Wednesday, March 31, 2021

2021 Award Winners and World Series Victors


We are just one sleep from Opening Day, and I feel comfortable suggesting we’ll have a season that begins tomorrow. I say that because I prefaced this piece last year by writing, “I’m doing this a bit earlier than normal this year, and that could wind up being a silly decision depending on injuries and how Spring Training plays out.” That was on March 4, eight days later Covid shut down baseball. At any rate, fans are in the stands and the world is trending back towards normal.


Despite a truncated season the Los Angeles Dodgers did as expected and emerged victorious with a World Series trophy. They are the odds-on favorites going into 2021, and it isn’t much of a surprise given the additional firepower they’ve brought in. Tampa Bay will look for a return trip to the World Series, but 162 games should allow for more nuanced results to take shape.


This is an exciting rookie class, especially from a Minnesota perspective, so individual awards will be worth watching as well. Here’s the 2020 picks which included a correct World Series champion and NLCS matchup. Let’s get into it for 2021.


MVP: American League – Mike Trout (Dark Horse Byron Buxton) National League – Juan Soto (Dark Horse Bryce Harper)


It’s maybe unfair to pick Trout every year but given he’s literally the best the game has ever seen, it’s also incredibly hard to go against him. He posted a down year in 2020 and still wound up with a .993 OPS and a career worst fifth place finish in the AL MVP race. There are some contenders in the American League, and I like bounce back years for guys like Gleyber Torres and Alex Bregman, but this is Trout’s award until further notice. As a longshot the Twins Buxton makes sense. If he’s ever healthy for a full season, an OPS around .840 and his defense will get him a substantial number of votes.


On the National League side, I’m going with a pair of players tied to the Washington Nationals. For a winner, it’s Juan Soto nabbing his first of what should be multiple individual awards. Sure, he’s got a Silver Slugger, but missing out on the Rookie of the Year would be vindicated with a quicker MVP than Ronald Acuna Jr. Soto is an anomaly in that he not only hits for ridiculous power, but also has now shown he can do so with an exceptional average. The plate discipline has always been there but the league leading 1.185 OPS a year ago was bananas. I liked Harper to take this award home last year as he had settled into Philadelphia a bit more, and then oddities hit in regards to the season. He’s a polarizing player, but ultimately underrated, and I think we get another award to substantiate that reality.


Cy Young: American League – Kenta Maeda (Dark Horse Eduardo Rodriguez) National League – Jack Flaherty (Dark Horse Walker Buehler)


I can understand if the Maeda pick looks homerish, but he’s coming off a second place finish a season ago and there’s no reason to believe he slows down. The Twins ace was untouchable this spring, and it seems people are sleeping on Minnesota with all of the White Sox hype this offseason. Maeda has long been a dominant arm and being hidden in Los Angeles didn’t get him his due. Another season like he had last year and he’s just a slight step back from Shane Bieber or Gerrit Cole away from taking the crown. Boston initially tabbed Rodriguez as their Opening Day starter prior to a bout of dead arm. He’s a feel-good story in returning from Covid-19 complications last season, but he’s also an incredibly good pitcher. I don’t know what to make of the Red Sox, but their ace should provide little to worry about.


In the National League Central we may see more mediocrity than any other division in baseball. Both the Brewers and Cardinals would appear to be favorites, but neither have much to separate them from anyone else. If there’s a diamond in the rough for me, it’s Flaherty. He has looked the part since his debut, and another step forward would classify him as the type of ace any team would covet. It’s also probably not fair to dub Buehler as a dark horse, especially after picking him in this space a season ago. However, he’s working behind both Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer for the Dodgers and a meteoric rise should be in the works.


Rookie of the Year: American League – Jarred Kelenic (Dark Horse Wander Franco) National League Ke’Bryan Hayes (Dark Horse Dylan Carlson)


Seattle all but admitted they are manipulating Kelenic’s service time, which is both unfortunate and understandable. The reality is that he’ll be there sooner rather than later though, and all the kid has done is rake. Kelenic put on a show this spring and was already successful at Double-A in 2019 as a teenager. The bat is going to play, and he should be a difference maker for Seattle as soon as May. I like Randy Arozarena in this space a decent amount but went with Franco as the dark horse anyways. The Rays have some exciting young options once again, and the greatest thing holding Franco back could be how soon he reaches the majors.


