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  1. Coming off a pandemic-shortened 2020, the Twins did a solid job holding serve regarding payroll. While it dropped, it didn’t fall off a cliff. I don’t know where I expect Minnesota to be in terms of dollars this season, but I think we’re in for an offseason that sees some major-league assets moved. If that’s going to be the case, who are the combinations that are defined by value and expendability? Max Kepler I’m torn on the idea of moving Kepler, given the Twins commitment to getting more out of him. He posted just a .719 OPS this season, and it was a down year. He remains one of the best outfield defenders in baseball, however, and that has significant value. For a guy that plays on the corners, you’d certainly like to see the power production of 2019 return. Given his name was dangled at the deadline, I can’t imagine Minnesota is against the idea of moving him, but it’d need to be a situation where someone is parting with assets based on what they believe Kepler can be rather than what he is currently. Alex Kirilloff can fill some of the gap here, and Trevor Larnach is also an option should the Twins move on. Mitch Garver After a down year in the shortened 2020 season, Garver has rebounded with a vengeance. Mitch is back to hunting fastballs, and despite some fluke injuries this season, he put up impressive numbers from the minute he got settled in. His final 51 games were played to the tune of a .991 OPS. I’m reluctant to hand the reigns over to Ryan Jeffers full-time, but Garver is the older of the two, and this is a position where Minnesota could exploit the strength and use it to secure pitching help. The Twins don’t have much for a backup option unless they want to go defense only with Ben Rortvedt behind the plate. That said, a veteran backup shouldn’t cost much on the open market, and there’s plenty of names they could chase after. Cody recently did a great breakdown of a partner for Garver. Luis Arraez Once again near the top of the league in batting average, Luis Arraez continues to be as predictable as they come. 2021 was his first season with an average south of .300, but that’s more related to a late-season slide than it is the body of work. He is always going to hit, there’s not much in terms of speed or pop, and his glove is just ok in the field. What Minnesota has to determine is where Jorge Polanco will play and what they want to do at shortstop. Arraez is either a rotational player with plenty of avenues for playing time, or he’s a luxury that they can parlay into something more necessary. A lot of Arraez’s functionality for this club directly correlates to the build-out of their infield. Miguel Sano In the final year of his three-year extension, Sano will cost Minnesota just over $9 million this season. He hasn’t lived up to the .923 OPS he posted in 2019, but he has plenty of functionality as a bottom-of-the-order hitter. He’s continued to post OPS+ numbers north of league average, and the power potential was once again evident in a season where he blasted 30 homers. I can’t imagine his value bringing back a whole lot for the Twins, but with the designated hitter expected to be league-wide, there may be more suitors interested in his services. I prefer the Twins don’t utilize a consistent batter as a designated hitter this season, but that’s definitely where Sano is at his best. Rocco Baldelli will also need to balance first base playing time with Alex Kirilloff returning to action. Obviously, if the Twins decide against paying Byron Buxton, then he’d likely be on the move as well and bring the greatest return. I can’t see a scenario in which any arms are moved, most notably because of that being Minnesota’s greatest need. Who else could you see as potential interest for another organization? MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  2. But before we get to Polanco, let's discuss those athletes who finished just short. HONORABLE MENTIONS Byron Buxton, CF: 61 G, .306/.358/.647, 23 2B, 19 HR, 9 SB, 4.2 fWAR, 169 wRC+ Jorge Alcala, RHP: 59 2/3 IP, 3.92 ERA, 61 K, 14 BB, 10 HR allowed, 90 ERA- Byron Buxton would have undoubtedly landed in the top spot on this list had he stayed healthy, but even still, one could argue that he should have placed in the top three. (Full discloser: Buxton received my top vote.) No one in the history of the Minnesota Twins has ever performed better overall than Buxton did throughout his 61 games. His 4.2 fWAR and 169 wRC+ led the team by a significant margin, with only Jorge Polanco's and arguably Mitch Garver's advanced metrics able to hold a candle to what he put forth (*hint hint*). Alcala, on the other hand, finished the season strongly after getting off to a slow start. He allowed only eight earned runs in 25 innings following the All-Star break while striking out 30 and walking five. His performance in September and October was particularly encouraging as he surrendered only a single run and struck out 15 of the 44 batters he faced. Had his first half of the season not been a relative stinker (4.67 ERA, 3.9 K:BB ratio), he maybe would have squeezed into the top three. Show: Caleb Thielbar, LHP 64 IP, 3.23 ERA, 77 K, 21 BB, 8 HR allowed, 75 ERA-, 0.9 fWAR It would be difficult to find a better story among the 2021 Twins roster than that of Caleb Thielbar. An 18th-round pick out of South Dakota State in the 2009 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, Thielbar posted career-highs in virtually every statistical category en route to putting together the best season of his career at age 34. Thielbar was arguably the team's top performer overall out of the pen, placing third in ERA- (Tyler Duffey, 73; Juan Minaya, 57) and second in fWAR (Taylor Rogers, 1.6) among the relievers who threw at least 40 innings. He was able to accomplish the feats due in large part to possessing one of the best fastball-slider combinations in the game. While he is arguably more well-known for his borderline-eephus curveball, which sits in the upper-60s, Thielbar's fastball and slider accounted for most of his outs this past summer. The four-seam fastball has always been his most utilized pitch — it accounted for 49% of the offerings to batters in 2021 — Thielbar more than doubled the use of his slider compared to 2020 while cutting his curveball usage nearly in half, according to Baseball Savant. Opposing batters could not figure out his slider as they slugged a meager .296 and struck out 19 times. It registered an average of 14.4 inches of horizontal break in 2021, which was a whopping 5.4 inches above average. Similarly, they couldn't touch his fastball with regularity despite it sitting in the low-90s. Thielbar's heater was worth a Run Value of -12, meaning it theoretically allowed 12 fewer runs over the course of the season compared to an average fastball. Thielbar's 2021 performance showed that his 2020 season wasn't a fluke and cemented himself a prominent role during 2022. Runner-Up: Mitch Garver, C 68 G, .256/.358/.517, 15 2B, 13 HR, 2.1 fWAR, 137 wRC+ 2021 Mitch Garver was a facsimile of 2019 Mitch Garver, which should be encouraging to Twins fans; the only blemish on his otherwise great season was a plethora of injuries that limited him to only 68 games. The reason for Garver's turnaround from a disastrous 2020 that saw him slash .167/.247/.264 in 23 games? He remembered how to hit fastballs. Not only did Garver hit fastballs in 2021, he destroyed them to the tune of a .688 slugging percentage with 10 home runs and 10 doubles. These numbers approximate his .829, 25, and 12 rates from the juiced-ball 2019 season, re-establishing him as one of the most powerful catchers in MLB Garver will likely enter the 2022 season as the team's primary catcher and will once again split time with Ryan Jeffers, barring an offseason trade. There's little reason to doubt that he can't put forth a similarly strong season if he can remain healthy, and doing so would make the Twins' offense that much scarier. Winner: Jorge Polanco, 2B 152 G, .269/.323/.503, 35 2B, 33 HR, 11 SB, 3.9 fWAR, 122 wRC+ Jorge Polanco was the Twins' best player, and he put together arguably his best season one year after ankle injuries debilitated him to the degree that many wondered if he'd be long for the team. Polanco became the first Twins' second baseman not named Brian Dozier to eclipse the 30 homer mark in a season, and his 35 doubles were the most on the team by nearly double-digits; Josh Donaldson's 26 came in second. His numbers would have looked even better had he not hit .237 with a near 7:1 K:BB ratio during the final month of the season. Polanco's meteoric rise from light-hitting albeit promising prospect to an All-Star-caliber, 30-home run middle infielder has been a joyous surprise to watch. His 2021 season reinvigorated his status in the fans' minds and likely the front office as well, as he figures to again be a staple of the Twins' lineup for years to come. Others receiving votes: Rob Refsnyder, Juan Minaya, Danny Coulombe, Miguel Sano, Nick Gordon, Taylor Rogers, Bailey Ober MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook, or email — Read more from Lucas here
  3. It's clear that starting pitching is Minnesota's biggest priority this winter, and the team will have to be creative to fill all the starting rotation needs. One of the avenues will undoubtedly be to explore the trade market. Free-agent starting pitching costs a premium, and the current regime hasn't been successful signing players in the past. Enter the Miami Marlins and their surplus of starting pitching. It seems like no team can have too much starting pitching, but the Marlins have a strong farm system and other MLB-ready options. According to MLB Pipeline, six of their top-10 prospects are pitchers, including four pitchers at the Double-A level or higher. Marlins manager Don Mattingly made it clear that upgrading catcher is a priority for the club this winter. "It's an area we're looking at," Mattingly said. "It's fairly safe to say it was some kind of message when we grabbed two catchers at the trade deadline and we also have Nick Fortes up here." Fortes, a 2018 MLB Draft pick, posted a 1.030 OPS in 34 plate appearances. However, he has a .651 OPS in 190 minor league games. Alex Jackson and Payton Henry, both catchers acquired at the deadline, struggled after joining the Marlins organization. With no clear long-term option, the Marlins can look to the free-agent class, but Yan Gomes (98 OPS+) is the best option. Minnesota entered the season with what looked like one of baseball's best catching duos, but there were some struggles along the way. Ryan Jeffers struggled offensively at the Triple-A and MLB-level. Mitch Garver found his swing after a rough first month, but he was limited to 68 games. Minnesota's catching future is uncertain with both players' inconsistent 2021 campaign. From the Twins' perspective, Garver seems like the more likely player to be traded. He is six years older than Jeffers, and he has multiple years of team control remaining. Trading Garver allows the Twins to give Jeffers more regular at-bats, and it also provides the team with an opportunity to bring in a left-handed veteran catcher to serve in a back-up role (unless they feel that Ben Rortvedt is ready for such a role). Other teams with established catchers are likely to reach out to the Marlins. Last winter, Miami had discussions about acquiring Willson Contreras from the Cubs, but he is only one year away from free agency. MLB Trade Rumors identified Arizona's Carson Kelly and Pittsburgh's Jacob Stallings as other possible trade candidates. Kelly posted a 104 OPS+ in 98 games, while Stallings finished the year with a 92 OPS+ in 112 games. There's also no guarantee either of those teams are interested in trading their catchers. To be competitive in 2022, the Twins will need to trade MLB-level assets to acquire starting pitching. Besides the catchers, other established players like Max Kepler, Josh Donaldson, and Luis Arraez will likely hear their names in the rumor mill. For now, the Twins and Marlins seem like a strong match to make a trade this winter. Do you think the Marlins and the Twins will be able to work out a deal? 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
