were all credited with seven wins. Cedar Rapids made it to the semifinals of the Midwest League playoffs in 2018 before falling to the Cardinals MWL affiliate. However, this roster will have long-lasting impacts at the big-league level. Which former Kernel is going to have the best MLB career? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  24. It’s understood that owners want the DH to protect their pitchers, but they do not want to pay for what that would mean. If they want to pay pitchers more and protect them, having another player to pay is the only option. The effect is twofold. First, it's 15 more jobs for which MLB owners wouldn't have to pay premium prices. The National League would then have to pay a decent salary for a decent hitter. Or a position player would have to move into the DH role. So, which is more important to the owners? Are they protecting the pitcher or saving money? The Twins are not strangers to the designated hitter. The American League began playing with a DH nearly 50 years ago. It would not make a difference to the AL teams if Major League Baseball implemented the universal designated hitter. The managers know who they have, what they need, where their strengths and weaknesses are in the lineup. With that stated, bringing on a designated hitter from outside the organization is not in the Twins' best interest (sorry, Nelson Cruz fans). The Twins need a hitter that they can rely on to hit, bring in runners and get on base themselves. After Nelson Cruz was traded, the Twins used several different players as DH, particularly a hobbling Josh Donaldson. When using position players from the roster, while the DH can give a player a break, a team runs the risk of more injuries and fewer players to DH. Players are more likely to get hurt playing their position playing the field, which would remove them from playing DH, putting it on someone else. Having a full-time or tandem DH is what makes sense. It is common knowledge that the front office will find ways to save every penny they can. $30-40 Million left in revenue to spend is a fair chunk of change. However, if the Twins use someone already on the roster, they can use that money to bring in the pitching they desperately need. So what do the Twins do at the designated hitter spot? I am glad you asked. **Takes audible deep breath** Miguel Sano. Hear me out. There is a great divide in the Minnesota fanbase over Sano's ability to hit. He is a very streaky hitter. Last season, he reached 1,000 strikeouts in the fewest games (661) in MLB history. He lacked plate discipline at times. If he sees a ball in his zone, he swings at it. Pitchers are not afraid to pitch to him because of his strikeouts and lack of consistent content. However, they also know that he can hit a ball-into-next week if his timing is right. During the 2019 season, the newly-acquired Nelson Cruz saw Sano struggling and took an interest in helping him improve his plate appearances. Cruz invited Sano to meet with him and hitting coaches Edgar Varela and Rudy Hernandez, who Cruz frequently used to help him improve his hitting and technique. Sano put in the hard work, not shying away from asking questions and even calling Valera or Hernandez to discuss mechanics when they weren't meeting. In 2019 Sano had an outstanding season. His contact was harder, balls went farther and faster off the bat. His stance, timing, and mechanics also improved. His ability to be patient and read pitchers became an asset. Nelson Cruz had not only stepped in as a father figure but also as a friend and a coach. Sano may not have had a 'record-breaking year' in 2021; in fact, he was streaky at best throughout the first half of the season, but because Alex Kirilloff kept getting hurt, Sano stayed in the lineup and worked hard to stay where he was. Last season, Sano had a career-low strikeout percentage (32.3%). He relied on his timing and mechanics shown to him by Cruz and the coaches to help him drive in 75 runs and launch 30 home runs into the stands. Sano made significant improvements to his plate appearances, and he is not the greatest at first base. Taking him off of first base would not be a loss for the Twins. Sano has firm control of his swing, and even in Twins losses, his presence adds excitement to the game and runs to the board. Sano easily is the best choice for a full-time designated hitter. There could be an argument for Josh Donaldson joining in tandem due to his already high-cost contract and consistent hitting. Donaldson may need a break from third base, and a rotating DH position for him wouldn't be out of the question. Donaldson is one of the best hitters on the team for the Twins, he has a batting average of .247 and an equally impressive OPS of .827, but has pre-existing injury conditions and he has a consistently declining batting average. Miguel Sano has less time on Injured Reserve and would be on the roster more consistently than Donaldson. Sano was shown how to get the most out of an at-bat by the best-designated hitter in the league, and he was also not afraid to put in the work to improve. His batting average may be lower than Donaldson’s, but this past season, in 2021, he had more at-bats of any year - showing that he is consistently on the roster more. When Nelson Cruz left on July 22, 2021, Sano