Having watched Hayes in person a few times this spring it was apparent that he’s special. Third base is such a smooth position for him defensively, and that seems to help a young player acclimate if the bat wavers at any point. He hits rockets all over the place, and in a National League landscape that lacks top tier names, he should establish himself as the guy. St. Louis has a lot to like in Carlson, especially the power his bat brings to the plate. There’s probably going to be a few slumps throughout the season, but a few nice stretches of homer production could push him to the top of the leaderboard as well.



American League – Angels, Twins, Yankees Wild Card – Blue Jays, White Sox

National League – Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves Wild Card – Padres, Mets

ALCS – Twins over Yankees

NLCS – Dodgers over Mets

World Series – Dodgers over Twins


I really liked this matchup a year ago and nailed half of it, time to go back to the well. Yeah, the Twins haven’t won a Postseason game in forever, but a post-hype situation seems like the perfect spot for them. Minnesota can not only win a game this year but take a couple of series on the way to representing the American League in the World Series. Too much is being made of a White Sox team without depth and looking at young volatility. Houston gets left out of the Postseason altogether but could both overtake the Angels or one of the Wild Card spots. I don’t love the Yankees going to the ALCS, regardless of who the face, because of the pitching staff. That said, you know they’ll add when warts present themselves during the course of the regular season.


It shouldn’t e pre-determined in baseball with the season as long as it is, but I’m not going to be the one to pick against the Dodgers. They have a third starter that is one of the best arms in baseball, and a former top prospect that may struggle to find a real role anywhere. In short, the team is loaded. I don’t have much belief in anyone coming out of the NL Central, but the East should be a blast with Atlanta again being great and the Mets having overhauled their roster. San Diego is going to be a fun team all year and the coasts of the National League could really be where some of the best baseball is played.


A repeat World Series winner for the first time since 2000, and the first back-to-back World Series victor from the National League since 1976, it’s happening.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Rooker Left Out on Opening Day

The Minnesota Twins finalized their 26-man roster today for the upcoming 2021 Major League Baseball season. If there was a mild surprise at all, it’s in the form of Brent Rooker being optioned to Triple-A.


Rooker, a former first round pick, played just seven games for the Twins last year prior to breaking his forearm. In that action he posted a .960 OPS and hit his first Major League home run. Alex Kirilloff was seen as the favorite to win the Opening Day left field job but didn’t earn it at the plate this spring. Rooker seemed like a platoon fit with Jake Cave as a fallback option, but he posted a .662 OPS that was weighed down after a hot start.


Instead of the former Mississippi State product, the Twins turn to waiver claim Kyle Garlick. The former Dodgers draft pick is 29 years old and has 76 Major League plate appearances across 42 games. He owns just a .691 OPS in that stretch but has raked to the tune of an .881 OPS in nearly 500 minor league games. This spring Garlick posted a 1.011 OPS for Minnesota and was arguably the darling of camp. He also represents a better fielding option than Rooker, who is below average in the outfield.


The tough reality here for Rooker is that his opportunities are quickly evaporating. He was drafted as a bat first prospect that could very quickly become bat only. Speed and efficiency aren’t in his toolkit defensively, so he’s stretched in the outfield. Footwork has been noted as a deficiency when playing first base so that could be a detractor there as well. Brent owns an .861 OPS in 259 minor league games and he posted a .933 OPS n 65 games at Triple-A back in 2019. The bat plays, but if not now, then when?


As mentioned earlier, Alex Kirilloff was the assumed favorite for left field coming into big league camp. He’s 23-years-old and a top prospect. While he’ll be sent down for roughly the first month of the season, Rocco Baldelli has noted it’s not the intention to bring him up and send him back or allow him to sit. Not far behind Kirilloff is another highly touted corner outfielder in the form of Trevor Larnach. Should Kirilloff eventually transition to first, Larnach could find himself next in line to take over.


