As we prepare for the 2021 season, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s off-season and previewing the season to come. Today, Britt Telshaw takes a look at the Minnesota Twins!
While the Twins may not have tackled the issue of the pitching rotation like most fans would have expected (or wanted), I doubt the Pohlads would’ve shelled out $40 million for somebody like Trevor Bauer. That money was put to good use as the Twins were able to get some serviceable upgrades on their roster.
2020 Record: 36-24, 1st Place in AL Central
Team MVP: DH Nelson Cruz
Team Cy Young: RHP Kenta Maeda
The Los Angeles Dodgers weren’t even sure that Maeda was worthy of their rotation, shipping him off to Minnesota before the 2020 season. I’d say it paid good dividends for both teams – Maeda was the Twins’ best pitcher, and the Dodgers took home a World Series title.
Although it was a shortened season, Maeda posted a 6-1 record with a 0.75 WHIP, the second lowest in major league history. Johan Santana didn’t even post a WHIP below 0.9 in his two Cy Young campaigns with the Twins.
Minnesota welcomed back Nelson Cruz after some anxious waiting on whether or not the universal DH was in play, but the 40-year-old is looking to defy Father Time further, after smacking 16 dingers last season and posting an OPS of just under 1.000 (.992).
Key losses from 2020: RHP Jake Odorizzi, LF Eddie Rosario, RHP Trevor May, RHP Sergio Romo, RHP Tyler Clippard
Notable Free Agent Additions: LHP J.A. Happ, SS Andrelton Simmons, RHP Alex Colome, RHP Matt Shoemaker
Notable Trades: Acquired RHP Shaun Anderson from Giants for OF LaMonte Wade Jr.
Minnesota’s biggest splash of the offseason was inking shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a 1 year, $10.5 million contract. Simmons instantly adds Gold Glove caliber defense to the infield, and the Twins are free to shift Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez around the infield however they’d like.
For pitching, the Twins decided against re-signing Jake Odorizzi, and went with former Yankees left-hander J.A. Happ. Happ will add some depth to the latter half of the Twins’ rotation, and will earn $8 million in his 1-year deal. Minnesota is hoping to add some veteran presence to any playoff heebie-jeebies they’re still trying to shake off. As mentioned in a previous article, Happ doesn’t quite exactly have the best track record in the postseason, but can be an imposing force in the dugout.
The Twins also signed Matt Shoemaker to a 1 year, $2 million contract, in hopes that he returns to form. Shoemaker is best known for his impeccable 2014 rookie campaign, going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 136 innings. Since then, he’s had multiple trips to the injured list – but also had a respectable 2019 with Toronto, going 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA over 28.2 innings pitched.
While the bullpen was semi-gutted during the offseason, the Twins do still have some great late-inning relievers in Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers. One of their cheekiest moves over the winter was signing away White Sox pitcher Alex Colome. Minnesota was able to add Colome for $5 million this year with an option for 2022. That’s one way to get at your rival ballclub.
2021 Season Preview
1) RF Max Kepler
2) 2B Jorge Polanco
3) 3B Josh Donaldson
4) DH Nelson Cruz
5) 1B Miguel Sano
6) C Mitch Garver
7) CF Byron Buxton
8) SS Andrelton Simmons
9) LF Jake Cave
UTIL Luis Arraez
UTIL Travis Blankenhorn
UTIL Willians Astudillo
There’s a bit of a conundrum with the Twins and their backups, since they have a lot of utility players. Arraez is for sure on the roster, but when looking at the outfield it’s not so certain.
You could pencil in Kirilloff in left field, but the Twins could decide to give him a few more at-bats in AAA to warm up, and let Cave get some good playing time. This would also be the best-case scenario in case a player gets hurt, like Buxton making a headlong crash into the wall for example.
From there, you have Blankenhorn who can play infield or outfield, Astudillo who can play catcher or infield, and Brent Rooker waiting in the wings as another outfielder.
Regardless, I would say Arraez is the best extra infielder, and Cave is going to see a lot of at-bats, whether it’s in left field or as the fourth outfielder.
RHP Kenta Maeda
RHP Jose Berrios
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP J.A. Happ
RHP Randy Dobnak
LHP Taylor Rogers (Closer)
RHP Alex Colome
RHP Tyler Duffey
RHP Caleb Thielbar
RHP Jorge Alcala
RHP Cody Stashak
RHP Hansel Robles
The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs between Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, and Matt Shoemaker, but Dobnak gets the benefit of the doubt for his recent successes. Shoemaker would likely be the second choice. Personally, I’m just not entirely sure that the organization will give Shoemaker the reins yet based on his durability risk.
In the bullpen, I expect to see a rotating closer role between Rogers, Duffey and Colome, based on situational roles and hot streaks. But Rogers and Colome will take on the brunt of the role, with Duffey being a solid 7th-8th inning setup guy.
FanGraphs Projected Record: 89-73, 1st place in AL Central
PECOTA Projected Record: 90-72, 1st place in AL Central
Personal Projection: 90-72, 1st place in AL Central
Most projections would tell you it’s a two-team race between the Twins and White Sox in the AL Central this upcoming year, and that’s a fair assessment. Like 2020, the division crown will likely be a neck-and-neck affair. FanGraphs has the Twins beating the White Sox by a singular game, while PECOTA actually ranks the Indians as the second-place team with Chicago a couple of games behind.
Of course a lot depends on how injuries play out and the looming risk of Covid-19, but baseball did well in the latter half of 2020 at keeping the pandemic under control.
Quite a bit of one-year deals for the Twins as they look to get something jump-started in the postseason department, but the horizon looks great. They have some up and coming infielders in Royce Lewis and Nick Gordon, and have plenty of options in the outfield. The big question mark, as always, will be their pitching come October.