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  1. MLB managers have a direct impact on the game, from line-up construction to in-game decisions. However, a good manager can lose a lot of games if the talent on the field doesn’t perform. Players and the front office that compiles the roster have a more significant impact than the manager, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to point out about Rocco Baldelli this season. The Good The team didn’t quit, which would have been easy to do following a trade deadline where the team sold away veteran players. For most of the second half, the Twins rotation was composed of unproven players that weren’t expected to impact the 2021 big-league roster. Things didn’t go perfectly, but the team certainly didn’t fall apart. Minnesota went 29-28 (.509) following the trade deadline, which included going 8-4 to end the season and avoid 90-losses. There was little to play for in the season’s final months, but that’s when the Twins were playing their best baseball. If Baldelli gets some of the blame for the team’s early-season struggles, he should also get credit for the club not completely falling off the rails. The Bad Minnesota had a chance to have an incredible, feel-good story, but Baldelli didn’t put a player into the game. Drew Maggi was a 32-year old rookie having a career year at Triple-A. Minnesota called him up for a weekend series in Toronto and had him talk to the media before the game about being in the big leagues. Unfortunately, Baldelli never put him in a game. There were opportunities with Jake Cave, Rob Refsnyder, and Willians Astudillo all getting starts in the series. Even giving him a late-inning at-bat would have been enough. Instead, the Twins demoted him following the weekend series, and the team never recalled him. Minnesota was a bad team going nowhere in 2021, and Maggi should have gotten the opportunity to appear in a game. The Ugly There were a lot of ugly moments throughout the 2021 season, especially with expectations being so high entering the year. This year’s Twins were one of the most disappointing teams in franchise history, but how much of that falls on the manager. In April, the Twins dug a hole that was impossible to get out of with Alex Colome blowing multiple late-inning leads. It’s easy to point at the manager and say he left Colome in too long or stuck with Colome too far into the season. Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ pitched poorly and were allowed to continue starting games well into the season. Andrelton Simmons had a terrible offensive season, but he started at shortstop until the season’s final games. Some of these decisions came from the front office, and some rested squarely on Baldelli’s shoulders. Final Grade After the season’s first month, many fans would have given Baldelli an F grade. June and July were also tough as the team was eight games under .500 in those two months. In the end, baseball has a long season, and Baldelli was able to redeem himself in the final months. The team didn’t quit, and they helped to earn the manager a C-. What grade would you give Baldelli? 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
  2. Former Twins World Series MVP brought up the idea that the organization has failed and changed direction due to the results of 2021. He’s not alone in suggesting that narrative, but to say such a result reflects organizational failure also conveniently ignores what took place the previous four years of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine’s tenure. There’s no denying that 2021 has gone poorly. Most importantly, the Twins pitching has fallen flat. The front office banked on J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker, and some mediocre bullpen additions to supplement a roster looking to rise. As injuries took their toll and ineffective play became prevalent, the entirety of the ship went up in flames. Looking back, though, this front office helped to architect a 26-win improvement and Postseason berth in their first season, as well as having won the division in back-to-back seasons before this year. 2019 will forever go down as among the best in franchise history, and the installment of Rocco Baldelli in 2019 has led to a .550 winning percentage through his first three seasons. Now that praises have been sung, and reality has been levied, it’s time for the trio to grow. For the first time in their tenure, Falvey and Levine fell short. They flopped on Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison previously, but this is a club that had heightened expectations, and virtually every acquisition or move of substance from this offseason went up in flames. Without embarking on a complete rebuild, they’ve traded the club’s ace and now could be without Kenta Maeda in the year ahead as well. The Twins don’t have the best farm system in baseball, and although they’ve been ranked closer to the middle, intriguing depth is there. Unfortunately, there’s been a host of arm injuries across baseball following the 2020 shutdown in the minors, and Minnesota’s best prospects have been hit especially hard. Falvey and Levine will need to work with internal staff to ensure those players' health and future projection while not relying solely on them for a return to relevance in 2022 and beyond. The duo will need to make a better showing than their track record has proven on the acquisition front. Unfortunately, free agency is often a field of landmines, but some teams avoid hitting them all, and Falvey will need to stop the string of consistent blowups. Spending should remain relatively intact, but supplementing the Twins back to the top won’t come entirely through the dollar on the open market. There should be belief in the infrastructure set up since Falvey and Levine have taken over. From baseball operations to the development and coaching staff, there are plenty of talented individuals guiding players down the right path. Putting moldable pieces in front of them should continue to be the goal, and the assumption is that the process will bear positive results. In the dugout, Rocco has his first chance to grow as well. Having dealt with adversity that everyone experienced in 2020 is different than fighting through a season in which results consistently left something to be desired. Baldelli has done well to connect with his players, and he’s been praised for decisions when things have gone right. Unfortunately, all of the coin flips went wrong to start the year, and he’s doubled down with some questionable steps at times since. For the former Rays star, the expectation should be that new faces (and possibly some younger ones) will filter into Target Field during the final month and into 2022. Baldelli will have to put his best foot forward when maximizing their potential while putting them in a position to best capitalize on the opportunity. Right now, the answers aren’t immediately evident, and this writer doesn’t pretend to have them all. That said, it will be on Derek Falvey, Thad Levine, and Rocco Baldelli to show they have the chops to find them. Everyone feels content when things are going well, but through adversity, you’re able to grow and presented with it for the first time that trio has their most significant opportunity yet. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  3. Many relief pitchers can be successful by relying on two to three pitches. For instance, Taylor Rogers has found a lot of success at the big-league level by throwing a two-pitch mix with his fastball and a slider. Relievers can use their best pitches, because they don’t have to worry about facing a hitter multiple times in the same game. Some pitchers are forced to adjust their repertoire if they aren’t finding success. Jorge Alcalá was part of one of the biggest trades under the Derek Falvey and Thad Levine regime. He came to the Twins along with Gilberto Celestino as part of the Ryan Pressly deal. At the time of here is what Baseball America said, “Alcalá has a plus-plus fastball, but there are times as a starter where he gears down to try to maintain his stamina. At his best, he’s reached triple digits in the past. There are days when Alcalá looks like a one-pitch pitcher trying to start, but seen on the right days, he has the makings of being a devastating bullpen option.” Alcalá has shown flashes on turning into a devastating bullpen option, but lefties have given him headaches during his big-league career. Entering play on Wednesday, left-handed hitters had posted a .306/.397/.629 (1.026) slash-line when facing Alcalá. Compare that to the .389 OPS righties had compiled against him and it’s easy to see that something was going to have to change if he was going to progress to being used in more high leverage situations. During his big-league tenure, Alcalá has focused on throwing a fastball and a slider and since that hadn’t worked against lefties, the Twins encouraged him to work on his changeup. He threw the pitch to lefties 24 times during the 2020 season and held them to a .125 BA and a .250 SLG. His changeup breaks down and in on lefties which can make it a tough pitch to square up if he is locating it. “(Alcalá is) making adjustments,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s going out there and figuring out that sometimes facing left-handed hitters as a whole and facing left-handers and right-handers is going to be different, and you’re going to have to have — I end up calling them tricks, sometimes, but you end up coming to have a different approach.” Alcalá is going to have to keep working with the pitch and he knows the importance of what it will mean for the future of his career. “What you practice is the result you get,” Alcalá told reporters through an interpreter. “If it’s working for me in the bullpen or in practice, I think it’s going to work for me during the game. That’s my mindset. His changeup is still a work in progress, but it is the pitch that might transform him from middle reliever into a dominant late-inning option. Do you think one pitch can make the difference for Alcalá? Leave a COMMENT and star 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. Bullpen Blowups Throughout his tenure as Twins manager, Rocco Baldelli has seen some ups and downs when it comes to the team’s relief core. Fans might not remember, but the 2019 bullpen was a mess outside of Taylor Rogers for much of the season. In fact, the club had to go out and acquire multiple relief pitchers at the trade deadline to make sure there was stability heading into season’s final months. For the season, the Twins bullpen has the third highest ERA in the American League. As Nick wrote about in the Week in Review, the bullpen imploded throughout much of last week, which resulted in a 9.19 ERA. Minnesota has also started the bullpen carousel by rotating through different arms at the backend of the 26-man roster. Brandon Waddell, Cody Stashak, Shaun Anderson, and Devin Smeltzer have been brought up or sent down and the Twins will continue this trend throughout the season. Extra days off will mean the bullpen is rested as the team got back on the field on Tuesday. However, the team is going to have double-headers to make up their missed games and that means the bullpen carousel will continue to revolve. Leaving Runners in Scoring Position Recently, the team has struggled with scoring runs and this might be tied to the team’s at-bats with an opportunity to drive in runners. Entering play on Tuesday, the Twins have over 150 plate appearances this season with runners in scoring position. The team has hit .250/.327/.422 with 12 extra-base hits and a 37 to 17 strikeout to walk ratio. Last week, the team batted .175/.271/.200 with RISP. There might be some luck or other factors that have resulted in this poor offensive showing. Health is clearly one factor in the team’s lackluster offensive performance. Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton have been limited by hamstring injuries and both players will be relied on in the middle of the line-up. Miguel Sano’s swing also seems to be getting close to breaking out as he been putting together some strong at-bats even if all the results haven’t been positive. Another option might be to call up Alex Kirilloff for a permanent spot in the outfield. The team used him as their 27th man in a double header last week and his bat is his strongest tool. Can his addition add a little life to the Twins’ punchless offense? Lack of Routine The start of the 2021 season has been anything but routine for the Twins. After avoiding COVID for much of the 2020 season, the Twins have seen multiple cases in their Tier 1 group including at least three players. Not to mention, the eyes of the world have been focused Minneapolis and the Derek Chauvin murder trial. The Twins had one game postponed because of unrest in the Twin Cities. Baseball, maybe more than any other sport, is a game of routines for players, coaches, and fans. Players have been pulled out of their routines on multiple occasions this year for cancelled games and increase COVID testing. It’s pretty easy to understand why players might not be successful on the field with everything happening in the world. Teams across baseball are finding ways to overcome obstacles even with the on-going turmoil and some of these issues are out of the team’s control. That being said, Minnesota needs to find some solutions to these problems in the days ahead if they aspire to a three-peat atop the AL Central. Which issue will impact the team the most this season? 