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  1. Offensive Down Across Baseball During the season’s first month, batters as a whole hit .232, which would be the worst total in a season ever. Back in 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, batters were able to bat .237 for the season. If you don’t know about that season, just look up Bob Gibson’s numbers from that year. According to the Athletic, on-base percentage (.309) was the lowest since 1968, OPS (.698) was the lowest since 1989, and hits per game (7.63) were the lowest of all-time. Some of the best pitching performances in baseball history also happened in the season’s first month and Minnesota was witness to one of those pitchers. Corbin Burnes ended the month with a 49 to 0 strikeout to walk ratio. The Twins handed him his first loss of the year as he and Jose Berrios locked in a pitcher’s duel where Burnes struck out 11 and Berrios struck out 12. Besides Burnes, both Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom posted strikeout rates of 44% or higher. Unfortunately, the Twins don’t have one of these pitchers. Minnesota’s pitchers haven’t exactly joined the pitching revolution. As a staff, the Twins are tied with the Rangers for the worst pitching WAR total in the American League. The club’s 8.87 K/9 ranks 10th and they have given up more home runs per nine innings than any other AL club. According to Statcast, the Twins average exit velocity is the third highest in the AL they have the worst hard-hit percentage. Minnesota pitchers are getting hit and getting hit hard, but they aren’t the only group that is struggling on the team. Positional Struggles Some players in the Twins line-up have been on fire to start the year including Nelson Cruz and Bryon Buxton, the AL Player of the Month. Those aren’t the only positions where the Twins have fared well. According to FanGraphs, the Twins rank in the AL’s top-4 for WAR at multiple positions including second base (2nd overall), third base (1st overall), and left field (4th overall). Catcher has been a rough spot especially since Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers were expected to be one of baseball’s best catching duos. Currently, only two AL teams have a lower WAR from the catching position than the Twins. Garver’s bat has shown signs of life, so there is hope for a catcher turn around in the weeks ahead. Jeffers has been relegated to Triple-A where he will try to regain some confidence at the plate and he hit a home run in his first game. Other positions that can see some improvements are first base (9th overall), shortstop (7th), and right field (14th). Luckily, there are some easy fixes when it comes to these positions. Alex Kirilloff has been killing the ball, but a wrist injury might cause him to miss time. Miguel Sano’s return can also provide a boost at first if he can get his swing back on track. Shortstop is another easy fix, because Andrelton Simmons missed time with COVID. Now that he is healthy, the Twins shortstop numbers should improve. Do you think the Twins can continue to improve offensively? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  2. On Thursday, Barry Daniel made the hard decision to delete an August 2017 tweet with a claim that even he could no longer defend. The tweet read “Face it, Twins apologists: Zach Granite is what Byron Buxton hopes to be. Deal with it. Sorry not sorry. #byronbuston.” The tweet also contained a GIF of Robert Redford slowly nodding in the film Jeremiah Johnson. Daniel said the intervening years have made this the wrong hill to die on. “While I’m very pleased with the hashtag, the fact remains that (Granite) hasn’t played in a major league game in four years and Buxton leads the league in twenty statistical categories,” said the 39-year-old bachelor. Daniel, who refused to wear a mask at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and now only wears a mask outdoors “because the CDC has its own agenda,” said he will not apologize for the bad take. “I refuse to admit I’m wrong, and if you look at it in a certain light, some might argue that the tweet is entirely correct,” said Daniel. “But deleting the tweet can return the focus back to where it ought to be, and that is Buxton’s frequent injuries.” Buxton, who has missed a couple games this year with minor aches and pains, still leads the American League in home runs. Granite is currently with the Charlotte Knights, the Chicago White Sox Triple-A affiliate. “As we wait for his next stint on the DL, it’s very easy for his gaudy, me-first numbers to distract you,” said Daniel, whose only friend is Hitchens, a cat that hates him. When asked if he would delete the March 2019 tweet he made after the Twins traded Granite to the Texas Rangers (“Welcome to the World Series, Texas. Twins front office completely snookered again. #boygeniuses #yeahright”), Daniel said his account was likely hacked that day. Image license here.
  3. 5. Josh Donaldson (0.7 rWAR, 0.5 fWAR) .286/.368/.469 (.838), 2 HR, 3 2B, 7 BB, 5 K There are plenty of candidates to be on the back end of this ballot. Andrelton Simmons put together some strong numbers, but he missed time due to COVID. Taylor Rogers was a one of the lone bright spots in the bullpen, while Michael Pineda and Jose Berrios provided value in the rotation. However, Donaldson gets the nod after getting on base nearly 37% of the time and having more walks than strikeouts. His current 144 OPS+ is his highest total since the 2017 season. Many Twins fans would like to see him leading this list, but he ended the month healthy and that’s certainly a positive sign <knock on wood>. 4. J.A. Happ (0.6 rWAR, 0.2 fWAR) 2-0, 1.96 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 13 K, 7 BB, 199 ERA+ Other pitchers rank higher than him in WAR, but Happ’s value has come from what he has meant to the rotation this year. Happ took the mound on April 23rd with the team in the middle of a stretch where they had lost nine out of ten games. He took a no-hitter into the late innings and helped the club to their first victory in over a week. Minnesota lost the next four games before Happ took the mound again and righted the ship. He’s been a steadying veteran presence when the team has needed one the most. 3. Luis Arraez (1.0 rWAR, 0.9 fWAR) .289/.400/.373 (.773), 1 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B, 14 BB, 11 K Arraez started the season on fire by hitting safely in six of the team’s first eight games including three multi-hit games. On April 15, he almost single-handedly brought the Twins a victory by going 4-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored. Over his last 12 games, things haven’t gone as smooth. He’s gone 10-for-40 (.250 BA) during that stretch with two extra-base hits. Defensively, he’s also being moved all over the diamond including getting accustom to playing in the outfield for the first time in his career. If Arraez would have continued his hot start, he might have been higher on this list. 2. Nelson Cruz (1.1 rWAR, 1.1 fWAR) .321/.375/.655 (1.030), 8 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B(!!), 7 BB, 16 K Cruz, the team’s back-to-back team MVP, is right up there in the running again. Oh yeah, he’s also 40-years-old. He’s tied for second in the league in home runs and he is quietly climbing the all-time home run list. His next two home runs will move him into the top-50 all-time. If he ends the year with 30 homers, he’d jump to 41st all-time. If he can hit 40 homers, he’d move into 38th place. Even without defensive value, he provides leadership on and off the field and that’s one of the biggest reasons the Twins wanted to bring him back for the 2021 campaign. https://twitter.com/betsyhelfand/status/1388963798367801358?s=20 1. Byron Buxton (2.4 rWAR, 2.3 fWAR) .408/.444/.842 (1.287), 8 HR, 9 2B, 3 BB, 17 K By many accounts, Buxton just completed the best month in Twins’ history as his 1.363 OPS was higher than Joe Mauer’s (1.338 OPS) in 2009 and Rod Carew’s (1.313 OPS) in 1977. Good news is that Mauer and Carew would both go on to win MVPs in those seasons. Buxton might be on the same path as he leads the American League in WAR and slugging percentage. His defense continues to be otherworldly and his changes to his offensive approach look to be sustainable. Can he stay healthy? Can he play over 145 games? Those are questions that still remain to be answered. How would your ballot look at the end of the season’s first month? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  4. Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/26 through Sun, 5/2 *** Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 10-16) Run Differential Last Week: +12 (Overall: +3) Standing: 4th Place in AL Central (6.0 GB) Last Week's Game Recaps: Game 21 | CLE 5, MIN 3: Twins Fall to 0-5 in Extras as Colomé Takes 3rd Loss Game 22 | CLE 7, MIN 4: Maeda Can't Find Answers, Slump Drags On Game 23 | MIN 10, CLE 2: Buxton Keys Offense in Dominant Victory Game 24 | MIN 9, KC 1: Pineda Rolls as Kirilloff Breaks Out with 2 HR Game 25 | KC 11, MIN 3: Twins Blown Out as Shoemaker Implodes Game 26 | MIN 13, KC 4: Another Big Day for the Twins Bats NEWS & NOTES Last week in this space, I broke down Minnesota's immense difficulties at catcher, noting that while both Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers were looking totally lost, the struggles of the latter were more pressing given his status as a developing 23-year-old player. "The Twins may need to start thinking about how they'll proceed at the catcher position," I wrote, "if they determine Jeffers needs more time in the minors." It took only a few more days, and one more start from Jeffers – he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against Cleveland on Monday – for the Twins to decide they'd seen enough. On Friday he was optioned to the alternate site, and replaced by the team's other top catching prospect, Ben Rortvedt. Optioned alongside Jeffers on Friday was Brent Rooker, who has largely struggled during his time with the Twins. Concurrently, JT Riddle and Tzu-Wei Lin were designated for assignment to open space on the 40-man roster for the returns of Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick from COVID-IL. Miguel Sanó is reportedly ready to go with the hamstring that placed him on IL, but the Twins are going to give him a few days to take swings and get his timing back. (To the extent he ever had it to begin with.) He figures to be activated midway through the upcoming week. HIGHLIGHTS How about that Byron Buxton? He wrapped up the greatest month in Twins history with another phenomenal week, highlighted by Wednesday's 5-for-5 explosion in Cleveland. In five games, Buxton went 10-for-21 with two home runs, three doubles, and two stolen bases. https://twitter.com/AaronGleeman/status/1388486584605896705 Buxton is making the Twins a must-watch even when the team at large has been hard to watch. He's an incredibly dynamic player and an early MVP frontrunner. But up until very recently, he wasn't getting much help. Alex Kirilloff is among those flipping the script for a languishing lineup. Given that he was hitting the ball harder than any Twins hitter, save for Buxton and Nelson Cruz, it felt like only a matter of time until Kirilloff broke through. That happened on Friday night at Target Field, when the rookie launched a pair of home runs against Kansas City, and he added another on both Saturday and Sunday. The big series lifted his OPS from .269 to .726. https://twitter.com/BallySportsNOR/status/1388963101970771968 One thing to note is that Kirilloff has been extremely aggressive at the plate, which has always been his M.O., but you do wonder if it's going to start to catch up with him. Dating back to spring training, he has drawn only two walks in 69 plate appearances. Then again, it's working just fine for his teammate Buxton, who ranks in the 11th percentile for chase rate and BB% but continues to dominate nonetheless. https://twitter.com/NickNelsonMN/status/1388902804517920771 Comparatively speaking, Garver's ongoing struggles were quite a bit more concerning than Kirilloff's. He was 0-for-his-last 17 with 11 strikeouts when he came to the plate for a third time in Cleveland on Wednesday. The catcher proceeded to launch a mammoth