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  1. The 2022 MLB Hall of Fame results are in and a former Minnesota Twin has been elected to Cooperstown. Here are the four Ex-Twins who have a shot at making the ballot for 2023. Torii Hunter Resumé - 19 Seasons - 353 Home Runs - 5x All-Star - 9x Gold Glove - 2x Silver Slugger After receiving 5.3% of the vote share in the 2022 voting, former Minnesota Twins center fielder, Torii Hunter, clinched a spot on the 2023 Hall of Fame ballot as a holdover. Hunter had an extremely successful career in the Majors, as evidenced by his 19 seasons in the Big Leagues. Thanks to the multiple all-star appearances and nine Gold Glove awards, Hunter earned enough votes to stay on the ballot. While he certainly won’t make it to Cooperstown, he has the potential to add to his vote share in 2023 with big names such as David Ortiz, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens falling off the ballot. Glen Perkins Resumé - 12 Seasons - 3.88 ERA - 3x All-Star - 120 Saves Now that five years have passed since his retirement, Glen Perkins will finally have a shot at making the Hall of Fame ballot for 2023. Perkins provided the rare accomplishment of completing a double-digit year career with the same team as he played all 12 of his MLB seasons with the Minnesota Twins. After struggling mightily as a starting pitcher, the Twins moved Glen Perkins to the bullpen full time in August of 2010 where he thrived. In his career as a reliever, Perkins amassed a 3.09 ERA with 120 saves and three all-star appearances. Perkins certainly won’t stay on the ballot for any period of time, but a ballot appearance is possible. R.A. Dickey Resumé - 15 Seasons - 4.04 ERA - 2012 NL Cy Young - 1x All-Star - 1x Gold Glove While Dickey reached impressive heights, highlighted by a Cy Young Award, many forget that he once played for the Minnesota Twins. Dickey pitched for the Minnesota Twins in 2009 after the Twins signed Dickey to a Minor League contract that offseason. Dickey appeared in 35 games for the Twins, mostly as a reliever, posting a 4.62 ERA in 64 1/3 innings. Dickey was then plucked away from the Twins via the Rule 5 draft in 2010 where he would ultimately end up in New York with the Mets where he used his knuckleball to thrive as a starter, winning the previously mentioned Cy Young in 2012. Although he won the top award for an MLB pitcher, Dickey doesn’t figure to get much run on the 2023 Hall of Fame ballot. J.J. Hardy Resumé - 13 Seasons - 1,488 Hits - 188 Home Runs - 2x All-Star - 3x Gold Glove - 1x Silver Slugger After acquiring J.J. Hardy in exchange for Carlos Goméz ahead of the 2010 season, Hardy played one season in Minnesota where he posted a .268 average with six home runs. Hardy provided excellent defense for the Twins at the shortstop position and was a constant presence in their lineup during their inaugural season at Target Field, after which he was ultimately traded away. Playing 13 seasons in the big leagues at the shortstop position is certainly impressive and might be enough to put him on the Hall of Fame ballot, however similar to the other players, he doesn’t figure to stay on the ballot for long. Do you think any of the above players have a chance to last on the Hall of Fame ballot? What memories do you have of these ex-Twins during their time in Minnesota? Leave a comment below and start the conversation! View full article
  2. David Ortiz had a legendary career, but unfortunately, his best years were outside the Twins organization. He found out that he would be enshrined in Cooperstown on Tuesday night. Ortiz began his big-league career with the Twins back in 1997 after the team acquired him in the 1996 offseason from the Mariners organization. Over the next six seasons, he became a regular in the Twins line-up, and he helped the Twins win the division for the first time since 1991. During his Twins tenure, he hit .266/.348/.461 (.809) with 169 extra-base hits in 455 games. He wasn't on a path to Cooperstown, and Terry Ryan faced a tough decision. Ortiz would start getting expensive through the arbitration process with an expected salary close to $2 million. The Twins front office had multiple reasons for non-tendering Ortiz. Matt LeCroy was an adequate replacement for Ortiz as the team's DH. Also, the club wanted a roster spot to make a Rule 5 pick. Minnesota was being cheap, but there is no guarantee Ortiz would have followed his HOF path if he stayed in Minnesota. After signing with Boston, Ortiz immediately transferred himself into one of the game's best hitters. He finished in the top-5 for AL MVP in his first season outside the Twins organization. Over the next 14 seasons, he hit .290/.386/.570 (.956) with 483 home runs. Ortiz was a 10-time All-Star, a 7-time Silver Slugger winner, and he finished in the top-5 for AL MVP in five straight seasons. October is where Oritz shined as he led the Red Sox to three World Series titles. He played 85 postseason games in his career and posted a .947 OPS with 41 extra-base hits. Ortiz won the ALCS MVP as part of the Red Sox's remarkable comeback over the Yankees in 2004. In 2013, he won World Series MVP as he went 11-for-16 with four extra-base hits and six RBI in the series. He was truly an October legend. Even with his on-field accomplishments, Ortiz wasn't seen as a lock for Cooperstown because of the looming steroid cloud. Back in 2003, 100 players failed a supposedly anonymous steroid survey test. Six years later, The New York Times reported that Ortiz was one of the players that failed the survey test. Other players tied to steroids have struggled to reach the 75% threshold needed for election, but voters were able to look past Ortiz's steroid ties. Congratulations to Ortiz on a Hall of Fame career! Other Twins On the Ballot While other former Twins were on the ballot, many didn't have a chance at being elected in the current cycle. In fact, many were in danger of falling off a crowded ballot. Torii Hunter made his second appearance on the ballot, and the two halves of his career make him an intriguing candidate. He received 21 votes (5.3%) and will remain on the ballot. Joe Nathan is one of the best relievers of all time, but relievers are historically underrepresented in Cooperstown. Nathan finished with 17 votes (4.3%) and fell three votes shy of staying on the ballot. The other former Twins on the ballot were expected to be one-and-done candidates. Justin Morneau was a great player, especially to the current generation of Twins fans. Morneau was named on five ballots (1.3%). AJ Pierzynski played many years at a grueling defensive position, but he doesn't have the resume of other enshrined catchers and he received two votes. HOF Class Includes Oliva and Kaat The Minnesota Twins will be well represented in Cooperstown this summer. Former Twins Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat found out last month that they will be part of the current Hall of Fame class. It was a long time coming for both players as they had waited decades and multiple votes before finally getting the call. Following his election, the Twins also announced that Jim Kaat will become the ninth member of the organization to have his number retired. That ceremony will take place this summer at Target Field. Bonds and Clemens Question Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens entered their tenth and final year on the ballot with their best chance at enshrinement. Leading into the ballot announcement, both players were tracking at over 75% of the announced ballots, but that was no guarantee that they would get the famous call from Cooperstown. There is no question that Bonds and Clemens are two of the best players in baseball history. However, the steroid cloud has surrounded them, which has prevented them from being elected by the writers. Bonds finished second behind Ortiz on the 2022 ballot with 260 votes (66.0%). Clemens was three votes behind Bonds (65.2%). Now, both players will have to wait for their chance on the committee era ballots. What are your thoughts about this year's Hall of Fame voting? 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 View full article
  3. Torii Hunter Resumé - 19 Seasons - 353 Home Runs - 5x All-Star - 9x Gold Glove - 2x Silver Slugger After receiving 5.3% of the vote share in the 2022 voting, former Minnesota Twins center fielder, Torii Hunter, clinched a spot on the 2023 Hall of Fame ballot as a holdover. Hunter had an extremely successful career in the Majors, as evidenced by his 19 seasons in the Big Leagues. Thanks to the multiple all-star appearances and nine Gold Glove awards, Hunter earned enough votes to stay on the ballot. While he certainly won’t make it to Cooperstown, he has the potential to add to his vote share in 2023 with big names such as David Ortiz, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens falling off the ballot. Glen Perkins Resumé - 12 Seasons - 3.88 ERA - 3x All-Star - 120 Saves Now that five years have passed since his retirement, Glen Perkins will finally have a shot at making the Hall of Fame ballot for 2023. Perkins provided the rare accomplishment of completing a double-digit year career with the same team as he played all 12 of his MLB seasons with the Minnesota Twins. After struggling mightily as a starting pitcher, the Twins moved Glen Perkins to the bullpen full time in August of 2010 where he thrived. In his career as a reliever, Perkins amassed a 3.09 ERA with 120 saves and three all-star appearances. Perkins certainly won’t stay on the ballot for any period of time, but a ballot appearance is possible. R.A. Dickey Resumé - 15 Seasons - 4.04 ERA - 2012 NL Cy Young - 1x All-Star - 1x Gold Glove While Dickey reached impressive heights, highlighted by a Cy Young Award, many forget that he once played for the Minnesota Twins. Dickey pitched for the Minnesota Twins in 2009 after the Twins signed Dickey to a Minor League contract that offseason. Dickey appeared in 35 games for the Twins, mostly as a reliever, posting a 4.62 ERA in 64 1/3 innings. Dickey was then plucked away from the Twins via the Rule 5 draft in 2010 where he would ultimately end up in New York with the Mets where he used his knuckleball to thrive as a starter, winning the previously mentioned Cy Young in 2012. Although he won the top award for an MLB pitcher, Dickey doesn’t figure to get much run on the 2023 Hall of Fame ballot. J.J. Hardy Resumé - 13 Seasons - 1,488 Hits - 188 Home Runs - 2x All-Star - 3x Gold Glove - 1x Silver Slugger After acquiring J.J. Hardy in exchange for Carlos Goméz ahead of the 2010 season, Hardy played one season in Minnesota where he posted a .268 average with six home runs. Hardy provided excellent defense for the Twins at the shortstop position and was a constant presence in their lineup during their inaugural season at Target Field, after which he was ultimately traded away. Playing 13 seasons in the big leagues at the shortstop position is certainly impressive and might be enough to put him on the Hall of Fame ballot, however similar to the other players, he doesn’t figure to stay on the ballot for long. Do you think any of the above players have a chance to last on the Hall of Fame ballot? What memories do you have of these ex-Twins during their time in Minnesota? Leave a comment below and start the conversation!
