Analyzing Minnesota Twins Hitters For 2020 – 60-Game Season Update

Ryan Amore takes a look at what we can expect to see from the Twins lineup for the upcoming 2020 season.

The Twins were one of baseball’s elite offenses last year as they paced both leagues with 307 home-runs. The top three offenses in Runs scored last year were the Yankees at 943, the Twins at 939, and the Astros at 920. The Twins finished second in team wOBA with a robust .347 just behind the Astros at .355. In team wRC+ the Twins at 116 finished 3rd behind the Astros (125) and the Yankees (117). And in team OBP the Twins were tied for 5th with the Dodgers at .338. They were also the most passive team on the basepaths last year as they finished with just 28 stolen bases, well below the Cubs who were 29th with 45.

(Last Updated: July 8, 2020)

60-Game Season Update

 

Baseball is back! To celebrate, we are updating our team-by-team Hitter Profiles by adding a summary of the players who saw their stocks go up or down based on the time off, new rules, and other major changes we’ll see in 2020 and updated projected lineups. 

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This is an absolutely loaded lineup, which under normal circumstances would make it almost impossible for Marwin Gonzalez to crack the lineup. With such a busy schedule and the need to keep players fresh and healthy, he should have more opportunities to slide into the back of the batting order. That’s not really news in a mixed league, but in AL-only leagues he’s now a much more palatable option.

A shortened season means Nelson Cruz and Byron Buxton may be a bit more likely avoid injury for most of the season. For Cruz, that’s an ever-so-slight bump as we are all well aware of what the 40-year-old can do with the bat. For Buxton, an increased possibility to play a full season is quite exciting, though growth at the plate will also be required to unlock his fantastic power and speed skills.

This will be a common theme for the entire division, but with few stand-out left-handed aces in the AL Central, there’s less pressure on Max Kepler to repeat his success against his former kryptonite. Additionally, there aren’t many right-handed options that the Twins could replace him with on the bench or on the 60-man roster. Luis Arraez, and Eddie Rosario also benefit slightly from the lack of top-tier southpaws in their division-heavy schedule.

 

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We wish Miguel Sano and Willians Astudillo, who are currently on the IL, a speedy and safe recovery. Apart from missed time, I don’t project any major changes in role for either, with Sano likely being the primary first baseman and Astudillo filling in somewhere against tougher lefties (of which there are few) and possibly giving Josh Donaldson a break once in a while at third.

Speaking of Astudillo, the one fear I have with him is the loss of catcher eligibility. That would really hamper his effectiveness on fantasy rosters and with limited time to get the necessary appearances and few tough lefties to exploit, it looks like it could be an uphill battle.

Other than those two, the lineup and bench are pretty much as they were back in the spring, and the expanded rosters don’t seem to have a ton of guys I expect to push for playing time in 2020.

 

Projected Lineup

 

vs. RHP

 

vs. LHP

 

Original March Edition

Roster Changes

 

 

Hitter Previews

 

Catchers

 

Mitch Garver (C | Batting 1st/5th)

2019: 70 R, 31 HR, 67 RBI, 0 SB, .273/.365/.630 | C #4

2020 ADP: 165 (C #5)

 

Early on he was stuck in a timeshare of sorts with the lefty-hitting Jason Castro and to a lesser extent Willians Astudillo, who lost a large portion of the season to injury, but Mitch Garver eventually emerged to post a phenomenal season. Among catchers (minimum 300 PA) Garver finished with a .404 wOBA (1st), 155 wRC+ (1st), 31 Home Runs (2nd), and a .365 OBP (2nd). The first thing that sticks out about Garver is excellent plate discipline as he’s carried a double-digit walk rate in nearly every stop of his professional career to date. Last year was no different as he posted an 11.4% walk rate backed by an impeccable 20.1% O-swing%. He also posted an extremely impressive 8.1% swinging K rate. So he has a selective approach and whiffs at a very reasonable rate. He should continue to be an excellent asset in the OBP category especially so relative to his peers behind the dish.

The batted ball data for Garver was excellent. His .380 xwOBA put him in the top 9% of the league and his 15.5% barrel rate was good for the top 4%. Those were both huge improvements from 2018’s marks of .316 and 5.6% respectively. His 29% HR/FB rate sticks out and despite the excellent batted ball data you almost have to anticipate at least a little pushback from such an impressive clip. Last year’s HR/FB% leader (minimum 300 PA) was Garver’s teammate Miguel Sano at 36.6%.

A glance at Garver’s batted ball profile shows a huge bump in Flyball% from 23.3% to 35.4% this past year. Similarly, his pull rate spiked from 34.5% to 47.8%. So we can get a little bit better of an idea of where the power surge came from – more pulled flyballs. His 47.8% pull rate was substantially above the league-average mark of 36.5%. Provided his extreme-pull approach sticks we’ll probably see his average fall back closer toward .250.

