Tuesday, March 26, 2019

An Ode to Tobacco Offering from Topps

This week Gypsy Queen hits the market as the latest baseball offering from Topps. While it’s not a product that should be expected to produce massive hits, there’s plenty of excitement coming out of these boxes. Continuing with a consistent theme, the throwback to tobacco cards is present, but it’s also supplemented with a good deal of popping color. Available at both hobby and retail stores, there’s a few different avenues to rip into this product.

If you want to go the route of guaranteed hits, expect to drop something near $100 on a hobby box. For the more budget conscious collector blaster boxes and gravity feeds will be present at local Target or Walmart’s. Getting your hands on the product shouldn’t be tough but knowing what you’ll want to look for from a Twins perspective is where we’re really focused here.

Base Set

Featuring a 300-card base set, the Minnesota Twins have 11 cards to account for. You’ll see many of the regular suspects, with nice appearances by Addison Reed, C.J. Cron, and Tyler Austin. Rookie cards include Jake Cave as well as fan favorite Willians Astudillo. There’s also a few short prints and variation subsets, and while Minnesota is not represented in all of them, both Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios show up in the 20 card Player’s Weekend variation checklist.


Gypsy Queen doesn’t do a ton of insert subsets, with just four in total. No Twins are featured on the Tarot of the Diamond, Power Performer Portrait, or Fortune Teller cards. Going away from the Glassworks oversized box topper cards of previous years, the product introduces a 100 card Chrome checklist for 2019. Minnesota lands three players (Rosario, Berrios, and Max Kepler) in this set, with an autograph version for former great Torii Hunter.


With booklets, unique relics, and on-card autographs, Gypsy Queen truly has some great hits to offer. From a traditional autograph standpoint, it’s Rosario and Hunter that appear on the checklist for Minnesota. This makes another product Topps has Torii in for 2019, and it appears he’ll be a key focus for the year ahead. The auto/patch booklet set has Berrios showing up with 20 cards and a 1/1. Both Rosario and Byron Buxton have auto/relic cards in the Bases Around the League checklist, and those cards are both serial numbered to 20. With the already mentioned Hunter chrome auto rounding out the group, that wraps up the 22-card offering for Twins fans.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Relief Rallying out of Nowhere

Over the course of the winter the Minnesota Twins did a lot of good things. The front office continued bringing in top tier developmental talent. They added pop to the lineup, and Rocco Baldelli looks the part of an exciting big-league manager. What they didn’t do was address a pitching staff, and namely a bullpen, that looked like it could use some help. Now with the depth being tested, an unexpected stalwart has emerged. Can Ryne Harper be the hero no one knew they were expecting.

Entering Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, Harper looked like a long shot to make the 25-man roster. Despite once having his contract selected, he’s never played in a big-league game, and has something like three days of service time accrued. The 29-year-old turned in a nice 2.54 ERA across 39 IP at Double-A last season but stumbled to the tune of a 5.19 ERA with Triple-A Rochester.

The surface numbers have been mostly good for Harper, but it’s the ratios that jump off the page for me. Across 65 IP on the farm last season, he posted an 11.9 K/9 with a sparkling 1.4 BB/9. In just over 450 innings of minor league relief, Harper owns an 11.0 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. Should that hold up at the big-league level any club would find themselves in a state of ecstasy.

Having not gotten any major league time to date in his career, it’s been on the back of an exceptional Spring Training that will likely get Ryne over the hump. Working 11 innings down in Fort Myers, Harper turned in a flawless 0.00 ERA allowing just two unearned runs. He’s given up only seven hits while fanning 14 and walking none.

Look at the Twitter feed of Twins Daily’s Tom Froemming and you’ll find a barrage of benders that are certainly Pitching Ninja worthy. It’s on the back of this pitch that Harper has burst onto the scene, and he’s had hitters of all abilities looking plenty foolish the past few weeks. Pairing his curveball with pinpoint command has added up to a blueprint that should translate just fine when the games start to matter later this week. He’ll likely take home the coveted Sire of Fort Myers trophy, but a big-league payday should be a nice secondary prize as well.

It’s always great when an unexpected talent pops up and can make a big-league impact. It’s never going to be expected from a late blooming, career minor leaguer. Minnesota is also banking on this kind of situation with Matt Magill. Whether or not Harper and Magill can provide consistency over the course of a full season remains to be seen, however. There should be some level of fear or caution regarding how the pen fares for the Twins, but these glimmers of hope are feel-good stories in the present.

Maybe Harper was a guy that the front office knew they could count on all along. Maybe Baldelli and Wes Johnson saw a moldable piece that was just waiting to be unleashed. We’ve seen the results in exhibition contents. The next piece of this puzzle is putting up numbers when it counts.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Twins Final Opening Day Roster Projection

They say the third time’s the charm right? My initial 2019 roster projection was put out right around the beginning of Spring Training. The amended version debuted on March 11. With just six days until Target Field shows off Rocco Baldelli’s first 25 man roster, it’s time to get serious.

At this point in camp there’s a handful of non-roster invitees left. The prospects have been jettisoned, the guys with opt outs are largely decided upon, and we’re using ink to write down names at this point. Today Minnesota optioned Fernando Romero to Triple-A, and that brings another level of clarity to the club.