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. There’s no way of putting this lightly, the Twins have been awful in 2021. After starting 5-2 they have fallen, tripped, and smacked their faces right on the proverbial sidewalk. Rocco, the front office, and players all deserve a differing part of the blame, but the results have been nothing short of terrible. I don’t expect that to continue over a full 162 games, but regardless of what happens, this strikes me more as outlier than indicative of the future. Why is that important? Looking at 2022, the Twins will need to decide a path forward. That starts now and the groundwork begins to be laid. Someone very likely needs to be fired for this debacle. Maybe that’s the hitting coach, or maybe it’s a clubhouse attendant. I don’t really care who it is, and I’m not sure it’s productive in many veins other than sending a message. That said, unless the analysis by so many was so wrong, then there’s plenty to build from here. Could the front office have done more this offseason? Potentially, but the landmines are all over the place there. Trevor May would be nice, but goodbye to Andrelton Simmons or Nelson Cruz then. Other bullpen pieces with ties have all been bad save for Liam Hendriks, who would’ve been a substantial cost in only helping one area. Maybe a better 4th starter made sense, but hey, James Paxton is already done for the year and Corey Kluber has been a bit more lucky than good despite his recent no hitter. What they could’ve done and what they did on the open market isn’t too wide of a divide. That brings us to the reality moving forward. What the Twins have in terms of relevance still banks heavily on pieces that were committed to on the basis of assumed production. Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, and Miguel Sano were all signed to extensions on the basis of upward trajectory. It’s fair to assess all three as having fallen short of expectations, but where do they fit going forward. Is it so bad that they aren’t lineup fixtures at all? If so, that’d be damning for the front office and quite a fall in terms of development. Jose Berrios and Byron Buxton remain as key pieces, while Josh Donaldson still has multiple years left on his deal. From there Minnesota was always going to be in a place of opportunity. Cruz, J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker, and Simmons are all on one-year deals. So too is Alex Colome and Hansel Robles. The front office gave themselves flexibility in this roster construction to re-tool rather than rebuild. Alex Kirilloff has an opportunity to establish himself, as does Trevor Larnach. Down the stretch guys like Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic should become potential solutions, and they’ll all provide a clearer picture heading into 2022. If there’s uncertainty for the year ahead, it’s whether the season happens at all given the MLBPA and MLB’s looming CBA discussions. Should cooler heads prevail though, tearing this down and starting over would seem like a rash over reaction by this front office. They’ve put the right developmental and coaching pieces in place, and we’ve seen that bear fruit throughout the organization. Rather than second guessing that at this point, it makes sense to crumple up this calendar, toss it out, and recalibrate with new assets from a position that should be relatively similar to where they found themselves after 2020. A weird year interrupted by pandemic issues likely hid some of the more notable regression we may have seen from some major league contributors. Now having that rear its head, deciding whether it’s a small sample or indicative of more remains the key focus going forward. This ship will turn some the rest of the way, and although the Twins won’t make the Postseason, they shouldn’t embark on an offseason with any less certainty as to who they are than they entered 2021 with initially. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  6. How Did We Get Here? On Monday night, the Twins were getting blown out by the White Sox in the ninth inning. So instead of wasting another bullpen arm, Rocco Baldelli turned to Willians Astudillo to finish out the game. This is the third time La Tortuga has been used as a pitcher and his second time so far in 2021. Fans that had stuck around until the end gave Astudillo a cheer as he headed to the bump. Yermin Mercedes was one of the players to step in against Astudillo and this is where the unwritten rules come into play. After working the count to 3-0, Mercedes clocked a 47.1 mph pitch for a home run. The unwritten rule that seemed to be broken was the fact that Mercedes swung at a 3-0 pitch when his team was up by 11 runs. Chicago’s manager Tony La Russa, a Hall of Famer with an old school mentality, was not too happy about Mercedes swinging away. The take sign had been put on by the third base coach and Mercedes decided to ignore it. La Russa told the press it was a “big mistake,” and he even took some steps out of the dugout so he could yell at his batter to take the pitch. La Russa went as far as to say that he or his third base coach will run out in front of the pitcher to stop this type of thing from happening again. On Tuesday, things went a step further. In the seventh inning, Tyler Duffey threw behind Mercedes in the seventh inning and he was promptly thrown out of the game. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli quickly came to the defense of his player and he was ejected along with Duffey. And so, the saga continued… What About the Unwritten Rules? An old school mentality would say the Twins upheld the unwritten rules by throwing near the offending player in the next game. Duffey didn’t throw near his head or with an intent to injury Mercedes. Minnesota was trailing by two at the time and came back to win, so maybe the baseball gods were rewarding the team for upholding the unwritten rules. That being said, it seemed like a foolish thing for the Twins to lose one of their best relievers in a close game, especially with how poorly the team had been playing. After the game, former Twin Lance Lynn had some interesting things to say about the baseball’s unwritten rules. "The more I play this game, the more those rules have gone away, and I understand it,” Lynn said. “The way I see it is, for position players on the mound, there are no rules. Let's get the damn game over with. And if you have a problem with whatever happens, then put a pitcher out there. Can't get mad when there's a position player on the field and a guy takes a swing." Lynn went on to say, “You're damned if you do, damned if you don't, it seems like. But I think everybody should just play the game as hard as they can and do all that, and don't worry about anything else." This seems like a mentality that both sides can agree with moving forward. Play the game hard and hopefully some of those unwritten rules will continue to go to the wayside. What are your thoughts on the unwritten rules? 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
  7. Sano’s Slow Start Miguel Sano entered the 2021 season as the team’s first baseman, and he seemed locked into that spot after signing an extension entering the 2020 campaign. Prior to his injury, Sano was trying to find himself at the plate. He is hitting .111/.310/.244 (.555) with two extra-base hits, both home runs. One positive among these numbers is the fact that he has already drawn 13 walks, which is just five fewer than his walk total in 53 games last year. Sano is typically among the league leaders when it comes to average exit velocity, hard hit %, and barrel %. During the 2020 campaign, he ranked in the 99th percentile or higher in all three of those areas. This season he is at the completely opposite end of the spectrum with all three being below average. His hard hit % might be the most concerning as that has dipped to the 8th percentile. Kirilloff’s Emergence For most of his professional career, Alex Kirilloff has played in the outfield, but the Twins have been grooming him to get more time at first base. Sano’s trip to the disabled list has allowed Kirilloff to play first on a more regular basis and he is considered a better defender than Sano. In fact, Minnesota might have one of their best defensive infields in team history with Josh Donaldson, Andrelton Simmons, Jorge Polanco, and Kirilloff. It also helps that Kirilloff has been killing the ball even though the results weren’t showing up until this past weekend. Among batters with at least 25 batted ball events, Kirilloff has been barreling up the ball at a higher rate than any player in baseball including Byron Buxton. His hit tool has always been advanced, and he might be putting it all together at the big-league level as a 23-year-old. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/1389277969785425924?s=20 Besides Kirilloff’s emergence, the Twins also need to continue to find regular playing time for another key player. The Arraez Puzzle Arraez was penciled in as the team’s utility player, but he has become an everyday player. Only two players, Jake Cave and Nelson Cruz, have appeared in more games than Arraez. He has played regularly in the outfield and at multiple infield positions. He started the season on a strong note at the plate, but his bat has cooled off as the first month progressed and now he is heading to the concussion IL. Injuries have allowed Arraez to be in the line-up on a regular basis and finding spots in the line-up tends to work itself out over the course of 162-games. Other players are going to get injured, and Rocco Baldelli prefers to give players regular days off. This means the Twins can rotate through players at multiple positions, especially with the team’s defensive flexibility. When everyone is healthy, Minnesota’s best line-up doesn’t include Sano. That being said, he will continue to be used at first base and designated hitter as the season progresses. It just might be tough for him to refine his offensive approach if Kirilloff continues to get at-bats at first base. What do you think Sano’s role will be moving forward? 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
  8. Following a strong rookie campaign, Jorge Alcalá logically had higher expectations entering the 2021 campaign. Things haven’t gone perfectly to start the year, but with a couple of small changes, Alcalá might be the key to turning the Twins bullpen around. Last season, Alcalá appeared in 16 games and posted a 2.63 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP. He struck out nearly 29% of the batters he faced and posted a 163 ERA+. He ranked in the 75th percentile or higher in average exit velocity, hard hit %, barrel %, and K %. Based on those numbers, it was easy to envision Alcalá taking on a high leverage role at some point during the 2021 season. Alcalá has made seven appearances so far in 2021 and only two of those appearances have come in a Twins win. In fact, both of those wins were by six runs or more, so his role hasn’t been in the high leverage situations. On Sunday, Alcalá got five strikeouts in two innings including nine whiffs on 14 swings. This was a welcome sight after he entered play with a 20 K%, which was well below his career average. MLB Statcast has him ranked in the 40th percentile or lower in max exit velocity, hard hit %, xERA, xWOBA, xSLG. The most disturbing stat might be the fact that his barrel % ranks in the bottom 4% of the league as batters are barreling up the ball against him 17.6% of the time. One of the biggest reasons for these poor numbers so far this year might be tied to his pitch usage. During the 2020 season, Alcalá used his fastball and slider for nearly the same percentage of pitches. He used his four-seamer 46.4% of the time, while his slider was used 44.7% of the time. There has been a large increase in his fastball usage this year as he is up to 55%, which means his slider usage has dropped nearly seven points. It seems like increasing his slider usage would be a natural solution for avoiding more barrels. There’s no reason to throw Alcalá directly into a late inning role, especially with some of the other names ahead of him in the bullpen pecking order. That being said, he has been used in mostly low leverage situations or when the team was up big early in the season. He’s less experienced than other bullpen options, but look for his role to increase as the season progresses. Rocco Baldelli needs some arms he can rely on in the bullpen and Alcalá just might be the man to help turn the bullpen around in 2021. What do you think Alcalá can provide to the Twins? What should his role be moving forward? 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
