José Miranda says he knew the ball was gone the moment it left his bat. The Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers were tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, and he was sitting on Josh Hader‘s slider. The Milwaukee closer had thrown him a slider down and away, and Miranda expected him to throw one for a strike eventually. Hader hung one, and Miranda blasted it into the second deck for his first-ever walk-off homer.
“It felt great,” Miranda said. “Just hitting off a guy like that, it felt awesome.”
For a moment, it was easy to forget that the Twins were in the middle of a tough stretch. It didn’t matter that Hader had only given up three homers all year or that Miranda was hitting below the Mendoza Line when Minnesota sent him down in May. The previous regime drafted him in the second round in 2016; the current one left him exposed in the Rule 5 draft after the 2019 season. But Miranda has turned himself into an integral part of their plans.
Miranda says that the veteran players in Minnesota’s clubhouse told him to “Enjoy the game. Just play the game. Don’t think a lot. Go out there and keep playing the same game you were playing last year and your entire career.”
The Twins have a relatively young core, but they have a mix of veterans from inside and outside the organization to stabilize the locker room.
- Byron Buxton broke out in 2017 but has battled injuries every year since. He’s hit a career-high 23 home runs this year, though, and made the All-Star team as a sub.
- Sonny Gray is a two-time All-Star who struggled with the New York Yankees but rejuvenated his career with the Cincinnati Reds.
- And Carlos Correa is a World Series Champion looking for a big payday.
Whatever they said to him, it worked. Miranda admits to pressing early on. But he’s starting to settle in, and the results have come ever since.
“Just the first two or three weeks, it was kind of rough,” he says. “My first couple of at-bats, maybe I was trying too much, putting too much pressure on myself, and then I just realized I had to go out there and play the same game and enjoy the game. That was pretty much it.”
Baldelli echoed that sentiment, saying that Miranda has been more relaxed at the plate.
“I think he feels a lot more comfortable, a lot more at home probably with everything, not just in the batter’s box,” Baldelli said. “But walking in here every day and competing at this level, I think he probably initially thought he could compete at this level and succeed, but once you start swinging the bat the way that [Miranda] has been, I think he knows it now.”
There aren’t must-win games in July, but the second game against Milwaukee felt it had heightened stakes. The Twins had just dropped a series to the mediocre Texas Rangers in Arlington, and they would end up losing three of four to the Chicago White Sox before the All-Star Break.
The Brewers took the first game, 6-3. Legions of fans had crossed the border to see their NL Central-leading club play in Minneapolis. Game 2 was Minnesota’s first sellout of the year. Every action drew a reaction from the crowd because there were nearly an equal number of fans rooting for each side. Miranda’s bomb gave the Twins one of only three wins in their last ten games.
“I mean, he’s done it a couple times,” Twins starter Joe Ryan said after the game. Miranda had previously hit a walk-off liner off of Baltimore Orioles closer Jorge Lopez, who entered the series with a sub-1.00 ERA and WHIP.
“Yeah, another pretty good arm for a second-deck shot. I don’t think [Miranda is] worried about who’s on the mound. He’s just trying to hit the ball hard, and he’s been doing it a little. I think some of them are atom-balls, really. But he’s been piecing it up and looks great.”
It would be hard to blame him if he didn’t feel completely comfortable throughout his career. The Terry Ryan regime drafted him in 2016; then the Twins fired Ryan in 2017. Miranda raked in rookie ball, but he had trouble in High-A. In 2019, he hit .248/.299/.364 in High-A, and Minnesota left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft.
Any team could have added Miranda that offseason, but everyone passed. Then Major League Baseball shut down the minors during the quarantine in 2020. Miranda stayed sharp by playing 20 games of winter league ball in Puerto Rico, his home country. Still, he entered the 2021 season, having only played one game at Double-A.
Miranda started to put it together last season. He hit .344/.401/.572 in Double-A and Triple-A, including three bombs in his first game with the St. Paul Saints. Usually, that’s enough for a player to work his way into a team’s plans. But Josh Donaldson was blocking him, despite his declining production and disruptive clubhouse presence.
The Twins traded Donaldson in the offseason but received Gio Urshela in return. Urshela, 30, isn’t their long-term solution. He’s also arbitration-eligible after this year, meaning Minnesota isn’t committed to him beyond this year. But Arraez can play third, and they planned on using Royce Lewis there once Correa returned from his injured hand.
Therefore, they weren’t guaranteeing Miranda playing time. Nor should they have been. Miranda was hitting .164/.200/.284 when they sent him down in late May to make room for Lewis. Miranda’s demotion to Triple-A was short-lived, though. Lewis tore his ACL in his first game after the Twins recalled him, so they asked Miranda to turn around before he suited up in St. Paul.
Miranda has hit .298/.341/.524 since his brief drive across the river.
“I felt like in that moment, I was starting to get into a good rhythm and get my confidence back,” Miranda says. “That happened, and then I got recalled back. Just keep working on the same things, keep working hard, keep grinding.”
Typically, a player needs to get a few Triple-A at-bats to get right before producing again in the majors. But development isn’t always linear.
“We were lucky to have him still here,” says Baldelli, recalling Miranda’s brief demotion. “You know, the way this game works out all the time, there’s so many things going on every day. We have moves every day. Almost every day, we have something happening. To say we anticipate all of the things that happen? No. Like there’s no explanation for it some of the time.”
To his credit, Miranda has not complained about the demotion. Nor has he expressed consternation about being left off the 40-man roster in 2019 or being blocked by Donaldson last year. Miranda knows it’s the business of the game and that he’s a developing player. He knows he has the right to demand playing time if he produces in the majors, as he is now. The rest is just the business of baseball.