Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Twins Next Important Coach

A season ago, the Minnesota Twins brought in James Rowson as their hitting coach. Following the dismissal of Tom Brunansky, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine handpicked a candidate of a lesser known name. WIth what he had done with some of the hitter in the Yankees organization however, there was excitement regarding potential results. Fast forward a year, and the growth with some young Twins hitters was incredible. In 2018, Minnesota will be looking for more of the same from their new pitching coach, Garvin Alston.

The Twins are coming off a 2017 that saw records in starting pitchers used (16), and arms as a whole (36). Knowing this club is coming into 2018 with high expectations and again focused on the Postseason, getting more consistent results on the mound is a must. In that regard, there's no coach more integral to Minnesota taking the next step forward than Alston.

A pitcher for the Colorado Rockies during his brief MLB career, Alston has spent almost the entirety of his coaching life with the Oakland Athletics. He was twice a minor league pitching coach, while serving as a pitching coordinator in 2015. During the 2016 season, worked as the bullpen coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and then he headed back to the Bay Area to serve in the same capacity for the A's a season ago.

Much like Rowson was able to help players like Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco foster success down the stretch a season ago, Alston will be tasked with growth in 2018. Kyle Gibson may be the area for greatest success, but there should be no shortage of impressionable arms looking to reach the next level.

Among all Twins starters, no one is looking to replicate their second half as much as Gibson is. The 3.57 ERA across his final 12 starts (and 2.92 ERA across the final 8) would position him as a treue middle-of-the-rotation arm. After scuffling hard out of the gate, and looking like a non-tender candidate halfway through 2017, Gibby officially turned it around. With the offseason in his rear view mirror, and a solid spring training under his belt, Gibson will need to replicate his late season efforts in hopes of bolstering the Twins chances.

It's not just veteran arms Alston will be tasked with maximizing though, in fact the vast majority aren't veteran arms. Jose Berrios looked the part of a good starter last year, but there's real star potential there and he'll be trying to harness that on an every start basis. Eventually pitchers like Felix Jorge, Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, and Zack Littell will find their way onto the Target Field mound. Keeping command in focus and not allowing the moment to be too big, Alston will be forced to challenge the young arms while also keeping them in check.

For Minnesota, a retooling of the starting rotation was needed, and pitchers like Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi fall more under the notion of tweaks rather than full-scale hand holding. The bullpen also was bolstered with reinforcements, and guys like Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney should be cut from a similar cloth as their veteran starting counterparts. In relief though, Garvin Alston will oversee a guy in Trevor Hildenberger who had a breakout 2017 and became one of Minnesota's best relievers.

Through spring training thus far, Hildenberger has seen results anything but reflective of his 2017 exploits. A reminder that the slate is wiped clean and a 9.4 K/9 along with a 1.3 BB/9 came out of that arm a year ago will go a long ways to determine how the Twins handle late innings. Taylor Rogers will be expected to take a step forward, and eventually Jake Reed, Tyler Kinley, and any number of other arms could be called upon to get meaningful outs.

While there's a good argument to be made that most managers misuse or at least under-utilize their bullpens, it will be on Alston and Molitor to find a blueprint that gets the most out of their club. The 46 year old pitching coach will need to dance between relating to players not much his junior, and a manager significantly his senior.

Evaluation of a pitching coach is relatively difficult, and even more so in a small sample size situation. We may not know what Alston is capable of or has become for the Twins after 2018, but you can bet than a significant positive impact would go a long ways towards success. Seen as a pitching guru, Falvey tabbed Alston his guy, and giving him a staff that has a little bit of everything should provide plenty of opportunity to grow. Minnesota needs pitching to become a strength, and Alston pioneering that movement would be massive.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Bomb in the Middle Means Twins Must Rally

The Minnesota Twins had made it through 24 days of their spring training game schedule. Although Ervin Santana needed surgery, the timeline looked favorable and the organization had seen no other hiccups. Free agents were being amassed in droves, and the 2017 Wild Card team looked like it was eyeing an opportunity to close the gap in the AL Central. Then it happened, March 18th came.

