The Youth Is Being Served In Minnesota

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

While it wasn’t the total system failure that ushered in the current front office, 2021 was not a good year for the Minnesota Twins.

Coming off back-to-back division titles, the Twins thought they had everything they needed to compete. The only problem? They didn’t account for everything going wrong.

From outbreaks to injuries, the Twins were a mess. When one player goes down, there’s usually another one to step up. But when the entire roster goes down, it’s a test of the depth within the organization.

The Twins failed that test miserably. Guys like Rob Refsnyder became fixtures in the lineup. Charlie Barnes started eight games. Willians Astudillo was the team’s unofficial ERA leader out of the bullpen.

And the Twins? They finished in last place.

Heading into this season, Minnesota needed to find a way to fix this problem. But instead of panicking and diving into the free-agent market, they let their younger players come of age. It took just 29 games for the Twins to distinguish themselves from last season. Where Minnesota had to rely on journeymen a year ago, some of their top prospects are making an impact to help keep them afloat.

It starts with a pair of pitchers. Jhoan Duran and Josh Winder were expected to start the season at Triple-A St. Paul and caught everyone’s attention when they made the team out of Spring Training.

Duran has become the Twins most electric rookie on the mound since Francisco Liriano. His four-seam fastball has been untouchable and averages 100 mph according to Statcast. Batters are hitting .105 against it this season.

While the Twins have missed Taylor Rogers on the back end, Duran has made up for it. One would think that as the season progresses, he’d be in line for a much larger role.

The same goes for Winder, who also started out of the bullpen. After a couple of long relief outings, Winder got the opportunity to start. He responded with 12 scoreless innings and a 15-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in wins over the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics.

With Bailey Ober and Chris Paddack on the injured list and Dylan Bundy testing positive for COVID, the Twins have relied on both rookies to contribute. But it’s not just the pitching staff that has benefitted. Minnesota’s lineup has been hit hard, and it’s more of a story about who is out of the lineup than who is in it. Alex Kirilloff and Kyle Garlick were the first two to head to the injured list before the Twins put Trevor Larnach on the injured list on Sunday.

Carlos Correa was also out of the lineup with a bruised finger and Byron Buxton has already battled injury this season.

One year ago, these injuries would have crippled Minnesota’s chances. Early this season, it’s been an opportunity for the next man up.

The Twins were going to call Jose Miranda up at some point, but he has looked comfortable after coming over from St. Paul. While he’s hitting just 4-for-26 in seven games, Miranda seems to be making the big play when the Twins need it.

Sunday’s game was a perfect example when he stepped to the plate in the third inning. With the Twins down 3-1, he smacked an RBI double to chip into the lead and then read the ball off Jorge Polanco’s bat perfectly to score the game-winning run from second base.

Gilberto Celestino was called up out of necessity one year ago but has started to figure it out. The Twins needed him in the lineup due to outfield injuries. Celestino responded by hitting .440 over his past seven games, including a 3-for-3 performance with a double in Sunday’s win over the A’s.

Then there is Royce Lewis‘ debut. Nobody knew what to expect after Lewis went two years without playing a competitive game, but he responded by tearing the cover off the ball in St. Paul. Lewis was ready when Correa went down. He looked like a bigger, stronger version of the high school kid the Twins had selected 1st overall in 2017.

Lewis has two singles and a double in his first 10 at-bats, but the little things have stood out. A deep throw in the hole shows just how good Lewis can be at shortstop. Once he gets acclimated, his speed could make him a constant 20-30 stolen base guy.

None of these players will finish with a major role on the Twins this season. But these players never had the opportunity to do anything meaningful last year.

That’s why a team that was 11-18 at this point last season is now 18-11 and leading the division. It’s why the Twins can take their time with their injured stars and let the younger players soak up the experience. And it’s why Minnesota could have a bigger window heading into the future.

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Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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