  9. Expectations are sky-high for Alex Kirilloff at the dawning of his big-league career. He made a heralded debut for the Twins in last year’s playoff series against the Astros and put together some strong at-bats after not appearing in a professional game for months. His prospect stock rose significantly based on positive reports of his performance at the team’s alternate site including being named Twins Daily’s top prospect. So far in 2021, his lone big-league appearance was as the team’s 27th man for a doubleheader against Boston. He made appearances in both games and ended the day 0-for-3 with a strikeout. It’s certainly hard to read anything into such a small sample size, but this was coming off the heels of a rough spring training where Kirilloff had an opportunity to win the starting left fielder job. In 12 games, he went 4-for-31 with two extra base hits and eight strikeouts. Even with a poor spring, Kirilloff is still going to have a ton of pressure placed on him when he takes over a regular starting role. It also doesn’t help that the Twins have been struggling in multiple facets of the game. Kirilloff’s presence might offer a small boost to the club. However, he can’t close out games in the ninth inning and his defensive value is limited whether he plays in the outfield or at first base. Luckily, the Twins have plenty of other more experience hitters to hit in the top half of the line-up. This can leave Kirilloff near the back of the batting order, so there is less pressure on him. In his only start, manager Rocco Baldelli penciled him into the sixth spot in the order and later in the game he was removed for a pinch hitter. This will allow him to get acclimated to the big leagues until he proves his bat is ready for this level. One wrinkle in the Kirilloff plan is finding him a defensive position as he joins the club. Reports from the team’s alternate site have Kirilloff playing extensively at first base. Miguel Sano is currently dealing with a tight right hamstring, so he might need time off and Kirilloff would be a natural choice, if/when he is called up. Baseball isn’t a game where one player can take over a game and sole-handedly push them to victory. For instance, look at Mike Trout and his big-league career. He is on a path to quite possibly be considered the best baseball player of all-time. During his 11-year career, the Angels have only qualified for the playoffs one time and they were swept by the Royals. Trout does things on the field that few have done before, but he can’t control every aspect of the game. Bryon Buxton had very high expectations when he was called up to take over a full-time role. Buxton seems to be in the midst of a break-out campaign, but it took time and patience for him to reach this level. It’s important not to rush to judgement with any young player, especially after many prospects saw little or no professional action during the 2020 season. Kirilloff is on track to have a long big-league career, but he alone can’t fix everything that has been going wrong for the Twins in 2021. Minnesota fans are frustrated, but Kirilloff shouldn’t bear the brunt of that negativity if he struggles out of the gate. He’s a long-term building block and not a savior for the franchise. Are expectations too high for Kirilloff? What do you think he can add to the team? 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
  10. Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/12 through Sun, 4/18 *** Record Last Week: 1-4 (Overall: 6-8) Run Differential Last Week: -15 (Overall: +6) Standing: 4th Place in AL Central Last Week's Game Recaps: Game 10 | BOS 4, MIN 2: More Missed Opportunities, Another Blown Lead Game 11 | BOS 3, MIN 2: Twins Swept by Red Sox, Slip Deeper Into Slump Game 12 | BOS 7, MIN 1: Twins Swept by Red Sox, Slip Deeper Into Slump Game 13 | MIN 4, BOS 3: Twins Snap Losing Streak Despite Another Blown Lead Game 14 | LAA 10, MIN 3: Upton Slam Sinks Struggling Twins NEWS & NOTES Lest anyone thought we'd moved beyond the dangers and disruptions of a global pandemic, this past week for the Twins served as a sobering reminder that COVID-19 is very much still raging in our society, and pro sports are not immune (especially when partially-distributed vaccinations have yet to take full effect). On Wednesday, Andrelton Simmons tested positive and was placed on the COVID-19 IL. The following two days were both thrown into doubt as chaos ensued with pre-game false positives, and on Saturday, mounting fears came to roost. The Twins registered multiple positive tests in their Tier-1 group (including Kyle Garlick and another as-yet-unnamed player), shutting down the rest of their series against the Angels and leaving the upcoming trip to Oakland in limbo. Outside of the virus outbreak, the Twins had some other high-profile health issues. As soon as Josh Donaldson returned from his hamstring injury, Byron Buxton suffered one of his own, sitting out four straight games from Wednesday through Friday with what was described as a minor strain. So far, in a season where we were all so eager to see those two together in the lineup, it hasn't really happened yet. On the bright side, Buxton was slated to play on Saturday night before the game was axed, so he should be fine once the Twins get going again. Perhaps the extra time off for his legs will be a hidden silver lining of an extremely unfortunate situation. In other roster moves, the carousel at the end of the bullpen is already spinning, as expected. Brandon Waddell was optioned on Wednesday to make room for Donaldson. The next day, Cody Stashak was optioned and replaced for one game by Shaun Anderson, who was himself sent out the following day to make room for Friday night's starter Lewis Thorpe. Thorpe went back down after making his spot start, with Devin Smeltzer arriving to fill in as long reliever. It's probably just gonna be like this all year for the relief corps. Buckle up. HIGHLIGHTS In a week sparse on highlights and happy moments, Michael Pineda came through in a big way. His seven shutout innings against Boston on Thursday helped the Twins secure their only victory of the week, avoiding a sweep at home. In his finest start yet as a Twin, Big Mike cruised through seven frames on 88 pitches, striking out six and walking one with two singles allowed. A red-hot Boston lineup could never really mount a threat against Pineda as he pounded the zone with quality fastballs and then attacked with sharp sliders. https://twitter.com/PitchingNinja/status/1382773544363425792 Through three starts, Pineda has a 1.00 ERA and 17-to-3 K/BB ratio, holding opponents to a .159/.194/.270 slash line. He gave up a pair of solo homers against Seattle in his second start but those are the only earned runs he has allowed. Just phenomenal work on the mound. The Twins are now 23-11 behind him since he joined the team. https://twitter.com/AlexFast8/status/1383048350799441925 Some other highlights to take away from a tough week: While Miguel Sanó's swing still isn't quite dialed in, and he's not quite connecting on pitches he should, he's getting closer. This was evidenced by a big home run in Thursday's win. Narrowly missing the sweet spot is all that's holding Sanó back, because his plate approach is locked in. The first baseman walked (6) twice as much as he struck out (3) in 16 plate appearances. A breakout in production seems imminent. Donaldson's return to the lineup went about as well as one could have hoped. He tested his legs immediately, sprinting from first to third and then subsequently to home plate on a sac fly. JD came out of it fine, and went 3-for-6 with a walk and RBI in his two starts. Thorpe answered the call in Anaheim, delivering four quality innings against a tough lineup, with some notable highlights – including a three-pitch strikeout of Mike Trout. It ultimately wasn't enough, as the bullpen collapsed following his departure, but so far Thorpe's 2021 redemption tour is off to a good start. Even in a very poor week by his own standards (he went hitless in four of five starts), Luis Arraez was a big factor, carrying the offense single-handedly in Minnesota's lone win. Arraez tallied four hits, drove in two, and scored the winning run in a 4-3 squeaker. He also displayed some highly impressive instincts on the basepaths. (His form on the slide, however, could use some work.) https://twitter.com/AaronGleeman/status/1382800822870945801 LOWLIGHTS Aside from the smattering of encouraging developments above, the past seven days were a flurry of almost nonstop bad news for the Twins, both on the field and off it. The gravity of the latter outweighs the former so heavily, it feels pointless to pick apart individual performances in an almost universally ugly 1-4 stretch. Suffice to say that the offense as a whole slashed .228/.316/.282 with five doubles, one home run, and 12 runs scored in five games. With runners in scoring position they put up a putrid .175/.271/.200 line. Meanwhile, the bullpen posted a collective 9.19 ERA, with almost every reliever taking part in a series of poorly-timed implosions. Rocco Baldelli made a number of borderline decisions, and basically every one went the wrong way. With all that's going on, I find it difficult to hold these struggles against the manager or team. Beginning with Simmons on Wednesday, the Twins dealt with an endless onslaught of stress and drama, sparked by positive tests both legitimate and illegitimate. Beyond the mental distractions stemming from all this, the ability of players to prepare for games and go through normal routines was impeded. It's all bad. You just hope they can use this immense challenge as an opportunity to come together, rest up, and hit the ground running as they seek to turn around one of the most confounding team-wide slumps of Baldelli's tenure. More than anything, you hope there's no further spread, and that all who've been affected by this outbreak can recover quickly and fully. TRENDING STORYLINE Obviously, the overarching and all-consuming storyline is: when will the Twins play again? But within that, the status and outlook for Alex Kirilloff becomes a pivotal thread. Kirilloff came and went quickly on Thursday, joining as 27th man for the doubleheader and taking three hitless plate appearances before returning to the alternate site. But there's certainly an argument the Twins could've benefited from keeping him around, given the wavering availability of Buxton and the ongoing struggles of Jake Cave. One way or another, it's only a matter of time. Within the next few days, and perhaps before the team even plays again, Kirilloff will reach the point where it becomes impossible for him to accrue a full year of major-league service this season, meaning there's no reason to keep him down unless the Twins don't think he's ready or don't think he can help. That's becoming a tougher and tougher case to make, especially since they know they'll be without Garlick (at least) for some time. LOOKING AHEAD With Monday's series opener in Oakland already canceled, the tentative plan is for a traditional doubleheader on Tuesday – the second in a weeklong span for the Twins. Keyword: tentative. If they play then, it's anyone's guess how they might handle their rotation. Matt Shoemaker was due up on Saturday but with all the days off, the Twins have the option to skip him and J.A. Happ, starting both José Berríos and Kenta Maeda on five days rest. Then again, everyone needs their work and there's nothing wrong with getting the top two arms a little extra rest here early in the season. So I'd expect Shoemaker and Happ to start on Tuesday. Next weekend the Twins are scheduled to return home for a quick one-off series against the Pirates, but with Minneapolis bracing for the potential fallout of a verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial in the days ahead, that series carries its own cloud of uncertainty. Stay tuned and we'll keep you updated on things as they develop. But be ready for a weird week. TUESDAY, 4/20 (G1): TWINS @ ATHLETICS – TBD v. RHP Jesus Luzardo TUESDAY, 4/20 (G2): TWINS @ ATHLETICS – TBD v. LHP Sean Manaea WEDNESDAY, 4/21: TWINS @ ATHLETICS – TBD v. RHP Frankie Montas FRIDAY, 4/23: PIRATES @ TWINS – RHP Trevor Cahill v. TBD SATURDAY, 4/24: PIRATES @ TWINS – RHP Chad Kuhl v. TBD SUNDAY, 4/25: PIRATES @ TWINS – LHP Tyler Anderson v. TBD 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. Entering the offseason, it seemed likely for Dobnak to be penciled into the back end of the Twins’ starting rotation. Minnesota had three pitchers slated to begin the year as starters and Dobnak seemed to be at least guaranteed a shot at the fifth rotational spot. That plan was altered after the club signed J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker. Then the question was raised about whether Dobnak should be pitching out of the bullpen or be sent to the alternate site to continue to be stretched out as a starter. The Twins’ brass felt like Dobnak and his newly signed contract were a better fit as the bullpen’s long man, but the numbers point to this being a poor decision. Entering play on Wednesday, Dobnak had appeared in 22 big-league games with 15 coming as a starter and seven coming in relief. As a starter, he has a 3.41 ERA with a 43 to 18 strikeout to walk ratio while holding batters to a .645 OPS. His relief appearances have resulted in a 4.20 ERA with batters compiling an .870 OPS in almost 70 plate appearances. This isn’t exactly a large sample size, but his numbers as a starter are clearly better. Also, Minnesota has been using Dobnak in situations where he can continue to stay stretched out. He has been limited to just three appearances this year, because the Twins have only seen three of their games decided by more than two runs. This doesn’t exactly lend itself to naturally using a long man out of the bullpen, because Rocco Baldelli has turned to more of his high leverage arms in close and late game scenarios. https://twitter.com/MatthewTaylorMN/status/1382323416234086407?s=20 Having Dobnak stretched out will be useful since the team has 11 games over the next 10 days and the current starters won’t be able to make all of those starts. On the TV broadcast, Justin Morneau alluded to the fact that Dobnak will make a start during the next week. That being said, it’s hard to imagine him being able to pitch deep into a game since he hasn’t started since early in spring training. For Dobnak to get more relief opportunities, it might be beneficial for the Twins to separate Happ and Shoemaker in the rotation. Those two starters are the ones he is most likely going to piggyback with since neither are expected to pitch deep into games on a regular basis. Currently, they pitch on back-to-back days and that doesn’t allow Dobnak to piggyback for both of them Teams are using a variety of strategies this year to cover innings and piggybacking those two starters might be a strategy the Twins will need to start using. There’s likely going to be a time this season where Dobnak is going to be needed in the rotation. For now, his role in the bullpen needs to be altered so he can find more success. Do you think Dobnak should continue to be used as a reliver? 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