  4. In recent years, Minnesota has successfully utilized a two-catcher rotation. In 2019, Mitch Garver and Jason Castro split catching duties, with both players posting OPS+ totals of 100 or more. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has been a big fan of rest and recovery during his tenure. This rotational system for catchers allows for regular rest at one of the most grueling positions in the sport. One reason the Garver-Castro pairing worked so well was that Garver bats right-handed and Castro bats left-handed. This allowed for a more natural platoon of the batters. Entering this season, there was hope that Garver and Ryan Jeffers would settle into their two-catcher rotation. Like many things for the 2021 Twins, the plan didn’t work, and one reason is the handedness of the catchers. Neither catcher was hitting very well in the season’s first month. Garver ended April by hitting .172/.213/.431 (.644) with 27 strikeouts and seven extra-base hits in 18 games. Jeffers hit .147/.216/.176 (.393), with one of his five hits being for extra bases. Baldelli tried to get Garver’s bat going by having him face more lefties, but that doesn’t help Jeffers, who has hit .189/.259/.385 (.644) against righties in 2021. At the end of April, the Twins moved Jeffers to Triple-A, a minor league level where he had yet to appear. Jeffers hit .217/.340/.446 (.786) with the Saints this year, including a 26 to 16 strikeout to walk ratio. Garver’s bat took off after Jeffers’ demotion. In 22 games, he hit .281/.438/.579 (1.017) with nine extra-base hits. It looked like the 2019 version of Garver was back. In early June, Garver suffered a gruesome "groin" injury that kept him out a month and made it necessary to call up Jeffers. Since early June, Jeffers has posted a .714 OPS with 23 extra-base hits in 71 games. Garver returned in July, and he has a .998 OPS with 12 extra-base hits in 24 games. Garver is one of baseball’s best offensive catchers when healthy, so does that make him a tradable asset? Minnesota’s off-season plan will include acquiring starting pitching, which means spending big on free agents or trading away players and prospects. Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers are both under team control for multiple years, so it makes sense to deal one of these players away if it helps the team rebuild for the short term. Garver knows the future is uncertain for the Twins. “You never really know what the organization is thinking,” Garver said. “You saw it in ’18, they traded away some homegrown guys that had been a staple in the lineup for a long time. And you saw what we did in ’19 when we turned it around, won 100 games with the lineup that we have, added a few pieces and we were a really good team. Who knows what could happen?” Minnesota also has Ben Rortvedt as an option to fill the backup catcher role. He is considered the best defensive catcher out of the three, and he is left-handed to help form a more natural platoon. However, there are questions about how much he can hit at the big-league level. At Triple-A this season, he hit .254/.324/.426 (.750), but his OPS is 240 points lower with the Twins. In a part-time role, Rortvedt might find success, especially if he is only facing right-handed pitching. Many fans have questions about Minnesota’s direction moving forward. Will the team enter 2022 with both Garver and Jeffers on the roster? Can Rortvedt be the team’s regular back-up catcher? 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
  5. Box Score: Griffin Jax: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 K (83 pitches, 61 strikes) Home Runs: Byron Buxton (16) Win Probability Chart: Top 3 WPA: Mitch Garver (.122) Byron Buxton (.096) Jake Cave (.091) Bottom 3 WPA: Nick Gordon (-.188); Josh Donaldson (-.188) Griffin Jax (-.169) Jax Maxes Out It’s been a tough rookie season for Griffin Jax. After being called up in early June, Jax became a full-time starter almost immediately. He’s shown glimmers of hope, but today was not one of those days. After today’s outing, his ERA rose slightly to 6.78 on the season. Nothing to write home about, per se, but a good outing against the Blue Jays at that. This leaves questions to be asked about his role for next season. Ted Schwerzler took a look at the future of this role (and many others) earlier this week. Lord Byron is Back! Even the mighty need some time to heat up after returning from the IL. Since returning from the IL on August 27th, Byron Buxton hasn’t quite lived up to the bar of his MVP-caliber run in the first half of the season. However, Buxton seems to be heating back up, just in time for the end of the season. Today, he hit his 6th home run of the month, putting him just one less than Jorge Polanco. Since coming back from the IL, the Twins have been 14-14 in games that Buxton plays in. Even though the games don’t matter on paper, Buxton gives hope to all Twins fans for next year on the horizon. In the meantime, enjoy Buxton’s bomb from today. GarvSauce: Good as Gravy Mitch Garver finds himself in a very similar but elongated boat as Byron Buxton. Long IL stint: check. Painful recovery post IL stint: check. The past year hasn’t been kind to Mitch. However, Garver continues to bounce back to his 2019 ways with another double today that almost left the ballpark. Since coming back from this latest stint, Garver has been a gravy train that can’t be stopped with back-to-back multi-hit games before today. If this continues, Garver will finish the season with a line slightly higher than his career numbers, showing that continued improvement is on the horizon. Around the Bases Max Kepler came back to the lineup with two singles under his belt, his first multi-hit game since his undisclosed (but non-COVID) illness. Jake Cave hushed his haters by driving in the first run of the game. Although Miguel Sano later struck out to leave two runners stranded, he produced a big double off of Alek Manoah. Nick Vincent balked. Bullpen Usage WED THU FRI SAT SUN TOT Vincent 0 13 0 0 33 46 Coulombe 0 0 0 37 0 37 Farrell 0 19 0 18 0 37 Garza Jr. 0 16 0 0 18 34 Barraclough 0 0 0 33 0 33 Minaya 13 0 19 0 0 32 Thielbar 0 14 0 0 17 31 Duffey 12 0 17 0 0 29 Colomé 24 0 5 0 0 29 Moran 0 0 0 19 0 19 Alcalá 10 0 6 0 0 16 Postgame Interviews
  6. Box Score Pineda: 5 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K Home runs: Gordon (4) Top 3 WPA: Garver .245, Gordon .202, Buxton .180 Win Probability Chart (Via FanGraphs) The Minnesota Twins leaned on Michael Pineda on the mound tonight in what could be one of his final starts as a member of the organization. Big Mike provided a steady start for the Twins, tossing five innings, allowing just eight hits and two runs and striking out two. The first run the Blue Jays scored was right away in the top of the second inning when Lourdes Gurriel knocked an RBI double. The Twins quickly rebounded in the third inning, though, when they got a leadoff double from Byron Buxton followed by an RBI single from Jorge Polanco and later an RBI single from Mitch Garver. The Blue Jays quickly rebounded in the fourth inning when Teoscar Hernandez hit a solo home run off of Pineda to tie the game, his 30th home run of the season. After that, though, it was all Minnesota the rest of the way, highlighted by the bat of red-hot Nick Gordon who smashed a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning and an RBI single in the seventh. The home run was Gordon’s fourth on the season, and his four-RBI game marks a career high for the long-time Twins prospect. Nick Gordon’s batting average is now up to .263 on the season with a respectable OPS of .711. Gordon continues to make a case for a roster spot on the 2022 team. The Twins’ bullpen was nails in relief of Michael Pineda as they received four scoreless innings from a combination of Nick Vincent, Caleb Thielbar, Luke Farrell and Ralph Garza, Jr. In the end, the Twins took the game 7-2 and won their third straight game to move their record to 68-85 on the season. Postgame Interviews What’s Next The Minnesota Twins will continue their four-game home series against the Blue Jays on Friday night, sending Bailey Ober to the mound to face off against former Twins’ ace, José Berríos. Bullpen Usage Chart SAT SUN TUE WED THU TOT Barraclough 32 0 35 0 0 67 Vincent 0 40 0 0 13 53 Thielbar 0 22 16 0 14 52 Minaya 0 36 0 13 0 49 Moran 34 0 0 0 0 34 Farrell 0 34 0 0 19 53 Duffey 0 0 11 12 0 23 Alcalá 0 0 10 10 0 20 Colomé 0 0 7 24 0 31 Garza Jr. 17 0 0 0 16 33 Coulombe 0 0 17 0 0 17
  7. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Jax 3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K Homeruns: Gordon (3) Top 3 WPA: Gordon .217, Donaldson .192, Buxton .175 Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) The battle for 2022 draft positions continued on Tuesday night, as Minnesota kicked off a two-game set in Chicago against the Cubs. Here’s how the Twins lined up to face Alec Mills. The Twins got off to a strong start, with back-to-back singles putting Luis Arraez on third and Byron Buxton on first base. Buxton stole second base and advanced to third on a throwing error by Wilson Contreras, with Arraez scoring. A Josh Donaldson sacrifice fly made it 2-0 Twins after the top of the first. The Cubs immediately chipped away at the Twins lead, scoring one in the first, one in the second, and one in the third. The later two runs came from solo home runs from Trayce Thompson and Willson Contreras, giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead after three innings. The familiar home run bug has continued to bite Griffin Jax, who only managed to make it through three innings. The Twins fought back in the top of the fourth inning. A Josh Donaldson walk, wild pitch, and Max Kepler single cut the deficit to 3-2. A Nick Gordon home run to left center field added two more runs, giving the Twins a 5-3 lead. The Twins continued to add to their lead in the top of the fifth. A Luis Arraez walk and Byron Buxton single were backed up by further singles from Josh Donaldson and Max Kepler, increasing the Twins lead to 7-3. The Cubs trimmed the lead in the sixth inning. A Rafael Ortega single was followed up by a Frank Schwindel double. Jorge Alcala replaced Danny Coulombe and struck out Wilson Contreras, but allowed a Patrick Wisdom single, scoring two runs. Alcala, however, has been on a recent run of good form which is encouraging news for a bullpen which needs padding heading into 2022. The Twins immediately increased the lead. Doubles from Josh Donaldson and Miguel Sano, followed by singles from Nick Gordon and Mitch Garver added two runs, pushing the lead to 9-5 and giving the Twins offense 16 hits on the night. Byron Buxton was hit by a pitch in the foot in the top of the ninth inning. Mercifully, Alexander Colome threw a scoreless inning to draw a marathon four-hour game to a close, bringing the Twins record for the season to 66-85. Bullpen Usage Chart THU FRI SAT SUN TUE TOT Barraclough 0 0 32 0 35 67 Vincent 0 0 0 40 0 40 Thielbar 0 0 0 22 16 38 Minaya 0 0 0 36 0 36 Moran 0 0 34 0 0 34 Farrell 0 0 0 34 0 34 Duffey 0 16 0 0 11 27 Alcalá 0 13 0 0 10 23 Colomé 0 14 0 0 7 21 Garza Jr. 0 0 17 0 0 17 Coulombe 0 0 0 0 17 17 Next Up On Wednesday, the Twins will finish their short series in Chicago. Joe Ryan will take the mound against Kyle Hendricks. First pitch is at 6:40 CST. Postgame Interviews
  8. Last season Mitch Garver was a non-factor at the dish for Minnesota. He played just 23 games in the shortened calendar but also posted a paltry .511 OPS. His expected on-base prowess had fallen off, and the power production was non-existent. Amid failed expectations, there was an intercostal injury that placed him on the shelf. In talking with Garver and through observation while he was active, there was an evident inability to uncork his traditional swing path. The muscle strain was hampering his typical swing and had him late and less than effective when making contact. While all players deal with injuries or fatigue during a season, this was something Garver couldn’t produce through. Fast forward to 2021, and we have seen the same stellar catcher that exploded onto the scene two seasons ago. Although he started slow and missed time due to a gruesome injury, he now has 50 games under his belt and is toting a .901 OPS. Since May 1, Garver owns a 1.060 OPS, and that number jumps up to 1.180 since returning from the Injured List. Blasting his way through opposing pitching staffs, Garver is working harder by carrying a 1.038 OPS against righties. Now 30-year-old and under team control through 2023, there’s not much reason to extend the backstop. However, it is worth making the argument that Mitch may be the best catcher in baseball, and that’s something that the Twins would love to have at their disposal when retooling for another run at the division and beyond. Joining him in this year of resurgence is none other than Jorge Polanco. After adding 22 dingers to the Bomba Squad tally in 2019, Polanco quite literally limped through 55 games and a .658 OPS last season. He was consistently bailing out on swings, revealing that his surgically-repaired ankle was never truly right. Like Garver and many Twins batters, for that matter, Polanco got off to a slow start in 2021. Even despite that, he’s now racked up 100 games worth of action and has an .811 OPS to show for it. It’s all but certain that a new career-high in homers is coming, and the move to second base has proven to be a successful if not welcomed change of scenery. Since July 1, Polanco owns a .963 OPS with a .325 average. He’s finding gaps, putting the ball over the fence, and looking like every bit of his swing exudes both confidence and power. Rocco Baldelli needed this version of Polanco back, and this is the guy Derek Falvey believed he extended before the 2019 season. There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about the Twins chances in 2022. They had a clear retooling opportunity, but the trade of Jose Berrios is a significant blow to their need for immediate pitching help. The front office will set out to find a new group of supplementing talent, but this internal pair is one they should again feel confident in for the year ahead. Minnesota was seen as a contender coming into 2021 due mainly to the expectations placed on the holdovers. Many failed to reach those marks, and some have still had more questions than answers. For Garver and Polanco, though, it’s never been more clear what’s left in the tank. