Category Archives: Minnesota Twins Jerseys 2021

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hansel Robles thinks he has pinpointed where his 2020 season went wrong.

And now, he’s hoping that he’ll be able to avoid the same issues that plagued him a season ago. The 30-year-old relief pitcher, who the Twins signed to a one-year, $2 million deal this offseason, posted a 10.26 earned-run Cheap Minnesota Twins Jerseys average in 16 2/3 innings last season with the Angels, when his walks were up and his velocity was down.

That season, he hopes, is an outlier. Robles, who began his career with the Mets, came to Anaheim in the middle of the 2018 season and gave up 12 earned runs in 36 1/3 innings (2.97 ERA) that season. The next year, in 2019, he had 23 saves and a 2.48 ERA in 72 2/3 innings as a heavily relied upon member of the Angels’ bullpen.

“I think starting 2020 spring training and going full speed and then having to stop because of the pandemic, it was tough. It got to me a little bit,” he said. “Then you had to go and stay inside because you were scared of getting sick and (you had concerns for) your family and then going back at it again. That was difficult for me, that adjustment. We went into a short season, but that doesn’t mean it was easy going through all of that. I think that had to do with my performance.”

With the pandemic still ongoing, and players beginning a second season with strict health and safety protocols in place. But this time, Robles will have a normal spring training to prepare, he’s more comfortable with the protocols and said he feels safer.

Robles said his primary focus this spring was working on sharpening his command — he gave up 10 walks last season in 16 2/3 innings, though just 16 walks a season before in more than four times as many innings.

His four-seamer clocked in at 97.2 mph in 2019 but dipped to 95.4 mph last season, undoubtedly something pitching coach Wes Johnson will look at improving with Robles this spring.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said his staff doesn’t want to put too much stock in what it saw from Robles during the pandemic-shortened season. Robles is a guy, he said, they think has tremendous potential and is someone they’re going to be relying upon out of the bullpen.

“We still think there’s more in there for him to unlock,” Baldelli said. “We think he can be dominant. I think we’re getting a chance to see that now. He’s got a really unique pitch mix, delivery, and there’s some things in there that are different that we think will allow him to separate himself from a normal good guy with a good arm that you would bring in.”

Versatility is key
Expect to see the Twins shifting players all over the field this spring — and into the season.

While Miguel Sano is still going to mainly play first base, Baldelli said they could see him slide over to third at different times. Jorge Polanco is moving to second base this year with the addition of Andrelton Simmons, but will get work in at shortstop, too. Outfielder Alex Kirilloff will play some first base to go along with both corner outfield positions. And Luis Arraez might be moving around the most of all.

Though Arraez spent some time in the outfield in 2019, Baldelli said he would primarily be taking reps at second and third base this spring. He hinted that Arraez could get some innings at short or possibly first base, though that’s not a priority.

“Every guy that can competently handle more than one spot on the field, it helps us do individual things,” Baldelli said. “Those individual things lead to winning games. The more flexibility we have, the more moves we can potentially make, the more games I think we’re going to win.”

Pitching dates
Taylor Rogers, Robles, Tyler Duffey, Cody Stashak and Ian Hamilton will make their spring pitching debuts on Sunday, along with Devin Smeltzer, who will start the 12:05 p.m. CT game against the Red Sox.

On Monday, Lewis Thorpe will start, followed by Shaun Anderson, Juan Minaya, Luke Farrell and Griffin Jax. Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda are expected to make their spring debuts sometime in the next four or five days, Baldelli said. Berrios threw to hitters on Friday at Hammond Stadium.

“Everyone was kind of saying the same thing about Jose’s bullpen: He looks very, very sharp and very, very focused,” Baldelli said. “Every pitch he threw that I caught had great intent, and he was executing. It did not look like a very early-season bullpen.”

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Bryant, 29, is not to be confused with his past self. The phenom who won two Collegiate Player of the Year awards in 2013, was drafted second overall that June, won the Arizona Fall League MVP that November, was Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2014, edged out Byron Buxton as the same publication’s top prospect for 2015, won the NL Rookie of the Year award that year, and was the NL MVP in 2016 (after which his team won their first World Series in 108 years) is no more.