If St. Patrick's Day is about luck, the day following saw Minnesota have next to none. Ervin Santana reportedly can not yet make a fist, let alone grip a baseball. That reality puts a May 1 return to the mound in serious jeopardy. The bigger bomb came in the early evening however, as starting shortstop Jorge Polanco was popped with an 80 game suspension after testing positive for PEDs.

When looking at the Twins 2018 outlook, it's unquestionably the loss of Polanco that impacts the club most. Despite suggesting he unknowingly ingested the banned substance Stanozolol (which coincidentally was the PED of choice for Santana back in 2015), the reality is he made a poor judgement in failing to fact check what a trainer in the Dominican may have handed him. Ideally there would've been a greater level of ownership, removing the "unknowingly" caveat, but he's decided to bypass an appeal and serve the suspension immediately. For the Twins and Paul Molitor, the question becomes where the club turns from here.

As I profiled just last week, Polanco was set to become the first shortstop since Pedro Florimon (13/14) to start back-to-back Opening Day's for Minnesota (and just the second since Cristian Guzman in 2004). Now, Molitor will likely turn the reigns over to Eduardo Escobar, who last owned the job during the 2016 season.

Escobar has played a solid utility role for the Minnesota Twins during his tenure following the swap that brought him over from the Chicago White Sox. The 1.6 fWAR a season ago was a nice rebound from the -0.6 fWAR he posted in 2016. The problem however, is that the negative number came with Escobar assuming the role of everyday shortstop.

Across 579 innings at short in 2016, Escobar was worth -7 DRS. Stretched out to a full season's worth of games (579 innings accounted for 66 starts), Escobar would be staring at a -17 DRS. Dating back to 2002 (where Fangraphs data begins), only 16 shortstops have posted a worse DRS over a full season. In fact, a -18 DRS was posted in 2012 by a 38 year old Derek Jeter, just to provide a visual for what that may look like. In short, it's not much of a surprise why the Twins played Escobar at short in just 16 games a year ago, even with the emergence of Polanco.

For Eduardo, his calling card with Minnesota has been and will continue to be his bat. His positional flexibility is relative, given that he can play many but is below average (-5 DRS in 600+ innings at 3B in 2017) at all of them. Coming off a career best .758 OPS with 21 homers, it's hard not to like the idea of his bat getting more reps. What both Molitor and the front office will have to evaluate is whether or not the negative cost in the field is outweighed by the boost his bat brings.

If not for Escobar, then Minnesota has three options currently. First would be secondary utility man, Ehire Adrianza. Profiled as a relative opposite to Escobar, Adrianza is slick with the glove and leaves something to be desired at the dish. Logging just over 200 innings at short for Minnesota last year, Adrianza was worth 1 DRS. His .707 OPS was a career best, and a massive jump from the .598 OPS he'd compiled across his first 145 career games. Having been used out of position some since joining Minnesota, Adrianza looked disinterested or lost at times while playing left field or even third base. Defensively, shortstop is his home, but his bat must prove worthy of consistent starts.

Brought in as Miguel Sano insurance, veteran Erick Aybar is now all but guaranteed a 40 man roster spot with Minnesota. Barring a Sano suspension, or injury to start the year, Aybar likely would've been looking for a new team. At 34 years old, Aybar is hardly a spring chicken, and he cuts the duo above somewhere down the middle. A .685 career OPS is reflective of a guy that's basically all average, with little boost from on-base or slugging skills. Unfortunately for him, 2015 is the last time his average was at .270 or above, and would need to be a relative baseline for acceptable production. With the glove, he's played at least 790 innings at short every season since 2009, but he's been no better than -3 DRS since 2012. Not the abomination Escobar is, calling him slick with the glove would be a stretch as well.