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  9. Box Score Bailey Ober: 4 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K (64 pitches, 44 strikes (68.8%)) Home Runs: Jeffers (9), Top 3 WPA: Jorge Polanco (0.126), Bailey Ober (0.117), Miguel Sano (.109) Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) The Return of Arraez Before Saturday’s game, the Twins announced that Luis Arraez was being activated from the Injured List. Gilberto Celestino was optioned to Triple-A St. Paul (will he finally make his Saints debut?). He was put into the cleanup spot in the Twins lineup. It paid immediate dividends for the team. In the first inning, he came up with runners on second and third base. He gave the Twins a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly. He added another RBI his second time up. With runners on first and second, he hit a double down the right field line. He added a walk later in the game. Bailey’s Big Hit Bailey Ober had not had an at-bat in a baseball game in eight years, since he and Vikings center Garrett Bradbury were starring at Charlotte Christian High School in North Carolina. He stepped to the plate, and on an 0-1 pitch, lined a single to right field for his first big-league hit. OK, softly lined a single to right field. It doesn’t matter. Congratulations to Ober! The Twins' pitchers haven’t had a lot of hits of late. More importantly, Bailey Ober pitched well. He began with three scoreless innings, and then in the fourth, he gave up a run but was able to limit damage with a big double play ball. Despite a 7-1 lead, Ober was due to bat for the third time but Willians Astudillo pinch hit and grounded a single through the infield to give the Twins an 8-1 lead. Ober’s fastball sat between 92 and 93 mph, but he is able to get swings and misses with it up in the strike zone. Why? As important, the Twins bullpen combined for five shutout innings. Jorge Alcala worked two innings, and then Caleb Thielbar, Juan Minaya and Alexander Colome each pitched one inning. (see the bullpen usage chart below) Jeffers Jolts In the third inning, Ryan Jeffers came to the plate and hit a three-run homer to give the Twins a 7-0 lead. It was his ninth homer of the season, but it was his third in his past two starts. Remember, he had two homers in that crazy, 17-14 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday. In his past nine games, Jeffers is 9-for-29 (.310) with two doubles, three homers and an OPS north of 1.000). Since returning from the IL, Mitch Garver has played in five games and hit .278 (1.324 OPS) with two doubles, three homers and ten RBI. After both struggled mightily at the plate in April, Twins fans are now seeing what we thought we might from the Twins catching duo. It feels appropriate to talk about the performance of Twins catchers on a night when Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons' number was retired by the Cardinals and a statue of his likeness was unveiled outside the stadium. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT TOT Coulombe 0 10 0 0 23 0 33 Thielbar 13 16 0 0 0 14 43 Alcala 0 11 0 0 0 21 32 Gant 0 0 24 0 0 0 24 Colomé 16 0 0 0 0 16 32 Minaya 0 0 45 0 0 18 63 Duffey 11 7 0 0 32 0 50 Burrows 0 0 63 0 0 0 63
  10. We still have a ways to go, and while there is no August waiver trade period in 2021, Rocco Baldelli’s roster should continue to get a shake-up over the next few weeks. Cycling in different hitters and pitchers when attempting to find future opportunities, this club can also look back on what has been and begin making assessments for 2022 and beyond. While not all the biggest storylines, here are five key takeaways from what we’ve seen to this point: Miguel Sano is inconsistently consistent Through 21 games to start the year, Sano owned a .119/.280/.209 slash line. Over his next 38 games from May 15 through June 30, he held a .233/.280/.549 slash line. Then, in July, he’s owned a .246/.325/.478 slash line across 20 games. He’s got a .737 OPS in 79 games this year and has paired that with 17 homers and a .291 OBP. If you’re looking for Miguel Sano to be the mega-prospect he once was considered, that’s probably on you at this point. The slash line still leaves plenty to be desired, but he’s got a 103 OPS+ and has not wavered on a solid sense of plate discipline. Timing continues to elude him for frustrating stretches, but he’s also capable of going on an absolute power tear. Should the Twins find themselves back in a position of strength throughout their lineup, a bat like that in the bottom half is hardly something to scoff at. He’s owed $9.25 million in 2022, and that’s an overpay but not to the extent of being ultimately damaging and acting as a primary designated hitter; that may be the role he’s always been destined for anyways. Nick Gordon has utility I was convinced that opportunity had passed the Twins former first-round pick by for quite a while. I knew he could play at the big-league level but wasn’t sure it would happen in a Minnesota uniform. Now I’m more convinced that it needs to continue. He’s still the same player he’s been throughout the minors. A soft-hitting speedster that will occasionally run into one, this is a singles hitter that has the instincts to swipe bases. Add in the utility he’s provided by learning centerfield on the fly, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be on the Opening Day roster in 2022. Gordon may find a bit more success in year two when it comes to batting average; he’s made a career out of taking steps forward after acclimating to a level. Even if he doesn’t, though, speed on the bench is something Minnesota hasn’t had, and the combination of being a lighter version of Chris Taylor is a good thing for any roster to have. Mitch Garver can still mash To say that 2020 was disastrous for Mitch Garver would be putting it lightly. The Twins Silver Slugger winning catcher posted a terrible .511 OPS and hit just two homers in 23 games. Things started slow for him in 2021, with a .517 OPS being toted through 17 games. In his last 29 games since April 28, with a severe injury mixed in there, Garver has slashed .299/.449/.740 with nine homers and a 20/19 K/BB. The life-altering foul tip he took was incredibly scary, but as rehab progressed and healing took place, he’s been back behind the dish and picked up where he left off. Even after being plunked by a pitch on his hand recently, it’s fair to dream of the production that will soon return. Garver is a late-blooming prospect, so he’s going to age relatively quickly, but this is the anchor of a tandem behind the dish that Twins fans were hoping for. The pitching staff needs an overhaul Minnesota owns the fourth-worst pitching staff in baseball by fWAR in 2021. The starters rank 24th, and the relievers are 25th. The entire unit has been a complete abomination. With the uncertain status of Jose Berrios’ future and veterans like J.A. Happ and Michael Pineda being done this offseason, the rotation will be in flux. Taylor Rogers sapped his trade value with a finger injury just days ago, but whether he was dealt or not, the rest of the bullpen remains a complete question mark. None of the signings made by the front office have worked out, and while they were short-term pacts, a re-do is less exciting when considering just how many times they missed over the winter. Derek Falvey has long been lauded for his ability to develop and identify pitching. Minnesota has a farm system rich with names attached to arms, but none have begun to bear fruit, and plenty are currently injured. For this organization to thrive at the highest level, it’s going to need to start on the mound once again, and they’re going to be doing so from next to nothing for 2022. Corner rookies are real In a season where winning takes a back seat, the best way to prevent it from becoming lost is by watching your youth thrive. Alex Kirilloff is done for the year after having wrist surgery, but it’s pretty realistic to call his rookie campaign a success. The top prospect came up early and handled his own. He’s not an ideal fit in the outfield, but he’ll play at first base, and the bat is every bit as advertised. Trevor Larnach joined Kirilloff sooner than expected, but it’s hard to pick apart much of what he’s done this season. Even while slumping of late, the 24-year-old owns a .322 OBP and has shown plenty of power potential. He’ll run into more baseballs as his career progresses, and the discipline in the box has been a sight to behold. These are both pillar players that Minnesota needs to see as foundational cornerstones of future lineups, and early returns should suggest they are both capable of doing just that. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  11. Box Score Starting Pitcher: Maeda 6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K Homeruns: Garver (11), Astudillo (5) Bottom 3 WPA: Sano -.390, Robles -.376, Polanco -.258 Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs) One of the Twins’ best trade chips was placed on the IL Tuesday. Taylor Rogers suffered a middle finger sprain in Monday night’s walk-off win against Detroit. Rogers was replaced in the bullpen by Beau Burrows. Rogers is apparently set for a second and possibly third opinion on his finger, which will likely significantly diminish his chances of being dealt by Friday’s deadline. The Twins lined up like this for their tilt against the Tigers. Kenta Maeda appears to have turned a corner, sporting a 3.69 ERA in his last seven starts, with 44Ks in his last 39 innings (13 swings and misses tonight). Tuesday continued this trend. Maeda was effective and efficient in 6 1/3 innings against the Tigers, allowing only four hits and striking out five in his outing. Indeed, Maeda’s turnaround has been so stark, he is reported to be generating trade interest. Either way, he looks to be back on track as a consistent piece of the Twins rotation which promises to be one of their greatest question marks heading into 2022. After Maeda induced a double play to counteract Akil Baddoo’s leadoff double in the top of the first, the Twins (unusually) took the game by the scruff of the neck in the bottom of the opening frame. Tyler Alexander gave up singles to Jorge Polanco and Brent Rooker, before walking Josh Donaldson. Mitch Garver greeted the Tigers starter with this grand slam into the bullpen. Garver has not only silenced his doubters, but he has also calmed concerns over his future with the team with his return to 2019 form. He is, arguably, the most welcome and pleasant surprise of a disastrous 2021 (along with Jorge Polanco). Detroit pulled a run back in the third inning from an Akil Baddoo solo home run, his tenth of the season. This was erased in the bottom of the fourth by Willians Astudillo’s fifth home run of the season, a laser down the left-field line. Another notable Twins offensive performance came from Brent Rooker. A night after obliterating a home run into the third deck, Rooker delivered another three hits, giving him six in his last four games. Rooker’s early returns from an everyday role in the wake of the Nelson Cruz trade have been promising. Twins fans will be anxious to see if he can continue to deliver in the remaining 60 or so games of the 2021 season. Tyler Duffey and Danny Coloumbe pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings for the Twins. Hansel Robles decided that a comfortable win wouldn’t do. Robles gave up a single, double, walk, and a grand slam to Eric Haase to tie the game at 5-5, a mirror image of last night’s bullpen capitulation. Robles left the game soon after with an injury. Two nights, two ninth-inning blown leads, two injuries to relievers likely to be traded before Friday afternoon. The Twins made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth, putting two men aboard before a Jorge Polanco pop-out sent the game to extra innings. Monday night’s hero Caleb Thielbar took the top of the tenth for Minnesota. Detroit bunted Victor Reyes to third base before Thielbar struck out Baddoo looking at a beautifully painted fastball on the outside corner of the strike zone. Jorge Alcala relieved Thielbar and induced a Jonathan Scoop groundout to shortstop to end the threat. Jake Cave, who entered the game as a defensive-replacement for Brent Rooker in the late innings, batted in the bottom of the tenth with Jorge Polanco beginning the inning at second base. A first-pitch groundout moved Polanco to third. After Cisnero intentionally walked Josh Donaldson, he nailed Mitch Garver on the right wrist, loading the bases for the Twins with Max Kepler up to bat. Garver was replaced by Ryan Jeffers. Max Kepler struck out on a fastball right down broadway, leaving the Twins hopes to Miguel Sano, Sano struck out on three pitches to send the game to the eleventh. Alcala continued in he top of the eleventh. Miguel Cabrera promptly singled home a run to give the Tigers a 6-5 lead. In the bottom of the eleventh, Miguel Sano inexplicably took off for third base on a ground ball hit straight to short, getting Willians Astudillo to second, but sacrificing an out unnecessarily. Two quick outs and the Tigers comeback was complete. The Twins continue to find was to lose eminently winnable games, an all too familiar theme in 2021. Bullpen Usage Chart THU FRI SAT SUN MON TUE TOT Coulombe 32 0 0 18 0 10 60 Thielbar 0 0 16 0 13 16 45 Alcala 0 0 10 24 0 11 45 Robles 0 0 0 0 13 29 42 Colomé 0 11 0 10 16 0 37 Minaya 0 20 0 0 0 0 20 Duffey 0 0 0 0 11 7 18 Burrows 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Postgame Interview Next Up The Twins send J.A. Happ to the mound on Wednesday to face Wily Peralta. First pitch is at 12:10 CT.
