John Lepore | November 18th, 2019
The Minnesota Twins finished the season with 101 wins crossing the 100-win mark for just the second time ever (102 wins in 1965). The Bomba Squad set the Major League record for homers in a season with 307, but they couldn’t get past their playoff kryptonite in the New York Yankees and fell 3-0 in the ALDS. Let’s take a look at how the season went, and what’s on the horizon for the Twins.
Make sure to check out all of our other MLB team recaps here.
What Went Right
The Twins got offensive contributions from just about everyone on their team. Jorge Polanco was the only Twin to play more than 140 games (153), yet they still had eight players with 20+ HRs and five with 30+ HRs. The ageless Nelson Cruz led the team in HRs with 41 in just 120 games. He slashed .311/.392/.639 and drove in 108 runs, second on the team to Eddie Rosario with 109.
Mitch Garver seemed to come out of nowhere this season. He was second on the team with a .995 OPS (Cruz 1.031) and blasted 31 HRs in only 93 games. He also led all MLB catchers with 150+ PAs with a .404 wOBA and 155wRC+. Prior to this season, Garver had played in 125 games and managed seven HRs with a .734 OPS. His defense also took a major step forward. While his arm is still a bit below average, his framing got much better. According to Fangraphs and their framing metric (FRM), Garver went from a -9.2 in 2018 to 0.8 in 2019. The Twins are hoping this late bloomer (Garver will be 29 in January) keeps it going as he will likely handle a larger portion of the catching duties next year.
Miguel Sano also turned in his best season to date. Although he played only 105 games, he set career highs in OPS (.923), HRs (34), and RBI (79). He will be just 27 years old in May and if he can stay healthy for a full season, Sano can be a dominant force in the middle of the Twins lineup for at least the next two years.
Luis Arraez was a pleasant find this year for the Twins. He slashed .334/.399/.439 and walked more than he struck out (36/29). He played a little all over the field but his main position, second base, is where he played the most and will likely find himself for 2020. Some feel his hitting will take a hit due to his .355 BABIP and pedestrian 34.7 HH%. Arraez though sprays the ball all over the field (29.0%/34.3%/36.7% Pull/Cent/Oppo) and has a minuscule 12.3 Soft% and a solid 29.1 LD%. The Twins are hoping his defense can improve, especially at second base, as Arraez had a -8 DRS in just 49 games at the keystone.
What Went Wrong
Overall the team was solid, as a team that won 101 games usually is. The starting rotation started off very well and kind of faded toward the end of the season. Michael Pineda got suspended for violating the drug policy. Martin Perez‘s season was a tale of two halves. In the first half, he was 8-3 with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.368 WHIP. The second half saw Perez suffer through a 2-4 with a 6.27 and an unsightly 1.720 WHIP. He was eventually sent to the bullpen. Kyle Gibson fell victim to the second half blues also. His ERA went from 4.09 to 5.92 and his WHIP went from 1.257 to 1.714. With the Twins starters not named Jose Berrios or Jake Odorizzi struggling, the bullpen had to step up. They did and actually pitched better in the second half, but the starters need to hold their own throughout the season. Something they didn’t do except for Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios.
The defense needs to improve also, especially in the infield. Polanco was below average at shortstop and Arraez was horrible at second. Sano had a bad year at third and needs to bounce back in that aspect of his game to get to at least average at the hot corner. Those three had a -20 DRS in the infield and that needs to get better.
Impending Free Agents
The Twins declined the $7.5 million option on Martin Perez and paid him a $500k buyout. As I mentioned earlier, he fell apart in the second half and his cutter, that was getting everyone out in the beginning of the year, became more hittable as the year wore on. The Twins have better and cheaper options in their system.
Jonathan Schoop had a decent year with 23 HRs and his usual solid defense and baserunning resulting in a 1.6 rWAR. He made $7.5 million in 2019 but is only 28. The Twins have Arraez and another year of Marwin Gonzalez to fill in at second base if need be. Schoop will likely want a multi-year deal and could probably see something along the lines of 4/52.
Sergio Romo came over from the Miami Marlins before the trading deadline. The veteran reliever made $2.5 million last year. He will be 37 in March but could be someone the Twins would like to bring back. Romo had an excellent 27/4 K/BB rate in 22 innings with Minnesota. I could see a one-year deal for about $3 million.
Players to Watch For
Alex Kiriloff – He was drafted out of High School in 2016 by the Twins and thrown into Rookie ball immediately as an 18-year-old. He responded well with a .794 OPS in 55 games. Kiriloff missed all of 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Fortunately for the Twins, it didn’t affect his hitting. Kiriloff responded by playing in 130 games slashing .348/.392/.578 with 20 HRs and 101 RBI. This performance earned him a promotion and he played all of 2019 at AA Pensacola. His bat will definitely play in the majors and the Twins have played him at first base. He may force himself onto the Big League roster out of spring training, but at worst he will be in Minnesota before the All-Star break.
Brusdar Graterol – The righty jumped all the way from Rookie ball to the Majors in 2019, albeit with two stops in between. After putting up a 7-0 record with a 1.92 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP, the Twins felt confident bringing up Graterol in September. In 9.2 innings, he had a 10/2 K/BB rate while only allowing one HR. The big Venezuelan can hit triple-digits on the gun and normally sits around 96. He throws a “heavy” ball and induces tons of groundballs with his fastball. He mixes in a slider as well as another plus offering. The Twins may choose to have the 21-year-old in the rotation to start the year depending on what they do with their rotation after Odorizzi and Berrios. Graterol has only thrown over 100 innings in a season once. There will certainly be some pitch management at least in 2020 for the hard-throwing righty.
The Minnesota Twins won the AL Central this season. The lineup will score runs with the improvements of Sano, Polanco, and Max Kepler, along with the return of Nellie. The bullpen was solid, and Baldelli has shown that he is great at using them which contributed to him winning the Manager of the Year award. The starting rotation is where the Twins will need to spend. They picked up Cruz’s option, which was a no-brainer, and they declined Perez’s option, another easy decision. This leaves the expected payroll at around $85 million. The Twins run like a mid-market team and although the luxury tax doesn’t kick in until $208 million this year, the Twins certainly don’t want to come close to that. This is their window. They have Polanco and Kepler, among others, on team-friendly deals. The Cleveland Indians took a step back and may look to move a couple of their pieces to start a rebuild. The Chicago White Sox are on their way up but aren’t quite there yet. The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are both in the beginning stages of their respective rebuilds. If there was ever a time for the Twins to strike in free agency, it is now.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images