Rounding out the options for the Twins is a name that's not currently present. No, Nick Gordon isn't ready to fill in at the big league level on an every day basis yet (and there's valid concerns about him at SS anyways), and both Royce Lewis and Wander Javier are too far away. The "not currently present" designation would need to apply to a player outside of the organization. Veteran J.J. Hardy is currently a free agent still (though he's arguably a worse option than any of the internal trio), and the trade market has any number of fits. For Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to explore that path however, it'd likely need to be more of a stop gap player with upside, than some sort of drastic move that changes future projections.

At the end of the day, my hope would be that the Twins play it safe here. A lot of work has been done to increase the overall ability of the roster this season, and wavering too far on one side or the other could throw of a lineup or defense with an immense amount of talent. Escobar is a risk at a vital position, while Adrianza has all the makings of a rally killer. Start Erick Aybar, know what you've got, and inject both the utility men on a semi-regular basis. Escobar has thrived in that role before, and Adrianza was productive enough a year ago. It's not at all flashy, but if I'm Molitor, Aybar gives you the least opportunity to be exposed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On Buxton, Defense, and the Competition

In 2017, Byron Buxton won what should be the first of many Gold Gloves. He also won a Platinum Glove (fan voted), and the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award. In short, his efforts for the Twins in centerfield have quickly become noticed by a national audience. The speed, ball tacking, and spectacular plays are all just a bit more routing for the Georgia native. What's worth wondering is whether or not he's already the greatest defensive centerfielder of all time.

Rather than dive into a debate across eras, I think it's safe to work under the assumption that the greatest current players would probably hold up working backwards. In short, Mike Trout would compare with Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth. In that sense, Buxton and his competition would hold up well in comparison with great defenders of yesteryear. For the purpose of this piece, there's only one other player that currently holds a candle to the Twins star. Needing no introduction, it's Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier.

The bar to surpass for Buxton is the blueprint that the Rays defensive stalwart has already put forth. With an extra couple of years under his belt at the big league level, Kiermaier has two Gold Gloves and got edged by Byron for the first time in 2017. Moving outside of the awards though, it's the metrics that truly show how great Kevin really is.

Over the course of his five year big-league career, Kiemaier has played over 1,000 innings just once. Having dealt with injuries, he's only surpassed the 110 games played plateau one time, and has been under 100 games played once as well. During the 2015 season he put up a nutty 42 DRS and 30.0 UZR along with a 24.2 RngR. Dating back to the inception of Fangraphs metrics in 2002, the next closest number is 33 DRS by the Mariners Franklin Gutierrez in 2009. Those two players are also the only ones to ever post a UZR in CF at 30.0 or above (Gutierrez was at 31.0 in 2009). To put it simply, Kiermaier's 2015 was a defensive campaign for the ages.

What's important to note however, is that Kiermaier wasn't simply a flash in the pan or one-year-wonder. In 2016, he posted 25 DRS and a 12.3 UZR, and a season ago he totaled 22 DRS and 2.8 UZR. Given the sample size of those previous two campaigns coming in no less than 46 games shy of his 2015 output, the production only had room to rise. At nearly 28 years-old, Kiermaier should be well of from and decline, and he'll be pushing for the title of best defensive centerfielder for years to come.

Turning our attention to the Twins star, there's a very obvious asset that really can't be taught: speed. In the newly developed spring speed leaderboard from MLB's Statcast, Buxton is the fastest runner in baseball clocking 30.2 ft/sec. He's trailed most closely by Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton (30.1 ft/s) and Kiermaier's 28.9 ft/s check in at 13th among centerfielders. That elite top end speed allows Buxton to cover both gaps, and very realistically, make up for any route deficiencies he may have.

Being the Statcast darling that he is, you don't need to go far to find Buxton's name atop another leaderboard. Minnesota's man tops both the Catch Probability and Outs Above Average charts. In 2017, he was worth 25 outs above average, or better than every team in baseball aside from his own. No player, at any position, made more "4 Star" outs than Buxton's 26. His 89.7% conversion rate on plays deemed to have a 26-50% likelihood of an out is truly astounding. In summarizing his efforts, Statcast deemed that Buxton's expected catch percentage in 2017 was 87%. Instead, he posted a 93% mark and added unexpected outs 6% of the time.