  12. Things have been complicated from the start with Alex Kirilloff. Under the baseball’s current CBA, it’s in a team’s best interest to keep a young player in the minor leagues so the club can pick up an extra year of service time. As a side note, MLB and the MLBPA will need to work out a new CBA and this issue is likely one that will be addressed and possibly changed. There has been some indication that the Twins were willing to ignore this current practice as they have said that Kirilloff will have every opportunity to make the Opening Day roster, but his performance hasn’t pushed him ahead of others. Entering play on Monday, he has gone 4-for-31 (.129 BA) with two extra-base hits and an eight to one strikeout to walk ratio. His lone home run was a massive 420 foot shot and it came off a left-handed pitcher, so that’s one offensive positive from the spring. https://twitter.com/SlangsOnSports/status/1370079829354237956?s=20 Minnesota has clearly been getting their roster ready for Opening Day including lining up the rotation and using batting orders that will be similar to the regular season. In the last two “Opening Day” line-ups, Brent Rooker has been used as the starting left fielder and he has been having a much stronger spring. He is hitting .381/.391/.667 with three doubles and a home run. Rooker is considered a rookie too, but he is already 26-years old so there is less of an urgency to pick up an extra year of service time. Rooker isn’t the only option in left field as Kyle Garlick has been making his presence known in the Twins line-up. Entering play on Monday, he has gone 9-for-24 with four home runs and a double. This spring he leads the team in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and OPS. Garlick and Rooker both have minor league options remaining, so that can play into the team’s decision as well. Another wrinkle in this equation is the fact that the Triple-A season was pushed back a month with Opening Day scheduled for May 4. This means Kirilloff can’t go to Triple-A to get in more work and he already missed a full season of development in 2020. St. Paul will be used as an alternate site before the Triple-A season starts, so he can get into a routine there and be called up whenever the team feels he is ready. Minnesota might be ready to see what Kirilloff can do at the big-league level. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli hasn’t been referring to Kirilloff in future tense anymore, because he has done almost everything he needs to prove he is MLB ready. "It's not exactly potential," Baldelli said. "He just hasn't had the opportunities yet at the Major League level to show what he can do. We think he's already a good offensive player. He's handled himself really well.” Kirilloff’s defensive flexibility might also help his chances of making the Opening Day roster. He is athletic enough to play in a corner outfield spot, but he also has a chance to be very good at first base. His defensive value is higher than Rooker and Garlick, so that might make up for his poor offensive numbers. Spring training offers such a small sample size that the numbers produced by players need to be taken with a grain of salt. Kirilloff has struggled, but he still has an opportunity to come north with the club for Opening Day. Do you think Kirilloff cracks the Opening Day roster? Are you worried about his spring performance? 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
  13. Minnesota’s front office noticed some with Dobnak’s slider and suggest a small change. By keeping his hand in a more supinated position, he can get more break on his slider and keep hitters off balanced. Over the weekend, he threw three scoreless innings and struck out six of the 10 batters he faced. “It plays really well off my sinker, so we’re just trying to kind of get more break in between it,” Dobnak told reporters after the game. “Trying to create the tunnel and have it break apart more. But I threw it pretty well today, so I’m pretty satisfied with where I am with that.” Dobnak had been working on the tweak for a little over a week and batters were clearly not prepared for the pitch (even against last year’s AL pennant winners). He’s used it in two games so far and he has yet to allow a run in either appearance. While he has been pitching well this spring, Minnesota’s rotation seems to be full to start the year and this leaves Dobnak’s role up in the air. The five starters slated to be in Minnesota’s Opening Day rotation are Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, Matt Shoemaker, and J.A. Happ. Out of those names, Happ is a little behind the others as he missed the beginning of camp after testing positive for COVID-19. Dobnak can follow Happ in his starts at the beginning of the year as he increases his workload, but even Twins manager Rocco Baldelli doesn’t quite know what role Dobnak will fill. “[Dobnak] has established himself as a quality member of our pitching staff,” Baldelli said. “One way or the other, wherever he slots in, however he gets his innings, I’m pretty sure we are going to find a way to get him involved and let him pitch us to some wins. Exactly how that’s going to go from Opening Day on, I couldn’t tell you at this moment.” Another wrinkle in the Dobnak’s roster spot is the yet to be decided fourth option for Lewis Thorpe. If Thorpe is out of options, the team may need to keep him on the 26-man roster to avoid losing him for on waivers. Dobnak has multiple options remaining and this would allow him to continue to be stretched out as a starter if an injury were to arise in the season’s early games. In the last Twins Daily roster projection, Dobnak made the Opening Day roster and Thorpe was left off, because it had been widely reported that he would be granted a fourth option. Dobnak and Thorpe can easily swap places as the bullpen’s long man. Caleb Thielbar, who appeared in his first spring game on Monday, has also been dealing with a back injury, so there’s a chance he starts the year on the IL. If that happened, Dobnak and Thorpe can both have bullpen spots. Over the course of the 2021 campaign, Dobnak’s role will likely take on multiple forms. Shoemaker is going to have to prove he deserves to stay in the rotation, because the Twins don’t have a ton invested in him. Dobnak will relieve and start at different parts of the season, but his new slider might make it tough to keep him in the bullpen for very long. What do you think Dobnak’s role will be in 2021? 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. To be clear, the Twins and manager Rocco Baldelli aren’t going to name a closer. As baseball continues to rethink how bullpens can best be utilized, the Twins are going to look at matchups and put their players in the best opportunities to succeed. That being said, the four players below are the likely candidates to be considered the team’s closer. Taylor Rogers, LHP Career Saves: 41 Rogers was one of the most dominant relievers during the 2018 and 2019 seasons as he took over Minnesota’s closer role. Even with struggles last season, his peripheral numbers point to some bad luck leading to his poor performance. His .400 BABIP was over 70 points higher than any other season. Also, his 10.8 SO/9 was his second highest rate of his career. One pitch to keep an eye on is his slider and the results have been good so far this spring. Twins fans can hope he is back to his old self and the rest of the players on this list are used as set-up men leading into Rogers. Alex Colome, RHP Career Saves: 138 Chicago’s loss is Minnesota’s gain as Colome has been one of the best relievers in recent years. He has the most saves of any player on the Twins staff and he won’t shy away from a late-inning role. With uncertainly surrounding other players on this list, Colome seems like the natural choice to pick up most of the team’s save opportunities. However, relief pitchers can be fickle and maybe there is a bigger reason the White Sox let him go. His 6.4 SO/9 mark from last year was his lowest total since becoming a full-time reliever. If Wes Johnson can work his magic, Colome has a chance to be the team’s leader in saves. Tyler Duffey, RHP Career Saves: 1 Duffey was the team’s best relief pitcher in 2020 and the second half of 2019, but he has been given limited save opportunities. One of the reasons he hasn’t gotten those chance is because he has been so successful being used in a fireman role. Because of the other names on this list, he will likely stay in that role. So far this spring, his velocity has been lower than the team might like, but there is still time to figure it out before the team heads north. If he can’t figure it out, the Twins will have to rely on other arms to take over his important innings. https://twitter.com/IAmRickGraham/status/1370476048488529929?s=20 Hansel Robels, RHP Career Saves: 27 Robels struggled in 2020 and that’s one of the reasons the Twins were able to sign him for a relatively cheap deal. Back in 2019, he compiled strong numbers as the Angels primary closer with a 2.48 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 9.3 SO/9. Last year, albeit in on 16.2 innings, he allowed 19 earned runs, but he posted a career high 10.8 SO/9. It seems more likely for the players listed above to get the majority of the save opportunities, but Robels has some experience, and the Twins can always turn to him if other relievers are struggling at some point during the season. Who do you think will be considered Minnesota’s primary closer in 2021? 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. The pivot point in the Twins' lineup comes early, very early. It’s the leadoff hitter. Go one direction, and the lineup looks one way. Go the other, and it looks very different. For the last two years, that leadoff hitter has mostly been Max Kepler, but coming into the season, there were two significant challenges to that status quo: Luis Arraez Is Healthy Arraez is expected to get a lot of at-bats as a multi-positional player. Arraez isn’t exactly a prototypical leadoff hitter because he doesn’t walk a ton, and doesn’t bring a lot of speed to the bases. But he battles and he gets on base: at a .390 clip in his 487 career plate appearances. Arraez is fearless, and an asset almost anywhere except the heart of the lineup. “He's an on-base machine, a line-drive machine," gushed Twins manager Rocco Baldelli this week. “He's a throwback. You don't see a lot of guys with the skills he does with the bat in his hands.” An on-base machine would be a logical fit for the top spot in the lineup. Especially when the left-handed hitting 23-year-old would likely bat right in front of right-handed hitting Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz. Eddie Rosario Is Gone The Twins have a hole to fill in the middle of their lineup with the departure of left-handed hitting Eddie Rosario. Rosario batted fourth for the vast majority of his plate appearances the last two years. He’ll likely be replaced in the outfield with left-handed hitting Alex Kirilloff, but odds are the Twins would thrust cleanup on a rookie making his (regular season) debut this year. With Rosario gone, the best left-handed hitting Twins' batter is Kepler. (He probably was before Rosario left, too.) So he makes a lot of sense to bat cleanup, but – follow me here – he’s not allowed to do that if he’s batting leadoff. I know, it’s a silly rule. In the Twins first four spring training games, Kepler has lead off twice and Arraez has lead off twice. Baldelli is notorious for not tipping his hand when it comes to lineups, and this year is no different. But it’s clear he recognizes the luxury having both affords him. “Two different hitters, but two guys that can certainly be productive at the top of the order, Baldelli said, talking about Arraez and Kepler. “One thing they both do well is they both see the ball well. They are hitters that see the ball and then react. They're not in swing-first mode like a lot of guys can get into that mode.” There is not bad answer. Some might wonder since Arraez is slated for a utility role, whether the decision takes care of itself? But Kepler has played in 89% of all the Twins games since 2017, and Baldelli is vowing to make sure that Arraez will get as much run as any other regular. So odds are there is going to be significant overlap in the playing time of the two. It should also be mentioned that theoretically, Kepler and Arraez are not the only options. Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco have both been in the leadoff spot over the last two years, and it’s possible that would be the case against some pitchers. Byron Buxton, if he ever raises his ability to get on base, would certainly be electric out of that spot. But Kepler and Arraez seem to be the top options, and they’re the only two we’ve seen lead off so far in spring training. So if you’re looking to track a spring training battle from afar this spring, here’s your chance. Arraez and Kepler haven’t been in the same lineup yet, but one would think that would certainly give a clue to what Baldelli is thinking. Until then, build your lineup, maybe starting in the comments below, and see if you can settle this leading question.