  4. Ortiz began his big-league career with the Twins back in 1997 after the team acquired him in the 1996 offseason from the Mariners organization. Over the next six seasons, he became a regular in the Twins line-up, and he helped the Twins win the division for the first time since 1991. During his Twins tenure, he hit .266/.348/.461 (.809) with 169 extra-base hits in 455 games. He wasn't on a path to Cooperstown, and Terry Ryan faced a tough decision. Ortiz would start getting expensive through the arbitration process with an expected salary close to $2 million. The Twins front office had multiple reasons for non-tendering Ortiz. Matt LeCroy was an adequate replacement for Ortiz as the team's DH. Also, the club wanted a roster spot to make a Rule 5 pick. Minnesota was being cheap, but there is no guarantee Ortiz would have followed his HOF path if he stayed in Minnesota. After signing with Boston, Ortiz immediately transferred himself into one of the game's best hitters. He finished in the top-5 for AL MVP in his first season outside the Twins organization. Over the next 14 seasons, he hit .290/.386/.570 (.956) with 483 home runs. Ortiz was a 10-time All-Star, a 7-time Silver Slugger winner, and he finished in the top-5 for AL MVP in five straight seasons. October is where Oritz shined as he led the Red Sox to three World Series titles. He played 85 postseason games in his career and posted a .947 OPS with 41 extra-base hits. Ortiz won the ALCS MVP as part of the Red Sox's remarkable comeback over the Yankees in 2004. In 2013, he won World Series MVP as he went 11-for-16 with four extra-base hits and six RBI in the series. He was truly an October legend. Even with his on-field accomplishments, Ortiz wasn't seen as a lock for Cooperstown because of the looming steroid cloud. Back in 2003, 100 players failed a supposedly anonymous steroid survey test. Six years later, The New York Times reported that Ortiz was one of the players that failed the survey test. Other players tied to steroids have struggled to reach the 75% threshold needed for election, but voters were able to look past Ortiz's steroid ties. Congratulations to Ortiz on a Hall of Fame career! Other Twins On the Ballot While other former Twins were on the ballot, many didn't have a chance at being elected in the current cycle. In fact, many were in danger of falling off a crowded ballot. Torii Hunter made his second appearance on the ballot, and the two halves of his career make him an intriguing candidate. He received 21 votes (5.3%) and will remain on the ballot. Joe Nathan is one of the best relievers of all time, but relievers are historically underrepresented in Cooperstown. Nathan finished with 17 votes (4.3%) and fell three votes shy of staying on the ballot. The other former Twins on the ballot were expected to be one-and-done candidates. Justin Morneau was a great player, especially to the current generation of Twins fans. Morneau was named on five ballots (1.3%). AJ Pierzynski played many years at a grueling defensive position, but he doesn't have the resume of other enshrined catchers and he received two votes. HOF Class Includes Oliva and Kaat The Minnesota Twins will be well represented in Cooperstown this summer. Former Twins Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat found out last month that they will be part of the current Hall of Fame class. It was a long time coming for both players as they had waited decades and multiple votes before finally getting the call. Following his election, the Twins also announced that Jim Kaat will become the ninth member of the organization to have his number retired. That ceremony will take place this summer at Target Field. Bonds and Clemens Question Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens entered their tenth and final year on the ballot with their best chance at enshrinement. Leading into the ballot announcement, both players were tracking at over 75% of the announced ballots, but that was no guarantee that they would get the famous call from Cooperstown. There is no question that Bonds and Clemens are two of the best players in baseball history. However, the steroid cloud has surrounded them, which has prevented them from being elected by the writers. Bonds finished second behind Ortiz on the 2022 ballot with 260 votes (66.0%). Clemens was three votes behind Bonds (65.2%). Now, both players will have to wait for their chance on the committee era ballots. What are your thoughts about this year's Hall of Fame voting? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  5. Next week, Major League Baseball and the National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results from this year's voting cycle. Plenty of former Twins are on the ballot, but do any of them have a chance at Cooperstown? To be elected to Cooperstown, a player must be named on 75% of the ballots submitted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Players remain eligible for ten years as long as they continue to receive a minimum of 5% of the vote. Some former Twins players are sitting dangerously close to falling off the ballot. David Ortiz, DH Cooperstown Case Ortiz is currently one of three players trending at over 75% of the known ballots, and he has the highest vote total with 83.5% of the vote. Twins fans are well aware of Ortiz and his case for Cooperstown as he went on to a legendary Red Sox career after Minnesota released him following the 2002 season. Entering this voting cycle, Ortiz's first ballot election wasn't guaranteed because his transition from Twins castoff to legendary slugger came under a cloud of steroid suspicion. It doesn't seem like those suspicions will keep him from being elected as it has with other players on the ballot. Joe Nathan, RP Cooperstown Case Nathan is one of the best relievers in baseball history, but relief pitchers are highly unrepresented in Cooperstown. It also means Nathan is dangerously close to falling off the ballot because of a slew of other worthy candidates on the ballot and a 10-vote limit. Through 170 ballots, Nathan has four votes (2.4%) which means he likely needs another 16 votes to reach the 5% threshold to stay on the ballot for 2023. Billy Wagner, another reliever, has comparable numbers to Nathan, and he is tracking at over 47%. Nathan has a Hall of Fame resume, but he may have to wait for a committee vote in the years ahead. Torii Hunter, OF Cooperstown Case Hunter's case is unique because of how he started and ended his career. He was an elite defender who won nine straight Gold Glove awards as a younger player. In his career's second-half, he became an improved hitter as he posted a 120 OPS+ from 2006-2013. Hunter received 8.1% of the vote in 2021, his first year on the ballot. This season, he has three votes (1.8%), and he will need 17 more votes to reach the 5% threshold. Hunter's closest comparison on the ballot may be Andruw Jones, also known as an elite defender, and he is tracking at over 48% of the known votes. Justin Morneau, 1B Cooperstown Case Morneau collected many accolades throughout his big-league career, including an AL MVP Award and an NL Batting Title. Those accomplishments likely will not be enough to keep him on the ballot past 2022, as he currently has one vote, and he will need to be listed on 19 other ballots to reach 5%. Morneau had some great moments throughout his career, but there's no question that one slide in Toronto changed the course of his career. AJ Pierzynski, C Cooperstown Case Pierzynski is best known in Twins Territory for being part of one of the most famous trades in team history. He'd go on to have a long career at a grueling defensive position, and some writers may consider this as part of the voting process. Like Morneau, he has one vote so far, and he would need a significant boost in the remaining ballots to reach 5%. Are the results playing out as you expected? Do you think Nathan or Hunter deserves to stay on the ballot? 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 View full article
  6. To be elected to Cooperstown, a player must be named on 75% of the ballots submitted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Players remain eligible for ten years as long as they continue to receive a minimum of 5% of the vote. Some former Twins players are sitting dangerously close to falling off the ballot. David Ortiz, DH Cooperstown Case Ortiz is currently one of three players trending at over 75% of the known ballots, and he has the highest vote total with 83.5% of the vote. Twins fans are well aware of Ortiz and his case for Cooperstown as he went on to a legendary Red Sox career after Minnesota released him following the 2002 season. Entering this voting cycle, Ortiz's first ballot election wasn't guaranteed because his transition from Twins castoff to legendary slugger came under a cloud of steroid suspicion. It doesn't seem like those suspicions will keep him from being elected as it has with other players on the ballot. Joe Nathan, RP Cooperstown Case Nathan is one of the best relievers in baseball history, but relief pitchers are highly unrepresented in Cooperstown. It also means Nathan is dangerously close to falling off the ballot because of a slew of other worthy candidates on the ballot and a 10-vote limit. Through 170 ballots, Nathan has four votes (2.4%) which means he likely needs another 16 votes to reach the 5% threshold to stay on the ballot for 2023. Billy Wagner, another reliever, has comparable numbers to Nathan, and he is tracking at over 47%. Nathan has a Hall of Fame resume, but he may have to wait for a committee vote in the years ahead. Torii Hunter, OF Cooperstown Case Hunter's case is unique because of how he started and ended his career. He was an elite defender who won nine straight Gold Glove awards as a younger player. In his career's second-half, he became an improved hitter as he posted a 120 OPS+ from 2006-2013. Hunter received 8.1% of the vote in 2021, his first year on the ballot. This season, he has three votes (1.8%), and he will need 17 more votes to reach the 5% threshold. Hunter's closest comparison on the ballot may be Andruw Jones, also known as an elite defender, and he is tracking at over 48% of the known votes. Justin Morneau, 1B Cooperstown Case Morneau collected many accolades throughout his big-league career, including an AL MVP Award and an NL Batting Title. Those accomplishments likely will not be enough to keep him on the ballot past 2022, as he currently has one vote, and he will need to be listed on 19 other ballots to reach 5%. Morneau had some great moments throughout his career, but there's no question that one slide in Toronto changed the course of his career. AJ Pierzynski, C Cooperstown Case Pierzynski is best known in Twins Territory for being part of one of the most famous trades in team history. He'd go on to have a long career at a grueling defensive position, and some writers may consider this as part of the voting process. Like Morneau, he has one vote so far, and he would need a significant boost in the remaining ballots to reach 5%. Are the results playing out as you expected? Do you think Nathan or Hunter deserves to stay on the ballot? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  7. The beginning of a new year allows everyone the chance to reflect on the previous year. For the Twins, signing Byron Buxton was critical, but his contract has multiple risks. In the days leading into MLB’s lockout, Minnesota accomplished one of the organization’s most important tasks this winter by signing Byron Buxton to a long-term extension. Reports had the two sides close to making a deal throughout the summer, but some hurdles remained. Eventually, they found common ground, and Buxton will be wearing a Twins uniform for the next seven seasons. With any eight-figure contract, there are inherent risks involved. For Buxton, fans are more aware of those risks because of the time he has missed throughout his big-league career. On paper, the contract looks like a very team-friendly deal. Still, Minnesota certainly had the opportunity to go in a different direction and allocate Buxton’s contract to other roster pieces. Risk #1: Long-Term Injury Issues Injuries are part of the Buxton equation, and the team can try various strategies to keep him healthy and on the field. As a 28-year-old, Buxton has recovered from every injury he has faced and returned to his previous on-field performance. There is no guarantee that continues to happen, and Buxton is one serious injury away from his contract looking poorly for the Twins. His injury history is well known, and it’s likely one of the biggest reasons Minnesota was able to sign him. A player of Buxton’s caliber with fewer injury concerns probably garners offers near $200 million on the free-agent market. Last season, Buxton was the best hitter on the planet at the season’s start as he hit .370/.408/.772 (1.180) through his first 24 games. A hip injury caused him to miss over six weeks, and his swing didn’t miss a beat. In three games after returning, he went 4-for-11 with two extra-base hits. Then a hit-by-pitch broke his hand, and he missed two more months. He came back from this most recent injury and batted .314/.375/.686 (1.061) over the team’s final 26 games. There’s no question he has been able to bounce back so far in his career, but what if an injury causes some long-term performance issues? Risk #2: Age Buxton will now be under team control throughout the prime of his career. However, a player with his skill set will see natural regression as he ages. Two of Buxton’s most essential skills are his speed and his fielding, but those are skills impacted by age. His extension keeps him under team control through age 34, but some parts of his game will likely need to be adjusted before the contract expires. Former Twins’ great Torii Hunter may give fans some insight into how players like Buxton can change as Father Time wields his ugly head. For instance, Hunter was an elite defender in the first half of his playing career. Age and injuries made him less effective in center field, and he was eventually forced to move to a corner outfield spot. Hunter adjusted his skills and became an improved hitter in the second half of his career as his defensive skills waned. Buxton is considered more of a five-tool talent than Hunter, but fans can see how center fielders age by looking at Hunter’s career. The risks mentioned above seem to be more prominent with Buxton, but any free agent acquisition faces these same kinds of risks. In recent memory, Josh Donaldson, Minnesota’s biggest free-agent signing, had concerns about his health and how his on-field performance would decline with age. Luckily, his offensive performance has been above average, but injuries have been part of his Twins tenure. Overall, Buxton’s contract comes with risks, but he has provided value even when he misses significant time. Are you worried about the risks involved with Buxton’s extension? 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 View full article