quite literally slid into Cruz's pants and poured his heart and work ethic into his plate appearances to show the clubhouse and the fans that in his final season (before the 2023 club option), this is where he deserves to be. Who's on first? So naturally, the next question would be who would play first base? The Twins have moved players up and down from St. Paul to see what fits. There has been success with Alex Kirilloff. First base and the outfield have a few players that could easily take over that position and even leave room to bring up a St. Paul player if needed to another position. Alex Kirilloff has proven to be an asset to the Twins 40-man roster. Kirilloff was drafted 15th overall in the first round of the 2016 MLB draft. He was a hot commodity, and the organization knew it. He has spent his entire career from the minors to the majors with the Twins organization rotating between the corner outfield positions and first base, showing that he has some versatility. Kirilloff is a good outfielder but is best served at first base, and he could potentially be a gold glove contender. Last season, he showed that he deserves to be in the big leagues. In 215 at-bats, Kirilloff hit .251 with eight home runs and a .722 OPS. Barring any complications from his wrist surgery, this writer believes Kirilloff would make an outstanding first baseman. The Twins have an arsenal of players at their disposal for not only the lineup, but it also leaves the ability to move players around and still have depth. The Twins farm system was ranked number 12out of 30 by MLB Pipeline. Alex Kirilloff was ranked number 26 in the top 100 prospects by MLB Pipeline a year ago and was the Twins Daily top prospect. The farm system is doing the work that the Twins need to create a strong team that will hopefully take them to the postseason. What do you think the Twins should do at the Designated Hitter position in 2022?
  25. Before getting started, you can get up to speed on the ground rules, which were covered in the first installment. Here are the players we've ranked so far: 20. Matt Canterino, RHP 19. Josh Winder, RHP 18. Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP 17. Gilberto Celestino, CF 16. Chase Petty, RHP 15. Jose Miranda, 2B/3B 14. Jhoan Duran, RHP 13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP 12. Trevor Larnach, OF 11. Luis Arraez, UTIL 10. Ryan Jeffers, C 9. Max Kepler, RF 8. Mitch Garver, C 7. Joe Ryan, RHP 6. Bailey Ober, RHP From there, we round it out with the top five. If you haven't yet, be sure to check out the writeups on #6 through #20: Top 20 Twins Assets of 2022: 16-20 Top 20 Twins Assets of 2022: 11-15 Top 20 Twins Assets of 2022: 6-10 Top 20 Twins Assets of 2022: 1 through 5 5. Austin Martin, OF 2021 Ranking: NR Since I started putting these rankings together after the 2017 season, here's where José Berríos has ranked: #3, #2, #3, #4. Ideally you keep an asset like that, but as it became clear the Twins were not going to be able to extend their two-time All-Star, they opted for the next-best thing: recouping value. By taking advantage of deadline urgency, as well as Berríos' additional year of team control, the Twins were able to extract a premium talent package from Toronto, including Simeon Woods Richardson (#18 on this list) but headlined by Austin Martin. The 22-year-old was one year removed from being the #5 overall draft pick, and recipient of a $7M signing bonus from Toronto. He was unanimously ranked as a Top 25 prospect in the game ahead of 2021, and appeared in the Futures Game in July. An athletic on-base machine who is nearly ready for The Show, Martin is one of baseball's premier young talents. His high floor – reflected by a .414 OBP through 93 minor-league games, all played at Double-A – offsets a ceiling that's uncertain due to his lack of established power or a clear defensive home. There is very realistic star potential here, and that's known around the league. Which is why some folks are wondering if the Twins might look to flip him in a trade for pitching when action resumes this offseason. Although he's played a lot of shortstop in the minors, no one really expects him to end up there. Martin's most valuable positions are likely center field and second base, where the Twins happen to be well set. 4. Royce Lewis, SS 2021 Ranking: 5 Here's an example of the Twins' needs outweighing a neutral assessment of player value. In a vacuum, I would probably rate Martin as a better prospect and player asset than Royce Lewis, who is an unknown commodity after struggling in 2019 and then missing two straight years. In spite of this, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Lewis was a #1 overall draft pick who has been a regular on the top end of prospect rankings since joining the pro ranks. His high character and innate physical gifts lead many to believe he'll find his footing quickly and re-establish himself as an electric difference-maker across multiple phases of the game. Most importantly, for the purposes of this list, you'll notice that Lewis is the only player on it listed as "SS." He's hardly a lock to stick at short, but he's got a better chance than any other player or prospect in the system currently. The Twins seem to firmly believe he can remain there, which may have guided them away from pursuing a free agent on a long-term deal. Unless the situation changes, Minnesota is putting the future of a vital position in Lewis' hands, which makes him one of the organization's most critical players. Here's hoping he can rise to the occasion after a lengthy dormant period. 