  16. With Twins pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training in Ft. Myers on Thursday, manager Rocco Baldelli addressed the media on Wednesday morning to inform them that bench coach Mike Bell will miss spring training after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. Bell wasn't feeling well in mid-January, and when he went to the hospital, a growth was found on his kidney. On January 28th, the growth was removed surgically. He is out of the hospital and home with his family for his recovery. Baldelli said, "He's doing very well. I've been talking to him a lot." He added, "The situation is obviously serious, but Mike has handled this with great courage. As I said, he's recovering, doing great and looking forward to the next part of his recovery." From their discussions it is clear that Bell is where he needs to be, at home with his family, but that he is encouraged and hopeful to return to the team when he is ready. In the meantime, it sounds as though he will be given some work that he can do from home. For the time being, there will not be any staff adjustments, at least until they know a more definitive timeline. "We'll give Mike some tasks that he will take care of at home. During spring training, I'm sure he'll be watching all of our games and helping us in a lot of ways from home." The team has been talking to him about things like the roster, his opinion on players in the organization but also free agents. "He's been very eager. I know with everything going on, he's had his attention focused elsewhere. But I think the ability to talk some baseball and have some fun and get the competitive juices flowing have been good for him, and I know he looks forward to it. For now, that's a start." According to Derek Falvey, Bell will address the media in the next weeks. "He's really encouraged. His doctors are really encouraged. We're just excited for the time he can get back, but in the meantime, we are here to support him and his family." Baldelli pointed out that people throughout the organization have been supportive. "Our players, the staff, the organization have come behind Mike in every way. Guys were very eager to connect with Mike, talk to Mike, and I know on Mike's end how much that has helped him, helped his family. This has been an emotional time for everybody, but ultimately it comes down to just supporting Mike through this and getting him back to health, and ultimately getting back to where he wants to be and he's really looking forward to getting strong and getting back to things on the baseball side as well." We certainly wish Mike Bell the best through his recovery. We hope he is able to return to the team soon. Feel free to extend your well wishes to Mike Bell in the Comments below.
  17. Cruz’s mechanics are impeccably groomed, minimal and sharp, not unlike his well-coiffed facial hair. His simple yet violent swing construction is one of the reasons he has been able to roll out of bed and starts raking. A wake and rake, if you will. The old adage is that hitters have the tendency to start slow, struggle to find their timing, and require enough live pitches before getting into midseason form. Cruz rises from his hibernation, steps to the plate and mashes. From 2015-2019, during the period of the season when the northern part of the country is still defrosting, Cruz has posted a .401 weighted on-base average (wOBA) in games in March and April. That was the fourth-highest among hitters with 450 or more plate appearances in that time. Only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman -- three hitters who were prepubescent when Cruz began his Major League career -- posted better numbers in March/April than him. Even during his advanced aging years Cruz is consistent, showing no indications of tiring with the long slog of the season. In that same span, 2015 to 2019, his wOBA in August/September dropped all the way down to .397. With season-prepping routines upended by the global pandemic, Cruz shook off the months-long hiatus and smashed baseballs. In July and August, he maintained a .437 wOBA over his first 141 plate appearances, 7th highest among qualified hitters. Some hitters never had the chance to look comfortable at the plate. Beyond a granite physique and minimal swing mechanics, Cruz has demonstrated that he is fully engaged with the team. He’s a mentor and coach who also happens to hit home runs in critical spots during the game. His ability to study opposing pitchers appears unrivaled. You’ll find him cemented at the railing of the dugout, focused on finding bread crumbs a pitcher leaves on the mound that might tip the balance into the hitter’s favor. He has influenced the team’s pitching staff as well, helping them craft their arsenals and giving them insight in a way that only a veteran with over 7,000 plate appearances can. During the game, other players might turn inward to focus on their own performance but, again, he’s at the top of the dugout steps yelling words of encouragement to his teammates, even firing up veteran players like Josh Donaldson. All of this adds up to invaluable intangibles that benefits the team and the organization. “Nelson is a rarity in a lot of ways, and it’s very significant when you find someone that enhances everything going on around him,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He makes people better. He shows them routines. He points out small things. He talks about big things and having a plan and how to prepare.” There is value in having that presence in the clubhouse, dugout, and on the field. Asked about his own leadership, Cruz talked about playing with Michael Young in Texas and modeled his career after the former Ranger. If his presence means one young Twins player is able to use Cruz as his model, that’s a worthy investment. All that feelgoodery aside, it’s hard not to overlook the fact that in 2020 Cruz outperformed a lot of key metrics with some signs of decline in other ones. According to Baseball Savant’s expected metrics -- projections of what players should post based on what types of batted balls they produce -- Cruz over-performed in 2020. By Savant‘s methods, Cruz’s batting average should have been closer to .269 rather than .303 (his .034 difference was the 26th highest among qualified hitters). His expected weighted on-base average was .363 rather than the actual .405 (27th highest). How much weight should be put on something like that? If you operate like the New York Yankees, not much. They gave DJ LeMahieu a $90 million contract this offseason after he posted the highest expected-to-actual wOBA difference in baseball last year. If the Yankees and their army of data quants don’t care, maybe the Twins shouldn’t either. Even if his 2020 numbers were closer to the anticipated ones, Nelson Cruz would still have had a very good season. If his “true performance” happened to be a .363 wOBA season, that would equal what JD Martinez has produced over the last six years. That’s a very good proposition. While Cruz did carry the offense early in the 2020, that production started to erode later in the summer. He posted his lowest exit velocity (91.6 mph) of the last six seasons. His strikeout rate, fly ball rate, and overall contact rate were the lowest marks in that time as well. He also pulled fewer pitches, hit more ground balls, and had the lowest percentage of balls hit 95 mph or higher since before 2015. Are these early indications of the coming regression or just a giant nothingburger? It is difficult to say how much of that performance was due to things like aging, a shortened season, or not having access to in-game video. In the case of the two latter issues, he won’t have those issues in 2021. This year MLB expects to be back to the full 162-game slate. Plus, in-game video, with it’s too-hot-for-TV blackened screen box so teams cannot pick up the catcher’s signs, will return as well allowing Cruz to resume his dissection between at bats. But what’s to say about the aging effect? While production can decline due to age, it’s other factors like increased injury risk and longer recovery time that older players tend to battle. Cruz incorporates a detailed daily regiment of nutrition, workout, and recovery (sleep) to optimize his performance and curb the effects of aging. As a prospect, he found in his first full season his numbers in the second-half of the year dropped off considerably. It was then he began to continue his workouts into the season to keep himself ready for the full year. He has since refined that process and credits the transition to full-time DH as another reason he’s able to keep hitting at this level. “Once I started playing DH, my legs are fresher because I don't have to be running in the outfield. I think that has been key for the last few years in being able to play more games,” Cruz said. “I know my body better, so I know what I need to do to stay on the field on a daily basis.” There is a new caveat looming for 2021: the deadened baseball. Following two seasons of juiced baseballs, MLB will begin to manufacture balls with less springiness in hopes of curbing the home run onslaught. But the thought of hitting a ball with flight restrictions doesn’t phase Cruz. As long as everyone else is in the same boat, he has no problem with it. “That’s for everybody,” Cruz said of the proposed ball changes. “I’ll be good.” Even if MLB’s changes are successful in reducing the average fly ball by 13-to-16 feet like the KBO did in 2018, that shouldn’t affect Cruz significantly. If the new ball shaved off that amount, he would still average 335 feet on his fly balls -- basically what Khris Davis and JD Martinez averaged this season. In his “no doubt” home run total was 67%, meaning nearly 70% of his home runs would have been a home run at any stadium, in any condition. This might discount a few of his shorter home runs (he had 2 “doubters” and 6 “mostly gone” shots last year) but the bulk of his power should remain. Again, if the deadened ball knocks off 13-16 feet, most of his home runs would remain. From all the publicly-facing data available, it’s difficult to reach the conclusion that he would regress all that much. Cruz should be on the downward slope of his career yet he’s done everything humanly possible to rage against the dying of the light and continued to put up superhuman numbers when most players have long since retired. Could this actually be his last season? “I guess when you think about retirement, it’s about ending, and I don’t want to put that in my mind going into the season,” Cruz said. “I understand my team, to be able to go where we want to go, I have to do my best. I have to be my best, I have to be on top of my game, so retirement is not on my mind. My body feels great. My mind is still good, too. So there’s no reason. I still love the game.” At some point, like most mortals, the irreversible effects of aging will finally catch up to Nelson Cruz and retirement will beckon. But not this year. This year, he’s chasing a ring.