  12. To find out who hit all those home runs in St. Paul, how the big innings all went down, and who was responsible for that no-hitter in the FCL, keep reading! TRANSACTIONS Catcher Mitch Garver was sent on a rehab assignment to the St. Paul Saints. Good to see him back on the field after his freaky injury. Jake Cave was also activated for a rehab assignment with the Saints. LHP Kody Funderburk and RHP Jordan Gore were promoted from Cedar Rapids to Wichita. LHP Aaron Rozek was assigned to the Mighty Mussels from the Wind Surge, and RHP Jason Garcia was placed on the 7-day injured list. Taking the place of the departing pitchers from Cedar Rapids were RHP Osiris German and RHP Louie Varland from Fort Myers. In addition to Rozek the Mighty Mussels also were assigned RHP Orlando Rodriguez. SAINTS SENTINEL Columbus 1, St. Paul 19 Box Score With Jake Cave, Mitch Garver, Brent Rooker, and Willians Astudillo in the lineup for the Saints on Tuesday, this one played out just like you might expect when putting a lineup of major leaguers out against one of minor leaguers. St. Paul bludgeoned Columbus pitching early with three runs in the first then four more in the third before exploding for 10 runs in the fourth. When they needed a hit, they got them, and big ones in bunches too. Cave led off the game with a homer and Rooker hit another blast in the first. Rooker and Mark Contreras each went yard in the third. Then Rooker again, and Jose Miranda took one out of the park in the big fourth inning. The lineup got multiple hits from Miranda (2-for-4, 2 R, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, K), Rooker (4-for-6, 4 R, 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 2 K), Contreras (2-for-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, 2 K), and JT Riddle (2-for-4, 2 R, 2B, 2 RBI). Cave and Rooker each scored four runs. As a team St. Paul was 9-for-13 (.692) with runners in scoring position and left only five men on base. In addition to their 14 hits and six walks, five hitters were hit by pitches leading to their runs outpacing hits for the game. Righthander Griffin Jax took the mound for the Saints and went the first five innings, working efficiently. He allowed one run (solo homer) on three hits. He did not walk or strike out a batter, and threw just 63 pitches with 40 going for strikes (63.5%). Reliever Juan Minaya came on for the sixth inning and finished the next three scoreless innings. He allowed three hits, one walk, and struck out four. Joe Harvey finished off the game with a scoreless ninth, allowing one hit and punching out two. WIND SURGE WISDOM Tulsa 7, Wichita 2 Box Score Wichita got on the board first in this one when Trey Cabbage clubbed his third home run of the season, a two run-shot in the second inning. But that was all the offense they would muster on the night as the lineup managed just two other hits on the game. They had only one at-bat with a runner in scoring position and left only two men on base for the game. There is not much you can if you never have the opportunities. Righthander Austin Schulfer got the start for the Wind Surge and went five solid innings. He allowed three earned runs on two hits and three walks, while striking out six. Jovani Moran went the next 1 2/3 and was not his usual knife through butter self, being charged with one run on one hit and three walks, though he still did strike out four. Zach Neff came on gave up three runs of his own in 1+ innings. He allowed four hits and struck out one. Jhonleider Salinas finished the game off for the Wind Surge with 1 1/3 scoreless innings. He walked one and struck out two. KERNELS NUGGETS Cedar Rapids 8, South Bend 5 Box Score The Kernels too, got on the board early and then often in a single inning on Tuesday as they put up three runs in the first then a five-spot in the fourth that put them ahead 8-1 at the time. The three runs in the first came courtesy of Seth Gray’s seventh home run of the season. The lineup got multiple hits from Gray (3-for-6, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI, K), Wander Javier (2-for-5, R, 2B, BB, 2 K), and Edouard Julien (2-for-5, R, 2 RBI, BB, 2 K). Julien’s 2-RBI single in the fourth inning capped the scoring for Cedar Rapids and he continues to lead the minors in walks while sporting a .475 on-base percentage across two levels. The eight runs were more than enough to pick up the win as the pitching staff held strong enough as South Bend attempted a comeback. Starter Cody Laweryson went the first four innings for the Kernels, allowing a single earned run on three hits and two walks while punching out six. Tyler Palm allowed two runs on two hits and a walk in his single inning. Ryan Shreve was credited the win after his two innings where he allowed one run on two hits and struck out two. Zach Featherstone pitched the final two innings, allowing a run of his own on one hit and two walks while striking out three. The Kernels improved to 35-26 on the year and are firmly in second place of the Midwest League West Division. MUSSEL MATTERS Jupiter 10, Fort Myers 12 Box Score Fort Myers jumped out to a beg early lead after an eight run second inning, but struggled to keep that lead for the rest of the game and it turned into a back-and-forth contest late. Willie Joe Garry Jr. got the scoring started in the second with a two-RBI single. Misael Urbina followed two batters later with a grand slam that made it 6-1. A Jeferson Morales double and Jesus Feliz single would plate the other two runs in the frame. Starter Brent Headrick went four innings in total, allowing five runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks, while striking out six. Matthew Swain came out for the fifth inning but was not able to get out of it before being charged with four runs on three walks. He struck out one. With two in the fifth Carlos Suniaga was summoned and went the next 2 1/3 scoreless innings, keeping the Mighty Mussels within one going into the bottom of the seventh. They were able to tie it at nine thanks to an RBI single off the bat of Ruben Santana, but gave it right back in the top of the eighth. Righthander Bradley Hanner came into the game and gave up consecutive single to start the inning, that resulted in a run as the first hitter stole second and reached third on a throwing error. Now down 10-9, Fort Myers would not give up. Yunior Severino delivered an RBI sac fly in the bottom of the eighth after Aaron Sabato reached base on an error and moved to third on a double from Morales. Feliz then put them up by one with an RBI single and executed a double steal with Justin Washington for another run to make it 12-10 in favor of the home team. Back out front for the top of the ninth, the Mighty Mussels brought on Denny Bentley to close out the win. A one out walk and single made it a little interesting, but Bentley buckled down and struck out the final two hitters (and all three outs in the inning) to end the game and pick up his fifth save. In addition to Morales and Feliz, Washington (2-for-4, R, 3B, K, SB) and Santana (2-for-2, R, RBI, 3 BB, SB) also multiple hits on the game. COMPLEX CHRONICLES Game 1: FCL Braves 5, FCL Twins 1 Box Score The FCL Twins played a doubleheader with their Atlanta Braves counterpart on Tuesday afternoon, and they each picked up a victory. In game one the Twins were outhit 8-5 and were not able to mount any rallies in losing 5-1. Alexander Pena led the way with a 2-for-3 effort including a double. Kala’I Rosario picked up the only RBI. Starter John Stankiewicz went the first two innings, allowing one run on two hits and a walk while recording all of his outs via the strikeout (six total). Wilker Reyes went the next four innings and allowed three earned runs on six hits and two walks. Cole Bellair finished the game with an unearned run on two walks in the seventh, striking out one. Game 2: FCL Twins 8, FCL Braves 0 Box Score The Twins got back at the Braves in game two behind a no-hitter from their starting pitcher. The caveat here is even in the normally shortened 7-inning game of a doubleheader, only 5+ innings were completed in this one as lightning moved into the area. The Twins scored two in the first and six in the second to account for all their runs. Rosario had two more RBI in this one thanks to a double. Catcher LaRon Smith had three RBI and his second home run of the season. Pena (2-for-4, R, RBI) and Miguel Vallejo (2-for-2, R, 2 2B) had multiple hits. As a team they were 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left just six on base for the game. Pitcher Giovahniey German went five innings and walked just two while striking out four. Quite a performance for the 20-year-old in just his third game pitching in the states! Goes down as a no-hitter in the scorebook no matter who is reading it, congratulations! (Reliever Zach Goree was meant to start the sixth inning before the game was called) TWINS DAILY MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS OF THE DAY Pitcher of the Day – Giovahniey German, FCL Twins (5 IP, 0 H, 2 BB, 4 K) Hitter of the Day – Brent Rooker, St. Paul Saints (4-for-6, 4 R, 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 2 K) PROSPECT SUMMARY Take note that we have finished our midseason update, so there is a new list! Here is a look at how the Twins Daily Midseason Top 20 Twins Prospects performed: #1 – Royce Lewis (Rehab) – Out for season (torn ACL) #2 – Jhoan Duran (St. Paul) – Injured List (elbow strain) #3 – Jordan Balazovic (Wichita) – Did not pitch #4 – Matt Canterino (Cedar Rapids) – Injured List (right elbow strain) #5 – Jose Miranda (St. Paul) – 2-for-4, 2 R, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, K #6 – Keoni Cavaco (Fort Myers) – 1-for-2, R #7 – Gilberto Celestino (Minnesota) – All Star Break #8 – Josh Winder (St. Paul) – Did not pitch #9 – Aaron Sabato (Fort Myers) – 1-for-4, R, BB #10 – Matt Wallner (Cedar Rapids) – Injured List (wrist sprain) #11 – Blayne Enlow (Cedar Rapids) – Out for Season (Tommy John surgery) #12 – Bailey Ober (Minnesota) – All Star Break #13 – Cole Sands Cole Sands (Wichita) – Did not pitch #14 – Brent Rooker (St. Paul) – 4-for-6, 4 R, 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 2 K #15 – Misael Urbina (Fort Myers) – 1-for-5, R, GS HR, 4 RBI, BB, K #16 – Spencer Steer (Wichita) – 0-for-4, 3 K #17 – Wander Javier (Cedar Rapids) – 2-for-5, R, 2B, BB, 2 K #18 – Alerick Soularie (Complex) – N/A (foot injury) #19 – Edwar Colina (Rehab) – Injured List (elbow) #20 – Chris Vallimont (Wichita) – Did not pitch WEDNESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS Columbus @ St. Paul (7:05PM CST) – TBD Tulsa @ Wichita (12:05PM CST) – TBD Cedar Rapids @ South Bend (6:05PM CST) – RHP Tyler Beck (1-1, 1.93 ERA) Jupiter @ Fort Myers (6:00PM CST) – RHP Sawyer Gipson-Long (4-2, 5.89 ERA) Please feel free to ask questions and discuss Tuesday’s games!