Unfortunately, Statcast's data only dates back to 2016, so comparing Kiermaier's exceptional 2015 in the same realms is not possible. From a Fangraphs perspective, Buxton has room to grow. Last season, his DRS total checked in at 24 with a 9.9 UZR and 12.6 RngR. If there's an area most easily picked apart in Buxton's defensive game, it's his arm.

Buxton doesn't have a weak arm by any means, in fact he pitched at over 90 mph in high school. What he does lack at times from the outfield, is accuracy. Far too often in 2017, throws to bases were off line, and while the ball may have provided an opportunity for an out, the positioning was no longer there. The metrics seem to agree with those sentiments as well. Last season, Buxton's efforts were worth -2.4 (outfield arm runs above average). For comparison, Kiermaier's 2015 saw a 6.8 ARM rating. DRS is a metric that encapsulate's each piece of a defender's ability and displays a total defensive value. Posting a negative or lacking ARM tally will do no favors when calculating the overall production.

What I think is easy to suggest is that baseball fans are currently watching two of the greatest defensive centerfielders to ever play the game. While Kiermaier would benefit by staying on the field more, Buxton has a workable avenue to increasing his own production, and the battle will be a fun one to watch for years to come. Byron has yet to match Kevin's 2015 by some advanced metrics, but others are quite clearly in awe of how much he brings to the game with his glove.

It is on defensive merit alone that Buxton will be a yearly candidate for the All Star game in years to come. Should his bat display what it flashed down the stretch for the Twins, Minnesota has an MVP candidate waiting to happen, and a superstar in the making. At the end of the day, Twins fans should have plenty of fun watching their man go and get it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Polanco, Shortstops, and Stability

Over the past 13 seasons, dating back to 2005, the Minnesota Twins have started 11 different players at shortstop on Opening Day. Through those years, only Pedro Florimon has been given the nod in back-to-back seasons (13-14), and Jason Bartlett is the only other player to appear twice (05 & 07). To put it simply, consistency at the shortstop position isn't something that the Minnesota Twins have had in over a decade. With Jorge Polanco settling in to change that notion, it might be time to give it some real thought.

To know where the Twins may be going, we'll first take a look at where they've been. Before the revolving door got started in 2004, the last point of stability was none other than Cristian Guzman. From 1999 through 2004, the Dominican native started every Opening Day for Minnesota, and racked up 841 games played. A fixture in the Minnesota lineup, Guzman was a serviceable option that allowed speed to carry his game.

At the dish, you could argue that Guzman was a relatively replaceable asset. Owning just a .685 OPS with Minnesota, and averaging just a .303 OBP over his six-year tenure, there was nothing that jumped off the stat page. Leading the league in triples three times, and stealing double-digit bases in five straight years, quickness was highly valued at a time in the game where advanced analytics had yet to break in.

In the field, Guzman was as acceptable as it gets. Defensive data at Fangraphs only goes back to 2002, but over the three seasons accounted for, Guzman provided two at a net zero outcome. Both in 2002 and 2004, a total of 0 DRS was the result in over 1,200 innings. He displayed solid zone ratings, and above average range at the most demanding position in the infield however. In short, Guzman was the option for Minnesota because he did just enough to warrant the job, but also never really pushed the needle.

As the game has evolved, shortstops are among the most premier players on the diamond. To have a guy with an OPS south of .700 and be worth nothing more than league average defensively, you'd be hard-pressed not to insert the Pedro Florimon's of the world as a replacement. Fortunately for Minnesota, looking at stability this time around provides something of a significant advancement in the form of Jorge Polanco.

The former top-100 prospect will be entering his second full season as the Twins everyday shortstop. He's coming off a .723 OPS and a -1 DRS across 1,119 innings played. The sample size compiled thus far is incredibly small, but given a brief taste in 2016, we can quantify improvement. In the field across 69 games in 2016, Polanco owned a -8 DRS across 406 innings. With questions regarding his arm at short, the initial showing did nothing to dispel the notion that he wasn't fit to play anything but second base at the highest level. Displaying substantial improvements across the board, and a positive RngR factor last year though, Polanco put forth an effort reflective of lots of extra offseason work.