home run. Then, he did it again in his next AB. Garver added a three-run blast against the Royals on Sunday, and it was what we'd call a no-doubter. https://twitter.com/Nashwalker9/status/1388931880054104064 I'm not going to feel especially confident in Garver until he starts showing some dimensionality in his offensive game – in his past eight contests, he has four hits (three monster home runs and a ground ball single), zero walks, and 12 strikeouts. This all-or-nothing dynamic is very dependent on finding a mistake to destroy, which is not necessarily a sustainable formula. That said, it's good to see him unloading on some baseballs after a lengthy skid. Garver regaining his confidence (and competence) at the plate is especially critical with Jeffers now out of the mix. LOWLIGHTS Midway through March, reigning Cy Young runner-up Kenta Maeda looked more impervious than ever. Having not allowed a run or hit through his first few spring outings, the right-hander expressed concern he was having "too good" of a spring and – with tongue in cheek – yearned for a bit of adversity. In April, he got more than he bargained for. Through five starts, Maeda has a 6.56 ERA, with opponents crushing him to the tune of .350/.391/.641. His past two turns, which saw him surrender 12 earned runs on 16 hits and six homers in 8 ⅔ innings, represent the worst we've seen Maeda in a Twins uniform. In fact, you won't find a worse pair of back-to-back outings in his career. Last year, Maeda gave up six or more hits in only one of his 11 starts This year, he's allowed 6+ hits in every start. Meanwhile, Matt Shoemaker has completely fallen apart after a strong start to his Twins career. The righty gave up just one earned run through his first 11 innings, but has since coughed up an astounding 20 earned runs over 12 innings, with two strikeouts, seven walks, and six home runs allowed. The Twins have lost four straight with him on the mound. Saturday's outing was a nightmare as Shoemaker was obliterated by the Royals for nine runs, and his day ended on a sour note when he failed to back up home plate on overthrow. https://twitter.com/AaronGleeman/status/1388606757740683264 It's going to be hard to send Shoemaker and his 8.22 ERA out for another start at this point. Unfortunately the top candidate to replace him, Randy Dobnak, has an 8.16 ERA so he's not the most inspiring alternative at this time. And in a further bit of unfortunate news, it'll be a while before either of the Twins' top two pitching prospects are even ready to start making their cases for a look. https://twitter.com/dohyoungpark/status/1388890802940792832 Meanwhile, a lingering headache in the bullpen won't go away. The Twins are trying their hardest to get Alex Colomé right, but the prized offseason bullpen addition continues to look unusable at every turn. He came in for the 10th inning on Monday against Cleveland and immediately gave up a walk-off homer. The following night, Rocco Baldelli sent him right back out in a lower-leverage "get-right" spot with the Twins trailing by a run in the eighth. Colomé looked perhaps the worst he has all season, laboring through six batters while issuing three walks (one with bases loaded) and an HBP. He appeared in a lower-stakes spot on Saturday, working a scoreless ninth but giving up plenty of hard contact in a blowout loss. Colomé seems incapable of throwing the ball in the zone without hanging it in a batter's wheelhouse. He's getting hit harder than any pitcher in the big leagues. No reliever in MLB history has had a more negative impact through his first 10 appearances with a new team. Truly an epic disaster of a free agent signing, unless Colomé can find a way to reverse course dramatically. https://twitter.com/AaronGleeman/status/1387219157729480707 TRENDING STORYLINE This team doesn't have the luxury of giving away games right now. The offense shows signs of turning a corner, but Baldelli can't afford to be trotting pitchers out to the mound he can't trust. Which brings us to the names mentioned above. Maeda's not going anywhere, and we'll just have to hope he can find himself in a hurry. Shoemaker, as a one-year signing who looked like a temporary plug to begin with, has a far shorter leash, especially considering how irredeemably bad he's looked. While Dobnak might not be the most appealing replacement at this time, Lewis Thorpe looked good in his spot start a few weeks ago, and we know the club was high on him in spring training. How much longer will they wait to make a move? As for Colomé, it's probably still too early to be thinking about a DFA, but there is certainly some urgency for the Twins to address their bullpen issues and he's clearly the primary culprit. This is a stickier situation than Shoemaker; replacing your closer is obviously tougher than replacing your fifth starter. While Taylor Rogers is now assuming ninth-inning duties, the Twins have key high-leverage innings to backfill. Unfortunately, their minimal margin for error makes it tough to audition uncertain commodities – such as Shaun Anderson, Brandon Waddell, or Ian Hamilton – on the fly. There simply aren't enough low-leverage innings to go around for testing these fringe arms and also accommodating Colomé. You can't count on the continuance of lopsided margins like we saw all weekend against Kansas City. We'll see where the Twins go from here. Trusting the bullpen to fix itself seems unwise. LOOKING AHEAD I can't stress this enough: it is CRUCIAL for the Twins to take advantage of the upcoming soft patch in their schedule. With a full slate in the week ahead, they'll be hosting last-place Texas for four games before traveling to Detroit for three against the lowly Tigers. After that, things get a whole lot tougher and the stakes will be raised considerably: 14 games against the White Sox (6), Cleveland (3), Oakland (3), and Los Angeles (2). We haven't seen the Sox yet but the Twins are thus far 1-6 against the other three clubs. If they can't make some inroads toward .500 in these next seven days, they'll be putting themselves in a very, very precarious position. Of note: On Tuesday, Kyle Gibson makes his return to Target Field as a Ranger. He's riding a hell of a hot streak: 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA in his past five starts. Gibby has allowed zero home runs all season. Can his former team solve him? MONDAY, 5/3: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Dane Dunning v. RHP Kenta Maeda TUESDAY, 5/4: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP J.A. Happ WEDNESDAY, 5/5: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Kohei Arihara v. RHP Michael Pineda THURSDAY, 5/6: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Jordan Lyles v. RHP Matt Shoemaker FRIDAY, 5/7: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Spencer Turnbull SATURDAY, 5/8: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Jose Urena SUNDAY, 5/9: TWINS @ TIGERS – LHP J.A. Happ v. RHP Casey Mize 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. Way back in 2016, Byron Buxton was a 22-year-old and had 46 games of major league experience. Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus all considered him the game’s number two prospect overall. Expectations were sky high. Impressively, Buxton finished that year with 35 extra base hits, including 10 home runs, in 92 games. The 118 strikeouts, meanwhile, drew concern. While he slugged a respectable .430, he chased that with a paltry .225 batting average -- an improvement over his .205 mark in 2015, to be sure, but a concern nonetheless. This sent the young center fielder into a dizzying array of mechanical changes which included big leg kicks, no leg kicks, toe-taps, and small strides. Coaches were in his head about what type of hitter he was. They wanted him to focus on hitting ground balls. Coaches were in his face about bunting for hits. Of all the five tools he possessed, he was asked to utilize his speed above all. Over the next three seasons, he posted a .245/.300/.423 slash line in 255 games. His 723 OPS was 263rd among qualified MLB hitters, trailing players like Niko Goodrum and Danny Valencia in a similar amount of games played. In 2019, Buxton started to simplify his mechanics. There was a return to his original swing -- one he grew comfortable with as an amateur in Georgia -- and he stopped listening to input from others, instead doing what he felt best with and seeking out trusted sources. While limited by injuries, there was a noticeable difference in the collision between the bat and ball. In 2020, his exit velocity and launch angle both jumped. His fly balls now traveled an average of 344 feet. Which brings us to today and Byron Buxton’s unrelenting start to the 2021 season. The contrast between the swing of the number two overall prospect in 2016 and the one from baseball’s current OPS leader is pretty stark. If you happened to tune out between those eras and just see these two products, you would hardly recognize the player. First because of his sheer volume of muscle but also because of the swing movements. The two swings are very different in a lot of ways but here are two aspects that should be highlighted that help explain how he got here: The hands at his forward move. If you look at Buxton’s hands on the left, they still need to move back into the launch position (the point where a hitter moves his hands forward at the ball). Now his hands begin at the launch position. They don’t have to travel backward before going forward. It is closer to where Nelson Cruz and his minimal movement are at. When Buxton’s hands had to travel back, it would cause him to rush through his swing. He is now in go-mode meaning he can react or shut the swing down much easier. It helps his overall timing. The swing path. If you watch enough clips of his swing between then and now, one thing that jumps out is his swing plane. Just by looking at where he finishes with the bat you can see how different the route he took to get there is. In 2016 his swing plane followed a much more merry-go-round path. It was level, likely something that was designed to make contact and hit balls on the ground. Now the swing has become more of a Ferris wheel than a merry-go-round, a motion similar to a hockey slapshot. This might be the point where someone mumbles something about a launch angle swing (which doesn’t exist). He may be trying to hit the ball in the air more now, but he actually has hit ground balls at a higher rate this year than he did in 2016. The difference is that when he hit the ball in the air in 2016, he was often clipping the bottom of the ball instead of driving through it. With the Ferris wheel action, Buxton has increased the vertical angle of the bat, meaning he is going to hit it square instead of hitting part of the bottom. In all of 2016, he hit 10 fly balls/line drives at 105 miles per hour or higher. So far this year he’s already hit 13 of those. In addition to selecting the right pitch and being on time, the square, optimal contact comes from having the right bat approach. What is interesting is that Buxton’s overall approach has not changed that much over the years: He still swings through a high amount of pitches. He still chases a lot of pitches out of the zone. What has changed for Buxton is the contact: Over 66% of his balls in play are hit 95+. Only Giancarlo Stanton has done better. Buxton still pulls the ball but at a much lower rate, choosing to use the middle of the field more (this may be an indication of more optimal backspin and not side or topspin). He has fouled off just 29% of balls on swings this year (one of the lowest in the league and well below his 35% career rate). Another data point that is emerging is how teams are choosing to tangle with this monster: He’s seeing far fewer fastballs this year (42% fastballs, Aaron Judge slugger territory). Just 77% of pitches thrown to him have been considered “competitive” (i.e. within 18 inches of the center of the zone which leads to a decent chance of a swing). What it means is that teams are starting to be afraid of the damage he can do. This version of Byron Buxton is quite different from the one that arrived in Minnesota. It has been a long road but this version has eliminated weaknesses and has become one of the game’s elite hitters.