It’s been apparent for some time that Rooker needed to factor in sooner rather than later. At 26 he’s hardly got youth on his side anymore, and while the bat certainly does look like it will play, it may just not work out in Minnesota. The Twins are going to be a good team in 2021, and good teams generally add more talent. Maybe it’s Rooker that is pieced out in order to lure something more useful for this roster construction. Either way, today was probably a difficult one to swallow for a guy that has already tasted some Major League success.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Kirilloff’s Confusing Decision


The Minnesota Twins decided that Alex Kirilloff was the best option for their Postseason elimination game, but following a lackluster spring, he wasn’t a fit for the Opening Day roster. Let the second guessing commence.


As Rocco Baldelli breaks camp with a 26-man roster top prospect Alex Kirilloff will not be on it. He won’t travel with the big-league club to Milwaukee, and the assumption would be that he’ll remain in St. Paul across town until sometime near May 1. This affords the Twins a business-first opportunity, but also gives them some different options in terms of roster flexibility.


It should’ve been assumed that Brent Rooker would crack the Opening Day club. He had a solid showing with Minnesota in 2020 and has more than held his own this spring. Kyle Garlick could force his way into the picture with a strong Spring Training and 40-man roster spot, as could non-roster invitee Keon Broxton. The decision also leaves the door open for another utility type, namely Willians Astudillo should Rocco want the three-catcher flexibility.


There’s really no problem with the Twins deciding to keep Kirilloff in the minors, but it’s certainly little more than a business first decision. Sure, he’s been beyond mediocre this spring. A .440 OPS through 31 at bats is nothing pretty, but the flip side is the reality of that sample size. He’s played in 12 games, generating a total of 33 plate appearances. Less then seven months ago he was the answer for Minnesota despite a grand total of zero plate appearances in games that tracked statistics.

From a service time standpoint in the current CBA landscape, Kirilloff would afford the Twins an extra year of control if they keep him in the minors for a matter of weeks. The problem is that the CBA is set to expire following the 2020 season, and much has been made about the implications of service time and team control as a whole. In short, the entirety of the business-first side of this coin could become moot in less than 12 months.


There’s no guarantee that Minnesota is worse off without Kirilloff out of the gate that they are some platoon featuring Rooker, Garlick, or Luis Arraez. However, what happens in April still counts and the division is expected to be hotly contested by the Chicago White Sox. Dream on a scenario in which Minnesota finishes second by just a couple of games, or their Postseason seeding is impacted, and it’s worth wondering if they’d have decided to start on a different foot from the get-go.


Alex Kirilloff beginning the 2021 season in the minor leagues during a season in which he’d get actual at bats makes some sense. It makes much less in a year where he’ll see no game action until May, and then seemingly be determined ready by the big-league club. Here’s to hoping that whenever he debuts the mashing will commence, but the timing of questionable decision making here will be worth scrutinizing as the calendar flips forward.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Shoemaker and the Twins Starting Depth


When the Minnesota Twins set out to supplement their roster this offseason a couple of different areas presented themselves as needs. Starting pitching will always remain one as you can never have enough, but the organization is in rarefied air.


Following his signing with the Houston Astros it’s more than fair to suggest the Twins would’ve been well-served to wait out Jake Odorizzi. He clearly over-anticipated his market however and found a landing spot only after Framber Valdez dealt a blow to Dusty Baker’s starting rotation. Instead, Minnesota went with a one-year deal to Matt Shoemaker that set the club back just $2 million. At the time, and even now, that has the makings of a pretty shrewd move.


If you’re at all familiar with Shoemaker’s track record you know this, he hasn’t been available often. Across seven full Major League seasons he’s made 15 or more starts just three times, while failing to reach double digits in each of the past three. Injury issues have plagued him, but it’s worth noting that the injuries haven’t been arm related. In hoping for a regression to the fluky nature that has kept him sidelined, you have to take note of the production that has been there.


Back in 2016 was the last time Shoemaker threw more than 100 innings. Across 27 starts that year he posted a 3.88 ERA backed by a 3.51 FIP and an 8.0 K/9. It was the third year in a row in which he’d tallied both 20 starts and 130+ innings pitched. In that time, he owned a 3.80 ERA with a 3.77 FIP and an 8.0 K/9. When available the veteran has been incredibly consistent. He’s good for a high-threes ERA while striking out right around eight per nine and being very stingy on the free passes. Even as a third starter that would play, and he’ll pitch out of the Minnesota five-hole.


