Monday, June 28, 2021

Twins 2021 Outcome Determined in two Weeks


The Minnesota Twins have not been good for the vast majority of 2021. It’s gotten late early, and their season will be determined before the All Star break commences. Which way they go is up to these next two weeks of action.


Prior to Sunday’s finale against Cleveland, veteran Josh Donaldson called a player’s only meeting. These types of closed door hoorah’s always have a way of becoming public, and the hope is that while the content stays behind closed doors, the results are visible to those outside of the room. Donaldson did his part in the tilt that followed, but it’s the Twins schedule right now that will dictate the response.

Kicking off a four game set against the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota will see each of Chicago’s best starters. Trailing in the division by 11.5 games, and 10 under .500, the Twins are in do or die territory. Playing better baseball and catching the South Siders in a bit of a slide may help, but the only thing that matters is results.

Rocco Baldelli’s club isn’t afforded the opportunity to play a schedule of splits anymore, they have to win series. Anything less than three of four against the White Sox won’t cut it. From there, Minnesota heads to Kansas City for three prior to returning home for a seven game homestand with Chicago (3) and Detroit (4). It’s in these contests right now that the Twins season will be determined. 

The expectation is, and as it should be, that they’ll be sellers at the deadline. A team sitting at 33-43 nearing the end of June has no business making the Postseason. Regardless of expectations for this club, they’ve fallen flat and failed to make what was expected to be a compelling two-team AL Central race anything but. The division still isn’t great, but it’s on the Twins to prove they belong in any sort of second-half conversation.

That Donaldson was even in a position to give the Twins a speech necessitating a jump start is noteworthy in and of itself. He hit the shelf early and has since been one of the most consistently available bodies. Now looking to lead both by example and motivationally, it’s put up or shut up time for the whole squad.

Minnesota still can’t pitch, they’re 29th in fWAR among all staffs across the majors, and help isn’t readily available on the farm. The offense has come around however, and if they can go on a run during these next two weeks, they’ll be rewarded with the return of MVP candidate Byron Buxton. 

Expecting 2021 to go like this was not in the cards for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. This is the hand they played though, and now they’ll have two weeks to see if there’s any ace left up their sleeve. If not, it’s going to become a selloff of veterans and a turn to reload in 2022.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Minors Causing Major Issues for the Twins


Remember when a global pandemic killed off an entire Minor League Baseball season? That was unfortunate, and it’s been great to have an affiliated season back in full swing, but the Twins have taken their lumps injury wise on the farm too.


I have consistently been of the mindset that this Twins team is an outlier when it comes to performance. There’s too much talent on this team for them to be as bad as they’ve been. With that reality, expecting a resurgent turnaround in 2022 is hardly far-fetched. The front office will have the opportunity to supplement the existing core once again.


The problem is that depth and development from the farm may not bear the fruit it was expected to.


Royce Lewis tore his ACL before even playing a game in 2021. As things stand now, top pitching prospects are all over the IL. Edwar Colina and Blayne Enlow have both had surgery. Jhoan Duran has now been shut down and Matt Canterino is set to return but remains a question mark. Hitting prospect Matt Wallner is still shelved and we still have three months left of the season to make it through.


For Minnesota, the chief problem in 2021 has been pitching. The rotation wasn’t expected to have many holdovers a year from now, and both Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda were thought to be awaiting stable mates from the farm. Now that could be less likely than ever, and this current core may find themselves misaligned with the next wave of talent.


Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will be tasked with the decision of whether a rebuild is necessary. Their long-term futures with the organization impact that choice, and how quickly they’d like to rid themselves of this taste will probably be part of the equation. Their hand becomes a bit less fruitful given the development that their cheap and controllable assets are now less reliable than they may have been had things gone differently.


It was important for minor league guys to get back in games in order to showcase what they’d done in the time off. The hope would be that some of the top talents could be accelerated and challenged this season. Instead, much of the top 20 is shelved for one reason or another, and there’s more questions than answers in Twins Territory both now, and in the future.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Midseason 2021 Minnesota Twins Top 15 Prospects

It feels good to be able to write about actual minor league baseball action again. After it being shelved in 2020 and the only updates coming from unattended alternate site workouts, real games taking place is a welcomed reality. For Minnesota, there’s been lots of graduations from the farm, and even more shifting.

Traditionally this top 15 update has come after the Major League Baseball draft. With the timing of that event being shifted into July, I wanted to keep things consistent. Coincidentally, it was this exact date last year that the previous midseason update dropped. If you’d like to take a look at where I had guys coming into 2021, you can find all archived rankings below. Let’s get into it!