Let’s get going, here’s your 2019 Minnesota Twins:

Rotation (5): Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Martin Perez
Changes: None

Nothing to see here, everything is status quo with this group. Given the unnecessary nature of the 5th starter to begin the year though, Perez probably pitches out of the pen in the beginning.

UPDATE: Hours after this writing, Tim Collins was cut. Ryne Harper is now likely to be the final arm out of the Twins pen.

Bullpen (7): Trevor May, Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers, Trevor Hildenberger, Adalberto Mejia, Matt Magill, Tim Collins
Changes: Addison Reed to IL, Fernando Romero to AAA
FINAL UPDATE: May, Parker, Rogers, Hildenberger, Mejia, Ryne Harper

Even before the Twins confirmed that Addison Reed was dealing with injury, I opined that a trip to the IL looked likely. His stuff hasn’t been there, and he’s been hit around plenty. Now with a confirmed thumb injury and a week of inactivity, he’s a good bet to start on the IL.

Fernando Romero really scuffled down the stretch during Spring Training, and his roster spot looked in jeopardy about a week ago. Unfortunately this exposes the Twins lack of depth, and he’ll need to get off to a fast start in order to stop the bleeding there.

With Romero headed to Rochester, non-roster invitee Tim Collins makes the club. He hasn’t been good since 2012, and hasn’t pitched consistent innings since 2013. Now healthy and further removed from surgery, Minnesota is hoping that’s the version they’ll employ.

Also worth monitoring here is Matt Magill. He too hasn’t pitched in roughly a week. If there’s an IL spot claimed by him to start the year, Spring Training star Ryne Harper makes the club. The curveball is nasty, and he’s got strong K/BB rates on the farm, but he’s a 30-year-old career minor leaguer with lots of uncertainty surrounding him.

Catchers (3): Jason Castro, Mitch Garver
Changes: Add Willians Astudillo

Again, no changes here. Astudillo could be optioned to Triple-A if Minnesota wants to stash Tyler Austin but that doesn’t seeme all that necessary.

Infielders (5): C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Jorge Polanco, Ehire Adrianza, Marwin Gonzalez
Changes: Miguel Sano to IL, Lucas Duda released
FINAL UPDATE: Cron, Schoop, Polanco, Adrianza, Gonzalez, Tyler Austin

No changes here either. There’s been talk of Ronald Torreyes pushing Ehire out, but I don’t see it. Yes everyone is enamored with Tyler Austin’s spring, but he’s a right-handed bat that plays the same position as two right-handed starters. Keeping him around for something like five at bats a week doesn’t seem sensible.

Outfielders (5): Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Nelson Cruz, Jake Cave
Changes: None

No changes have taken place here either. Michael Reed likely gets exposed to waivers and Minnesota will hope to pass him through. Cave hasn’t done anything to lose his job though.

Twins Trickle Down in Full Effect

Today, six days before Minnesota welcomes the Cleveland Indians to Target Field, the Twins sent star pitcher Fernando Romero to Triple-A. The once highly-touted starting pitching prospect had been transitioned to relief work this spring. He was talked up as having electric stuff and being a real weapon out of Rocco Baldelli’s pen. Unfortunately, when the rubber met the road, there was more seasoning to be had. That isn’t the problem, but the fallout is.

Across 9.2 IP down in Fort Myers, Romero coughed up 10 runs (nine earned) and fanned seven while walking eight. He had started out strong, and really faltered down the stretch. With Opening Day firmly in focus, the decision had to be made. Romero was going to need more time settling into his new role for Rochester.

While it’s more than fair to suggest keeping Romero stretched out as a starter would’ve made sense, the consensus could be that he simply isn’t cut out for it. Regardless of the feelings from 1 Twins Way, the reality is that Romero is now going to upstate New York and will work a couple times a week throwing something like 20 pitches per outing. It will groom him for the role outlined for him in 2019 but doesn’t do much to help development as a rotation factor in the years ahead. We now know Romero’s path, and it was written on the wall for a matter of days now, but this is where Minnesota’s offseason starts to fall apart.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine failed to address pitching in almost any capacity. Blake Parker and Martin Perez have the chops to be nice additions, but they do little to raise the overall water level of the group, and don’t enhance depth at all. Going into Spring Training, Romero was viewed as (and talked about from team officials) as a key cog in this pitching staff. The minute that didn’t happen, things start to crumble. Add in the fact that Addison Reed hasn’t looked good at all, is now hurt with a trip to the IL possible, and things get rather bleak quick.

Non-roster invitees Ryne Harper and Tim Collins are the two biggest names left in camp vying for one bullpen spot. Both have shown incredibly well, and Collins was a big name a few years ago for the Royals. It’s commendable that both have seized their opportunity, but them factoring onto an Opening Day roster that should have a divisional opportunity in front of them is a result of poor planning.

Collins threw just over 20 innings with the Nationals last year. He was just ok, and he hasn’t been a big-league staple since 2013. His last (and only) truly good year was 2012, and he’s now both aged and gone under the knife since then. Harper has displayed a Bugs Bunny curveball but he’s a near-30-year-old career minor leaguer. He posted a 5.19 ERA at Triple-A Rochester last season, and while the strikeout and walk rates have both been great on the farm, no one has ever deemed it worthy of a callup.

