The Minnesota Twins announced the winners of the Diamond Awards on Wednesday morning. The voting is conducted by the Twin Cities Chapter of the BBWAA, and the awards are handed out not only for performance on the field, but also off it.
Here are the 2016 winners:
Calvin R. Griffith Award (Most Valuable Twin), Charles O. Johnson Award (Most Improved Player) and Bob Allison Award (player who exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership both on and off the field): second baseman Brian Dozier
Wow, that’s a mouthful, but fitting of a player who hit .268/.340/.546 and became the first non-Harmon Killebrew player in Twins history to hit 40 home runs. The most amazing part is that Dozier was benched in late May for poor play, and turned it on like a wildfire thereafter. Dozier was hitting just .199/.288/.318 in late May when manager Paul Molitor sat him for almost two full games, and things almost immediately clicked after that. Over the final 115 games, Dozier hit .291/.356/.621 with 38 home runs, 85 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. That’s a full-season, 162-game pace of 54 home runs, 120 RBIs, and 23 steals.
Joseph W. Haynes Award (Pitcher of the Year) – starting pitcher Ervin Santana
This was a landslide, as the Twins had the MLB’s worst rotation ERA and frankly just very few standout performers across the staff as a whole. Fangraphs’ WAR says this was Santana’s second-best season of his career (3.2 fWAR this year, 5.5 in 2008) as a revitalized Santana gave the Twins 181.1 innings with a 3.38 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9.
Bill Boni Award (Rookie of the Year) – outfielder Max Kepler
Kepler cooled off considerably as the season went on, but still managed to finish with a batting line of .235/.309/.424 with 17 home runs and 39 extra-base hits total in 113 games. Kepler was markedly better against right-handed pitching (.792 OPS) than against lefties (.595), and he added six steals with fairly good defense in right field as he edged out Jorge Polanco (.282/.332/.424) for this honor.
Jim Kaat Award (Best Defender) – outfielder Byron Buxton
While Buxton’s offense has been in question more often than not through 138 games in his MLB career, his defense has been his calling card, as he has exhibited fantastic range and a very good arm besides in solidifying what was previously a bad defensive outfield for the Twins. The more his offense heats up, the more attention he’ll get as a defender moving forward, which means Gold Glove awards could be in his near future. Among 22 center fielders with at least 700 defensive innings, only 12 had more “out of zone” plays than Buxton’s 63. And while that may not sound impressive on the surface, consider that every player but one ahead of Buxton on the list played at least 1,000 innings in center. Randal Grichuk played only 949.1 innings in center and had 75 out of zone plays, while Buxton had his in just 773.2 innings.
Dick Siebert Award (Upper Midwest Player of the Year) – San Diego Padres relief pitcher Brad Hand
Hand is a 2008 graduate of Chaska High School, and was drafted in the second round that year by the then-Florida Marlins. After five so-so years working as a swingman with the Marlins from 2011-15 (4.71 ERA, 4.54 FIP), Hand was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres, who made him a full-time reliever with excellent results. Hand led the NL with 82 appearances, and posted a 2.92 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 11.2 K/9 and a WHIP of just 1.11. The biggest change for hand was the increased usage of his slider, which had a 23.6 percent whiff rate, though his fastball did rise about a full mph as well.
Mike Augustin Award (Media Good Guy) – former Twins general manager Terry Ryan
This award is a nod to the media friendliness by the outgoing — in more ways than one — Ryan, who gave writers unprecedented access to the front office seen in no other market. Most of the time opposing teams’ writers would come into the Twins Media Dining Room and see Ryan holding court, only to remark that they almost never see their team’s executives, let alone have the chance for regular back-and-forth interaction.
Yet, the media could set a watch to Ryan’s availability, which was at the bottom of the hour in the hour preceding game time — every. single. game. Ryan is the last of a dying breed, and took the time to know everyone in that building despite not really having any reason that would benefit him to do so.