15. Jose Miranda IF

While he’s never made a top 15 for me before, Miranda has consistently been a “just missed” type. That doesn’t happen when you’ve got a .919 OPS in your first 37 games at Double-A. Lots of hype for Jose has been built around his bat and the work he did last year during the downtime. Looks like that was right.

14. Cole Sands RHP

A 5th round pick back in 2018, Sands is now nearly 24 and at Double-A. He’s got 31.2 innings under his belt thus far for Wichita and owns a dazzling 2.84 ERA. The 5.1 BB/9 isn’t a great look, but the 11.9 K/9 continues his strength of being able to punch batters out. He was impressive when I saw him during Spring Training in 2020, and the arrow continues to point up.

13. Misael Urbina OF

Signed out of Venezuela, Urbina has made his stateside debut in 2021. He’s struggled in Low-A thus far, but there’s speed and defensive ability here. He also may run into a good amount of pop and he’s just 19 years old.

12. Gilberto Celestino OF

Forced into action for the Twins this year due to outfield injuries, Celestino is up ahead of schedule. He’s played just 21 games at the Double-A level for Minnesota, and the bat still has a ways to go. He’s a plus defender with good speed, and if he can hit at all, there’s a fourth outfielder at worst here.

11. Matt Wallner OF

One of the most athletic Twins prospects, Wallner has hit everywhere he’s gone in the system. He owns a 1.005 OPS in his first 17 games at High-A but has been shelved with a wrist injury. Would not be shocked to see him be a solid corner outfielder with a plus arm and plus bat. Just need to get him healthy and back on the field.

10. Brent Rooker OF/1B

It continues to be tough sledding for Rooker when looking for big league playing time. He’s a liability in the field and that bat absolutely has to play. It has again at Triple-A this season, where he’s got an .861 OPS for the Saints. If the Twins need bodies though, it’s been in the outfield, and he just can’t really help there. Should they choose a more rotation DH situation going forward, Rooker will factor in nicely.

9. Josh Winder RHP

Another 2018 draft pick, Winder has impressed coming out of the Virginia Military Institute. Now 24 and at Double-A, he’s arguably been the best arm on the farm. He’s got a 2.16 ERA across 41.2 IP and his 10.8 K/9 pairs well with a 1.7 BB/9. He’ll be a Triple-A option soon and pitching 125 innings back in 2019 should work in his favor as far as workloads go.

8. Blayne Enlow RHP

This one hurts, because Enlow could’ve found himself even higher on this list had his year gone differently. After 14.2 IP and a 1.84 ERA, Enlow underwent Tommy John surgery and will be out well into 2022. He’s still just 22, but it would’ve been great to see him at Double-A this season.

7. Matt Canterino RHP

Another arm of concern here, Canterino is currently shelved and it’s murky as to when he’ll return. He owns a 1.00 ERA and 35/3 K/BB at High-A in 18 innings this year. It’s clear he’s ready for a step up in competition, and maybe should’ve even started at Double-A, but again, health is the chief concern.

6. Aaron Sabato 1B

Do I love that Sabato has just a .668 OPS at Low-A in his first 36 professional games? No. Do I love that he has a 22% walk rate in those games? Yes. He’s got an advanced eye in a league where plenty of pitchers are fighting command. The power is real and should eventually play.

5. Keoni Cavaco SS

Recently having turned 20, Cavaco is getting acclimated at Low-A. He has just a .673 OPS but seemed to be putting some positive developments together prior to a concussion related injury stint. This is a big year of growth for him and seeing some of the tools that had him shooting up draft boards would be exciting.

4. Jhoan Duran RHP

A late start to the year set the timetable back some, but Duran should still be expected to reach the majors in 2021. He’s been both lights out and wild at times for the Saints, but it’s clear why there’s so much to like with him. A triple-digit fastball that he does have good command of is going to play.

3. Trevor Larnach OF

It won’t be long and Larnach will have graduated from this list. He isn’t higher because I’m not sold on him being a perennial All-Star type, but there’s nothing to suggest he’s not a starting corner outfielder for a long time. The bat has contact and power, and the eye has quickly established itself. The kid is good.

2. Jordan Balazovic RHP

Starting the year on the IL wasn’t ideal, but Balazovic has now taken three turns in the Double-A Wichita rotation. He’s racked up 16 strikeouts in his first 9.2 IP, and this may be the Twins next best shot at developing an ace. There’s an outside chance he could make a start in Minnesota later in 2021.

1. Royce Lewis SS

Done for 2021 before he started, Royce Lewis tore his ACL, and it was discovered on intake. The year of development being missed after a lost 2020 and tough 2019 isn’t ideal. His character continues to suggest he’ll dominate rehab, and the ceiling remains as high as anyone within the organization.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Larnach Leading Rookie for Twins


Alex Kirilloff was the Twins first round draft pick in 2016. When the new front office took over, they went with Royce Lewis the next year, and then followed up with Trevor Larnach. Since that point I’ve contended the separation between Kirilloff and Larnach shouldn’t have been presumed to be much. We’re now seeing that take shape.