Neither option, Collins or Harper, is at fault for this. If nothing else, they’re doing everything in their power to be the solution to an organizational problem. By relying solely on the emergence of Romero, or the breakout of Matt Magill, Minnesota’s brass balked at opportunities to sign Joakim Soria, Kelvin Herrera, Brad Brach, Adam Ottavino, or even Craig Kimbrel. Martin Perez could’ve been added with another starter, allowing the “loser” to go to the pen. Any number of options could’ve been explored, but the suggestion was that we have this figured out.

Maybe a handful of months from now we’ll look back on this as much ado about nothing. Romero could figure it out quick at Triple-A, come up and immediately be the weapon he was billed as. Maybe Collins or Harper will stick, and the front office will look great for their conviction. The flip side, however, is that the already non-existent depth is being exposed before Opening Day, and we know more names are going to be called upon.

Paying relievers, and pitchers in general, is a fickle business practice. Good teams don’t let the elite pitchers get away and cashing in on high quality relievers before they go belly up is a smart practice. Playing in the minefield of free agency for these types is dicey, but unless you have a reliable stable on your own, targeting strong depth that pushes everyone else down a rung makes a ton of sense.

The expectation for this club should be, and will remain, that the lineup will hit. Production 1-9 from this group should be plenty to win games on a nightly basis. Where they might lose the credibility comes in the form of trust placed on a suspect pitching staff serving up many more questions than answers. Right now, the front office believes in depth arms, I’m not ready to support them in that though. Here’s to hoping it’s this blogger with egg on his face.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Series, Awards, and the Best of 2019

As the 2019 Major League Baseball season quickly approaches, I find myself running out of time to get out ahead of the yearly prediction game. Looking at the key individual awards, as well as how the Postseason will shake out, there’s plenty of excitement to come in the year ahead. I am of the belief there’s a significant number of teams not currently trying, but there’s a good cluster that will battle against each other in both leagues this year.

Before we get to how I see the year going for teams, it’s worth looking at what the cream of the crop may look like individually. We don’t have the obvious Shohei Ohtani out of the gate, and we’ll need to see the emergence of the next Ronald Acuna or Juan Soto. Pitching awards are littered with favorites of guys that have done it all before, but there’s also some new names right on the cusp. Here’s who I see capturing individual recognition.

MVP: American League – Mike Trout (Dark Horse Carlos Correa) National League – Nolan Arenado (Dark Horse Cody Bellinger)

One guy is looking for his third MVP award while another is looking to get over the hump and capture his first. Mookie Betts jumped up and nabbed the title out from under Mike Trout last year, but the greatest player in the game is ready to take back his throne in 2019. On the flip side, Arenado came ever so close to his first MVP a season ago but fell just short. With the ink still drying on his newly signed contract extension, he should find the hardware as a nice reward for his efforts.

I’m not all in on either dark horse candidate here but think they both have some nice post-hype appeal. Correa hasn’t played a full season in two years, but flashed MVP caliber abilities at multiple points throughout his career. Bellinger ran away with the Rookie of the Year vote in 2017, and then slide backwards a bit in 2018. I’d think his true ability lies somewhere in between, but at just 23-years-old, there’s no reason to think that the ceiling may not be even higher.

Cy Young: American League – Justin Verlander (Dark Horse Jose Berrios) National League – Walker Buehler (Dark Horse German Marquez)

Outside of Verlander, this may be my favorite prediction of the offseason. I love how many new names are popping up on the elite pitching scene, and as baseball fans, we all stand to benefit from them. Verlander was right there a season ago and could be looking at his second victory (and first with the Astros). For the Dodgers it’s obviously disheartening seeing the decline of the great Clayton Kershaw, but what better way to mitigate that than to have Walker Buehler in tow. This kid is the real deal, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we’re talking about multiple victories a handful of years from now.

The dark horse candidates for the Cy Young are so fun. Jose Berrios is already a staff ace for the Minnesota Twins, and looks like a bit more refinement could have him making a significant leap forward. The breaking pitches are ridiculous and commanding them a bit better should do the trick. German Marquez may be the best under-the-radar hurler in the game right now, and he’s working to dispel the notion that pitchers can’t be great in Colorado (with teammate Kyle Freeland doing the same).

Rookie of the Year: American League – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Dark Horse Forrest Whitley) National League – Victor Robles (Dark Horse Nick Senzel)

There’s no prospect that has been talked up more in baseball than Vlad Jr. Son of the recently inducted Hall of Famer, Guerrero Jr. wields a bat that is otherworldly. The Blue Jays have suppressed his service time all they can, and while he’ll need to wait a few more weeks before breaking into the big leagues, there’s no reason why the bat shouldn’t play. He’s not going to last at third base long, but if the OPS is north of .900 in his debut campaign, he’ll run away with this. Now that Bryce Harper is gone for the Nationals, Victor Robles finally has a clear path to playing time. Previously the best overall prospect in baseball, his breakout following teammate Juan Soto of a year ago would be a nice development for Washington.

