Fantasy Breakdown: Minnesota Twins for 2021

A preview of the Minnesota Twins lineup, rotation, and bullpen in 2021.

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

At A Glance

 

The Minnesota Twins clinched the American League Central with a 36-24 record in 2020, but after losing their 17th and 18th consecutive postseason games against the Houston Astros at Target Field, the Twins go into the 2021 season with a feeling of déjà vu. There are huge questions around the roster and payroll that need addressing – namely, will the team resign Nelson Cruz for their DH spot? Cruz hit .154 with a 41 wRC+ in the last 15 games of the season and was plagued by knee problems – he also missed the playoff games. He is yet to re-sign with the team despite mutual interest, and the decision on the universal DH could be the key in determining whether he will be back in 2021. The team also moved on from veteran Eddie Rosario, who has been a staple of a powerful Twins offense since 2017, creating an opening in the outfield. The bullpen has lost 6 established names including Trevor May, who has signed with the Mets, and Sergio Romo, add to that list solid starting pitchers Rich Hill, Jake Odorizzi, and Homer Bailey, who are also testing free agency.

General Manager Thad Levine worked to sure up the roster by avoiding arbitration with 6 key players including standouts such as starter Jose Berrios, outfield speedster Byron Buxton, and closer Taylor Rogers. The Twins have 6 prospects in MLB’s Top 100 and we could see outfielders Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach on the roster from Opening Day. Catcher Ryan Jeffers showed his worth with Mitch Garver struggling in 2020 and is also likely to feature more regularly. Look out for the Twins to be players in the market in the coming weeks, however, as they look to add a DH, a couple of utility bats, and some bullpen help. Without any major additions in terms of hitters in free agency, I am projecting Kirilloff on the Opening Day roster but there is a good chance the Twins sign a DH and hold him down over the first month of the season.

The Twins will come under serious pressure from the Chicago White Sox in competition for the AL Central in 2021, and without significant investment in the lineup, it will be difficult to not only win the division but break their 18-game curse in the postseason.

 

Hitters

 

Projected Lineup

 

Infielders

 

Miguel Sano (1B, DH)

2020: 31 R, 13 HR, 25 RBI, 0 SB, .204/.278/.478 | 1B #28

2021 ADP: 174.7 (1B #20)

 

I wouldn’t blame those who have chosen to stay away from Sano in fantasy as perennial problems both at the plate and off the field have frustrated those who have punted for him in their fantasy drafts in recent years. The appeal is clear, however – Sano has tremendous power and led the league in Barrel % (22.9%) and average exit velocity (95.2 mph) in 2020, and trailed only Fernando Tatis in hard-hit rate at 57.3%.

Sano looked much healthier and athletic in 2020 and now projects to be the everyday first baseman going forward. The Twins seem to be accepting of his worrying 43.9 K% and fantasy players need to weigh that up with his impressive 34.2% HR/FB% last season. Sano projected for 35 homers if a full season took place last year. That is elite production for the No.20 ranked 1B in the current FantasyPros composite ADP.

 

Luis Arraez (2B, OF)

2020: 16 R, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, .321/.364/.402 | 2B #48

2021 ADP: 367.7 (2B #37)

 

From one end of the slugging spectrum to the other, Arraez has the complete opposite profile to Sano – Arraez was 4th among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances in 2020 in contact rate (a remarkable 90.2%) and recorded a .312 xBA. That’s about all he does in terms of fantasy, however, as a .085 ISO suggests. He also battled knee and ankle problems last year, limiting him to just 32 games. Arraez is worth a late-round flier and could be useful in roto leagues due to his contact skills.

 

Josh Donaldson (3B, DH)

2020: 14 R, 6 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB, .222/.373/.469 | 3B #59

2021 ADP: 178.3 (3B #25)

 

The veteran third baseman became the Twins’ most expensive free agent in their history when he signed at the start of the 2020 season and expectation was high with the knowledge he was joining one of the most aggressive and productive offenses in baseball.

Like many of his teammates, injury robbed Donaldson of the opportunity to propel the Twins deeper into the postseason as a calf injury (that kept him out for a month at the start of the year) reared it’s ugly head once again at the end of the season forcing him to miss the series against the Astros.

