Previewing the 2021 Minnesota Twins

Previewing the 2021 Minnesota Twins

Opening Day is nearing and that means it’s time to preview what to expect from everyone’s lovable 2021 Minnesota Twins! The offseason wasn’t especially busy for the Twin Cities franchise, but this is a very good roster that will compete for both the AL Central title and World Series if they can overcome their playoff curse. Let us see what is in store for those Twinkies!

2021 Minnesota Season Preview

Position Players

C: Mitch Garver
1B: Miguel Sano
2B:  Jorge Polanco
3B: Josh Donaldson
SS: Andrelton Simmons
LF: Jake Cave
CF: Byron Buxton
RF: Max Kepler
DH: Nelson Cruz

Breakdown

This lineup could be one of the absolute best in baseball. Cruz continues to launch home runs in defiance of father time despite being almost 41-years-old. He’ll anchor a unit that should give most opposing pitchers fits as there are almost no weak spots to exploit. Even if someone gets past the presumed upper half of Kepler, Donaldson, Cruz, and Polanco, there are still dangerous threats.

Sano remains a good slugger even if he strikes out in over 35 percent of his plate appearances. Buxton had a career-high .577 slugging last year and provides excellent defense if he can stay healthy. He is especially interesting if he puts all of his tools together at 27-years-old. The duo of Simmons and Cave have their skills even if they aren’t outstanding hitters. Simmons is maybe the best defensive shortstop of the era at his peak, but injuries have sapped his production in recent years. He’s one to watch closely as the year progresses. Cave has hovered around average offensive production for his career but looks like an acceptable left fielder with three defensive runs saved in 142 innings.

The wildcard of this lineup could be 30-year-old Mitch Garver. His offense collapsed to .167/247/264 after an outstanding .273/365/630 season in 2019. If the former ninth-round pick is anything like his old self, this lineup becomes that much dangerous. The good thing is that even if his bat doesn’t return, he can still throw out runners; his 33 percent caught-stealing rate was much better than the league average of 26.

The Bench

C Ryan Jeffers
INF/OF Willians Astudillo
INF/OF Luis Arraez
OF Kyle Garlick

Breakdown

Jeffers could easily be the primary catcher in 2021 based on last season, but the team might rely on the veteran Garver initially. The younger backstop posted a slash line of .273/355/436 with average defense. He will definitely be trying to win the job outright either this year or in 2022.

Arraez and Astudillo are fun utility players who are unique among modern baseball players. Both love to swing, but neither strikes out very often. Arraez’s career K% is 8.2 while Astudillo’s sparkles at just 4.1 percent despite a spike in 2020. Finally, there is Garlick, who seems poised to capture the fourth outfielder role thanks to his spring stat line of .333/353/767. The team has some very good corner outfield prospects that will be factors this year, but Garlick looks ready to open the season on the 26-man roster.

We can’t mention the bench without naming some of the promising young players we could see debut throughout 2021. The trio of Alex Kiriloff, Brent Rooker, and Trevor Larnach all project as solid options for corner outfield spots if anyone struggles. There isn’t much more to say other than these three are all capable bats who should be very good when they ultimately win regular jobs.

The Rotation

Kenta Maeda
Jose Berrios
Michael Pineda
J.A. Happ
Matt Shoemaker

Breakdown

The one-two punch of Maeda and Berrios is very exciting. Maeda looked every bit like an ace last year after joining the team via a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Berrios still has tremendous promise even if he hasn’t turned into a truly dominant starter as many have expected. Those two could easily challenge for the Cy Young award this year if everything breaks in their favor.

The rest of the rotation isn’t as good, but the arms are better than many who will pitch for other teams in 2021. Pineda posted a 3.38 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 2020 in just 26 and two-thirds innings. Happ had an uneven tenure with the New York Yankees, but the veteran southpaw recovered from a subpar 2019 to throw 49 and a third innings with a 3.47 ERA and 1.2 WAR. You’ll be forgiven if you forgot about Matt Shoemaker, but the 34-year-old did manage to accumulate positive WAR with the Toronto Blue Jays despite a 4.71 ERA and 5.95 FIP. The Canadian franchise had one of the tougher seasons not getting to play in their home ballpark, so consider the opportunity to start in Target Field in front of fans something that can only help the former undrafted free agent.

There is almost an embarrassment of other arms should anyone falter or get hurt. Jhoan Duran might be the best of the bunch despite not pitching in spring. He is a 6’5″ right-handed pitcher who consistently sits in the 95-99 range and occasionally touched 101 in his last professional games. Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer are both back-end rotation options with upside thanks to command and craftiness. Minnesota has several options even beyond these three who could as either back-rotation starts or long relievers in the bullpen.

The Bullpen

Cody Stashak
Caleb Thielbar
Hansel Robles
Jorge Alcala
Randy Dobnak
Alex Colome
Taylor Rogers
Tyler Duffey

Breakdown

This may not be a group that sets the world on fire, but many of the names were present on the Twins’ third-best bullpen by Fangraphs WAR in 2020. It’s a unit that should be perfectly fine once more despite several significant departures like Tyler Clippard and Matt Wisler. Don’t be surprised if this relief core is one of the better groups in baseball again this year.

It will be very interesting to see how Alex Colome adjusts after switching teams within the division. The former Chicago White Sox reliever was outstanding last year with a .81 ERA and 12 saves in 22 and a third innings. The 32-year-old dominated despite striking out just 17.8 percent of batters. A FIP of 2.97 and xFIP of 4.26 indicate some seriously good luck, but it’s hard to argue with the raw results.

The other major free-agent acquisition is Hansel Robles, who spent last year with the Los Angeles Angels. He had almost the exact opposite season as Colome. The 30-year-old posted an ugly 10.8 ERA in just 16 and two-thirds innings. He’s been fine for much of his career, so it’s very likely that 2020 was just a spike caused by the short and weird season. This should still be a very good bullpen even if one or two names struggle.

Overall Thoughts

This may not be quite as good as the team that won 60 percent of its games in its last campaign, but it isn’t measurably worse on paper either. Some success does hinge on older players like Cruz, Happ, and Donaldson, but Minnesota has done a very good job in recent years of building depth. That goes the franchise a much larger margin of error if someone is hurt or just declines. The biggest concern might be that the Twins didn’t make any huge moves this offseason compared to their division rivals. They are still the best team, but very little separates them from the Chicago White Sox. The AL Central could be one of the more exciting races in the league this year.

Projected Record: 89-73

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Players Mentioned: Mitch Garver, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Josh Donaldson, Andrelton Simmons, Jake Cave, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Nelson Cruz, Ryan Jeffers, Luis Arraez, Willians Astudillo, Kyle Garlick, Alex Kiriloff, Trevor Larnach, Brent Rooker, Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker, Jhoan Duran, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, Cody Stashak, Caleb Thielbar, Hansel Robles, Jorge Alcala, Randy Dobnak, Alex Colome, Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Tyler Clippard, and Matt Wisler


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