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That’s not a knock on Bryant, though. That smooth, rapid ascent, from the edge of pro baseball to its apotheosis, was essentially unprecedented, and it would have been almost impossible to sustain. Still, over the last few years, Bryant has fallen short of even moderated expectations of a would-be superstar. Those struggles have stemmed in large part from injuries, but there are also elements of his mechanical style and his skill set that have contributed to the stall-out. Understanding those things is essential to a Twins fan intrigued by the possibility of dealing for him.

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Coached to hit for power from a very young age, by his ex-pro father, Bryant arrived in pro baseball with a swing unlike almost anything else the game has seen. From a stance with a deep knee bend but an upright spine, Bryant would smoothly, steeply steer his bat from behind his ear, down low, then up through the hitting zone at an angle few other hitters have ever achieved so consistently, while still making contact at a reasonable rate. He had good bat speed, but never generated screaming line drives of the kind Miguel Sanó or Josh Donaldson hit so consistently. Rather, he became an elite power hitter in a league that hadn’t accommodated that type of player especially well over the prior few seasons, primarily by pulling the ball in the air as regularly as anyone in baseball.

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That unique swing allowed Bryant to hit 65 home runs over his first two big-league seasons, and that wasn’t all. With that swing, even ground balls leave his bat at a higher average launch angle than other guys’ ground balls, which tends to lead to more hits on them. With an excellent approach and plenty of power to scare pitchers out of the strike zone, Bryant draws plenty of walks. That part of his game has held up well, even as other aspects of it have declined.

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However, that decline in other areas is real, and it matters. Part of the problem is that pretty, unorthodox swing itself. In its original form, the swing finished high and one-handed, with more energy being absorbed by Bryant’s front shoulder than was ever all that wise. As Bryant has filled out, he’s modified and moderated that, and he’s also adjusted his swing itself, to improve his contact rate and better handle pitches up in the zone. Those adjustments have shielded him from catastrophic injury to the shoulder, but because of a couple of fielding and baserunning plays, he’s still hurt that same shoulder, and he’s also had to deal with wrist and foot issues.

It’s pretty clear that Bryant’s power is permanently diminished, both because it depended on a stance, swing, and actions that are inherently difficult to perform as one fills out and ages, and because of the injuries that have robbed him of some explosiveness. That said, he’s still a well-rounded hitter, and the Cubs have both been bad at this element of player development and been forced to rotate hitting coaches frequently over the last few years. The Twins, who specialize in coaching players to lift the ball to the pull field, could probably get some of that power back for him, even if it doesn’t yield 40 home runs.

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More importantly, Bryant is a good fit for many of the things the Twins need. He would be an acquisition in place of re-signing Nelson Cruz, and the fit is compelling. He’s moved around the field during his career, and is a perfectly solid defensive left fielder—better than Eddie Rosario or Brent Rooker, for sure, and probably even better than a younger Alex Kirilloff will be. He could play third base whenever Donaldson is hurt, take over the designated hitter role when Donaldson is able to go, spell Sanó at first base, and play either left or right field against left-handed pitchers.

Agent Scott Boras is still hopeful of selling Bryant as a superstar when he hits free agency this fall, so the Twins would almost certainly be acquiring him for just one season. He’s due to make $19.5 million, which is a hefty price tag, and getting him would not quench the team’s desire to improve their depth at the middle infield spots. However, when the Cubs traded Yu Darvish (a player whose recent performance better justifies his salary) last month, they sent $3 million to the Padres in the deal. They might eat that much, or even more, if they could get anything of value in return for Bryant. Unlike other trade targets of this caliber, though, Bryant won’t cost the Twins any true top prospect, even if they do ask Chicago to absorb some salary.

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I think Bryant only fits if Minnesota is willing to spend somewhere north of $125 million in 2021, and ideally if they’re willing to go up to $135 million. Assuming that, they could dramatically sweeten their offer to Chicago in an effort to add Kyle Hendricks to the trade (a structure Chicago has reportedly discussed with the Blue Jays), or they could take on the eight-figure salary and high-octane bullpen support of Craig Kimbrel, and end up sending almost no talent at all to the Cubs. In either case, they’d be left with a fearsome lineup and a terrific pitching staff, and could still afford to sign Marcus Semien or Didi Gregorius. If they did only acquire Bryant, they’d still be able to add a solid late-game free-agent reliever or two, and make the same upgrade at shortstop.