  8. In the days leading into MLB’s lockout, Minnesota accomplished one of the organization’s most important tasks this winter by signing Byron Buxton to a long-term extension. Reports had the two sides close to making a deal throughout the summer, but some hurdles remained. Eventually, they found common ground, and Buxton will be wearing a Twins uniform for the next seven seasons. With any eight-figure contract, there are inherent risks involved. For Buxton, fans are more aware of those risks because of the time he has missed throughout his big-league career. On paper, the contract looks like a very team-friendly deal. Still, Minnesota certainly had the opportunity to go in a different direction and allocate Buxton’s contract to other roster pieces. Risk #1: Long-Term Injury Issues Injuries are part of the Buxton equation, and the team can try various strategies to keep him healthy and on the field. As a 28-year-old, Buxton has recovered from every injury he has faced and returned to his previous on-field performance. There is no guarantee that continues to happen, and Buxton is one serious injury away from his contract looking poorly for the Twins. His injury history is well known, and it’s likely one of the biggest reasons Minnesota was able to sign him. A player of Buxton’s caliber with fewer injury concerns probably garners offers near $200 million on the free-agent market. Last season, Buxton was the best hitter on the planet at the season’s start as he hit .370/.408/.772 (1.180) through his first 24 games. A hip injury caused him to miss over six weeks, and his swing didn’t miss a beat. In three games after returning, he went 4-for-11 with two extra-base hits. Then a hit-by-pitch broke his hand, and he missed two more months. He came back from this most recent injury and batted .314/.375/.686 (1.061) over the team’s final 26 games. There’s no question he has been able to bounce back so far in his career, but what if an injury causes some long-term performance issues? Risk #2: Age Buxton will now be under team control throughout the prime of his career. However, a player with his skill set will see natural regression as he ages. Two of Buxton’s most essential skills are his speed and his fielding, but those are skills impacted by age. His extension keeps him under team control through age 34, but some parts of his game will likely need to be adjusted before the contract expires. Former Twins’ great Torii Hunter may give fans some insight into how players like Buxton can change as Father Time wields his ugly head. For instance, Hunter was an elite defender in the first half of his playing career. Age and injuries made him less effective in center field, and he was eventually forced to move to a corner outfield spot. Hunter adjusted his skills and became an improved hitter in the second half of his career as his defensive skills waned. Buxton is considered more of a five-tool talent than Hunter, but fans can see how center fielders age by looking at Hunter’s career. The risks mentioned above seem to be more prominent with Buxton, but any free agent acquisition faces these same kinds of risks. In recent memory, Josh Donaldson, Minnesota’s biggest free-agent signing, had concerns about his health and how his on-field performance would decline with age. Luckily, his offensive performance has been above average, but injuries have been part of his Twins tenure. Overall, Buxton’s contract comes with risks, but he has provided value even when he misses significant time. Are you worried about the risks involved with Buxton’s extension? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  9. In this series, we will be counting down the top 12 players in Twins history, starting with number 12, Torii Hunter. There have been plenty of great players in the history of the Minnesota Twins. From Killebrew to Buxton and many in-between, it is tough to narrow it down to the top twelve players in the history of the Twins. One player who had a huge impact on me growing up was the electrifying Torii Hunter. Torii Hunter is the 12th greatest player in Twins history. Rough Start Torii Hunter was drafted 20th overall in the 1993 draft by the Twins out of Pine Bluff High School in Arkansas. He spent parts of five seasons in the minor leagues before making his Major League debut as a pinch runner in 1997. In 1998, he mostly spent time in the minor leagues and it wasn’t until 1999 that he finally played a full season in the majors. He hit .255/.309/.380 (.689) while only accumulating 0.1 fWAR in 135 games for the Twins. In 2000, he had a terrible start to the season, hitting .207 with an OPS of .543 and no home runs in 140 at-bats. He was then demoted to AAA, and he thrived, hitting .368/.403/.727 with 18 home runs in 55 games. He was then recalled to the big leagues on July 29 and hit .332/.371/.485 in 53 games the rest of the season. The Prime From 2001 to 2007, Torii Hunter was one of the best center fielders in all of MLB. He was 5th among all center fielders in fWAR (22.4), 4th in Home Runs (178), and 3rd in RBI (630). Defensively, among all center fielders, Hunter was second in defensive WAR with 7.7 in this seven year stretch, behind only Andruw Jones. He won an incredible seven straight gold gloves with the Twins in this span, while being voted as an all-star twice. His best season was 2002. Hunter hit .289/.334/.524 (.858) with 37 doubles, 29 home runs, 94 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. Hunter finished 6th in MVP voting, won a gold glove, made the all-star team as a starter, and was a leader of the first Twins team to win the AL Central. They beat the Moneyball A’s in the ALDS in five games before eventually losing to the World Series Champion Angels in five games in the ALCS. The Robbery Hunter was notorious for making incredible catches in the outfield. Despite having a good 2001 season, he still was not a household name. Then came 2002. Hunter had an incredible first half, hitting .306/.347/.564 (.911) with a wRC+ of 135 and 20 home runs while stealing 14 bases. For this effort, Hunter was rewarded by being named the American League All-Star starting center fielder. Then came the All-Star Game. In the bottom of the first inning with two outs, slugger Barry Bonds stepped up to the plate for the National League. Derek Lowe threw Bonds a 1-1 hanging slider, and Bonds (who hit 73 home runs the year prior) unloaded on it to center field. The crowd erupted, thinking Bonds had just hit a home run. Hunter had other thoughts. He raced back to the wall, timed his leap perfectly, and robbed Bonds of a home run. On his way into the dugout, Bonds picked Hunter up and lifted him over his shoulder. This was an iconic moment in Hunter’s career and put the league on notice. Leadership Hunter was never afraid to speak his mind. In 2015, he came back for one final season with the Twins. That season was very impactful for young Twins such as Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton. In a 2016 interview, Buxton said he still talked to Torii Hunter weekly about baseball. Hunter clearly had a knack for helping the young bucks with their game, and his impact is still seen today through Buxton. Hunter also knew how to fire a team up. Most notably, he threw a tantrum in which he berated the home plate umpire for a bad strike three call, and he started to throw his equipment, including his jersey, onto the field when they had to remove him. Conclusion Torii Hunter was a great center fielder for the Twins teams of the early 2000’s, accumulating 22.6 fWAR across ten seasons with the Twins. In his Twins career, he hit .268/.321/.462 (.783). He also hit 214 home runs which is 6th in franchise history, stole 128 bases (14th), and hit 281 doubles (13th). He impacted the team on and off the field, was an idol for many young Minnesotan ballplayers, and is an all-time fan favorite in Minnesota for rejuvenating the Twins in the early 2000s. Stay tuned for the second day of Twinsmas! Thank you for reading, and Go Twins View full article
  10. There have been plenty of great players in the history of the Minnesota Twins. From Killebrew to Buxton and many in-between, it is tough to narrow it down to the top twelve players in the history of the Twins. One player who had a huge impact on me growing up was the electrifying Torii Hunter. Torii Hunter is the 12th greatest player in Twins history. Rough Start Torii Hunter was drafted 20th overall in the 1993 draft by the Twins out of Pine Bluff High School in Arkansas. He spent parts of five seasons in the minor leagues before making his Major League debut as a pinch runner in 1997. In 1998, he mostly spent time in the minor leagues and it wasn’t until 1999 that he finally played a full season in the majors. He hit .255/.309/.380 (.689) while only accumulating 0.1 fWAR in 135 games for the Twins. In 2000, he had a terrible start to the season, hitting .207 with an OPS of .543 and no home runs in 140 at-bats. He was then demoted to AAA, and he thrived, hitting .368/.403/.727 with 18 home runs in 55 games. He was then recalled to the big leagues on July 29 and hit .332/.371/.485 in 53 games the rest of the season. The Prime From 2001 to 2007, Torii Hunter was one of the best center fielders in all of MLB. He was 5th among all center fielders in fWAR (22.4), 4th in Home Runs (178), and 3rd in RBI (630). Defensively, among all center fielders, Hunter was second in defensive WAR with 7.7 in this seven year stretch, behind only Andruw Jones. He won an incredible seven straight gold gloves with the Twins in this span, while being voted as an all-star twice. His best season was 2002. Hunter hit .289/.334/.524 (.858) with 37 doubles, 29 home runs, 94 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. Hunter finished 6th in MVP voting, won a gold glove, made the all-star team as a starter, and was a leader of the first Twins team to win the AL Central. They beat the Moneyball A’s in the ALDS in five games before eventually losing to the World Series Champion Angels in five games in the ALCS. The Robbery Hunter was notorious for making incredible catches in the outfield. Despite having a good 2001 season, he still was not a household name. Then came 2002. Hunter had an incredible first half, hitting .306/.347/.564 (.911) with a wRC+ of 135 and 20 home runs while stealing 14 bases. For this effort, Hunter was rewarded by being named the American League All-Star starting center fielder. Then came the All-Star Game. In the bottom of the first inning with two outs, slugger Barry Bonds stepped up to the plate for the National League. Derek Lowe threw Bonds a 1-1 hanging slider, and Bonds (who hit 73 home runs the year prior) unloaded on it to center field. The crowd erupted, thinking Bonds had just hit a home run. Hunter had other thoughts. He raced back to the wall, timed his leap perfectly, and robbed Bonds of a home run. On his way into the dugout, Bonds picked Hunter up and lifted him over his shoulder. This was an iconic moment in Hunter’s career and put the league on notice. Leadership Hunter was never afraid to speak his mind. In 2015, he came back for one final season with the Twins. That season was very impactful for young Twins such as Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton. In a 2016 interview, Buxton said he still talked to Torii Hunter weekly about baseball. Hunter clearly had a knack for helping the young bucks with their game, and his impact is still seen today through Buxton. Hunter also knew how to fire a team up. Most notably, he threw a tantrum in which he berated the home plate umpire for a bad strike three call, and he started to throw his equipment, including his jersey, onto the field when they had to remove him. Conclusion Torii Hunter was a great center fielder for the Twins teams of the early 2000’s, accumulating 22.6 fWAR across ten seasons with the Twins. In his Twins career, he hit .268/.321/.462 (.783). He also hit 214 home runs which is 6th in franchise history, stole 128 bases (14th), and hit 281 doubles (13th). He impacted the team on and off the field, was an idol for many young Minnesotan ballplayers, and is an all-time fan favorite in Minnesota for rejuvenating the Twins in the early 2000s. Stay tuned for the second day of Twinsmas! Thank you for reading, and Go Twins
