A Closer Look: Minnesota Twins

OK, it’s time to start getting these going as I’ve fallen behind a bit due to an unexpectedly busy offseason.

OTHER TEAMS:

3 QUESTIONS

Can Jake Odorizzi repeat his success?

Odorizzi was a standout pitcher in his second year with the Twins, posting a 3.51 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 159 innings. He even made the All-Star team. In his debut with the Twins back in 2018, he had a 4.49 ERA and the Twins likely realized one key issue with the right-hander: he couldn’t go deep into games. His OPS was .627 the first time through, .659 the second time, and then soared to 1.159 the third time.

Two things happened to combat this in 2019. One, he just got better the third time through. That 1.159 OPS was dead last among the 140 pitchers who had at least 100 IP. In 2019, his .883 mark was 101st among 130. More importantly, the Twins pulled him when trouble started brewing or before it could manifest. He only topped 100 pitches seven times in 2019 compared to 13 such starts in 2018.

Some of his detractors have framed his season as a big start (1.92 ERA through 13) followed by a second half fade (4.77 ERA in his last 17), but that’s very misleading. He had a seven start run of inconsistency after those first 13 that was a mix meh and bad: 4, 4, 3, 5, 1, 3, and 9 ER with those nine runs against the Yankees pushing the run from a 6.28 ERA in six starts to 7.99 in seven. He found his rhythm immediately after that Yankee start and posted a 2.89 ERA in 10 starts to finish the season with 70 strikeouts in 56 innings.

Odorizzi saw his velo jump 2 ticks to 92.9 mph which fueled even better performance. He’s always had a strong fastball, but it was the 5th-best heater by pitch value in 2019 (min. 150 IP). High heat and sliders and splitters low are the gameplan for Odorizzi and I expect another strong season. The Twins know how to manage him and he’ll remain remarkably well supported by both the offense and bullpen. I’m definitely buying at his post-150 overall price.

What does Mitch Garver do for an encore?

The Twins showed their faith in Garver by letting Jason Castro go and opting for Alex Avila as their backup. Avila is that perfect once a week type guy whereas Castro’s defense and solid pop kept him in a more even split with Garver. Garver needed just 359 PA to hit 31 homers last year… wait what?! THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-NINE PLATE APPEARANCES FOR THIRTY-ONE HOMERS??? His .357 ISO was best among those with at least 350 PA, just head of Mike Trout’s .353 mark. Obviously, we should expect Garver to come down with that incredible perch, but sometimes it’s fun to just take a second and appreciate his excellence from 2019.

Even scaling back his rates, such as the obscene .357 ISO and 29% HR/FB, the added volume of playing time will mitigate some of the losses. With 1B and DH locked, at least while Miguel Sanó and Nelson Cruz are healthy, catcher is his only avenue or at least his primary avenue. Only four catchers logged 500+ PA last year and while it’s possible Garver reaches that high in 2020, I’d put him closer to 460 (115-120 games in the 3.8-4.0 PA per game range).

With that volume of time and a fair smoothing out of his power output from 2019, I think Garver will hit around 25 HR with a .260-.270 AVG, 80 R and 75 RBI. He regularly led off against lefties in the second half and I could see that happening again in 2020 while he will likely bat 5th/6th against righties. He’s been a top four catcher in winter drafts, often sitting 4th behind J.T. Realmuto, Gary Sanchez, and Yasmani Grandal and he’ll likely remain there throughout the spring.

Is this finally the year for Byron Buxton?

Probably not.

Buxton had another teaser season in 2019, hitting .262 with 10 HR and 14 SB in 295 PA. Over his career, he’s averaging 16 HR and 25 SB per 162 games and his biggest proponents are still dreaming of something like a 25 HR/50 SB season. Three IL stints for a bruised wrist, concussion, and shoulder subluxation limited him in 2019 and he’s had eight IL stints since making the majors in 2015. Of course, this all comes down to health with him.

Even if he doesn’t go off for the dream season, just staying healthy enough to play even 140 games again as he did in 2017 would make him a fantasy stud because of the speed. The 27-year old outfielder is going as the 42nd outfielder, around pick 160 on average. I took him at pick 135 in Draft Champions league on Sunday (15-team, 50-round) and he’s gone as high as 93 in an Online Championship (12-team league) and 128 in Draft Champions.

Thankfully the price is such that taking the gamble on Buxton is doable even if you aren’t among his biggest believers. It’s really hard to project health and his reckless style in the outfield certainly adds to his overall injury risk so I can’t really project him for more than 120 games and then I’ll take anything else as a bonus. With 400ish PA, Buxton can pop 13-15 HR with 23-26 SB, which is perfectly reasonable for this draft spot. That would emulate Kolten Wong’s 2019 and he was the 131st player last year so there’s profitability with Buxton’s draft spot even if he doesn’t stay fully healthy.

THE RISER

Luis Arraez

On the surface Arraez looks like an empty AVG bat, but his elite contact ability is a great foundation to build upon. It’s unlikely that he’ll develop game changing power or start swiping bases beyond a low double-digit clip (10-13 max), but there’s a case to improve his pop and hit 9-12 HR as he develops while maintaining his great AVG and scoring a ton of runs in this excellent lineup. While Arraez only hit 4 HR in 366 PA, he did manage 20 2B which puts him in range to club 40 in a full season.

He’s got the second base job and at the very worst, he’ll be a batting average asset after pick 200 which is a rarity. He’ll also score plenty of runs even if he bats in the bottom third of the lineup (projected to bat 7th behind Sano and Buxton… imagine those two at 8/9). Throw in around 10 SB (he averaged 11 per 600 PA in the minors) and he’s helping in three of five categories.