  6. Kansas City Royals After a surprising start, Kansas City sits atop the AL Central. Danny Duffy is having a career year as he has only allowed one earned run in 23 innings (0.39 ERA) with a 1.04 WHIP. Michael Taylor, a free agent signing, has the team’s highest WAR among position players (1.1 WAR). Another off-season pick-up, Carlos Santana continues to be an on-base machine as his OPS is nearly 30 points higher than his career mark. While this start is fun for Royals fans, it seems unlikely for this team to keep up their current pace of 162 games. Result: Pretender Chicago White Sox Chicago is sitting right where many expected they would be in the thick of the division race. Like the Royals, there are some surprising players leading the way. Yermin Mercedes (1.1 WAR) is leading baseball in batting average and Carlos Rodon (0.9 WAR) shocked the baseball world with a no-hitter. Chicago isn’t going away, especially if their younger players find ways to improve. Result: Contender Cleveland Baseball Team Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, and Carlos Santana were all key loses for Cleveland this winter, but this club still has some of the best players in the division. Shane Bieber, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, has picked up right where he left off as he has been striking out over 14 batters per nine innings. Jose Ramirez is a perennial MVP candidate that will be relied on to carry even more of the offensive load. Cleveland’s pitching depth is strong enough to keep them in the race, especially if other teams continue to struggle. Result: Contender Minnesota Twins Despite the recent slide, the Twins are still getting the second-best odds to win the Central. That could owe as much to the expectation that Kansas City won't be able to keep up their hot start as to the Twins eventually figuring things out. Minnesota has plenty of problems to solve, but not everything has been negative so far. Byron Buxton looks like an early MVP contender and Nelson Cruz remains ageless. The Twins are struggling, and they need to figure things out before the other contenders are out of reach. Result: Contender Detroit Tigers Detroit was never supposed to be in the running, and they are living up to those expectations. AJ Hinch, the former Astros manager, is at the helm and he is charged with turning around a rebuilding team. The Tigers haven’t had a winning percentage over .500 since 2016 and that trend doesn’t look to end this year. Result: Pretender Who do you think are the contenders and pretenders in the AL Central? Leave a COMMENT and join 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. Box Score Happ: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K Home Runs: Buxton (8), Donaldson (2), Polanco (1), Astudillo (2), Garver 2 (4) Top 3 WPA: Buxton .137, Polanco .095, Happ .089 Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs): The Twins home run derby Entering Wednesday’s ballgame, the Twins lineup had produced just 10 first inning runs in 22 ballgames, which was tied for 21st in Major League Baseball. That trend of first inning futility did not carry over into this game, as the Twins had already scored four runs just four batters into the ballgame. It all got started with this Byron Buxton opposite field home run. https://twitter.com/JayCat11/status/1387455447494451207 Josh Donaldson followed that up with a blast of his own in the very next at-bat. This one, however, was a no-doubter off the bat with an exit velocity of 106.3 MPH and carried 423 feet to left. https://twitter.com/hr_mlb/status/1387457519648395270 Then, after a Nelson Cruz walk, it was Jorge Polanco’s turn to join the home run bigrade. Like Donaldson’s home run, Polanco’s home run also left the bat at 106.3 MPH, but this one traveled 426 feet to left-center field, giving the Twins a quick four run lead. https://twitter.com/MLB/status/1387458251931930629 The Twins early scoring did not stop in the first. In the top of the second, the Twins added a couple more runs to further extend their lead. Alex Kirilloff got things started with a one out single, and then advanced to second on a wild pitch during Byron Buxton’s at-bat that ended with a ground ball between second base and short, that turned into a double thanks to Buxton’s speed and hustle out of the box. Unfortunately, Kirilloff was unable to score after he misread the groundball and went back to second, before advancing to third. That would be a moot point two batters later, when Nelson Cruz delivered this two-run single. https://twitter.com/TwinsTakes_com/status/1387473827542671361 In the third, it was Willians Astudillo’s turn to join the party, after he hit the Twins fourth home run of the game. https://twitter.com/MLBHRVideos/status/1387472146427953160 Not to be left out, Mitch Garver went deep in the fifth, giving the Twins an 8 to 1 lead on their fifth home run of the ballgame. https://twitter.com/hr_mlb/status/1387479560195821573 A couple innings later, it was Garver again, this time a two-run shot to get the Twins to double-digits on their sixth home run of the game. https://twitter.com/Twins/status/1387489332500393984 J.A. Happ builds off great start last time out After a gem of a start last Firday, where J.A. Happ didn’t give up a hit until the 8th inning, he came back out Wednesday and gave the Twins another strong outing, giving up just two runs across seven innings of work. He did give up a number of deep flyballs, but with the exception of a Amed Rosario home run, they all came up short as warning track flyballs. A lot of Twins fans grumbled at the J.A. Happ signing when it happened this winter, but four starts in and it appears to be a great move for starting rotation depth. In total, Happ now has a 1.96 ERA in 23 innings of work and has yet to give up more than two runs in any of his starts. Byron Buxton’s career day Prior to today, Bryon Buxton had only ever had just one four-hit game, which came back in 2017 in Toronto when Buxton blasted three home runs on the way to a Twins 7-2 win. Today, Buxton recorded his first ever five-hit game, and came up just a triple shy of the cycle. We already mentioned the solo shot to leadoff the ballgame. On a couple of his hits later in the game, it was Buxton’s wheels, not his power that was on display. https://twitter.com/bbletter/status/1387466340831842307 https://twitter.com/Cut4/status/1387485103983677442 When all was said and done, Buxton had collected 10 total bases along with a stolen base on his way to earning the YouTube Player of the Game honors. Can we just give Buxton the MVP award already? Dobnak throws two shutout innings Thanks to the offensive explosion, the Twins did not need to rely on the bullpen to close out the game late, something the Twins have been unable to do at all this year. Instead, it gave Rocco Baldelli the flexibility to turn to Randy Dobnak, who produced his best outing of the season, giving up just a single to go along with three strikeouts in two shutout innings of work. Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet Click here to see the bullpen usage over the past five days (link opens a Google Sheet).
  8. Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/19 through Sun, 4/25 *** Record Last Week: 1-5 (Overall: 7-13) Run Differential Last Week: -15 (Overall: -9) Standing: 4th Place in AL Central Last Week's Game Recaps: Game 15 | OAK 7, MIN 0: Hapless Twins Continue Woeful Streak; Swept by Athletics Game 16 | OAK 1, MIN 0: Hapless Twins Continue Woeful Streak; Swept by Athletics Game 17 | OAK 13, MIN 12: Offensive Breakout Wasted in Total Unraveling Game 18 | MIN 2, PIT 0: Happ Takes No-hitter into 8th, Twins Blank Bucs Game 19 | PIT 6, MIN 2: Lineup Sleepwalks in Another Dire Loss Game 20 | PIT 6, MIN 2: Déjà Vu All Over Again NEWS & NOTES Between COVID-related maneuvering, injury replacements, and procedural moves, there was a ton of roster action over the past week. Let's quickly get caught up: On Tuesday, Max Kepler, Kyle Garlick and Caleb Thielbar were placed on the COVID-IL. They were replaced on the roster by Brent Rooker, Travis Blankenhorn, and Luke Farrell, who were all traveling with the team as taxi squad members. Lewis Thorpe was called up as the 27th man during the doubleheader in Anaheim, then returned to the minors. The next day, JT Riddle joined others on the COVID-IL, having been deemed a close contact. Tomás Telis came over from the taxi squad to replace him. On Friday, Telis and Blankenhorn were returned to the alternate site, and Miguel Sanó was placed on the IL with a hamstring injury. Taking over those roster spots were Alex Kirilloff, Nick Gordon, and Tzu-Wei Lin. On Saturday, Thielbar was reactivated after clearing COVID protocols, sending Farrell back to the alternate site. Having thrown 4 ⅔ strong innings in relief on Saturday, Smeltzer was swapped out from the bullpen for a fresh arm – Cody Stashak, who rejoined the roster on Sunday. It also sounds as though Andrelton Simmons is past his bout with COVID and ready to return, possibly as soon as Monday, although he hasn't yet been activated. Presumably Gordon, who didn't appear in the Pittsburgh series, will be sent out to make room. HIGHLIGHTS Rocco Baldelli has dealt with his share of unwelcome problems and headaches in the first month of the season, but we can probably file this one under "nice problems to have": Deciding whether or not to keep starters in games as they chase no-hitters and their pitch counts mount. José Berríos put the manager in such a spot a couple weeks ago, with six hitless frames in Milwaukee, and now J.A. Happ became the latest, carrying a no-no bid into the eighth against Pittsburgh on Friday. Fortunately, for Rocco, Happ took the decision out of his hands, giving up a double with one out in the eighth inning, but he finished with a stellar line: 7.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K. https://twitter.com/Twins/status/1385956696435007489 Happ's performance could hardly be described as dominant, but he was effective in exactly the way you'd expect from a seasoned veteran southpaw. He mixed pitches, threw strikes, kept hitters off-balance, and limited hard contact. (He also benefited from some luck, for which the Twins were beyond due.) No one should be fooled into thinking he's suddenly an ace, but it's a nice luxury to have a starter with those kinds of chops in the back half of your rotation. Failures of the Twins' lineup have not been attributable to its central cogs. Nelson Cruz launched three more home runs, with Sunday's bomb tying him for the big-league lead. Josh Donaldson looks healthy and locked in – his four-hit game on Thursday reminds us of what he can do. Luis Arraez keeps hitting and getting on base atop the order. Byron Buxton continues to flat-out mash, with a clutch extra-innings homer in Oakland and a go-ahead RBI single on Sunday. Recently we've also started to see his defensive impact come into play. He made a pair of phenomenal catches in center field and they both came at crucial times. His play in Oakland will go down as one of the year's best in baseball. https://twitter.com/Twins/status/1384996545251086338 https://twitter.com/Nashwalker9/status/1386028081144602626 It's amazing that the Twins have been so chronically incapable of producing runs and winning games when Buxton is doing what he's doing. It really is. Only worsens the sting. LOWLIGHTS We're still in the first month of the season, but even the most big-picture analytical thinker has to be harboring legitimate concerns about the state and outlook of this club. They've got a lot of time left to turn it around, but the Twins are digging themselves quite a hole, and giving reason to wonder if they're even capable of the sort of 180-degree reversal needed to get back into the contention mix. The lineup had a rare outburst on Wednesday, scoring 12 runs in a gutting loss. Outside of that, this was one of the most dreadful and dreary weeks in memory for a Minnesota Twins offense, which put up six total runs in five other games. The Twins were shut out in both ends of a doubleheader against the A's, and then held to two runs in each of their three games against a Pirates team that entered the series with a 4.75 ERA. Several different positional units have been prime contributors to this run-scoring malaise: https://twitter.com/NickNelsonMN/status/1386358653758758913 Left Field The Twins moved on from Eddie Rosario during the offseason because they understandably felt they