  18. As Rocco Baldelli celebrated the tongue-in-cheek honor of being named MLB’s Most Handsome Manager this week, another title went unclaimed locally, as the Minnesota Twins Diamond Awards failed to name a Most Handsome Twins Blogger for a 22nd consecutive year. “No one even submitted a name,” said a Diamond Awards spokesperson. “OK, correction, someone nominated The Babadook, but it does not appear to have written about the Twins in 2020 and was therefore ineligible.” Bloggers, often unfairly criticized by their mainstream counterparts at the dawn of the internet era for being basement-dwelling ogres, still have a long way to go, it seems. “I thought as more bloggers gained acceptance and got traditional media gigs or even front-office jobs, the stigma would go away,” said longtime Twins blogger Aaron Gleeman. “But I went to Target Field last year, and a beat writer yelled ‘Nice shirt, didn’t know the clown college had a rummage sale.’ A beat writer!” Gleeman, now with The Athletic, confirmed that he has a girlfriend and does not have a basement. John Bonnes, Gleeman’s co-host on a popular lifestyle podcast and founder of Twins Daily, isn’t quite sold on this narrative. “If we’re all trolls who frighten children before their growth spurts and are bullied by them after, explain the rugged sensuality of (Twins Daily’s) Parker Hageman,” reasoned Bonnes. “Explain the fact that (Twins Daily’s) Nick Nelson has a gym membership that he actually uses. Do bloggers still get pelted with rocks and garbage by an ungrateful, disgusted public? Does the cruel sun avoid us, leaving us pale and drawn? Yes, no one denies this. I’m just saying it’s better than before.” If the not-exactly-hunky world of managing can have room for a Baldelli, is that a sign that the world of baseball blogging can produce a reasonably good-looking dude? Some aren’t so sure. “Oh god no,” said Steve “RandBall’s Stu” Neuman (Twins Daily, Twinkie Town). “We’re monsters. If we try to enter a church a lightning bolt will strike us where we stand. The grave will be unmarked and the grass will not grow. Animals will know to avoid it. We’re hideous.” (Image license here.)
  19. Admittedly, pulling the infield in is nothing new. With no exact origin story, the alignment likely began when the first runner reached third base at Elysian Fields. As an organization, the Minnesota Twins have hired people to run their baseball operations who question the game’s status quo -- Why do pitchers need to establish their fastballs when a breaking ball might be their best pitch? Why do catchers need to squat on two legs? Playing the infield in early in the game is another traditionally held no-no, but why? Part of the long-standing rationale is the tendency to surrender extra hits. Cheap hits at that. Baseball Info Solution recently looked at all of their infield positioning data going back to 2015. According to their research, in the face of the infield drawn in, hitters posted a batting average 70 points higher on ground balls and low liners as those balls found more seams and carried just out of reach of the defenders. From 2015 through 2019, hitters posted a .296 average with a normal infield alignment while they hit .366 average with the infield in. Like the defense shift, nothing seems to agitate traditional baseball people more than when a weak grounder squibs through an opening where a defender should be. But here’s the rub: according to BIS’s study, runs scored declined significantly with a drawn in infield. Under normal conditions, that runner on third would score 63% of the time yet with the infield playing in, the runner scored just 49% of the time. That’s a significant swing. The Twins are not alone in pushing the boundaries of the game, especially in this regard. In 2017, depending on the situation, the Boston Red Sox looked to cut off the runner at third early in the game. “We try to tell our guys defensively, ‘Let’s not give away easy runs. Let’s make the other team execute. If they don’t execute, let’s knock down lead runners,’” Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield told the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. “It changes a guy’s hitting approach. With all the infielders back, he just has to stand in the middle and play pepper with the second baseman or shortstop and you’re guaranteed a run.” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli echoed this sentiment in this season when he told reporters that the teams’ decision is based on “trying to cut down runs and giving yourself an opportunity to cut down runs as opposed to giving them up and simply playing the infield back.” As BIS’s research previously showed, the odds indicate that teams would indeed save runs. So why not take advantage of them? A runner on third will score on a hit to the outfield no matter what. While a normal depth infield might increase the range of where an out can be made, it also means that a run would likely score regardless. Because the Twins have confidence in their batted ball data and their starting pitchers’ ability to execute pitches, they believe they can maximize coverage with the infield pulled in. When the Red Sox were determining whether or not to move everyone in, there were several factors at play in their decision-making process. For instance, is the person hitting fast and capable of stealing a base? Sacrificing a cheap hit and a run might result in a runner in scoring position quickly. Is there a runner on second? If that runner is fast, a cheap hit through the infield might score two. Under those circumstances, it might be better to play it conservatively. Data suggests that Baldelli tended to be more aggressive in 2020 when it came to those situations. There is no publicly available data that shows exactly how many times the Twins opted to play the infield in early in the game but if you were to examine Statcast’s infield starting position, you can see that there was a big effort in moving their infield in when runners are on third and less than 2 outs. Looking at just the middle infield positions, both fielders started on average over 10 feet closer to the plate than they did in 2019 (and more so than 2018 and 2017). Compared to the rest of baseball this season, the Twins were second in the depth their infield started in those situations. In the first three innings, only the forward-thinking Tampa Bay Rays positioned their infield closer on average in runner-on-third/less than 2 out situations. Their shortstop would begin precariously close to a hitter at 113 feet. Meanwhile, the Twins would start Jorge Polanco, et al at 121 feet, the next closest in. In all, the Twins had 21 instances where there was a runner on third and less than 2 outs. A review of those plays shows that among those 21 balls in play, there were only three plays that 1) the infield was in and 2) managed to keep the runner from scoring where a normal defense would have conceded the run. A more robust analysis would be required to determine how many of those bleeder/cheap hits gained during the shift resulted in extended innings. That being said, saving three runs in a shortened season is not nothing. Focusing on reducing easy runs might be one of the reasons why the Rays (67) and the Twins (69) were second and third in baseball at allowing the fewest runs in the first three innings in 2020. On its own, bringing the infield in to cut off a handful of runs might not seem that significant but if you look at it in the aggregate -- combined with the other elements -- it becomes another piece of overall run prevention. Tiny improvements. Big gains. That’s the secret sauce.
  20. A season ago Baldelli was named American League Manager of the Year. It was warranted. The former star player guided the Twins to a record setting home run total and one of the most successful seasons in Twins history. Often times the award is handed to a guy leading a surprising organization to new heights. In 2020 expectations were lifted, but Baldelli created plenty of confusion. The vaunted lineup on paper failed to perform plenty of nights and drawing the infield in during early stretches of games became commonplace. In the biggest game of the season however, four decisions struck me as poor. Kenta Maeda is lifted after 5 innings and 91 pitches Minnesota had a 1-0 lead at the time, but the only thing going for the Twins in this contest was Maeda. Despite forcing Zack Greinke to work in the 1st inning, no runs were scored with the bases loaded and just one out. The Astros starter then settled in, and Framber Valdez dominated after a shaky first inning of relief. It seemed questionable to assume that one run would be enough to win this one and hoping the bullpen could lock things down for nearly half the game was a big ask. After getting both Matt Wisler and Trevor May warm previously, it’d have been nice to see Maeda return for the 6th and at least go one batter at a time. He could’ve been lifted at any point then. Instead the horses of the pen have no all been used while Houston didn’t trot out a single reliever. Mitch Garver pinch hits for Ryan Jeffers to start the 7th inning It was maybe an aggressive move to start rookie Ryan Jeffers in game one despite just 26 games of action. His .791 OPS and they way he worked behind the plate had earned it, however. Combine that with Garver slumping massively since his IL return and there was nothing about the decision that needed defending. In response to a lefty being on the mound though, Baldelli became convinced that 2019 Garver was who he was calling off the bench. Instead four straight curveballs, each one looked at, was all it too to get Minnesota’s pinch hitter. Letting Jeffers hit in that spot was the right move. You started him because of what he’d shown thus far, and he put up exit velocities of 105 and 109 mph earlier in this one. It was a second guessing that was unfounded and made no sense. From here, we get two more problems. Alex Avila replaces Mitch Garver defensively in the 8th inning Immediately following a poor at bat, Garver is lifted prior to taking the field. Despite being arguably a better receiver than Avila, Baldelli decided the veteran backstop was the play. Of course, there was still another catcher on the roster thanks to the Twins rostering four in this series, but it never was going to make sense for the position to become a revolving door. Garver could’ve caught the 8th inning and been more likely to steal strikes. Avila remains on the bench and represents your last true catcher behind the plate. Willians Astudillo pinch hits for Alex Avila in the 9th inning Now we get to the third cascading effect of the original choice to lift Jeffers. Trailing by three runs in a momentum setting first game, the Twins responded with Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco singling to right field. The batter would represent the tying run with a single out and runners on first and second. The right-handed bats left were Ehire Adrianza and Astudillo. Neither ideal, and the latter had just 16 big league at bats this season. On the very first pitch Astudillo lunged at a bender and hit a routine ground ball to third for the double play. The entirety of this move was necessitated because of Rocco’s initial mistake to lift Jeffers. It was in this at bat though that highlighting Astudillo’s negative impact is so simple. He’s not Luis Arraez, and his ability to make contact is quite literally a negative. His chase rate is not good, and neither is the hard-hit percentage. By putting the ball in play, which is his sole intention, you’re more likely to experience a negative result. 