Regarding Polanco, it's always been the bat that was expected to carry him. After bottoming out at a .572 OPS on August 4th last season, a corner was turned. Over his final 53 games, Polanco posted a .942 OPS that saw him launch 10 homers and pick up another 14 doubles. Everything from launch angle to pitch recognition was maximized, and the turnaround was more reflective of the player Minnesota expected to have coming out of their minor league system.

Knowing baseball is a mental game, the loss of Polanco's grandfather likely weighed on him at points of the season. Widely reported as a father figure to the 24 year old, it's hardly unfathomable that performance would dip as his mind struggled to stay engaged. On the field, locking back in to a disciplined approach that produced career bests in SwStr% and chase rate no doubt aided the turnaround.

Looking ahead, Polanco should be in a position where he can secure the shortstop role to the point that a challenger needs to wrangle it away from him. The revolving door has stopped spinning at this moment, and by the time Royce Lewis or Wander Javier are ready for the next step, Polanco should allow Minnesota an opportunity to make them earn it. It's not far off that an up-the-middle tandem of Polanco and Nick Gordon can be seen as reality, but there should be little question in regards to who's best suited at short among that duo.

For any number of organizations across the big leagues, having answers on the mound, at short, and in center remain of the utmost importance. More often than not, the Twins have done well in center, and they've begun to right the ship on the mound. Polanco taking steps forward to own shortstop is a much-needed revelation, and it's one that he's only begun to own into. Obviously the sustainability of a .900+ OPS isn't great, but a full season of Polanco contributing with both the bat and the glove seems to be more expectation than hope at this point.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Who Goes North 2.0

Back on February 27 I took a first look at what the Minnesota Twins 25 man roster may look like on Opening Day. Now roughly halfway through spring training, and with some roster changes to boot, it's time to take another stab at what Paul Molitor will have at his disposal in Baltimore. You can read the original projection here, but changes will also be reflected below.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have definitely outdone Minnesota offseasons of recent memory, and coming off a Postseason berth, they had plenty of incentive to supplement an up and coming squad. This club looks like it's going to make noise in both the Central and the American League as a whole. No matter where you look, there isn't a lot of obvious deficiencies in any of the positional groups.

With that groundwork laid, let's get into it:

Infielders (9)

  • Jason Castro C
  • Mitch Garver C
  • Ehire Adrianza Util
  • Brian Dozier 2B
  • Eduardo Escobar Util
  • Joe Mauer 1B
  • Jorge Polanco SS
  • Miguel Sano 3B
  • Logan Morrison 1B
This group remains the exact same. I'm still operating under the belief that Miguel Sano starts the season with the Twins. A suspension seems increasingly unlikely, and all spring indications have suggested his health is in a good place. Erick Aybar remains the fallback option if Sano isn't penciled in however. This group is very good, will be the backbone of the lineup, and was only aided by the inclusion of another slugger in Morrison.
Outfielders (4)
  • Byron Buxton CF
  • Robbie Grossman LF/RF
  • Max Kepler RF
  • Eddie Rosario LF
If it were up to me, I'd prefer Robbie Grossman be replaced by Zack Granite. As a fourth outfielder, Granite does significantly more for Minnesota than Grossman is able to. His speed is an asset off the bench, and he's well above average defensively. There's a slight downgrade in on-base skills with Granite, but that's still something his track record in the minors categorizes as an asset. With options remaining though, it's hard to see the Twins simply casting aside Grossman from the get go. They could make the move at any point, and from the start, seems best reasoned that they'll stick with the veteran.

