All week long, we have been looking at the Minnesota Twins roster in preparation for Game 1 of the ALDS against the New York Yankees that begins on Friday, October 4 (7:07 p.m ET, MLB Network). Today, we take a look at the position players for the Minnesota Twins.
If home runs are going to be hit aplenty in this series, then getting those outs on defense and not making errors will be key in making those homers solo shots rather than ones that can break a game open.
While the Yankees have been known for their injuries this season, the Twins have had some injuries of their own in the infield that could play an impact in this series. However, Rocco Baldelli and the Twins’ front office have done a good job in finding players that can play multiple positions and getting power out of players on short contracts.
So, while the roster hasn’t been made official, let’s take a look at some of the possible options for Minnesota in the infield:
In terms of finding a regular first baseman on the Twins, Cron would be that player. He played the bulk of the season at the position for Minnesota (117 games). Cron came over from the Tampa Bay Rays after being claimed by the Twins off waivers in November and it was another good bargain signing from their front office.
Over the course of 125 games, Cron had a slash line of .253/.311/.469 with 25 home runs and 78 RBIs. It was his second straight season of 25 or more home runs (30 with Tampa Bay last season). Out of those 25 homers, only 8 of them came in the second half in a stretch of a season where he hit .229.
However, the power aspect of Cron’s game is his best tool. The 29-year-old hit nearly .300 (.299) in the month of May with 8 home runs and 21 RBIs, so he is capable of going on a hot streak. Plus, 15 of those 25 dingers were away from Target Field (1 at Yankee Stadium).
The key against Cron for these Yankee pitchers is going to be to get ahead in the count. According to Brooks Baseball, only 4 of Cron’s 25 home runs have come when he is behind in the count.
Defensively, Cron improved at first base this season compared to last. According to FanGraphs, his defensive runs saved went up from -2 to 2.
- Cron went 2-for-11 against the Yankees this year with a home run and 2 RBIs. That home run came against Happ (1-for-3, solo home run).
- The other RBI for Cron against New York came off of James Paxton (1-for-1).
- Cron could be a key early in the series as he is 6-for-18 against Paxton lifetime with 2 home runs and 4 RBIs to go with 4 strikeouts.
- Cron played in the postseason for the Los Angeles Angels in the 2014 ALDS against the Kansas City Royals. The former 1st Round pick went 1-for-9 with a double in a series where LA was swept.
Schoop is a familiar name for Yankees fans because he was the second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles from 2013-2018. After spending the latter portion of last year with the Milwaukee Brewers, Schoop signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal with the Twins over the winter.
On a short-term deal, Schoop found his power in Minnesota. In 121 games, he had a slash line of .256/.304/.473 with 23 home runs and 59 RBIs. In a 20+ home run season, only 7 of those long balls came at Target Field and his OPS away from home was .836 (.712 at home), so the 27-year-old might do more of his damage in the first two games of this series.
One thing that Schoop has done more this year compared to most years in his career is that he has pulled the ball more. According to FanGraphs, his pull percentage was 46.5 percent. The righty saw that percentage go up from the 43.3 percent it was a year ago.
The question that always came up for Schoop in Baltimore was would the plate discipline improve as his career went on. He did have 20 walks for only the third time in his career, but Schoop is still a player that has the tendency to chase pitches (25 percent strikeouts). From a player that doesn’t bring too much defensively (0 runs saved), Schoop’s offense will have to play a factor at the bottom of the lineup.
- Schoop went 4-for-14 with an RBI and struck out 5 times against the Yankees this season. That RBI came against Stephen Tarpley.
- His 20 doubles in 76 games against New York in his career are the second most he has against any team in his career (21 against Toronto).
- Schoop’s best success against a Yankees starter is against Masahiro Tanaka. He is 9-for-31 (.290) with 3 doubles, 3 home runs, and 6 RBIs in his career.
- With runners in scoring position this year, Schoop hit .176 with 7 home runs and 32 RBIs. That is important to note when you consider there are going to be plenty of jams to get out of in the postseason.
- Schoop has played in 12 postseason games in his career and the numbers aren’t great. He is a .121 hitter in October with 2 RBIs and 1 extra-base hit (double). In fact, he has struck out 8 times and he is 1-for-23 at the plate going back to the 2014 ALCS against the Kansas City Royals.