Heading into 2019, Garver’s defense was a clear weakness in his game. Garver himself admitted he ranked “dead last” in pitch framing. Both he and the coaching staff put in extensive effort into improving this part of his game. And the results were encouraging as he was able to improve to the point where he ranked above average. The gains in defense are an important sign for Garver so we can feel a little less concerned about possible defensive liabilities costing him starts.

 

Strengths: HR, OBP, RBI. 

Weaknesses: SB

 

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

It’s difficult to imagine him besting what he did last year so a best-case scenario for Garver would see him repeat last year’s breakout only this time across 400+ PA.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

It’s awfully hard to find faults in Garver’s profile considering his sharp plate skills, excellent batted ball data and, oh yes, the fact that he’s a Catcher. Perhaps you could look at last year’s 29.9% HR/FB rate as a “sell-high” moment of sorts and his average too might slide a little. The other downside to Garver is that he won’t have the DH spot available with Cruz having it on lockdown. Nevertheless, Garver provides a really enticing skill set at a barren position.

2020 Projection: 62 R, 25 HR, 65 RBI, 0 SB, .255/.350/.510

 

Willians Astudillo

2020 ADP: N/A

 

La Tortuga was one of 2019’s more interesting gambles at catcher. The calling card for Willians Astudillo is an otherworldly ability to make contact as his 3.9% K rate last year would have easily placed him first among qualifiers. For reference, the Oriole’s Hanser Alberto was first at 9.1%. However, the Astudillo breakout wasn’t meant to be. Injuries along with a huge season from his teammate Garver rendered Astudillo a mere footnote in the Twins 2019 season. Last year’s underwhelming 88.7 average exit velocity on FB/LD to go along with just a 2.7% barrel rate across 208 PA doesn’t seem to portend much if any projectable power. But there is potential batting average upside. Steamer has him projected for a .296 mark across limited playing time so keep that in mind in case playing time opens up. Garver’s ascension renders Astudillo just a name to be aware of in two catcher leagues in case of an injury.

 

Infielders

 

Marwin Gonzalez (1B/3B/OF | Batting 8th)

2019: 52 R, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 1 SB, .264/.322/.414 | 1B/3B #78

2020 ADP: N/A

 

After producing an outstanding .382 wOBA and 144 wRC+ in 2017 with the Astros, Marwin Gonzalez has settled down since posting two back to back seasons with a wOBA under .320. His xwOBA in 2018 and 2019 of .318 and .320 respectively are pretty close to league-average. Last year’s barrel rate of 6.4% was also right in line with the league-average of 6.3%. So the power output should remain relatively modest heading into his age-32 season. He’s stolen just three bases in his last two seasons so there isn’t much to see in the speed department either.

Gonzalez’s value lies in his defensive versatility and the fact that he’s a switch-hitter who has produced a remarkably identical .318 wOBA and 101 wRC+ against both LHP and RHP for his career. Last year he started 19 games at 1B, 35 at 3B, and 49 in the OF. As a basically league-average hitter who you are able to slot in at multiple positions, there’s value with Gonzalez in deeper formats, but in standard-size 12 team leagues you’re probably better off shooting for a player with more upside. And that’s reflected in his non-existent ADP in the early PL expert mocks.

Strengths: Positional Versatility

Weaknesses: SB, HR

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Gonzalez’s versatility affords him a regular role in the lineup and a return to a more positive BABIP like 2017’s .343 could make him a sneakily useful source of R/RBI in deep leagues.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

As of now, Gonzalez’s primary spot in the lineup looks like 1B with the Twins having let C.J. Cron walk. Gonzalez’s offensive production is a little light for the position considering that last year First Basemen produced a .332 wOBA across MLB so the Twins could opt to make a move here, in which case he’d likely be a bench player rendering him off the radar even in deeper formats.

Update: The Donaldson signing, which shifts Sano to 1B, pretty much kills any potential value Gonzalez had in deep formats. He’s now strictly a bench player and off the radar in all formats.