THE FALLER

Jorge Polanco

Polanco was among the many who feasted on the 2019 ball, cracking a career-high 22 homers, eclipsing his previous high of 13. He also hit .295/.356/.485 with 79 RBI, 107 R, and 4 SB in 704 PA. There were several hitters who could have fit here as they exploded as a team. I tend to buy into most of the breakouts, though. I mentioned how Garver will come down but by playing more he’ll remain a fantasy stud. Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Max Kepler (he could actually get better with some improvements against righties) have a lot to believe in throughout their profile, so I chose Polanco almost by default.

I don’t even think it’s going to be a catastrophic fall and the market hasn’t skyrocketed his price because shortstop is so deep. He’s the 18th SS off the board which is perfectly reasonable and even allows for some pullback on his 2019 numbers. I see something like .280 AVG, 17 HR, 85 R, 70 RBI, and 3-6 SBs (his rate has never been good so he might just stop running outside of a few random attempts).

A MOVE TO MAKE

Let Willians Astudillo play!!!

I might need a new category now that the offseason free agent market is just about completed. There could still be trades, but those will be rare heading into Spring Training. I didn’t really have the time to write all of these in December which is when this category would’ve fit better. If you have any suggestions for a new category, let me know.

One move the Twins could make within their team is letting La Tortuga play! The signing of Avila cancels out Astudillo as a backup catcher and the addition of Josh Donaldson puts Marwin Gonzalez on the bench as a super utility, a role Astudillo could’ve fulfilled had Gonzalez remained slotted in at first base. So I’ll grant that there isn’t an obvious role for Astudillo, but maybe he could take Ehire Adrianza’s spot on the bench!

PLAYING TIME BATTLE(S)

5th starter: Randy Dobnak v. Devin Smeltzer

These two will be battling for the initial fifth starter role, though it could be short-lived as both Michael Pineda and Rich Hill will be back down the line. Pineda is finishing a 60-game PED suspension and will be back around late-May. Meanwhile, Hill is recovering from injury (duh). He’ll be back around June after an elbow surgery. Both Pineda and Hill have dealt with injuries throughout their careers so the winner of this initial fifth starter battle will likely be lingering as a potential fill-in all year long.

Dobnak had a fantastic debut with a 1.59 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 28.3 innings split between the rotation and bullpen, though unfortunately his lasting 2019 memory is the rough playoff outing against the Yankees (2 IP/4 ER). The 24-year old came out of nowhere with an impressive four-level season that saw him surge from High-A to the majors with a strong performance at every stop. He’s got a three-pitch mix with a fastball, slider, and changeup that generated a solid swing-and-miss rate. He’s shown good control throughout his rise with a 10% BB rate at his Triple-A stop being his only time over 5%. He quickly recovered with a 4% mark in his MLB debut.

Dobnak is a fantasy afterthought, going after pick 400 as the 163rd pitcher (including RPs) off the board. He’s the standard solid-if-unspectacular boring pick who could end up surprising, especially if he manages a longer-term stint in the rotation. I can see him delivering a high-3.00s ERA, low-1.20s WHIP, and 22-25% K rate as a starter with improvements in all three if he spends extended time in the bullpen.

Smeltzer was an actual prospect for the Twins and a fast start in Double-A got him into Triple-A and then just four starts later he was in the majors. He was only up for a couple starts – one good, one bad – before returning to Triple-A, and then he’d spend the rest of his season bouncing back and forth between Rochester and Minnesota. The soft-tossing lefty succeeds with a deceptive delivery and decent secondary stuff.

I’d favor Dobnak for the fifth starter job to open the season as Smeltzer is probably best suited for a 2-3 inning middle relief role, but like I said earlier, even Dobnak’s time could be limited with Pineda and Hill looming.

PROSPECT CONTRIBUTORS FOR 2020

Hitter: Royce Lewis

Lewis was 6th in Top 100 list last year, but labored through a disappointing season at High- and Double-A, posting just a .236/.290/.371 in 566 PA with 12 HR and 22 SB. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League to get a few extra games under his belt to cover for an oblique injury and took that opportunity to end his season on a high note, hitting .353/.411/.565 en route to the league’s MVP award. I got to see him there and I was struck by his insane leg kick and while it obviously didn’t harm him in Arizona, it seems like something that could breed volatility.

I won’t rule out continued refinement of his profile, though, and the talent remains obvious and abundant, both for real life and fantasy. I imagine he’ll start back in Double-A for a bit, but they’ll get him in Triple-A as soon as he’s ready. From there, he’ll be a call away and while there’s no obvious room in the lineup right now, injuries happen and they have enough flexibility that could make Lewis a logical call-up for multiple injuries. I almost went with Alex Kirilloff as I really like him and his bat is more MLB-ready, but his path to majors is more confined as he seems to be done in the outfield, limiting him to 1B/DH.

Pitcher: Lewis Thorpe

Thorpe made his MLB debut last year, but you might’ve missed it as he had a 6.18 ERA and 1.73 WHIP in 27.7 innings. I’ve already explained the depth of potential starters at the backend of the Twins rotation, especially once Pineda and Hill are back, but you can never have too much pitching. Thorpe is a 24-year old lefty with four pitches, including a slider, curve, and changeup that support his 91-mph fastball. He has missed bats throughout his minor league career with swinging strike rates at 15% or higher at every stop except one (13% at High-A in ’17). His depth of arsenal, bat-missing ability, and decent walk rate make him a viable 4th-5th SP type with some upside to be a bit more.

UP NEXT: Detroit Tigers

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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lemurinePaul SporerjdelaneyLightenUpFG Recent comment authors
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LightenUpFG
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I think they should keep Astudillo on the bench as a pinch runner, because I want to see that truck race around the bases again.