What’s maybe most important for the Twins in all of this isn’t even what Shoemaker himself brings to the table, but rather what he affords the club in regards to those around him. Randy Dobnak has started a Postseason game, Lewis Thorpe is a former top prospect that has been the darling of Spring Training, and the duo of Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic are close. That doesn’t even touch on Devin Smeltzer, who has Major League experience as well. None of them will factor into the rotation on Opening Day.


In 2020 Rocco Baldelli had 11 different players starts a game (two of which were openers). For the Bomba Squad a year prior, 10 different players made starts (one of which was an opener). Depth is something every team must have in the rotation, and that will probably ring truer than ever coming off such a shortened schedule a season ago. Because of what this front office has done in the development department, the Twins could be more prepared now than they ever have been before.


A year ago, the Twins posted the 5th best fWAR among starters in baseball. That improved upon a 7th place finish in 2019. Derek Falvey had long been considered a pitching guru for his time in Cleveland, and he’s quickly carried that acumen to a new organization. I’m not sure who will contribute what, and which starters will be there at the end, but you can bet the stable is right where the organization feels comfortable when it comes to pieces at their disposal.


Maybe Matt Shoemaker only gives his new club something like ten starts in 2021. That’s still more than Rich Hill or Homer Bailey a season ago, and the flexibility he provides the Twins in terms of additional depth is a bonus that can’t be overstated. Let him be healthy because he’s been good when available. When the time comes to make a change, options will be plentiful.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Twins Bets Worth Cashing in 2021


Last season was a difficult one to check in with regarding over under lines put out by major sportsbooks. With the truncated season having goofy projected stat lines, they never made a ton of sense to dive into. Normalcy has begun to return, and there’s some money to be made based on Minnesota performances in the year ahead.


I tend to shy away from RBI focused lines, and the Twins have a handful of new subjects being considered big enough names worthy of individual focus for the year ahead. There wasn’t a ton of lines I loved, but there’s some long shots that also seem incredibly juicy. Let’s get into it.


Jose Berrios OVER 190.5 strikeouts


Each of the past two full seasons, the only he’s pitched in the majors, Berrios has tallied 202 and 195 strikeouts. Last season in 63.0 IP the Twins hurler racked up 68 strikeouts, which was nearly a full strikeout improvement to his K/9 from 2019. I don’t know that we see the Puerto Rican all of a sudden make a run at a Cy Young award, but I think sustainability is something that will emerge in 2021. Minnesota reworked his offseason routine with hopes of avoiding the late summer swoon, and Berrios has made velocity additions under pitching coach Wes Johnson. Let me have the over on what would otherwise be his lowest full-season strikeout total.


Josh Donaldson OVER 27.5 home runs


In his first year with the Twins Josh Donaldson played in under 50% of the team’s games. Nagging calf issues aren’t new for the former MVP, and if nothing else, that should represent some hope in that he’ll know how to rehab effectively. With Atlanta in 2019, Donaldson crushed 37 dingers, and even in a 113-game campaign during 2017 he posted 33 longballs. In fact, the last time Donaldson didn’t hit 27 homers in a year where substantial time was missed happened way back in 2013. This will be the season that the Bringer of Rain shows why he was handed a $100 million contract, and he’ll be part of an offense that provides plenty of thump.


Miguel Sano OVER 35.5 home runs


Hitting 35 homers would represent a career high for the Twins first basemen. That might make this line seem like a stretch, however, he clubbed 34 of them in just 105 games during the 2019 season. 2021 is the first season since he’s been refocused within the game to not have a spring setback. There’s no achilles injury or bout with Covid and the Dominican appears to be all systems go. Miguel Sano struck out a ridiculous 43.9% of the time a season ago yet still hit homers at a pace of 39 per 162 games. I’d bet heavily on him reducing the whiff rate to something more in line with career norms, and he’s still going to give away a lot of baseballs to fans back in ballparks.


Minnesota Twins OVER 89.5 wins


This line seems like free money and beyond odd to me. Not only are the Twins not considered favorites to three-peat in the AL Central, but it would also represent a division with a second-place team not reaching the 90-win plateau. Back in 2019 that happened in just two divisions, both in the National League, and with no real secondary competition. Minnesota should still be expected atop Chicago until the White Sox show otherwise, but even if that isn’t the case, dropping below 90 wins seems like a really big stretch.


