We’re just on the other side of the All-Star break, and after grading pitchers before the Midsummer Classic, it’s time to take a look at the hitters. As one might expect, the hitter grades were more favorable than those handed out to the pitchers, of course.
Don’t miss the earlier version, where we graded the pitchers here.
Let’s dive right in:
The man just hasn’t matched the myth this season, as Astudillo’s disdain for taking walks has reached a new level this season (1.4 percent). He just doesn’t get on base enough unless he hits well over .300, because he doesn’t have another carrying trait or tool in his toolbox. Yeah, his swinging-strike rate is virtually non-existent, but making a lot of contact is hardly a positive when your chase rate is almost 15 percent (!) above the league-average mark.
Jason Castro: A
It’s pretty hard to find a gripe with how Castro has played in a part-time/platoon role so far this season. Castro has hit for plenty of power, cut his strikeout rate and been the perfect ying to Mr. Garver’s yang. Castro is also absolutely pummeling the baseball, as he’s second in MLB (min. 50 batted ball events) in barrel rate. Castro is barreling the baseball in 12.4 percent of his plate appearances, behind Gary Sanchez and just barely ahead of Mike Trout. That’s some really good company to keep.
Mitch Garver: A
Garver has been absolutely brilliant so far this season, as he’s slashing an insane .288/.370/.607 while looking vastly improved behind the plate defensively. The Twins flirted with Yasmani Grandal during the offseason — he ultimately took a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers — but this time around, it looks like they might be looking for a backup catcher, if any, this coming offseason. Garver’s been that good.
Ehire Adrianza: A-
Adrianza came advertised as a banjo-hitting shortstop when the Twins grabbed him off waivers from the Brewers — via the Giants — and all he’s done in his three years is post 2.1 of the 2.4 Fangraphs WAR he’s accumulated in his career. It’s possible this year will be his best, and almost certainly so with the bat. The numbers on his defense are a bit down, but he’s slashing a remarkable .282/.377/.411 and has seen his walk rate swell into double digits. There wouldn’t seem to be much playing time to go around with how the Twins infield is configured, but Adrianza has gotten into 50 games with 148 plate appearances — and has made the most of it.
Luis Arraez: A
How can he be anything other than an A? He’s hitting an absurd .385/.444/.510, and it’s not such a small sample size anymore. He’s over 100 plate appearances (108), and while he isn’t necessarily banging the ball out of the ballpark, he’s on a 600 plate appearance pace for about 35 doubles and 12 homers. Throw in acceptable defense and there’s a very real chance this is your Opening Day second baseman in 2020.
C.J. Cron: B+
His numbers are almost a carbon copy of last season’s, though done in a much different run environment (122 wRC+ as opposed to 111 this year). A big part of where he’s at now is that he was dealing with a thumb issue that forced him on the IL over the All-Star break. Over his last 10 games before hitting the shelf, Cron hit just .156/.191/.200 (7-for-45) — dropping his OPS from .895 to .821. An underrated facet of his game has been his defense; he’s been terrific around the bag as well as digging throws out of the dirt, saving countless errors for his fellow infielders.
Marwin Gonzalez: B+
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the 30-year-old Swiss Army Knife to this year’s Twins. When the Twins needed help at third base early in the season, Gonzalez stepped up and played there every day. When injuries cropped up in the outfield, necessitating others shifting out of their normal spots, Gonzalez was there to fill in the corners with the team seeing hardly any dropoff in defensive performance. The offensive numbers don’t exactly pass the smell test (97 wRC+), but that doesn’t account for the huge hole he dug for himself in April (.501 OPS). Since then, he’s hitting .299/.359/.492.