It almost seems unfair that the Astros would be able to add another ace to their pitching staff, but Forrest Whitley could prove to be just that. The best pitching prospect in the game has looked great this spring, and he’d be a mid-season addition any team would love to have. He may not be up long enough to catch Vlad, but he should make this interesting. The Reds are going to give Nick Senzel a shot to stick in the outfield after coming through the system as an infielder. His bat should play for both average and power, while all early indications suggest he’s made a seamless position change.

American League - Yankees, Twins, Astros Wild Card – Red Sox, Angels
National League – Nationals, Brewers, Dodgers Wild Card – Phillies, Rockies
ALCS – Astros over Yankees
NLCS – Nationals over Dodgers
World Series – Astros over Nationals

A big believer in what the Nationals did this offseason, despite losing Bryce Harper, they’re going to be a tough team to beat. That rotation should be one of the best in baseball, and is Robles breaks out as expected, their outfield could challenge that title as well. Depth could be a concern in multiple places here, but I like what Dave Martinez must work with.

Houston came up just short last season losing to the Red Sox in five games. Boston has taken a step backwards, and the Astros are ready to make it two World Series victories in three years. This lineup is loaded, the pitching staff is for real, and A.J. Hinch has a group that knows how to win.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Best Bets for the 2019 Twins

I’ve been waiting for this post all spring. It typically signifies that the season is just around the corner, and it’s always enjoyable to put something on the line when looking at what may lie ahead. Thanks to Bovada’s in depth odds offerings, we have a plethora of great Twins options to choose from. Looking back at the 2018 results things weren’t pretty. Thanks to a duo of underperformers and some bad luck, not much went our way. New season, new opportunity, let’s try to rectify that.

To provide some context for my thought process going into this, make sure you’re aware I have the Twins winning 92 games and taking the AL Central this year. If I’m going to be of that belief, I’ll need producers to back the potential reality. This obviously does leave positive-trending bets open to being exposed, but it also serves as a foundation for them being placed.

Jonathan Schoop O/U 22.5 HR

Minnesota quickly turned the page on Brian Dozier by targeting Schoop early this offseason. After the Brewers decided to non-tender him, the Twins scooped in and inked a new second basemen to a $7.5 million deal. 2018 was not kind to Schoop, and after being a first-time All Star in 2017, he plummeted to a .682 OPS. Obviously, the Minnesota front office is projecting a rebound for him in 2019, and the track record suggests that’s a fair assumption. Even while scuffling last year Schoop still parked 21 longballs, and that’s noteworthy. Yes, 17 of them came at Camden Yards, and yes, he hit just four in Miller Park, but this is a bet I’ll gladly make.

Over 22.5 HRs 3*

Eddie Rosario O/U 24.5 HR

Last season I took the under on this exact same bet, and Rosario hit 24 on the button. The left fielder swatted 27 back in 2017 and getting back towards that number seems like a fair bet. Rosario played in just 138 games last season and regressed a bit when it comes to plate discipline. After making strides for the 2017 season, he got back up to a 42.9% chase rate, and whiffed 12.7% of the time. Hopefully he can push those numbers back towards the 2017 marks and utilize a full season to generate complete production. I feel like Eddie is close to a finished product at this point, which makes this number seem like such a coin toss.

Over 24.5 HRs 2*

Jose Berrios O/U 190.5 K

During the 2018 campaign Minnesota’s ace tallied 202 strikeouts. He turned in four starts in which he reached double digits, but none of them came after June 24. On top of that, Berrios struck out five or less batters in 11 (of his 32) starts. The young Puerto Rican has the stuff to be among the games best, and a more consistent statistical output could elevate his overall impact. The double-digit games will still come but avoiding lumps in 2019 should make a dramatic impact as well. I like Berrios as a dark horse for the AL Cy Young (you can get him at 25/1), so I’d need to lean towards year-over-year improvement.

Over 190.5 K 2*

Jose Berrios O/U 12 W

This is another copycat bet from the 2018 season, and Berrios pushed on that number. In 32 starts he drew just 23 decisions and nearly posted a .500 record. This Twins club should be better than that one, and while pitching remains an unknown, there’s no denying who the ace of the staff is. Barring injury, Berrios will get the most turns, and this lineup should have no problem supporting good outings.

Over 12 W 3*

Nelson Cruz O/U 33.5 HR

When Derek Falvey went out and signed Cruz, he got the most prolific power hitter on the open market. No one has more dingers than Cruz since the 2014 Major League Baseball season, and he did all that work in the unfriendly confines of Safeco Field. Target Field’s left field line will be a welcomed site for the Dominican slugger, and it you though Brian Dozier was pull happy to the bleachers, well just get ready. Cruz is 38, and while father time is undefeated, give me the reliance on his power for the heart of this lineup. He hasn’t hit less than 37 taters since 2013 and he played in just 109 games at that point still working into regular playing time.

Over 33.5 HR 4*

Minnesota Twins O/U 84.5 W

The expectation of this bet should be obvious; I started this piece off suggesting 92 victories for Rocco Baldelli’s first season at the helm. Minnesota entered the 2018 season with an O/U like this mark, and it’s only because of the poor year that the number didn’t rise. Sure, the Twins should’ve done more to address their pitching. That said, Cleveland got worse, the White Sox aren’t yet ready, and the doldrums of the division are a dumpster fire. Indicative more of the small payout and long wait, the risk is simply to get skin in the game.

