2020 Spring Previews: Minnesota’s Spring Batting Practice is Dangerous.. And So Is Their Lineup
A baseball fan watching the Twins take batting practice at the Oriole’s Ed Smith Stadium had to leave the stadium via stretcher on Thursday.
Twins writer LaVelle E. Neal of the Minneapolis based StarTribune tweeted out yesterday that a fan took a tumble over the fence onto the warning track while reaching out to catch a ball hit in their direction. The Twins paused the practice while the injured fan was tended to by emergency personnel.
Twins batting practice halted for several minutes after fan in left field reached over the fence for a ball but tumbled over and slammed onto the warning track. Had to be stretchered off.
— LaVelle E. Neal III (@LaVelleNeal) March 5, 2020
You know what else is dangerous at Twins Spring Training? The Twins themselves.
The other day, my husband and I were watching the MLB Network (weird, I know), and we were watching the 30 Clubs in 30 Days on the Minnesota Twins. It’s no secret that our team is the Twins. Our relationship was built on the fact that we obsess over baseball – specifically the Twins. I’ve been a die hard fan since I was in pre-school. I was so excited about the 2019 Bomba Squad that I started blogging again, birthing this fine website, and I was devastated when the Twins shit the bed against the Yankees in the ALDS again.
While I try not to be a homer on Moonshots and Mustard, it was impossible not to write about the Twins repeatedly throughout the 2019 season. They broke all sorts of records – ultimately beating the Yankees to the all time home run record with 307 moonshots by the end of the season. Once 2019 the season ended, I thought that perhaps this year things might die down since MLB might have been cracking down on the juiced balls that supposedly were the cause of the homers flying out of the parks. But then? Spring Training came upon us and the bombas haven’t seemed to slow down at all. We’re only a couple of weeks into spring and Nelson Cruz has hit three bombas in five games. Highly touted prospects Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis have smashed balls out of the park. Miguel Sano has hit one, and Marwin Gonzalez didn’t need a trash can signal (too soon?) to smash one out. Outside of the Twins, other teams and players seem to be smashing homers like crazy. Maybe the juiced ball didn’t go away? Maybe the ball was never juiced but the players themselves are? Maybe there’s just a lot of talent in the majors right now? Who knows.
Granted, it’s early. Most of the core lineup hasn’t seen a lot of game action yet. But as we watched that Twins version of the 30 Teams in 30 Days, I got to thinking about just how good their lineup is going to be this year. They were amazing last year, but with some additions and subtractions, it makes one giddy to think of how lethal this lineup will be against a pitcher. Let’s take a look at what I’m talking about, shall we? Here’s the offensive roster as it stands to be at the start of the season:
- 1B: Miguel Sano
- 2B: Luis Arraez
- 3B: Josh Donaldson
- SS: Jorge Polanco
- LF: Eddie Rosario
- CF: Byron Buxton
- RF: Max Kepler
- C: Mitch Garver, Alex Avila
- DH: Nelson Cruz
- Bench: Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza, Willians Astudillo or Jake Cave
Looking at that list, there really isn’t any one player that can be viewed as a weak spot. Go ahead and try to name one… I’ll wait. In the meantime, let me dive a bit deeper into the invincibility that is the Twins 2020 lineup.
Last year CJ Cron spent the first half of the season crushing home runs until he was sidelined with a thumb injury. He finished the season with 25 home runs, 24 doubles, 78 RBI and a final slash of .253/.411/.369. This year, Cron will be in Detroit and the Twins have signed Josh Donaldson, so Miguel Sano makes the shift from third base over to first – more on that shift in a bit. Sano was one of the five (!!!) guys to hit over 30 homers last year for the Twins – 34 to be exact. And this was after missing the first few weeks of the season due to injury. He only played in 105 games and still hit the aforementioned 34 bombas, 19 doubles, 2 triples, and had 79 RBI. His OPS was a career high .923, despite having the lowest batting average of all the starting position players with .247. Imagine what he’ll do this season if he stays healthy.