3. Alex Kirilloff, 1B/OF 2021 Ranking: 2 Long viewed as one of the most advanced and explosive bats in the minor leagues, Alex Kirilloff arrived in 2021 and affirmed his rep. The overall numbers – .251/.299/.423 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 59 games – were perfectly solid for a 23-year-old rookie. They also undersell his performance, which was hampered by a flukishly bad 0-for-15 start and then a serious wrist injury he played through for weeks before shutting it down in mid-July. Kirilloff underwent surgery around that time, and is expected to be back at full strength for spring training (whenever it starts). Hopefully he'll pick up where he left off: straight mashing. Kirilloff's xSLG as a rookie, according to Statcast, was .541 – same as Josh Donaldson (who was in the Top 8% of all qualified MLB hitters). With superb plate coverage, Kirilloff drives the ball to all fields and tortures opposing pitchers. Having watched him, I have little doubt he is going to be an offensive force (maybe even an MVP-caliber hitter) so long as he can keep future bouts with injury at bay. Defensively, he was serviceable in left but looked like a natural at first base, with instincts and movements that point to Gold Glove potential. For the time being, he's blocked there by Miguel Sanó, and given the team's current needs, Kirilloff's ability to play in the corners is quite helpful. The Twins still control him for six years (through age 29) after slightly delaying his arrival in 2021. 2. Jorge Polanco, 2B 2021 Ranking: 6 It's been quite the roller coaster for Jorge Polanco over the past few years. Coming off a breakthrough season where he was an All-Star shortstop and credible MVP candidate at age 25, he and his team-friendly contract reached the #1 spot in our rankings heading into 2020. Then, Polanco's performance nosedived in a shortened campaign marred by ankle issues. He dropped back to #6 last year – his more customary range prior to the 2019 glow-up. Unlike Max Kepler, however, Polanco rebounded to prove his star turn with the Bomba Squad was no outlier. In 2021, following a move to second base, Polanco regained his peak offensive form, shaking off a slow start to launch 33 homers and 35 doubles while setting career highs in SLG (.503) and OPS+ (125). He was a consistent centerpiece of the lineup, mashing from both sides of the plate as a switch-hitter. His transition to a new position was rocky at times, but Polanco seemed to get more comfortable as the season went on and showed all the skills to excel. Shifting down the defensive spectrum is theoretically a ding to his value, but sub-par play at shortstop limited his benefit there. He can offer plenty of value as a top-tier offensive second baseman in his prime, with two years of inexpensive team control followed by a pair of reasonable team options. 1. Byron Buxton, CF 2021 Ranking: 9 Byron Buxton's durability issues were hardly erased in 2021, another season cut short by long absences. But while he was on the field for 61 games, the center fielder's brilliance and MVP-caliber impact was more evident than ever before. He won AL Player of the Month in April, and had a 1.180 OPS in early May before back-to-back major injuries (a strained hip and broken hand) cost him nearly four months. When he was able to play, Buxton was a remarkable difference-maker, producing an absurd 4.2 fWAR in less than half a season. But while he was out, the team struggled to counteract his absence. Buxton's reliable unreliability will remain a reality until it's not. But his newly-minted contract extension accounts for that. The stunningly favorable terms of Buxton's deal make him an easy choice for #1 on this list. It's essentially unheard of to be able to lock up an elite talent throughout his prime while largely paying him based on rate of production. Buck's recurring base salary of $15M/year is an absolute bargain for a franchise centerpiece and premier player in the game. His unique contract, driven heavily by MVP voting incentives, is a perpetual self-motivator. Any other team in the league would be thrilled to have this contract. But a no-trade clause ensures none of them can have it. Buxton's here for the long haul, and now the Twins can fully focus on building a championship team around him. With our countdown complete, here's a look at the full list of the top 20 Twins assets of 2022: Byron Buxton, CF Jorge Polanco, 2B Alex Kirilloff, 1B/OF Royce Lewis, SS Austin Martin, OF Bailey Ober, RHP Joe Ryan, RHP Mitch Garver, C Max Kepler, RF Ryan Jeffers, C Luis Arraez, UTIL Trevor Larnach, OF Jordan Balazovic, RHP Jhoan Duran, RHP Jose Miranda, 2B/3B Chase Petty, RHP Gilberto Celestino, CF Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP Josh Winder, RHP Matt Canterino, RHP Check back next week for a full recap of the list, featuring analysis, takeaways, and more. Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your thoughts on these rankings in the comments below. 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