Pitchers (12)

  • Jose Berrios SP
  • Lance Lynn SP
  • Jake Odorizzi SP
  • Kyle Gibson SP
  • Trevor Hildenberger RP
  • Phil Hughes RP
  • Zach Duke RP
  • Ryan Pressly RP
  • Addison Reed RP
  • Fernando Rodney RP
  • Taylor Rogers RP
  • Tyler Kinley RP
  • Adalberto Mejia SP
  • Tyler Duffey RP
With the recent addition of Lance Lynn, it's the pitchers where the most shuffling takes place for the Twins. Molitor has noted the club intends to go with a four-man rotation until Ervin Santana returns, which makes sense. That means Phil Hughes is pushed out of the group, and aside from a DL stint or DFA, he's destined for long relief. All spring, Minnesota has talked about stretching Tyler Duffey out and looking at him as a starter again. Given where things are currently, and with Duffey having an option remaining, a trip to Rochester doesn't seem that unlikely. It would get Rule 5 pick Tyler Kinley on the 25 man, and save the Twins from having to make an immediate trade with Miami in order to retain his rights. Taking the trip to Rochester with Duffey would be Mejia. He's probably the first man up among starters, and gives the Twins an added layer of depth before needing to call upon Fernando Romero or Stephen Gonsalves.

Glancing at this group, I think it's pretty clear that the 2017 areas of concern have been addressed, and 2018 should be a bright year for the guys at Target Field.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rotation Overhaul In Overdrive

With the news of the Minnesota Twins signing Lance Lynn to a one-year, $12 million deal today, the overhaul of the starting rotation going into 2018 is complete. Despite the big fish of the offseason being Yu Darvish, it's hard not to see the avenue that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took as equally impressive. Coming off a Wild Card appearance, Paul Molitor's club has something it hasn't in years: a rotation worthy of praise.

Going into the winter, Minnesota's front office new that the area of focus needed to be starting pitching. Coming off a season in which 16 different pitchers made starts (a club record), and 36 different arms were used, getting more meaningful innings from the jump was a necessity. Although the crop of free agents left something to be desired, Darvish was there at the top and he had some quality options lined up behind him. You can fault the Twins for not matching Chicago's six-year deal, but it may not have mattered anyways. In the end, for a team desiring depth, this outcome almost seems better.

When the Twins leave Fort Myers at the end of March, their starting rotation will feature Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson. Ervin Santana is due back sometime in April or May, and the group at the top is backed by names such as Adalberto Mejia, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, and Zack Littell. Solely by the letters on the backs of the jerseys, that group is much stronger than one featuring options such as Tepesch, Melville, and Wilk. What's more intriguing though, are the numbers that names bring with them.

In Odorizzi and Lynn, Minnesota has added two players capable of striking out batters at an 8.0 K/9 clip or better. A season ago, only Jose Berrios entered that territory, and the Twins haven't had two pitchers best that mark in a season since 2006 (Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano). Last season, 12 of the Twins 16 starters took the ball a combined 54 times to compile a -0.2 fWAR. Despite a down year for Odorizzi (0.1 fWAR in 2017), he's consistently earned around a 2.0 fWAR on an annual basis. In his first year back from Tommy John surgery, Lynn posted a 1.4 mark. Both should help to significantly raise the water level as a whole for the staff, which is really what this boils down to.

Talking yourself out of missing on Darvish is foolish, but there's also a level of realism to it. While Yu is a bonafide ace, he can only take the ball once every five days. Minnesota was in a place where Kyle Gibson would be relied upon too much, and Phil Hughes needed to be counted on as well. In adding two arms, the Twins push the latter out completely, and allow the former to be bolstered by the strong depth on the farm behind him. By gaining a 40% improvement in the rotation, the Twins effectively overhauled their greatest weakness, and dare I say, turned it into a strength.

It'd be relatively silly to suggest that Lynn, Odorizzi, or even Michael Pineda (if and when he returns healthy) are going to make the Scherzer's or Kershaw's of the world blush. For an organization that's been starved to figure out who can be relied upon for multiple turns in the rotation on a yearly basis for over a decade though, you've done more than alright. Minnesota's blueprint when attacking the rotation was to grab talent that could help, and let what was already on board fall in line. By executing it this way, there should be competitive and reliable outings on a daily basis, and the depth is now a luxury as opposed to a necessity.