 

2020 Projection: 30 R, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 1 SB, .270/.325/.420

 

Luis Arraez (2B | Batting 6th)

2019: 54 R, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 2 SB, .334/.399/.439 | 2B #42

2020 ADP: 295 (2B #24)

 

Luis Arraez fell short of qualifying last year (366 PA) but if he had he would have easily paced the league in swinging-strike rate at 2.8%. For the curious, first among qualifiers was the Angel’s David Fletcher at 3.2%. As Ben Pernick talks about in his great article from back in early July, Arraez has perhaps unparalleled ability to make contact. His batted ball profile is also one of the more unique ones you’ll come across as his pull rate of 27% is not only incredibly low relative to league-average (36.5%) its also dwarfed by his Oppo% of 36.7%. That’s pretty remarkable. His line-drive rate of 32.3% was also excellent last year. Simply put, I don’t think there is any denying Arraez’s potential batting average upside based on what we’ve seen of him to date. Last year he managed a sparkling .334 batting average, that would have placed him 2nd behind Tim Anderson (.335) among qualifiers. Steamer also seems to be a fan of Arraez’s ability to hit for average, where he is pegged for a lusty .312 mark, easily tops in their projections (Howie Kendrick is second at .308 followed by Christian Yelich at .304).

Arraez also looks to have a fairly selective approach at the plate too as he posted a strong 9.8% walk rate and 26.8% O-swing this past season. And in AA last year (164 PA) he posted an 11% walk rate and an 8.2% walk rate in albeit briefer stop in AAA Rochester (73 PA). Considering what we’ve seen a walk rate of around 9-10% seems like a perfectly reasonable expectation next year. In which case Arraez should be a strong OBP asset too.

Arraez doesn’t seem to have much if any projectable power. Prior to the four home runs, he tallied last year in his rookie campaign, he mustered a grand total of six home runs in his entire professional career. Last year’s average exit velocity of 86.9 MPH (league average was 87.5 MPH) and just eight barrels out of 300 batted balls (2.7%) doesn’t seem to presage any sort of power outburst. The power is negligible, but you’re not drafting him for his power anyways it’s his batting average that’s his calling card and there isn’t any real reason to expect him to not be a premium asset in that category. He’s also not going to help in the steals category as he hasn’t cleared 3 steals at any stop since 2015.

 

Strengths: AVG, OBP

Weaknesses: HR, SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

I think the key to Arraez’s value next year is where he ends up slotting in the order. Without any real home run or SB equity, a ceiling type scenario would need to see him hit high in the order allowing him to rack up R/RBI opportunities. For now, though, considering how stacked the Twins lineup it’s difficult seeing Arraez up in the order barring someone significantly underperforming or an injury.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

A floor scenario for Arraez is basically that he remains low in the Twins order and ends up being an empty batting average asset.

2020 Projection: 75 R, 5 HR, 62 RBI, 3 SB, .305/.380/.410

 

Jorge Polanco (SS | Batting 2nd)

2019: 107 R, 22 HR, 79 RBI, 4 SB, .295/.356/.485 | SS #16 

2020 ADP: 141 (SS #19)

 

Jorge Polanco had himself a fantastic campaign this past season posting career-highs seemingly across the board. Including a fantastic .295 batting average that bested 2018’s mark of .288. That looks to be a clear strength of Polanco whose batted ball profile looks like it should maintain a plus batting average, noted by a modest 34.8% pull rate (36.5% was league-average). The switch-hitting shortstop also shattered his previous career-high in home runs of 13 (2017) with 22 this past season. He got there by increasing his flyball rate from just 19.3% in 2018 to 29% (22% was league-average). Polanco also managed a .352 wOBA (.344 xwOBA) yet another career-best from this past season.

His 91.7 average EV on FB/LD, while an appreciable increase from 2018’s average of 88.7 MPH, wasn’t a standout mark on its own as it ranked 202nd (min 200 BBE) which is probably why we saw his HR/FB% remain a relatively modest 9.6% (league-average was 15.30%). As a whole, we saw his overall average exit velocity jump up quite a bit from 83.9 to 87 MPH this past year. Though, that’s still just below league average which was 87.5 MPH. His hard-hit rate of 33% was also just a tick below league-average (34.5%). His maximum EV of 108.2 MPH (216th) and xwOBACON of .379 (league-average was .371) both indicate that Polanco has fairly modest power so his ceiling is probably close to the 22 home runs we saw this past season. Provided he doesn’t sell out for flyballs, his friendly batted ball profile should continue to provide a really nice source of batting average. And one that should be available later in drafts if early mock drafts are any indication. Another thing to appreciate about Polanco this past season was an excellent .356 OBP that was buoyed by a career-best 8.5% BB rate (28.5% O-swing).

For his career, the switch-hitting Polanco has shown noticeably better splits against RHB. In 1294 PA against RHP he’s managed a .348 wOBA, 117 wRC+, and 15% K rate. In 577 PA against LHP he’s been noticeably weaker with a .302 wOBA, 86 wRC+, and 19.2% K rate. Those splits were evident last year too as he managed a fantastic .372 wOBA and 133 wRC+ vs RHP compared to just a .306 wOBA and 88 wRC+ against southpaws.

