Twins “Progress” Report

August 21. The Twins’ brief spurt of encouraging wins against Houston, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Cleveland is giving way to the all-too-familiar collapse when facing the Yankees, which leads to a sober reassessment of not only where they are, but where they could be next year. In rereading my preseason predictions on this site, I see I shouldn’t be surprised at the Twins’ lack of success, although I was overoptimistic in hoping for a .500 record. I mentioned that Sano and Buxton’s seasons would be decisive, and my warnings about the former’s strikeouts and the latter’s injuries appear prescient. The other place I was slightly offbase was in my hope that some unexpected rookie would show up and make a difference.
It is this last disappointment that is so discouraging when thoughts turn to 2022. Since Memorial Day the Twins have been holding open auditions, first for their minor leaguers and more recently for players obtained when they traded Jose Berrios, Nelson Cruz and Hansel Robles. Garlick, Kiriloff, Rooker, Larnach, Refsnyder and Gordon have all been offered extended playing time in the outfield. Granted, tryouts for the first two were cut short by injury, but only Kiriloff gave any hint that he could become a force, and “hint” may be putting it strongly. For now, I see a lot of Bobby Kielty/Dustan Mohr, let alone Kepler/Rosario. That leaves the outfield in the hands of Buxton, who apparently will want a long-term contract that only a profligate franchise – i.e., the Yankees or Dodgers – will give him.
Any infield starts with a shortstop, and the Twins’ move to upgrade the position with Andrelton Simmons has failed. Not only is he hitting like a #9 batter, his errors have led to losses and the Twins’ record as the worst defensive team in the league. He will be gone next year but, alas, not Josh Donaldson, who has the most expensive free-agent contract in Minnesota history. He has been playing hurt all year, and his history and muscle-bound body suggests this will not be unusual. The Twins are slow enough as a team without a 3B/DH who has to jog to first and needs a pinch-runner in a close game. The Twins aren’t without options at 3rd–Arraez and minor leaguer Jose Miranda come to mind–but they seem stuck with Donaldson. Arraez is their best and only .300 hitter, but Jorge Polanco, the team’s best clutch hitter, is set at 2B for now. Miguel Sano is a liability at 1B and on the basepaths, but he is a game-changer when his bat is hot. Unfortunately he is a black hole in the middle of the lineup 3/4ths of the time, and his future is behind him.
At catcher, Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers can both put up decent power numbers, but they are overmatched by quality pitching. Neither has shown any growth potential, which brings me to Max Kepler. He looked like a cornerstone of the franchise: a good outfielder, the best base stealer after Buxton, with an uncanny ability to open games with a leadoff home run. On the other hand, he strikes out too much, hits too many balls into the shift and this year is barely hitting above .200. Instead of getting better each year of his multi-year contract, he is shrinking. Regardless of pitching, if the Twins mounted a consistent offense they could be fun to watch. Instead, too many games this year have featured double-digit strikeouts.
As for the pitchers, they can’t overcome a lack of offense, but they do offer a scintilla of hope. Before the All-Star Game I had never heard of Bailey Ober or Griffin Jax, yet both seem to be capable Major League pitchers with room to grow. Charlie Barnes has had a couple good outings, if there’s room in baseball anymore for a crafty lefty. Kenta Maeda, before he got hurt today, looked like a dependable anchor. Silver medalist Joe Ryan, from the Rays, could be the real thing. And there must be a reason Randy Dobnak got a long-term deal. Relief pitchers can come from anywhere and have a good year, and the Twins’ reliance on Alex Colome and Hansel Robles shows, once again, that past performance by a reliever is no guarantee of future success.  The Twins are auditioning a half-dozen new relievers now that winning games doesn’t quite matter. If three stick, Taylor Rogers comes back and they can add one or two more, this area shouldn’t be an issue–and irrelevant if they can’t get a lead.
You like to see new prospects show up each year to give you hope for development and possible future stardom. By this measure, it must be fun to be a White Sox fan these days. For a Twins fan, not so much.

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