For the second year in a row, the Minnesota Twins have continued to make offseason additions even as spring training has begun. This time, it was signing Swiss Army knife and former Houston Astro Marwin Gonzalez to a two-year deal.
The Twins have not yet announced the signing, or the corresponding 40-man roster move to make room for Gonzalez.[Update: The Twins have designated Zack Granite for release or assignment in order to make room for Gonzalez on the 40-man roster.]
Gonzalez turns 30 in three weeks, and is coming off hitting .247/.324/.409 while playing every defensive position except catcher. In fact, Gonzalez’s calling card has been his defensive versatility, as he’s played more than 500 innings at every infield position as well as left field.
Gonzalez is a career .254/.318/.419 hitter — almost a mirror image of his 2018 production — but there’s some room to dream after he got MVP votes for hitting .303/.377/.530 for the World Series-winning Astros in 2017.
Gonzalez has ample pop in his bat for an infielder — 15 homer average over 162 games — and his defensive versatility will protect the Twins in the event Miguel Sano or Jonathan Schoop can’t bounce back from tough 2018 seasons, or if CJ Cron struggles to repeat his 30-homer form.
Gonzalez might be a little stretched defensively at short — which is fine with Jorge Polanco entrenched as the starter and still the potential of Ehire Adrianza making the team as a defensive specialist — but he projects as average everywhere else and fairly well defensively in left field, too.
There’ll also be some added protection against lefties when Gonzalez, a switch hitter, is in the lineup. Last year he hit .273/.316/.436 against southpaws, while the Twins as a group finished 21st with a wRC+ against lefties of 89 (.250/.319/.377).
Gonzalez strangely struggled to hit at home last year — a very good park for hitting — with a .228/.309/.351 line. But after sputtering out of the gates with a .660 OPS in the first half, Gonzalez hit a robust .275/.352/.492 after the break, including a red-hot .303/.361/.606 in August.
Marwin does show a tendency to jump on the first pitch, as he slashed .279/.311/.512 on 46 plate appearances which ended after just one pitch. By comparison, in 2018 Joe Mauer batted 543 times and had just 15 plate appearances (2.7 percent) end on the first pitch. Gonzalez batted 552 times and saw it happen 46 times (8.3 percent).
No team in baseball swung at the first pitch less frequently than the Minnesota Twins in 2018 — 1,156 times in 6,154 plate appearances (25.3 percent).
Gonzalez can be a little pull-heavy with batted balls. In 2018, just 18 of his plate appearances as a righty and just 26 as a lefty ended up with batted balls to the opposite field. Now with that said, he did wear out the middle of the field, as he had more batted balls up the middle from each side of the plate than he did the other two areas combined.
In 2018, Gonzalez was markedly better at hitting pitches up in the zone. On pitches in the lower-third of the zone, Gonzalez hit just .208/.318/.266 against .291/.323/.538 in the middle-third — where you’d expect every batter to thrive — and .246/.320/.447 in the upper-third.
Ultimately, this is the kind of player who can help every team, and the Twins jumped when his price dropped after another strange offseason. He should be an immense help off the bench — though that severely understates his role. There’s no reason for him not to pick up at least 450-500 plate appearances.
A year ago, the Twins came into spring training even better insulated in the infield — Dozier-Polanco-Sano with Eduardo Escobar filling in where needed — and that team ended up giving over 1,000 plate appearances to Adrianza, Logan Morrison, Logan Forsythe, Gregorio Petit, Johnny Field and Taylor Motter.
This is a really, really good way to avoid doing that again.