  11. While some other former Twins are making their ballot debuts, Torii Hunter gets his second chance at Cooperstown glory. Does he have a case for the Hall of Fame? Two years after winning the 1991 World Series, the Twins took an athletic high school outfielder from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Hunter struggled mightily in his pro debut by posting a .503 OPS in 100 at-bats. Hunter moved quickly through the team’s system and spent nearly all of the 1996 season at Double-A, where he got on base over 33% of the time. Entering the 1997 season, Baseball America ranked Hunter as baseball’s 79th best prospect. He improved his OPS by over 150 points, including a tremendous Triple-A debut with a .891 OPS. Hunter appeared in seven games for the Twins between 1997-98, but the 1999 season was his first full season at the big-league level. As a 23-year old, he struggled offensively as he hit .255/.309/.380 with 28 extra-base hits in 135 games. One of the biggest reasons for his struggles was related to how the Twins were coaching him. Coaches told him to keep the ball on the ground and use his speed. “I was really bred to be a leadoff guy,” Hunter told The Athletic. “I felt like I had more, but I didn’t want to be un-coachable. I just did what I was told to do, but I felt like I was in prison. I had much more in me, but they wouldn’t let it come out of me. It was my fault. It wasn’t until 2000 I realized who I was and became who I thought I could be.” From there, Hunter established himself as one of baseball’s best center fielders on both sides of the ball. He posted a 108 OPS+ in eight seasons from 2000-2007. Hunter was the heart and soul of the Twins teams that helped save the franchise from contraction. However, his career wasn’t entirely defined by his time in Minnesota, as he spent multiple seasons in Los Angeles and Detroit. His final resume puts him in the conversation for one of the best center fielders in baseball history. He won nine straight Gold Glove awards, the third-highest total of any center fielder in history. Hunter led the league in center field assists three times. He was named to five All-Star Games and won two Silver Slugger Awards. During his 19-year career, he hit 20 or more home runs in 11 seasons. From 2001-2013, he averaged 23 home runs and 12 steals per year while posting a 115 OPS+. He helped teams to the playoffs in eight different seasons, including trips to the American League Championship Series with three different organizations. Even with multiple opportunities, his teams were never able to make it to the World Series. In those 11 Postseason series, he hit .274 with four home runs and 20 RBI in 48 games. Even with his accolades, Hunter is going to have a tough time making a case for Cooperstown. His closest comparison on the ballot is Andruw Jones, who has been slowly gaining traction. Last year, Jones was in his fourth year on the ballot, and he received 33.9% of the vote. Hunter received 38 votes which accounted for 9.5% of the vote. Jones was one of the best defenders in baseball history, but Hunter’s offensive numbers may help him as voters get a more extended look at his candidacy. Hunter has more hits than 11 of the 19 center fielders already enshrined in Cooperstown. His 353 home runs rank even better as he is ahead of 13 of the 19 players in center. Unfortunately, his .277 batting average would be the lowest average among enshrined center fielders, and his 110 OPS+ is lower than 17 of the 19 center fielders. Hunter's career is tough to analyze because he was a great fielder early in his career and a much better hitter in the second half of his career. He will always hold a special place in the heart of Twins fans, but it doesn’t look like Cooperstown will be calling anytime soon. Do you think Hunter will be elected to Cooperstown? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES — David Ortiz — Joe Nathan View full article
  12. Two years after winning the 1991 World Series, the Twins took an athletic high school outfielder from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Hunter struggled mightily in his pro debut by posting a .503 OPS in 100 at-bats. Hunter moved quickly through the team’s system and spent nearly all of the 1996 season at Double-A, where he got on base over 33% of the time. Entering the 1997 season, Baseball America ranked Hunter as baseball’s 79th best prospect. He improved his OPS by over 150 points, including a tremendous Triple-A debut with a .891 OPS. Hunter appeared in seven games for the Twins between 1997-98, but the 1999 season was his first full season at the big-league level. As a 23-year old, he struggled offensively as he hit .255/.309/.380 with 28 extra-base hits in 135 games. One of the biggest reasons for his struggles was related to how the Twins were coaching him. Coaches told him to keep the ball on the ground and use his speed. “I was really bred to be a leadoff guy,” Hunter told The Athletic. “I felt like I had more, but I didn’t want to be un-coachable. I just did what I was told to do, but I felt like I was in prison. I had much more in me, but they wouldn’t let it come out of me. It was my fault. It wasn’t until 2000 I realized who I was and became who I thought I could be.” From there, Hunter established himself as one of baseball’s best center fielders on both sides of the ball. He posted a 108 OPS+ in eight seasons from 2000-2007. Hunter was the heart and soul of the Twins teams that helped save the franchise from contraction. However, his career wasn’t entirely defined by his time in Minnesota, as he spent multiple seasons in Los Angeles and Detroit. His final resume puts him in the conversation for one of the best center fielders in baseball history. He won nine straight Gold Glove awards, the third-highest total of any center fielder in history. Hunter led the league in center field assists three times. He was named to five All-Star Games and won two Silver Slugger Awards. During his 19-year career, he hit 20 or more home runs in 11 seasons. From 2001-2013, he averaged 23 home runs and 12 steals per year while posting a 115 OPS+. He helped teams to the playoffs in eight different seasons, including trips to the American League Championship Series with three different organizations. Even with multiple opportunities, his teams were never able to make it to the World Series. In those 11 Postseason series, he hit .274 with four home runs and 20 RBI in 48 games. Even with his accolades, Hunter is going to have a tough time making a case for Cooperstown. His closest comparison on the ballot is Andruw Jones, who has been slowly gaining traction. Last year, Jones was in his fourth year on the ballot, and he received 33.9% of the vote. Hunter received 38 votes which accounted for 9.5% of the vote. Jones was one of the best defenders in baseball history, but Hunter’s offensive numbers may help him as voters get a more extended look at his candidacy. Hunter has more hits than 11 of the 19 center fielders already enshrined in Cooperstown. His 353 home runs rank even better as he is ahead of 13 of the 19 players in center. Unfortunately, his .277 batting average would be the lowest average among enshrined center fielders, and his 110 OPS+ is lower than 17 of the 19 center fielders. Hunter's career is tough to analyze because he was a great fielder early in his career and a much better hitter in the second half of his career. He will always hold a special place in the heart of Twins fans, but it doesn’t look like Cooperstown will be calling anytime soon. Do you think Hunter will be elected to Cooperstown? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES — David Ortiz — Joe Nathan
  13. Defensive metrics have come a long way over the last two decades and new technology continues to help front offices evaluate their defensive talent. Many key advanced fielding stats like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Above Average (Def) began being calculated in 2002. Over the last 20+ seasons, the Twins made defense an organizational hallmark and these teams rank as the best defenders during that stretch. 5. 2003 Twins (23.2 Def, 23.2 UZR) Top Defenders: Torii Hunter (18.4 Def, 16.2 UZR, Gold Glove), Corey Koskie (10.1 Def, 8.2 UZR), AJ Pierzynski (9.0 Def) The 2003 Twins were on their way to claiming a second straight AL Central title and there were some clear standout defenders. Hunter was the team’s top defender, and he was awarded his third Gold Glove on the way to winning seven straight honors for the Twins. His defensive numbers in 2003 were otherworldly as he posted career highs in Def and UZR. Koskie was underrated as a defensive third baseman and he should have won a Gold Glove at some point in his career (see below) 4. 2010 Twins (33.8 Def, 28.1 UZR) Top Defenders: Joe Mauer (12.2 Def, Gold Glove), JJ Hardy (11.8 Def, 7.4 UZR), Orlando Hudson (10.5 Def, 8.7 UZR), Denard Span (9.3 Def, 7.0 UZR) This one might hurt for some Twins fans as JJ Hardy’s lone season in Minnesota saw him put up some strong defensive numbers at shortstop. Since that season, the Twins have rotated through carousel of players that were stretched to play shortstop. Mauer would win his third straight Gold Glove behind the plate, but it would be his last as he was eventually forced to move to first base. Orlando Hudson and Hardy formed quite the double-play combo and Span only strengthened the team’s up the middle defense. 3. 2006 Twins (34.8 Def, 30.8 UZR) Top Defenders: Jason Bartlett (16.1 Def, 11.6 UZR), Nick Punto (14.1 Def, 13.1 UZR), Joe Mauer (8.1 Def) Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto might surprise some to be at the team’s top defenders over the course of a season. Bartlett was helped by the fact that he played fewer than 880 innings so a player can hide more of their defensive flaws in a smaller sample size. Punto’s numbers above were at third base, but he also posted a 5.3 Def and a 4.6 UZR at shortstop albeit in 146.2 innings. It was one of Mauer’s worst defensive seasons as a catcher and he was still one of the best defenders on the team. 2. 2005 Twins (41.9 Def, 31.9 UZR) Top Defenders: Juan Castro (16.1 Def, 13.2 UZR), Jason Bartlett (15.6 Def, 12.6 UZR), Joe Mauer (8.6 Def), Torii Hunter (3.4 Def, 2.5 UZR, Gold Glove) For the fifth consecutive season, Hunter was awarded the Gold Glove, but he was limited to just over 810 innings in center. Minnesota turned to Lew Ford for 548 innings in center field and he finished fifth on the team with a 4.9 Def. Castro and Bartlett have high totals, but neither player played more than 590 innings at shortstop. In fact, Mauer and Justin Morneau were the only players to play close to 1,000 defensive innings at one position. Morneau’s 13.5 UZR was the team’s highest total and it was the highest mark he’d have in his entire career. 1. 2002 Twins (60.4 Def, 60.4 UZR) Top Defenders: Corey Koskie (21.9 Def, 19.9 UZR), Jacque Jones (11.5 Def, 17.6 UZR), AJ Pierzynski (8.9 Def), Torii Hunter (5.1 Def, 3.0 UZR, Gold Glove) ESPN dubbed them, “The Team That Saved Baseball,” and a lot of the credit can be given to the defensive side of the ball. Koskie might have been the AL’s best defensive player as his Def and UZR ranked him at the top of the league ahead of players like Darin Erstad and Alex Rodriguez. Minnesota had three players rank in the AL’s top six when it came to UZR (Koskie, Jones, and Doug Mientkiewicz). Koskie lost the Gold Glove to Eric Chavez, but the Twins had the last laugh as they defeated Oakland in the ALDS. Do you think the 2021 Twins can match the defensive numbers from 2002? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  14. Recently, Torii Hunter fellow former Twins greats LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer found their names on the new Hall of Fame ballot. All three had fantastic, long careers and deserve the honor. On this show, we will be talking about Torii Hunter. Whether you believe that he had a Cooperstown-worthy career or not, Hunter has been a popular player, teammate and mentor to many in and around the game. Our panel includes three people that have great relationships with Torii Hunter to discuss his career and his role as a mentor. JACQUE JONES Jones found himself on the Hall of Fame ballot about seven years ago, and he got a vote. Jones and Hunter came up through the Twins farm system together after Jones was the team's second-round pick out of USC. Jones debuted and was Hunter's teammate through the 2005 season. The two remain good friends. NIKO GUARDADO Guardado has found himself in a number of memorable roles in TV and movies over the past eight years or so including a recurring role on The Goldbergs and a leading role in the remake of Party of Five. As you know, he is the son of Twins Hall of Famer and remains a fan of the team. He got to view those early '00s Twins team from a pretty special, unique perspective. Torii and Jacque remain active in many charities including the Eddie Guardado Autism Foundation Stars & Strikes event. Get to know more about Niko here. ROYCE LEWIS The Twins top prospect hails from southern California where he grew up watching Hunter with the Angels. The two met before the Twins even drafted Lewis and have built a very strong relationship. Lewis says that Hunter has been a tremendous mentor to him, giving him knowledge about topics on the baseball diamond as well as in the real world. Last offseason, Lewis moved to Texas and lives in the same city and the Hunter family. In this show, it will be fun to hear stories from all three about their relationships with Torii Hunter over the years. ------------------------------------------- Please watch LIVE at 8:00 central time tonight on the Twins Daily Twitter, Facebook or YouTube pages live. Also feel free to ask questions in the comments below or on those social media platforms during the show and we'll ask them. Subscribe to the Twins Daily podcast on Libsyn, Apple iTunes or anywhere you download podcasts. Here is the YouTube link where you can watch the show.