Over 84.5 W 1*

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Findings from the Fort

I landed in sunny Fort Myers on Tuesday morning, and have now got in three full days of Twins action. I’ll be here for a couple more days, but rather than pile everything into one offering, I figured I’d break up the notes a bit. With minor league action having kicked off this week, there’ literally something going on from 9am until about 3:45 each day. I need to do a better job of sunscreen application, but here’s what I’ve gathered while taking it all in.

Most of the tech is now in application phase, as opposed to being regularly implemented. Twins Daily’s Parker Hageman did a killer job breaking down all the ways Minnesota is looking to close the gap between the top innovator organizations. There’s no denying they’ve made extensive strides, but most of the evidence is gone with game action now taking place. This isn’t surprising as guys are working through at bats and bullpens. There’s still plenty of recording taking place from video monitoring and radar work, but Rapsodo devices, Edgertronic cameras, and Blast Motion sensors aren’t making their way into pre-game routines.

Each spring I find myself noting one or two players that truly have transformed their bodies. Maybe I’m being lazy in my analysis, but there hasn’t been anyone that has stood out dramatically to me. If I had to tab someone, it would be first base prospect Lewin Diaz. He’s dropped more weight and looks to be going the route of cut as opposed to bulk. No longer a top Twins prospect, he has previously been a darling of the system. If the power bat breaks out though, he’ll find plenty of opportunity to rise through the system.

Plenty has been made about the depth Minnesota has up the middle on the farm. Royce Lewis is a superstar but sleeping on Wander Javier or Yunior Severino isn’t a good practice. Javier started a big-league spring training game today against the Nationals and was beyond impressive in the field. He has great hands, a smooth feel to his defense, and a stellar arm. He wasn’t overmatched at the plate and drew two walks. It’s great to see him back healthy and in action. Severino has impressive size for his age and was a great get thanks to the Atlanta Braves transgressions. He’s played more second base but is still just settling into being such a good athlete.

Miguel Sano was seen working out this morning near the batting cages. It doesn’t appear the boot on his foot is going to limit what the Twins expect from him conditioning wise, and that’s a great thing. He was focused on lower body exercises and will undoubtedly be itching for game action once given the green light.

I’m not sure what happens to Addison Reed at this point. He’s got a couple of weeks left to get right, but the red flags are popping up everywhere. His velocity against the Nationals today was topping out at 92, and more regularly he sat 89-90. Across 18 pitches he generated just two swings and misses (with one being a check swing), and he served up an oppo taco to Juan Soto. Right now, he’s not one of the Twins seven best relief options, and a stint on the Injured List to start the year should certainly be under consideration. His two-year deal was signed under reasonable expectations, but things simply have not gone right for the veteran hurler.

Yes, it’s just Spring Training, but Byron Buxton’s production has continued to be for real. His homer against the Red Sox at Jet Blue yesterday was a mammoth shot over the green monster, and he hit the ball hard this afternoon against Eric Fedde. It was nice to see him run on the Nationals some, and even his outs have been well struck. There’s no one in the organization with a higher ceiling than Buck and putting it together at some percentile of this level makes him a bonafide star.

There’s been a handful of reserves that have played themselves into noteworthy situations for Minnesota. Ryne Harper has flipped straight filth across the plate, and Tim Collins looks revitalized in his post Tommy John career. Neither are going to make the roster, but as depth on the farm, Rocco Baldelli must be impressed. Infielder Adam Rosales has also been apart of this group, and his exploits may even lead them. Given the necessity for utility types in baseball, the 35-year-old journeyman may end up being trade bait in a couple of weeks.

Putting a bow on all of this is 2018 first round pick Trevor Larnach. Getting into his first MLB Spring Training game as a reserve against the Nationals, he walloped a home run to left center in his first at bat. Opposite field power was a calling card for the former Oregon State star, and he wasted no time in showing that off. Taking a strong round of batting practice on the back fields this morning, it had to be fun seeing that translate to the big-league dish.

The Twins are home against the Orioles on Friday, with the Double and Triple-A squads playing host for their minor league games for each of the next two days. Plenty more action to come.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Twins Opening Day Roster Projection 2.0

It’s nearly the middle of March, and the Minnesota Twins are just 17 days away from their 2019 Opening Day game against the Cleveland Indians. Roughly one month ago I made my first roster projection for the season, and a handful of things have transpired since then. Heading down to Fort Myers to see the club in action this week, I figured now was a good time to come out with a revised edition.

Most notably, the club signed Marwin Gonzalez and Miguel Sano is destined to begin the season on the Injured List. That shuffles a few things for position players, but there’s a relative level of clarity there. It’s on the pitching side that things remain up in the air, and that will be worth monitoring down the stretch.

Here’s how I see things looking on March 28 given the information we have today.

Rotation (5): Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Martin Perez
Changes: None

The rotation has all been locked in since the beginning of Spring Training. Martin Perez was inked as the 5th starter, and while the move has drawn plenty of ire (myself included), it appears the Twins are right thus far. Wes Johnson has the former Rangers prospect shoving near 97 mph, and he’s working with a different pitch mix that could unlock a new level of effectiveness. Minnesota targeted Anibal Sanchez as an outlier last year and witnessed him succeed in the Braves organization. Perez looks to be that guy in 2019, and everyone wants to see it come together here.