had enough to cover for his absence in left field. Thus far, this has not proven to be the case. Minnesota's left fielders have collectively gone 10-for-74 (.135) with zero home runs, 30 strikeouts, and two walks. Kirilloff, a hopeful savior, is hitless through 14 plate appearances. First Base Primarily due to Sanó's pre-injury struggles, first base has been a void of offensive production, with a .157 batting average and only three extra-base hits (all home runs). Willians Astudillo has been an uninspiring replacement. Catcher Both Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers are, incredibly, striking out in nearly half of their plate appearances. The struggles of Jeffers – who is slashing .167/.242/.200 with 16 strikeouts in 33 plate appearances – are especially pressing, given that he's a 23-year-old who is still developing as a player. The Twins may need to start thinking about how they'll proceed at the catcher position if they determine Jeffers needs more time in the minors. Who knows what can be done with the dazed-and-confused Garver. Second Base Like catcher, this position looked like a clear source of strength coming into the season, but has proven to be anything but. Owing mostly to Jorge Polanco's struggles, Twins second basemen had produced a .164/.235/.205 slash line before Arraez lifted those numbers slightly on Sunday. The pitching has largely not been good, especially in the disastrous meltdown that transpired on Thursday. Starters are laboring and the bullpen has been full of leaks, top to bottom. But it almost doesn't matter, because the offense has been so persistently incapable of scoring runs. There are some very talented hitters here, and I have to believe an awakening is forthcoming. But then again, so many of these familiar issues trace back to last year's struggles – especially in the playoffs. Watching inning after inning of lethargic, non-competitive at-bats against unremarkable pitchers, you can't help but wonder ... is this a closer approximation to the Twins in their true form than the juggernaut that emerged in 2019? TRENDING STORYLINE In the early part of his tenure, Baldelli's teams developed a reputation for resilience. They routinely bounced back from losses and overcame adversity on the way to a 101-win season in his managerial debut. When the times got tough, those Twins got tougher. (Up until October, anyway.) Of late, this trait has been completely amiss. The Twins have seen their troubles snowball as the month progresses. Losing two of three while scoring six runs at home against that Pirates team is just brutal. So now, we'll simply have to see if Rocco and his Twins can find some resilience within themselves. They whiffed on a juicy get-right opportunity against Pittsburgh, and if the miserable play carries forward into the next week it's going start getting costly: six games lie ahead against teams the Twins are chasing in the standings. It sounds like Simmons will be back very soon. Kepler and Garlick hopefully are not far behind. The Twins will gradually return to full strength. The pressure is mounting for them to show it's a team worth believing in. One wonders how much longer this can go on before the front office steps in and takes some kind of significant action, rather than waiting for things to get right on their own. We're moving past the realm of overreactions to small samples. LOOKING AHEAD Only three of Minnesota's first 21 games came against a division rival, and they featured the least relevant one (Detroit) at that. Now, the Twins are about to get a heavy dose of the AL Central – 25 of their next 38 games – and it starts with a slate of six match-ups against Cleveland and the Royals this week. Of note: The Twins will luckily miss Shane Bieber in the Cleveland series. We'll take whatever breaks we can get at this point. MONDAY, 4/26: TWINS @ CLEVELAND – RHP José Berríos v. RHP Zach Plesac TUESDAY, 4/27: TWINS @ CLEVELAND – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Aaron Civale WEDNESDAY, 4/28: TWINS @ CLEVELAND – LHP J.A. Happ v. LHP Logan Allen FRIDAY, 4/30: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Mike Minor v. RHP Michael Pineda SATURDAY, 5/1: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Danny Duffy v. RHP Matt Shoemaker SUNDAY, 5/2: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Brad Keller v. RHP José Berríos 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. Two weeks have already passed in this young season and there are plenty of trends to keep an eye on, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg in a 162-game campaign. Sports Illustrated thinks Byron Buxton will make a run at the first offensive Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera back in 2012. Buxton is up near the top of all three categories (batting average, home runs, and RBI) so let’s examine his chances in each category. Batting Average Buxton’s hot start has resulted in a .469 batting average, which ranked seventh in the AL entering play on Sunday. No player can continue to hit at that rate for an entire season. Ted Williams was the last player to post a batting average over .400 for an entire season and that was in 1941. There have been players that made a run at .400 include Minnesota’s Rod Carew. However, there may be some positive signs in Buxton’s numbers so far this year. Buxton leads all of baseball in barrels per plate appearance (19.4%) and only two players have a higher average exit velocity. For his career, Buxton is a .244/.295/.445 hitter so his numbers this season are significantly higher than any other season in his career. If he can stay healthy, he might be able to post some eye-popping numbers. Batting average seems like it might be the hardest area of the Triple-Crown for him to win. Home Runs Buxton ranks second in the AL in home runs, and he’s missed multiple games with a hamstring issue and the team’s COVID problems. His career high in home runs came back in 2017 when he hit 16 homers in 140 games. He’s well on his way to setting a personal best, but he will probably need to triple his best to be in the conversation for most AL home runs. In the last decade, the fewest amount of home runs to lead the AL was 40 from Nelson Cruz back in 2014. The last under 40 home run leader was in 2009 when Carlos Pena and Mark Teixeira tied with 39 longballs. Buxton has focused on adding strength in recent off-seasons and he might be seeing the fruits of his labor. Buxton had a 12 game stretch last season where he hit eight home runs in 12 games. Back in 2017, he hit 11 home runs in 34 games including a three-homer game in Toronto. RBI Out of the three categories, RBI is the one area that Buxton has little control over. He’s only had over 50 RBI once in his career and that was back in 2017. In previous seasons, he has typically been batting in the ninth spot in the batting order, which isn’t exactly a spot known for driving in a lot of runs. His hot bat this season has seen him batting more regularly in the heart of the order. He has multiple games batting third or fourth in the line-up and the lowest he has batted is sixth. As a team, the Twins have struggled with runners in scoring position this season. Buxton has gone 2-for7 with RISP including a home run and a double. Other Twins players at the top of the line-up will need to get in position for Buxton to drive them in. A healthy Buxton hitting at a torrid pace has a chance to make baseball history, but a Triple Crown takes a lot of things working in a batter’s favor. Buxton might be the early frontrunner for AL MVP, but a Triple Crown doesn’t seem likely. Do you think Buxton has a shot at the Triple Crown? 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
  11. Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 4/5 through Sun, 4/11 *** Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 5-4) Run Differential Last Week: +14 (Overall: +21) Standing: T-2nd Place in AL Central Last Week's Game Recaps: Game 4 | MIN 15, DET 6: Cruz Leads Trouncing of Tigers Game 5 | DET 4, MIN 3: Twins Fail to Execute in Extras Game 6 | MIN 3, DET 2: Colomé Holds on for 6-Out Save Game 7 | MIN 10, SEA 2: Twins Treat Returning Fans With Dominant Victory Game 8 | SEA 4, MIN 3: Another Loss in Extra Innings Game 9 | SEA 8, MIN 6: Mariners Score Eight Unanswered Runs NEWS & NOTES It's been a rough go for Brent Rooker. The slugging prospect looked quite good upon arriving in the major leagues last year, but broke his arm on an HBP in just his seventh game. This spring he missed out on a roster spot that many expected him to claim, with left field open, but quickly got his chance when Josh Donaldson went down in the opener. Unfortunately, Rooker just never looked right, going 1-for-11 with six strikeouts before being placed on the Injured List with a cervical strain ahead of Wednesday's game. Brandon Waddell replaced him on the roster, adding a 14th reliever. HIGHLIGHTS It is all coming together for Byron Buxton. We've seen torrid stretches from the center fielder before, but never in his career has he been so visibly confident, casual, and carefree while straight-up obliterating the competition. He looks like a fully-realized Neo in The Matrix right now, seeing ones and zeros. It's magical. Last week Buxton went 10-for-19 with three home runs and three doubles, lifting his seasonal hitting line to a hysterical .481/.548/1.185 while cementing his status as bona fide cleanup hitter. Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz continues to be an astounding offensive force as he approaches age 41. Finally joining the starting lineup with the Twins escaping NL rules, he launched two homers, including a grand slam, in his first start of the season in Detroit. He added another the following day and then went deep on Saturday at Target Field, totaling 11 hits and nine RBIs in six starts for the week. Buxton and Cruz are leading the charge for a lineup that has been locked in and routinely destroying the ball. There have been plenty of promising early signs suggesting the offensive powerhouse of 2019 has returned – in the past week alone, the Twins recorded more runs in a game (15 against Detroit on Monday) and more hits in a game (16 against Seattle on Thursday) than they ever did during the 2020 season. In the early going, these boys are hitting the ball HARD. Pitching continues to be a tremendous positive overall, albeit one that hit a snag with the unraveling midway through Sunday's game. Prior to that, the unit had been nothing short of incredible. Minnesota entered Sunday leading the American League in ERA (2.20), and trailing only Boston and New York in FIP (3.19). The starting pitching especially was exemplary, with an MLB-leading 1.88 ERA. Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, and Michael Pineda all contributed last week with strong showings, and Matt Shoemaker had allowed only one through 11 innings before things went south in the sixth on Sunday. We'll get a couple of looks at J.A. Happ in the week ahead, but so far this rotation has been highly impressive and even better than advertised. Excellent work from Wes Johnson and all involved. LOWLIGHTS Alex Colomé is a problem. The centerpiece of Minnesota's offseason bullpen overhaul has now been directly responsible for two of their four losses. While the blown three-run save in the season opener could be chalked up in part to defensive lapses and bad luck, there's no sugarcoating the meltdown that took place in the ninth inning Sunday, which cost the Twins a game and series against Seattle. Colomé looked flat-out brutal. He faced five hitters, induced zero swinging strikes on 17 pitches, and gave up contact of 99.9+ MPH on three of four balls in play. That includes Kyle Seager's game-winning home run, on a pitch very similar to the back-breaking Christian Yelich drive in Milwaukee: a 90 MPH cutter in the heart of the zone that basically grooved right into the sweet spot of the bat. It was the second consecutive day where Colomé surrendered a late-game lead. On Saturday he gave up a go-ahead single to Seager, on yet another crushable meatball right over the plate. These are frankly inexcusable pitches in key spots and he's been serving them up continually. Of all the front office's offseason moves, the Colomé signing was the one that gave me most pause. As good as his numbers on looked on paper, it was hard not to feel apprehensive about the fact that the White Sox – who watched him achieve near-perfection as closer in 2020 – spent $50 million for his replacement while seemingly making no effort to retain him. Likewise, the rest of the league showed lukewarm interest at best in Colomé, who ended up signing for less than almost anyone expected. It feels like we're quickly seeing why. TRENDING STORYLINE When will Donaldson return? From the sound of it, his activation from IL could be imminent. The Twins described his hamstring strain as "minor" from the start, and sure enough, he was running on treadmills and testing his legs just days after being placed on the shelf. On Sunday he went through a full battery of live baseball activities at the alternate site in St. Paul and reportedly came out of it feeling fine. It sounds like there's a very real chance he'll rejoin the team this week, if not on Monday. With Miguel Sanó, Jorge Polanco, and basically everyone who sets foot in left field failing to do much offensively, the lineup could use JD's boost. LOOKING AHEAD The first full-slate week of the season is on tap, with seven games in seven days. First, the Twins will welcome the Red Sox for four at Target Field. Then it's off to Southern California for three against the Angels. It's unclear whether Shohei Ohtani, who missed his last start with a blister, might be ready to take the mound in one of those contests. MONDAY, 4/12: RED SOX @ TWINS – LHP Martin Perez v. LHP J.A. Happ TUESDAY, 4/13: RED SOX @ TWINS – RHP Nathan Eovaldi v. RHP Kenta Maeda WEDNESDAY, 4/14: RED SOX @ TWINS – LHP Eduardo Rodriguez v. RHP Jose Berrios THURSDAY, 4/15: RED SOX @ TWINS – RHP Garrett Richards v. RHP Michael Pineda FRIDAY, 4/16: TWINS @ ANGELS – RHP Matt Shoemaker v. TBD SATURDAY, 4/17: TWINS @ ANGELS – LHP J.A. Happ v. TBD SUNDAY, 4/11: TWINS @ ANGELS – RHP Kenta Maeda 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