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. Overreaction 1: The Twins can’t score with runners in scoring position. The first inning was rough as the Twins loaded the bases with one out in the frame. Eddie Rosario hit a scalding line drive at over 100 mph that happened to find the glove of the first baseman. With two outs, Miguel Sano hit a slow roller and nearly beat it out for an infield hit. His sprint speed on the play was 28.9 ft/sec which is 1.5 ft/sec fast than his average this season. The Twins didn’t score, but the club made Greinke throw 30 pitches in the frame. Even though Minnesota didn’t capitalize, the Twins got Greinke out of the game early enough to give them time to strike against the bullpen. Overreaction 2: Kenta Maeda is the Twins best playoff pitcher since Jack Morris. Kenta Maeda wasn’t perfect on Tuesday with three walks and five strikeouts over five shutout innings. He got out of one bases loaded jam to keep a zero on the board, but many fans might have forgotten about how good a former pitcher was in October. Johan Santana was outstanding during the playoffs near the end of his Twins tenure. In his last three postseason starts, he allowed three earned runs over 20 innings with 20 strikeouts and five walks. The Twins only won one of those games and it was the team’s last postseason win. Overreaction 3: Rocco Baldelli overmanaged his catchers. Ryan Jeffers was the correct choice to start the game and he put together two solid at-bats that both resulted in line outs at over 100 mph. Overall, this sounds great, but Baldelli turned to Mitch Garver as a pinch hitter for Jeffers in the bottom of the 7th. Garver struggled mightily down the stretch after returning from injury. He promptly struck out on four pitches and then he was replaced behind the plate by Alex Avila. Last season, Garver had an offensive season for the ages when it came to catchers, but that isn’t the player he has been this year. Jeffers should have stayed in the game to get the at-bat and this might be the easiest decision to question. Overreaction 4: Minnesota’s bullpen is broken. Tyler Duffey has been outstanding for most of the last two seasons and he gave up the Twins first run of the game. Sergio Romo allowed back-to-back singles to start the top of the ninth inning. He saw the Twins middle infield botch the final out of the inning on an easy throw to second base. Romo ran the next count full before walking in the go-ahead run. Caleb Thielbar came into a no-win situation with the lead already gone and Houston’s best hitters coming up with the bases loaded. Minnesota used their best arms in the appropriate spots and it just didn’t work out. Overreaction 5: Jorge Polanco is a bad defensive shortstop. No one can argue that Polanco’s error wasn’t a turning point in the game. On a play that looked very routine, the Twins middle infield duo messed up the play. While fans are going to remember this play, Polanco was remarkably better on the defensive side of the ball. He committed only two errors the entire season and FanGraphs Defensive Runs Above Average had him ranked as the fourth best shortstop in the AL. Polanco is never going to win a Gold Glove at shortstop, but he made positive strides this season and it’s disappointing that one play could define his season. What are some of your reactions to the first game against the Astros? 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. Travis Blankenhorn began the 2019 season at High-A Ft. Myers. After just 15 games, he moved up to Double-A Pensacola where he hit .278 with 18 doubles and 18 homers in 93 games. In his time with the Blue Wahoos, he had the opportunity to see several of his teammates move up and eventually debut with the Twins in 2019. “Seeing all those guys up there is awesome.” Blankenhorn said in a Get To Know ‘Em podcast last October. He said was excited to see teammates such as Luis Arraez, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and several other pitchers (as well as one of his best friends Jaylin Davis with the Giants) debut and contribute with the Twins. “Just watching them go up there and have success is awesome. We all love it. We’re all cheering for them. Obviously I think that’s a good motivation that we’re not too far away… It could happen like that.” Tuesday night in Chicago, it is Travis Blankenhorn’s turn to make his MLB debut. He batted seventh and played second base in a Twins lineup filled with its regulars. The lineup also included Ryan Jeffers behind the plate and Randy Dobnak on the mound. All three of them began the 2019 season together with the High-A Ft. Myers Miracle. 2020 has been a unique year, and that is true for players making their major-league debuts too. Normally, a player would be in a minor league clubhouse or a hotel room when their manager would call them to let them know they were needed in the big leagues. Blankenhorn was already in Chicago. For the second time this season, he was a part of the Twins taxi squad. He was also part of the taxi squad for the doubleheader in St. Louis. As a taxi squad member, he can work with the team before the game, take some BP, field grounders, etc., but when the game starts, he had to go into the stands. So on Monday, Blankenhorn was going about his game-day routine. He said, “I was already here. I was on the field. Took some ground balls. Went out to the outfield to shag and that’s when he (bench coach Mike Bell) came up and told me. So I definitely think it’s one of the more unique ways to find out.” Bell shared his version of telling Blankenhorn that something was up, “You know it’s going to happen. It’s really cool. It’s such a unique year. His family’s not here. Those things go through your mind. When it became official, I had to run out on the field. I just downplayed it. I said ‘Hey Rocco needs you. No big deal.” Who knows what he thought. He might have thought he had to drive back home to the alternate site.” Blankenhorn said that he ran in to talk to Baldelli. That’s when he got The Call. He was a big leaguer. He had some phone calls to make, but very quickly.He called his parents and his fiance. “I couldn’t talk long though because my BP group was up, and I wanted to hit. Short phone call.” All this happened about 90 minutes before game time. ------------------------------------------------- I tweeted about a week before the season that it sure would have been great if MLB had found a way to safely allow family at a player's MLB debut. https://twitter.com/SethTweets/status/1284940034341314564 Mike Bell agreed that it’s unfortunate, but obviously we understand. “One big thing that this whole year has taken away from some of these young guys making their debuts is their families aren’t in the stands. It’s unique. I’m sure they’ll never forget it. I hate it for them, but you just keep going back to what the world’s dealing with. Gosh, there’s just so much going on. We’re all pretty fortunate here.” Regardless, Monday was an exciting day for Blankenhorn. “There was actually a point in the game where I thought I could have gone in yesterday. Definitely an unreal moment. Just finding out an hour before the game that you’re not going to be sitting in the stands today. You’re actually going to be in the dugout. It was definitely a good feeling. Crazy. Crazy day, for sure.” -------------------------------------------------- So now to the actual baseball side of things. We all love the human element of a big league promotion and Major League debut, but why was Blankenhorn called up, and how can he contribute to the Twins over the final 11 games? First, on Monday, the Twins were without Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano, and Marwin Gonzalez was a late scratch due to illness. The team needed an extra bench bat for the game, and they optioned lefty Devin Smeltzer to add him. It is possible that he could be the player optioned to make room for Jake Odorizzi, who will come off the Injured List on Wednesday and make the start. Twins Daily's Matthew Trueblood wrote earlier today that he'd like to see Blankenhorn play... everyday! ------------------------------------------------------ Blankenhorn debuted at second base on Tuesday night, and that has certainly been his primary position in the minor leagues the last couple of seasons. https://twitter.com/SethTweets/status/1278019202515861505 As you can see, he played a lot of third base early in his career. In 2019, he added left field to his positions played list. However, there is no question that he has mostly worked in the infield. He said that after getting his pre-game infield work done, he goes out to the outfield to shag fly balls and work on reads. At the Twins alternate site in St. Paul, however, Blankenhorn said he has worked exclusively in the infield. Before Tuesday night’s game in Chicago, Baldelli said of Blankenhorn, “I think Blank’s strength defensively is the fact that he can do a lot of different things for you. He’s worked really hard in the infield. He’s gotten to the point where he’s a very competent second baseman and you can feel really good about him getting the job done. Our ability to put him in the lineup comes down to him being very proficient in different spots. I’m looking forward to watching him go.” -------------------------------------------- Baldelli also gave a lot of credit to the the Twins minor league coaches and coordinators. He noted that a lot of good work is being done at CHS Field. “Our guys have done a tremendous job over in St. Paul. JP Martinez has run that camp over there flawlessly in a situation that is very, very challenging. Our guys have got a ton of work.” Baldelli continued, “ I know he’s spent a lot of time with our player development guys, with our coaches, with Billy Boyer on a lot of different spots all over the infield.” Billy Boyer is the Twins minor league infield and base running coordinator. He’s been working with the group in St. Paul this summer. Boyer said of Blankenhorn, “I feel great about where he is with his defense. Blank and our staff have put a ton of time, effort and focus on developing his defensive skill set both at second base and third base. Couldn’t be more proud of him, to see all the time and effort paying off for him.” 2020 has been a strange year. Being at the alternate site is not the same as playing a minor league season, but Blankenhorn said that he and the others in St. Paul are putting in a lot of good work. “We were all just grinding over there. Everyone knows that there’s a chance. We were all just trying to stay ready. Trying to get our at bats. Trying to get our work in. And going to the field everyday knowing that there’s an opportunity that if something would happen, we would be the guys to go over there (Target Field and the MLB roster). It was definitely a grind trying to stay ready over there.” ------------------------------------------------------ Blankenhorn was the Twins third round draft pick in 2015 out of high school in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He was a great three-sport athlete who could have played any of three sports in college. He was a really good defensive back and kick returner on his high school’s football team. He was a big-time shooter on his team’s high school basketball team. And obviously, it appears, he made the right choice in going the way of baseball. But he was a raw, athletic kid when he was drafted. He has had to work hard. He has had to make several adjustments along the way. He has struck out a lot, and then made adjustments. He has added a lot of power to his game as he has matured physically and mentally. It’s all part of the (often quite non-linear) player development path of a prospect. “If you look at my swing from when I first got to the Twins until now, I think I’ve changed a couple of times. Picking and choosing what is best for me. I think last year I learned a lot about myself as a hitter and I’m just trying to continue going off of that.” In last year’s Get to Know ‘Em podcast, he talked about how valuable his experience in the 2018 Arizona Fall League was for him. He was able to pick people’s brains, get other thoughts and ideas and incorporate it into his game, into his approach, and into his swing. As for getting at bats in St. Paul, it certainly wasn’t a typical schedule, but as Baldelli notes, they have been able to get their work in and when they have come over from CHS Field, they have been ready to contribute right away. Because there are only so many pitchers there, there are different schedules. They don’t play regular games. Some days they may get a bunch of at bats. Some days maybe one at bat. Some days they may not get any at bats. “They’ve gotten a ton of at bats ultimately. Is it typical? Is it what we’re used to judging guys off of? No. But it’s certainly a spot where we’re getting our guys enough work where we feel really good putting them in major league games when they get over here. We have no hesitation getting Blank out there, and he’s ready to go too. I think you could actually look at it, not from the way we feel about it, but from the way the players feel about it. The players have shown up here throughout, ready to go. Those guys are ready.” Blankenhorn added, “If you look at the group of pitchers we had over there, the people that came over, I think we definitely had some quality at bats against some quality pitching. I think that was a big part of staying ready.” --------------------------------------------------------- Blankenhorn recently turned 24. If asked what type of player I think he can be, I would look to Marwin Gonzalez as a relatively good comp. Gonzalez is a switch-hitter. Blankenhorn is left handed only. But I can see a situation where Blankenhorn is a solid hitter with some power who is going to strikeout a bit. Defensively, he won’t be great at any one position, but he will be adequate at third base and potentially in the corner outfield spots, and I think he can be solid defensively on the right side of the infield. He could be a solid regular starter at second base if needed, but