Bullpen (7): Trevor May, Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers, Trevor Hildenberger, Adalberto Mejia, Fernando Romero, Matt Magill
Changes: Addison Reed to IL

Addison Reed was signed to a two-year contract last winter, and he was coming off a 2.84 ERA. He’s been very good out of the pen for most of his career, and he’d pitched in high-leverage situations tallying 125 saves to his credit. Unfortunately, with Minnesota, he turned in a 4.50 ERA, 5.11 FIP, and the strikeout numbers sagged dramatically. He also lost another mph of velocity for the third year in a row, and the swinging strikes fell off a cliff. Despite the small sample, spring training hasn’t been kind to him either. I’m not sure if he’s still hurt from 2018, but the club could make a case to stash him and let him find a bit more success on a rehab stint.

Should the Twins decide that Reed is right, and he needs to come north, the decision then comes down to the trio of Matt Magill, Trevor Hildenberger, and Fernando Romero. Magill looks like he has plenty of supporters in the clubhouse and will make the roster. Hildenberger has options, but despite late season struggles, has been plenty reliable in the past. No matter how much talk there’s been about Romero, letting him have a couple weeks of working as a reliever in real game action at Triple-A could be good. If Minnesota needs to make a tough decision, I’d bet on it being a short trip to Rochester for Fernando.

Catchers (3): Jason Castro, Mitch Garver
Changes: Add Willians Astudillo

There’s somewhat of a domino effect caused by Miguel Sano needing to start the year on the IL. Marwin Gonzalez goes from super utility to primary third basemen, and that opens a bench spot. Astudillo isn’t the most ideal catcher, but he provides defensive flexibility with the ability to play all over the diamond. La Tortuga probably isn’t going to live up to his September hype, but he’ll be given the opportunity early.

Castro returns with a clean bill of health, and although he’ll be the presumed starter, a defensively revitalized Mitch Garver could challenge sooner rather than later. Castro is in the final year of his deal, and Garver assuming a more serious hold on the full-time role would be a great development for the Twins.

Infielders (5): C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Jorge Polanco, Ehire Adrianza, Marwin Gonzalez
Changes: Miguel Sano to IL, Lucas Duda released

Miguel Sano had as impressive of a winter as the Twins could’ve hoped, but it ended on an unlucky note with a gash to the back of his heel halting the start of his 2019 season. He’ll be ready in May, but we could end up waiting to see him until June. That development makes the addition of Marwin Gonzalez even more imperative.

The Astros used Marwin all over the place last year, and Minnesota will likely do the same as soon as they are able. Ehire Adrianza will be able to spell most of the infield positions, and Marwin will need to slot in primarily at third from the get-go. A platoon at first base doesn’t appear likely, meaning Tyler Austin needs to be dealt or passed through waivers (unlikely) before hitting Triple-A. Duda was a nice get for camp, but not making the team, he’ll look to latch on elsewhere.

Outfielders (5): Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Nelson Cruz, Jake Cave
Changes: None

No changes to the outfield, and that’s a serious positive for this group. Byron Buxton has been en fuego this spring, while the starting trio has remained healthy. Jake Cave is due for some regression from his impressive rookie season, but he’s more than a serviceable fourth regardless.

It took a while for Nelson Cruz to appear in game action this spring, but being the veteran he is, that was never cause for concern. He won’t play outfield aside from the remote possibility of appearing in interleague action. That said, the 38-year-old year old should launch plenty of longballs from the heart of Minnesota’s lineup this year.

If there is something to monitor here, it’s Michael Reed. Like Jake Cave before him, the front office tabbed Reed as a player with a potential for more. He was hurt to start the spring and has just begun getting into game action. Zack Granite was jettisoned off the 40 man before him, and the hope would be that he could be shipped to Triple-A. Without options though, Reed will need to clear waivers before being able to be removed off the 40 man.

Friday, March 8, 2019

An Affordable Rip with Added Flair

Each baseball season Topps kicks off the card collecting calendar with their flagship offering of Series 1. The product is designed to unveil the new look of cards for that season, and sets the stage for players in new uniforms, as well as the unveiling of new rookie cards. A few weeks later, Opening Day follows up as a more affordable, and kid friendly product.

With hobby boxes selling for just $29.99, and single packs available at retail stores for a buck, Opening Day is designed to get younger collectors excited about the hobby. It is an easy sell as an impulse product, and while there’s a lot of crossover from Series 1 here, there’s plenty of new inserts to make the set worth checking out. For Twins fans, there’s a couple of specific draws that will make ripping some packs more than worth it.

Base Set

Minnesota has eight cards in the 200-card base set. Jonathan Schoop gets his first flagship style offering in a Twins uniform, and stars like Jose Berrios and Eddie Rosario are present as well. The most notable card here is #153. Willians Astudillo will be presented on his first licensed rookie card in which he does not share the cardboard. In 2019 Topps Heritage, Astudillo has a rookie offering in which both Kohl Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves appear as well. If his personality and alluring image are to be trusted, this should be a card to check out.