  12. Buxton and Berríos were part of a young core of players that were tasked with digging the Twins out of their losing ways. Both were considered among baseball’s best prospects, but now Minnesota might be faced with looking into the future and deciding which player is a better fit for the long-term. Career Value Many fans have become frustrated with Buxton and what seems to be consistent trips to the injured list. There was so much hype surrounding him from prior to the 2012 Draft through his debut and subsequent big-league career. It would be tough for any player to live up to those expectations, but there have certainly been signs of the five-tool player Buxton was touted to be. So far in his career, Buxton has been worth 11.7 WAR according to Baseball Reference and 9.0 WAR according to FanGraphs. Almost half of his WAR total came during the 2017 season when he won a Platinum Glove and hit .253/.314/.413 with 36 extra-base hits in 140 games. Last year, he played in 39 games and batted .254/.267/.577 with 13 home runs and three doubles. It’s clear that he can be the team’s most valuable player when he is on the field. Frustration has also been part of the story for Berríos, but most of this ire has been directed at his inconsistent performance. He’s been a two-time All-Star and much of that is due to some strong first half performances. Throughout his career, he has posted a 3.64 ERA and held batters to a .226/.285/.385 slash line in the first half. In the second half, his ERA rose to 4.84 and batter’s OPS jumped to .756. According to Baseball Reference, Berríos has been worth a 7.3 WAR, while FanGraphs has him listed at 11.4 WAR. Unlike Buxton, there isn’t a clear best season in his big-league career. Baseball Reference places his 2018 season (3.4 WAR) at the top as he posted a 3.84 ERA with 202 strikeouts in just over 192 innings. FanGraphs ranks his 2019 season (4.3 WAR) as the best when he had a 3.68 ERA with 195 strikeouts in 200 1/3 innings. Future Value Buxton and Berríos are both off to tremendous starts to the 2021 campaign but is tasked with looking into the future and figuring out which player will provide the most value in the years to come. Berríos is going to be paid like a top-tier starter either by the Twins or through the free agency process. It’s clear that his representation has been set on that as he has gotten closer to hitting the open market. This likely means he will be earning $100 million or more. Minnesota’s previous record for a free agent starting pitcher was Ervin Santana who signed for four-years and $55 million back in 2015. Before Santana, the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal and fans are well aware of how that turned out. Berríos would become the highest paid pitcher in Twins’ history and expectations of him evolving into an “ace” level pitcher would only increase. Buxton’s future value is a little harder to predict, but that also means an extension would be for less money than Berríos. According to Buxton, he feels like he is in the best spot he has been in as a baseball player. His power surge over the last two years is looking more legit and that only helps his potential future earnings. That being said, speed is part of his game and he will lose a step or two as he continues to age. Minnesota has the option to resign both players and there is nothing stopping the team from making this a reality. However, Berríos and his importance to the rotation seem to be more important to the team’s long-term success. Who do you think is more important 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
  13. When asked ahead of spring training if he was concerned about reported alterations to the baseball, and their impact on his production, Cruz gave a perfectly logical answer: "That's gonna be for every hitter. If they were gonna keep it only for myself, yeah, I'd be worried, but that's everybody. I'll be good." So far in this young season, it does kinda seem like Cruz is hitting a different kind of baseball than everyone else. But not in the way he intimated. The 40-year-old DH was raring to go after sitting out much of the opening series. In the second at-bat of his first start of the season, Monday in Detroit, Cruz launched a grand slam that traveled out of the yard at 114.6 MPH. https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/1379145035162157060 To put that exit velocity in perspective, it would've ranked second-highest out of all his batted balls in the entire 2020 season, and sixth in 2019. Cruz was only warming up. In his next plate appearance, he crushed a solo home run with an exit velocity of 116.6 MPH. Not only would that EV have ranked third among all batted balls in the major leagues last year, it was the hardest-hit home run by a Minnesota Twins since Statcast started tracking data in 2015. Surpassing all 307 hit with the juiced ball in 2019. https://twitter.com/SInow/status/1379161050793312261 While we're very early on, Cruz's measurable rankings against fellow MLB hitters are hilarious. He's on another world, basically. Never mind that he's doing it at an age where, historically, even inner-circle Hall of Famers have generally failed to produce. As amazing as Cruz's crusade against deadened baseballs and aging curves might be, I find myself even more impressed by what Byron Buxton is doing in this young season. We've grown accustomed to Nelly obliterating the ball. Buck's breakout is still very much in blossom. On Opening Day, Buxton hit the longest and hardest home run of his career – a 111.4 MPH nuke measured at 456 feet. After entering midway through Tuesday's game against the Tigers, Buxton re-wrote his own exit velocity record. His game-tying solo shot clocked in at 114.1 MPH. (With a slightly higher arc, it fell just short in distance of his bomb in Milwaukee, at 451.) https://twitter.com/BallySportsNOR/status/1379526730046709761 The return of baseball itself is itself a shock to the system, but if you feel like what you've been seeing from these Twins hitters at the plate is extraordinary, you're not wrong. Within the first five games of the season, this team is already doing eye-popping things. Cruz and Buxton are leading the charge by decimating balls in unprecedented fashion. So, with all that said, I can't really speak much to the efficacy of MLB's efforts to deaden the baseball. But I can say with certainty that a few of those baseballs are dead now. 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. Weekly Snapshot: Thurs, 4/1 through Sun, 4/4 *** Record Last Week: 2-1 (Overall: 2-1) Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +7) Standing: T-1st Place in AL Central Last Week's Game Recaps: Game 1 | MIL 6, MIN 5: Twins Blow 3-Run Lead in 9th Inning Game 2 | MIN 2, MIL 0: Take a Bow, José Berríos Game 3 | MIN 8, MIL 2: Arraez Reaches 5 Times, Twins Take Series NEWS & NOTES An opening series victory in Milwaukee brought plenty of glowing positives, but also a familiar feeling of dread as Minnesota's two most critical players – Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton – still can't seem to stay on the field. Donaldson made it through only one plate appearance before his balky legs acted up once again. A tight hamstring disrupted his stride while he rounded first base on a double in Thursday's opener, and Donaldson was removed before taking the field at third base. The diagnosis is relatively encouraging, in that it wasn't calf-related and the Twins emphasized the "mild" nature of the injury ... but still. This is a gutting development right off the bat. Buxton lasted slightly longer before being removed from a game, but not by much. He exited Sunday's contest in the third inning, although fans were able to breathe a big sigh of relief upon learning he was lifted due to non-COVID illness. Donaldson went on the Injured List and was replaced on the roster by Brent Rooker, who made his season debut on Sunday in place of Buxton. Presumably Buck should be back within the next day or two. Still, to have both players already knocked out of games in a season where the big narrative is "What can the Twins do if they keep JD and Buck on the field for any length of time" is almost unreal. What's most unfortunate is that both players looked so good prior to these incidents. Donaldson hit a 112 MPH rocket into the gap in his lone at-bat, and Buxton's been on an absolute tear out of the gates. Which feels like a good place to start the next section. HIGHLIGHTS Before leaving Sunday's game, Buxton ripped a 98 MPH double in his first AB, tallying his third extra-base hit already. The first was a majestic moonshot on Opening Day that should've sealed a win (longest HR of Buxton's career), and the second home run on Saturday broke up a no-hitter by Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes, ultimately proving decisive in Minnesota's 2-0 victory. After slugging .534 with 23 home runs in 126 games over the past two years, Buxton is making an emphatic early statement that his power breakthrough is entirely legitimate. His hot start, combined with the injury to Donaldson and unavailability of Nelson Cruz, quickly elevated the center fielder to No. 3 hitter, and Buck looked the part. He wasn't the only one who looked like a natural at a new spot in the order. Luis Arraez batted leadoff in each of the first three games, and it sure seems like he's gonna stick there. He reached base nine times in the series, including five times in Sunday's finale. He's sporting a healthy .600 on-base percentage after three games. Although his defense at the hot corner may be somewhat questionable, Arraez is an absolute godsend in the absence of Donaldson, allowing the Twins to replace one of their most crucial players in the lineup with an amazing hitter and essential sparkplug. The team's decision to designate him essentially as a 10th man is already looking very savvy, dramatically lessening the blow of Donaldson's loss. Beyond Buxton and Arraez, there were plenty of other offensive highlights, including Max Kepler's clutch hitting, Mitch Garver's awakening, and some encouraging signs from Miguel Sanó. But the resounding positive coming out of this series is starting pitching. José Berríos was unbelievable on Saturday night, spinning the gem of his career with six no-hit innings and 12 strikeouts. With his fastball pumping 95-96 consistently and his breaking ball giving hitters fits, Berríos retired 18 of the 19 batters he faced, with an HBP the only blemish in his brilliant performance. While they weren't quite as overwhelmingly impressive, Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda also deserve credit for high-caliber first turns in the