The Twins were the most passive team on the basepaths and that was reflected in Polanco attempting to steal just seven times last year, exactly half as many attempts as 2018. For his career, he’s managed a 61.7% success rate, so not great. We’re most likely looking at a modest total of somewhere around 5-8 stolen bases.

Strengths: R, AVG, OBP, PA/AB

Weaknesses: None

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Polanco repeats last year’s power output tallying 20 home runs to go along with an excellent OBP and batting average sitting atop a formidable Twins lineup. While the power and speed ceiling may be limited to a degree there is still plenty of upside in batting average and R/RBI. Hitting in front of Nelson Cruz is a great place to be especially for a hitter like Polanco.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Polanco is an exceptionally skilled hitter who uses all fields well, as far as fantasy goes his strength is clear and that’s average and OBP. He’s the essential 2-hole hitter for a great Twins lineup. I’ll be very interested, though, to see if this past year’s spike in Flyball % was just variance or indicative of a trend. Again, Polanco has shown a lower HR/FB rate for his career and that along with underwhelming EV numbers are an indicator that he may not quite have the raw power required to benefit from an increased Flyball approach. It’s just something to take notice of. As is Polanco possesses a really safe sort of skill set that presents a high floor along the lines of a .275 average to go along with 15 HR and 160 R/RBI.

2020 Projection: 92 R, 18 HR, 86 RBI, 5 SB, .285/.350/.455

 

Miguel Sano (1B/3B)

2019: 76 R, 34 HR, 79 RBI, 3 SB, .247/.346/.576 | 3B #29

2020 ADP: 168 (3B #21)

 

Miguel Sano produced a career-high 34 home runs last year on the back of a pretty wild 36.6% HR/FB rate that was the best in baseball (300 PA minimum). His average exit velocity of 94.4 MPH was second in baseball to Aaron Judge‘s 95.9 MPH (minimum 200 BBE). His 21.2% barrel rate was the best in baseball (minimum 200 BBE) and so too was his hard-hit rate (95+ MPH EV) of 57.2%. Sano’s average EV on FB/LD also led the league at 99.2 MPH (Judge was 2nd at 99.5). You get the point, his batted-ball data was spectacular across 439 PA.

Sano’s primary liability can be attributed to a K rate north of 36%. That would have easily surpassed Domingo Santana at 32.3% if Sano had qualified. Last year’s batted ball profile showed a massive 52.7% pull rate (36.5% was league average) and a 32.4% Flyball rate (22% was league-average) that in conjunction with his gargantuan strikeout rate makes Sano’s batting average a risky proposition. Of course, I wouldn’t expect an outcome close to this dire but we’ve seen what the floor looks like in that respect and its something akin to 2018’s .199 average. Sano has some of the best raw power in baseball right up there with the likes of Judge and Joey Gallo so his potential ceiling in home runs and RBI is massive. But at the same time, his floor is a little tremulous when you acknowledge the fact that he has yet to appear in more than 116 games in a single season. Sano also has above-average plate discipline. Last year’s 12.5% walk rate (27.9% O-swing) certainly helped buoy his value in OBP formats.

Update: Sano, who just signed a three year 30 million dollar extension, will see most of his at-bats at first base now with the Twins acquisition of Josh Donaldson

Strengths: HR, RBI

Weaknesses: BA, SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Sano could build upon last year’s career-best .329 ISO and finally establish himself as one of the league’s premier power hitters. A season of avoiding injuries would be great to see too. Few can match his raw power, there’s legitimate 50 Home Run type upside with plus OBP. Think a right-handed Joey Gallo with an average in the .250s as a potential ceiling.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Sano’s power is remarkable and he should have no problem clearing 30 home runs assuming somewhere close to a full season. Though he could be an empty source of power coming with an average that struggles to clear .220. Former Brewer Chris Carter comes to mind. I don’t think this extreme of a scenario is likely but its worth being aware of as Sano seems like a hitter who does have a wide range of potential outcomes.

2020 Projection: 85 R, 38 HR, 97 RBI, 0 SB, .235/.342/.550

 

Josh Donaldson (3B)

2019: 96 R, 37 HR, 94 RBI, 4 SB, .259/.379/.521 | 3B #14

2020 ADP: 104 (3B #14)

 

Josh Donaldson, one of this off-season’s last remaining prominent free agents, finally signed inking a four-year pact with the Twins worth $92 Million. After a 2018 season lost to injuries, the 2015 AL MVP acquitted himself wonderfully with a one-year pit stop in Atlanta where he posted his third season over 35 home runs and fourth season with a wRC+ over 130. His batted ball data was excellent including a 15.7% barrel rate and .387 xwOBA both marks in the top 6%. And his 98.1 average EV on FB/LD was good for 5th (minimum 200 BBE). Donaldson has had excellent plate discipline for really his whole career and last year was no different as his 15.2% walk rate (25.7% O-swing) helped him to remain a prime asset in OBP formats.