If you are looking for a major injury storyline surrounding the Twins, look no further than Luis Arraez. Arraez’s status for the series is in question as of Tuesday after suffering a Grade 1 ankle sprain in the final series of the season against the Kansas City Royals.
Since making his debut on May 18, the 22-year-old left-handed hitter has a slash line of .334/.399/.439 with 4 home runs, 28 RBIs, and 20 doubles in 92 games. Despite playing less than 100 games, Arraez was one of eight Twins on the roster to have 20 or more doubles.
Arraez’s value to the Twins is his versatility all around the field. He has played at least 8 games this year at third base, shortstop, left field, and second base. While he only has 4 home runs, the high average is a unique tool in a Twins offense that relies mainly on their power and he had more walks this year (36) than strikeouts (29).
When you watch Arraez play, he is going to make hard contact with the ball more often than not. According to FanGraphs, he makes medium contact 53 percent of the time and hard contact 34.7 percent of the time.
While Arraez can play other positions, second base is arguably the weakest position for him defensively as he had -8 defensive runs saved for the year (FanGraphs).
- Arraez went 5-for-12 against the Yankees this year with 4 runs scored and an RBI. That RBI came against Domingo German (not eligible to pitch this postseason).
- In the final 30 days of the season, Arraez hit .340 with 9 doubles in 94 at-bats.
- 21 of Arraez’s 28 RBIs have come with runners in scoring position this year.
In a Twins lineup that is known for their pop, Polanco can tend to get overlooked when discussing this matchup. The 26-year-old shortstop finished 10th in the American League in runs scored (107) and was the starting shortstop in the All-Star Game this past July.
This season, Polanco had a slash line of .295/.356/.485 with 22 home runs, 79 RBIs, 40 doubles, 7 triples, and 60 walks in 153 games. He had a breakthrough season at the plate as he surpassed his season-high in home runs from the 13 he had in 2017.
Polanco can not only hit for power, but he puts the ball in play on a consistent basis as evident by the 186 hits he had in the regular season. Plus, his 60 walks are tied with Max Kepler for the most on the Twins.
One of the keys to Polanco’s success this year was he was putting the ball in the air more frequently. According to FanGraphs, Polanco hit a flyball 44.4 percent of the time and the home run to fly ball ratio went up from 6.7 percent last year to 9.6.
Defensively, Polanco showed some improvement as he had 1 defensive run saved. It was the first time that he has had positive defensive runs saved in a a year where has played at least 100 innings.
- Polanco went 6-for-26 (.231) with 2 home runs and 4 RBIs against the Yankees this season.
- Those home runs came against CC Sabathia (2-for-2, home run, RBI, walk) and Domingo German (2-for-6, home run, RBI).
- Polanco got the start for the Twins in the 2017 Wild Card Game against New York and went 1-for-4.
- Polanco cut down his stolen bases from the 13 he had in 2017 as he had only 4 this year. In fact, he almost got caught stealing as many times as he stole a base (3).
- This year, Polanco hit .333 with 4 home runs and 52 RBIs with runners in scoring position. That is an important stat to keep an eye on because he usually hits second in the Twins lineup.
If you are looking for the Twins’ version of Tyler Wade, then Adrianza might be that player as long as he is healthy. Adrianza hasn’t played in a game since September 12 due to an oblique injury. If he does not play, expect Williams Astudillo to be on the roster.
For this preview, we will mention Adrianza because he is the definition of a utility infielder. He has played at least 7 games at each of the 4 infield positions and 20 or more games at first base, shortstop, and third base.
In 83 games this year, Adrianza had a slash line of .272/.349/.416 with 8 doubles, 3 triples, 5 home runs, and 22 RBIs. Adrianza is 7-for-37 (.189) against the Yankees in his career, but the 2 RBIs he has have come against Aroldis Chapman (0-for-2, 1 RBI, 1 walk) and Luis Severino (1-for-2, 1 double, 1 RBI).
As for Astudillo, he is more of an option at the corner infield positions or behind the plate. However, in the month of September, the 27-year-old did hit .281 with a home run and 8 RBIs over 57 at-bats.
While Sano only played in 105 games this year due to a foot injury delaying the start of his year until May 16, the third baseman still found a way to put up impressive numbers at the plate with his power. He had a slash line of .247/.346/.576 with 34 home runs and 79 RBIs.
Both the home runs and RBI totals for Sano were career-high as well as his .OPS of .923. Despite the career year, Sano did only hit .218 at Target Field with 14 home runs as opposed to the .276 average and 20 home runs he had on the road.