Lead MLB in HRs Miguel Sano (25/1) Nelson Cruz (40/1)


The former seems like a fairly strong bet here. Any player that should surpass 40 home runs has to be in the conversation for this accolade, and at 25/1 there’s no reason not to throw something on Sano. I think he’s more likely to take the title than teammate Nelson Cruz, but the 40/1 odds for the designated hitter are too juicy to pass up as well. There’s not enough reason to indicate the favorites are more likely to race out to an easy victory, so taking a flier makes sense.


AL Cy Young Winner Kenta Maeda (22/1)


Something seems odd here too as Maeda is the reigning runner-up for this award and yet he’s got longer odds than teammate Jose Berrios (16/1). Maeda has been flawless through nine innings this spring, but that’s not really the story here. The former Dodgers starter has always been overshadowed in Los Angeles and he flashed how good he really is a season ago. That wasn’t a short season fluke, and a repeat performance wouldn’t be shocking, while going the distance to establish him as an ace.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Baseball Players Worth Buying Into


If you’ve followed my work here or on Twitter over the past couple of years, it’s become evident I’ve dove full steam into card collecting. While I’ve dabbled in basketball (hi, Anthony Edwards), and will grab my first hockey card soon (Kirill Kaprizov is in Upper Deck Series 2 out later this month), baseball is obviously the sweet spot.


I’ve gone through a bit of a collecting lull in wanting to refocus my efforts and make sure I’m enjoying my collection for what it is. I’ve kicked around similar versions of this idea over the past couple of seasons and am now going to write it into existence. With the way cards have exploded, I want to notate a few players I think are worthy “investments” for the 2021 season.


Here’s the deal, this isn’t a get rich quick type of situation, and I also shy away from the notion of prospecting. Bowman cards are often exorbitantly priced only to come cascading back to earth when prospects don’t pan out. No, my goal here is to identify a few undervalued players that will turn a nice ROI in the next 12 months.


Before coming forward with the names let’s outline a couple of ground rules. No single card can cost more than $20. With that intention, it rules out grading any raw cards. Even at the lowest value submission level a card would be pushed beyond that threshold. The goal would be for nothing less than a 50% growth rate by March 2021.


Alright, let’s get into it.


2018 Topps Jack Flaherty #93 PSA 9 - $12 

Coming off his worst season in the majors, Flaherty is maybe an odd pitcher to target as the only non-hitter of this group. His 4.11 FIP suggests the 4.91 ERA maybe wasn’t that unfair, but I’m bullish on his 25-year-old season being his best yet. Coming off a 2019 that saw him finish 4th in the NL Cy Young voting, the 2020 3.42 xFIP tells a better story. He was bit harder by the longball than in any other season, and the strikeouts are still elite. I think the division is going to be awful, and the addition of Nolan Arenado raises the water level for St. Louis across the board. Another top five Cy Young finish wouldn’t shock me at all, and I think he’s a dark horse to win it. Pitchers aren’t great investments, but this isn’t a long hold and at $12 I want to capitalize on what I expect to be a good year.


2018 Topps Update Shohei Ohtani #US1 PSA 9 - $19.99


There’s clearly a theme here in that the value of 2018 Topps baseball product remains untapped. Yes, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto are the headliners right now, but there’s a reason the boxes are at astronomical prices. Shohei Ohtani won the 2018 Rookie of the Year and has since been seen as slipping. While there’s no denying his 2020 was poor, 2019 featured an .848 OPS and 18 longballs in a season where he was kept off the mound. He’s back to pitching, looked great in his Spring Training debut, and remains the only player in history capable of both throwing 100 mph on the bump and launching balls over the fence with 100 mph exit velocities. If he’s anything close to what he was in 2018 or 19 at the plate, and even a middle of the rotation starter, his cards should rebound nicely.


2018 Topps Rafael Devers #18 PSA 9 - $19.99


Another 2018 entrant includes one of the young stars in Boston. I don’t expect the Red Sox to be any good in 2021, but Devers still seems entirely too slept on. He’s a year removed from a .916 OPS as a 22-year-old and plays in a premium market. Mookie Betts is gone, Andrew Benintendi is gone, and Jackie Bradley Jr. is gone. Devers gives the BoSox a face-of-the-franchise type hope and a rebound at age-24 should surge his cards upwards. ZiPS projects him for 3.2 fWAR and 32 dingers this season. He whiffed well above career norms in 2020 and getting back to a stronger level of plate discipline should aid his offensive game nicely.