Through 28 games, Donaldson slugged .469 and recorded a healthy .842 OPS but his Barrel % dropped to a career-low 6.9%, resulting in just 6 homers. I like Donaldson to bounce back in 2021 and if the Twins do pick up an elite infielder he could see more permanent time at DH, which would make him easier to project across a full 162-game season. Despite that, he is a good value as the No.25 3B off the board currently. 

 

Jorge Polanco (SS)

2020: 22 R, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 4 SB, .258/.304/.354 | SS #34

2021 ADP: 229.0 (SS #31)

 

There are significant murmurings that the Twins may look to add one of the star veteran free agent shortstops on the market this offseason. Marcus Semien and Andrelton Simmons have been mentioned as possible acquisitions after Polanco slumped to a career-worse .658 OPS in 2020 whilst battling some injuries including a painful intercostal problem that robbed him of any slugging ability; an attribute that propelled him into an All-Star appearance in 2019 with 22 home runs and .485 slugging percentage. Polanco could shift to second base if that happens, otherwise, he isn’t really an option for 2021.

 

Mitch Garver (C)

2020: 8 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB, .167/.247/.264 | C #63

2021 ADP: 228.3 (C #13)

 

A popular pick in fantasy drafts in 2020, Garver was the third catcher off the board in most leagues and struggled mightily at the plate. The wheels completely fell off for the 2019 Silver Slugger Award winner and a dreadful .511 OPS meant that the Twins pushed up their No.6 prospect, Ryan Jeffers, who could see a more prominent role, thus diminishing Garver’s fantasy relevance further. If Garver can recreate even half of what he achieved in 2019 (31 long balls with a .995 OPS), he will be once again a decent fantasy catcher.

 

Outfielders

 

Byron Buxton (OF)

2020: 19 R, 13 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB, .254/.267/.577 | OF #47

2021 ADP: 124.0 (OF #35)

 

Injuries have blunted the substantial potential of Buxton since he entered the league in 2015. He has played in more than 100 games just once in 6 seasons (142 games in 2017) and missed the start of 2020 due to an ankle injury. However, his defense is something special, and he led the team in WAR last season with 2.1 mainly thanks to his glove.

Buxton took a shot to the head from Lucas Sims in the final series and looked all over the shop in the first playoff game against the Astros. It was a familiar and unlucky end to another season where he flashed his fantasy value but was pegged back by his body once again.

Since the start of 2019, Buxton is 3rd in slugging percentage behind Mike Trout and George Springer amongst center-fielders who have played in at least 100 games – that production points to a breakout year ahead as long as he can stay healthy. 

 

Max Kepler (OF)

2020: 27 R, 9 HR, 23 RBI, 3 SB, .228/.321/.439 | OF #50

2021 ADP: 168.0 (OF #50)

 

Kepler’s recurring issues against lefties hampered what was expected to be a breakout year for the outfielder in 2020. He managed a paltry .378 OPS against left-handed pitching and also missed most of the Twins’ run-in in September with a niggling groin injury.

We could see Kepler forced down the order against lefties in 2021 which would significantly affect his ability to put up fantasy stats worthy of his ADP. Still, as the No.50 OF off the board, he looks primed to be an effective fantasy weapon as a third or fourth outfielder. 

 

Alex Kirilloff (OF, 1B)

2020: N/A

2021 ADP: 292.7 (OF #81)

 

Somewhat surprisingly, Kirilloff made his MLB debut in the playoffs against the Astros, becoming the first-ever player to record his first hit in the postseason. There are service-time considerations that may see him start in the minors in 2021 but it is only a matter of time before he becomes the future of the Twins’ outfield.

The young left-handed hitter went .309/.352/.480 with 11 HR and a 15.9 K% over his final 60 games in the minors in 2019 (albeit at Double-A) and earned high praise for his work at the Twins’ alternate site through the 2020 season.

The release of Eddie Rosario only further cements the fact that Kirilloff will have significant opportunities to become a fantasy-relevant hitter in 2021. Don’t sleep on this exciting rookie who could also see time a first base.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

With the release of Eddie Rosario and questions over whether Kirilloff will be held down in the minors due to service time, there is likely a platoon situation in the outfield with Jake Cave starting against right-handers and Brent Rooker getting the nod against left-handers. Neither is draftable before the season but both should be on the bubble for a larger role if any injuries occur. Rooker can play first base and Sano is always a candidate to miss time due to injury or idiocy.