If the budget is more limited, Bryant and the Twins are a poor match. In that case, though, the Twins have fewer options in the first place, and need to get serious soon, because (while time never truly runs out on the offseason player market) talent is starting to grow scarce, and costs aren’t coming down as quickly as the club might have hoped.

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As we did last offseason, Twinkie Town writers are grading player who appeared in a game for the 2020 Minnesota Twins. (Last year’s grades can be found here, this year’s here.) Players will be graded individually on an A-F scale based on their hitting, fielding, and whatever else the author wants to consider. Today, we take a look at another young reliever.

Perhaps it took injury and roster expansion for Jorge Alcala to receive an opportunity in a major league bullpen, but his 2020 showed he deserves to stay there.

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After a cup of coffee in 2019 as a September call-up, Alcala began the following season at the St. Paul alternate training site. He would only linger there for a week, as an injury to Zack Littell opened a spot in the relief corps.

For the rest of the regular season, the fireballing righty was a bullpen mainstay.

Though used primarily in lower-leverage situations in his first “full” season, Alcala’s numbers were still well above average. In 16 appearances, Alcala put forth a 2.63 ERA, 3.57 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP while striking out 27 batters at a 28.7 percent clip. Batters hit .244 off Alcala’s pitching, aided by a .321 BABIP over thirty percentage points higher than the team average.

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All three of Alcala’s primary pitches – his fastball, slider, and changeup – were thrown well above the league mean in terms of velocity, Alcala touching triple digits with one September 2 heater. He also ranked in the solidly good range in terms of many of Baseball Savant’s percentiles, the only exception being his average 8.5 percent walk rate.

Despite his strong season, Alcala was surprisingly left off the roster for the Wild Card round. Whether adding him to the roster would have made a difference can be argued, but given his low-leverage relief role in 2020, any change would likely have been minimal this year.

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Although his season came to an end without a chance to demonstrate his prowess in the playoffs, Alcala’s 2020 was a clear success. Writing about him moving forward, I only have one question, the same I had about promising then-rookie Luis Arraez last year: do you put the diacritical mark over the last “a” in his surname or not? I have seen it written with and without, and am not sure which is correct.

Either way, high marks for Jorge. Here’s to higher marks in 2021.
After a tough stretch for most of the decade, the Twins proved 2019 wasn’t a fluke and they are ready to be competitive again in the American League Central.

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The youth movement is alive and well in Minnesota with lineups full of homegrown talent who debuted in the past five years. Byron Buxton and José Berríos have settled in while Ryan Jeffers and Jorge Alcala stepped up this year. And even more top prospects should be ready next year.

“We have a lot of upper-level talent, we have a wave of guys that are right on the cusp of hopefully making an impact at the Major League level,” said Alex Hassan, the club’s director of player development. “We’re excited to see those guys hopefully take a step forward in 2021 and really be knocking on the door and being available whenever the need arises that they’re ready to step in and contribute and help us win meaningful games.”

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System strengths: As Hassan pointed out, the Twins boast a lot of talent on the cusp of the Majors. Of their top six prospects, five reached Double-A or higher in 2019. And the sixth, Jordan Balazovic is 22 with four Minor League seasons under his belt. Catcher Ryan Jeffers spent most of 2020 in The Show while Alex Kirilloff made his big league debut in the postseason. After a breakout 2018 and an injury-riddled 2019, baseball’s No. 27 overall prospect proved at the alternate training site the former was better representative of his game.

“Really great at-bats, controlled the strike zone, incredible barrel control and played solid defense,” Hassan said. “He’s one of our most calm and collected players that we have, so we felt like if there’s anybody who’s gonna be able to handle making their debut of the playoffs, it’s gonna be Alex.”

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Shortstop Royce Lewis continues to turn heads and create questions for Jorge Polanco’s future in the Twins’ infield. After winning MVP honors in the 2019 Arizona Fall League, the No. 7 overall prospect did what he could this summer to keep that momentum rolling while in St. Paul, particularly by hitting the ball to all fields and improving his defense.

“Both [Lewis and Kirilloff] did an outstanding job and really put themselves in a position that hopefully they’re ready to contribute at the Major League level in the not-too-distant future,” Hassan said.

Areas for growth: The Twins’ Top 30 prospects are pretty well-rounded, except in one way: left-handed pitchers. With the graduations of Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, Minnesota doesn’t have any top southpaw prospects. Hassan said he and his staff are not concerned, calling it “cyclical” after the graduations.