2015 Topps Kris Bryant #616 SGC 9.5 - $15


There’s a lot of belief here, but there’s also an opportunity that I saw an undervalued offering given the slab it resides in. PSA 9’s of this same card goes for between $25-30 right now and despite SGC being more well known for vintage offerings, the 9.5 is a superior grade. Bryant is in his final year with the Cubs, one Chicago angled for by manipulating his service time all those years ago. He recently turned 29 and is coming off an injury plagued 2020. Throw out what took place during the pandemic and the Vegas native owns a career .901 OPS and posted a .903 mark in 2019. He should surpass the career 200 home run mark (needing 28) this season, and he’s playing for his first big payday. Health, most notably the back, remains a key question for him but otherwise the talent remains through the roof.


Honorable Mentions:


I was intentional in targeting quick flips with these players, but I think the shortstop class for 2022 is an equally appealing proposition. Unfortunately, graded copies of rookie offerings for Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, and Javier Baez already fall beyond the rules for this exercise. I do also like Trea Turner quite a bit, and Gleyber Torres may be my favorite long term hold right now.

Monday, March 8, 2021

2021 Minnesota Twins Roster Projection 2.0

The Minnesota Twins have played more than a handful of Spring Training games and Opening Day is less than a month away. Who will make up the 26-man roster in Milwaukee on April 1?


There’s been a couple of additions since roster projection 1.0 exactly one month ago, and spring performances may wind up influencing some of the roster decisions as well. It appears there will be fans in the stands no matter where you turn on Opening Day, so who will fans of the reigning AL Central division champions be seeing? Here’s the first revision:


Starting Pitchers (5): Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker

Randy Dobnak gets bumped from the group as the addition of Shoemaker on a one-year deal worth $2 million all but cements his place as the final starter. The former Angels pitcher has been good when healthy, he’s just rarely remained that for significant stretches of time. Minnesota has solid starting depth, even if the ceiling is lowered behind Pineda. This should be a solid group.


Relief Pitchers (8): Taylor Rogers, Alex Colome, Tyler Duffey, Hansel Robles, Jorge Alcala, Cody Stashak, Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe

I’m really uncertain what to do with this group. Only six spots seem like certainties, and despite Caleb Thielbar needing to be a seventh, he may miss the start of the season with an injury. Minnesota also seems likely to carry 14 pitchers given the workload differential in adding 102 games this season. That said, I have no idea how they get there. Shaun Anderson is on the 40-man roster already. Thorpe and Dobnak have looked good this spring, but both should remain stretched out to start. Ian Hamilton, Ian Gibault, and Brandon Waddell would all need a spot on the 40-man roster if they were to be included.


Catchers (2): Mitch Garver, Ryan Jeffers

Removing Willians Astudillo here solely from the idea that the options elsewhere seem better suited for the roster. He’s not a true catcher and the top two should be able to split duties evenly.

Infielders (5): Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Andrelton Simmons, Josh Donaldson, Luis Arraez

No changes here and the only thing that could make some sense would be a true shortstop to spell Andrelton Simmons. Jorge Polanco will likely be asked to play that role at times rather than including someone like J.T. Riddle, who would need a 40-man spot should he make the club.

Outfielders (5): Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Alex Kirilloff, Jake Cave, Brent Rooker

Talk about a group brimming with options. Kirilloff should be the Opening Day left fielder. The team has suggested Arraez isn’t being groomed to play the outfield, and there’s no Triple-A action for a month. Jake Cave is the holdover fourth outfielder, but he’s a bit redundant as another left-handed bat. Keon Broxton is a non-roster guy that can truly play centerfield and he’s looked very good in the early going. Kyle Garlick is a right-handed hitter with a 40-man spot who’s also looked good, but he’s probably destined more for the corners. If you’re adding another bat, it probably needs to be Brent Rooker. He’s not a centerfielder, but he too is right-handed and looked the part before his injury in 2020.

Designated Hitter (1): Nelson Cruz

No change here

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Solving the Twins Opening Day Riddle


In 2021 the Minnesota Twins are going to have a new starting shortstop. Despite being delayed to camp, Andrelton Simmons will assume that role shortly. What happens behind him remains a question, but the Riddle could actually be the solution.