Nick Gordon: C+
His line of .293/.336/.457 represents a massive improvement from what he did in Rochester last season, but it’s still not terribly impressive when considered against this year’s Triple-A run environment. It’s just a 98 wRC+, as the juiced baseball has made it’s way to the International League and inflated offensive numbers there, as well. What’s left is an infielder with no clear position who has walked less than six percent of the time without any appreciable power. The 23 doubles are a nice touch, as are the 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts, but it’s hard to feel like there’s much more here than a utility infielder or a second-division starter. That’s not what you want with the No. 5 pick.
What more can you say? He was the American League All-Star starter at shortstop, is on pace for about a 5.0 fWAR season and is headed toward shattering all the previous offensive records of his career. He’s doing all this while playing a competent shortstop defensively — which was perhaps the biggest question regarding what he could become in the future. That future could still reside on the other side of second base at some point, but for now, the Twins have a good one at short.
Miguel Sano: C+
Is this as good as it gets for a guy who strikes out 40 percent of the time? An on-base percentage hovering just under .320? Passable defense? A few home runs? Maybe it’s just me and I’m being a harsh grader, but he’s just too streaky right now to give a better grade.
Jonathan Schoop: B-
He’s been fine. He plays a pretty decent second base, hits the ball out of the ballpark and gives the Twins some offensive presence at the bottom of the order. However, it feels like he gives away too many at-bats, and frankly a 3.8 percent walk rate with the kind of power he possesses just doesn’t make any sense. You’d think he’d get some walks out of sheer respect for his power — but that hasn’t been the case. There’s a chance he could lose playing time to Arraez down the stretch.
Byron Buxton: A-
The only real gripe here is that Buxton hasn’t stayed healthy, and really that isn’t something he can be dinged for in a performance grade. A higher on-base percentage would be nice, but Buxton has made up for it by turning singles into doubles — pushing his slugging percentage to the verge of .500. He’d been playing some of the best baseball of his career to this point — making his injury that much more of a shame — and now Twins fans will have to wait a handful of days for Buxton to be activated from the seven-day concussion IL to see him resume his very, very good season.
Jake Cave: C
Cave has been terrific in multiple stints at Rochester (125 wRC+), but he’s given the Twins almost nothing in the big leagues (73 wRC+). As a fourth outfielder who is a bit stretched in center, he needs to be way closer to the 2018 version if he’s going to stick with the big club over the long haul — especially with the three-man bench.
Max Kepler: A
It’s been a breakout season of epic proportions for Kepler, who is playing terrific defense, hitting for power, taking his walks and not striking out. Beyond that, he’s been respectable against left-handed pitching — long his bugaboo in pro ball — and he’s already set his career high in fWAR with 70 games to go. Fangraphs just named him their No. 40 player on their trade value series — two spots behind Polanco — and it seems the rest of the league is learning what we’ve seen for most of this season. This guy’s legit.
He’s almost like the outfield version of Schoop. He’s allergic to walks, his defense ranges from fine to acceptable and he’s hit for a bit more power. I think it’s worth wondering what his long-term future is in Minnesota, as two of the best and most advanced hitting prospects in the system are Trevor Larnach and Alex Kiriloff — two outfielders who profile as more sabermetric-friendly hitters who would also cost less and give the Twins more ammo to throw at Jose Berrios in potential extension talks. Just a thought.
LaMonte Wade Jr.: B-
The on-base percentage was nice, but he wasn’t hitting for any power in Rochester (103 wRC+, .356 SLG) despite the wild offensive environment down there. It’s a step up from last season, but only marginally so. He’s never going to hit the ball out of the ballpark and his value is mostly as a second coming of Robbie Grossman — so the profile isn’t all that sexy.
Nelson Cruz: A
The ageless one is doing exactly what he’s done pretty much this entire decade since his breakout with the Texas Rangers. Even with time off for a wrist issue, he’s on the way to another 30-homer season with a ton of walks. He’s swinging and missing a little more often these days, and his cocntact rate is down, but he’s also chasing fewer pitches out of the zone. Monitoring those rates in the second half will go a long way toward deciding whether to pick up his 2020 option — which right now seems awfully likely.