A funny story about Ryan: The Twins employ security guards to watch the front door to the team’s clubhouse. Almost always it’s the same two gentlemen who are there every game — one guy who is there until about 4:00 p.m. and another who relieves him and rides out the rest of the night. They’re in charge of, as one might imagine, making sure nobody without proper credentials enters the clubhouse.
The latter of the two guards had a night off for some reason one game last season (2015), and so the club had called on a pinch-hitter of sorts to man the station. After the game, media lines up outside the clubhouse doors waiting for the OK to come in, though team personnel are permitted to come and go as they please. Oftentimes, a high-level executive will go into the clubhouse before the media is permitted — usually to make a roster move or something of that nature.
I don’t recall the move the team made at the time, but Ryan made a beeline for the clubhouse while I — as the only reporter waiting outside the clubhouse at that time — stood and waited to get in. As Ryan grabbed the handle of the door, the rent-a-cop stopped him and said he couldn’t go in. Instead of berating this poor soul as he might have had cause to, Ryan calmly flashed the badge that granted him access to where he damn well pleased at Target Field, while guard slunk back over to his seat, aware he’d made a pretty big mistake.
Now in some organizations that might not be too big of a deal, but Ryan had been with the Twins for 30-some years to that point, and was absolutely a recognizable face. But what impressed me most was how he handled the situation with grace and class when he easily could have berated the person on the spot. That exemplified how Ryan carried himself day in and day out, even if the last few years on the job did not go well.
Carl R. Pohlad Community Service Award – infielder Eduardo Escobar
On the field, Escobar can play multiple positions defensively and has ample power for someone his size. But off the field, he has been equally as valuable, as he’s established a foundation to give children in need access to food, clothing and sporting equipment. Escobar also hosts baseball clinics for young children, and has created a ticket program for Spanish-speaking students at Twin Cities schools, per a Twins release. Escobar also put on the “Eduardo Escobar and Friends’ Labor Day Celebration — Benefitting the “I Love Venezuela” Foundation.” The program benefitted the foundation in Escobar’s home country, a non-profit organization founded by a group of committed citizens of the country to assist “established non-governmental organizations in Venezuela fulfill their objectives by supporting them with necessary resources.”
Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award – former Twins infielder Rod Carew
According to the Twins release, Carew — like most recent winner Tony Oliva (2013) — remains active with the Twins organization and acts as a franchise ambassador. Carew had a heart attack in 2015, and as he recovered partnered with the Twins to start the “Heart of 29” campaign to raise funds for the American Heart Association as well as raise awareness for heart disease and failure.
Kirby Puckett Alumni Community Service Award – former Twins pitcher Mudcat Grant
Grant, who spent four seasons with the Twins from 1964-67, has hosted a golf tournament in Apalachin, N.Y. for the last 15 years called the “Jim “Mudcat” Grant All Star Golf Tournament” with proceeds benefitting the Broome County Urban League, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Binghamton, Catholic Charities, CHOW and the U.S. Military. Each year, roughly 35 celebrities and professional athletes come out to golf in the event. This year’s event had former MLB players J.R. Richard, Al Downing, Vern Law and Andy Ashby in addition to Grant, with Charley Pride headlining the celebrity side of things.
Sherry Robertson Award (Minor League Player of the Year) – Chattanooga Lookouts outfielder Zach Granite
This was touched on in an earlier post, but Granite hit .294/.347/.382 in 127 games with the Lookouts with 56 stolen bases in 70 attempts while playing solid defense in center field.
Jim Rantz Award (Minor League Pitcher of the Year) – Chattanooga Lookouts starting pitcher Stephen Gonsalves
This was also part of a previous post, but Gonsalves combined to post a 2.06 ERA between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A Chattanooga, with 10 K/9 and a 1.02 WHIP. Gonsalves was named Southern League Pitcher of the Month in August, when he held opposing batters to a .371 OPS with a 0.28 ERA (one earned run in 32.2 innings).
The awards will be handed out at the annual Diamond Awards dinner, which will be held Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 at Target Field. The Diamond Awards kick off TwinsFest weekend each year. The event benefits research, education and care in brain, nerve and muscle disorders by the University of Minnesota.