If you’re looking at Steamer projections, Donaldson (.378 wOBA, 137 wRC+) compares pretty favorably to Eugenio Suarez (.349 wOBA, 112 wRC+). In our early mocks, Suarez went on average roughly 50 picks ahead of Donaldson (ADP of 54 and 104 respectively). Now that he’s officially signed, Donaldson’s ADP will probably climb moving forward but as it stands he looks like a potential value.

Strengths: HR, R, RBI, OBP

Weaknesses: SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Donaldson should continue being a great power source and now immersed in one of the most powerful lineups in the AL he could soar past 200 combined R/RBI along with an average that could approach .280 at the high end.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

An injury-marred 2018 notwithstanding, Donaldson’s profile has been rock steady the past few seasons. He looks like one of the safer sources of HR/RBI that you’ll find in the middle rounds. The floor here is a solid one along the lines of 30 Home runs with 180 R/RBI to go along with an average just under .260.

2020 Projection: 100 R, 33 HR, 102 RBI, 0 SB, .268/.375/.520

 

Outfielders

 

Eddie Rosario (OF | Batting 4th)

2019: 91 R, 32 HR, 109 RBI, 3 SB, .276/.300/.500 | OF #23

2020 ADP: 85 (OF #24)

 

One of baseball’s most aggressive hitters, Eddie Rosario posted a 46.3% O-swing and 59.1% swing rate, both career-highs. That swing rate was good for 2nd among qualifiers (Jeff McNeil was 1st). Last year’s 3.7% walk rate put Rosario in the bottom 2% of the league. He also swung at the first pitch 41.9% of the time (league average was 28.3%). Yeah, safe to say that he isn’t going to help in the OBP category. Fortunately for Rosario though he has a pretty remarkable ability to make contact. Last year, despite the hyperbolic chase rate he managed to shave three percentage points off of his K rate to a fantastic 14.6%. Because he swings at so many pitches out of the zone combined with his proclivity for avoiding K’s, you’ll find his batted ball quality a little underwhelming when taken as a whole evinced by a reasonable albeit unspectacular .330 xwOBA (.318 was league average). This past year’s .330 xwOBA was a notable improvement off of 2018’s .303, although his barrel rate held at 8.5% (8.3% in 2018).

Like so many others, 2019 saw Rosario post a career-high 32 home runs. His previous high being 27 back in 2017. This past season Rosario’s pull rate jumped up once again from 40.6% to 44.4%. Like you might have guessed, that’s also a career-high rate. Contrast that to a much more modest 32.6% pull rate he showed back in 2017 and you can see a pretty clear trend. We’ve also seen a similar pattern in his flyball rate which has increased each of the past three seasons from 27.5% in 2017 to 29.7% last year. The increase in pull rate has certainly bolstered his power culminating with a career-high in home runs this past season, though it did also come with a career-low .273 BABIP (.312 in 2017 being his previous low). Steamer projects Rosario for a .284 batting average next year, but considering the spike in pulled flyballs that we’ve seen the past few seasons, it wouldn’t be too terribly surprising to see his average settle into the low-to-mid .270s.

Rosario, like most of the Twins last year, saw his stolen base attempts drop from ten down to a career-low four. Considering that he hasn’t been an incredibly efficient base stealer (65% success rate for his career) it wouldn’t be surprising if we see his attempts dry up completely. Another thing to note with Rosario is that he has been respectable against LHP for his career (732 PA) with a .281 average and .413 slugging. In all Rosario should continue to provide an excellent source of R/RBI/HR as the Twins cleanup hitter to go along with a solid average that should most likely sit in the mid .270s. The only glaring drawback here is an unappealing OBP.

Strengths: BA, R, RBI, HR

Weaknesses: OBP

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

A ceiling for Rosario would see his average climb back towards the .290 mark while flirting with ten steals, basically a similar output to what we saw back in 2017. Though, given his recent trend towards pulled fly balls expecting his average to return to .290 seems like a risky gamble.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Rosario’s batting average has been a key source of his value the past few seasons. A basement scenario might see his batting average continue to drop below .270 while his stolen base attempts stop entirely. Still, Rosario’s floor is very strong looking something like 25 home runs to go along with 160 R/RBI.