Trevor Larnach is the other Twins prospect who could see an early promotion to the big leagues after registering a 21.9% HR/FB% in Double-A in 2019. His defense won’t earn him a regular role with the abundance of outfielders in the organization but his bat makes him a likely candidate for a utility role with time at DH, especially if the team doesn’t make a splash at the position in free agency.

 

Starting Pitchers

 

Kenta Maeda (Locked In Starter)

2020: 6-1, 66.7 IP, 80 K, 2.70 ERA, 0.75 WHIP | SP #4

2021 ADP: 48.7 (SP #16)

Repertoire: Slider (38.6%), Changeup (29.4%), 4-Seam Fastball (18.8%), Sinker (7.1%), Curveball (3.4%), Cutter (2.6%)

 

Maeda had a sensational first season in Minnesota and any fears of his stuff not translating after his move from Los Angeles were quickly dispelled. Maeda went 8 hitless innings against the Brewers in mid-August before his no-hitter was broken up in the 9th. It was a masterful performance that showcased everything that makes him a frontline fantasy SP – 12 strikeouts (thanks to phenomenal usage of his slider and changeup), just 2 walks, and a 36% CSW rate.

Maeda was one of only four SPs who threw at least 50 innings in 2020 and recorded a BABIP of less than .225 – another reason why he finished 2nd in AL CY voting in 2020. He is locked in as the Twins ace and should be one of the top 10 SPs off the board in fantasy drafts in 2021.

 

Jose Berrios (Locked In Starter)

2020: 5-4, 63 .0 IP, 68 K, 4.00 ERA, 1.32 WHIP | SP #48

2021 ADP: 81.7 (SP #27)

Repertoire: Curveball (29.8%), 4-Seam Fastball (26%), Sinker (25.5%), Changeup (18.8%)

 

Berrios had a decent if not spectacular 2020, finishing with a 68:26 K:BB in 63 innings – he increased the velocity on his four-seamer to 94.3 mph and posted a career-best 9.7 K/9. He also took the opportunity to improve his curveball significantly and it rewarded him with a 33.3% K-BB rate, limiting opposing batters to a .167 batting average.

The worrying thing for fantasy is that Berrios is tailing away from being a front-end ace and is looking more like an SP3 in the rotation. A 3.7 BB/9 isn’t going to help him moving forward and was the main reason he posted a 1.32 WHIP, his highest number since his rookie season in 2016. Berrios is on the bubble for dropping out of the top 30 SPs off the board and that provides significant value for a guy who will deliver close to 200 strikeouts across a full season.

 

Michael Pineda (Locked In Starter)

2020: 2-0, 26.7 IP, 25 K, 3.38 ERA, 1.20 WHIP | SP #102

2021 ADP: 219.3 (SP #66)

Repertoire: 4-Seam Fastball (50.1%), Slider (38.5%), Changeup (11.4%)

 

After returning from a suspension for PEDs, Pineda was fantastic down the stretch for the Twins and posted a healthy 22.5% strikeout rate with just a 6.3% walk rate over 5 starts. He is a solid, no-frills mid-rotation guy in a good spot in Minnesota – he will provide wins, strikeouts, and a healthy WHIP for fantasy purposes. Don’t sleep on Pineda in the later rounds of your draft.

 

Randy Dobnak (Likely Starter)

2020: 6-4, 46.7 IP, 27 K, 4.05 ERA, 1.35 WHIP | SP #75

2021 ADP: 434.0 (SP #114)

Repertoire: Sinker (43.9%), Slider (35.3%), Changeup (16.3%), 4-Seam Fastball (4.5%)

 

Dobnak backed up a promising debut in 2019 to help the Twins rally from the loss of Pineda in 2020 by pitching wonderfully well to win 6 games, which was 4th in the American League amongst all starters. It was a tale of two halves for the young man in truth as his electric start (5-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his first 6 starts) was spoiled by a rough spell in which he posted an 8.27 ERA and allowed 26 hits in just 16 innings, resulting in a demotion to the alternate site. Dobnak will be allowed to flourish behind a strong offense once again and is a recommended late-round fantasy flier.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

The last spot in the rotation is likely to go to a free agent as both lefty Devin Smeltzer and Australian Lewis Thorpe have failed to inspire any confidence after multiple opportunities over the past two seasons. The prospect of seeing young starting pitchers Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic will intrigue us at Pitcher List for most of the year but neither is expected to be fantasy relevant in 2021.