rotation. The fielders behind them weren't always helpful (more on that in a moment), and Maeda especially was not at his sharpest, but both starters were effective, combining to allow just one earned run in 9 ⅓ innings with 10 strikeouts. The path to a 100-win season for the Twins this year lies in getting consistently strong starting pitching, day in day out, and letting the rest take care of itself. So far, so good on that front. LOWLIGHTS The Twins revamped their roster during the offseason with a clear objective in mind: upgrade to a world-class defense that can uplift the pitching staff and cut down on costly miscues. So far, not so good on that front. The series in Milwaukee featured a medley of gaffes and blunders. Andrelton Simmons dropped a force-out thrown right into his glove. Jorge Polanco muffed a routine grounder. Alex Colomé committed a mental and physical error with a wayward throw to second on Thursday. Later that inning, Kepler failed to secure a deep drive to right despite getting leather on it. Certainly not the hallmarks of a stalwart defensive club, although it's wise not to overreact at this stage, and there were some nifty plays mixed in as well. The disappointing glovework, and Colomé's ninth-inning meltdown in the opener, were really the only significant rough spots in this series, since the Twins outplayed Milwaukee quite thoroughly otherwise. TRENDING STORYLINE We've gotten past the known commodities in the Twins rotation. Maeda, Berríos and Pineda all looked good, but that's nothing new. They powered this starting staff to stellar results last year. Now, we'll get a look at the new guys. Matt Shoemaker is set to make his Twins debut on Monday, followed by J.A. Happ on Tuesday. Shoemaker will be looking to shake off a rough spring, where he posted a 6.57 ERA and allowed four homers in 12 ⅓ innings, while Happ will be looking to go as deep as he can following a COVID-shortened ramp-up. Expect to see some Randy Dobnak in the days ahead, and possibly some roster moves (position player out, pitcher in?) as the Twins aim to keep fresh arms stocked while escaping from NL rules. LOOKING AHEAD With interleague play in the rearview (for now), the Twins will welcome Cruz back to their starting lineup on Monday in Detroit, where they kick off a three-game series against the worst team in the division. Of note: in an early-season scheduling quirk, all three games at Detroit are noon starts. On Thursday, Target Field will welcome back fans for the first time in 18 months. It promises to be a very special occasion. With six games on tap against two of the worst teams in the league, this should hopefully be a chance for the Twins to flex their muscles a bit. MONDAY, 4/5: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Matt Shoemaker v. RHP Jose Urena TUESDAY, 4/6: TWINS @ TIGERS – LHP J.A. Happ v. RHP Casey Mize WEDNESDAY, 4/7: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kenta Maeda v. LHP Matthew Boyd THURSDAY, 4/8: MARINERS @ TWINS – LHP Marco Gonzales v. RHP Jose Berrios SATURDAY, 4/10: MARINERS @ TWINS – RHP Yusei Kikuchi v. RHP Michael Pineda SUNDAY, 4/11: MARINERS @ TWINS – RHP Chris Flexen v. RHP Matt Shoemaker 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. Byron Buxton Finishes in the Top-3 for AL MVP Buxton only has two years remaining until free agency, so there is an incentive for him to stay on the field and produce at a high level. There have been glimpses of his potential at the big-league level, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together over the course of 162-games. Even if he plays 140-150 games, he should accumulate enough WAR to be in the MVP discussion. Last season, he finished eighth highest WAR among AL position players, and he played fewer than 40 games. His defense is always going to provide value, so he will need to put up offensive numbers that match. Can he hit 30+ home runs? Score 120+ runs? Steal 30 bases? It’s fun to consider the possibilities. Twins Players Win Four Gold Gloves The Twins might have the best defense in team history and this can result in a record amount of Gold Gloves. No team has ever won five Gold Gloves in one season and that might not be out of the realm of possibility. Looking around field and there are potential Gold Glove winners at nearly every position. Byron Buxon and Andrelton Simmons are two of the best defenders over the last decade. If healthy, they are both front-runners for the award at their position. Max Kepler has been one of the best defensive right fielders for years and just hasn’t been awarded the top defensive honor. On the mound, Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios are two of the best pitchers at fielding their position. Add in Jorge Polanco and his switch to a less demanding defensive position and the Twins have six-seven candidates around the diamond. Minnesota Wins the AL Central by 10 Games or More The White Sox are getting a lot of love as the season starts and they look like a team that will be a thorn in the side of the Twins for years to come. It just isn’t going to be this season. Eloy Jimenez and his recent injury showcases their lack of depth around the diamond. Chicago is also relying on some of their young players putting it all together and there is no guarantee that happens. Minnesota will take care of business against the bottom teams in the AL Central and fare better than expected against Chicago and Cleveland. This can give the Twins an opportunity to be the number one seed heading into the AL playoffs and the road to the World Series will come through Target Field. It will be up to the club make sure some winning baseball happens in October. What are your bold predictions for the Twins? 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
  16. Catcher Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers are penciled in to get the majority of the innings behind the plate. However, Willians Astudillo is making the Opening Day roster and he can be used occasionally at catcher. Garver and Astudillo’s bats are strong enough that they may be used at other defensive positions as well. Jeffers is the best defensive catcher as his pitch framing skills are among baseball’s best. First Base Miguel Sano is set to be the primary first baseman, but his long-term role might end up being DH. Reports praise Alex Kirilloff and his athleticism at first, but he is starting the year in the minor leagues. Mitch Garver might be the team’s best back-up option at first until Kirilloff is called up. Max Kepler and Willians Astudillo also have some experience at first, but the Twins can get creative and use other players at first. Second Base Jorge Polanco has shifted from shortstop to second base, but he certainly isn’t anchored at that position. Luis Arraez will see time at second along with Astudillo. It is going to be intriguing to see how good Polanco can be in his transition to a new position. His previous defensive flaws won’t be magnified as much at second and some think he can be above average at second. Third Base As Twins fans saw last season, Josh Donaldson might not be able to be in the line-up for 162-games. Baldelli will need to find days off for him to get rest as he continues to age. Sano has the most experience at third among Twins players and the team sounds open to him making periodic starts at the hot corner. Arraez and Astudillo will also get opportunities at third. Shortstop If Andrelton Simmons is in the line-up, he is going to be the starting shortstop, because he has proven to be one of the best defenders at that position in baseball history. On the Opening Day roster, Polanco is the most likely player to take over if Simmons needs a day off. On the team’s official depth chart, Arraez is listed as the third option at short, but that would be in an emergency situation. Left Field One of the biggest question marks entering spring was who would take over for Eddie Rosario. Minnesota’s initial answer will be a platoon of Kyle Garlick and Jake Cave. Brent Rooker and Kirilloff were in the mix, but they didn’t make the club. Arraez has a chance to make starts in left, but he has very limited outfield experience and that inexperience showed itself during the spring. Center Field Much like shortstop, Byron Buxton is the primary center fielder, but he isn’t the club’s only option. Kepler has shown the ability to fill in nicely and he is an underrated defender in center. Also, Cave has experience starting in center even if he is the worst defender of the three. Right Field Max Kepler is one of the best defensive right fielders in baseball and he should start here on a regular basis. Many of the same options from left field can fill in for Kepler if he is needed in center field or if he needs rest. Garlick and Cave can shift to either corner spot so that adds even more flexibility. How many different defensive alignments will Baldelli use in 2021? What’s the team’s best defensive line-up? 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
  17. Projected Starter: Byron Buxton Likely Backup: Jake Cave Depth: Max Kepler, Keon Broxton Prospects: Gilberto Celestino, Misael Urbina THE GOOD Ever since he was a teenager, Byron Buxton's greatness was preordained. He was drafted second overall out of high school. He became the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball. He debuted in the major leagues at age 21, and won a Platinum Glove at age 23. Year after year, he's been situated as a centerpiece in Minnesota's plans. They rightfully view him as a singularly transformative force who can elevate a team to new heights. When Buxton's been on the field over the past two years, they've won 70% of their games. It's all too easy to focus on the time he's spent off the field, but let's be clear: this is a premier athlete, at the height of his physical prime. He's 27 years old, and for now, he's healthy. We can dream on the (very real) possibilities. Buxton's 2018 season was a total loss, sabotaged by front-to-back injury woes. But when you subtract that, his performance has been phenomenal since a breakout 2017 campaign. He has posted 7.5 fWAR in 266 games, mixing elite defensive value with outstanding offensive production – especially in the past couple seasons, where he's emerged as a power-hitting force. It is here that we've seen the most progression and growth from Buxton as a hitter. As you compare his Statcast measurements from 2017 and last year, you can see this pretty clearly. What hasn't changed is that Buxton is unbelievably fast, and amazing at covering ground in the outfield. What has changed is that he's now crushing the ball with the best of 'em. In 2019, Buxton set new career highs in basically every Statcast metric for power: Barrel %, Exit Velocity, Launch Angle, xSLG, Hard Hit %. In 2020, he was better in every category. Between those two seasons, he launched 23 home runs in 126 games with a .534 slugging percentage. Buxton is a bona fide slugger, who also plays world-class defense in center. That's not a combination you come across very often. Of course, Buxton's appeal doesn't doesn't end with his power stroke. What makes him a uniquely exciting and valuable player is his unrivaled speed. He can beat you by bashing it over the fence, or tapping a dribbler to the shortstop. The Twins and Rocco Baldelli haven't opted to call many steals for him lately, but it's a weapon in his arsenal (he has an 87% career success rate) and Buxton can take extra bases with leisure. He keeps pitchers and defenses on edge. He's a threat at all times. When he's healthy and in his groove, Byron Buxton impacts every phase of the game and single-handedly shifts outcomes. How many players have we been able to say that about? THE BAD Needless to say, keeping Buxton healthy and in his groove has been an overwhelming challenge. Dating back to 2018 he has missed more than half of the team's games, and the difference in outcomes with and without him has been dramatic. The Twins have taken extensive measures to try and protect their superstar asset, to little avail. Last year he was healthier than usual, playing in two-thirds of Minnesota's regular-season games, but still ended the season hurt and unavailable. His surgically repaired shoulder reportedly continued to bother him (though you wouldn't know it by his results when swinging), and late in the year, he suffered a concussion after taking a fastball to the head. No amount of planning or safety-focused coaching is going to be able