  15. Hunter was a first-round pick by the Twins back in 1993 and he went on to have a 19-year big-league career. Known for his defensive prowess, he won nine straight Gold Gloves from 2001-09. He was no slouch at the plate either as he hit .277/.331/.461 (.793) while being awarded two Silver Sluggers. He was selected to five All-Star teams and there were five times he finished in the top-20 for the AL MVP. Those numbers are only part of the Hall of Fame equation. Center field is a tough position to judge when it comes to Hall of Fame credentials. Some of the game’s all-time best players like Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Ken Griffey Jr. played the position and this can skew the numbers a little bit. Overall, there have been 24 center fielders elected to the Hall of Fame, which means not everyone was of the same caliber as the names mentioned above. So, what does a center fielder need to do to get to Cooperstown? JAWS, a scoring system used to measure a player’s HOF worthiness, helps to separate players at each position. According to Baseball Reference, “A player’s JAWS is their career WAR averaged with their 7-year peak WAR.” Hunter doesn’t exactly fare well when using JAWS as he ranks the 34th best center fielder. There are four HOF players that rank lower than him, but all of them played in the 1930’s or earlier. The players directly ahead of him on the list include Curtis Granderson, Ellis Burks, and Andrew McCutchen. None of those players scream that they should be in Cooperstown. Andruw Jones is a player that might fit a similar mold to Hunter’s career. Like Hunter, Jones was known for his defensive prowess on his way to winning 10 Gold Gloves. In fact, Jones is one of only three center fielders with more Gold Gloves than Hunter (Mays- 12, Griffey Jr.- 10). Unfortunately, their trophy rooms might be the only thing that puts Hunter and Jones in the same HOF conversation. According to JAWS, Jones is the third best center fielder that has yet to be enshrined in Cooperstown behind Carlos Beltran and Kenny Lofton. That puts him well ahead of Hunter’s JAWS total. What might be even more discouraging is the fact that players like Lofton (10th place JAWS) and Jim Edmonds (15th place JAWS) fell off the HOF ballot after only one appearance. Even Jones has struggled on the ballot as he reached 19.4% in 2020 in his third year of eligibility. Hunter will always have a special place in the hearts of Minnesota Twins fans. His energy and leadership help to define the teams that put Twins baseball back on the map. Looking at the numbers, it’s hard to imagine he has much of a case for Cooperstown. Do you think Hunter has a shot at Cooperstown? 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. The sound of a clanking spoon and jubilant laughs of a child resonate through the waves of Caleb Thielbar’s kitchen over Zoom. “Do I need to repeat anything or is he too loud? My wife’s at work and I got home a bit late so it’s lunchtime.” The 33 year old Randolph, Minnesota native has worn a wealth of hats over the years; St. Paul Saints standout, International League pitcher, DII pitching coach, a prospect that ‘shouldn't have made it,’ and most importantly, husband to Carissa and dad of Joshua. To Twins fans, he’s the pinnacle of feel-good stories in the franchise’s history. Coming off a stellar season in his second stint with his home-state team, baseball and the Minnesota Twins were staples in the Thielbar family since Caleb was a young boy. “Baseball was huge for my parents. Heck, my dad still played until I was 12 or 13 in various leagues,” Caleb recalled. “He was a pitcher.” Young Caleb took after his father Calvin, cementing his place on the mound in the youth leagues of south central Minnesota. Thielbar was a standout for the Randolph Rockets both on the bump and on the basketball court, scoring the second most points in school history. Courtesy of Caleb Thielbar “Growing up in a small town, if you could throw the ball hard and anywhere near the plate you were going to pitch,” Thielbar said. Thielbar and his father weren’t the only ones in the family who spent time on the diamond. Caleb’s mom Janet was the starting shortstop on her high school baseball team as a senior; an opportunity that connected her with assistant coach Calvin, her future husband. “The Greatest Place on Earth” Nestled just half an hour south of the Twin Cities, some of Caleb’s fondest childhood memories came from making the trek up to the Metrodome to watch his favorite team. Calvin would get tickets from work and the family would go to three or four games per year. Like most, Caleb knew that the Dome wasn’t the gold encrusted palace that other teams had to call home. That didn’t matter. “Going to the Metrodome, ears popping (through the doors), getting to the concourse where you couldn’t hear anything. All of a sudden you’d get into the stadium and start to hear the crack of the bat from batting practice.” For the wide-eyed Minnesota boy the Metrodome couldn’t have been more perfect. “I got to play in the Dome in college and we all kind of knew it wasn’t the nicest, but when you’re a kid and you're going to a Major League game you think it’s the greatest thing in the world,” Caleb recalled. Johan and Torii Growing up in the 90’s, the Twins were nothing to write home about. Yet when Caleb was striking out hitters on the bump for Randolph High School in the early 2000’s, Johan Santana was baffling hitters with his changeup and the Dome outfield was where homers went to die thanks to Torii Hunter. “Johan was my favorite pitcher growing up and all of us loved Torii, making those amazing catches,” Thielbar said. “Those were the two players I liked most because in high school when I wasn’t pitching I was playing centerfield.” Things came full circle for Thielbar this spring. Throwing his first bullpen of the year, a familiar face appeared behind the mound to watch and critique the crafty lefty. It was no other than Caleb’s childhood hero, Johan himself. “It was kind of surreal to have him there after growing up watching him your entire childhood,” Caleb said. Lifelong Learner There are few players in baseball that have seen their career evolve the way Thielbar has. From a blue-collar recruit who didn’t necessarily see himself being good enough to compete at South Dakota State to a big league pitcher who’s future seemed uncertain due to arm injuries, Caleb never gave up. “After having some arm problems with the Twins it did take a few years to get it back,” Thielbar said. “Luckily I was able to keep playing, most guys hang it up after that.” In between his time with the Twins, Thielbar spent two seasons across the Mississippi with the St. Paul Saints. He credits his time in the American Association towards where he’s at today. “I enjoyed my time with the Saints and was lucky to have a couple of good years with them,” Thielbar said. “I needed to learn how to stay healthy and the independent league was a really good place to do that.” A firm believer that there is always learning to do, regardless of the level, Thielbar’s grit was rewarded this year by achieving a goal that’s been in his mind since he was a boy in Randolph; winning an AL Central title. “Watching all of those (division titles) growing up, it became a goal of mine,” Thielbar said. “Not just winning it, but getting to do it with a lot of guys that I got to play with in the minors or that I already knew. They're a bunch of really good people and seeing them succeed is great.” 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. The Land of 10,000 Lakes has a rich history of cultivating homegrown talent in the sport of baseball. Hear the authentic stories of those who grew up in Minnesota and have had the chance to fulfill the childhood dream of wearing a Twins jersey.The sound of a clanking spoon and jubilant laughs of a child resonate through the waves of Caleb Thielbar’s kitchen over Zoom. “Do I need to repeat anything or is he too loud? My wife’s at work and I got home a bit late so it’s lunchtime.” The 33 year old Randolph, Minnesota native has worn a wealth of hats over the years; St. Paul Saints standout, International League pitcher, DII pitching coach, a prospect that ‘shouldn't have made it,’ and most importantly, husband to Carissa and dad of Joshua. To Twins fans, he’s the pinnacle of feel-good stories in the franchise’s history. Coming off a stellar season in his second stint with his home-state team, baseball and the Minnesota Twins were staples in the Thielbar family since Caleb was a young boy. “Baseball was huge for my parents. Heck, my dad still played until I was 12 or 13 in various leagues,” Caleb recalled. “He was a pitcher.” Young Caleb took after his father Calvin, cementing his place on the mound in the youth leagues of south central Minnesota. Download attachment: Thielbar Randolph.jpg Thielbar was a standout for the Randolph Rockets both on the bump and on the basketball court, scoring the second most points in school history. Courtesy of Caleb Thielbar “Growing up in a small town, if you could throw the ball hard and anywhere near the plate you were going to pitch,” Thielbar said. Thielbar and his father weren’t the only ones in the family who spent time on the diamond. Caleb’s mom Janet was the starting shortstop on her high school baseball team as a senior; an opportunity that connected her with assistant coach Calvin, her future husband. “The Greatest Place on Earth” Nestled just half an hour south of the Twin Cities, some of Caleb’s fondest childhood memories came from making the trek up to the Metrodome to watch his favorite team. Calvin would get tickets from work and the family would go to three or four games per year. Like most, Caleb knew that the Dome wasn’t the gold encrusted palace that other teams had to call home. That didn’t matter. “Going to the Metrodome, ears popping (through the doors), getting to the concourse where you couldn’t hear anything. All of a sudden you’d get into the stadium and start to hear the crack of the bat from batting practice.” For the wide-eyed Minnesota boy the Metrodome couldn’t have been more perfect. “I got to play in the Dome in college and we all kind of knew it wasn’t the nicest, but when you’re a kid and you're going to a Major League game you think it’s the greatest thing in the world,” Caleb recalled. Johan and Torii Growing up in the 90’s, the Twins were nothing to write home about. Yet when Caleb was striking out hitters on the bump for Randolph High School in the early 2000’s, Johan Santana was baffling hitters with his changeup and the Dome outfield was where homers went to die thanks to Torii Hunter. “Johan was my favorite pitcher growing up and all of us loved Torii, making those amazing catches,” Thielbar said. “Those were the two players I liked most because in high school when I wasn’t pitching I was playing centerfield.” Things came full circle for Thielbar this spring. Throwing his first bullpen of the year, a familiar face appeared behind the mound to watch and critique the crafty lefty. It was no other than Caleb’s childhood hero, Johan himself. “It was kind of surreal to have him there after growing up watching him your entire childhood,” Caleb said. Lifelong Learner There are few players in baseball that have seen their career evolve the way Thielbar has. From a blue-collar recruit who didn’t necessarily see himself being good enough to compete at South Dakota State to a big league pitcher who’s future seemed uncertain due to arm injuries, Caleb never gave up. “After having some arm problems with the Twins it did take a few years to get it back,” Thielbar said. “Luckily I was able to keep playing, most guys hang it up after that.” In between his time with the Twins, Thielbar spent two seasons across the Mississippi with the St. Paul Saints. He credits his time in the American Association towards where he’s at today. “I enjoyed my time with the Saints and was lucky to have a couple of good years with them,” Thielbar said. “I needed to learn how to stay healthy and the independent league was a really good place to do that.” A firm believer that there is always learning to do, regardless of the level, Thielbar’s grit was rewarded this year by achieving a goal that’s been in his mind since he was a boy in Randolph; winning an AL Central title. “Watching all of those (division titles) growing up, it became a goal of mine,” Thielbar said. “Not just winning it, but getting to do it with a lot of guys that I got to play with in the minors or that I already knew. They're a bunch of really good people and seeing them succeed is great.” MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email Click here to view the article