In terms of improvements from a season ago, Sano’s line drive percentage went up from 15 percent to 21.2 percent and his groundball ratio went down from 43.8 percent to 36.9 percent. Both of those stats are courtesy of FanGraphs.
While Sano can change a game with his power, he can also affect a game in the wrong way with his defense. Over the last three seasons, he has had -5 runs saved or worse each of those years. Clearly, in this series, the Yankees have a defensive edge at the hot corner.
- Sano was 2-for-12 against the Yankees this season, but both of those hits were home runs and he had 6 RBIs.
- Sano is 4-for-11 against Paxton in his career with a home run and 2 RBIs. However, he also has 5 strikeouts.
- In three of the last four seasons, Sano has finished in the top 10 in the American League in strikeouts.
- 12 of Sano’s 34 home runs came in the 7th inning or later this year. The only Twin who had more home runs over that stretch of the game was Nelson Cruz (13).
Kepler was signed by the twins way back in July of 2009 when he was just 16 years old. The German native is just beginning to carve out a nice career for himself, with his best season coming in 2019.
This season Kepler slashed .252/.336/.519 with a career-high 36 home runs and 90 RBI. He did all this while playing in 134 games, whereas he played 154 in the 2018 season. He also posted career highs in wOBA (.355) and wRC+ (121).
How Kepler improved so much is somewhat puzzling. Kepler spend some time playing valley of the gods slots game to improved his way of strategy thinking. His average exit velocity was actually in the 66th percentile in 2018, as opposed to the 62nd percentile in 2019. He did, though, have a higher hard-hit % in 2019 as he was in the 67th percentile in 2019 as opposed to the 52nd in 2018.
Where Kepler did seem to “improve” was in his average launch angle. While it sat at 16 degrees in 2018, he increased that to 18 degrees in 2019. That still, though, is not enough to come to a conclusion on his uptick in home runs. What might be a better indicator, in tandem with a more optimal launch angle, is the fact that Kepler pulled the ball more in 2019 than in any other season of his career. Combine a nearly a 10% increase in pull% with a 2.5% increase in barrel% and a clearer picture of Kepler’s power surge comes to light.
One thing that we can practically assume with the 2019 Twins is that they have made an organizational effort to increase their home run numbers. Pulling the ball and trying to hit it harder is a good recipe for doing that, and that is exactly what Max Kepler has done in 2019.
Kepler is also one of the better defensive outfielders in the Majors. He is in the top 5 in defensive categories such as range rating, UZR/150, UZR, and in the top 25 in arm rating. All in all, Max Kepler is one of the 30 best players in baseball.
- Kepler is 3-for-20 (.150) against the Yankees this season with a home run and 1 RBI.
- That home run came against C.C Sabathia (1-for-2, home run, 1 RBI).
- Kepler is 0-for-3 against Tommy Kahnle in 2019, so that matchup out of the bullpen could be something to watch.
- Kepler is 1-9 against Masahiro Tanaka in his career
The Twins have another power-hitting outfielder in Eddie Rosario. He has manned left field for most of the season and, much like Kepler, is experiencing a power surge. He is slashing .278/.302/.504 in 2019 with a career-high 32 home runs and 109 RBI. He played in 136 games, two less than the amount he played in 2018.
From an overall productivity standpoint, Rosario has actually had his worst season in three years. He finished with three-year lows in wOBA (.331), wRC+ (105), and WAR (1.4). He also had the worst defensive season of his career, posting a -10.4 DEF rating. His outfielder jump rating also dipped down to the 14th percentile, whereas he was in the 78th percentile in 2018.
When it comes to postseason play, however, it’s important to take into account a player’s ability to do damage. While the advanced metrics weren’t at their highest marks for Rosario, his power numbers were. If runners get on base in front of him, then he is another player in this scary Twins lineup that can put one over the fence. He, like Kepler, put a further emphasis on pulling the baseball, and we have seen his home run numbers take a jump.
- Rosario is 8-for-20 (.320) against the Yankees this season with a home run and 6 RBI.
- That home run came against J.A Happ (2-for-5, home run, 2 RBI).
- 11 of Rosario’s 20 at-bats against the Yankees this season came against J.A Happ and Domingo German, so his sample against probable impact arms for the Yankees is especially small.
