The Minnesota Twins could be on the verge of a makeover at the MLB trade deadline. While some deals are less likely than others, there’s a good chance that they will trade Nelson Cruz to a contender.
Cruz has been better than anyone anticipated during his three seasons in Minnesota, hitting .304/.387/.598 with 76 homers. But now that he’s 41 years old, the Twins need to turn the page and decide how they will fill a massive hole in their lineup. An answer could be across the river, where Brent Rooker has turned it on for the St. Paul Saints.
Rooker has shown the power to replace Cruz’s production at the plate since Minnesota drafted him back in 2017. He had a monster year for Mississippi State the year before he was drafted, hitting .387/.495/.810 with 23 home runs and 82 RBI. After winning the SEC Player of the Year Award, the Twins selected him with the 35th-overall pick.
He displayed power at every level in Minnesota’s system. Rooker hit 18 home runs in 228 at-bats between the Rookie and High-A leagues and slugged 22 home runs in 503 at-bats with Double-A Chattanooga in 2018. He appeared to be on his way to the major leagues the following season by hitting .282/.399/.530 with 14 homers and 47 RBI for Triple-A Rochester, but his season ended in June after an undisclosed injury.
Even with the cancellation of the minor league season last year, Rooker did enough during developmental camp to earn an August call-up. He made the most of his time with the Twins, going 6-for-21 (.316) with a home run and two doubles. But just as he was ready to help Minnesota during their postseason run, Rooker was hit by a pitch and fractured his forearm. However, even in a small sample size, you could see why the Twins would be excited about his potential.
If they trade Cruz, the Twins would have several options to replace him on their major league roster. Miguel Sanó is currently in a platoon at first base; moving him to DH would allow Alex Kirilloff to play more first base. But the Twins could be on the verge of trading Sanó, which could mean a position switch for Josh Donaldson.
Donaldson has produced when healthy, but recurring lower-body injuries suggest it could be time to move him to the designated hitter role. But like Sanó, the Twins could be plotting an exit from Donaldson’s $57 million salary over the next two seasons, scratching another candidate off the list.
If Kirilloff sticks at first base and Trevor Larnach is the third outfielder, Rooker’s best chance for playing time could come at DH. He has played in 59 games for Triple-A St. Paul, but Rooker has been in the outfield in just 16 of them, making it much easier to transition to the big league.
Adjusting to the mental side of the designated hitter role would be the final hurdle Rooker needs to clear to become Minnesota’s next DH. Although Rooker hit just .227/.266/.470 with five homers in May, he has hit .275/.420/.675 and nine homers over 100 plate appearances in June.
Rooker isn’t the same level of hitter that Cruz has been for the Twins. Replacing Cruz in the lineup will be a tall task for anyone who steps into the DH role. But Rooker has the tools to do it and should get his opportunity soon.