UPDATE: The Twins signed veteran left-handed starter JA Happ to a 1-year deal. Happ will likely fill the last spot at the back of the rotation. He has limited streamer appeal.

 

Relief Pitchers


Bullpen Roles

 

Taylor Rogers (Closer)

2020: 9 SV, 2 HLD, 20.0 IP, 24 K, 4.05 ERA, 1.50 WHIP | RP #41

2021 ADP: 147.3 (RP #20)

 

After a stellar 2019 campaign, Rogers converted 9-of-11 save opportunities in 2020 but also recorded 4 losses and saw a sharp increase in both ERA and WHIP despite recording a 2.84 FIP (his FIP in 2019 was 2.85). And a .400 BABIP further suggests Rogers was more a victim of luck than regression. The pitching staff in Minnesota are well renowned for developing and correcting talent in their bullpen and Rogers will likely be allowed to continue in the role at the start of 2021.

There is no doubt the Twins are in the market for relievers in free agency and they signed former Angels closer Hansel Robles to a 1-year deal, but he is unlikely to supplant Rogers or Duffey in the pecking order for saves and holds coming off a rough year in Anaheim. Alex Colome, however, would muddy the situation.

 

Tyler Duffey (Setup)

2020: 0 SV, 12 HLD, 24.0 IP, 31 K, 1.88 ERA, 0.79 WHIP | RP #47

2021 ADP: 494.5 (RP #110)

 

The Twins have done a phenomenal job with Duffey who is now one of the premier setup men in the league after posting a sensational 0.79 WHIP over the shortened season. Duffey works his four-seamer high in the zone and it rewarded him with a career-best 40% strikeout rate in 2020. He actually threw his knuckle-curve more than his heater, and it returned a fantastic 3.1 pVal, by far the best of his career. Duffey kept it simple as the formula was clearly working and stayed with those two pitches for the entirety of the season. He will be a shoo-in for a number significantly north of 20 in terms of holds.

 

Cody Stashak (Holds Option)

2020: 0 SV, 5 HLD, 15.0 IP, 17 K, 3.00 ERA, 0.93 WHIP | RP #111

2021 ADP: undrafted

 

The departure of Trevor May opens a door for holds in the Twins bullpen and Stashak is first in line to see an increased role in high-leverage situations. He possesses an above-average four-seamer that jams lefties up and inside – his command of the pitch is excellent and it serves him well when setting up his elite slider. The slider held a 2.9 pVal in 2020 and was a true Money Pitch, with a 26.4% swinging-strike rate and a 61.1 K%. He is someone to watch early on.

 

 

Watch List Considerations

 

The Twins bullpen will likely see a few more names added from the vast reliever market before Opening Day. Joakim Soria is a name that has been bandied around, and the former A’s veteran would be a key candidate for holds alongside setup man Duffey if added. Robles could see a look if he recovers from a disastrous 2020, as could prospects Edwar Colina and Jorge Alcala. Colina had a rough debut in 2020 but does have a 100 mph four-seamer in his arsenal and registered a 9.5 K/9 in the minors in 2019. Alcala is the more likely after impressing when called up in August last year. The Dominican also topped out his heater at 100.7 mph and registered a 10.1 K/9 through 24 innings. His slider is also a weapon and could give him the nod over Colina as it is already seasoned.

 

ADP data are taken from FantasyPros composite ADPs

2020 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Benjamin Haller

A Yorkshireman living in Australia, loving Major League Baseball from afar. As I wait for my A's to build their new stadium, I spend my time coaching soccer, writing for sportbc.blog, and over-analyzing relief pitcher scoring in fantasy baseball. Follow me @benjaminhaller1 for thousands of retweets

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