In my off-season discussion with PitcherList editor extraordinaire Dave Cherman, he approached me with the question, “What does Jose Miranda’s outlook look like this year.” And to be fair, I was caught a bit off guard. As a Minnesota-born-and-mostly-bred guy, I’ve become accustomed to the Twins hoarding minor league talent and then wasting it or misusing it or simply trading it off for nickels and dimes. For example, in the 2015 international free agent signings, the Twins went big and spent their allocated money on Wander Javier, who has yet to progress past High-A ball and was recently ranked by FanGraphs as the 36th best prospect in the Twins system…out of 39 top prospects. Blerg. This failed—OK, that’s harsh, maybe just “not yet successful with no signs of becoming successful”—signing is notable because two other players from that international free agent class—whose combined signing costs were half that of Wander Javier—were Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto. Sigh. So when Dave asks me if I have high hopes for Juan Miranda on the Minnesota Twins in 2022, all I can do is point to the continued failure after failure of the Twins front office to successfully develop their players. But! The future isn’t written in stone. Can we expect Miranda to show up and make a difference on the Twins in 2022? Let’s dive in and check it out.
The whole reason we’re here talking about Jose Miranda—a 23-year-old AAA player who was a 3rd round draft pick in 2016—is that he absolutely crushed the ball in the 2021 season. Across AA and AAA, Miranda smacked a total of 30 home runs while adding nearly 100 runs and RBIs and posting a meager 12% overall strikeout rate. With an OBP approaching .400, Miranda looked like a Monster Markakis (remember Nick Markakis?), the kind of hitter who could get on base multiple ways while also being a massive power threat.
Maybe the Minnesota front office was thinking, “We don’t need Juan Soto, because we’ve got Jose Miranda!” That’s kind of like saying, “I don’t need that 30-year whiskey because I’ve already got the 20-year whiskey!” Or maybe you’re a teetotaler and know how to accumulate savings instead of spending it on fermented wheat—I applaud you!
Well, that’s a somewhat problematic approach because Miranda’s 2021 homerun total basically equaled his home run total from 2016-2019 combined (with no minor league season occurring in 2020). And, to make matters more confusing, Miranda underperformed his competition in wRC+ for the bulk of 2018 and 2019. But hey, Corbin Burnes got rid of his fastball and became the best pitcher in the majors (don’t argue). Maybe Miranda just needed that 2020 breather because he came back from the hiatus a changed batter. His SLG% soared from a paltry .364 in the bulk of his 2019 work to an astonishing .570 across AA and AAA ball in 2021. We’re not talking about a small sample size change either—we’re talking about a guy who took that quarantine break to grow in more ways than just his bread baking ability.
Somewhere, people are shouting “But he had a .350 BABIP in the minors, that’s unsustainable!” Sure, but his Line Drive rate was a cool 27% across his 2021 season, and line drives are a significant driver of BABIP. Can’t catch a scorching liner, right? However we look at it, Miranda’s 2021 wasn’t necessarily expected, but it also wasn’t a fluke. Any team would be happy to bring a true bopper to the hot corner—especially one that doesn’t strike out and is an OBP superstar.
Miranda in Minnesota
All of these mashing numbers are merely eye candy for readers unless we have Major League playing time, right? OK, minor leaguers, I see you and value you, but I also want you to summit that baseball mountain and make the millions that the MLBPA is trying to get you.
The problem for Miranda and playing time is, of course, that he wound up on a small market team like the Twins, who are always in this nebulous “piranha” mode where they try to compete for the easiest division title in baseball with a ragtag team of wily comeback veterans and Quad-A players. To see the evidence for the 2022 trajectory, we need to look no further than the Twins’ projected top starting pitcher, Dylan Bundy. Sigh. Baseball fans with a long memory might recall this “wily veteran career resurgence” narrative has happened frequently in Minnesota. Remember when Lance Lynn stopped off in Minnesota for half a season? And Rich Hill and J.A. Happ and Bartolo Colon and…I mean, I’ll just stop there. No, wait—Nelson Cruz. At least the Twins finagled a Rays’ top arm (Joe Ryan) out of that deal.
This narrative matters because Jose Miranda plays the (in)field, but ostensibly is primarily a third baseman, having logged the majority of his 2021 innings at the hot corner. Currently, the Twins have Josh Donaldson manning third, and Donaldson—somewhat past his prime at 36 years old—is halfway through his contract and continued his above-average play in 2021. Donaldson is slotted to bat 4th for the Twins, and we’ve got this nebulous situation that he doesn’t quite fit the wily veteran redemption narrative Twins fans have come to love. Donaldson is good enough to play on a team making a playoff run, but he’s also owed a total of $38 million over the next two years, including $16 million in 2023. For a third baseman with a slightly above average bat and a below-average defense rating, that’s not an ideal mid-season trade candidate.
If Donaldson gets injured—which has happened with increasing frequency recently—the Twins have a minor-league deal with Tim Beckham, who has nearly 500 MLB innings logged at third base. So, it sounds like Tim Beckham is actually the wily veteran that the Twins would love to see gain some MLB innings and then trade him off for prospects come mid-season. Uh-oh for Miranda. Tim Beckham—a former 1.01 draft pick that never quite lived up to his draft cost—just turned 32 and had an above-average year in AAA last year (which is to be expected). Beckham isn’t completely toast, and a typical Twins move would be to give Beckham enough utility time at the MLB level to showcase to other teams that he isn’t spent. Just about any playoff-bound team would be happy to have a replacement-level utility veteran in a mid-season trade. So, no matter where Miranda tries to play, he might find himself in competition with another former uber-prospect.
Meanwhile, Miranda logged innings at second base and first base in 2021, which are the more likely paths to Major League playing time. At 2B, the Twins currently have Luis Arraez, who is a contact hitter and absolutely benign in terms of power (.082 ISO in 2021) and merely non-threatening for speed (4.4 speed rating, 4 career SB). Arraez is only 24 and is a capable defender—precisely the kind of guy that the Twins love. Arraez is also likely to bat leadoff, and his absence would necessitate shuffling the batting order so somebody like Byron Buxton could bat leadoff. Perhaps a better fit for Miranda is where he logged 200 innings in 2021: first base. Miguel Sano finally figured himself out in Minnesota but the maturation is somewhat lost on most Twins fans. Sano is a liability in the field (negative defensive value every year of his career), and despite cranking 30 homers last year, Sano still struggles with strikeouts. Although Sano posted a career-best K-rate last year, it was still 34%, which left him with a .223 batting average. Possibly more importantly to the trajectory of Jose Miranda, Miguel Sano is in the last year of his contract. The Twins are likely not competing this year, and a player like Sano could be a great DH option for a National League team seeking a power threat for a playoff run.
Miranda himself could appear as a DH for Minnesota after the departure of Nelson Cruz. However, the Twins really don’t need to start the MLB clock on Miranda while they’re not necessarily in a playoff contention position and already have young bats like Alex Kiriloff and Brent Rooker accruing service time.