Twins

Under the Radar Former Twins Who Are Thriving Elsewhere

Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta (USA TODAY Sports)

Needless to say, there have been a few regrettable decisions that have led the Minnesota Twins to this point in the season. Every team, good or bad, is bound to have a few. In a year where the club has lacked consistency and fans have grown restless, it’s difficult to see former castaways prospering on other teams.

There are some days where Twins Territory wishes they could go back in time and warn the front office of what’s to come. But Bill and Ted aren’t showing up in a flying phone booth. Doc and Marty aren’t pulling up in a Delorean. There’s no genie in a Bomba.

It also feels different this year because there aren’t just run-of-the-mill roster regrets, but rather layers of rue.

People are sick of hearing about Akil Baddoo and LaMonte Wade Jr. They are firmly in the center of the radar for former Twins who are thriving in new uniforms.

What may be even more eyebrow-raising is the class of lesser-known pitchers who are quietly making a name for themselves. So cue the Cher because here are three under-the-radar players that the Twins would take back in a heartbeat if they could turn back time.

JT Chargois

A second-round draft pick by the Twins in 2012, Chargois debuted in Minnesota in 2016 with underwhelming results. He pitched 23 innings of 4.70 ERA ball with concerning underlying numbers, such as a 1.42 strikeout to walk ratio. He only made two Triple-A appearances in 2017 due to nagging injuries before being put on waivers by the Twins the following off-season.

He was claimed by the Los Angeles Dodgers and had a solid year in 2018 (3.34 ERA, 11.1 K/9) before struggling mightily in 2019, leading to his eventual release. He latched on with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan last season, where he could work on redefining himself to make his way back to the big leagues. The work paid off, and he signed with the Seattle Mariners leading into this season, essentially reviving his once-promising career.

In 46 innings between the Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays, Chargois has a dazzling 2.54 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP. Since returning stateside, he’s slashed his home run rate in half (1.7 HR/9 in 2019, 0.8 in 2021) and has leaned heavily on his breaking pitches to get strikeouts. According to Inside Edge, he has thrown his breaking pitches 64% of the time, good for 8th-most among all qualified relievers in MLB.

For a player on the wrong side of 30, the continued success of his sharp slider is imperative, and the Rays will have him under affordable control through the 2025 season.

Luis Gil

Though he only has five MLB starts under his belt, Gil is already starting to earn his place near the top of Twins regrets. Heading into his start against the Twins on Monday, the 23-year-old had a 1.42 ERA and 24 strikeouts in just 19.1 innings pitched. Not only that, but he hadn’t given up an extra-base hit to an opponent in his young MLB career, the second-longest active span in MLB at the time. Jorge Polanco would break that streak with a first-inning bomb on Monday, but the hot start remains impressive. Even after getting touched up by the Twins, his 2.88 ERA and 11.52 K/9 look rather appealing.

Traded in the deal that sent Jake Cave to Minnesota, Gil continued to develop his blazing four-seam fastball and above-average slider in the minor leagues. His heater now tops out in the high-90s, and his slider has been devastating to opposing hitters. Remarkably, before Monday’s start, Gil hadn’t given up a hit on his slider since Aug. 8.

As much as every fan unquestionably adores Cave, having this version of Gil would be quite the commodity for the pitching-starved Twins.

Zack Littell

A bullpen weapon for the Twins in their magnificent 2019 season, Littell couldn’t keep it going once the calendar flipped to 2020. He struggled that year with a 9.95 ERA in just six appearances before the Twins justifiably decided to cut bait.

His pitch execution cratered, leading to an inflated walk rate with fewer punchouts. Any confidence he had from his awesome rookie season had seemingly vanished. Now, it’s all coming back to him for the playoff-bound San Francisco Giants. In 54 innings pitched out of the Giants’ bullpen, Littell has a 2.67 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP. He’s also made a few appearances as an opener, something the Twins experimented with in years past with mixed results.

While he doesn’t have the raw talent of some of the regular relievers in the current Twins ‘pen, he has shown the ability to keep the ball in the ballpark (0.83 HR/9) and get his team out of jams when runners are on base (74.2% strand rate). These are invaluable traits that have cost the Twins multiple games this year. He also appears to be getting hot at the perfect time as his team heads into the playoffs for the first time in five years. Opponents have a miss rate of 33% against Littell on pitches in the strike zone this month, which is good for the fifth-highest in MLB in that span.

The two qualities of a trusty reliever are their ability to miss bats and get out of sticky situations, and Littell is proving he can do just that. Now, the Giants will have team control of this solid righty for the next four years, through his age 30 season.

In a challenging year where a hopeful contender can’t live up to expectations, it’s reasonable to look back and try to figure out where things went wrong. It’s not always the misguided trust in some veteran pitchers or the stalled development of core players. Sometimes the moves that come back to haunt are made in the shadows of the MLB transaction wire.

Maybe it’s cutting a pitcher after an injury-riddled campaign, or trading away a young starter in the low-minors for outfield depth, or even just making a brash decision to cut bait on a trusted arm after half a dozen rough outings. But right now, it almost feels like the Twins are grasping onto a picture of a championship trophy, and the image is starting to fade away like the photo of Marty McFly’s siblings in Back to the Future.

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