And if he doesn’t stay healthy? There’s Marwin Gonzalez or Willians Astudillo to pick up the slack. (Again, more on those guys later.)
Last year second base was supposed to belong to Jonathan Schoop. However, as time went on, the team started relying more and more on the 22-year-old utility guy Luis Arraez to start at second. Schoop did manage to play 121 games in his rightful position, but by the time the ALDS rolled around, it was Arraez that got the spot on the playoff roster to start at second – even though he was recovering from a sprained ankle. So in 2020, Schoop moves on with Twins teammate CJ Cron to Detroit, and the Twins have now placed their faith in Arraez to be their starting second baseman.
There’s a reason that the young Arraez won that position.. actually loads of reasons. While he’s one of the few guys on the team that isn’t a power slugger, he still managed to lead the team in batting and on base percentage with at .334 average and OBP of .399 in his 92 games played. One of the low men on the home run totem pole (he hit just four), he did manage to get 20 doubles and a triple as part of his 109 hits. His patience at the plate led to him walking more than he’d strike out – which is usually the other way around – with 36 walks vs. 29 strikeouts. His fielding was also pretty spectacular with just five errors all season among all five of the positions he played, but since I’m just talking about the dangerous Twins lineup and not their defense, I’ll leave those stats alone for now.
Josh Donaldson. The Bringer of Rain. The guy that everyone was clamoring over during the offseason after Anthony Rendon was off the market. The only guy for which Miguel Sano said he’d make the switch from his home at third. And the Twins have him.
I’ve written about how well Donaldson hits at Target Field before, but it bears repeating. Since his big league debut with Oakland in 2010, he’s played 22 games at Target Field. In those games, he managed to amass a .373 batting average with an OPS of 1.283. Breaking down those numbers, he had:
- 31 hits
- 24 runs
- 7 doubles
- 10 home runs
- 21 RBI
And while that doesn’t seem like that much production at one field since 2010, keep in mind he didn’t play in the bigs in 2011 and spent much of 2018 injured. The fact is, he can hit pretty well within the fences of Target Field. 2019 saw a full strength Donaldson hit a monster 37 home runs, so he’ll be one of six Twins to have hit over 30 homers in 2019 on the roster. He smacked in 94 RBI, which could likely be higher than his career high 123 RBI in 2015 if he’s hitting after guys like Kepler, Polanco, and Cruz.
We all remember how Jorge Polanco spent a good part of the 2018 season suspended due to a positive banned substance test. After a breakout 2017, there was some concern that he wouldn’t come back as dominant as he was while using the PEDs. Luckily for Twins Territory, Polanco picked up right where he left off and continued to be a force in the lineup.
Over his 153 games in 2019, Polanco had a career (and team) high 186 hits, 22 of those being home runs, 40 doubles, and 7 triples. And while 22 home runs is a lot for a player, on this ridiculously powerful Twins team, he came in eighth on the list for homers hit by Twins in 2019. Eighth. With 22 home runs. Unreal.
To put it another way, a player with 22 home runs would normally be in the top 5 on a team. In 2018, Eddie Rosario led the team with 24 home runs, and Mex Kelper came in second with 20. In 2017, four players on the team had 20+ home runs – Brian Dozier had 34, Miguel Sano had 28, Rosario had 27, and Eduardo Escobar had 21 – which would have seen Polanco’s 22 come in 4th. In 2016, just Dozier and Sano had 20+ – Dozier had 42 and Sano had 25. I could keep going, but you get the idea.
Since his debut in 2015, Eddie Rosario has been a steady source of hits for the Twins. In 2019, Eddie continued his badassery streak. He was one of the five players to hit 30+ home runs (32 to be exact). He also led the team with RBI with 109, came in second with total hits (155), hit 28 doubles and a triple. For as good as he is, he still has to learn a bit more discipline at the plate – his OBP is .300 and he doesn’t walk very much. Last season, he walked just 22 times in 590 plate appearances.