  18. I don’t think it’s burying the lede here to note that Harmon Killebrew’s signature is going to be number one on this list. He’s got some of the greatest penmanship we’ve seen in any era, and it was a craft he took great pride in. You’ll often hear stories from more recent players where they’ll quip about the times Harmon noted they needed to clean up their signature. Given the recent explosion of the trading card collecting hobby it seemed only fitting to explore the guys that have followed his advice best. Surprisingly, there’s more than a few modern candidates on this list. Without further ado, let’s get into it: 5. Paul Molitor After playing 15 years in Milwaukee for the Brewers, Molitor ended his Hall of Fame career with the hometown team. The St. Paul native was well past his prime when he joined the Twins, but Molitor still put up an .858 OPS at age-39. There was no shortage of autograph requests given the local fanfare, and those continued when he became manager, and eventually Manager of the Year, following his playing days. The signature is a compressed one, and the letters are all tight together, but getting every character is something rarely seen today. 4. Bert Blyleven This is a weird case in which the signature is awesome, but it’s one that typically comes with caveats. Blyleven is also a Hall of Famer and played 11 of his 22 big league seasons in Minnesota. He is still connected to the team as a broadcaster, and while his capacity is slowly being phased out, it will never not be true that he was among the best to put on the uniform. Much like Harmon’s style, Blyleven makes sure to get out his full name fully and visibly when signing. For collectors he’ll generally ink his name in undesirable places or attempt to devalue whatever he is signing for the fear of secondary market flipping. At any rate, the signature itself is a gorgeous one. 3. Torii Hunter As the first modern day inclusion on this list Torii Hunter represents a guy bound by principles. He has often talked about things gleaned from his time listening to Harmon, and he too represents that type of retired veteran constantly passing information down. Hunter played the role of mentor and leader on multiple teams, and it’s not hard to see why doing things the right way would be of importance to him. Hunter’s autograph is loopier and more cartoonish than the previous two entries, but it’s plenty obvious who the inscription belongs to when reading it. Often accompanied by his number, Torii takes any piece of memorabilia up a notch by putting his name on it. 2. Michael Cuddyer One of my favorite autographs in all of baseball, Cuddyer combines principles from the three players before him. He was a Twins for 11 of his 15 Major League seasons and there was never a time in which he wasn’t fighting to cement his place as a regular. Often seen as the utility player that could contribute everywhere, Cuddyer went about all of his processes the right way. Without sounding too sappy Cuddyer’s signature has an elegance to it. As a fan of photography, often taking pictures at away ballparks, maybe there was even an artistic tie to the swoops of his pen. Each time his name came out though, it looked as good as the last. 1. Harmon Killebrew As I said when starting this off, it’s pretty impossible to look at any group of people under this subject and not determine Harmon as the gold standard. Playing 21 of his 22 illustrious seasons with the Minnesota franchise (after relocating from Washington seven seasons in) the Killer racked up accolades like no one’s business. An inner circle Hall of Famer doesn’t need to bother themselves with signature requests, but Killebrew took it upon himself to treat each as if it were his last. There will never be a time that the importance Killebrew placed on a well-respected signature isn’t a story that’s shared fondly among Twins fans. Although it doesn’t resonate with every future player, it’s great to see the trickle-down effect and know that his presence remains even though he has left us. Who's missing that you would add to this list? 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. Torii Hunter Region Hunter’s defensive prowess was something that followed him through his big-league career, even after he was forced to move to a corner outfield position. He won seven Gold Gloves during his time in Minnesota and added two more after signing with the Angels. He was a clear pick as the number one overall seed, but would he have enough to make it through the entire bracket? Zoilo Versalles might have provided the biggest challenge to Hunter in the region. The former MVP won multiple Gold Gloves at shortstop. Many reached out on Twitter and wondered how many current fans even remembered Versalles and his slick glove up the middle. Even if he was good for his time, Hunter ended up winning the region and moved on to the Final Four. Kirby Puckett Region Kirby Puckett made arguably the most famous catch in team history during Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. He wasn’t a one-catch wonder though as he accumulated six Gold Gloves throughout his Hall of Fame career. Unfortunately for Puckett, his region had a strong number two seed and an upset looked like it could be on the horizon. First, Puckett had to get by Corey Koskie, one of the team’s best defensive third basemen. From there he matched up in the regional final against Joe Mauer, who had defeated Denard Span in round one. Mauer won multiple Gold Gloves behind the plate and likely should have won one during his time at first. He was a tremendous athlete and his defensive skills beat out Puckett to win the region. Jim Kaat Region Younger fans might not be aware, but Jim Kaat lived up to his nickname on the mound as he used cat-like reflexes to pounce on batted balls. He holds the team record for Gold Gloves, and he went on to win 16 for his career. Much like Versalles before him, would a younger crowd on Twitter know enough about Kaat to push him through the region? Kaat’s region was no breeze as it included some of the biggest names in team history. Tony Oliva, Gary Gaetti, and Greg Gagne had a chance to upset the region’s number one seed. The regional final would be a battle between Gaetti, the team’s outstanding World Series third baseman, and Kaat, the top seed. Cooler heads prevailed and Kaat qualified for the Final Four. Byron Buxton Region Recency bias could play a role in making Byron Buxton the number two overall seed in the tournament, but he has made some legendary plays in his big-league career. Unfortunately, his career has been limited because of a variety of injuries. Would fans overlook his injury time and allow him to move out of the region? Buxton first made quick work of Kent Hrbek, a team legend, but one that played his entire career at first base. The lower part of the bracket pitted two other first basemen as one player took over first base from another in a dramatic trade deadline deal. Buxton faced a Gold Glove winner, Doug Mientkiewicz, in the final, but the first baseman couldn’t pull off the upset and Buxton moved on to face Kaat in the Final Four. Final Four Torii Hunter versus Joe Mauer and Jim Kaat versus Byron Buxton comprised the semi-final matchups in the Best Defender Bracket. Mauer had upset the number one seed, Puckett, to qualify for the Final Four, but he wouldn’t have enough steam to take down Spider-Man. Fans are more familiar with Buxton and it was easy for him to take down Kaat, especially since Buxton’s defense has been other-worldly when he has been healthy. Hunter facing off against Buxton in the final was certainly an intriguing match-up. Hunter has more Gold Gloves and was able to stay healthy and on the field for most of his Twins tenure. Buxton makes spectacular plays but there have been injury concerns. Overall, Buxton is a better defender and the fans picked him over Hunter’s longevity. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/1253497118645518337 Do you agree with the results? 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
  20. During his age-21 through age-23 seasons, Byron Buxton played 278 games at the big-league level. This culminated in a tremendous 2017 season where he won the Platinum Glove for his defense in center field. Also, he ended that season hitting .270/.330/.460 with 10 extra-base hits over his final 26 games. It truly looked like Buxton was putting it all together. At age-23, Kirby Puckett had yet to make his MLB debut and was playing the entire season below the Double-A level. He’d played the entire season for Visalia in the California League by hitting .314/.366/.442 with 45 extra-base hits in 138 games. Puckett’s path to the big leagues could be considered alternative because he wasn’t drafted until he was 21 and he didn’t make his professional debut until age 22. It’s no secret that Buxton is entering a critical year in his career. He has only played more than 92 games once since his rookie season so the Twins need him to prove he can stay healthy and productive. His 2019 season ended early due to a left shoulder labrum injury. Minnesota’s goal is to have him ready for Opening Day but the club has made it clear that there is no intent to rush him. https://twitter.com/dohyoungpark/status/1228681961994178562?s=20 Puckett started to show his Hall of Fame potential during his age-26 season, the same age season Buxton will enter in 2020. Puckett made the first of 10-straight All-Star appearances, he’d win his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger and he finished sixth in the MVP voting. From that point forward, he’d win six more Gold Gloves, five more Silver Sluggers, and he’d finish in the top-10 for MVP six times. Up to this point in his career, so much of Buxton’s game has relied on speed and his game will need to continue to evolve as he ages. He has continued to add muscle over the last two off-seasons in hopes of avoiding injury. He is still in the prime of his career, but players regress in different ways as they reach their upper 20s and early 30s. Will Buxton be able to make the appropriate adjustments throughout his career? Buxton’s minor league performance got him to the minor leagues faster than some of the best centerfielders in Twins history. He has already accumulated more WAR than Torii Hunter, Denard Span and Puckett through his age-25 season. This is quite the trio to be compared to, but Buxton is in an organization with a long history of strong center fielders. Is it fair to compare Buxton to Puckett? Probably not, but fans shouldn’t give up on the former first-round pick just yet. He has plenty of career still in front of him. 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. Today, we continue our Top 20 prospect rankings series with a look at our choice as the Twins #8 prospect. If prospect rankings were based solely on tools and ceiling, Keoni Cavaco would likely rank much higher on this list.Age: 18 (DOB: 6-2-2001) 2019 Stats (GCL): 92 PA, .172/.217/.253, 4-2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI ETA: 2025 2019 Ranking: NR National Top 100 Rankings BA: NR |MLB: NR | ATH: NR |BP: NR What’s To Like There’s no hiding the reality that the Twins have had a history of drafting, signing and developing many toolsy, talented high school athletes with early-round picks. Torii Hunter. Michael Cuddyer. Joe Mauer, Denard Span. Ben Revere. Joe Benson. Byron Buxton and Royce Lewis in recent years. When it comes to tools and athleticism, Keoni Cavaco can match up with any of these players. Cavaco was drafted from Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, California. The school has several players go Division I every year as well as get drafted. Cavaco only played infield his final two years of high school and wasn’t a known commodity on the national scene until after the summer of his junior year. Like several others from his school, he was committed to San Diego State. Cavaco has a very strong, athletic build. He’s already 6-2 and hovers around 200 pounds. He’s got quick hands and has the potential to hit a lot of home runs, in time. He also has speed that can match up with most anyone in the organization. In fact, he was clocked at 3.9 seconds to first base from the right-hand batters box. Right now, his defense is ahead of his offense. The Twins had him play shortstop through the short-season following the draft, but he had spent most of his high school career playing third base. His team’s shortstop was hurt during the season so Cavaco had an opportunity to show scouts that he could play the position as well. Reports from Ft. Myers indicate that he’s got great footwork, soft hands, good range and a strong arm. What’s Left To Work On When Cavaco came to Target Field to sign his contract, FSN’s Marney Gellner interviewed him on the TV broadcast. He said that he wanted to be in the major leagues in “four years or less.” Well, Twins fans, and Cavaco himself, will need to have more patience than that. The tools are all there, but many of them are quite raw. What’s Next After just 25 games and his struggles in the GCL following the draft, expect that Cavaco will spend the first half of the season in Ft. Myers at extended spring training continuing to work on his all-around game. At that point, it will be interesting to see if Cavaco is pushed up to Elizabethton (likely) or starts the short season in the GCL again. It’s also possible, if he picks things up quickly, he could spend some time in the second half of the season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Twins Daily 2020 Top 20 Prospects Honorable Mentions 20. Jose Miranda, 3B/2B 19. Cole Sands, RHP 18. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/LF 17. Misael Urbina, OF 16. Edwar Colina, RP 15. Matt Canterino, RHP 14. Matt Wallner, OF 13. Wander Javier, SS 12. Gilberto Celestino, OF 11. Lewis Thorpe, LHP 10. Blayne Enlow, RHP 9. Brent Rooker, OF 8. Keoni Cavaco, SS Stop by tomorrow for prospect #7! --------------------------------------------------------- Get to know more about Keoni Cavaco and about another 170 minor league players (and two Dodgers prospects too - Graterol and Raley) in the 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. ORDER NOW: 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook (paperback, $17.99) ORDER NOW: 2019 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook (eBook, $12.99) The 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook goes in-depth and provides player bios, scouting reports, statistics and much more on about 170 Twins minor leaguers. Click here to view the article