Kirilloff is playing through an injury, and while he’s having himself a nice debut, I don’t think it’s quite to the level he’ll reach in short order. That’s given way for Larnach to shine though, and he’s done exactly that. Trevor was thrust into a Major League role given the Twins outfield health issues. Having played just three games at Triple-A, and only 43 at Double-A two years ago, a premature call-up is probably fair to suggest.


Despite taking some time to acclimate, he’s begun to settle in. Now with 31 games under his belt, the former Oregon State Beaver owns a .263/.386/.421 slash line. The .807 OPS isn’t all that noteworthy, but the 131 OPS+ plays, and the number that jumps off the page is the .386 OBP backed by a strong 33/14 K/BB.


Larnach hasn’t yet ran into much power. He has just nine extra base hits, of which only three have left the yard. That isn’t to suggest the process isn’t sound, though. Drafted with notes of high exit velocities, that has played out at the highest level. Larnach owns a 37.1% hard hit rate and a 14.5% barrel rate. His xSLG sits 40 points higher at .466 and he owns a max exit velo of 116 mph.


I don’t think you’ll find anyone jumping to suggest that Larnach is otherworldly on either of the corners, but it’s more than apparent he can stick. With the bat profile he has, a traditional corner outfielder with pop is exactly what he’s trending towards. This isn’t a finished product by any means, but I think the Twins have to be thrilled with the early returns. Recently at Fangraphs, Paul Sporer also took a look into where Larnach could go from here.


Both Larnach and Kirilloff should be mainstays in the Minnesota lineup for years to come. We have seen both of them bat in the heart of the order this year, and while that’s more reflective of circumstance, they’ve held their own plenty. In lieu of so many injuries having piled up on the Twins this season, it’s been nice to see opportunity parlayed into production for a guy like Larnach.


Not every prospect comes up and flourishes. The Seattle Mariners just had to demote top prospect Jarred Kelenic after a terrible start. Baseball is hard, and even moreso when the runway for readiness hasn’t been there in a traditional sense. Give it to Larnach for battling that adversity and still producing at the level he is.


While Kirilloff is still my pick to be the better player with a more likely shot to win a batting title, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Larnach round out into a more complete specimen with an opportunity to bang 40 homers in a single season. It’s been a good start, and this is just the beginning.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Alex Kirilloff Is Headed Towards an Unfortunate Conclusion


May 3rd was the last game Alex Kirilloff played for the Minnesota Twins prior to hitting the injured list with a wrist issue. He’s now been back for 16 games, but it’s clear this isn’t the same player. Something of an inevitable outcome seems to be looming.


Following his placement on the shelf, Minnesota sent Kirilloff to see a hand specialist and he was given a cortisone shot. He has been able to play through the injury without and notation of pain publicly. That said, it’s fair to take a look at the results and see that this simply isn’t the same player.


When the Twins were scuffling through injuries and looking to crawl back towards contention in 2021, it made sense for them to push their top hitting prospect to be back on the field. These at bats are vital for his development, and as a player that will be relied upon heavily in 2022, big strides this year are monumental. At some point though, the sagging results become detrimental in terms of confidence and expected outcomes.


Let’s look at the numbers. On May 3 Kirilloff was slashing .214/.227/.571 with a 56.7% hard hit rate and a 26.7% barrel rate. His average exit velocity on batted ball events was a strong 96.5 mph. Fast forward to today and he’s got 68 plate appearances since returning to the lineup. The slash line includes a better average and OBP at .254/.309, but the .302 slugging is the real problem. Kirilloff has just three extra-base hits, all doubles, and his hard hit rate has fallen to 26.1%. The barrel rate is way down to just 6.5% and his average exit velocity has dropped to 90.1 mph.


As is the case with wrist injuries, and as we’ve heard Justin Morneau talk about on recent Twins broadcasts, there’s just no way to generate power without that hand strength. Nelson Cruz dealt with a tendon issue in 2019. It eventually ruptured and that outcome was a positive in terms of future ability. While Kirilloff’s situation is not the same, the current results lag because of the present condition.


I am not a doctor and have no idea what the timetable for healing from surgery looks like. Maybe Minnesota is having him play because the offseason is going to give enough runway for a healthy 2022 regardless. At some point though, you have to question whether the outcomes aren’t providing a more damaging view of the current process. The Twins aren’t going anywhere in 2021, and it’s evident that this version of Alex Kirilloff isn’t the one that anyone involved wants to see either.