Eddie has been one of the names that has been consistently coming up when it comes to trade rumors with the Twins over the last couple of seasons. He’s signed through the 2020 season and is arbitration eligible in 2021. His relatively low salary ($7.75 million in 2020) is making him an ideal rental player in 2020 for contending teams searching for a powerful bat. And with an embarrassment of riches in the Twins power rankings and a prospect like OF Alex Kirilloff waiting in the wings, it wouldn’t come as a shock to anyone if the Twins trade Rosario for a dominant pitcher if any of the rotation doesn’t pan out like they’re hoping for.
Byron Buxton might be the one weak link in the lineup.
It’s hard to predict what Buxton will do this season. Since his debut in 2015, he has only had one season playing in more than 100 games on the Twins roster. That season was 2017 where he played 140 games and he got 117 hits, 16 home runs, 14 doubles, 6 triples, and stole 29 bases. That was the year when he set the record for the fastest inside the park home run, clocking in at just 13.85 seconds. He also earned himself a Gold Glove that year. Very few players have the hustle that Buxton has, but with that hustle comes a lot of injuries from crashing into walls and other players.
In 2018, he played in just 28 games with the Twins. He started out pretty poorly and spent some time on the IL. When he was reactivated, he was banished to AAA-Rochester due to his poor performance. Last year, he was back to awesome and living up to the hype that surrounded him as a prospect and in 2017, but the Twins got him for 87 games – spending a lot of time on the IL due to injuries and migraines. His season officially ended in September when he had to have surgery on his shoulder. Womp womp.
During his 87 games in 2019, he was able to hit a respectable .262/.314/.513, including 30 doubles, 4 triples, and 10 home runs. If he can stay healthy, he could be in for his best season yet. Defensively, he’s one of the best in the game when he’s not nursing an injury from slamming a shoulder into the wall or his face into the ground. The Twins haven’t said whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day yet, but they (along with the rest of Twins Territory) are hopeful that he’ll be doing more than hitting off of a tee by then. If not? Kepler will likely get the start in center while Jake Cave will be the starting right fielder.
Max Kepler spent a lot of his time in center field last season when Buxton was injured. He might start at center if Buxton isn’t ready, but if not, he’ll be patrolling right field. Before last season, the Twins got a steal when they signed Kepler to a five-year, $35 million deal, and he’ll stay in the Twins outfield through 2023. Kepler has been one of the best hitters on the team year after year, and 2019 was no exception.
On paper, it’s hard to see him as the badass that he actually is. In 2019, Kepler batted a somewhat mediocre .252/.336/.519, but in those numbers you’ll also find that he got 132 hits, 32 doubles, 90 RBI, and 36 home runs. He tied with Polanco to lead the team with 60 walks, and was second to Polanco with 98 runs overall. 2019 was his best career year so far, and at just 27 years old, he’s likely to get even better.
Mitch Garver and Alex Avila will share duties behind the plate this season, with Garver being the one to take on the bulk of the games if all goes well. Garv-sauce had himself quite the season in 2019 – earning himself a Silver Slugger and a reputation as one of the best offensive catchers in the game.
In just 93 games in 2019, Garver hit .273/.365/.630, with 31 home runs, 16 doubles, and a triple. Can you imagine if he wasn’t having to share playing time with Jason Castro? Averaging a home run in every 10 at bats, if he’d played in 30-40 more games in 2019, he probably could have easily hit close to 50 home runs. And if you’ll remember, he was the one to initially break the home run record with number 268 for the Twins last season.
Garver will share backstop duties with veteran Alex Avila this season, who the Twins signed over the off season. Last year with the Diamondbacks, Avila hit .207/.353/.421 – so he doesn’t have the oomph that Garver has. But he does bring with him 11 seasons of experience in the AL Central, and defensively he’s a solid catcher. Gunning for a spot on the 26-man roster is another catcher (and all around utility guy), la Tortuga himself, Willians Astudillo. Tortuga has actually had a bit of a stronger start in Spring Training than Avila, and last year he won over the hearts of Twins fans everywhere with his heart and his helmet losing hustle. More on him in a bit.