to prevent things like this. More broadly, Buxton's game is based on aggressiveness and borderline-reckless speed. If he's not going all out, he's not Byron. All the Twins can do is embed small tweaks (such as launching off one foot for leaping attempts the wall) and hope for a little better luck. All parties involved are beyond due for it. Alas, it'll be important to be prepared for his absence, with short-term and long-term contingencies. For the former scenario, Jake Cave is ready to step in. In the event of a lengthier absence, the Twins are more likely to slide Max Kepler over and activate their depth in the corners. Cave and Kepler are both capable, but sizable downgrades from the incumbent. Should Buxton find a way to stay mostly healthy this year, the key focus will be refining his approach at the plate. I've given up on the idea of him being a remotely disciplined hitter, and Buxton has proven he can make it work with a swing-at-everything mindset. His .844 OPS last season, when he drew two walks against 36 strikeouts, is evidence enough. But the .267 on-base percentage was painful, offsetting some of his power-driven value. If Buxton's future is as a streaky, slump-prone, pure power bat, that's not the worst thing. It's certainly how the Twins treated him last year, batting him consistently at the middle-bottom of the lineup and having him attempt only three total steals. But if he can just become a shade more selective at the plate, harnessing the pure hitting skill and modicum of discipline that contributed to a .310 average and .364 OBP at Triple-A, Buxton can take the next step to MVP-level stardom. THE BOTTOM LINE This is a massive season for Byron Buxton. He's at a crux point in his career, with free agency two years away and his reputation as a player on the line. Will he finally stay on the field, gaining the necessary comfort and consistency at the plate to fulfill his offensive potential while staying golden in center? If so, Buxton will probably be one of the two or three most impactful players in the league. If 2021 brings more of the same – checkered availability along with offensive ups and downs – he'll be lined up to hit the open market more as an intriguing gamble for some team, as opposed to a highly coveted nine-figure stud. The stakes aren't quite as high for the Twins, who by now are acclimated to playing without him, and fairly well positioned in terms of depth. But they know as well as anyone: Buxton is the single biggest wild-card in their quest to get over the hump. READ OTHER 2021 POSITION ANALYSIS ARTICLES Catcher First Base Second Base Third Base Shortstop Left Field
  18. The Incumbent: Max Kepler Last season, Kepler batted leadoff in 34 of the team’s 60 games and he was used there for over 100 games back in 2019. There’s a good chance he is the leader in the clubhouse to be the team’s primary leadoff hitter unless his performance struggles significantly. He hit .281/.324/.625 last year in his at-bats as the first batter in the game. That’s quite the punch for opposing pitchers to have to endure out of the gate. The Contenders: Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Luis Arraez, Mitch Garver Buxton’s raw speed makes him a natural contender to be at the top of the line-up and there has been talk of him filling that role during different parts of his professional development. That being said, he’s only been used as a leadoff hitter in 15 games throughout his career. Obviously, that’s a small sample size, but he has gone 5-for-15 with two home runs and a double in the first at-bat of the game as a leadoff hitter. Overall, as the first batter, he has a .670 OPS and the Twins seem more comfortable having him serve as a second leadoff hitter at the bottom of the line-up. If Polanco’s ankles are healthy, he might be able to get back to his strong hitting fans saw back in the first half of 2019. He’s seen time batting in every spot in the order, but the majority of his time has been spent as the number two hitter where he has an .823 OPS. He does have 160 plate appearances out of the leadoff spot where he has hit .284/.313/.351 with a 21 to 7 strikeout to walk ratio. Rocco Baldelli will likely slide Polanco back into the number two spot in the line-up. Arraez is adjusting to a new role this spring without a specific spot in the starting line-up. That doesn’t mean that he won’t get regular at-bats and few players bring energy to the batter’s box like Arraez. So far in his young career, Arraez has been most frequently used as the number six hitter. In his 17 games batting in the leadoff spot, he has hit .354/.386/.415 with four doubles. As the first batter of the game, he has gone 5-for-13 with a .928 OPS. Garver definitely doesn’t fit the traditional leadoff hitter mold, but Baldelli has loved to use Garver in this role versus left-handed starting pitchers. He’s started 30 games as the leadoff hitter, and he’s compiled some eye-popping numbers. In 141 plate appearances, he’s hit .277/.376/.630 with 12 home runs and four doubles. While those numbers are great, Garver is going to have to prove he is healthy and back to his powerful hitting ways in 2021. Who would you bat leadoff? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  19. Mather, inexplicably, shared unspoken but well-known secrets about how teams… well, his team, specifically, will keep MLB-ready players in the minors to prolong team control for an additional season. This isn’t new and certainly isn’t a secret. The Cubs did it to Kris Bryant. The Blue Jays did it to Vlad, Jr. The Twins, who never played service time games under Terry Ryan, did it to Byron Buxton in 2018 by not bringing him back for September, while healthy, to leave him 12 days short of achieving a “service year.” Because of that, Buxton will enter his last year of arbitration after this season, instead of becoming a free agent. Some might argue that manipulating service time after winning a Gold Glove and receiving MVP votes is an even worse look than doing it before a player’s major league career begins, but I digress. That is not the point of this article. This is an idea of how to fix the problem. It’s just an idea. It’s not designed to solve all the problems; however, it is designed to eliminate “service time manipulation.” (Ultimately, teams and agents will continue to look for loopholes to best serve the side they are on.) Currently, players need to be on a major league roster for 172 days to get credit for a full year. There are exceptions, for example, if you’re on the 40-man roster and start the season on an optional assignment and get recalled within the first 20 days of the season, you get credit for those service days. Kris Bryant was not on the 40-man, so the Cubs simply held him down until 171 days were left in the season, selected his contract and knew that, no matter what, they’d have his service for almost seven full seasons instead of six. One solution would be to handle free agency the same way as Super-2 status and award the top group (for arbitration it’s 17%) of players with 5+ years of service time free agency at the conclusion of the season. I wouldn’t love it and teams would likely never agree to it. Could you imagine going into a trade deadline and not knowing if your best pitcher is going to be a free agent after this season or next season? Another solution would be to make all players free agent-eligible after three years of arbitration, which would essentially let Super-2 players hit free agency one year sooner. It would be simple enough, but teams would still control this and could potentially hold players down longer to miss the Super-2 threshold, thus extending team control for a year. (The advantage would be that the “threshold” isn’t known until the end of the season and that free agency is still three (or four) seasons away.) The problem with both ideas and the current method is they are both based on service time and clubs hold all the control over that. Therein lies the rub. So let’s peel this back even further, to when teams first acquire player’s rights. Without getting into all the minutiae of how everything works from initial player acquisition to free agency, the basic timeline goes like this: Players are drafted (typically as high school seniors or third-year college players) or signed internationally (at 16 years old). Teams sign players to a minor-league contract that can be renewed up to six times. After four or five years (depending on how old the player was when acquired), teams must protect the player on the 40-man roster or risk losing him. Once a player is on the 40-man roster, he can be held in the minor leagues for three (or four) years on “optional assignments.” When a player reaches three years of MLB service (or if you’re a Super-2), you enter your three (or four) arbitration years. Once a player reaches six years of service, he finally becomes a free agent. So, in theory, you can hold a player in the minors for seven years, add him to the 40-man for three seasons and then finally see him make his debut 11 years after joining the organization, potentially making him free agent-eligible up to 17 years after being brought into the organization. (This never happens, by the way. But could.) More likely, though, players are added to the 40-man when they’d be Rule 5 eligible (after four or five years), bounce up and down for a year or two and then are major leagues, hitting free agency 10-13 years after being drafted or initially signed. For reference, Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios were drafted in 2012 and will be free agent-eligible after the 2022 season. Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler were signed in 2009. While all three have signed extensions, Sano would reach free agent-eligible service time after the 2021 season, while Polanco and Kepler are likely to do it after the 2022 season. Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis, two of the fastest moving prospects, would hit free agency 10 years after becoming professionals. So let’s eliminate “service time” all together from free agent eligibility as it seems to all balance itself out over time anyway. Here’s the idea: If you’re signed at 19 or older, teams get 11 seasons of control. If you’re signed at 17 or 18, teams get 12 seasons of control. If you’re signed at 16, teams get 13 seasons of control. If you miss a significant amount of any season (“significant” can be negotiated or defined by someone independent… but I’m thinking Tommy John surgery), add one year of control. After your third season accumulating service time in the Major League, you’re eligible for arbitration. (If you are on the roster for one day or every day, it counts towards the three seasons.) Every season from the fourth season until free agency, you are eligible for arbitration. If you win League MVP or Cy Young at any point before your last two years of control, the last season of control becomes a player option at a price to be determined and accepted or declined prior to the last season of control. The motivation for everyone now becomes getting your best players to the show quicker. For teams, it is more seasons of your player; For players, it is more chances to make money. What do you think? Is it time to abolish the current rules and start over? Or do we simply adopt the rules laid out above? Disclaimers: Are the 11, 12 and 13 years of control the right lengths? I don’t know, but it’s a start. And it’s close. Whenever I say “arbitration,” I’m talking about a process that helps determine salaries. I think the current process is garbage, but how to fix arbitration is a story for another day. Does the ability to reduce control have to be tied to winning MVP or Cy Young? Absolutely not. Not specifically those awards nor only those awards. Could an independent metric like WAR be a factor? Yes! All told, this would be a great thing to negotiate in the CBA. I just don’t want it to have anything to do with the amount of days a player has spent in the major leagues. I used Soto and Tatis as examples and, as such, they would basically spend three extra years in the majors before free agency, which theoretically seems like a not great deal for them. Players could and would still sign big deals like Tatis did. On the flip side of that, Soto *could* go through the arbitration process six times. Could you imagine how much money he would stand to make in those final three years? He could be the highest paid player in baseball.