Given what Falvey and Levine have done to Molitor's starting staff, and what Minnesota already had going for it, you'd be hard-pressed to argue that this team isn't going places. A strong lineup and good defense is now supplemented be a talented pitching staff (both starters and relievers) and that should put not only the Cleveland Indians, but the rest of the American League, on notice.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

An Outfield Up For Grabs

For the most part, the Minnesota Twins 25 man roster is easy to project. I tried my hand in projection 1.0 at the end of February and feel pretty much the same about that group here at the beginning of March. That being said, I think there remains one position battle of intrigue when it comes to the position players. As Logan Morrison has entered to fill the regular DH role, there's a two man race for the fourth and final outfield spot.

The incumbent is none other than Robbie Grossman. Signed off the scrap heap by the Twins back in 2016, he was an answer while Minnesota was having to send out the young Eddie Rosario. In his first 99 games with the club, Grossman put forth the best numbers of his career. An on-base machine, Grossman's .280/.386/.443 slash line in his debut year for the Twins was easily a high water mark. As an encore last season, the .741 OPS was fine for a guy that provided rotational flexibility and assumed DH duties on a semi-regular basis. While nothing jumped off the page in the average or power categories, it was again a .361 OBP that could be noted as the strongest asset.

When looking at Grossman's time with the Twins, it's never been his presence at the plate proving to be a deficiency. In the field however, it's been another story altogether. In his first 637.1 innings spanning across 2016, abysmal doesn't even begin to categorize the output. Worth -21 DRS and with a UZR of -15.2, Grossman's performance was bad enough to make even Delmon Young and Josh Willingham blush. Knowing it needed to improve, Grossman made strides a season ago. Despite roughly half the amount of innings (357.0), the numbers checked in at -3 DRS and -3.3 UZR. Robbie isn't ever likely to be above average in the field, but in 2017, he proved he can be better than a black hole as well.

That's really what the Twins have to weigh when it comes to filling out their 25 man roster. Grossman leaves an immeasurable amount to be desired in the field, and a potential replacement would be a virtual opposite. Zack Granite is a blazing (albeit not Buxton-like) centerfielder, with the ability to track balls down from well out of his reach. Arm strength isn't anything of note, but it's hardly a downfall either. In just 174 inning sample size, Granite was worth 4 DRS and 1.2 UZR for Minnesota per Fangraphs.

At the plate, Zack has just 107 major league plate appearances under his belt. Making his debut a season ago for the Twins, Granite posted a .237/.321/.290 slash line. A .611 OPS isn't ever going to get it done at the highest level, but there's plenty of reason to believe he can acclimate. At Triple-AA Rochester for the first time in his career, Granite played 71 games and grabbed 313 plate appearances in 2017. He turned those opportunities into a .338/.392/.475 slash line. While those numbers are definitely gaudy, they follow the trend of a guy who's posted consistent on-base numbers while being more average than power over the course of his professional career.

For Granite to really round into form, he'll need to display a strong level of plate discipline over the course of his big league time. At Triple-A last season, he struck out just 34 times in 284 at bats, while drawing 24 walks. Jumping up a level, he actually posted just nine strikeouts for the Twins while drawing 12 free passes over his 93 at bats. Another good sign is that a strong knowledge of the strike zone has never left him. With just a 1.9% swinging strike rate, and a 95% contact rate, no one in baseball (with at least 100 plate appearances) posted better numbers.

Paul Molitor and the Minnesota Twins will likely let the battle run it's course through the end of the spring. Granite has options left, while Robbie Grossman would need to be DFA'd to make room. As things stand currently, that's probably the biggest feather in the cap for the latter. The Twins could certainly opt to go with Grossman out of the gate, and then call upon Granite as soon as they've seen enough. If they're looking at bringing the best or most ideal 25 north however, Zack definitely has a case to be made.