At DH, we have the Boomstick.
Nelson Cruz is 41 years old and shows zero signs of slowing down. In his fifteenth big league season, he led the Twins last year with 41 home runs – his 40th also being number 400 in his career. He also led the team in OPS – 1.031 – hitting .311/.392/.639. He knocked in 108 RBI, just one behind team leader Eddie Rosario. He’s always hit really well at Target Field (I mean, he’s hit well everywhere during his whole career), and even when he’s been with other teams, he’s always been able to slug over .300 there.
He’ll probably share DH duties with Garver when Nelly needs a day off (dude loves his naps) and Garver needs to give his legs a rest from catching.
On The Bench
As if the preceding list wasn’t enough, you have some seriously clutch guys waiting to come off the bench to pinch hit or give a guy a day off. But these guys won’t get bored waiting for their turns to lace up and get out onto the field. Rocco Baldelli continually gives his guys days off a lot more than managers usually do – a strategy that seemed to pay off as they won 101 games last year.
First up, we have Marwin Gonzalez. So far, he’s played in just one Spring Game, and in that game he managed to get a double and a home run in just two at bats. Over 114 games last season, he played in pretty much every position except for catcher, center field, and pitcher (duh). He spent the most time in right field while Kepler had to cover for Buxton in center, at 3rd while Sano was out with his lacerated heel at the beginning of the season, and at first covering for Cron while he was out with a thumb injury. But no matter where he was playing on any given day, time and again he came up with clutch hits. He hit .264/.322/.414 in his first season with the Twins, and while his .736 OPS might not have been the greatest, the hits he did get came at the best possible times. He hit 15 home runs and 19 doubles without the aid of a garbage can being banged as a signal as to what’s coming at him. (Again.. too soon?)
Next we have Ehire Adrianza. Again, we have a utility guy that played all over the field. His OPS was just slightly better than Gonzalez at .765 (.272/.349/.416), but in his third season with the Twins, it was his best offensive year yet. He’s a solid hitter to get on base ahead of some of the sluggers, and will likely cross the plate quite a bit this season when he does get to play.
Vying for a third bench spot is the aforementioned Willians Astudillo and Jake Cave. Though he’s often seen as a third catcher, Astudillo can and will actually play everywhere. Cave covers the outfield pretty well, and in 2019 he played in 72 games. He hit .258/.351/.455 – so offensively he is probably a bit stronger than Gonzalez or Adrianza. Despite playing in less than half of the games last season, he managed to get 11 doubles, 2 triples, 8 home runs, and 25 RBI. If he sees more playing time this season (looking at you and if you can stay healthy, Buxton), he could have a breakout year. He’s already tearing it up during Spring Training – in 6 games, h’s already gotten two doubles and a home run.
I know I said this post is basically about the dangerous lineup, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of this team and just how dominant they can be when you also tack on their pitching. For the sake of time, I’ll just give you the list of pitchers that you’ll likely be seeing on the mound in Minnesota in 2020. The first three guys in their starting rotation will be All Stars Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, and the recently acquired from the Dodgers Kenta Maeda. The number four spot will eventually include the currently suspended Michael Pineda or the currently injured Rich Hill, and then the fifth spot is up for grabs right now between Homer Bailey, Jhoulys Chacin, Deven Smeltzer, Lewis Thorp, and Randy Dobnak. At this point, it’s anyone’s spot to lose.
The relievers are mostly still in place with names like Tyler Duffey, Zack Littell, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, aforementioned Smeltzer, and fan favorite Sergio Romo. New additions include Tyler Clippard and Matt Wisler. Fernando Romero is finally back from Tommy John… but ran into visa issues and might not get to start the season with the team.
So there you have it. Even the seemingly weakest players in the Twins lineup will still be above-average among their MLB brethren. The pitching staff has the potential to be extremely good. Now, if they can just not face the Yankees in post season, they just might have a shot at the World Series for the first time since 1991.