  22. Age: 18 (DOB: 6-2-2001) 2019 Stats (GCL): 92 PA, .172/.217/.253, 4-2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI ETA: 2025 2019 Ranking: NR National Top 100 Rankings BA: NR |MLB: NR | ATH: NR |BP: NR What’s To Like There’s no hiding the reality that the Twins have had a history of drafting, signing and developing many toolsy, talented high school athletes with early-round picks. Torii Hunter. Michael Cuddyer. Joe Mauer, Denard Span. Ben Revere. Joe Benson. Byron Buxton and Royce Lewis in recent years. When it comes to tools and athleticism, Keoni Cavaco can match up with any of these players. Cavaco was drafted from Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, California. The school has several players go Division I every year as well as get drafted. Cavaco only played infield his final two years of high school and wasn’t a known commodity on the national scene until after the summer of his junior year. Like several others from his school, he was committed to San Diego State. Cavaco has a very strong, athletic build. He’s already 6-2 and hovers around 200 pounds. He’s got quick hands and has the potential to hit a lot of home runs, in time. He also has speed that can match up with most anyone in the organization. In fact, he was clocked at 3.9 seconds to first base from the right-hand batters box. Right now, his defense is ahead of his offense. The Twins had him play shortstop through the short-season following the draft, but he had spent most of his high school career playing third base. His team’s shortstop was hurt during the season so Cavaco had an opportunity to show scouts that he could play the position as well. Reports from Ft. Myers indicate that he’s got great footwork, soft hands, good range and a strong arm. What’s Left To Work On When Cavaco came to Target Field to sign his contract, FSN’s Marney Gellner interviewed him on the TV broadcast. He said that he wanted to be in the major leagues in “four years or less.” Well, Twins fans, and Cavaco himself, will need to have more patience than that. The tools are all there, but many of them are quite raw. https://twitter.com/fsnorth/status/1138604938240512000 First and foremost, Cavaco’s “hit” tool is going to take some time. It’s all there. He’s got the size and strength. He’s got the quick hands. He’s got good vision. In his professional debut, he missed some time with some minor injuries which kept him from getting into a groove. He also had a lot of swing-and-miss, striking out in 35 of his 92 plate appearances (38%) while walking just four times. And as you would expect from any player that is just 18 years old, he’s got a lot of work to do across the board. His swing is just one of those things. He’s got work to do in terms of base running, and defense, and control of the strike zone. He’s also learning how to work properly in the gym, and before games, and dietary, and more. https://twitter.com/BaseballAmerica/status/1135705853632372736 What’s Next After just 25 games and his struggles in the GCL following the draft, expect that Cavaco will spend the first half of the season in Ft. Myers at extended spring training continuing to work on his all-around game. At that point, it will be interesting to see if Cavaco is pushed up to Elizabethton (likely) or starts the short season in the GCL again. It’s also possible, if he picks things up quickly, he could spend some time in the second half of the season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Twins Daily 2020 Top 20 Prospects Honorable Mentions 20. Jose Miranda, 3B/2B 19. Cole Sands, RHP 18. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/LF 17. Misael Urbina, OF 16. Edwar Colina, RP 15. Matt Canterino, RHP 14. Matt Wallner, OF 13. Wander Javier, SS 12. Gilberto Celestino, OF 11. Lewis Thorpe, LHP 10. Blayne Enlow, RHP 9. Brent Rooker, OF 8. Keoni Cavaco, SS Stop by tomorrow for prospect #7! --------------------------------------------------------- Get to know more about Keoni Cavaco and about another 170 minor league players (and two Dodgers prospects too - Graterol and Raley) in the 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. ORDER NOW: 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook (paperback, $17.99) ORDER NOW: 2019 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook (eBook, $12.99) The 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook goes in-depth and provides player bios, scouting reports, statistics and much more on about 170 Twins minor leaguers.
  23. This naturally leads one to wonder just how great Buxton could become. Obviously, steering clear of injuries and staying off the IL will be crucial for Buxton to reach his ceiling. The injury-plagued disaster of 2018 may have caused some Twins fans to sour on Buxton, but he has bounced back strongly in 2019. The expectations for Buxton have always been sky high as he was the number one overall prospect in baseball and made his major league debut at the age of 21. If he does stay fairly healthy throughout his career he could easily become one of if not the best Twins center fielder of all-time. It is obviously premature, but let’s take a look at how Buxton stacks up against three Twins greats (according to WAR) and how his future might project if he follows a similar trajectory. According to Baseball Reference, the three Twins center fielders with the highest WAR in their Twins career are Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter, and Denard Span. Let’s take a closer look at their Twins careers and compare them with Buxton. For this exercise I am using Baseball Reference’s WAR. Career with the Twins: To no one’s surprise Kirby Puckett is the Twin’s leader in WAR by a large margin. Even though his career was cut short by injury, he also played the most games as a Twin of this group. For this reason, I calculated WAR per game and the results are fairly interesting. The fact that Denard Span leads this group is somewhat surprising. Span only played five seasons with the Twins and didn’t play the majority of his games in center field until his third season due to playing alongside Carlos Gomez, but he was a really good player for Minnesota. Also of interest is the fact that Buxton has the second highest single-season WAR total and it came at the age of 23! Buxton is having a similar season in 2019 and if he can come back healthy he has a chance to come close to that mark again. Although Buxton’s career Twins WAR per game compares nicely to the greats and even bests Hunter (by a significant margin); it may be better to look at the players’ careers through age 25 to get a better idea of where Buxton fits in. Though Age 25 Season: Suddenly Buxton’s numbers are looking really good. He already leads the group in total WAR and is sure to accumulate more through the remainder of 2019. His 2017 season is also the best single season of the group and in WAR per game he now trails only Span (who started his career with a bang, putting up a 4.3 and 3.8 WAR in his first two seasons). Span is a bit of an interesting case as his first two seasons were the best two year stretch of his career (his .390 OBP during that time made him an ideal lead-off hitter). Although Span was the 20th overall pick in the 2002 draft he really didn’t break out in the minors until his final year (2008) when he was repeating AAA (he was called up after 40 games). Span was a good prospect but he was never the elite prospect that Buxton was and Buxton certainly has a much higher ceiling. It’s possible that Span was overachieving in those first couple of seasons but his career serves as a precautionary tale for ominous reasons that we will come to later. That fact that Buxton has put up better numbers than Puckett and Hunter up to this point in his career is certainly encouraging. Hunter is similar to Span in that he was the Twins 20th overall pick in 1993 and wasn’t overly impressive in the minors. Early in his major league career he was shuffled back and forth between the majors and minors, but he was called up for good after crushing AAA to the tune of a 1.130 OPS in 2000. Of the four players, Hunter certainly had the slowest start to his career with a .0136 WAR per game. Fortunately, things turned around for Hunter in his age 25 season as he put up a 4.7 WAR (his best as a Twin). Buxton has had his ups and downs but it is important to remember that Torii Hunter had much greater struggles early in his career. Puckett was the third overall pick of the now-extinct January draft. Unlike the others, he played college ball and was 22 years of age when he began his minor league career. However, Puckett was a quick study and debuted with the Twins as a 24 year old. Puckett’s first two seasons with the Twins weren’t overly impressive as he hadn’t found his power stroke yet (His OPS+ was only 86 but he the little speedster did steal 35 bases in those first two years!). Of course, great things were to come. Projecting how Buxton’s career with the Twins will end up is naturally highly speculative. We do know that Buxton is under team control for three more seasons, so let’s take a look at how the others stacked up for their age 26-28 seasons. Age 26-28 Seasons: I think this Puckett kid might be pretty good. In three seasons Puckett slashed .339/.369 /.539, good for a .908 OPS and a 142 OPS+. Puckett flexed some muscle as well as he was good for 83 dingers in those three years. Can we hope for the same with Buxton? Buxton reportedly hit the weights hard this off season, adding 21 pounds of muscle and currently holds a career high .490 slugging percentage, so he is trending in the right direction. Puckett helped the Twins win their first World Series in 1987 and followed that up with his finest season in 1988 with a 7.8 WAR. Hunter built upon his breakout in 2001 and had three solid seasons from 2002-2004. He played in his first all-star game in 2002 (famously robbing Barry Bonds of a homerun) and put up a .859 OPS. Hunter greatly improved, but his WAR per game during this stretch was only .001 better than Buxton’s early career WAR as a younger player. Span’s career got off to a much hotter start than the others, but he did come down to earth a bit in the next leg of his career. From 2010-2012, Span hit for just a .702 OPS with a 94 OPS+. His OBP dropped from .390 in his first two seasons to .334 for his next three, taking away some of his luster as a leadoff hitter. Most relevant to Buxton, Span suffered a severe concussion in 2011 and was only able to play in 70 games. This would not be the last concussion of Span’s career. He did come back with his best year of the three in 2012, when he slashed .283/.342/.395 for an OPS+ of 104, but once again he was hampered by injuries and played just 128 games. Note that each player’s best season in this frame came in their age 