2020 Projection: 90 R, 30 HR, 95 RBI, 3 SB, .275/.305/.495

 

Max Kepler (OF | Batting 1st)

2019: 98 R, 36 HR, 90 RBI, 1 SB, .252/.336/.519 | OF #54

2020 ADP: 133 (OF #37)

 

One of 2019’s prominent power breakouts, Max Kepler was one of just six hitters to hit 36 or more home runs while also having a strikeout rate below 20% (16.6%). Those other hitters were Cody Bellinger, Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freemanand Josh BellLast year saw Kepler’s xwOBA rise from .322 to .342. His barrel rate also increased from 6.6% to 8.9%. Overall, not elite batted ball data by any means, but still solid enough improvements to help support last year’s career-best 18% HR/FB rate. Interestingly, though, his average EV on FB/LD actually went down last year from 93.8 MPH in 2018 to 92.9, while his Flyball rate remained relatively unchanged. Anticipating a repeat of last year’s 36 home runs seems ambitious but around 28 home runs looks like a very reasonable expectation.

Kepler was very much an extreme pull hitter last year at 50.8% (41.9% in 2018), league-average was 36.5%. Because of this, his batting average is somewhat suspect. Don’t forget he hit just .224 in 2018 and he’s a career .238 hitter so there is at least the possibility that he can be a batting average drain. The most likely scenario is that falls somewhere around .260. Kepler’s 10.1% walk rate boosts his value in OBP formats. Though, Kepler was notably more aggressive last year as we saw his swing rate jump from 42.5% to 49.4%. And his O-Swing% also increased from 26% to 30.9%. It’s clear that Kepler may have been looking to ambush the first pitch – as last year his 1st pitch swing rate jumped from just 26.8% to a whopping 40.4% (league-average was 28.3%).

Another thing to note for Kepler last year: he was excellent versus LHP hitting .293 to go along with a .367 wOBA and 130 wRC+ against opposing southpaws (163 PA). Curiously, Kepler has actually posted better rate stats against LHP than RHP in each of the past two seasons. Last year he tallied a .236 average, .350 wOBA, and 118 wRC+ against RHP. In 2018 he also posted a .245 average, .323 wOBA and 103 wRC+ against LHP as opposed to marks of .216, .314, and 96 respectively against RHP. I don’t think we should expect that to continue as it could easily be (and probably is) the product of a flimsy sample but nevertheless his ability to produce in spite of a platoon disadvantage is certainly encouraging.

 

Strengths: R, RBI, HR, OBP

Weaknesses: BA

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Kepler gives us a repeat of last year’s breakout with another 35+ home run campaign establishing himself as a certified power source along the lines of a Mike Moustakas type with plus OBP. The lack of SB and batting average upside though does limit Kepler’s ceiling. With so much power in today’s game, Kepler’s skill set isn’t terribly unique so I’d be leery of buying high off of what could end up being a career-year.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Kepler’s main potential downside I think is in batting average as his extreme pull tendencies could cause his average to fall but a very strong 16.6% K rate does help to bolster his floor. We could also see his HR/FB rate fall a bit. As mentioned earlier his batted ball numbers were reasonable but not what you’d consider elite so last year’s 36 home runs may have been the product of some positive variance. Kepler seems like a very solid bet to return a floor of 25 home runs and around 160 R/RBI.

2020 Projection: 92 R, 28 HR, 88 RBI, 4 SB, .255/.340/.480

 

Alex Kirilloff (OF/1B)

2020 ADPN/A

 

The Twins have a couple of notable hitting prospects (Top Twins Prospect Royce Lewis looks to be quite a ways off still) that we’ll mention briefly. For more be sure to check out the Dynasty Team’s Top 50 Twins Prospects. Alex Kirilloff is a highly regarded hitting prospect out of the 2016 Draft who features prominently on all lists, including 15th overall in MLB.com’s Prospect Watch for 2019 and around the top 20 for FanGraphs’ Board for 2020. Kirilloff had a down year relative to 2018’s wildly productive .424 wOBA and 168 wRC+ 280 PA stint in the Florida State League (High-A). In Double-A last year (411 PA) a .131 ISO was somewhat disappointing though we can probably blame that on a pair of wrist issues that landed him on the IL twice. Regardless, Kirilloff is one of the best hitting prospects in baseball and one who projects for plus power (60/60 Raw Power, 45/55 Game Power via FanGraphs). He’s shown a fairly aggressive approach to date including a modest 7.1% BB rate last year in Double-A so that’s something to keep in mind for those in OBP formats. Marwin Gonzalez is the Twins current projected starter at 1B so there is certainly a potential opening here making Kirillof a name to watch closely in Spring Training.

Update: The Donaldson signing takes some serious steam out of Kirillof’s potential path to playing time as it’ll shift Sano to 1B. Kiriloff is an exceptional talent but it’s looking like barring an injury we’ll have to wait another year.