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“No one who’s in that upper echelon of prospects that we’re talking about right now,” he said of lefties on his radar. “In terms of like our top, top-tier talent, I mean, certainly it’s right-hand dominant.”

Some southpaws who are trying to break through are Tyler Watson, who showed promise in the second half of the 2019 season in the Class A Advanced Florida State League and teammate Bryan Sammons, who did well for Fort Myers before struggling at Double-A Pensacola.

What changed in 2020: The biggest trade of the year for the Twins came in February when they sent then-No. 83 overall prospect Brusdar Graterol, Minor Leaguer Luke Raley and a Draft pick to the Dodgers for ace Kenta Maeda and catcher Jair Camargo. The trade ended up working out for both sides as Minnesota picked up a Cy Young finalist and Los Angeles got a reliable arm for their World Series-winning bullpen.

At the Draft, the Twins nabbed college first baseman Aaron Sabato, college outfielder Alerick Soularie, high-school hurler Marco Raya (yes, right-handed) and high-school outfielder Kala’i Rosario. After being selected 27th overall out of UNC, Sabato jumped into the rankings as the club’s No. 8 prospect. While power is the 21-year-old’s best tool, Hassan also loves his makeup.

“He’s a strong kid. He’s got a really good swing and a really good feel for what he’s doing at the plate and then he has competitive at-bats and it has really good power,” Hassan said. “So a lot of the characteristics that we saw in the Draft, he showed up in instructional league and we saw a lot of those strengths.”

#283: Twins’ Aaron Sabato
Nov 6, 2020 · 59:16
#283: Twins’ Aaron Sabato
Alternate site standout: While Lewis and Kirilloff grabbed the most headlines, they were not the only ones who really stood out for Hassan at St. Paul. Right-hander Josh Winder, a 2018 Draft pick out of Virginia Military Institute, impressed with the work he put in both in the weight room and on the mound. Hassan noted Winder “really took a meaningful step forward.”

Matt Canterino came into the alternate site later in the summer with just 25 Minor League innings under his belt, but the 2019 second-round pick performed above his experience.

“He worked his butt off during the shutdown as well,” Hassan said. “Matt has really good stuff. He has four really good pitches and has stuff similar to Jordan [Balazovic]. Really ticked up and we were thrilled with what we saw from him.”

From the dish, Hassan liked the strides made by Twins No. 7 prospect Keoni Cavaco. At just 19, the shortstop was able to develop off-field routines that translated into games.

“He did a really good job on offense, controlled the strike zone a little bit better, put some more balls in play and flashed the tools that that made him a first-round pick in 2019,” Hassan said.

Impact rookies: No rookie (or catcher for that matter) got more playing time in the Twins’ lineup this summer than Jeffers. The 23-year-old backstop is best known for his defense, but he also has some pop. In 26 games, Jeffers batted .273/.355/.436 with three homers and seven RBIs. He allowed one passed ball while his 0.5 fWAR ranked ninth among all Twins.

“He’s always had an ability to be a really good receiver for us. He’s a good game-caller, he managed the staff really well and I think those things all showed up,” Hassan said. “And he’s been a really good hitter throughout his Minor League career and had good at-bats at the Major League level.”

Out of the bullpen, Alcala’s 2.63 ERA placed fourth among Twins pitchers with more than three innings pitched. The 25-year-old right-hander got a taste in 2019, but really carved a path for himself this year, notching 27 strikeouts and only eight walks in 24 innings spanning 16 appearances.

Next big thing: Balazovic was drafted in the fifth round in 2016, but he didn’t start turning heads until two years later. He ended 2018 as the club’s No. 29 prospect. After a breakout 2019, he became the organization’s No. 4 prospect. With a plus-plus fastball and a plus-slider, Balazovic turned himself into the Twins’ top Minor League arm.

Balazovic didn’t get to the alternate training site until late summer, but because of the work he put in at home, he impressed in his limited time at St. Paul and in the instructional league.

“His stuff looked great, he really hadn’t lost much at all on his stuff. If anything, probably picked up a tick across the board,” Hassan said. “We’re excited about him. He was added to the Major League roster, the 40-man roster this offseason, so he’ll be a big league camp this year obviously, and he’ll be competing just like everybody else. So we don’t think he’s too far away.”