28 season. This makes sense as a player should be coming into his prime at that age and will not yet have lost a step to the detriment of their defense. If the Twins are unable or unwilling to extend Buxton (they clearly upset Buxton by not calling his up in September last year), his age 28 season will be his final year of arbitration. It will be interesting to see how or if being in a contract year will affect Buxton. This leaves us with the question of what Buxton’s potential final years with the Twin’s will be like. Since he is already performing at the level that Hunter and Span did during their age 26-28 seasons is it safe to assume that Buxton will be better? Although it may be a fruitless exercise, let’s take a look at what Buxton’s numbers may look like if he has a similar rate of improvement (in Puckett and Hunter’s case) or regression (in Span’s case) as our “greats.” First, let’s look at the player’s rate of change between the seasons up to age 25 and their age 26-28 seasons: Now let’s project those “growth rates” to Buxton with some arbitrary amounts of games played. Buxton Projections for Age 26-28 Seasons: We can safely disregard the 162 games a year projections as Buxton will get days off even if he stays 100% healthy (we can dream right?). I think averaging somewhere around the 140 mark is possible for Buxton. With the exclusion of last season Buxton has played in around 140 games a year when you factor in both his minor and major league games thus far (since his MLB debut season). If Buxton stays healthy for the remainder of the season he will come close to that mark again. If Buxton improves at a Puckett or Hunter-like rate and plays in the neighborhood of 140 games a year we are looking at a 6 WAR a year player. As we’ve seen, Buxton has already had a 5 WAR season in 2017 and is on a similar pace this year. It seems within reason that a mostly healthy Buxton could challenge the 17.7 WAR that Puckett put up in his ’86-’88 seasons. This would also edge him ahead of Hunter on the Twin’s career WAR list. As crazy as it sounds, over the next three seasons, Buxton could be even better than Puckett. He is far and away the best defensive center fielder of the group and his defense is unlikely to significantly decline over the next three years. Buxton certainly has the potential to become a better offensive player, and if he does he will be an MVP-caliber player. Now let’s get really speculative and look at what Buxton’s career could look like. First, let’s take a look at the career totals of all four players. MLB Career: Obviously, Puckett and Hunter went on to have great careers. Hunter was able to remain a good player for a long time. He played 19 seasons and was an all-star as recently as 2013. Puckett’s career was cut short by a career ending injury at age 35, but he managed to lead the Twins to two World Series victories, is a MLB hall of famer, and is undoubtedly the best a Twins center fielder of all time. He will always be fondly remembered by Twins fans for his heroics in the ’91 World Series and his legendary status is firmly implanted in Twins history. Span’s career is another story. He certainly had a respectable career and some good years after being traded to Washington (for the recently retired Alex Meyer) after five seasons with the Twins. However, his best years were early in his career with the Twins and injuries took their toll on Span. Span suffered another concussion in 2014 and battled some other injuries throughout his career, reducing both his time and the field and presumably his effectiveness as a player. His career WAR per game is still in the same neighborhood as Hunter’s but he was unable to accumulate as many games and the course of Span’s career went in the opposite direction of Hunter’s. Injuries are a serious concern for Buxton as well. In his AA debut back in August of 2014, Buxton collided with another outfielder leaving him unconscious on the outfield grass for ten minutes and ending his season. Buxton is returning from another IL stint with “concussion like symptoms” after hitting his head on the turf while making a great diving catch. Buxton has also had his share of less career-threatening injuries including thumb, wrist, toe, and migraines (along with numerous scrapes and bruises due to collisions with the wall). Buxton’s aggressive all-out effort on defense is a big part of what makes him so great. However, if Buxton is to stay on the field he may need to dial it back a bit. Manager Rocky Baldelli could be instrumental in keeping Buxton healthy. As a former center fielder that had his own career cut short by injury, Baldelli should take great care with Buxton. Baldelli has prioritized giving his players regular rest and the Twins have been extra cautious in making sure injured players are healthy before sending them back onto the field. With innovative player management and a little luck hopefully Buxton will be able to stay relatively healthy throughout his MLB career. Without further ado, I give you Buxton’s career projections. Buxton is unlikely to reach the number of games played that Hunter did and also is unlikely to improve at Hunter’s rate (because of Hunter’s much slower start), so 90 career WAR seems overly optimistic at a minimum and possibly ludicrous. Improving at the Puckett rate definitely seems like the best case scenario for Buxton (though he could conceivably play in 1,500 more games, it will require good overall health) and would make him a potential Hall of Famer with over 60 WAR. Regressing at the rate that Span did also seems highly unlikely. For Buxton to accumulate only 13 more WAR for his career would be a massive disappointment, to say the least (injuries would have to take a heavy toll). As a final step, let’s combine these projections and see what we get. Composite Buxton: There you have it. Buxton is able to finish his career playing at a Puckett-like WAR per game level and slightly edges out Puckett in games played, giving him the highest career WAR of the group. This seems possible as speedy players and/or elite defenders tend to accumulate a lot of WAR (some examples: Kenny Lofton 68.3, Ricky Henderson 111.2!, Tim Raines 69.4) Needless to say a lot would have to go right for Buxton to reach these levels. Continued improvement, good year-to-year health, and overall longevity will be paramount to Buxton reaching these projections. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best!
  24. This week Gypsy Queen hits the market as the latest baseball offering from Topps. While it’s not a product that should be expected to produce massive hits, there’s plenty of excitement coming out of these boxes. Continuing with a consistent theme, the throwback to tobacco cards is present, but it’s also supplemented with a good deal of popping color. Available at both hobby and retail stores, there’s a few different avenues to rip into this product. If you want to go the route of guaranteed hits, expect to drop something near $100 on a hobby box. For the more budget conscious collector blaster boxes and gravity feeds will be present at local Target or Walmart’s. Getting your hands on the product shouldn’t be tough but knowing what you’ll want to look for from a Twins perspective is where we’re really focused here. Base Set Featuring a 300-card base set, the Minnesota Twins have 11 cards to account for. You’ll see many of the regular suspects, with nice appearances by Addison Reed, C.J. Cron, and Tyler Austin. Rookie cards include Jake Cave as well as fan favorite Willians Astudillo. There’s also a few short prints and variation subsets, and while Minnesota is not represented in all of them, both Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios show up in the 20 card Player’s Weekend variation checklist. Inserts Gypsy Queen doesn’t do a ton of insert subsets, with just four in total. No Twins are featured on the Tarot of the Diamond, Power Performer Portrait, or Fortune Teller cards. Going away from the Glassworks oversized box topper cards of previous years, the product introduces a 100 card Chrome checklist for 2019. Minnesota lands three players (Rosario, Berrios, and Max Kepler) in this set, with an autograph version for former great Torii Hunter. Hits With booklets, unique relics, and on-card autographs, Gypsy Queen truly has some great hits to offer. From a traditional autograph standpoint, it’s Rosario and Hunter that appear on the checklist for Minnesota. This makes another product Topps has Torii in for 2019, and it appears he’ll be a key focus for the year ahead. The auto/patch booklet set has Berrios showing up with 20 cards and a 1/1. Both Rosario and Byron Buxton have auto/relic cards in the Bases Around the League checklist, and those cards are both serial numbered to 20. With the already mentioned Hunter chrome auto rounding out the group, that wraps up the 22-card offering for Twins fans. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  25. Fan favorite, and longtime Twins great, Torii Hunter was brought back by Terry Ryan prior to the 2015 season. He was playing that year at the age of 39 and coming off just a .765 OPS. Despite no longer being a good defensive outfielder, the front office ponied up for $10 million and he played 139 games in his final year. As expected, the production sagged further, and the OPS ended up at just .702 on the season. 83 wins were accomplished, and Hunter’s impact was felt most within the clubhouse. If judging this by motivational impact, the contract was a win. Back in 2010, the Ryan regime went the way of a 39-year-old yet again. This time recently inducted Hall of Famer Jim Thome found himself joining one of his longtime rivals. 2009 saw Thome post an .847 OPS and hit 23 longballs. His first year in Minnesota was incredible, owning a 1.039 OPS and earning MVP votes for the first time since 2006. He’d then go on to join the 600-home run club in a Minnesota uniform the following year and did so with an .827 OPS across 71 games. Thome was a leader on one good team, and one bad one, but there was clearly plenty left in the tank as well. Paid just $4.5 million after making $13 million in his final year with the White Sox, this was larceny for the Twins. So where does that leave Nelson Cruz, and the expectations for what he can bring in 2019? From the get-go we can count out any sort of defensive effort. Cruz hasn’t been a regular fielder in years, and given his offensive prowess, that’s a plenty fine stipulation. He’s a year removed from a .924 OPS, and since 2013 his 230 homers rank first in all of baseball. Cruz has surpassed the 40-home run plateau in three of the past five seasons, while hitting 39 and 37 in the other two. In 2016 Brian Dozier hit 42 dingers for the Twins, but the only other player to surpass the 40 mark is Harmon Killebrew. It’s certainly fair to note that there’s risk relying on Nelson’s offense. After all, he’s 38 and his .850 OPS in 2018 was roughly a 75-point drop from the year prior. He’s a strong on-base contributor, and while there’s a strikeout potential, it isn’t close to danger territory. Last season Cruz posted his worst fWAR (2.5) since 2013, and we already know the overall package is completely reliant on plate production. In looking at the numbers, somewhat of a rebound seems possible. Outside of completely hitting an age cliff, Cruz has many things still going in his favor. The 42.3% hard hit rate last season was a career high, and there’s room for a better BABIP with the ground ball rate jumping up to 44% (a 4% increase over 2017). Cruz has owned a consistent swing profile for roughly six years now though, and he’s coming to a park with a much more batter friendly left field line. A marriage between these two parties seemed destined from the onset, and the eventual deal is much more about production then it is nostalgia. I’d still imagine Cruz will be plenty beneficial to players like Miguel Sano in the clubhouse (assuming he has willing observers), but there’s reason to think he can pace this lineup. ZiPS projects Cruz for a .266/.348/.500 line with 30 longballs this season. I’d argue that’s reflective of his slide in 2018 and take the over on almost all of that. Nelson Cruz isn’t the Hall of Famer that Jim Thome was, but I think he could have a similar impact for the Twins in 2019. Reaching the 400-homer run plateau (he’s currently 40 shy) and raking in the middle of Rocco Baldelli’s lineup are good bets. Torii Hunter was fun, and his dance parties helped to spark a looseness that elevated a Twins squad. Jim Thome was on a 94-win team that grabbed a division title, and that seems like a much more fun outcome this time around.
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