Attempting to distance itself a bit from the traditional Series 1 set, Opening Day brings its own unique inserts to the table. Staying in the kid-friendly vein, a mascot set is typically one highlight. TC Bear is among the most recognizable figures in the baseball world, and he is one of the 25 entertainers depicted in this set. Max Kepler gets a card in the Rally Time insert offering, and Jose Berrios makes an appearance on the Sock it to Me! checklist. In total, Minnesota has offerings in three of the seven insert sets.


No matter the year, Opening Day is not a hit driven product. Keeping the autographs and relics to a minimum helps to drive down the price of the product. Although there are patches, autographs, and dirt relics to be had in the product, it’s the mascot avenue in which Minnesota is represented. TC Bear is once again an autograph subject, and he also has a relic offering. Given the short print status of mascot hits in the product, these cards typically command a pretty penny on the secondary market.

Given the cheap entry fee, 2019 Opening Day should once again be a fun rip. Don’t expect anything big out of a pack, but there’s plenty to enjoy here. The highlight for Twins fans is going to be Astudillo’s rookie card, and if you happen to pull a TC relic along the way, it’s all gravy.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Puddin’ Providin’ Proof at Third Base

Miguel Sano won a Dominican Winter League championship this offseason. He also showed up to Spring Training in a much more trimmed down fashion. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he suffered an unfortunate cut on his heel and has now dealt with healing complications that will shelve him until May. Prior to this development, I wasn’t sure that everyone’s favorite folk hero Willians Astudillo was going to make the 25-man roster. Now it’s all but guaranteed, and the rubber begins to hit the road.

Going into 2019 Rocco Baldelli will almost certainly employ Marwin Gonzalez as his starting third basemen. Gonzalez was acquired as a free agent after having served in a super utility role for the Houston Astros. He had a down 2018 but has previously put up gaudy offensive numbers. His most vital contribution is that he can spell players all over the diamond and should end up playing no less than five different positions for Minnesota in 2019. What that also means is he’ll need a break at the hot corner.

Enter La Tortuga.

Astudillo has set Twins Territory ablaze with her persona and ability since emerging on the scene. He joined the Twins organization, his fourth professionally, in 2018. At Triple-A Rochester he posted a .782 OPS that is just a tick above his .754 minors mark/ His calling card has been the way he attacked pitches, and his bat to ball abilities. In over 2,400 minor league plate appearances Willians has struck out just 81 times, drawing 85 walks. In fact, his 65 HBP almost surpass that paltry strikeout total. To put it mildly, it’s insane.

If you wanted to throw water on this fire, September’s production for Astudillo wasn’t going to help you. Although MLB rosters expand and the competition may decrease a bit, Willians made his MLB debut and posted an .887 OPS across 97 plate appearances for the Twins. He struck out just three times, walking twice, and notching eight extra-base hits (three homers). His swinging strike rate was just 4.7% and the 91.7% contact rating was exceptional. Across 458 hitters with at least 90 plate appearances last season, Astudillo’s swinging strike rate was 10th best, and his contact rate stood alone at the top.

Projected for 385 plate appearances in 2019, ZiPS has Astudillo coming in with a .280/.307/.459 slash line. It’s hard to know how much run the Venezuelan will get off the bench with other utility options on the roster, but there’s going to be opportunity. What’s certain is that Astudillo has made believers of many throughout Twins Territory, and it appears he has the respect and admiration of his peers within the clubhouse as well.

Oftentimes we aren’t given the answer as to whether a September promotion is substantiated from a fringe player. In this scenario, we’re going to find out just how real the production was, and for Minnesota’s sake, how much a man nicknamed “The Turtle” can be a difference maker in the early going.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

An Emerging Backstop

There’s no denying that the Minnesota Twins employed one of the best catchers Major League Baseball has ever seen. Up until the point that a brain injury forced him out from behind the plate, Joe Mauer was on a trajectory we hadn’t seen since Johnny Bench. Following the positional change, the organization has been starved for the next “it” factor behind the plate. Jason Castro has been the only designated long-term solution, but it’s an internally developed option that is at the doorstep of a breakthrough.

After getting called up for a cup of coffee in September of 2017, Mitch Garver enjoyed his rookie tour during the 2018 Twins campaign. Playing in 102 games as the backup to Castro, he split the work nearly right down the middle. Castro suffered an injury that left him playing just 19 games for Paul Molitor, and Garver ceded duties to veteran journeyman such as Bobby Wilson and Chris Gimenez. In the time that he was the guy, it seemed obvious there was talent to his credit, but a defensive liability had been holding him back.

Looking over some of the numbers, this was bore out in the data as well. Strike zone runs saved had Garver at -8, which was tied for third-worst among 86 catchers to log at least 100 innings behind the dish. His -16 DRS was better than only Nick Hundley across the same sample size, and ball skills were something that appeared to be an ever-present bugaboo. For however frustrating that may have been to fans watching on TV, you can bet Garver took it much harder.

In a recent piece The Athletic’s Dan Hayes and Eno Saris tagged teamed, Garver said, “Apparently, the people on Twitter realized I was the worst defensive catcher in the league, and they let me know about it — even though I already knew.” Minnesota now employs Tanner Swanson as their Minor League Catching Coordinator, and despite being a college coach previously, his impact is seen throughout the organization.

