What a difference a year makes.
Last December, the Minnesota Twins were ready to roll with José Miranda as their everyday third baseman. Miranda earned the job after he slashed .268/.325/.426 with 15 home runs and a 117 wRC+ clip in 125 games as a rookie in 2022. But injuries and regression made the 2023 season a year to forget for Miranda. Combined with Royce Lewis‘s emergence, that has boxed Miranda out of the starting third base spot.
Last year, Miranda struggled to get going with a .211/.263/.303 slash line and only three home runs (57 wRC+) in 40 games for the Twins. The right-handed hitting Miranda has to earn his spot back as an everyday player next season. It likely needs to be a lower-leverage role where the team can attempt to build his confidence back up as a platoon or situational hitter. But thanks to the absence of last year’s platoon guy, Minnesota has a perfect spot for the 25-year-old Miranda.
He can take over Donovan Solano’s role.
Solano was productive in his lone Twins season, producing a .760 OPS (117 wRC+). After reducing payroll, Minnesota won’t likely use its self-imposed limited resources to re-stock platoon infielders. Obviously, the man they call “Donnie Barrels” is a contact hitter, while Miranda is best as a home runs and doubles hitter. Still, he can be valuable in the lineup if he hits like he did his rookie year.
Minnesota developed Miranda as a third baseman; first base was his primary backup spot. However, as a rookie, he went back and forth between the corner infield spots. He had 77 games at first base and 34 at the hot corner in 2022. First base is easier to play than third, but Miranda produced -4 outs above average rank at first base last year. However, he may be better at first base in a platoon role.
Minnesota’s 2024 roster is still in flux. But it looks like either Alex Kirilloff or Edouard Julien will be the Opening Day first baseman. However, Kirilloff and Julien are lefty hitters, and Rocco Baldelli frequently swapped them out for a righty when facing a lefty reliever last year. The best way to regain Miranda’s confidence could be to platoon him with Julien and/or Kirilloff to give him more favorable matchups.
The Twins can also use Miranda off the bench as a late-game situational hitter. Solano’s 0.59 win probability added helped solidify his role in crunch time. Miranda can get increasingly more confident if all goes well and earn back some playing time. Baldelli will probably use multiple designated hitters based on matchups, and Miranda can occasionally take advantage of that spot.
It would be huge for the Twins if Miranda returned to form against left-handed pitchers next year. Minnesota only recorded a .726 OPS against southpaws, which was 24th in the league over the past season. Only 54 of their 233 home runs in 2023 came against lefties. In his rookie year, Miranda had an 821 OPS when facing a lefty and hit 9 of his 15 home runs against them, too. There was a step back in 2023 with just a .573 OPS against lefties. But he still owns a .774 career OPS in that category compared to Solano’s .717 OPS career OPS, which wasn’t a huge advantage for the Twins last season despite hitting from the right side of the plate.
Miranda wasn’t a big prospect coming up. The former Twins regime under Terry Ryan drafted him in the second round in 2016. From 2016 to 2019, Miranda posted a .711 OPS, a 107 wRC+ clip, and 36 home runs in 359 games in the low minors. But Miranda developed power after a promotion to Triple-A in 2021 to Triple-A. He slugged 30 home runs with a .973 OPS and a 158 wRC+ rating in 127 games with St. Paul.
Miranda was a ground ball hitter in the minors until his breakout 2021 season. His 49.2 percent ground ball rate last year is a seven-percent increase from 2022. Another problem for Miranda was his plate discipline went in the wrong direction. Miranda’s swing percentages were on par with his rookie season. His 15.8 percent strikeout clip last year was better than the 18.8 percent clip he posted in 2022. The biggest change was that Miranda tended to swing outside the zone. He often hit the ball into the ground instead of in the air when he connected.
A platoon spot would mean a different role for Miranda, not just as an everyday player but likely where he would hit in the lineup. In 121 of his 165 career games, he’s slotted into the 3-6 spots in the batting order. Instead, he can slide to the lower part of the order with less pressure.
But Miranda needs to hit fastballs to be an everyday player. He smashed fastballs (2.5 run value) and curveballs (2.9) in 2022. However, those numbers dipped to a -6.9 value against fastballs and just 0.8 against curves the following year. Teams began to lean away from throwing curves and went to other offspeed pitches and an uptick in fastballs to get him out. Still, Miranda needs to be able to do anything against fastballs if he wants his hitting production back, especially considering his 87.9 MPH exit velocity in 2023 was down from the 89.3 MPH clip he set in 2022.
Spending time in Triple-A to ensure he’s right could also be a good thing for Miranda. After all, Matt Wallner spent over half the 2023 campaign hitting everything in sight at St. Paul before tearing it up for the Twins in the second half. However, Miranda might be their best right-handed option at first base unless Christian Vazquez slides over to first, or they call up a right-handed hitting prospect, and both seem unlikely early in the season.
Hitting or consistent power will be the most important part for Miranda in 2024. He powered down in the final month of the 2022 season and hasn’t been able to bounce back. Avoiding his old habit of taking massive cuts at pitches off the plate can help regain his power. Building consistency with the glove at first base would also help. Some small but impactful situations could help Miranda regain that confidence in a platoon role.
After a poor sophomore season, Jose Miranda is currently on the outside looking in of the Twins starting lineup. If Minnesota isn’t going to fill Solano’s platoon role in free agency, Miranda is a perfect candidate to use that spot to build his bat back to where it was in 2022.