Only the player knows what the actual pain threshold looks and feels like at this point, but you don’t need to dive to deep beyond the box score to see that this isn’t what anybody signed up for.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

A Turd of a Third for Minnesota


After last night’s loss to the Baltimore Orioles, Rocco Baldelli’s Minnesota Twins had capped off their first third of the 2021 Major League Baseball season. To define it, a lump of excrement fits, a turd.


Sitting at 22-32, the two-time defending Al Central champions find themselves 10.5 games back of the Chicago White Sox. While the Pythagorean results have them at 25-29 due to a -24 run differential, the reality is that positive regression has yet to take shape. This club has scored nearly 75 less runs than the prolific Bomba Squad to the same point, and offense seems non-existent most nights. Combine that with lackluster pitching performances, and you have the result we’re faced with.


It’s still hard to place much blame on the skipper. Baldelli has been very good over the course of his short career in Minnesota, and it’s fair to suggest he’s been on the wrong side of many coin flips this season. The deck he’s been working with isn’t full though, and the front office took some gambles that certainly haven’t paid off. There was no real bullpen addition of note, and the depth there amounted to a handful of waiver claims with the intention of one being able to stick.


Health has also been a problem for Minnesota. On their 54th game of the season, Baldelli was forced to start an outfield that consisted of Alex Kirilloff, Kyle Garlick, and Willians Astudillo. That might be the worst defensive trio any team in baseball has ran out this season, and it’s not surprising that Cedric Mullins ripped a leadoff triple that Astudillo was entirely overmatched on. Everywhere you look on the roster includes positional groupings with guys on the Injured List, and as has been customary this season, players have dropped right as they’ve begun to hit their stride.


Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, but it’s also designed that way for expectations and assumptions to normalize themselves. Coming into the season there was a perception that Minnesota was again a Postseason team with the ability to win a division title. The problem is that was under the assumption that health and production would remain relatively predictable. The former has not, and the latter may be even worse. To call the Twins a good team is overselling the reality of what we’re being shown.


Over the next two-thirds of the season, Minnesota will only go as far as they are available. Right now, there’s too much talent on the shelf to be any sort of competition most nights. If a return to a relatively healthy roster happens in short order, a plethora of players finding even the baseline of their expectation all at once could give this team a shot. The division isn’t good and chasing down a Wild Card spot is easier than it’s ever been.


No matter what happens from here on out, flushing this first third is a must, and putting together something of promise the rest of the way should be the goal. Until that happens, we’ve got nothing but Rob Refsnyder running into stationary objects to define this thing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Is Nelson Cruz Cooked?


Over the winter the Minnesota Twins and Nelson Cruz looked at each fondly while they also had discussions from a distance. Although it seemed destined that a reunion would happen, the pieces had to fall into place. Now, through 47 games in 2021, maybe the victor of all the spoils is finally going to be Father Time.


Coming off a season in which Cruz played in 53 games for the Twins, Minnesota watched him follow up a 1.031 OPS in 2019 with a .992 mark. Although Rocco Baldelli’s club wasn’t a complete reincarnation of the Bomba Squad, Cruz continued to send the ball over the fence with routine frequency. That is still happening in 2021 as he’s on pace to smash 30 homers, but that would also be his lowest total since 2013.


Then there’s what happened in May. Sure, Cruz’s .839 OPS is still fine, especially for a man doing this at 40 years old. That said, he posted a lackluster .663 OPS in the month of May, launched just three dingers, and owned a 23/9 K/BB. His 33.9% hard hit rate on the year is the lowest it’s been since 2011, and his 18.9% HR/FB rate is something he’s virtually never messed with.


When Cruz started in the big leagues way back in 2007, the average fastball velocity he faced was 91.5 mph. Now, that’s been ratcheted up to 94 mph and combined with an aging human body. He’s also made things harder on himself by posting a career worst 34.8% chase rate.


At some point this was all bound to happen. 2020 caused concern for me down the stretch as well. Over the final month Cruz owned just an .844 OPS, which wouldn’t be as negative if he weren’t dropping off from a 1.068 mark to that point. He then completely hit the skids over the final 11 games of the season, owning just a .523 OPS with two extra-base hits. It is true that Cruz was one of the only Twins to contribute during the Postseason, but that was a three-game sample that amounted to just six total at bats.


Maybe the month of May was a grind for Cruz, and maybe he’s still coming out of some lingering effects following the hit by pitch. What would certainly not be a good development for a bad Twins team is that their slugger is falling off a cliff, and it’s a reality that would hurt twice as much when it comes to the deadline and any opportunity to flip him for assets becomes more of a chore than a choice.


We’ve seen Cruz stave of the aging process for quite some time. If the Twins are going to come back in 2021, or get anything back for their designated hitter, we’ll need one last encore.