Over the course of spring training, many fans have wondered about the crouches they’ve seen from Twins behind the plate. With a focus on stealing more strikes, presenting a better ball, and providing the umpire a stronger vantage point, a highlight on each pitch has been the goal. Garver has worked plenty on his own over the course of the offseason, but his immediate development under Swanson has also drawn rave reviews throughout the organization as well. A step forward defensively gives us reason to wonder what’s next for the New Mexico product.

When the dust settled on 2018, Garver was worth 1.3 fWAR making him the 16th best catcher in baseball. Despite being a cumulative statistic, Garver was able to compile that tally in an injury shortened season, while being negatively impacted by his poor defensive play. That only goes to show just how important his offensive impact may be.

No matter what level of the system you look at, Mitch has always hit. His .679 OPS at Elizabethton during the first year of pro ball was reflective of a lacking power stroke. From there he posted an .880 OPS at Low-A and went on to tally an .815 OPS during his first taste of Triple-A ball. Before being promoted to the Twins, Garver rounded out his minors career with a scintillating .928 OPS across 88 games for Rochester. Whatever defensive deficiencies had been present on the farm, were certainly overshadowed by how well the bat had played.

Although a .749 OPS isn’t earth-shattering by any means, it was the 10th best number across baseball for backstops. He was just one point shy of Yadier Molina, and within legitimate striking distance of a top six mark across baseball. Mitch has always mashed lefties, posting a .938 OPS against them in his final Triple-A stint. With Minnesota last year though, he owned an .806 mark against righties, with just a .629 OPS against southpaws. Hitting just seven homers in 335 plate appearances, only on came off left-handed pitchers. If that doesn’t sound like opportunity, I don’t know what does.

Making loud contact with a hard-hit rate north of 40%, the opportunity for growth is there. Minnesota would like to see advancement on the 8% HR/FB ratio, as well as an increase in the fly ball and line drive outcomes. At just a 7.8% career swinging strike rate, and only a 22.4% chase rate, Mitch has the zone plenty honed in. The numbers suggest it’s about making the outcomes work more in his favor, using the inputs already at play.

Rocco Baldelli gets a backstop on the last year of a veteran deal in Jason Castro this season. Willians Astudillo is a fun swiss army knife that’s not an ideal catching option. Mitch Garver though, is the 1B to a likely platoon, that could take over as the starter and run away with the opportunity. Another year of acclimation at the plate makes the bat more than exciting, and if the defensive development is to be believed, the floor ends up skyrocketing towards the roof. You aren’t ever going to recreate a Joe Mauer type catcher, but Minnesota could have one of the better options in baseball if everything goes as planned.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Wondering on the Twins Decision Makers

Going into 2019, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have an advantage they were not previously afforded. Picking their manager for the first time as the duo leading the organization, Rocco Baldelli represents opportunity. It’s not only the skipper though, as we’ve seen the Twins front office infuse talent across all levels of development this winter. Being impressed with what’s been done, it’s worth wondering if this is really what we were always waiting for.

When the new front office took over for Terry Ryan, the ownership group decided they would be saddled with manager Paul Molitor. Sure, he was a hometown hero and had ties to the organization, but that seemed like an odd mandate to force on a culture shift. The Minnesota manager was coming off a 103-loss season and did little to substantiate the 83 wins in his first go around. Surprisingly the club won 85 games, and despite a Postseason berth and Manager of the Year nod, the feeling was always that it was maybe time to part ways.

The front office couldn’t make the move they were obviously leaning towards and needed an opportunity for a clean break. 2018 provided that, and where we are today has only cemented to desire to make a shift. Not only is Baldelli green as a manager, but the Twins have a pitching coach who has only worked in college, and an assistant closer to still being a player than leaning on a resume of development. Looking at it all, it’s obvious what the vision for the front office truly is.

Despite a spending deficiency in the form of payroll, the Twins have dropped a significant amount of cash on the coaching and development side of the house. New coaches have been brought in across the minor league ranks, and no stone has been left unturned when it comes to finding that talent. Dollars have been allocated to Rapsodo devices and Edgertronic cameras, money has been spent on analytics salaries, and in general, every competitive advantage has been explored.

As we’ve seen with the changing free agent landscape this winter, teams are spending smarter and working harder. No longer are fringe big leaguers finding guaranteed or lucrative deals. Instead teams are looking to find players with the ability to unlock talent that is hidden behind a small tweak. Minnesota is attempting this exact thing in the form of Matt Magill and Martin Perez. Using the infrastructure, they’ve now set up, and the expertise of the newly acquired Wes Johnson, the hope is that the results bear fruit.

What it all boils down to is wondering where we’d be at if this all happened a bit sooner. 2019 is being billed as a season in which Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton help to dictate the future. While they will both play an integral role in that reality, having had this infrastructure in place a year or two ago may have helped to create consistency the organization so badly has desired. Rather than up and down years, or not being able to pinpoint reasons for success, the Twins now have a clear blueprint for process to drive results.

There’s room to be frustrated with the lack of pitching additions this winter. There’s legitimacy to wondering why payroll hasn’t properly been allocated. There isn’t any question about the intentions driving development and coaching, however. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have welcomed more information, and they’ve also hired and placed individuals in position to disseminate that knowledge in usable ways. We’ll see if it all works, but it’s hard not to view it as exciting.