 

Trevor Larnach (OF)

2020 ADP: N/A

 

The Twins promoted Trevor Larnach to Double-A last year and he had a nice showing tallying a .387 wOBA and 148 wRC+ across 181 PA. His K rate was a bit on the high side at 27.6% but he did also post a strong 12.2% walk rate. Larnach profiles as a high OBP (he’s posted an OBP above .370 at every stop so far) lefty hitter with huge power (65 Raw Power grade via FanGraphs). The Twins have an excellent trio of outfielders so there’s not an opening at the moment but Larnach is a name worth filing away in case of an injury or if the Twins were to make a move.

 

Byron Buxton (OF | Batting 9th)

2019: 48 R, 10 HR, 46 RBI, 14 SB, .262/.314/.513 | OF #80

2020 ADP: 146 (OF #41)

 

One of the most defensively adept Center Fielders in the game, Byron Buxton seems also like one of the more polarizing players in fantasy baseball. You’re either completely enamored by his incredible raw skills or you find yourself likely to fade the perpetual hype machine. Unfortunately, injuries once again limited Buxton to just 87 games.

But there were some positive signs last year for Buxton. His K rate last year was a career-low 23.1%. A closer look reveals his swinging strike rate of 14.6% and z-contact of 83.6% were largely unchanged so this may have been a product of being more aggressive early in the count as his 1st pitch swing% was a career-high 37.6%. Needless to say, this is a very encouraging gain for someone whose career K rate was bordering on an ugly 30%.

Buxton’s batted ball data did also improve. His average exit velocity of 89.3 MPH was quite a noticeable jump from 2017’s (He missed most of 2018) 85.o MPH. His barrel rate also increased to 8.3% this past season from 5.6% in 2017. His average EV on FB/LD also climbed to 95 MPH good for 54th (minimum 200 BBE) for reference he averaged 92.8 MPH on FB/LD back in 2017. Though his xwOBA of .309 (league-average was .318) and hard-hit (95+ MPH EV) rate of 38.7% (league-average was 34.5%) didn’t exactly leap off the page. Buxton did also cut down his groundball rate quite a bit from 42.6% in 2017 to 29.6% last season (45.4% was league-average). That might be a bit of a double-edged sword for Buxton, as more flyballs may lead to more home run equity while at the same time not allowing him to fully utilize his tremendous speed.

And lest I be accused of burying the lede, Buxton’s appeal lies with that aforementioned speed. Last year he swiped 14 bases in roughly half a season hinting at the possible upside if we get something resembling a full year. Buxton also stole 29 bases back in 2017 (511 PA) and was caught just once. He has game-changing ability in a category that is becoming increasingly difficult to find so expect him to be aggressively coveted in all drafts. And look out if he does anything exciting this spring. If the gains in power are legitimate Buxton is a tantalizing fantasy proposition although certainly one whose floor is not for the faint of heart especially so considering he’s coming off of shoulder surgery.

One last thing that’s important to note with Buxton, he’s an aggressive hitter as his 37.6% 1st pitch swing, 53.7% swing rate, and 37.2% O-swing% are all well above-average. His OBP should remain a liability and because of that, he’s likely to remain buried in the lineup which figures to keep his R/RBI relatively suppressed.

Strengths: SB

Weaknesses: OBP

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

The breakout that Buxton truthers have been waiting for feverishly with bated breath finally comes to fruition and he emerges as a fantasy dynamo making even the likes of Adalberto Mondesi blush. OK, he might not quite have Mondesi’s SB potential but there is still a ceiling worth speculating on here especially so if the apparent power gains in last year’s injury truncated season prove to be legitimate. Something along the lines of 30+ SB with 20+ home runs and an average in the .270s could be a potential ceiling.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

The annual Buxton tease tour is put on hiatus until the Spring of 2023 when he hits a pair of home runs off of a rehabbing Michael Wacha. Alright, I’m kidding sort of. Buxton is coming off of a torn labrum in his shoulder that required surgery. Even assuming that last year’s surge in skills was completely legitimate, the injury alone renders Buxton’s floor precarious.

You also have to wonder given how incredibly passive the Twins are on the basepaths if they curtail Buxton’s stolen base attempts in an effort to keep him healthy. Yes, there is certainly 20/20 upside here but this is still a player with a career K-rate near 30% and an OBP south of .300 who is now coming off a significant injury. The floor is tenuous, to say the least.