  13. The Twins roster isn’t this bad. Heck, the team entered play on Monday half of a game ahead of the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central standings. Yes, this is the same Tigers squad that has lost 98 or more games in each of the last three full seasons. Detroit is trotting out plenty of replacement level players and prospects as a club that is clearly rebuilding. Yet, the Twins find themselves playing catch up in the division with nearly half the season finished. Minnesota’s failings have been well documented at Twins Daily. So far, the pitching staff has been arguably the worst in team history, but an influx of younger pitchers in the second half might help to boost the team. Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ have not worked out as planned but adding in other players like Bailey Ober and top prospect Jordan Balazovic might bring some excitement to a non-contending team. Unfortunately, many prospects will be on an innings limit due to the lack of a 2020 minor league season and Jhoan Duran, the team’s other top prospect, recently landed on the IL. From a draft standpoint, it helps to for the Twins to continue to be bad, because that results in a higher draft pick during the 2022 MLB Draft. Minnesota will likely deal away players on expiring contracts like Nelson Cruz, Michael Pineda, and Andrelton Simmons and this might result in the team being even worse after the trade deadline. However, the players replacing these veterans will also likely have something to prove. So, what parts can improve as the season progresses? Byron Buxton has been the team’s best player when he has been on the field. In Monday’s update of the All-Star Game fan vote, he is still in the top-3 among AL outfielders and that lines him up to be in a starting role. If he continues to play this way, he can insert himself back into the MVP conversation. Buxton isn’t the only position where the Twins can see some accidental improvement. Max Kepler recently returned from injury, and he can help improve a right field group that has accumulated the sixth lowest AL WAR total. Before his gruesome injury, Mitch Garver seemed to be swinging the bat like the 2019 version of himself. He can add even more offensive depth when he returns. Minnesota has been underperforming throughout the 2021 season and there is too much talent on the roster for the team to play at such a low level. Entering play on Monday night, Baseball Prospectus has the Twins projected to finish the season at 83-79, which is quite the turnaround. Cleveland and Chicago are projected to finish at 87-75, which certainly puts the Twins in the conversation for the division by season’s end. Before the All-Star Game, the Twins have 25 straight games against the AL Central, which means the team has their fate in their own hands. Minnesota has a chance to improve, and it may be an accident waiting to happen. Do you think the Twins will accidently improve? 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
  14. Mitch Garver: .497 xwOBAcon What makes Garver’s injury tough to swallow is how well he had been hitting at the plate. His Statcast numbers point to this improvement even after his slow start to the season. For those unfamiliar, xOBAcon uses three variables: exit velocity (EV), launch angle (LA), and sprint speed. Garver’s exit velocity and launch angle have allowed him to spray the ball all over the field. He currently ranks in the top 6% of the league in xwOBAcon so the hope is he can return sooner rather than later. As Rocco Baldelli alluded to after Tuesday’s game, it’s hard to imagine he will be behind the plate anytime soon. Luis Arraez: .308 xBA Arraez is another player the Twins are missing on the IL. During his big-league career, Arraez has been known for his bat to ball skills with many thinking a batting title is in the realm of possibility for him. Expected batting average (xBA) is a metric that measures the likelihood a batted ball will become a hit. Sometimes a player gets lucky, and ball falls in for a hit and other times a hard-hit ball ends up being an out. Arraez currently has a .277 batting average, but his xBA is over 30 points higher as he ranks in the top 3% of the league. Arraez provides an energy at the plate and the Twins offense has been struggling to find energy in recent weeks with him out of the line-up Andrelton Simmons: 9 Outs Above Average The Twins signed Simmons to provide a defensive upgrade and he has certainly come as advertised on that side of the ball. Only three players have produced an outs above average total of nine as Simmons is joined by Matt Chapman and Nick Ahmed. His recent play has moved him up this list so it will be intriguing to see if he can stay healthy and producing on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, his strikeout numbers have made him a disappointment on the offensive side, but he might be on his way to winning another Gold Glove. As a veteran with an expiring contract, the only question that remains is whether or not he is with the Twins after July. Nelson Cruz: 10.5 Barrels/Plate Appearance % Like Simmons, Cruz struggled mightily in the month of May, but this was on the heels of a torrid stretch at season’s start. Only five AL batters have a higher Barrels/PA % than Cruz and that isn’t the only Statcast metric where he ranks near the top of the league. He ranks well in barrel % (Top 7%), max exit velocity (Top 1%), and hard hit % (top 5%). His xwOBA over his last 100 plate appearances is dropping faster than Rob Refsynder running into the outfield wall in Baltimore. Is age catching up to Cruz or will he be able to solve his offensive woes? Which one of these Statcast numbers stands out the most to you? 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
  15. Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/24 through Sun, 5/30 *** Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 21-31) Run Differential Last Week: +2 (Overall: -22) Standing: 5th Place in AL Central (11.0 GB) Last Week's Game Recaps: Game 47 | MIN 8, BAL 3: Rare Late-game Surge Pushes Twins Past O's Game 48 | MIN 7, BAL 4: Lineup Comes Through Again with Seven Runs Game 49 | MIN 3, BAL 2: Michael and Miguel Lead Minnesota to First Sweep Game 50 | KC 8, MIN 3: Royals Cool Off Twins in Deflating Loss Game 51 | MIN 6, KC 5: Twins Fend Off KC Rally and Hold On Game 52 | KC 6, MIN 3: Fading Twins Drop Another Home Series NEWS & NOTES This is the ninth Week in Review column we've filed this season, and it's the first since Week 1 – when the Twins won their season-opening series in Milwaukee, two games to one – that we're reviewing a winning week. As winning weeks ago, however, this one was remarkably uninspiring and unfulfilling. They really needed to go 5-1 at least in these six games at home against bad teams, but instead came away with just four wins, and might've been lucky to get that. The Twins required a late-game rally to beat Baltimore on Monday, and barely eked out a one-run victory on Wednesday to clinch the sweep. In a three-game weekend series against the Royals, Minnesota was twice beaten handily, and scraped out a one-run win in the other. This is not a great team dominating bad competition. This is a bottom-dweller with its hands full facing the same. On the health front, it was another week of bad news and foreboding developments for the Twins. They lost two more key pieces to the Injured List, with Luis Arraez (shoulder) and Max Kepler (hamstring) hitting the shelf after trying to play through their respective ailments. There's a belief that Kepler could return soon after his 10-day window expires, but Arraez is looking at a lengthier absence, as his shoulder injury appears to be more serious than initially thought. Meanwhile, Kenta Maeda is also facing an extended period of unavailability. Rocco Baldelli said on Sunday that the right-hander's groin issue has been resolved, but the team wants to give Maeda extra time off due to "general arm soreness," which may help explain his extremely lackluster results up to this point. Adding to the fun (not): Byron Buxton was not able to start a rehab assignment as hoped this past weekend, because he's still not moving around at 100%. Three weeks removed from suffering his hip strain, Buxton's timetable remains in limbo. On the bright side, the Twins did get Michael Pineda back from IL, and as we'll cover below, he looked great. In the bullpen, Cody Stashak was swapped out for Juan Minaya. Dakota Chalmers was DFA'ed to make room on the 40-man roster for Minaya. HIGHLIGHTS The return of Pineda was more than welcome for a rotation that's been receiving some uneven performances and is now missing Maeda. Pineda's been the underrated steady rock of this unit, and looked the part again on Wednesday. In a series finale against Baltimore where the offense didn't quite show up the way it had in the first two, Minnesota needed a high-quality pitching performance. Pineda delivered, firing six innings of one-run ball. He allowed three hits and a walk while striking out eight. Pineda's 16-7 record with the Twins stacks up as the best winning percentage in franchise history, and it's reflective of the reality that he gives them a good chance to win just about every time he takes the mound. In all but one start this year, he has pitched five or more innings and allowed three or fewer runs. The lineup is getting help from some unlikely sources. Hardly just a novelty act, Rob Refsnyder has been a key contributor; last week he went 7-for-22 with a homer and four RBIs to deliver some much-needed production at the bottom of the order. With Kepler and Buxton both sidelined, Refsnyder is essentially the only center fielder on the roster. Baldelli's made no secret of the fact that he'll be riding Refsnyder hard in the short-term, and the manager will have to hope his opportunistic 30-year-old can stay hot (and healthy). Refsnyder's recent success bodes well in the short-term. But the breakout performance of Trevor Larnach alongside him in the outfield bodes much better for the long-term. He's looking every bit the advanced, impact hitter that his minor-league numbers and top-prospect accolades suggested. Larnach went 5-for-14 with two home runs and five RBIs last week, and while he's shown the ability to absolutely obliterate baseballs, his plate discipline might be the most promising aspect of his early play. Larnach presents a challenging match-up for opposing pitchers because he doesn't chase much outside the zone, and can capitalize once he gets his pitch. As Aaron Gleeman notes, Larnach is tied for third-most walks in Twins history through his first 20 games. His five walks (vs. four strikeouts) last week included one with the bases loaded, forcing in a key run. Alex Kirilloff continues to rake (8-for-23 with two doubles last week), and Jorge Polanco is showing some pop despite the bad wheel (two doubles and a homer in his five starts). But the biggest bright spot on offense right now has got to be Mitch Garver, who suddenly looks like his old Silver Slugger self. Taking on a more regular workload with Ryan Jeffers and (until Sunday) Ben Rortvedt in Triple-A, Garver has rediscovered his rhythm at the plate. In four starts last week and one late-game sub appearance last week, he went 5-for-13 with four doubles, a home run, four walks, and just two strikeouts. Garver was slashing .151/.196/.321 with a 25-to-3 K/BB ratio through his first 17 games before a breakout two-homer night in Cleveland on April 28th. Since then, he is slashing .300/.432/.683 with 18 strikeouts and 14 walks. In 2019, he slashed .273/.365/.630. LOWLIGHTS While young bucks like Larnach and Kirilloff have been stepping up to carry much of the load offensively, the highly-paid veterans that Minnesota depends upon are coming up short. Nelson Cruz is wrapping up perhaps his most underwhelming month in a Twins uniform. Following a 2-for-14 week, he's slashing .232/.315/.378 in May with three home runs and just six RBIs in 23 games. Is age finally catching up with Cruz? He started the season on a scorching tear, but has looked like a very ordinary player for the last five weeks or so. Then again he's still hitting the ball hard as hell, so maybe it's just a matter of time before he catches fire again. Here's hoping so, because the Twins will at the very least be reliant on Cruz as a key trade chip in July. Even more concerning are the ongoing struggles of Josh Donaldson, who for better or worse is going to be around for a while The Twins spent big on Donaldson two offseasons ago, envisioning him is the final puzzle piece for a power-laden lineup with championship aspirations. Donaldson was largely a non-factor in 2020 due to injury, and while he's been able to stay on the field this year, he's making more headlines for his drama-stirring tweets than for his standout play. Last week Donaldson went 3-for-21, dropping his slash line for the season to .226/.325/.394. His double off the right field wall on Sunday was his first extra-base hit in 12 days, and he hasn't had a multi-hit game since May 8th. Donaldson is still taking good ABs and drawing walks at a solid clip, but there's only so much value in having one of the slowest dudes in baseball putting himself on first base a handful of times per week. They need JD crushing drives all over the field. He's mostly just hitting pop-ups when he makes contact, and is on pace to finish with 15 home runs. And then there is the ever-streaky Miguel Sanó, who flipped the switch back from red-hot to ice-cold with a 2-for-21 week that included one walk and 11 strikeouts. Granted, one of those two hits was tremendously impactful – a sixth-inning three-run homer on Wednesday that essentially turned a loss into a win – but he was a black hole otherwise. Between that trio – Cruz, Donaldson, and Sanó – you've got three critical cornerstones of the lineup, all hitting in key spots and providing almost nothing. They're killing rallies, rather than powering the offense with clutch knocks and dramatic blasts (with one exception). The pitching hasn't been very good but ultimately this team is built to outslug opponents and should be mauling