  20. Catchers (3): Mitch Garver, Ryan Jeffers, Willians Astudillo Garver and Jeffers might be the best catching duo in all of baseball, especially if Garver can rebound after a rough 2020 campaign. Jeffers was tremendous last season and he has the potential to take home AL Rookie of the Year honors if he continue to produce at the same level. Astudillo is coming off a tremendous winter season in the Venezuelan Winter League where he finished as the MVP runner-up. His defensive versatility gives Rocco Baldelli some flexibility on Opening Day. Infielders (5): Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Luis Arraez, Josh Donaldson, Andrelton Simmons Donaldson and Simmons on the same side of the infield is quite the defensive pairing as both players have won Gold Gloves in the past. Moving Polanco to second base will help to improve his value by taking away some of the weaknesses he showed at shortstop. Sano was solid at first base in 2020 and he will only get better as he learns the nuances of his new defensive position. One of the toughest tasks for Baldelli might be finding enough at-bats for Arraez as he shifts to a utility role. Outfield (4): Jake Cave, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Brent Rooker One name noticeably missing from this list is Alex Kirilloff. Due to MLB’s arbitration rules, Minnesota will likely keep Kirilloff in the minors to start the year, so the club can pick up another year of team control. This means Cave and Rooker are the likely winners in this scenario because both should start the year on the big-league roster. The Twins can also use Arraez and Astudillo in the outfield, but that is not likely a preferable option. However, Baldelli might want to find extra at-bats for these players and the outfield can offer an open position until Kirilloff is called up. Designated Hitter (1): Nelson Cruz The Boomstick is back to anchor the middle of the Twins line-up. Father Time hasn’t caught up to him yet and the Twins are hoping the 2021 season matches his output from his first two seasons in Minnesota. Rotation (5): Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Randy Dobnak Berrios has been the Opening Day starter in each of the last two seasons, so it will be interesting to see what direction Baldelli goes for the team’s first game. Maeda is coming off a runner-up finish for the AL Cy Young, so he could get the honor of starting Opening Day. Pineda is looking to play his first full season in Minnesota after missing time due to Tommy John surgery and suspension. J.A. Happ slides nicely into the back end of the rotation and Dobnak should round things out unless the team makes another move in the coming weeks. Bullpen (8): Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Alex Colome, Jorge Alcala, Hansel Robles, Caleb Thielbar, Cody Stashak, Ian Hamilton This bullpen has the potential to be one of the team’s strengths in 2021. Rogers had a rough 2020 season, but some of the peripheral numbers point to him bouncing back. Duffey might be the team’s best relief option and he is a weapon the club can utilize in a variety of roles. Colome has been an All-Star level closer for multiple seasons so it will be interesting to see what role he fills in Minnesota. Alcala can be the Twins breakout player in the bullpen, and he might be one of the team’s most valuable set-up men this season. Hamilton might be the biggest question mark with Edwar Colina, Devin Smeltzer, and Lewis Thorpe having a chance to beat him out. Who do you think makes the Opening Day roster? 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
  21. First, you can get up to speed on the 'why and how' behind these rankings by reading Monday's introductory post. If you're already hip, proceed to find my choices (and reasoning) for the 11th-through-15th most valuable player assets currently under Minnesota's control as 2021 gets underway. Read Part 1 (16-20) Read Part 2 (11-15) 10. Trevor Larnach, OF 2020 Ranking: 14 Ranked as Twins Daily's No. 3 prospect coming into the season, Larnach didn't have a chance to raise his stock in 2020. He spent his summer practicing and scrimmaging in St. Paul, and never seemed to be in serious consideration for a call-up (unlike fellow top prospect Alex Kirilloff, who debuted in a playoff elimination game). With that said, it's not as if Larnach forgot how to play. The former first-rounder had already established himself as a polished hitter ready to make an impact. Turning 24 next month, he's a plug-and-play corner outfield bat with a solid floor and real upside, controllable through much of his prime. The main thing holding him back on this list is redundancy. As a corner outfielder he's stuck behind Kirilloff and Max Kepler indefinitely, and while first base is a possible destination, Larnach has yet to play the position professionally. He's the prime example of a player who'd have much more value to another team than to the Twins, making him a trade candidate. 9: Byron Buxton, CF 2020 Ranking: 7 The 2020 season was much like the 2019 season for Buxton and his valuation. He showed signs of being an elite difference-maker, but was unavailable often – including at the end when the Twins needed him most. Buxton's health struggles have been so chronic and unshakable that they've defined his career more than anything else up to this point. Which is a real shame because when you take them out of the equation, he's one of the most valuable assets in all of baseball. Unparalleled speed, transformative defensive impact, and high-end power: all offered by a 27-year-old who will earn around $15 million in his final two years of team control. If he can stay on the field, Buxton could be the single most vital key to a championship for this franchise. But he continually hasn't been able to, and now the clock is ticking on his opportunity to fulfill all that potential as a Twin. 8: Mitch Garver, C 2020 Ranking: 6 Garver's drop-off in 2020 was dramatic to say the least, but I'm inclined to mostly write it off. He got hurt in spring training, missed tons of time with a strained oblique, and never appeared fully comfortable at the plate. His brutal stats – .167 average, .511 OPS, and an eye-popping 46% K rate – were vastly out of line with any prior benchmarks. Still, the question remains whether Garver is capable of sustaining anything close to the MVP-caliber level of performance shown over 93 games in 2019. Is he a star or merely a quality rotational piece behind the plate, as he appeared in 2018? The uncertainty, combined with a price tag that's beginning to rise as he progresses into arbitration, places Garver just one peg below the meteoric riser up next on the list. 7: Ryan Jeffers, C 2020 Ranking: 20 Last year, when Jeffers edged into these rankings at the No. 20 spot as a relative unknown, I wrote that "Folks in the know rave about his defensive skills, and pitch-framing especially ... Thus far Jeffers has done nothing but validate the team's belief in him. A catcher who shines both ways is among the game's most coveted assets." Affirming those beliefs in 2020 caused Jeffers to make a huge leap in these rankings. No longer is his impact theoretical; at age 23, his rookie contributions were crucial, coming in cold from the alternate site and filling in admirably for the injured Garver. All the strengths we'd heard about in those glowing reports – powerful bat, unusual poise behind the plate, natural instincts for pitch-framing, arm strong enough to deliver a bullet to second from his knees – were on display, under incredibly difficult circumstances. When I started putting these rankings together, catcher was a clear point of organizational weakness. In 2018 Jason Castro was the highest-ranked backstop at No. 17. Now, we've got two proven commodities, both under the age of 30 and controllable for several years, in the top 10. What a turnaround. 6: Jorge Polanco, SS 2020 Ranking: 1 From No. 1 to outside of the top five: how did it happen? The main thing is that 2020 reinforced some of the concerns that shrouded Polanco even when he sat atop this list. Namely: that his second-half production in 2019 (.788 OPS) was more representative than his All-Star first half (.882); that his balky ankle – now requiring surgery for a second straight winter – was no isolated issue; and that he doesn't really have the defensive chops to play short. That last one is most glaring, and is reflected by the front office's apparent pursuit of a new shortstop this winter. Polanco remains a fixture-type building block with a highly favorable contract – controlled for three years at a total of $18 million, with multiple team options on the back end. But it's becoming clearer that he'll play out these remaining years as either a utility man or a blatant defensive liability at short, which is a far cry from the American League's starting SS in the 2019 All-Star Game. THE TOP 20 TWINS ASSETS OF 2021 20. Keoni Cavaco, SS 19. Brent Rooker, OF/1B 18. Josh Donaldson, 3B 17. Taylor Rogers, LHP 16. Jorge Alcala, RHP 15. Miguel Sanó, 1B 14. Tyler Duffey, RHP 13. Jordan Balazovic, RHP 12. Jhoan Duran, RHP 11. Luis Arráez, 2B 10. Trevor Larnach, OF 9. Byron Buxton, CF 8. Mitch Garver, C 7. Ryan Jeffers, C 6. Jorge Polanco, SS 1-5: Coming tomorrow!MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  22. 3. Jose Berrios- SP Berrios is in an interesting place entering the 2021 season. He has worked his way through the arbitration process by betting on himself to improve instead of taking a team-friendly extension to stay in Minnesota. Now he has two years left until free agency unless the Twins are able to work out an extension this winter. This type of deal would likely need to be north of $100 million and that might not be something the team wants to consider after a season where revenues were limited. As far as the Twins rotation, Berrios doesn’t have to feel the pressure of being the team’s ace with Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda helping to solidify the rotation’s front half. Berrios might still have another level to reach as a starting pitcher and that can be scary to think about. Through their age-26 seasons, Berrios has better numbers than Trevor Bauer, this year’s top free agent starter. Bauer took a dramatic step forward in his age-27 season and Twins fans can hope Berrios follows a similar path. 2. Josh Donaldson- 3B Donaldson was signed last winter to help Minnesota to take the next step while their window of contention is open. His first season in a Twins uniform was a disappointment as he played in less than half of the team’s games while dealing with calf injuries that have plagued his career. When he was on the field, he posted an OPS higher than his career average with a 24 to 18 strikeout to walk ratio, but Twins fans clearly wanted more from the highest paid free agent in franchise history. The Twins signed Donaldson, because he was coming off a tremendous season in Atlanta where he played over 155 games and posted a .900 OPS with 37 home runs and 33 doubles. Minnesota would love to get that kind of production from the former MVP, but he will be 35 this year and there’s a chance of regression as he continues to age. There is organizational depth at third base, but the Twins need Donaldson on the field and performing at his highest level for the majority of 2021. 1. Byron Buxton- CF There’s no question that Buxton can alter the game on both sides of the ball, but he has been limited to fewer than 95 games in all but one big-league season. Last year, Buxton hit .254/.267/.577 with 13 home runs and three doubles across 39 games. While he posted a career high OPS, he struck out 26.7% of the time in his 135 plate appearances. The flashes of greatness have been evident, yet the Twins fans are waiting for him to put it all together for an entire season. Like Berrios, Buxton has only two years of team control remaining, and one has to wonder if the team would consider an extension with their center fielder. The organization’s other options in center can fill-in for Buxton on a short-term basis, but they simply can’t match everything he brings to the diamond.He might be the best five-tool player in Twins history, and he is just entering the prime of his career. If Buxton is on the field for over 120 games in 2021, he has the chance to be in the American League MVP discussion. What three players do you think are most important for Minnesota 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
  23. Current Center Fielder: Byron Buxton Since he made his debut, there have been times when Byron Buxton was the best player on the Twins roster. His elite defensive abilities, speed, and offensive talent make him the true definition of a five-tool player. Unfortunately, he has played fewer than 92 games in all but one professional season. Buxton is a second-year arbitration eligible player, so the Twins have team control over him for the next two seasons. Would the Twins be willing to extend him this winter? 40-Man Options Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade Jr. and even Max Kepler have seen time in centerfield. Cave and Wade might be a little stretched up the middle, but Kepler has shown the ability to fill-in nicely for Buxton when needed. All three fit into the team’s corner outfield projections with Kepler and Cave line-up to be the Opening Day starters if the club wants to hold off on having Alex Kirilloff make his regular season debut. Outside of Buxton, Gilberto Celestino might be one of the purest centerfielders in the Twins organization. He was acquired from the Astros as part of the Ryan Pressly trade and he was added to the 40-man roster after a breakout season in 2019. He has always been a strong defender, but he hit .303/.374/.464 with 38 extra-base hits over his last 98 games that season. If Buxton suffers an injury, Celestino’s defense is big-league ready and his bat might not be far behind. On the Farm Options Outside of the options mentioned above, there are other corner options in the minor leagues including some strong prospects. Kerrigan is an interesting story as he went undrafted after four-years of college and started playing independent baseball. He’s got a good power and speed, but he might be a little stretched defensively in center field. Whitefield got a brief taste of the big leagues last season as he appeared in three games, but the Twins removed him from the 40-man roster. He’s one of the best defensive outfielders in the system. Maciel came to the Twins as part of the Eduardo Escobar trade and he split time between Low- and High-A back in 2019. He can drive the ball to all fields and he’s not overmatched in center. Keirsey was a fourth-round pick back in 2018 and he topped out at Cedar Rapids in 2019. His speed and college experience should help him play all over the outfield. Urbina is an intriguing prospect with lightening fast speed. He was signed as part of the 2018 international signing period out of Venezuela and he made his first professional starts in the 2019 Dominican Summer League. He has all the tools, and he is a prospect to watch in the years ahead. Garry Jr. was young for the E-Twins back in 2019, but he showed that he can hold his own. He continues to improve on both sides of the ball. What do you think about the future of centerfield in Minnesota? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES -Corner Outfield -Catcher -Second Base -First Base -Third Base -Shortstop MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
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