 

2020 Projection: 72 R, 18 HR, 68 RBI, 22 SB, .260/.318/.460

 

Nelson Cruz (DH | Batting 3rd)

2019: 81 R, 41 HR, 108 RBI, 0 SB, .311/.392/.639 | UTIL #31

2020 ADP: 67 (UTIL #2)

 

Whelp, so much for Father Time. Nelson Cruz shook his fist defiantly at the mere mention of age-related decline. After signing a one-year deal ($12 million team option for 2020) with Minnesota last offseason, the wizened veteran produced another phenomenal season. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the year that was for Cruz. Amongst qualifiers, the Twins DH totaled the following: a .417 wOBA (4th), .311 AVG (13th), .392 OBP (9th), 163 wRC+ (4th), 108 RBI (16th), and 41 Home runs (10th). And he did all of this despite missing more than 40 games with a wrist injury. Absolutely unreal. His batted ball data was absolutely electric too as you might have guessed. His 19.9% barrel rate was good for 3rd as was his average exit velocity of 93.7 MPH (minimum 200 BBE). His average exit velocity on Flyballs and Line Drives of 99.2 MPH was also good for 3rd. And a 51.5% Hard-hit rate (95 + MPH EV) was also good for 3rd. His Boomstick moniker is well deserved.

We’ve been led to believe that age gets everyone eventually. But Cruz has admittedly shaken my belief in that sentiment. In all seriousness, we did see Cruz’s K rate jump up from 20.6% to 25.1% this past year. Though, we’ve seen him post a 25% K rate back in 2015 too so this isn’t exactly unchartered territory. His zone contact did drop a little too from 85.8% to 80.9%, the lowest its been since 79.3% back in 2015. I don’t think there’s a cliff fall looming here but considering that he’s one of baseball’s oldest hitters its something to take note of.

Having churned out 40 HR/100 RBI in four of the last six seasons Cruz is undoubtedly one of this generation’s most prolific run producers. What’s even more remarkable is that in addition to the power he’s hit for an average north of .287 in four of his last five seasons. Last year’s totals may have been helped to an extent by some favorable variance including a .351 BABIP (.308 career BABIP) and a 31.3% HR/FB rate (21% career HR/FB rate). But armed with an extensive track record and beyond elite batted ball data, there’s little reason, outside of age, to doubt Cruz. History might not support wildly productive 40-year-old hitters, but given what we saw this past year I wouldn’t want to bet against another excellent year from Cruz in 2020.

Strengths: PA/AB, BA, OBP, HR, RBI

Weaknesses: Father Time, UTIL only, SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

A repeat of last year’s production only this time he avoids the injury that cost him a chunk of the season. So an elite source of HR/RBI to go along with an average that could very easily approach .290. The only drawbacks are no steals and the DH tag.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

They say Father Time is undefeated. Maybe he catches Cruz next year and we finally see a dropoff in production. As mentioned earlier Cruz’s contact rate dropped last year so maybe we see that continue this year and the average suffers as a result. Regardless, Cruz should remain an excellent power source. One last note as it pertains to Cruz, only two hitters in baseball history have reached 40 home runs in their age 39 seasons. And they are Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. For reference, Steamer projects Cruz at exactly 40 home runs next year.

 

2020 Projection: 92 R, 42 HR, 108 RBI, 0 SB, .278/.370/.560

 

Playing Time Battles

 

Prior to the Twins signing of Donaldson, 1st base looked like a spot to keep an eye on as the offensively average Gonzalez was the starter on paper. Now with the Bringer of Rain in the fold at third that will shift Sano to first ending any questions there. The Twins lineup is stacked with 30+ Home run hitters across the board and looks set at this point.

Projected Lineup

 

vs. RHP

 

vs. LHP

 

Conclusion

 

The Twins have one of the most powerful lineups in all of baseball and one in which every regular is viable even in shallow formats. They were an extremely passive team on the basepaths though so outside of Buxton, you’re not going to find much if anything in terms of potential speed here.

If you’re considering the top options at catcher, it’s pretty difficult to not be excited about Garver next year who looks to have made the leap to a legitimate top-four option at the position. Cruz remains a stalwart in the middle while Kepler, Rosario, and Polanco look like the most stable producers of the lineup. Buxton and Sano are two prominent risk/reward picks in upcoming drafts. The Donaldson acquisition shifts Sano to first base shoring up the one previous weak spot in this lineup.

*Note ADPs were pulled from a series of six PL Staff and Expert Mock Drafts conducted in Oct/Nov. The format was 12 teams, 23 rounds 3 OF, 2 UTIL, 9 P. Courtesy to smada plays fantasy for tabulating the full ADP which can be found here.

Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Ryan Amore

Writer for PL, artist, DFS enthusiast, and occasional Yankee fan. Once won a GPP with Henderson Alvarez. A proprietor of the Ketel Marte Fan Club. Appreciates walks but only of the base on ball variety.

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