staffs like Baltimore and Kansas City. To score only three runs in three of these six games, at home, is reflective of a dysfunctional lineup being let down by its supposed leaders. When I look back on this incredibly disappointing season, I will very likely zero in on this past week, when the Twins desperately needed to go on a run against bad teams to salvage their contention hopes and the three highest-paid players on the roster – Cruz, Donaldson and Sanó make a combined $50 million, accounting for more than a third of the total payroll – went 3-for-19 with runners in scoring position. TRENDING STORYLINE In happier news, the arms are cooking down on the farm. Last week in this space we celebrated the sterling debut of Jhoan Duran for the Saints; in his second start on Thursday, Duran tossed four shutout innings with one hit allowed and eight strikeouts. He's on the fast track and could be a real difference-maker for the Twins' staff this year. But he's not the only pitching prospect making a strong early impression. Josh Winder, whose ascending velocity has opened eyes and earned him a spring training invite, struck out seven over five innings of two-run ball for Wichita on Saturday. He owns a 1.48 ERA and 30-to-6 K/BB ratio through 24 ⅓ frames in his first stint at Double-A. Matt Canterino is currently pitching at Cedar Rapids, but could soon join Winder in Wichita because he's putting up flat-out silly numbers against Single-A hitters. After striking out 10 in four innings on Friday, Canterino has a 1.50 ERA and 35-to-3 K/BB ratio in 18 innings for the Kernels. In another bit of encouraging news pertaining to the pitcher pipeline, Jordan Balazovic plans to throw in Fort Myers on Monday. If that goes well, it sounds like he'll be heading to Double-A, where the rotation could soon feature him, Winder, and Canterino. More like Pitch-ita, amirite. Duran is closest out of these names, but any of them are realistic possibilities to pitch for the Twins this season. LOOKING AHEAD The "Or-royals" segment of the schedule rolls on in the coming week, as the Twins will travel to play both clubs on the road after going 4-2 against them at Target Field. If Minnesota can't find a way to go 6-1 or 7-0 in the upcoming games, they're going to look back at these two weeks as an unaffordable missed opportunity to make up crucial ground. They'll be returning home to face the Yankees and Astros afterward. If they play those opponents the same way they played this past week and, really, for most of the season, it's going to get ugly. MONDAY, 5/31: TWINS @ ORIOLES – RHP Jose Berríos v. RHP Jorge Lopez TUESDAY, 6/1: TWINS @ ORIOLES – RHP Michael Pineda v. LHP Bruce Zimmermann WEDNESDAY, 6/2: TWINS @ ORIOLES – RHP Randy Dobnak v. RHP Matt Harvey THURSDAY, 6/3: TWINS @ ROYALS – LHP J.A. Happ v. LHP Kris Bubic FRIDAY, 6/4: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Matt Shoemaker v. TBD SATURDAY, 6/5: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Brad Keller SUNDAY, 6/6: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Michael Pineda v. LHP Mike Minor
  16. We’re now over 30 games into the season and Rocco Baldelli’s club is nearly double-digit games out of first place in the division. The story this offseason was one of winning a playoff game, but at this point getting there looks like a herculean feat. A week ago, I wrote about where blame should fall for this debacle. Taking that a step further, which players have regressed the most, and should we have seen it coming? Max Kepler Back in 2019 the Twins inked Kepler to a five-year contract extension. They had a corner outfielder that had done just enough but was looking to breakthrough. They gambled right and that season the German-native posted an .855 OPS. Since that season he’s played in 72 games and posted just a .720 OPS. Although the .760 OPS in 2020 was still a step forward from where he’d been previously, Minnesota was going to need more in the year ahead. He’s responded but hitting below the Mendoza Line with an OPS of .642. He’s got just two homers in 99 plate appearances and the power potential has been all but sapped. Kepler has struggled at times against lefties in his career, even to the point of being platooned for a period. He’s become an advanced defender, but he’s stretched a bit in centerfield, and it has put his body in more of a demanding scenario as well. It’s one thing when he’s hitting at the bottom of the lineup, but this is a guy the Twins groomed to hit leadoff or for power in the middle, and he’s become anything but. At 28 there’s still time, but it’s getting late early on the 2021 campaign. Miguel Sano Arguably one of the most frustrating players in recent Twins memory, there is no one more of a lightning rod for criticism than Sano is. Despite a .923 OPS across 105 games two years ago, the guy has never been given grace. He’s allowed laziness and character issues to creep in off the field, and even after turning a corner there, performance took a step backwards. Getting off to a late start due to Covid in 2020, Sano has doubled down in 2021. He’s got an unacceptable .496 OPS and looks completely overmatched at the plate. No longer is he able to catch up to fastballs, and while the season started with a strong walk inducing plate discipline, he now looks to be up there flailing. This is a guy that went from Nelson Cruz protégé to someone that could wind up being a lost cause for the organization. Like Kepler, he too is just 28, but at bats are now no longer guaranteed for the first basemen and it’s on him to re-earn any semblance of trust. Tyler Duffey This is arguably the most surprising. Over 81.2 innings the past two seasons Duffey transformed himself into one of baseball’s best relievers. He owned a 2.31 ERA bolstered by a 12.5 K/9 and a 2.2 BB/9. The stuff was electric, he had strong command of it, and hitters found themselves looking like something close to an automatic out when he was on the bump. A 5.25 ERA isn’t overtly concerning across just 12.0 IP, but the lack of command and dominance is certainly a problem. Duffey has just a 10/9 K/BB this season and is seemingly not able to get batters to miss the ball. His 9.0 H/9 simply won’t play, and for a guy that was counted on to be a key back-end bullpen piece, Baldelli has been left searching for even more answers with one of his key cogs becoming completely unreliable. Mitch Garver I’m not certain that regression is entirely fair here for Garver as it depends on what the expectation was. I think it’s fair to suggest that his .995 OPS in 2019 wasn’t indicative of the player he is, just as the .511 mark battling through a core injury wasn’t a season ago. He’s since turned it on a bit and now owns a .733 OPS, but the 32/7 K/BB just isn’t reflective of the hitter we once saw. For Garver it doesn’t seem the problem is so much that he’s struggled with what to attack, but instead has been unable to attack the same pitches he once could. Previously hunting and crushing fastballs, he’s sat on that pitch in 2021 but been able to do little with it. Having dealt with a couple of bumps and bruises, it hasn’t been a fluid start to the year, but he could certainly ride some momentum back towards an acceptable output. Looking at the names above, I think they’re probably listed in order of impact and surprise. Kepler hasn’t been good for going on two years now, but he’s also been asked to do substantially more defensively and the level of consistency when getting to the ballpark hasn’t been there. Sano’s ceiling has long been established, and when the bottom falls out of a player like that it crashes hard. For Duffey there has to be a tweak that allows something better the rest of the way, and Garver isn’t far off from what should’ve been expected from him. All in all, the Minnesota Twins are where they are because the core players in their lineup and on the roster have fallen flat. Steps back should always be expected, but by virtually everyone at the same time, that’s pretty difficult to overcome. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  17. Offensive Down Across Baseball During the season’s first month, batters as a whole hit .232, which would be the worst total in a season ever. Back in 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, batters were able to bat .237 for the season. If you don’t know about that season, just look up Bob Gibson’s numbers from that year. According to the Athletic, on-base percentage (.309) was the lowest since 1968, OPS (.698) was the lowest since 1989, and hits per game (7.63) were the lowest of all-time. Some of the best pitching performances in baseball history also happened in the season’s first month and Minnesota was witness to one of those pitchers. Corbin Burnes ended the month with a 49 to 0 strikeout to walk ratio. The Twins handed him his first loss of the year as he and Jose Berrios locked in a pitcher’s duel where Burnes struck out 11 and Berrios struck out 12. Besides Burnes, both Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom posted strikeout rates of 44% or higher. Unfortunately, the Twins don’t have one of these pitchers. Minnesota’s pitchers haven’t exactly joined the pitching revolution. As a staff, the Twins are tied with the Rangers for the worst pitching WAR total in the American League. The club’s 8.87 K/9 ranks 10th and they have given up more home runs per nine innings than any other AL club. According to Statcast, the Twins average exit velocity is the third highest in the AL they have the worst hard-hit percentage. Minnesota pitchers are getting hit and getting hit hard, but they aren’t the only group that is struggling on the team. Positional Struggles Some players in the Twins line-up have been on fire to start the year including Nelson Cruz and Bryon Buxton, the AL Player of the Month. Those aren’t the only positions where the Twins have fared well. According to FanGraphs, the Twins rank in the AL’s top-4 for WAR at multiple positions including second base (2nd overall), third base (1st overall), and left field (4th overall). Catcher has been a rough spot especially since Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers were expected to be one of baseball’s best catching duos. Currently, only two AL teams have a lower WAR from the catching position than the Twins. Garver’s bat has shown signs of life, so there is hope for a catcher turn around in the weeks ahead. Jeffers has been relegated to Triple-A where he will try to regain some confidence at the plate and he hit a home run in his first game. Other positions that can see some improvements are first base (9th overall), shortstop (7th), and right field (14th). Luckily, there are some easy fixes when it comes to these positions. Alex Kirilloff has been killing the ball, but a wrist injury might cause him to miss time. Miguel Sano’s return can also provide a boost at first if he can get his swing back on track. Shortstop is another easy fix, because Andrelton Simmons missed time with COVID. Now that he is healthy, the Twins shortstop numbers should improve. Do you think the Twins can continue to improve offensively? 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
  18. Box Score Thorpe: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K Home Runs: Garver (6) Bottom 3 WPA: Polanco -.188, Kepler -.174, Simmons -.130 Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs): Garver goes deep Mitch Garver got the scoring started with one out in the bottom of second when he blasted an 88-mph fastball into the second deck in left-center field. After hitting just two home runs in 23 games in 2020, Garver is back on his 2019 home run pace, as this was already his sixth so far this season. https://twitter.com/BallySportsNOR/status/1390103662530375686 Twins blow great scoring chance in the 4th After giving up the lead in the top of the inning, the Twins offense was poised to take it right back in the bottom of the inning. Nelson Cruz got the inning started with a sharp ground ball single to center field and was followed by a ground-rule double off the bat of Kyle Garlick, his first of two doubles on the evening. Mitch Garver then drew a walk to load the bases with nobody out. However, the Twins somehow found a way to not score any runs as Jorge Polanco struck out, followed by a force out at home off the bat of Max Kepler and a ground ball to short from Miguel Sano to get out of the inning. Even though the score was still tied, at the time it felt that was an opportunity that would haunt the Twins late in the ballgame. Lewis Thorpe makes 2nd start of the season After a rough 2020, Lewis Thorpe had to earn his way back in the Twins good graces with a strong spring training performance. As a result, Thorpe has earned the spot starter role for the Twins early in season. After giving up two runs in four innings in his first start, Thorpe gave the Twins another solid outing, as he allowed three runs over five plus. The outing had a chance to be better than it resulted, as Thorpe had given up just one run through five. However, Baldelli kept him in one inning too long as Thorpe gave up a walk and a single before getting pulled to start the sixth. Cody Stashak came in to relieve Thorpe, but failed to strand either runner, as both came around to score giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead. Alex Colome throws two shutout innings in reduced role It has been a very rough start to the 2021 season for newly acquired Alex Colome, who began the season as the Twins closer. In less than a month, he’s already not getting high leverage spots, but he’s filling more of a middle relief role as he was used to pitch multiple innings in a game the Twins were losing. So, it was only fitting that this was the appearance that Colome was able to keep the opposing team off the scoreboard. While it was nice to keep the Twins in the ballgame, it sure would have been better to have a few more outings like this earlier in the season when he was protecting a Twins lead in the final inning, but I digress. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet Click here to see the bullpen usage over the past five days (link opens a Google Sheet).
