There’s a huge faction of Minnesota sports fans that has an interesting tendency to reach for the eject button when things aren’t going well. In a challenging season, much like this year has been for the Twins, these fans want to be the first to claim that the team is dead in the water. If they can’t be happy about watching the team, well, at least they can feel like they were right about them all along. Then they tune out.
Sure, it’s a defense mechanism.
After all, aside from the incredible success of the Minnesota Lynx, major sports teams from the North Star State have broken their fans’ hearts time after time. When a season starts to look like it’s going off the rails, the fans take comfort in calling a time of death while the team is still gasping for air.
With the Twins seemingly on life support through just a third of the season, that group of fans has abandoned all hope.
Disappointment is understandable, even warranted, but if those fans decide they’re done with this team then they could be tuning out of the start of something special.
The blueprint for the future of Twins baseball is coming together even when the wins aren’t.
Outfielders Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff are quickly emerging as the meatiest part of this team’s lineup. It’s hard to avoid feeling nostalgic just thinking about the last pair of franchise-defining left-handed sluggers to wear a Twins jersey. Okay, maybe it’s still too early to compare them to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, but Larnach and Kirilloff are showing signs of being the real deal going forward.
If this new core continues to progress, it sure seems like the club will have some solid cornerstones. Now they just need to figure out where they should be placed and what to build around them.
Just take a look at the tear Larnach’s been on for the last two weeks. In that time, he’s hitting .333 with 21 quality at-bats (those that end in a hit, walk, sacrifice, or outs that were well-hit or last more than six pitches). This shows that he has a solid approach at the plate and already has a strong grasp on pitch recognition. His on-base percentage in that span is the eighth-highest in baseball, topping many of the game’s brightest stars.
He’s done particularly well against right-handed pitchers in that span, carrying a .556 on-base percentage (third-highest in MLB) and a 1.187 OPS (eighth-highest).
Those numbers aren’t inflated by a bunch of walks or anything. He has a well-hit average of .400 against righties in that time, meaning he’s hit the ball 95 MPH or harder in 40% of his at-bats.
So he’s shown that he has a keen eye at the plate and can absolutely punish right-handed pitchers. Sounds familiar, right?
Somewhere, Morneau’s ears are burning.
If Larnach can keep following the lead of the former MVP, then he should be a force in this lineup for years to come.
Turning to Kirilloff, Minnesota’s top-rated prospect has held his own even while fighting a worrisome wrist injury.
Like Larnach, he has shown the ability to hammer the ball when he makes contact, evident in his .295 well-hit average on the year. That ranks 10th in all of baseball, and ahead of the likes of Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and Jose Ramirez.
His defensive flexibility has come in handy when manager Rocco Baldelli wants him to supplant Miguel Sanó at first base. Not only that but he’s quietly been an excellent fielder when doing so (1.2 UZR in 11 games).
Another dimension to Kirilloff’s game? He has the ability to hit with runners in scoring position. While those situations have been a nightmare for the Twins this year, Kirilloff is hitting .423 with runners at second and/or third.
Small sample size? Sure.
But based on his general comfort in the batter’s box, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Kirilloff turn this into a trend rather than a mirage.
That’s been the scoop on these two young sluggers for the most part. They’ve shown veteran-level poise in big situations, much like Mauer and Morneau did in the mid-2000s. Those two would go on to inspire a generation of Twins fans as “The M&M Boys,” thanks to their shared initial and sweet-swinging ways.
They anchored nine years of mostly potent lineups that would make the postseason four times (nearly five, if not for Jim Thome).
Well, maybe Larnach and Kirilloff just need a moniker to cement them as the new core of the Twins lineup for years to come.
So here it goes.
Gone are the days of The M&M Boys.
We are now entering the era of The Power Patch Kids.