The Minnesota Twins season recently ended and it’s a good time to recap and see what happened. It was another fine season in the Twin Cities but the playoffs ended in disappointment once more. 2020 featured Minnesota’s 18th straight postseason loss which is a new record. However, there were plenty of highlights along with a few areas that need examination.
Minnesota Twins 2020 Season Recap
This was another successful campaign for the Twins despite the general oddness that surrounding it. Minnesota began the season scorching-hot with a 10-2 record and never looked back. The team was .500 just once when it split the first two games against the Chicago White Sox. Otherwise, almost nothing stood in the way between the AL Central power and its final 34-26 record. Only two teams had more wins overall and only the Oakland Athletics equalled Minnesota’s final winning percentage.
However, the team’s postseason struggle returned in an 0-2 sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros. This year’s exit in the wild card round drops Minnesota’s playoff record to 0-18 dating back to the 2004 American League Division Series against the New York Yankees. Minnesota finished the regular season tied with the ninth-most productive offense at 9.4 WAR according to FanGraphs. That was on the back of a team-wide .242/315/427 slash line and 91 home runs, good for sixth in baseball. That very respectable figure plummeted to just .119/246/153 against a depleted and somewhat unknown Astros pitching staff. One cannot judge a season on two random postseason games but it does tarnish an otherwise notable campaign.
Overall Grade: B+
Things To Highlight
A lot went right in 2020. The team found what seems like a quality 1-2-3 punch at the top of the rotation. Kenta Maeda was outstanding with a career-best 2.70 ERA and 2.1 WAR in just 66 and two-thirds innings. He will be almost 33-years-old in 2021 but age doesn’t look that important after years of careful usage with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jose Berrios is next as perhaps the most talented pitcher in the entire Minnesota organization. His 4.00 ERA in 63 innings probably wasn’t what people expected but he is still just 26-years-old. He had posted three consecutive seasons with ERAs below 4.0 prior to this season. Then you have Michael Pineda as the probably third starter. The 31-year-old only threw 26 and two-thirds innings in 2020 due to a PED suspension but still accumulated 1.1 WAR thanks to a strong 22.5 percent strikeout rate and no home runs allowed.
On the hitting side, Nelson Cruz remained one of the best hitters in baseball despite being 40-years-old. the veteran slugger had another good season hitting .303/397/595 with 16 home runs and 2.0 WAR in just 214 plate appearances. His late-career surge is something to truly appreciate. A quartet of hitters supported him including outfield stalwarts Byron Buxton and Max Kepler. They were part of a Twins outfield that contributed 3.7 WAR as a unit and should remain productive for several more seasons. The team really had no negative contributors outside of a handful of bench bats and part-time pitchers. That fact alone is outstanding for a franchise that is only five seasons removed from a 59-win year in 2016.
What Could Change in 2021
The Twins have never been an especially aggressive team with its money and multiple players are nearing free agency. Cruz is a huge part of the lineup but he’s strictly a designated hitter at a very advanced age. The team might look at him on a one-year deal but it’s hard to predict continued success into age-41 or beyond. Veterans Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Avila are in similar positions. Both added value this year but neither is especially outstanding on offense. Gonzalez, in particular, is versatile on defense but that is only worth so much in a league where shifting has almost negated some fielding limitations.
Then you have a handful of pitchers whose futures are mysteries. Jake Odorizzi is the most prominent. Many expected a good season out of the 2019 all-star but that didn’t happen. The 30-year-old stumbled to a 6.59 ERA in just 13 and two-thirds innings. His spot is in serious doubt and might go to someone like Lewis Thorpe or Devin Smeltzer. One of those two might also replace 40-year-old Rich Hill. Hill is one of the best stories in baseball thanks to his fascinating career that features a stop in the Venezuelan Winter League and Atlantic League’s Long Island franchise. He could return on another cheap, one year deal like Cruz but Minnesota has plenty of young arms.
The pitching changes should extend to the bullpen as well. The Twins have several prospects that could move up and replace arms such as Homer Bailey and Tyler Clippard. Both of those players were good in 2020 but neither is absolutely vital. The biggest argument in favor of any pending free agent is they got to play this year. Most of the team’s top prospects did not.
Prospects on the Horizon
Minnesota has a tremendous wealth on its hands when it comes to the farm system. They can afford to bring players on slowly. But if they want to push a few into service, there are some candidates that stand out. Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff will be immediate contenders for a role going in 2021. Both have average power or better along with solid hit tools. Either one seems like a very reasonable replacement for Cruz should the team want to make a change at designated hitter.
Pitching is perhaps where the most exciting reinforcements live. Jhoan Duran looks like an outstanding future starter at 6’5″, 230-pounds with an electric fastball and two quality secondary offerings in the form of a slider and changeup. His velocity often sat between 95-99 mph in 2019 while occasionally touching 100. He looks very close to being ready at almost 23-years-old. Don’t be surprised if 6’4, 215-pound Jordan Balazovic battles for a pitching spot either. The fifth-round pick from 2016 isn’t quite as overpowering as Duran but features a funkier lower arm slot and slightly better command.
The final spot worth noting as far as prospects are concerned is at catcher. Ryan Jeffers opened the year behind three other catchers but ended the year as the best in terms of WAR with .5. He outperformed Mitch Garver and might be an option to start opening day in 2021. The former second-round pick from 2018 will assuredly be a big part of the backstop rotation. The only other catching prospect on the team’s top-30 is Benjamin Rortvedt. Rortvedt is a 5’10”, 205-pound catcher selected originally selected in the second round of the 2016 Amateur Draft. He’s only reached Double-A to this point in his pro career but could be a September call-up if everything goes just right.
There is absolutely no reason for Minnesota to panic and do something dumb this offseason. They have more flexibility than many teams when it comes to either re-signing veterans or giving youngsters a try. Fans should expect a deep postseason run if the pitching settles down and everyone stays healthy. The lack of playoff success is certainly frustrating and needs to be addressed but freaking out over an odd 2020 is pointless. 2021 should be very exciting for the faithful in Minneapolis-St. Paul and beyond.
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