  19. Box Score Happ: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K Home Runs: Buxton (8), Donaldson (2), Polanco (1), Astudillo (2), Garver 2 (4) Top 3 WPA: Buxton .137, Polanco .095, Happ .089 Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs): The Twins home run derby Entering Wednesday’s ballgame, the Twins lineup had produced just 10 first inning runs in 22 ballgames, which was tied for 21st in Major League Baseball. That trend of first inning futility did not carry over into this game, as the Twins had already scored four runs just four batters into the ballgame. It all got started with this Byron Buxton opposite field home run. https://twitter.com/JayCat11/status/1387455447494451207 Josh Donaldson followed that up with a blast of his own in the very next at-bat. This one, however, was a no-doubter off the bat with an exit velocity of 106.3 MPH and carried 423 feet to left. https://twitter.com/hr_mlb/status/1387457519648395270 Then, after a Nelson Cruz walk, it was Jorge Polanco’s turn to join the home run bigrade. Like Donaldson’s home run, Polanco’s home run also left the bat at 106.3 MPH, but this one traveled 426 feet to left-center field, giving the Twins a quick four run lead. https://twitter.com/MLB/status/1387458251931930629 The Twins early scoring did not stop in the first. In the top of the second, the Twins added a couple more runs to further extend their lead. Alex Kirilloff got things started with a one out single, and then advanced to second on a wild pitch during Byron Buxton’s at-bat that ended with a ground ball between second base and short, that turned into a double thanks to Buxton’s speed and hustle out of the box. Unfortunately, Kirilloff was unable to score after he misread the groundball and went back to second, before advancing to third. That would be a moot point two batters later, when Nelson Cruz delivered this two-run single. https://twitter.com/TwinsTakes_com/status/1387473827542671361 In the third, it was Willians Astudillo’s turn to join the party, after he hit the Twins fourth home run of the game. https://twitter.com/MLBHRVideos/status/1387472146427953160 Not to be left out, Mitch Garver went deep in the fifth, giving the Twins an 8 to 1 lead on their fifth home run of the ballgame. https://twitter.com/hr_mlb/status/1387479560195821573 A couple innings later, it was Garver again, this time a two-run shot to get the Twins to double-digits on their sixth home run of the game. https://twitter.com/Twins/status/1387489332500393984 J.A. Happ builds off great start last time out After a gem of a start last Firday, where J.A. Happ didn’t give up a hit until the 8th inning, he came back out Wednesday and gave the Twins another strong outing, giving up just two runs across seven innings of work. He did give up a number of deep flyballs, but with the exception of a Amed Rosario home run, they all came up short as warning track flyballs. A lot of Twins fans grumbled at the J.A. Happ signing when it happened this winter, but four starts in and it appears to be a great move for starting rotation depth. In total, Happ now has a 1.96 ERA in 23 innings of work and has yet to give up more than two runs in any of his starts. Byron Buxton’s career day Prior to today, Bryon Buxton had only ever had just one four-hit game, which came back in 2017 in Toronto when Buxton blasted three home runs on the way to a Twins 7-2 win. Today, Buxton recorded his first ever five-hit game, and came up just a triple shy of the cycle. We already mentioned the solo shot to leadoff the ballgame. On a couple of his hits later in the game, it was Buxton’s wheels, not his power that was on display. https://twitter.com/bbletter/status/1387466340831842307 https://twitter.com/Cut4/status/1387485103983677442 When all was said and done, Buxton had collected 10 total bases along with a stolen base on his way to earning the YouTube Player of the Game honors. Can we just give Buxton the MVP award already? Dobnak throws two shutout innings Thanks to the offensive explosion, the Twins did not need to rely on the bullpen to close out the game late, something the Twins have been unable to do at all this year. Instead, it gave Rocco Baldelli the flexibility to turn to Randy Dobnak, who produced his best outing of the season, giving up just a single to go along with three strikeouts in two shutout innings of work. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet Click here to see the bullpen usage over the past five days (link opens a Google Sheet).
  20. Projected Starter: Mitch Garver Likely Backup: Ryan Jeffers Depth: Willians Astudillo, Tomás Telis Prospects: Ben Rortvedt THE GOOD Few teams have a starting catcher as good as Mitch Garver. No teams have a backup catcher as good as Ryan Jeffers – to the extent you'd call him a "backup" given this appears to be a straight 50/50 timeshare. The Twins are in a pretty optimal situation with two starting-caliber catchers on hand. Although questions marks surround both Garver and Jeffers to some extent, each backstop has proven his mettle in the majors after stepping in with big expectations and big pressure. In 2019, after coming up short in their offseason pursuits of free agents Yasmani Grandal and Robinson Chirinos, the Twins turned to Garver as the primary partner for veteran Jason Castro. Garver's future behind the plate was somewhat in doubt after another concussion ended his 2018 campaign, while Castro was trying to come back from knee surgery. It was a bit of a precarious situation. It worked out nicely, in part because Castro rebounded with a .767 OPS, but mainly because Garver broke through with a spectacular season that earned him Silver Slugger honors and catapulted him immediately into the upper echelon of major-league catchers. He slashed .273/.365/.630 with 31 home runs and a .404 wOBA in 391 plate appearance, producing 3.9 fWAR in just 93 games. Garver's offensive explosion was accompanied by clear improvements on the defensive end, as he graded out very well by pitch-framing metrics and earned more confidence from Twins pitchers. While the luster wore off from his breakout during in injury-marred and abbreviated 2020 campaign, Garver is a prime rebound candidate and remains a high-quality starting option. The uncertainties attached to Garver are much easier to stomach given last year's emergence of Jeffers, who answered the call for Minnesota's beleaguered catching corps. Showing up as a 23-year-old rookie, he showed astonishing poise and preparedness, slashing .273/.355/.436 while grading out well defensively. Jeffers received Twins Daily's nod for Rookie of the Year, and made such an impression that his spot on the 2021 Opening Day roster was at no point in doubt. He might not offer the upside to match what Garver showed in 2019, but Jeffers has instantly established himself as a high-floor timeshare partner, balancing out Garver's risk factor while enabling Rocco Baldelli to take it easy on both of them. The manager can rotate his top two catchers steadily to regulate their workloads, without ever sacrificing high-end offense or defense. How many other teams can say that? THE BAD While the Twins have an admirable 1-2 punch atop the depth chart at catcher, neither player is necessarily a slam dunk. Garver's immense struggles in 2020, when his OPS plummeted by nearly 500 points and he struck out in 46% of his plate appearances, can't be completely ignored, mitigating circumstances aside. He won't be that bad again, and got off on the right foot this year with a ringing single in his first spring training AB, but Garver will not escape the shadow of his 2020 season until he goes out on the field in real games and firmly proves it a fluke. As for Jeffers, his successful first stint in the majors carried no specific indicators of unsustainability, but all standard caveats apply. It was a 26-game sample for a 23-year-old who'd previously played only 24 games above Single-A. He needs to substantiate that performance while holding up to the rigors of a full MLB season as catcher – no small task. In terms of depth behind these two, the Twins aren't in bad shape with Tomás Telis, Ben Rortvedt and Willians Astudillo (who may round out the Opening Day roster as a third catcher). Needless to say, they'd see a huge drop-off in the quality of their catching rotation if either Garver or Jeffers goes down. THE BOTTOM LINE Minnesota's catching situation is the envy of much of the league. You'd be hard-pressed to find another club that would be in as comfortable shape as the Twins if their 1A option became unavailable. In fact, as spring training gets underway, it's not entirely clear Garver should be the 1A, given that Jeffers earned enough trust last season to start both playoff games. Regardless of how you want to stack them, these two provide Minnesota with a decisive competitive advantage behind the plate compared to nearly all rivals. For a deeper dive into position's long-term outlook, check out Cody Christie's future position analysis at 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
  21. The Incumbent: Max Kepler Last season, Kepler batted leadoff in 34 of the team’s 60 games and he was used there for over 100 games back in 2019. There’s a good chance he is the leader in the clubhouse to be the team’s primary leadoff hitter unless his performance struggles significantly. He hit .281/.324/.625 last year in his at-bats as the first batter in the game. That’s quite the punch for opposing pitchers to have to endure out of the gate. The Contenders: Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Luis Arraez, Mitch Garver Buxton’s raw speed makes him a natural contender to be at the top of the line-up and there has been talk of him filling that role during different parts of his professional development. That being said, he’s only been used as a leadoff hitter in 15 games throughout his career. Obviously, that’s a small sample size, but he has gone 5-for-15 with two home runs and a double in the first at-bat of the game as a leadoff hitter. Overall, as the first batter, he has a .670 OPS and the Twins seem more comfortable having him serve as a second leadoff hitter at the bottom of the line-up. If Polanco’s ankles are healthy, he might be able to get back to his strong hitting fans saw back in the first half of 2019. He’s seen time batting in every spot in the order, but the majority of his time has been spent as the number two hitter where he has an .823 OPS. He does have 160 plate appearances out of the leadoff spot where he has hit .284/.313/.351 with a 21 to 7 strikeout to walk ratio. Rocco Baldelli will likely slide Polanco back into the number two spot in the line-up. Arraez is adjusting to a new role this spring without a specific spot in the starting line-up. That doesn’t mean that he won’t get regular at-bats and few players bring energy to the batter’s box like Arraez. So far in his young career, Arraez has been most frequently used as the number six hitter. In his 17 games batting in the leadoff spot, he has hit .354/.386/.415 with four doubles. As the first batter of the game, he has gone 5-for-13 with a .928 OPS. Garver definitely doesn’t fit the traditional leadoff hitter mold, but Baldelli has loved to use Garver in this role versus left-handed starting pitchers. He’s started 30 games as the leadoff hitter, and he’s compiled some eye-popping numbers. In 141 plate appearances, he’s hit .277/.376/.630 with 12 home runs and four doubles. While those numbers are great, Garver is going to have to prove he is healthy and back to his powerful hitting ways in 2021. Who would you bat leadoff? 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
