Rocco Baldelli says that the main difference between this year’s Minnesota Twins team, and the Tampa Bay Rays teams he coached are that the Rays had a lot more turnover year to year.
While the Twins are a relatively young team, they have been together for a long time coming up through the minor leagues and there are few impact players in their early 20s who are just getting their first chance in the majors.
“The teams in Tampa Bay, for the most part, they felt like the group was a little younger, and guys were kind of all figuring it all out at the same time,” he said. “That was the general feel as player, and as a coach. The Tampa Bay group also was a group that kinda came together, and it almost felt like it came together year to year.”
If anything, guys like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano have been talked about for so long that people had started to sour on them a bit before this season. They also became tired of Eddie Rosario missing cutoff men or getting lost on the basepaths, Max Kepler only hitting along the first base line or Mitch Garver’s failure to frame pitches.
But that continuity has bred familiarity, something Baldelli cherishes in his new job.
“I don’t get that feel here,” he said, referring to the Rays-level turnover. “Yes, we brought in some veteran players this year that have been wonderful. On the field, off the field and have really solidified everything going on, but I feel like the stability in the core that is here in Minnesota, it’s pretty solid and it’s kind of a large group.”
Only Luis Arraez, who is 22 and hitting .389/.478/.611, is breaking into the major leagues right now. The rest of the core is made up of players in their mid-to-late 20s who are looking to establish themselves in the major leagues.
Jonathan Schoop, 29, was an All-Star in 2017, when he hit .293/.338/.503 and 32 home runs with the Baltimore Orioles, and is looking to rebound after a disappointing season last year — he hit .202/.246/.331 after being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. And
Marwin Gonzalez hit .303/.377/.530 as the utility man for the Houston Astros when they won the World Series in 2017.
The veterans not only provide perspective in the locker room, helping the core players through slumps and telling them not to fear the New York Yankees under their bed, but also lengthen and provide protection in the lineup. Sano and Buxton don’t need to carry the team offensively and can hit lower in the order because Cron and Schoop can hold their own.
The issue is that Cron, Cruz and Schoop were affordable because they were available on one-year deals, and Gonzalez signed an affordable two-year contract and therefore may not be with the team long term. Conversely, the core players are all under player control either through arbitration (Buxton, Sano, Rosario and Garver) or affordable contracts (Polanco and Kepler).
Therefore, it’s important to look at where the production is coming from. All stats are from before Memorial Day.
- Mitch Garver (.329/.418/.747, 9 HR, 204 OPS+)
- Miguel Sano (.250/.324/.781, 5 HR, 183 OPS+)
- Jorge Polanco (.335/.408/.594, 9 HR, 165 OPS+)
- Max Kepler (.276/.348/.541, 12 HR, 134 OPS+)
- Eddie Rosario (.285/.316/.565, 16 HR, 130 OPS+)
- Byron Buxton (.256/.316/.475, 4 HR/19 2B, 109 OPS+)
- C.J. Cron (.272/.337/.543, 13 HR, 131 OPS+)
- Nelson Cruz (.270/.354/.508, 7 HR, 128 OPS+)
- Jonathan Schoop (.266/.319/.519, 10 HR, 120 OPS+)
- Marwin Gonzalez (.235/.315/.364, 5 HR, 83 OPS+)
The core players are holding their own, although the additional offense certainly helps. Taken together, the six core players have a .289/.355/.617 average (154 OPS+), where the four free agents have hit .261/.331/.484 (116 OPS+) collectively. There is obviously an acute focus on home runs this year, and the core is supplying most of the power — 55 for the core, 35 for the vets. Arraez also has one.
So the veterans are a welcome supplement, but the homegrown stars are holding their own. That’s a good sign for a team that has had top prospects in their organization for years who have struggled to live up to their potential in the major leagues. Even if Cron, Cruz, Schoop and Gonzalez end up leaving in the near future, the core players Minnesota has developed have shown signs that they are capable of carrying the team offensively for years to come.