a large piece of his value comes from his versatility. It should allow him to play in the big leagues for a number of years. It’s a role that Blankenhorn has embraced over the last couple of seasons. He wants to play all over the diamond. “I’m just going to go wherever they tell me to.” ------------------------------------------------------- Blankenhorn's Debut (1-for-3, HBP, 2B) In his first at-bat, Blankenhorn popped up the first pitch to third base. The second at bat was a fly out to left field. In his third plate appearance, he was hit by a pitch in the elbow armor. In the ninth inning, Blankenhorn had that moment, connecting for a two-out double over the right fielder’s head. https://twitter.com/TFTwins/status/1306072858104340491 Following the game, his manager said, “It’s a huge moment for any player. Anyone that’s been in the big leagues and had an opportunity to have a first like that... It’s certainly a moment and an emotion that you always remember. Sometimes you don’t remember every aspect of your first game, or every aspect of your first hit, but there are certainly some snap shots that he will never forget, and he gets to take with him wherever he goes. We know he’s a good offensive player, a good young offensive player, and seeing him put a good swing on the ball like that is very nice.” Blankenhorn said later that it was "an unreal moment, getting on that field for the first time. That's what I've been dreaming about since Little League." He continued, "Getting that first hit out of the way on the first night was definitely nice. (I'm) going to find a case for that baseball and keep it somewhere safe!" More on Travis Blankenhorn Get to Know: Infielder Travis Blankenhorn (October 2015) Catching Up With Twins Infield Prospect Travis Blankenhorn (November 2016) 2017 Twins Daily Prospect #9 (February 2017) 2018 Twins Daily Prospect #17 (February 2018) 2018 Twins Daily Midseason Prospect #13 (July 2018) 2020 Twins Midseason Prospect #20 (June 2019) Episode 6: Get to Know Travis Blankenhorn, LaMonte Wade (October 2019) Duran Headlines Twins Roster Additions (November 2019) 2020 Twins Daily Prospect #18 (February 2020) 5 Questions with Twins Prospect Travis Blankenhorn (April 2020) Play Blankenhorn Everyday! (September 2020)
  23. When the Twins drafted catcher Ryan Jeffers from UNCW in the 2nd round of the 2018 MLB draft, it surprised a lot of draft experts and Twins fans. He wasn’t known as a top draft prospect. He was known as a hit-first catcher who might not be able to play that position in the big leagues.This spring, Baseball America ranked him as the top defensive player in the Twins minor leagues. Over the remainder of the 2018 season as well as the 2019 season, he climbed Twins prospects rankings. In fact, before the 2020 season, Twins Daily ranked him as the #7 Twins prospect. This spring, he was invited to big league spring training in Ft. Myers for the first time. While he didn’t get a lot of at bats, he worked with the pitching staff and the big-league coaches. He also got to work with Mitch Garver and the veteran Alex Avila. He was named to the Twins 60-player pool and has been working out and trying to stay ready in St. Paul. Ready for that call. "Yeah, last night, our farm director, Alex Hassan, called me at like 11:30 and told me (that he was being called up). I was kind of following the game and saw that Garver did something to this side or whatever it was, so I was staying by my phone just in case. I got the call, and I was caught off guard, choked up a little bit, couldn't really find the words, but it was such an amazing feeling getting that call." If it was after 11:00 central time, it was really late back home of North Carolina, but he still had to make a couple of important phone calls to make. “(I) Talked to my parents and my wife’s parents last night, it was midnight back home in North Carolina, but I talked to both of them today, making sure they remembered our conversation from the night before.” With Willians Astudillo now cleared, optioned, and working in St. Paul, it was a bit of a surprise that the Twins purchased the contract of Jeffers. But Rocco Baldelli made it clear how they feel about Jeffers and how he can help this Twins team. The Twins manager said, “Ryan’s a guy that hasn't played a ton at the big league level. One night. But when you watch him go about his work behind the plate, in the clubhouse, at the plate with the bat in his hands, he is very confident and comfortable. He has a very good way about him, he works well with others. He’s a very intelligent guy, he’s very prepared for the game.” https://twitter.com/SethTweets/status/1296553401745051648 After his masterful performance on Thursday night, pitcher Jose Berrios said that he was happy to have Jeffers catch him. Berrios said that earlier in the day Twins interpreter Elvis Martinez informed him that Jeffers was going to make his Major League debut. Berrios responded excitedly, “That’s great!” Baldelli said that Jeffers came to the ballpark early on Thursday, which is a good thing. “We wanted to get him here in plenty of time today to let him settle in and prepare for today's game.” Berrios said that he met with Jeffers and (pitching coach) Wes Johnson, “We were on the same page.” And that was proven throughout the game. Berrios said that he may have shook off Jeffers three times in the game. And, obviously, Berrios put together his best performance of the season, by far. The Twins starter gave up just one hit and one walk over six shutout innings. He struck out nine batters and earned his second win of the season while dropping his season ERA by over a run. Jeffers gave most of the credit to the All-Star right-hander. “His stuff was really crisp tonight. It’s easy to call a game when a guy is throwing what you want and where you want it. And all of his stuff was working, you could tell by the ABs the Brewers were taking that he was really keeping them off balance, really knew what his stuff was doing tonight, which was good. That Jose Berrios is a really, really, really good arm so we get him to do that every day.” Jeffers also said that others helped him prepare to catch in his debut. “They do a really good job getting us ready with all the information we need, and I had a good conversation with Alex (Avila), a good conversation with (Mitch) Garver, really talking about what he’s been doing well, what he hasn’t. Look at the Brewers lineup, going up and down that, just weighing everything and taking all the information as it comes, and just going out there and rolling with the game, seeing what’s working for Jose, and just going with the flow.” Just going with the flow. In his big league debut. That’s a great mentality, but not easy. However, Jeffers noted that he’s been working and preparing for this night. He’s also been given opportunities from Twins Fest to Spring Training to Summer Camp, to get to know his teammates and coaches and get comfortable. “There was a moment in the conversation between me and my wife where it started to become real, but for the most part, I just felt comfortable. Being over here for summer camp really helped me with my nerves today, I felt comfortable here, in the locker room, in the clubhouse, on the field with the guys. For me it was just another day of baseball. Everyone says, just go out there, it’s the same game, and it really is. That’s how you have to treat it every day.” When Jeffers was drafted, scouts around the game knew he could hit. However, each Twins scout that saw him also thought he was good or even better-than-good defensively. But that was one big question for many in the scouting industry. Could he catch? The Twins believed he could when they drafted him, but after his pro debut in 2018, it was clear that they were right. His pitch framing numbers were fantastic, but he kept working. He worked with then minor league catching coordinator Tanner Swanson, and worked a ton this spring with Michael Thomas who took over that role when Swanson left for the Yankees. Jeffers is much more than just a strong defensive catcher. In the bottom of the third inning, Jeffers came to the plate to face hard-throwing Brandon Woodruff with one out and Ildemaro Vargas on third base. Not an easy situation for his first big-league plate appearance. Jeffers said, "I knew he had a good fastball and he was probably going to come at me with it, and just seeing that early and seeing that come out. They've done a really good job preparing us on the St. Paul side to get over here and feel comfortable in the batter's box. I just got in there and just did me. I felt good. I was seeing the pitches well. I was just doing my best to put the ball in play and drive that run in." And that’s just what he did, driving a single past Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. https://twitter.com/SethTweets/status/1296599862042079238 His manager was excited about and impressed with that first at bat as well. “He went up there, and he’s also facing one of the better pitchers in all of baseball, too. It’s not like he was going up there against a guy who’s an easier at-bat. This is a very difficult at-bat in a big spot and game. But again, his ability to kind of avoid distraction and just focus on what he can handle and stay relaxed. He has a lot of characteristics of what we’d just call ... he’s a baseball player.” Baldelli continued, “But watching him go up there and get his first knock in a big spot, we all think it’s cool. It’s just a wonderful feeling for all of us, him mostly. But every time you see a guy go up there and achieve that feat, it’s pretty awesome.” In the bottom of the fifth inning, he came up with one out and no one on. Again, a five-pitch at bat ended with a line drive single out of the reach of Arcia. https://twitter.com/dohyoungpark/status/1296609643188367362 Jeffers fouled out to end the bottom of the sixth inning. Then in the bottom of the eighth inning, he was hit by a pitch. In doing so, he became the first Twins player to reach base three times in his debut since Brian Dinkelman (now the Cedar Rapids Kernels manager) did in 2011. A Twins Daily writer asked Jeffers if he got the baseball from his first hit and if he had any plans for it yet. Jeffers reached into his back pocket and pulled out two baseballs. “I got both of them in my pocket right now. They've got these little silver stickers on them. I'll probably put them on a shelf somewhere and hold onto them pretty tight.” His manager was pretty impressed with the 23-year-old’s debut. Baldelli said, “He brought it out there on the field. He did a great job behind the plate. He’s a guy that knows what’s going on in the game; his awareness level is very high. We got to see all of that come together. Seeing him work with Jose Berrios that well on day one is a tremendous sign for things to come.” Asked to try to reflect on where he’s come over the last few years, Jeffers noted. “It's been awesome. It's been a wild ride from walking on at UNCW, spending three years there, really establishing myself there, and then getting drafted and going through the Minors the first year and then last year. Then, coming in this year and not being really sure of the plan and how COVID was going to affect the season and affect everything. I found myself in St. Paul, and finally getting the call to come over here and do what I can to help this team. So it's been a wild ride. It's been an awesome ride. I'm excited to keep it going.” Twins fans should be excited too. Picking a favorite memory for today and this game would be difficult. “There's so much I could say. Walking up to the plate for the first time and hearing your name called. Going out there and having José throw the way he did. Getting that first RBI. There's so many memories from tonight. I'm going to cherish all of them.” ------------------------------------ Less than two years after being a surprise second round pick, he has arrived in the big leagues. Interestingly, the second overall pick in that 2018 draft was catcher Joey Bart from Georgia Tech. Bart made his MLB debut on this same night for the San Francisco Giants. Bart had a double in four at bats in his debut. Find out more about Ryan Jeffers in the links below: Twins Select Ryan Jeffers in the Second Round of the 2018 Draft (June 2018) Get to Know Twins New Catcher Ryan Jeffers (June 2018) Twins Minor League Hitter of the Month - July 2018 (July 2018) Catching Up with Ryan Jeffers (Feb 2019) Twins Daily 2019 Top Prospects: #13 Ryan Jeffers (Feb 2019) The Twins 2018 Draft Class is Loaded with Talent Twins Daily 2020 Top Prospects: #7 Ryan Jeffers (Feb 2020) Twins Announce Non-Roster Spring Training Invites (Feb 2020) Twins Announce 60-Man Player Pool for Summer Camp (June 2020) Episode 18: Get to Know Ryan Jeffers (June 2020)
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