  22. Position: C Age: 23 (DOB: 6-3-1997) 2020 Stats (MLB): 62 PA, .273/.355/.436, 3 HR, 7 RBI ETA: 2021 2020 Ranking: 5 2019 Ranking: 13 National Top 100 Rankings BA: 60 |MLB: NR | ATH: NR |BP: NR What’s To Like Defense is the name of the game for any prospect that plays an up-the-middle defensive position and Jeffers showed his tremendous defensive value last season. He only caught 162 big-league innings, but he ranked seventh in baseball when it comes to strike rate, which puts him into elite company. According to Baseball Savant, he ranked in the 90th percentile when it came to framing pitches last year. Twins pitchers must love pitching to him, because his smooth receiving skills gain extra strikes for pitchers and help them to get into favorable counts. For two straight offseasons, MLB.com has named Jeffers as the organizations best defensive prospect. Offensively, Jeffers combines plate discipline and a powerful swing that has improved over the last three seasons. Throughout the minors, he posted a 18.5% strikeout rate, but that number jumped to over 30% in his initial big-league run last year. Historically, his walk rate was 10.2% in the minors and he posted a 8.1 BB% in 2020. Expect both of those numbers to improve in 2021 as he gets more experience seeing MLB pitching. Jeffers just missed Baseball Prospectus’ Top-101 list as he was the second to last player removed. ESPN thinks highly of Jeffers as Kiley McDaniel has him ranked higher than any other national ranking (57th). FanGraphs also has Jeffers in their top-60 prospects as they said, “A physical beast with a power over hit offensive profile, Jeffers has the talent to be an everyday catcher but needs to improve his ability to control the running game.” What’s Left To Work On His defense has improved so much throughout his professional career, but there are other areas he can improve. Like FanGraphs wrote, his arm might not be as strong as a team would like from their everyday catcher. Jeffers has continued to work on quickening his release and that continues to help him improve his caught stealing percentage. Last year, base runners were successful in 14 of 16 potential chances, which put Jeffers at 13% below the league average in CS%. Another thing to consider is that MLB might be moving toward electronic strike zones and that could also negatively impact his long-term value. If his defensive value changes, Jeffers needs to continue to produce at the plate. His hit tool is average, which is why last year’s offensive numbers were a pleasant surprise. Some scouting reports have his breaking ball recognition and plate coverage as slightly below average. He posted a .364 BABIP last season and many projections have that total regressing in 2021. Jeffers is going to have to prove that 2020 wasn’t a fluke and that he can continue to make adjustments at baseball’s highest level. What’s Next Jeffers is projected to split catching duties with Mitch Garver throughout the 2021 season. Rocco Baldelli loves to rotate his catchers on a regular basis, so Jeffers should be getting 3-4 starts per week. He will be playing at the big-league level from season’s start, so it will be intriguing to watch his chances at bringing home AL Rookie of the Year honors. He’d need to put up some impressive offensive totals and teammate Alex Kirilloff might have something to say about the award before things are said and done. Does Jeffers have a shot of AL Rookie of the Year honors? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. Twins Daily 2021 Top 20 Prospects Honorable Mentions 20. Bailey Ober, RHP 19. Jose Miranda, INF 18. Alerick Soularie, OF 17. Ben Rortvedt, C 16. Edwar Colina, RHP 15. Cole Sands, RHP 14. Misael Urbina, OF 13. Matt Wallner, OF 12. Brent Rooker, OF/1B 11. Gilberto Celestino, OF 10. Blayne Enlow, RHP 9. Matt Canterino, RHP 8. Aaron Sabato, 1B 7. Keoni Cavaco, SS 6. Jordan Balazovic, RHP 5. Jhoan Duran, RHP 4. Ryan Jeffers, C Stop by tomorrow for prospect #3! 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. Max Kepler, Right Field MLB Network Rank: NR Right field includes some of baseball’s most notable names like Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, and Bryce Harper along with young studs like Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. Since the beginning of 2018, Kepler ranks as one of the best right fielders in all of baseball. According to FanGraphs, Kepler has the eighth highest WAR among right fielders over the last three seasons. This puts him ahead of players on MLB’s list including Mike Yastrzemski, Jorge Soler, Joey Gallo, and Charlie Blackmon. Kepler’s defense helps to separate him from the other players on this list. According to SABR’s SDI rankings, Kepler was the AL’s second-best defensive right fielder in 2019 and the only player ahead of him on the list, Mookie Betts, has since been traded to the NL. He probably doesn’t have a chance to rank in the top-5, but there’s a solid argument for him being baseball’s sixth best right fielder. Ryan Jeffers, Catcher MLB Network Rank: NR Minnesota has a catcher rank in MLB’s top-10, but Mitch Garver might not even be the team’s best catcher in 2021. Garver entered the 2020 season as MLB’s fourth best catcher as he trailed J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal, and Willson Contreras. Garver went from the AL’s Silver Slugger in 2019 to hitting .167/.247/.264 in 26 games last season. This allowed Jeffers his time to shine. Jeffers was seen as a bat first catcher coming out of college, but he has turned himself into a tremendous defensive asset. During his rookie season, he ranked seventh in baseball when it comes to strike rate which places him ahead of many names on MLB’s top-10 list. Offensively, he hit .273/.355/.436 with three home runs in 26 games. To top it off, Garver just turned 30 in January and Jeffers won’t turn 24 until June. Taylor Rogers, Relief Pitcher MLB Network Rank: NR Tyler Duffey represents Minnesota on MLB’s top-10 relief pitcher list and few question how valuable Duffey has been over the last two seasons. However, Rogers has a longer track record and there are some signs that point to his 2020 numbers being more of a fluke. His BABIP rose to a career high .400, but he was still striking out well over a batter per inning. With an even better defense behind him in 2021, there’s a clear opportunity for him to rebound. Since the start of 2018, Rogers ranks fourth among all relief pitchers in WAR including a tremendous 2019 campaign. In that season, he had the third highest win probability added among AL relievers. Many of the players on MLB’s list haven’t ranked in the top-10 before and. Also, their rankings seem to be relying a lot on numbers from last season when many relievers were limited in their number of appearances due to the shortened season. Who do you think are the Twins most underrated players? 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. First, you can get up to speed on the 'why and how' behind these rankings by reading Monday's introductory post. If you're already hip, proceed to find my choices (and reasoning) for the 11th-through-15th most valuable player assets currently under Minnesota's control as 2021 gets underway. Read Part 1 (16-20) Read Part 2 (11-15) 10. Trevor Larnach, OF 2020 Ranking: 14 Ranked as Twins Daily's No. 3 prospect coming into the season, Larnach didn't have a chance to raise his stock in 2020. He spent his summer practicing and scrimmaging in St. Paul, and never seemed to be in serious consideration for a call-up (unlike fellow top prospect Alex Kirilloff, who debuted in a playoff elimination game). With that said, it's not as if Larnach forgot how to play. The former first-rounder had already established himself as a polished hitter ready to make an impact. Turning 24 next month, he's a plug-and-play corner outfield bat with a solid floor and real upside, controllable through much of his prime. The main thing holding him back on this list is redundancy. As a corner outfielder he's stuck behind Kirilloff and Max Kepler indefinitely, and while first base is a possible destination, Larnach has yet to play the position professionally. He's the prime example of a player who'd have much more value to another team than to the Twins, making him a trade candidate. 9: Byron Buxton, CF 2020 Ranking: 7 The 2020 season was much like the 2019 season for Buxton and his valuation. He showed signs of being an elite difference-maker, but was unavailable often – including at the end when the Twins needed him most. Buxton's health struggles have been so chronic and unshakable that they've defined his career more than anything else up to this point. Which is a real shame because when you take them out of the equation, he's one of the most valuable assets in all of baseball. Unparalleled speed, transformative defensive impact, and high-end power: all offered by a 27-year-old who will earn around $15 million in his final two years of team control. If he can stay on the field, Buxton could be the single most vital key to a championship for this franchise. But he continually hasn't been able to, and now the clock is ticking on his opportunity to fulfill all that potential as a Twin. 8: Mitch Garver, C 2020 Ranking: 6 Garver's drop-off in 2020 was dramatic to say the least, but I'm inclined to mostly write it off. He got hurt in spring training, missed tons of time with a strained oblique, and never appeared fully comfortable at the plate. His brutal stats – .167 average, .511 OPS, and an eye-popping 46% K rate – were vastly out of line with any prior benchmarks. Still, the question remains whether Garver is capable of sustaining anything close to the MVP-caliber level of performance shown over 93 games in 2019. Is he a star or merely a quality rotational piece behind the plate, as he appeared in 2018? The uncertainty, combined with a price tag that's beginning to rise as he progresses into arbitration, places Garver just one peg below the meteoric riser up next on the list. 7: Ryan Jeffers, C 2020 Ranking: 20 Last year, when Jeffers edged into these rankings at the No. 20 spot as a relative unknown, I wrote that "Folks in the know rave about his defensive skills, and pitch-framing especially ... Thus far Jeffers has done nothing but validate the team's belief in him. A catcher who shines both ways is among the game's most coveted assets." Affirming those beliefs in 2020 caused Jeffers to make a huge leap in these rankings. No longer is his impact theoretical; at age 23, his rookie contributions were crucial, coming in cold from the alternate site and filling in admirably for the injured Garver. All the strengths we'd heard about in those glowing reports – powerful bat, unusual poise behind the plate, natural instincts for pitch-framing, arm strong enough to deliver a bullet to second from his knees – were on display, under incredibly difficult circumstances. When I started putting these rankings together, catcher was a clear point of organizational weakness. In 2018 Jason Castro was the highest-ranked backstop at No. 17. Now, we've got two proven commodities, both under the age of 30 and controllable for several years, in the top 10. What a turnaround. 6: Jorge Polanco, SS 2020 Ranking: 1 From No. 1 to outside of the top five: how did it happen? The main thing is that 2020 reinforced some of the concerns that shrouded Polanco even when he sat atop this list. Namely: that his second-half production in 2019 (.788 OPS) was more representative than his All-Star first half (.882); that his balky ankle – now requiring surgery for a second straight winter – was no isolated issue; and that he doesn't really have the defensive chops to play short. That last one is most glaring, and is reflected by the front office's apparent pursuit of a new shortstop this winter. Polanco remains a fixture-type building block with a highly favorable contract – controlled for three years at a total of $18 million, with multiple team options on the back end. But it's becoming clearer that he'll play out these remaining years as either a utility man or a blatant defensive liability at short, which is a far cry from the American League's starting SS in the 2019 All-Star Game. THE TOP 20 TWINS ASSETS OF 2021 20. Keoni Cavaco, SS 19. Brent Rooker, OF/1B 18. Josh Donaldson, 3B 17. Taylor Rogers, LHP 16. Jorge Alcala, RHP 15. Miguel Sanó, 1B 14. Tyler Duffey, RHP 13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP 12. Jhoan Duran, RHP 11. Luis Arráez, 2B 10. Trevor Larnach, OF 9. Byron Buxton, CF 8. Mitch Garver, C 7. Ryan Jeffers, C 6. Jorge Polanco, SS 1-5: Coming tomorrow!MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
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