Alright, enough with the puns, sorry about that. Andrelton Simmons is as clear of a defensive upgrade as it gets. Even if Minnesota employed someone other than a below-average Jorge Polanco as short in recent seasons, Simba as he’s known, has won a Platinum Glove. Despite being in on Marcus Semien (who’s also a defensive upgrade), it’s clear prioritizing defense was a goal. Now with Simmons, the Twins have arguably the best defensive left-side of the infield in all of baseball. The man needs days off, though right.


Simmons opted out of 2020 after an injury, and he played in just 103 games the year before that. Even when he’s played in 145-plus, there’s still days he’ll need a break. A year ago, that may have fallen on the shoulders of Ehire Adrianza (as Marwin Gonzalez is not a good defender at short). In 2021 the options are less clear. Do you cloudy the transition for Polanco by moving him there intermittently? What about new utility man Luis Arraez filling in out of position? Right now, that’s where the options cease when it comes to clear Opening Day roster candidates.


Enter J.T. Riddle.


The former Marlin and Pirate is not much to speak of at the plate. He owns a career OPS of just .616 and the minor league track record doesn’t suggest a breakout at age-29. What he can do however, is field. In just under 700 innings at short for the Marlins a few year ago, he was worth 12 DRS. That defensive ability is something only Simmons possesses among the Twins logical candidates. Welcome to your inside track sir.


Whether you assume Alex Kirilloff is the Twins Opening Day left fielder or not (he should be, and his outlook just got better), at worst that makes Arraez a utility player. Adding another outfielder to the bench could be an avenue, and a third catcher has been a preference in recent seasons. Jake Cave could still fit depending on the pitching configuration, and regardless of the flexibility, Willians Astudillo is redundant.


Penciling in Riddle with a Major League roster spot is hardly ideal. There are only 26 openings and there’s better talents. His effectiveness as a true shortstop could present him an edge though. The front office brought in Andrew Romine as a camp option for short with Simmons lagging behind. Maybe Riddle is seen with more of a future than just a ticket to Triple-A St. Paul. Nick Gordon isn’t viewed as a shortstop anymore, and even a healthy Royce Lewis wasn’t going to back up a big-league position. Even the best teams have guys that play a small but significant role, maybe this one is for J.T.


I don’t know that I love it, and I’m obviously not certain it will happen, but I think there’s a pathway to get there and one that makes logical sense.

Monday, March 1, 2021

New Year, Baseball Turning the Page


Just shy of a year ago I was at Pott’s Sports CafĂ© in Fort Myers, Florida. March 12, 2020 to be exact. I’ll never forget that day as the night before basketball shut down with the announcement of Rudy Gobert testing positive for Covid-19. Having just left the freshly roped off back fields at Hammond Stadium, waiting to catch a flight, news hit that Major League Baseball was going on hold.


Fast forward to where we are today and hope springing eternal couldn’t seem more appropriate. Each year around this time fans feel the rejuvenation of the possibility that their team could win a World Series come October. Spring Training may bring meaningless ballgames, but the action being back is more than necessary for even the most casual of baseball fans.


Last year we went through a 60-game blitz that culminated with a World Series inviting fans into the ballpark. During the regular season and most of the Postseason, the only things inhabiting ballparks across the country were cardboard cutouts. Fake crowd noise was pumped into stadiums, and announcers worked games while sitting at empty fields and staring at television monitors.


As Spring Training is now underway in 2021 fans have been invited back into ballparks. Sellouts immediately commenced, and whatever percentage of capacity was allowed to take place has been maxed out. We still have social distancing and mask wearing, that likely won’t change for a while. This season though, there are bodies back in the seats taking in America’s pastime. There schedule is set up for a complete 162-game run, and the nuance of baseball should again be on full display.


Minnesota enters the 2021 season as one of the best teams in baseball, and they’ll have a renewed rivalry in the division thanks to the youth emergence from the Chicago White Sox. A year ago, it was just a joy to have baseball save what was otherwise a very gloomy summer. This year, the sport can be a leader in a return to normalcy and we’ll get closer to that reality as the calendar draws on.


Get out to a ballpark and go Twins!