Jake Cave, a former Yankee, got his chance in 2019 when Byron Buxton began battling nagging health issues starting in mid-June. Cave, unlike his colleagues in the outfield, is not going to scare you with his power. He is, nonetheless, a serviceable impact piece in the Twins lineup. In 72 games Cave slashed .258/.351/.455 with a .343 wOBA and a 113 wRC+. By all accounts, then, Jake cave has actually been an above-average asset for the Twins. He is by no means the scariest member of the Twins lineup, in fact he might be the last hitter the Yankees need to worry about, but he has by all accounts made a difference this season for the Twins. That alone is enough to not overlook the impact he can make in a best of 5 series, even if it’s off the bench.
- The Yankees traded Cave to the Twins on 03/16/2018 in exchange for Luis Gil.
- The Yankees selected Cave with the 28th pick of the sixth round of 2011 June Amateur Draft.
- Cave is hitless in just two at-bats against the Yankees in 2019.
Back in February, the Twins signed Gonzalez to a 2-year, $21 million contract after he spent the first 7 seasons of his career with the Houston Astros. This season, he only played in 114 games, which was the lowest in his career since 2014 (103).
Over the course of the season, the 30-year-old had a slash line of .264/.322/.414 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. He had a brief IL stint in June due to a hamstring strain. Also, he hasn’t played in a game since September 22 due to right oblique tightness. However, it is expected that Gonzalez will play on Friday.
With Gonzalez being a switch-hitter, he should see ample playing time in this series if healthy. He has played more against right-handers this year when he hits from the left side. In those situations, he’s a .249 hitter with 10 home runs and 43 RBIs. He is also one of the few Twins on this roster with postseason experience.
Back in 2017, Gonzalez faced the Yankees when he was with Houston in the ALCS. Despite having that experience, it wasn’t a great success in that series as he was 3-for-19 with 4 strikeouts.
- Gonzalez is 8-for-26 (.308) against the Yankees this season with a home run and 4 RBIs.
- That home run came against J.A. Happ (2-for-5, home run, 2 RBIs).
- Gonzalez is 4-for-15 against Happ in his career, so it is something to watch in a potential Game 4
- Gonzalez also has a home run in his career against CC Sabathia (3-for-8, double, home run, 3 RBIs) and Luis Severino (2-for-9, home run, 3 RBIs).
The more you look into it, the more you realize there really is not a place to hide when it comes to pitching to this Twins lineup. Mitch Garver is just one more example of a player on the Twins that took a quantum leap in production. In 93 games Garver has slashed .273/.365/.630 with 31 home runs and 67 RBI. He has also posted eye-popping advanced numbers as he boasts a 155 wRC+ and a .404 wOBA.
Garver is a product of another Twins hitter that has made a point of hitting the ball harder and farther. He sits in the 97th percentile (50%) in Hard Hit % and the 85th percentile in average Exit Velocity (91.1 mph). He’s not getting overly lucky either. He is in the 90th percentile in xwOBA and in the 94th percentile in xSLG. His BABIP is even well below league average at .277. Mitch Garver, then, is just a flat out, dangerous hitter.
Somehow, Mitch Garver has increased his barrel % ten full points over the course of one season and lowered his weak% by 1.5 points in that same time frame. What we see, though, is a very similar phenomenon with Mitch Garver as we have seen with Max Kepler. He is pulling the ball a lot more, and he has gotten his launch angle closer to the “optimal” range. His pull % has jumped from 34.5% in 2018 to almost 50% in 2019. His average launch angle has jumped nearly 3 percentage points from 12.5% to 15.5% in that time as well.
- Garver is 7-for-17 (.412) with three home runs and six RBI against the Yankees in 2019.
- Garver’s three home runs came off C.C Sabathia, J.A Happ and Luis Cessa, respectively.
- Garver is 0-for-2 against James Paxton this season and 0-5 against him in his career.
Jason Castro is likely to serve as the backup catcher for the Twins in the ALDS. He posted a slash line of .232/.332/.435 with 13 home runs and 30 RBI in 79 games. Castro has been a consistently solid MLB player dating back to 2012, having posted two or more WAR in each season since then with the exception of last season when he played in just 19 games. That’s mostly thanks to his defensive ability, as his offensive production has never bubbled into anything special.
- Castro is 2-for-7 with no home runs and an RBI against the Yankees in 2019
- Castro was the tenth overall pick in the 2008 June Amateur Draft, selected by the Houston Astros